(Written in 2007 for Anso the Hobbit's birthday.)

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Frodo is 18, Merry is 4 ½ (or 12 and almost 3 in Man-years)


Merry felt the familiar hands of his nursemaid take hold of him, and, startled let go of the doorknob.

"Master Merry!" Dahlia exclaimed reproachfully to the determined little faunt in her charge…..

He turned stormy eyes upon her. "I want Fro!" he said angrily. He wasn't sure how many a "thousand" was, but he must have told her that at least that many times today.

Dahlia sighed. "Master Merry, you can't go in there. Master Frodo has a cold, and you might catch it." She thought they must have repeated this conversation a dozen times this morning.

"I won't!" he said, digging in his little heels a bit as she tried to lead him away. It didn't help, and he found himself trotting beside her willy-nilly as she led him back to the nursery.

She picked up his favorite toy, a stuffed pony from his Granda Rory on the Master's last birthday. It was made of leather, and stuffed firm and hard, unlike the other rather squishy stuffed animals he had. It had realistic glass eyes and a mane and tail made of real pony-hair. She tried to hand it to him, but he turned his back on her, and clambered up to the window seat sullenly.

Shaking her head, Dahlia put the pony down, and leaving the door to the nursery open, she went back to Frodo's room. She should have known there would be trouble with Master Merry. Frodo had wakened that morning with a stuffy head, sneezing and coughing, and running a low fever. The Hall's healer had been in, and she'd said it was just a slight cold, and a day or so in bed with plenty to drink and a bit of willow-bark tea for the aches and fever, and he'd soon be fine. But of course, Merry was to be kept away from his cousin lest he get the cold as well-and there lay all the trouble.

For most of the time Master Merry was an easy child to care for, with a sunny nature, biddable, clever, and quick to learn. Dahlia was the first to admit that her job was far easier than most nursemaids-she'd only the one little lad to care for, and him so sweet-natured most of the time. And she had to admit as well, that much of the burden of her job was willingly taken off her hands by his older cousin-for Master Frodo doted on the little one, and it seemed to make him feel better to help care for the child. Dahlia couldn't grudge him that, poor motherless orphan, who was so often sorrowful. She often missed her own parents, away at Whitfurrows, but she knew that she could visit them whenever she had the chance-at least they were still alive. Everyone knew that when Master Frodo was grieving, only Master Merry could cheer him up. But being as Frodo spoiled the child outrageously, when there was reason for them to be separated, it quite put Master Merry's little back up. Few things made him upset, but being kept apart from his beloved older cousin was one thing that could be counted on to do so.

Usually his mum could distract him when he was in such a mood, but the Hall was very busy this week, and Mistress Esmeralda was in the kitchens, helping her mother-in-law supervise the putting up of the harvest.

Dahlia cracked the door to Frodo's room, not knocking, in case he was asleep. He sat propped against his pillows, reading a book by lamplight, for there was no window in his room, which was an inner one.

"Do you need anything, Master Frodo?" she asked.

"No, thank you, Dahlia! There is still some juice in the pitcher here." His voice was still a bit thick, though not so raspy as it had been earlier in the morn.

"Well, Mistress said for you to let me know, if you should need anything."

He gave her a sweet smile, and shook his head. She backed out, and closed the door, and nearly tripped when she turned and found Merry underfoot.

He turned stormy grey eyes upon her. "If Frodo is cold, he needs me to make him warm."

She took his hand a bit more firmly than she usually did. Really, he was making her quite cross this morning. "Back to the nursery, Master Merry!" she said sharply. "Master Frodo is not cold, he has a cold-that means he is a little bit sick, and if you go in there with him, then he could make you sick as well."

"No, he won't. I won't get sick. Frodo would not do that."

Dahlia rolled her eyes. "He wouldn't be able to help it Master Merry." She pulled him back to the nursery once more.

Merry jerked away from her when they returned to the nursery, and sat down hard in the middle of the floor, and folded his arms, pouting. Why was Dahlia being so stupid? Frodo needed him. What was the matter with her? Frodo would not do anything bad to him, like make him sick! Anyone should know that! He bit his lip and glared up at her.

Dahlia tut-tutted and sat down in the rocking chair, with one of Merry's little shirts to mend. He had somehow lost most of the buttons from it, and so she began to sew new ones on.

He watched her for a while, but though she was busy, she clearly would know in an instant if he tried to leave the nursery again. After a little while he tired of staring at her, and lay down upon the rug with his arms pillowing his chin. He kicked his feet for a while, until she looked up and shook her head at him. He closed his eyes to think. There had to be some way to get into Frodo's room.

Dahlia finished with the little shirt, and then glanced over at him. Ah, he'd fallen asleep. Good, at least he would not be bothering her for a little while about going into Frodo's room

She had begun to let down the hems on a pair of his breeches, when there was a knock on the outer door to the apartment. With a glance at the lad, who lay with his head pillowed on his arm, she put down the mending, and went to answer the door.

It was one of the maidservants, with the basket of laundry belonging to the family of the Son of the Hall.

