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An Apple a Day Learns You Your Letters

"Can I have an apple?" enquired Pippin of Sam as the stout hobbit loaded the last pack onto Bill's sturdy back. The remaining members of the Fellowship were busying themselves removing all traces of their campsite and Pippin wanted a final treat to strengthen his walking legs for the journey ahead.

"I'm right certain that you can, Mr Pippin," responded Sam distractedly.

Pippin beamed in delight, anticipating his first bite of the sweet, crunchy fruit. The Fellowship's most recent, paltry meal of bread and cheese might be enough to sate the appetite of a man or an elf, but hobbits needed much more in the way of sustenance. If his mother knew what he'd been surviving on of late, she would be enraged - and enraging Eglantine Took was never a wise idea.

Good old Sam! He could always be relied on to feed a hungry Took!

But second passed after second, and it soon became clear that no treat was forthcoming. Pippin's stomach growled in protest and the youth cleared his throat impatiently.

"Where's my apple?"

"What apple?" asked Sam, securing the pack with a final tug before turning to face his companion. Pippin sighed in annoyance.

"The one I asked for, of course! You haven't gone and stored it underneath everything else, have you?"

"Maybe I have, and maybe I haven't," replied the gardener, wrinkling his forehead, "though I don't see as how that could matter. You never actually asked me for an apple in the first place."

A blank stare of disbelief, then a huff of irritation. "Yes I did!"

"Begging your pardon, but you didn't."

"I did! I asked if I could have an apple and you said yes!" accused Pippin, feeling very hard done by.

Sam folded his arms and gazed at him evenly. "Exactly!" he said firmly.

"Well if you agree with me, where's my apple?"

"Don't recall saying as I would give you an apple, just that you were able to have one."

Clearly confused, the younger hobbit thrust his hands on his hips and glared at the gardener, who was standing firmly in the way of his road to gastronomic utopia. "What in all the Shire does that mean?" he demanded, feeling very irked.

"You asked 'Can I have an apple?' - not 'May I have an apple'," elaborated Sam, matching Pippin's stare, and placing himself firmly between the hungry Took and the limited supplies.

Pippin snorted. "What's the difference?"

Sam's eyebrows shot up in surprise. "There's a deal of difference, Mr Pippin, and you should know that even at your age. 'Can' means 'am I able to?', and 'may' means 'am I allowed to?'; or so Mr Bilbo told me when he learned me my letters - and he ought to know what he's talking about, learned gentle-hobbit that he is. So as I see it, there's as much difference between being able to do something and being allowed to as there is between a hill and a mountain."

"A hill and a …?" spluttered the young Took, momentarily flummoxed by the comparison. "What nonsense! The only difference there is height! Either way you have to climb both."

"Begging your pardon but that's not true. You climb a hill, but you scale a mountain, it being that much bigger and all," said Sam. His forehead suddenly creased in thought. "Though, now that I think on it, I wouldn't go near either of them if I had the choice of it."

Pippin huffed again. "Now you're just being contrary. Besides, you don't have much of a choice now, do you? We might very well be going up that lot there whether you like it or not."

He jerked a thumb (rather viciously) behind him and Sam followed its path with his eyes, where they landed on the forbidding prospect of the Misty Mountains. The gardener shuddered.

"So now can I have my apple?" demanded Pippin, feeling that his point had been made.

"I am sure you can, if you can find one lying about here in the dead of winter." Sam grabbed Bill's rope and scratched the pony's nose encouragingly before leading him towards the others.

"But there's plenty in the packs!" protested Pippin, charging after him. He was more than a little chagrined at Sam's unwillingness to feed him. It was so very un-Sammish!

"But you haven't asked if you might have one from the packs yet, have you?"

From somewhere ahead, Pippin heard the unmistakeable sound of a snigger and glared hot coals into Merry's back. Sometimes he resented the fact that hobbits had such excellent hearing! He transferred the glare back to Sam.

"All right, then," he hissed, trying to even out his breathing and remain polite. If Sam thought he was being petulant, he'd send him on his way without so much as a crumb. Pippin would starve to death!

Well, perhaps not starve to death. But he would definitely faint from hunger!

"All right, then: may I have an apple?" he asked pointedly, trying hard to smile through his ire. For good measure, he added; "From the packs? Please?"

To his utter astonishment, Sam shook his head. "I'm sorry, Mr Pippin, but I'm afraid you mayn't."

Pippin could hardly believe his ears - in fact, he stuck his fingers into each of them and wriggled them about quite violently in an effort to clear them. Surely, after all that, Sam hadn't gone and said no? But the gardener's expression was eerily Gandalf-esque in its severity: he had said no! The youth was livid.

