Disclaimer: Lord of the Rings and any recognizable characters, places, etc. herein are property of the Tolkien estate, and everyone else that they belong to. I make no claim to ownership, and am merely borrowing them for the time being. No profit has been made from the writing of this tale, except perhaps the enjoyment of doing so.

Rating/Warnings: K+. Warnings? None for this chapter. There might be some mild peril/hurt/comfort later on, but that is yet to be determined.

Category: Humor/Friendship

Time frame: Merry, Pippin, Sam, and Strider have made it safely to Rivendell. The tale begins the first morning that they are there, while Frodo is still unconscious and recovering. It will probably span their entire stay in Imladris, including the Council of Elrond.

A/N: So, this was originally written as a oneshot as part of an attempt to sway my friend (and cohort) Mirnava that she should like Elrond. Ironically, Elrond is only in this for about three paragraphs. Because of that, though, he will be a main character (at least indirectly) in this story. I realized, after writing the last sentence, that I was going to have to expand the story. Thus most of the other oneshot ideas that I have had for this time period will be added and incorporated into this story. Not every chapter will necessarily follow or further the plot, and it might serve you well to read most chapters as separate stories, with a common thread running through them. Also, because of that, I have written no other chapters besides this one, and thus updates will be sporadic at best.

A HUGE thanks goes to tonks-quinn57 (here on out referred to as Galeo) for being the most wonderful beta ever. I honestly don't know how she manages to put up with me and my crazy, warped ways. Oh, and also, (thanks to one of my conversations with her) this fic will from now on be called my "Super Sleuth Merry" fic.

I'd love to hear what you think of this! And I am open to ideas for chapters! Most importantly, though, I hope that you enjoy this story.


A Tale of Riddles, Peace, and Food

Chapter 1

"Oi, Merry, wake up!" Something brushed against Merry's exposed cheek, causing him to shiver slightly. A moment later, the tickling sensation moved from his cheek to just beneath his chin. Merry groaned and swatted at the thing above him that was daring to disturb his rest, but cracked his eyes open nonetheless.

Pippin stood beside Merry's bed, an impish grin sprawled across his face. His curly hair was a tangled mess and looked as if he hadn't properly combed it after his bath the night before. He was holding a long, green stem topped with small clusters of leaves and miniature buds.

"Come on, Merry," Pippin urged, reaching down to give his friend another poke on the chin. Merry lazily swatted the descending greenery away, and rolled over onto his back, stretching languidly. He felt as if he was sinking into the soft sheets, and he smiled slightly at the feel of a real mattress beneath his back and pillow under his head. It was sheer bliss.

Sunlight was streaming into the airy room through three large windows set into the far wall. The cheerful twittering of songbirds and cooing of doves wafted in on a sweet breeze that carried the scent of flowers and rich earth.

"What's so urgent, Pip?" Merry asked his cousin, who looked like he was about to burst.

"I'm hungry," was the profound reply. "Get up so we can go get something to eat!"

Just at that moment, Merry's stomach decided to rumble ominously. He looked down towards his midriff, and cracked a grin.

Swinging his legs off of the bed, Merry stretched again. By the time he actually gained his feet, Pippin was holding a pair of dark green breeches out to him, along with a silk shirt of the palest cream. Merry cocked an eyebrow at the clothing, but began to dutifully pull on the pants.

"Where'd these clothes come from?" he asked as he buttoned the pants. They were a little too big both in the waist and in the legs, and the cuffs bulged where they dragged along the ground.

"I think they're elvish clothes," Pippin replied as Merry began to roll up the bottoms of his pants. "They were sitting on the chest of drawers when I woke up this morning." It was only then that Merry realized that there were tiny threads of gold along the seams that made it look almost as if a delicate vine twined up each leg and around the ankle.

Merry glanced at Pippin after pulling the nightshirt over his head. Although he hadn't taken note of the fact before, Pippin wore breeches of midnight blue and a snow white shirt. Tiny flashes of silver glittered from the collar of the shirt and down along the sleeves, making it appear as if he were sparkling in the sunlight.

"I'm amazed that they had clothes that can fit us. Well," amended Merry as he donned the shirt and the sleeves fell far past his hands, "that almost fit us. The proportions are a bit off."

The door swung open as Merry was finishing tucking the shirt into the breeches, and Sam came into the room. He looked slightly haggard, as if he hadn't slept as well as the other two, and his brows were drawn together with worry. Like the others, he too wore elven clothing, with dark brown breeches and a collared shirt of sky blue. Tiny embroidered flowers marched up and down along the seams and around the collar and the hems.

"How is Frodo?" Merry asked Sam.

