(Written in 2005 for Marigold's Challenges)
SUMMARY: The more things change, the more they stay the same…
DISCLAIMER: Middle-earth and all its peoples belong to the Tolkien Estate. I own none of them. Some of them, however, seem to own me.
THE APPLES DON'T FALL FAR FROM THE TREE…
There was a frightening whine and whistle to the wind, and the sun was hidden behind a roiling bank of black clouds. But this did nothing to drown out the snarling and barking of the dogs-three of them, uncommonly large and fierce-which surrounded the small patch of brambles. Two young hobbits huddled together there in fear, the scratches and entangling vines no more than an annoyance compared to the beasts they protected them from. The older one, sandy-haired and grey-eyed, drew the younger one closer against him.
There was a sudden loud crack of thunder; the younger one flinched and buried his tear-filled green eyes into his cousin's side. As the rain suddenly began to pour down, the dogs turned tail and ran.
"Perry, I'm scared," said the younger hobbit.
"It's going to be all right, Faramir," said the older one. "The dogs are gone now, we'll be able to get out of this as soon as the rain lets up."
In the Master's study at Brandy Hall, the Master of Buckland glared at his daughter. The Thain of the Shire stood against the fireplace, looking both amused and exasperated.
Merry gave a snort of annoyance. "Simbelmynë Brandybuck! I know that you know where your brother and your cousin have gone. If you persist in saying nothing, you are going to find it a long time until breakfast."
Wyn glared, though she cringed inwardly. He father only ever used her real name when he was absolutely furious. Out loud, she said "Well, fasting might do me good. I need to lose weight." This of course, was absurd, but it was the first thing that popped into her head.
It was also very unwise.
Wyn suddenly found her elbow gripped, hard, as her mother, who had been standing back in silence grabbed her, and propelled her to the study window. There was a frightening whine and whistle to the wind, and the sun was hidden behind a roiling bank of black clouds. She gave her daughter a shake. "Look! Look! Look at that, and tell me to my face that it is all right for your brother and little Faramir to be out in that kind of weather!"
As if to make Estella's point for her, there was a crack of thunder, and the rain began to pour so hard that the view out the window was completely obscured.
Wyn's eyes filled with tears. "They've gone across the River," she whispered, "to Bamfurlong, to the Maggots. For mushrooms."
Merry and Pippin exchanged a look.
Estella let go of her daughter. "Go and join your sister and cousins in the other room with Aunt Angelica. And think about those two, out there in that-consider the kind of trouble they are in, and think about whether it is more loyal to keep a secret, or to keep your brother out of danger!"
Wyn fled the room in tears.
Estella turned to her husband. "Well?"
Merry looked at his cousin and they both flinched as they heard her unspoken words: This is all your fault.
"Perry, I don't think it is going to let up anytime soon." Faramir looked pitiful, his usual riot of dark curls plastered flat to his head, his Tookish green eyes wide. Perry couldn't tell if he were crying; any tears would have been washed away by the rain.
Perry pulled his cousin closer. Earlier he had tried to put part of his jacket over the little one, but it was useless. "I'm sorry, Fam," he said. "I didn't mean to get you into this, sprout. I thought it would be fun."
" 's all right, Perry." Fam sniffled, and then sneezed. "You didn't know it would rain like this."
Perry's eyes were stinging, and he knew the wet on his face was not all rain. He remembered back to when he was a little lad of only six, waiting for his baby cousin to be born, and the way his da had talked to him of the responsibility of being a cousin.
"Cousin Frodo always took good care of me, Perry. He called me 'sprout' and he carried me, and watched over me until I was old enough to follow him around. And then he never picked on me, or teased me meanly, the way some big brothers and cousins do to the younger ones. That is not to say he never played jokes on me or got cross with me, but I always knew he loved me."
Perry had looked up at his father. "And then you did the same thing for Uncle Pippin when he was born, didn't you?"
His father had laughed. "Well, I tried to, anyway. Your Uncle Pip would be the one to tell you whether I succeeded in looking after him or not."
And when Uncle Pippin had come out, and shown them the new little lad, he had gone first to Perry's da, and the way his cousin looked at his father with all the pride and love shining in his face, and said "Meet Faramir Took," Perry had known the answer without having to ask.
And he had been quite taken with the little Took baby, so bright-eyed and happy, just as another little Brandybuck had felt about another little Took long ago.
And now he had gone and taken his little cousin into real trouble. He listened miserably to another sneeze from the lad. The rain was never going to stop, and they would never get out of this briar patch.
