A New Arrival at Brandy Hall

Summary: Pretty self-explanatory. A gentle pre-Quest vignette featuring tweenage Frodo and wee!Merry. This is what comes out of a keyboard, a raging case of cabin fever, and a love for baby animals. No slash, sex, profanity, or violence.

Author's note: I'm reasonably certain that this tiny fic will have no plot to speak of. Since I can't spend much time with my own critters, due to the lousy weather, I'm using writing as a way to live vicariously through my characters.

This takes place in spring of 1390 S.R., when Frodo is still living in Buckland. Frodo is 21, Merry is 7.

Someone was quietly calling his name. Not Merry, then. Frodo's young cousin was rarely quiet about anything, and he had a habit of dashing into Frodo's room at the crack of dawn and bouncing on the bed, all the while chattering about everything and nothing all at once.

Frodo's first instinct was to roll over and go back to sleep. But some part of his mind registered that it was Uncle Saradoc who was calling him. The last time Uncle had come into Frodo's room, it had been to tell him that his parents had drowned. With that thought, he threw back the covers and leaped to his feet. There was a shout of surprise and Merry, who must have come into the room unbeknownst to Frodo, rolled off the bed. Frodo only just managed to catch the lad and set him on his feet. "Merry, I'm so sorry! I didn't realize you were there," he apologized.

"I'm all right, Cousin Frodo," Merry replied, sounding a little befuddled at the sudden intrusion. But Frodo was not wholly reassured. His uncle's presence brought back a few too many unpleasant memories.

"What's wrong, Uncle?" He couldn't stop the frisson of fear in his voice. Was someone ill? Merry looked fine, at least, though a little dazed from being nearly thrown onto the floor.

But Saradoc just smiled. "Heavens, Frodo, everything's fine. I've got a surprise for you lads. I thought you might like to be the first ones to see it."

The very mention of a surprise made Merry more alert. "What is it, Da? Is it someone's birthday? Has Cousin Bilbo come for a visit?" He practically bounced with excitement, thrilled at the idea of something new. His father chuckled.

"Easy does it, Merry, you have to stay nice and quiet for this surprise," Merry immediately went silent, though he continued to bounce happily. "Now, you boys get dressed and meet me at the front door. Don't wake any of the others," Uncle Saradoc seemed to be enjoying this immensely.

Merry ran back to his own room while Frodo washed and dressed as fast as possible, his curiosity growing with every minute. Uncle Saradoc was usually quite practical and took his duties as Master of Buckland very seriously. Frodo couldn't imagine what would make him so light-hearted. Especially this early in the morning, he thought, stifling a yawn as he made his way through the twisting passages of Brandy Hall to the largest of the three entrances.

Merry and his father were already there. Merry ran up to Frodo, grabbed his hand and tried to tug him out the door. "Frodo's here! Can we go now?" He said to his father, then paused. "Where are we going?"

Frodo grinned. He knew that Merry was more excited by the idea of a surprise than whatever it was that Uncle Saradoc was going to show them.

"We're going to the stables, Merry-lad. But, hold my hand. We don't want to scare it," was Uncle Saradoc's rather mysterious reply.

Most of the ponies at Brandy Hall lived outside, happily grazing their way through the fields and taking shelter under the trees when it rained. The stable was mostly for messengers' ponies and animals belonging to guests. Frodo followed his uncle curiously to the small paddock beside the building and looked over the gate.

Jolly Burrows, the head groom at Brandy Hall, was crouched down next to a pretty chestnut mare, his back to the approaching group. Frodo could hear him talking softly to someone, or something. "There you go, young miss, I'll not hurt you, see?" Comprehension dawned and Frodo grinned. Even though Jolly's broad body was in the way, Frodo had a pretty good idea who he was speaking to. Poppy was one of his favorite ponies and he had noticed that she was looking rather stouter than normal the past few weeks.

Merry was a bit confused. He tugged on Saradoc's hand. "Da, who's Jolly talking to? Is Poppy hurt?"

"She's fine, Merry," Saradoc replied quietly. He raised his voice a bit. "Jolly, how's the little one?"

"Right as rain, sir, and just waking up from her nap." As he spoke, Jolly moved around to Poppy's other side, revealing a tiny golden foal curled up on the grass.

Merry squealed and clapped his hands. "A baby pony! Is it a boy or a girl? Can we pet it, Da? Does it have a name?"

Saradoc laughed and opened the gate. Merry made to run toward the ponies but his father caught one hand and Frodo the other. "Merry, just walk. We don't want to scare them," Saradoc reminded the child. The foal scrambled to its feet as the three hobbits slowly approached. Frodo paid close attention to his uncle, who told them that the foal was a filly, a girl; that she had been born last night, and hadn't been named yet. Merry probably didn't hear a word of it, he was so focused on the foal.