Sam shrugged. "Lord Elrond says he thinks he'll be okay. He was still sleeping when I left a moment ago."

"We were about to go try to find some food," Pippin piped up. "Would you like to come?"

"Actually, that's why I'm here," Sam began, a faint blush creeping up his cheeks. "I was told that I wasn't going to be allowed back to see Mr. Frodo until I ate something."

"Well, come on then," Merry said brightly, slinging an arm over Sam's shoulders as Pippin bounded forward and yanked the door wide enough for the three of them to pass through. "Let's go get some breakfast."

"Well technically," Pippin interjected, "it's time for second breakfast."

They had hardly noticed their surroundings the night before as they had been lead, stumbling, toward their rooms, half asleep on their feet. Thus it was that it seemed to the hobbits that they were seeing the Last Homely House for the first time. The beauty of the elven sanctuary nearly overwhelmed them as they wandered the hallways, searching for the kitchen or the dining room. It was as if everywhere they looked there was a new wonder to behold, whether it was a statue, or a tapestry, or simply a carved door handle. Merry would never be able to say exactly how long they wandered those hallways, completely lost, yet completely at ease.

An elf rounded a corner just ahead of them, his attention fixated on a leather bound book in his hands. He seemed to sense that he was no longer alone in the corridor, however, for he stopped abruptly and lifted his gaze. When his eyes settled on the three young hobbits, a warm smile spread across his face, and he closed the book gently.

"Greetings, master hobbits," the raven-haired elf greeted them, bowing slightly. Surprised, Merry bobbed a bow in return, and he caught a glimpse of his friends doing the same on either side of him.

"Hello," Pippin said automatically in reply. Out of the three of them, he seemed the least awed by the noble being before them.

"Are the three of you lost?" the tall elf queried, not unkindly. A knowing glint gleamed in his eyes.

"We were just looking for the kitchens and something to eat, and we got turned around," Sam told the elf, a little defensively.

"I understand," the elf said, and his gaze resting on Sam. "This is a large place, and it is easy to get turned around. Would you like me to show you the way to the dining hall?" he offered.

"Please," Merry replied quickly. His stomach was definitely feeling very hollow.

"This way," the elf urged, and turned back the way he had come.

As they walked, the elf attempted to draw the hobbits into a conversation. Merry found that the more he spoke, the more at ease he became.

"Ah, but I am being remiss in my manners," the elf exclaimed. "I am Erestor, advisor and councilor to Lord Elrond. I hope you slept well last night?"

"Oh, yes," Merry replied. "I haven't slept so well since before leaving home. Oh, and I'm Merry, and this is Pippin and Sam."

"I am pleased to make your acquaintances," Erestor said with another soft smile. "You are from the Shire, are you not?"

"Yes," Pippin answered.

"I have never been there in all my long years, and have always been intrigued. Estel has never told me much, despite my queries. Perhaps you three would be willing to tell me about your home?" He did indeed sound hopeful, and Merry couldn't help but grin slightly at the eagerness in the elf's voice.

With that, the three hobbits began to chatter, the details of their homeland slipping off their tongues effortlessly, and they found that it easy to talk to this tall, slightly enigmatic, dark-haired elf. For Erestor's part, he was intrigued throughout the entire conversation, often making quiet remarks, or asking questions about certain things. By the time that they had descended the final sweeping staircase to the ground floor, Merry felt perfectly at ease.

"Here you are," Erestor announced as they reached a set of large, oaken doors set into the end of a short corridor. He stopped a few feet away, and bowed slightly. "I am afraid that I must take my leave of you now, for there is something that I must attend to. However, I believe Strider is eating now, so you should have some company." Merry didn't miss the slight pause before the word 'Strider', as if Erestor had thought for a second about the name. "Perhaps we will speak again some time." The hobbits nodded in agreement, and bade the tall elf farewell. With that, he turned, and strode away from the small group, his robes billowing slightly.

"Well come on," Pippin said a few seconds later. "I'm starved." He reached up and tugged on the latch above his head. With a small, deep groan, the right hand door swung open just enough for the three of them to slip through one after the other.

If Merry had been amazed by the beauty of the house before, he was struck dumb now. The ceiling rose high above them, and it seemed to Merry that he was gazing up at a thick canopy of trees and leaves. The pillars spaced evenly along the walls resembled intricately carved tree trunks, and the arches that spread out above were fashioned into the likeness of branches. Silken tapestries of midnight blue embroidered in gold hung from the beams, giving one the impression of looking up at the night sky. Windows lined the right hand wall, which allowed the late morning sunlight stream in unfettered. A large fireplace was set in the center of the left hand wall, but it was empty save a few unlit logs. Tables draped with linens of varying shades of blue and green lined the long hall, with cushioned benches pushed underneath. On the far end of the room rose a dais, with three steps leading up to it. A table sat atop the small platform, and there were seven high-backed armchairs sitting regally behind it. Three smaller, less ornately carved chairs were squashed in on the ends of the table, as if they had been placed there as an afterthought, or as only temporary addendums.