Dahlia took the basket. "Hullo, Yarrow," she said, "how are things going?"

Yarrow giggled. "The kitchens are that busy, that for once I am glad to be helping in the laundry! The Mistress has all the kitchen hobbits on the hop, I can tell you! In the main kitchen they are making apple butter-I took some clean dish towels in there, and the smell was wonderful!"

Merry had opened his eyes a slit when Dahlia had gone out of the room. But she had left the door open, and she would easily see if he tried to creep out. This was a real problem. He needed to see Frodo. If Frodo was sick that meant he felt bad. And when Frodo felt bad it was Merry's job to cheer him up. Why was Dahlia being so silly about all this?

"Do you have time to come in for a bit, Yarrow?" Dahlia asked. She would not mind some grown-up conversation right now.

"This was my last load to bring up," her friend replied. "I'm in no hurry to get back down there right now. If there is not more laundry to be done, I might be sent to the kitchens." She grinned. Most of the time she would not mind that at all, but this time of year it was far too much work.

Dahlia chuckled, and took the basket. She'd put it in the nursery for now-most of it was Master Merry's clothes anyway. Yarrow followed her, and stood in the doorway as Dahlia put the basket on a table.

"Aw," said Yarrow, looking at Merry, as he lay upon the rug. "He's such a sweet picture."

Dahlia gave a soft snort. But she looked at her charge fondly, and took a coverlet from his bed to spread over him. The two went out, and once again Dahlia left the door wide open.

They went to the small kitchen, and Dahlia put the teakettle on, and took out a tin of biscuits. Her master and mistress never grudged her aught when it came to food and drink, and she knew they'd not mind if she had her friend to join her for a bit of elevenses. They would go sit in the other room to have their tea, so she'd have a view of the nursery door, and would hear if Merry or Frodo should need her.

Merry heard the sounds in the kitchen, and raised his head up. Now would be his chance. Dahlia could not see the nursery door from the kitchen. But if she saw he wasn't there when she came out, she'd come and check for certain. He sat up quickly. His eye lit on the bolster at the head of his little bed. It was the work of only a few seconds to pull it down to the floor and put the coverlet over it.

He heard the teakettle whistle, and scurried out, across the short passage and through his parents' room. He turned the knob on Frodo's door quietly, and slipped in. The lamp was burning low, and Frodo was snuggled down in his bed, making funny snorts and whistles as he breathed. But he was asleep, a little crease in his brow making Merry to know he must be having a sad dream. Merry closed the door, and quietly crept into the bed with his cousin, and patted him with a gentle hand, before snuggling up to him carefully. The crease smoothed out, and Frodo murmured something softly.
Merry smiled. "Love you, too, Fro," he whispered.

Dahlia and Yarrow were enjoying a nice gossip in the sitting room. Dahlia kept glancing in the nursery door, but it did not appear that Master Merry had stirred even a little bit. Poor little lad, he was probably all wore out from trying to sneak into his cousin's room.

Finally Yarrow put her teacup down with a sigh. "Well, this has been nice, but I'd better get back down to the laundry before they start wondering where I am. Does the family have any soiled laundry for me to take back with me today?"

Dahlia shook her head. "I don't think so. Mistress usually gathers all that up on Sunday."

As Yarrow left she bobbed a curtsy, for Esmeralda was coming in as she went out.

"Good day, Yarrow," she said pleasantly.

"Good day to you, ma'am," the little maidservant replied as she left.

Dahlia had risen as her mistress came in.

"I just thought I would pop in for a moment to check on my lads, Dahlia. How are they faring this morning?"

"Well, Master Frodo seemed to be breathing a little easier when I checked on him. And Master Merry was not happy with me for keeping him away from his cousin, but he's fallen asleep now," and the nursemaid nodded at the nursery door.

Esmeralda smiled, and went over to the nursery door to look in on her son.

"Dahlia?" There was an odd note to her voice.

Dahlia came over to her mistress apprehensively. What could be wrong? Then she got a close up look at the "napping" figure on the floor.

"Why, the clever little rascal!" she exclaimed. "That's his bolster!"

Esmeralda shook her head, and marched to Frodo's room, Dahlia trailing behind her. Opening the door, she was unsurprised at the sight which greeted her.

Frodo was sound asleep, but Merry was not. He lay next to his cousin, softly combing his little fingers through the dark curls. When he saw his mother, his eyes widened and he sat up.

"Meriadoc!" she exclaimed softly. She did not wish to waken Frodo.

Merry looked at her sternly. "Sshh, Mummy," he whispered. "He's sleeping."

His mother stared at the sight, crossly at first, and then her expression softened. She chuckled and backed out, closing the door quietly.

Dahlia was apologetic. "I'm ever so sorry, Mistress! I don't know how he slipped past me!"

Esmeralda shook her head ruefully. "I don't know why we ever thought we'd be able to keep Merry out of there. At any rate, the damage is done, and if Merry's to get a cold as well, it's too late to prevent it."

But Merry never did get Frodo's cold.