(Written in 2006)

A certain young Took has an important birthday...

AUTHOR'S NOTE: Frodo is 26, Merry 13, Pippin 5, Pearl 20, Pimpernel 16 and Pervinca 10. ( 16 ½, 8, 3, 13, 10 and 6 ½ in Man-Years.)

FIVE YEARS OLD

Eglantine put a firm hand on her squirming son, as she wielded the brush across his feet. The soft down of babyhood had given way now to a fine thick covering of furry chestnut curls, every bit as riotous as the ones on his head.

"When will Merry be here?" he asked for the fourth time in the last quarter hour.

She sighed. "I am not sure, but it will be sometime between second breakfast and luncheon if they got away from Bag End on time."

"And Frodo is coming with them?" he asked anxiously.

"Yes, Cousin Frodo and Cousin Bilbo will be riding with them in their carriage."

He bounced up and down. Eglantine reached for the other brush, for the curls on his head. He looked at her apprehensively, squinted his eyes shut, and hunched his shoulders up, going rigid. He hated having the hair on his head brushed. When she brushed up his toes, it only tickled, but he hated having the hair on his head brushed.

He started saying "Ow," as soon as the brush touched his head, and continued with a constant stream of "ouches!" and "oohs!" and "don't pull so hard, Mama!" as he flinched and wriggled.

"Mother," she corrected automatically. Took children said "mother" and "father" by long tradition, and he was old enough now to begin it. "Sit still, Peregrin."

"Mother." He repeated it dutifully, followed by another emphatic howl, as she tried to work the brush through a particularly recalcitrant snarl. However, there was no perceptible increase in the "sitting still" part.

Finally she pronounced him finished. He stood up on the bed, and gave her a hug and a kiss.

"I'm five."

"Yes, you are five years old."

"When can I see the presents?" he asked. He was anxious to see what he was giving to people at his party this afternoon.

"If I show you, you must promise not to tell."

He nodded solemnly, green eyes huge. He was going to be a big lad after today, no longer a faunt. He would be giving out proper gifts to everyone.

"Then I will show you after first breakfast."

He rushed through first breakfast, scarcely eating as much as usual-he only had one serving of porridge, and two scones with butter-though his mother would allow him no jam-and three small links of sausage, and a whole cup of milk, which he very nearly spilled. He gulped down the last of it, and turned to his mother. "Can I see now?" he asked.

Eglantine chuckled. "Let Pearl wash your face, and then I shall show you."

A few moments later he sat on the bed in his parents' room, and saw his mother take out a box, which she placed next to him. He rose up on his knees to peer in.

"The hair ribbons are for your sisters," she said.

He reached in and took them out. "White for Vinca, and blue for Pimmie, and pink for Pearl."

Eglantine raised a brow. She had thought of the pink for Vinca, and the white for Pearl, but now she would abide by his choice.

"This is for your father." She showed him a coin purse of green leather. "And this is for Uncle Saradoc." This was a pouch for pipe-weed, in a light brown leather. Pippin touched each one, and nodded, as if to give his approval. "Father likes green," he said.

"Yes, he does," answered his mother. "I think Aunt Esme will like this-" a white handkerchief, edged in lace, with a spray of tiny yellow flowers embroidered in one corner.

"Oh, she will," he breathed.

"These are for Cousin Bilbo and Cousin Frodo," She took out a glass stylus, which could be used for writing rather than a quill. It was of red and clear glass, swirled together. "I thought the red one for Cousin Bilbo," she said, "And this one-" the other was of shades of blue "for Frodo?"

"Those are splendid!" exclaimed Pippin. "The blue is like Frodo's eyes! And," he leaned over confidingly, "they like to write things."

"I know, my chick," said his mother, chuckling. "Now for Merry's gift."

She reached in, and took out the last offering, a box with a picture on the front, of a river or stream, with woods behind it, and a hobbit lad sitting on the bank with a fishing pole. She opened the box, and Pippin peered in.

He drew back in dismay. "M-Mother! It's all broken!" His green eyes filled with tears.

"Oh, no, my dear! It isn't broken-this is a picture puzzle. Merry must put the pieces together, to make the picture on the front of the box. It is a game of sorts."

Pippin scowled for a moment. "It seems like a lot of work." He peered in again. "But I think my Merry will like it-he likes to fix things."

She shook her head with an amused smile. "Trust me Pippin, it is not broken. But I do think he will like putting it together."

"Where is your present?" he asked, as he realized the box was empty.

She grinned at him. "Well, it would hardly be a surprise if I knew what it was. Your Pa-Father will show it to you after elevenses, when he comes in from supervising the sowing. Would you like to help me wrap these?"