"Whoa," Sam murmured, and Merry felt that that quite accurately described his own feelings.

To the hobbits' surprise, there were a number of elves eating at the various tables, despite the late hour. The high table was also occupied, Merry noted, although he barely spared a glance for it. Instead, his gaze was drawn to the platters of food, as well as stacks of cutlery, that were arrayed on a long trestle table pushed against the wall with the fireplace. The mouthwatering aroma of freshly baked breads and melted cheese wafted through the air, causing all of their stomachs to rumble loudly.

Drawn by the sight of the food, the hobbits entered the large room, the door swinging shut behind them. To their slight surprise, yet immense relief, the food table was set low to the ground, well within easy reach of their short stature. Merry wondered at that for half a second, but dismissed it as an attempt to make short guests – such as hobbits and dwarves – more welcome. He had heard that Rivendell was a place meant for travelers of all sorts and races.

After gathering the appropriate cutlery, Merry began to pile his plate with food – thick-crusted bread with spongy white insides, cheese melted over small wafers, sliced fruit – peaches, plums, and apples – blueberry and blackberry pastries, a small bowl of porridge flavored with strawberries and a thin cream, and, lo and behold, biscuits with mushroom gravy.

"Where should we sit?" Pippin asked. His plate was even more laden down than Merry's.

"Erestor said that Strider was here. Perhaps we can go sit with him," Sam suggested.

Merry scanned the room. He saw a number of elves, many of them with dark hair, like Strider, but he couldn't find the broad-shouldered figure that had come to mean peace and safety over the past days. "I don't see him," Merry said, and scanned the hall again.

"Me either," Sam agreed ruefully.

They selected a table situated in the near end of the room. There was a small, strategically placed clustering of tables that did not rise quite as high as the others, yet were still in full view of the high table. The benches, too, were smaller, although still much bigger than what the hobbits were accustomed to in their own homes.

Merry was only just putting his plate down, and preparing to settle himself on the cushioned bench, when a peal of laughter rang out in the hall. It was oddly familiar, and Merry turned, searching for the source. His eyes drifted to the dais, and he froze, his eyes glued to the scene before him.

Lord Elrond – for the noble, raven-haired elf with the thin gold circlet, who sat in the largest, most ornately carved chair at the center of the table, could only be Lord Elrond – had firmly planted his forehead in one hand, and a faint blush was creeping up his cheeks. That in and of itself was enough to shock an onlooker, but it was not the sight to which Merry was staring agape at.

Sitting two seats down from Elrond, dressed in a simple, yet elegant tunic of deep gray that was a far cry from his normal worn and stained garb, sat Strider. He was smirking, and his shoulders were shaking with barely suppressed laughter as he listened to another of the elves sitting at the high table. Merry had never seen him so open and carefree.

The elf telling the tale sat on the other side of Lord Elrond, and he was alike enough in appearance and demeanor to the lord of Imladris, that Merry could only guess that he was a son. He, too, was dark of hair, and he held himself with an innate sense of dignity that would not be amiss in one of the kings of old. He was leaning forward so that his elbows rested on the table, and he was looking around his father and toward Strider, a wicked grin dancing across his face.

Strider turned to look at Lord Elrond, eyebrows raised. Merry, his entire concentration focused on the proceedings, managed to decipher a few of Strider's words.

"Really, Adar? You actually dumped…"

"Well, I'll be…" Sam murmured, following Merry's gaze up to the dais. A second later, Pippin glanced up as well, realizing that his friends had not yet even sat down.

"Is that Strider?" he asked, shocked. "What's he doing up there?"

Realizing that he was staring, Merry tore his gaze away from the strange sight, and sat down quickly. His meal was getting cold, he noticed, and quickly began to eat.

"You think I know?" he replied Pippin around a mouthful of bread and fruit. Sam didn't see fit to add anything else.

Conversation halted after that as the three hobbits dove into their meal with great gusto. For a long while, the only sound at their table was of contented chewing and pleased sighs.

"I've gotta admit," Merry said, stabbing a slice of cheese, "this elvish stuff tastes quite good."

"Quite good?" Pippin asked, incensed. "This stuff is amazing. I've never tasted food quite like this before. Everything tastes so…so fresh, and clear, and clean, as if the air itself sweetened it."

