Finished! This is without a doubt the strangest, dizziest, most convoluted and surreal tale I've ever written. I'll have to try this again sometime, once they let me out of these restraints.

Baylor: You don't think there are enough Merry/Sam interactions? I hope you enjoy the end of this chapter, my friend.

Firiel: I agree, more than a little "modern language" crept into this story, and I didn't do much to stop it. I'm so careful and precise about what I write in most of my stories, but I consider this tale a break from all the angst; a chance to just kick back and enjoy.

Marion: I love your assessment of the hobbits, "scarred by experience but NOT defeated by it!" You betcha.

Nilmandra: This story is just a relaxed and light one, in which an elf might just be discovered drinking ale. (BTW, is it written somewhere that they *wouldn't* drink ale?)

DISCLAIMER: Of course. The characters don't belong to me, I just get to think about them day and night.



Chapter 9 --- Turnabout

The four hobbits looked from the long table, to each other, and back to the table again, dumbfounded. When Faramir had invited them to dinner, they had expected.. well.. dinner. Not the incredible feast laid out before them.

"Faramir," murmured Frodo. "This is wonderful."

Faramir was warmed by the hobbits' reactions, and laughed as his four small friends eagerly raced to the low chairs he had had brought into his room from their library. All four bowed to their host, then stood respectfully as Faramir faced West for a moment of silence.

As they all sat, and the hobbits more or less started inhaling the food, Faramir chuckled to himself to see that Frodo and Pippin were sitting as far apart from each other as possible. He stood and offered a toast.

"My friends," Faramir said, smiling at each hobbit in turn, "I wanted to thank you. Gimli explained to me your true motivations, and I have to say that I have never known such a devoted friendship and warm regard as you four have shown me."

Frodo paused with a roll halfway to his mouth. "Gimli?" He looked at Sam, puzzled. Since Sam looked as confused as he felt, Frodo stole a glance at Merry, then at Pippin. Everyone was looking confused.

"Faramir," Pippin ventured. "I'm not entirely sure---"

"Peregrin," Faramir smiled at him. "You can be entirely sure that all the play-acting was quite effective. The four of you wanted to give me a distraction from missing Éowyn so much, and believe me, your pretense of a feud was *most* distracting."

"Our..." Frodo was even more confused than before. "Our pretense of a feud?"

"Indeed!" Faramir sat down, chuckling. "Most inspired! So intricately planned! Imagine anyone believing that Frodo could be frightened by Peregrin, and that Peregrin could possibly undertake to 'stalk' his dear cousin. And yet, I believed it all! Well done, my friends, and thank you."

Pippin was about to say something else, when Merry kicked him under the table.

"You're right, Captain Faramir," declared Sam suddenly. Whatever in the world was going on, he wasn't going to let this opportunity slip away. Things had gone on as long as he could stand it. "Why, you've never seen closer cousins than these three right here. A real feud between any of 'em? Impossible!"

"You said it, Sam," said Merry. He winked at Sam and clapped Pippin on the shoulder. Enough was enough. "And such acting! Why, sometimes I nearly believed it myself!"

"Frodo, Pippin, are you both well?" Faramir looked from one to the other. "Here, have some wine." He filled goblets for all the hobbits, and Frodo lunged at his desperately. Pippin drank his so fast he started to choke.

"This is wonderful wine, Faramir," said Merry appreciatively.

"Aye," said Sam. "Is this the same as you had at the cave, sir?"

"Indeed, Sam, the very same," said Faramir. "The vineyards south of the city are well known for..."

Frodo surreptitiously stole a glance down the table at Pippin, to find that Pippin was doing the same to him. They both started grinning at each other at the same moment, then Frodo burst out laughing.

"Faramir," Frodo interrupted, raising his goblet, "A toast to my dear cousin." He smiled at Pippin. "What a dull journey it would have been without you, Pip," he said softly.

Pippin smiled and raised his own goblet. "And to you, Frodo. Why, the very thought of me ever deliberately causing you even a moment's distress..."

Sam and Merry exchanged a look of relief, and Faramir just looked pleased.


Later that evening, Faramir sought out Legolas where he was walking in one of the gardens.

"How was dinner?" asked Legolas with a smile. "I take it everything went as planned?"

"A brilliant idea," said Faramir, shaking the Elf's hand. "I do believe we have seen the last of any stalking, hiding, feuding, or distress among our small friends."

"I am most relieved," said Legolas. "My respect for Gimli is second to none, Faramir, but I knew this had to be more than play acting. Hobbits are quite tenacious. Once Pippin gets an idea into his head---"

"I owe him my life, Legolas," Faramir said, "Besides, Peregrin is still a youngster in their years, and scarcely to blame. I understand Frodo really did write something quite uncomplimentary about him."

"It *was* rather unsavory," Legolas agreed. "However, I, for one, would not wish to be on the receiving end of any mischief on the part of Peregrin Took."

"Then perhaps you should not have interpreted the message for him."

"Are you implying that I am to blame for this entire incident?"

"Not entirely, perhaps, but surely you must assume some of the---"

Sam and Merry, walking off the dinner some distance away, had stopped behind a tree to listen.

"Are *they* fighting now?" Sam was incredulous.

"Seems so," whispered Merry. He grinned. "Maybe we could think of something to distract them, Sam. I mean, they'd never suspect it from you and me, would they?"


"Great! Actually, I have an idea about---"

"No, Mr. Merry. No!"


"No means 'no'!"

Merry sighed. "It would have been fun."

Sam looked sideways at him. "We could have pulled it off."

Merry looked excited. "Let me just tell you about what I---"


"Frodo would finally get that title Pippin was going on about," Merry murmured, as if to himself.

Sam looked up. "Would he?"

"Don't you think he deserves one?"

"Of course, but---"

"Then listen to this, Sam. We could---"

Sam started backing away in a panic. "Please stop talking, Mr. Merry."

"Never mind." Merry sighed. "Come on, let's go back to the house."

Legolas looked around, frowning. "Did you hear voices?"

"No." Faramir held out his hand again. "Why are we quarreling, Legolas? There has been enough strife in this city."

"Agreed." Legolas took the Man's hand and smiled. "We will all miss the hobbits when they have returned home; however, by then, you will have your Lady at your side. I suspect you will then have as much 'distraction' as you can handle."

Faramir grinned, thinking of Éowyn. "I suspect you are right. A good night to you, Legolas."

"Good night, my friend."

** END **