At Pippin's enthusiastic nod, she went to a drawer, and drew out some scraps of fabric in various sizes, and Pippin helped choose which ones were to wrap which gifts. He used his chubby little finger to hold the ribbon in place, as his mother tied the bows, and watched her fasten the little labels on each one. "Why do all of them have those words on them?" He pointed to the same words, printed at the bottom of each tag.

"They say 'with love, from Peregrin Took'," was her response.

"Peregrin Took! That's me!" he began to bounce where he sat upon the bed. " 'with love'! I like that, because I do love everyone!" He grinned.

Suddenly he stopped, and a look of alarm came over his small face. "What if they don't like the presents?"

His mother caught him up in a tight hug. "Oh, I am quite sure they will, dear."

But he couldn't help but feel a little bit nervous. He had never given presents before, after all, except for flowers.

Pippin bolted his eggs, toast, bacon and mushrooms at second breakfast, and didn't even ask for seconds, before he darted from his chair to the window, so eager was he for the guests' arrival.

Eglantine shook her head. He'd had no jam or honey at all with his breakfast, yet he was as full of energy as if he had been into the sugar bowl. He was scarcely able to contain his impatience. She glanced at her younger two daughters, who had taken advantage of Pippin eating less than usual to fill up on extra helping of everything.

"Pimmie, Vinca, when you have finished eating, take Pippin down to the lane to watch for the carriage."

"But Mother-" Pimpernel started. She had wanted to spend some time sewing on a new dress she was making for herself.

"No 'buts', Pimpernel Took." She quelled her daughter with a stern glance. She had to help Tulip prepare the luncheon, and Pippin was far too excited to have underfoot today. "Take him down to the lane. I'll send some elevenses out to you in a little while."

So Pippin ran down the path to the lane full speed, while his sisters followed at a more leisurely pace.

Pervinca shook her head. "We're never going to be able to keep up with him," she said darkly.

Pimpernel nodded. "He's as wound up as that top Mother and Father gave him yesterday," for of course Pippin had received his own birthday gifts the day before, as was proper. She glanced ahead-he was heading directly for the apple tree that stood at the spot where the path intersected with the lane that came up from the postal road. "Peregrin Took!" she called out. "Don't even think about it! If you get stuck we are neither one climbing up after you!"

"But Pimmie, I can't not think about it!" He looked up at the branches longingly. Pervinca sighed; she would not have minded climbing up with her little brother, but Pimmie took after their mother's side of the family, and was far too timid about heights for climbing trees or allowing them to do so with her present.

"Well, think about something else," said Pimpernel firmly.

He screwed his face up tightly. "It doesn't work," he said, after a moment.

Vinca said quickly "Look Pip, what I can do." She took a running start, and turned a cartwheel. Her Brandybuck cousin Melilot had taught her how to do that. Her older brother had taught Melly how.

Pippin was instantly distracted from the tree. "How do you do that, Vinca?" he asked, round-eyed.

"Like this," she said, taking a good run, and doing two of them in a row.

When Pearl came down later with a basket of sweet buns and fruit for their elevenses, she was horrified to see all three of them tumbling on the verge, doing cartwheels and handstands.

"Pimpernel! Pervinca! What do you think you are doing?" she exclaimed.

Pimmie flopped on the grass, breathless. "We were teaching Pippin-"

"Well," said Pearl, "that's all well and good, but the carriage could come any moment. Do you want the relatives to see your skirts down around your heads and your knickers up in the air?"

Pimmie's face flamed. She had not thought of that. Vinca's hand flew to her mouth.

"If you are going to do such things, for goodness' sake, do it out behind the barn and not down by the lane for everyone to see."

Pippin darted up to Pearl and stuck his face in the basket. "Mm… cinnamon!" He grinned up at her. "I don't have any skirts," he said, as he grabbed one of the buns. "Do you wmtf ee mduit?

"Don't talk with your mouth full, Pippin. Yes, I suppose you can show me-after you have finished."

The four young Tooks made short work of the basket, and then to Pearl's amusement, Pippin began to display his newfound skill, tumbling and spinning and wheeling until it made her dizzy.

"Doesn't he ever get tired?" she asked, not really expecting an answer. It was a question various members of Pippin's family asked themselves two or three times every day.

He was in the middle of a somersault, when he suddenly stopped, landing flat on his back, before springing to his feet and running into the lane, yelling "Merry! Merry! Merry!"

The lasses glanced at one another in brief surprise, yet an instant later the Brandybuck carriage came into view, and they jumped up as well, brushing themselves off and trying to straighten their hair.

The carriage slowed, as Pippin jumped up and down in the lane, screaming "Merry! Merry! Merry! Frodo! Frodo! Frodo! " at the top of his lungs.