Merry and Pippin led the ponies off the Ferry. They were two of Merry's ponies from Rohan; Shirebred ponies would not have set foot on the Ferry in that sort of weather. Silently they mounted and headed towards the Marish.
The rain showed no signs of slackening, and as well as the Lórien cloaks did at keeping out the water, in this sort of hard blowing rain, even they were next to useless. They rode steadily, if impatiently. Both longed to gallop-their only sons were out there somewhere in trouble-but they knew that the footing would be too dangerous for that.
After they had gone a short distance, Pippin stopped.
"What is it, Pip?" called Merry.
"Where are we going to look?"
"We'll start at Farmer Maggot's. The old farmer had died a few years back, but his eldest son had stepped into his place so easily it was as though no change had occurred. His son now was known only as "Maggot", and it was in a fair way to be forgotten that he had ever been called anything else.
"Good plan!" Pippin shouted. Being heard over the downpour was hard, and not conducive to conversation.
Wyn sat miserably in a chair in the corner. Her little sister Dilly and cousins Primmie, Pansy and Pet were playing with Uncle Freddy and Aunt Angelica's little lads Folco and Filibert. They were laughing and acting as though nothing was wrong. Of course they really were too little to know better. But she could not even pretend to be cheerful.
She had known very well that she should have told on her brother and her cousin when they had decided to sneak off to the Marish on a mushroom raid. But no, she thought it had sounded like a good lark, and halfway hoped they might invite her to come along, as they sometimes did. However, they did not say anything, and she did not ask. The older Fam got, the less Perry included her in their fun. She supposed that was only to be expected. Most lads of a certain age did not like girls and at best tolerated them, while the lasses felt the same way about them. But Wyn did not feel that way. Lads had much more fun.
Still, she never really thought to her to tell on her brother and cousin; even when her parents had begun to get worried at their absence. She was no tattletale. For the first time, she realized that once in a while, tattling might be the better thing to do. Another peal of thunder just underscored her worry.
If anything bad happened to Perry and Fam because of her keeping quiet, she would never forgive herself.
Merry and Pippin splashed up the lane to the Maggot's farmhouse. They dismounted and went to bang upon the door.
The door was opened by Maggot himself. "Master Brandybuck! Thain Peregrin! What are you doing out in weather like this? Come in, come in!"
"Maggot, I am sorry to intrude on you in this kind of weather," said Merry, "but were you aware of anyone trespassing on your property earlier in the day?"
"Now as you mention it, the dogs was barking and a-chasing something right after lunch. I thought as it might've been rabbits getting into the lettuce." He looked at the alarm on their serious faces. "What's this then, sirs?"
"I am very much afraid that it was our sons. My daughter told me that they proposed to come on a mushroom raid on your farm today."
Maggot's brows raised. "They're a bit on the young side for that, don't you think?"
"Well," said Pippin sheepishly, "a sight younger than we were when first we tried it. I am afraid it is our fault. Last night at supper the two of us got rather jolly remembering old times. I am very much afraid we made it sound like a very appealing lark." The worried look returned. "This weather makes it much more serious than just a lark, I fear."
Maggot's brows drew down. Lads raiding the crops was a nuisance to be sure, but it weren't often serious. They soon outgrew it, especially after one or two run-ins with his dogs. And they grew up. Master Brandybuck and the Thain had been regular rapscallions, but they was good friends and neighbors now. And they were right. This weather weren't nothing for young lads to be out in.
"We really need to find them, Maggot," said Merry worriedly. "Where did the dogs go?"
"They was a-chasing off across the lane through the fields to the west of here. Nowhere near any of my mushrooms, which is why I didn't think of lads out a-raiding."
Pippin shook his head. "They really are too young for this. They did not even bother to find out the lay of the land. Well, let us get back out there, Merry. We'll not find them standing here."
"I'll help," said Maggot. "Let me call my brothers."
He called his two younger brothers, who still lived at home with him, and now the five hobbits fanned out across the field he had indicated.
Perry had begun to sniffle and sneeze himself. His head hurt horribly. He had finally drawn his little cousin into his lap, and was huddling over him, attempting to at least keep him warm. Though he heard the occasional sniffle, he thought maybe the lad had dozed off.
Perry Brandybuck, he thought, this has got to have been your worst idea ever. He stiffened. Had he heard something? It was very faint; maybe he was imagining it, but it sounded like his father calling.
"Perry?" said Fam, stirring, "I thought I heard something."