Jolly gently held the filly still, so that Merry and Frodo could pet her. She was covered in golden fuzz that was soft as a cloud and friendly enough to nuzzle Merry's hair. He giggled. "Her whiskers tickle!" He looked up imploringly at his father. "Can we feed her a treat?"

"She's a bit too small for treats. However, I just might have a little something that you can give to Poppy," Saradoc smiled and handed Merry a piece of apple. "Do you remember how to feed her so she can't bite?" Merry's attention immediately shifted to proving that he was a big boy, and knew how to feed a pony.

While his cousin was distracted, Frodo turned to Jolly and asked the question that had worried him since they had entered the paddock. "Is she really all right, Jolly?" he asked quietly. "I just noticed you were bent over her like there was something wrong."

"Now, Master Frodo, don't you worry," Jolly chuckled. "The little lady was just getting her first lessons. See, she has to be taught that we won't hurt her and the best way to do that is to spend a few minutes each day, just getting her used to us. My cousin Nic looks after the ponies for the Thain and he says that a foal that gets some attention just after its born will always grow up to be more friendly than one born out in the field."

Frodo considered this. It was certainly a more cheerful explanation than he had originally thought. It would have been terrible if such a little foal was sick. But then, he reasoned, Uncle Saradoc would have kept him and Merry far away if there was a chance that the filly might not live. But, could such a new born animal actually learn? "But she's so small. Will she even remember this when she grows up?"

"She'll remember most of it, and its my job to keep reminding her, every day. I start by talkin' to her and pattin' her, then show her that a brush and a halter aren't to be scared of, and before she knows it, she'll be wearing a harness and pulling a carriage pretty as a picture." Jolly took a breath to continue his praise of the filly when a loud whinny sounded from a few paces away. "And here's the proud papa now."

Frodo turned to see a handsome buckskin stallion staring over the fence from an adjoining paddock. Bramble, he was called. Frodo wasn't sure if he looked proud of his new daughter, but he certainly looked curious, with his ears pricked forward and nostrils flared, staring at Poppy and the foal. Poppy immediately flattened her ears and the hobbits all took a few steps back. Saradoc picked up Merry, despite the boy's protest. Poppy stomped her foot angrily and the filly hid behind her mother. The hobbits quietly retreated to the gate, not wanting to get caught up in whatever conflict the ponies were having over their baby.

"Are they fighting, Da?" Merry asked.

"Not exactly. Poppy's just telling Bramble to stay away from her baby. He can't get through the fence and wouldn't hurt her on purpose, but she doesn't know that. Let's stay out here and watch for a few minutes; she'll calm down soon enough."

The boys watched, enraptured, as the filly forgot her brief fright and capered about, investigating everything within a few yards of her mother, until Saradoc's voice broke the spell. "Come on, Frodo, Merry, let's get some breakfast. You can come back out and watch them later this morning. They're not going anywhere."

Merry's attention was immediately caught by the idea of food and he dashed toward the hall as though he hadn't eaten in days. Frodo and Saradoc bid Jolly a good morning and followed at a more sedate pace.

Saradoc was the first to break the silence. "I thought you might like to be one of the first to see the filly. I know Poppy's one of your favorites."

Frodo looked up at his uncle curiously. How could Uncle Saradoc possibly know something like that? Out of all the thousand tiny details fighting for the Master's attention at any given time, why would that be important? Saradoc smiled at his expression. "You thought I wasn't paying you any mind, didn't you?" He stopped and put his hand on Frodo's shoulder. "Frodo, you are my sister's son. I would be a poor uncle indeed if I didn't keep an eye on my nephew, even if I can't always spare you much attention."

Frodo was rather stunned by this admission. He had never wanted for anything at Brandy Hall, but it was nice to hear that someone was taking notice of him. He felt the words settle in his mind, ready to be explored at another time. But now was not the time, so he was pleased at Saradoc's next, lighter words. "Now, come on. Let's find some breakfast before Merry scarfs it all down." Frodo smiled at the thought and headed toward the hall, feeling lighter of heart than he had in a long while. He had someone looking out for him.

Author's note: So, how was it? I hope no one died from a fluff overdose… Hobbit children are rather adorable, aren't they?

I suspect there will be some curiosity over Frodo's characterization. I'm working off the assumption that he's an intelligent and perceptive youngster, but is somewhat overlooked in the chaos of Brandy Hall. This, along with the death of his parents, would cause him to lose some confidence, which was restored after his adoption by Bilbo, who nurtured Frodo's good characteristics and turned him into the hobbit seen in canon. I just couldn't quite find a way to convey that in-story.

Just as a point of interest: A buckskin horse has a light brown or sandy-colored body with a black mane and tail. If you cross a buckskin with a chestnut, the foal can be bay (brown with a black mane and tail), chestnut (reddish-brown), buckskin, or palomino (yellowish-gold). This particular baby is palomino because I think that color has the highest 'aww! factor'.