It had scarcely rolled to a stop as the door flung open, and Merry sprang out, grabbing Pippin up and swinging him around, before hugging him tightly. "Pip!"

Frodo exited a bit more slowly. "Easy, Merry," he said, amused. "You are going to crush the byrding and then we shall have no presents!"

The adults watched indulgently, and then Pippin's sisters came up.

"Hello, lasses," said Frodo politely. Merry and Pippin ignored them completely, both of them chattering like magpies, neither seemingly listening nor needing to draw breath.

Saradoc stuck his head through the window. "Would you lasses like to ride with us up to the barn? We shall leave the lads to hoof it back up to the smial."

Cousin Bilbo and Aunt Esme scooted over, and then Frodo helped hand the lasses into the carriage as if they were young ladies. He closed the door, and old Finch whipped up the ponies.

Frodo looked at his two younger cousins who were still greeting one another enthusiastically-after all, here it was the first of Astron*, and they'd not seen one another since Yule. "Well, Pippin," he said, "don't you have a hug for me?"

Pippin pulled away from Merry and barreled into Frodo's knees, clasping them so firmly Frodo thought for an instant he would lose his balance. Then the child drew back, and looked up at him seriously. "Was that a good enough hug, Frodo?"

With a laugh, Frodo scooped him up and settled him atop his shoulders. "That was a most splendid, very excellent hug, Peregrin Took! I think you must give the best hugs of any five year old in the Shire!"

Merry looked briefly disgruntled at having Pippin taken from him, but he looked up at them, Pippin's chin resting on top of Frodo's dark curls, and laughed. There were his two best cousins in all the world.

The three lads ambled up the path, calmer now that the first flurry of excitement was past. By the time they arrived at the smial, Saradoc, Esmeralda and Bilbo were already inside, seated in the sitting room with Eglantine. Pippin's sisters had gone to tidy up.

Frodo swung Pippin down to the floor, and he immediately gravitated to Merry's side.

Eglantine studied her small son. He was sweaty and disheveled and there were grass stains on his shirt. But he looked far calmer and more content, now that his favorite cousins had arrived. She noticed with amusement that Merry began to dust him off and tuck his little shirt in, while Frodo ran his fingers through the unruly curls. Pippin squirmed a little, but offered no protest, unlike when she groomed him.

Just then, Paladin came in, and greeted the guests heartily, before going to the back of the smial to tidy up himself.

Luncheon was a splendid affair-there was roasted chicken and stuffed mushrooms and potatoes mashed with cream and butter, and new made loaves of bread and carrots cooked with honey glaze and cabbage and apple slaw and a wheel of yellow cheese to help with filling up the corners.

Finally, when no one could eat another bite, not even Pippin who was no longer eating his cheese, but making little round balls, which he was arranging in designs on his plate, they all got up and went back into the sitting room.

Paladin brought out the box, which Pippin had seen that morning. Pippin suddenly realized with alarm, that he had never seen his gift for his mother. He went over and tugged on his father's sleeve. Paladin bent down, and Pippin whispered in his ear.

"Don't worry, son," was the whispered answer, "it's the one wrapped in brown paper and string."

"But what is it, Papa-I mean, Father?"

Paladin smiled. "It can be a surprise for you, too!"

Pippin nodded solemnly. Suddenly he felt very timid. He had, for a while, forgotten his fear that the presents would not be liked-now it came back, full force. Taking a deep breath, he began to take the gifts from the box and hand them to his guests, his face red. Finally, he handed the last one to his mother, and giving a panicked look at all the expectant faces, he sat down on the floor and hid his face. If they didn't like them, he couldn't bear to watch.

But soon he began to hear exclamations of surprise and pleasure, and he glanced up. Everyone was admiring their presents. He looked at his mother, who was still opening hers, and so he got up and tiptoed to her side to watch. He looked sideways at his father, who was grinning, and who winked at him.

"Oh! This is lovely!" Eglantine put one arm around Pippin in a hug, as over his head, she mouthed "Thank you," to her husband.

"I like it!" said Pippin in surprise. It was a small framed watercolor painting of an eglantine rose. "Did I get you a good present?" he asked, still a little puzzled as to how he had given her something he had never seen before.

"You did indeed, my lamb!" she said, dropping a kiss on top of his head.

Merry was delighted with his puzzle, and soon he and Frodo had begun to assemble it in an out of the way corner of the room. Pippin lay on the floor next to them, his chin on his hands, watching as they sorted through the pieces to put it together.

It grew rather quiet, something unusual in Pippin's presence.

Frodo and Merry glanced over.

Pippin's head was pillowed on his arm, and soft little snores were to be heard.

Eglantine walked over, and looked down at her youngest. "I do think," she smiled, "that this byrding has worn himself out for a change."

xxxxxxx

* The Shire equivalent of April