"Peridoc! Perry Brandybuck!"
Merry and Pippin had shouted themselves almost hoarse, when they heard a faint cry: "Da? Da? Is that you?"
The searchers converged on the large patch of brambles; they could barely make out the small figures huddled in the center there miserably.
"Perry! Fam!" Their fathers rushed over, as did the three Maggot brothers.
"Papa?" said Faramir, crying.
"Da? I'm sorry, Da, I'm so sorry," Perry kept saying over and over.
"Can you crawl out, lads?"
"Yes, sir," said Perry. "We only didn't because of the storm."
Soon enough Faramir stumbled into Pippin's arms, crying hysterically. Peridoc followed, leaning into his father's embrace, still repeating his litany of apology. He was shivering hard, and sneezed several more times. Merry gathered him in tightly. "It's all right, son. We will talk about this later. Let's just get you somewhere warm and dry right now."
By the time they had reached the farmhouse, the rain had ended. Soon enough, the lads were tucked up in a big bed, being spoon-fed warm milktoast by Maggot's wife. The youngest Maggot brother headed for the Ferry and Brandy Hall to take the news that the lost had been found, and would return on the morrow.
Faramir ended up with a slight case of sniffles, which cleared up in just a day or two.
Perry, however, ended up very ill indeed. He had a fever so high it frightened Cousin Viola, the healer who had taken over at Brandy Hall after Cousin Dody had retired. He could not remember the journey home, and the intervening days were a jumble of misery and confusion, what he didn't sleep through.
But this morning, he awakened feeling almost well.
"Ah, you're back with us now, are you?" said a familiar feminine voice.
"Aunt Diamond? I thought you were in Tookland."
"Your Uncle Pippin sent for me, when they realized just how ill you were."
"But-" Diamond had not come with Pippin on this visit, as Pippin's sister Pervinca was ending her fourth confinement, and wanted no one else to deliver the babe.
"It is all right, Perry. You have another little lass cousin. She came just before I got your uncle's message."
"Oh." Tears sprang to his eyes. "It's probably good it's a lass. I'm not a very good cousin. I guess you probably are mad at me."
She placed her hand on his brow and gently smoothed his sweaty curls. "Did you mean to put Fam in danger?"
"No!" Perry's grey eyes filled at the thought.
"Well then, I don't think you are a bad cousin. I think that you are young and used bad judgment. And you took as much care of him as you could while you waited for help."
The door opened quietly. It was his father. "Diamond, he's awake now?"
She nodded. "I think he's going to be fine, Merry. Why don't I go and speak to Estella; I know she's still worried and would like to see him." The healer slipped from the room, giving Merry a pat on the shoulder as she left.
Merry came and sat down on the bed by his son, who looked at him with troubled eyes. "I am sorry, Perry," he said.
The lad's eyes widened. "You are sorry?" he asked incredulously.
"Yes. Your Uncle Pippin and I were having far too much fun telling stories of our younger days, and I am afraid that we did not think of how it would sound to you two lads. Both of us were a good few years older than you and Fam, and I am not boasting, but simply stating fact, that we had a much better idea of what we were doing. Scrumping and raiding are something hobbit lads do from time to time; it's not really a good thing though, and as you found out, it can even be dangerous. We should have realized we were encouraging you."
"I knew that we were not supposed to do it."
"You were not even supposed to be on the other side of the River, young hobbit, as you very well know. I am not going to give you a punishment; I think the natural consequences of what happened are punishment enough. I am just glad that those consequences were not worse."
Perry nodded. "Da, was Fam very sick?"
"No, you were a good deal sicker than he. He was hardly sick at all."
"That's good then. That's what scared me most-I was so awfully worried about Fam."
Merry drew his son into his embrace, and thinking back, remembered all the things that had frightened him most during his lifetime: Black Riders, and Orcs, and facing the Witch-king. But nothing had scared him as much as his fear for Pippin, his best friend and cousin.
Whatever Perry and Fam had to face over the years as they grew up, Merry was glad to know they had found the same kind of friendship.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: This story takes place in 1442. Merry's children are: Simbelmynë , called Wyn, 19 (12 ½ in Man years), Peridoc, called Perry, 18 (12 in Man years) and Niphredil, called Dilly, 8 (5 in Man years). Pippin's children are Primrose, called Primmie, 14 ( 8 ½ in Man years) Pansy and Petunia, called Pet, twins, 13 (8 in Man years) and Faramir, called Fam, 11(7 in Man years).