"But how is a hungry hobbit supposed to fill up the corners?" he asked petulantly.

"You know as well as I do that we're living on rations, Mr Pippin," retorted Sam crisply. "That apple you want to fill your corners with now could be the difference between life and death later on."

Indignation swept through Pippin. "If you were going to refuse me all along, why didn't you just do so in the first place?" he growled.

"For two very good reasons," said Frodo, falling into step beside them. "One: why should you have a larger share of the supplies than any of the rest of us?"

"It's only one apple!" exclaimed Pippin in annoyance. "It will be mine eventually, anyway!"

Frodo frowned at his youngest cousin. "Then you may have it at the same time as the rest of us. If Sam allows you to have it now, he'll have to unload Bill just to find the right pack, and that will mean a delay in our journey. Besides, I know you, Pippin: you would eat your apple instantly, then persuade someone else out of their own later on."

"He would have had little success in parting mine from me," said Boromir gruffly, giving the young hobbit an amused wink as he passed them to take his position at the rear of the Fellowship.

Pippin began to protest, but Frodo cut him off with a wave of his hand. "If you deny it, I'll ask Sam to give yours to Bill the next time we stop to rest."

Pippin glowered unhappily. "That's not fair. Bill eats grass. Why should he have my apple too?"

"If you're as hungry as you say you are, you could always bend down and rip up a few blades of grass for yourself. That would even the score between Bill and you right nicely," muttered Sam. The pony whinnied suddenly, as if in agreement, and Pippin flushed when he caught Frodo trying to hold back a grin.

"And secondly," resumed Frodo after composing his features, "you needed a lesson in grammar."

The Ring-bearer received a blank stare in response.

"What he means is that Sam was teaching you your letters, in a manner of speaking," interjected Merry helpfully; the Brandybuck had fallen back to join their conversation. "Or rather he was reminding you of your education. Think how ashamed cousin Bilbo would be if his Tookish relations couldn't tell the difference between being able to do something and being allowed to. You're the future Thain of the Shire, you know; a very respected position. It's your duty to know what you're talking about, or how else are you supposed to rule with any degree of authority? Why, if hobbits think you can't tell your cans from your mays, they may very well walk all over you - and whenever they can at that."

Pippin was fairly certain that Merry's statement was rather grammatically incorrect in and of itself, but he was too stunned to try and decipher it. As it was, it was now apparent that he was outnumbered three to one, so he decided not to mention it anyway (a fortunate decision, given that he was currently speechless with indignation).

The fact that his cousins and Sam were all having a rather good chuckle at his expense was completely beside the point.


Feeling very much put-upon, Pippin's only response was to glower at the insufferable trio for several long seconds. But then rescue came to him in an unlikely form. A meaty hand descended on his shoulder and Pippin turned to find Gimli regarding him with kindly brown eyes.

"Come, lad. If these young rascals cannot appreciate your inestimable company, you may walk with me."

The dwarf's selection of vocabulary made the curly-haired youth wince. If he heard the words 'can' or 'may' - or any permutation thereof - just one more time, he may very well scream.

Blissfully ignorant of his distress, Gimli soldiered on with his magnanimous offer. "I care not for the precision of your grammar as much as I do the quality and content of your conversation, Master Took, and there I have always found you to excel! If your current companions fail to appreciate that, then allow me to benefit from your company instead. Come, we shall walk behind Aragorn for a while, you and I!" The dwarf leaned down slightly and lowered his voice. "And if you are very fortunate, I may well find something with which to sate your gnawing hunger."

Brightening instantly, Pippin gave Sam, Frodo and Merry a triumphant look. Frodo and his gardener were staring at the dwarf in mild disapproval for indulging him so, whereas Merry bore a distinctly crestfallen expression at the prospect of Pippin eating when he could not.

Hah! That would teach them to tease him so unmercifully! Pippin beamed at Gimli in gratitude.

"Really?" he asked, feeling a warm burst of affection for his hairy friend.

"Aye, lad," affirmed the dwarf, his brown eyes twinkling mischievously. "For I have spotted a grassy knoll not one hundred yards ahead of our current position. Furthermore, if we hurry, you may feast well enough on it to make up for any apple yonder pony may deprive you of later."

The other three hobbits broke into renewed laughter, only this time it was joined by the hearty guffaws of a traitor dwarf. Completely disgusted by his heartless companions, Pippin stomped away to seek the infinitely more sympathetic and tolerant company of a very grumpy wizard.