Merry glanced up at the high table, his gaze seeking Strider. To his surprise, he didn't see the man. He shrugged mentally, and returned to his meal. It wasn't his business to nose into other people's affairs. He wouldn't deny that he had been hoping their guide and protector would come and talk to them, but it seemed as if he had much more important things to do than spend time with a few hobbits. Merry accepted that, although he did feel a small pang of sorrow. He didn't want to lose his friend – for that was what Strider had become, a friend.

"I see that you three managed to find the dining hall," a quiet voice said from behind Merry. He jumped slightly, and whirled, only to find himself face to face with none other than a smiling Strider.

"Strider!" Pippin exclaimed, grinning broadly.

"Do you mind if I join you?" Strider indicated the bench.

"Not at all," Merry replied, and Sam nodded in agreement.

The tall man sat down on the bench, facing away from the table, and stretched his long legs out. He leaned back, propping his elbows against the tabletop, the better to be able to see, and converse with the three hobbits, who were still eating enthusiastically.

"I hope you slept well?" he asked.

"Oh yes," Pippin replied, unconsciously echoing Merry. "It was wonderful to be able to sleep in a real bed again," he added, grinning.

Strider chuckled. "Aye, that it was," he agreed. "How do the clothes fit you?"

"The clothes? Oh," Merry laughed, and glanced down at the shirt he was wearing. "They fit quite well, actually. I'm amazed that the elves had clothes that could fit us this well. Their proportions seem to be all wrong. No offense, of course."

Strider laughed quietly. "You are actually quite right, Merry," he affirmed. "Elven proportions are different than human, or hobbit, in your case. Those aren't elven clothes, though," he added.

"Really?" Sam asked, looking at Strider quizzically. "Then whose were they?"

"They belonged to a rather rambunctious human child many years ago," he replied. "They have seen much wear and tear, so I apologize for any small holes or stains." He blushed slightly.

"These were yours, then," Sam said after a second's thought, looking at Strider with newfound wonder.

"Yes. A very long time ago," the man replied, smiling wistfully.

"Well," Merry stated matter-of-factly, "I'm glad you had them."

"I didn't even know Lord Elrond had kept them." Strider shook his head slightly. "Still, I, too, am glad that they were available. Hopefully your own clothes will be able to be returned to you soon, washed and fully mended."

The conversation lulled, and Strider was making as if he was preparing to rise, when Pippin piped up.

"Strider?"

"Yes, Pippin?" the man replied, turning an inquisitive gaze on the oldest of the three hobbits.

"If you don't mind my asking, why were you sitting up at the high table?"

The man's gaze flickered up toward the dais, which again had a third occupant – a golden-haired elf that was just sitting down. The silence stretched on for a few seconds longer, as if Strider were contemplating his response. Finally, he spoke.

"Because, Pippin," Strider said, looking back to the young hobbit, "that's where my seat is," he informed them simply. It was clear that the hobbits weren't satisfied with that vague and slightly enigmatic response, and he sighed. "Perhaps I'll tell you the full tale another time," he told them, "but it is not for here, or now, I think."

"Now," he said briskly, sitting up as Sam took a final bite and Merry finished scraping the final traces of gravy from his plate, "would the three of you like a tour of Rivendell?"

Sam shifted conscientiously. "I was hoping I could go back and sit with Mr. Frodo," he said.

A small, knowing smile lit up Strider's eyes. "I can take you to his room," he offered. "Merry, Pippin?" Merry grinned and Pippin nodded energetically. "Very well. Come on, then," he said, standing and leading them over to a small square table set off to one side. Six large tubs filled with warm, soapy water sat atop it, filled with various pieces of dishware. Strider showed them which tub was for which utensil, then led them out of the dining hall.

It didn't take them long to traverse the stairs and halls to Frodo's room. Strider knew where he was going, and every so often, he would point out a specific tapestry or vase, and would accompany it with a short story. After a few moments, they reached the door to Frodo's room.

"I'll come by later," Strider promised Sam as the hobbit made to open the door. "You don't have to bear the burden of watching over him alone." Merry didn't understand what Strider meant, but Sam seemed to, for he smiled gratefully up at their guardian.

"Thank you, Strider," he replied, the words heartfelt. With that, he disappeared inside, closing the door gently behind him.

"What would you like to see first?" Strider asked, leading the way down the corridor. "I could show you the stables, or the grounds, or show you the house itself, or take you down to the pools…"

Their stay here was going to be far from dull, Merry decided. Not only was there much to see and do, but also there was a riddle to be solved. Just who was Strider? And what was his story? With a grin and a determined bounce in his step, Merry determined that he would find out the answers to his questions, one way or another.