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Once Upon A Shire
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Written circa 2004.

“Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.” - AnaÔs Nin

Births in the Shire were of no especial importance, being as common as they were and in such multitude in the more populated areas like Hobbiton and Buckland, to name a few. The initial news of an upcoming babe however always made for an exciting and favoured occasion amongst the immediate family members, particularly the lasses and ladies who were always readily anticipating having another plump hobbit babe to coddle over; at least until the tot reached that most wonderful age of tantrums and conniptions, where then the legions of doting relatives seemed to thin dramatically until the child was fully grown and had little babes of their own. Then it would start all over in succession, passing much as everything had been since the beginning with little change in each new generation save for a few oddities here and there. Nothing extraordinary or terrific was there about the miracle of new additions to the family aside from the established appreciation given to the mother for her devotion and love, and a job well done.

So when first Esmeralda Brandybuck told her young son Meriadoc that his Uncle Pal (then properly known as Paladin Took the Second) and Aunt Eglantine were going to have a baby, he was not at all surprised. His uncle after all had three other children, lovely daughters of fair complexion and light chestnut curls, but what Paladin wanted most was a son. It was not that he did not love his daughters -for indeed he did with all the care a proud father should- but the fact of the matter was that he was the Thain of the Shire, the chief of defence in most rights, though it had been long since there was any call to arms in any of the four farthings. But what arms were not on display in the mathom at Michel Delving were still held by the Tooks, and the role of Thain was passed down through the males of Paladin’s family since the days of his Great Grandfather Gerontius, known also as the Old Took for the many years he lived. Forever since there has always been a Took to take up the seat of Thain at the Great Smials of Tuckborough.

But after several years of trying with little luck for a son, Paladin began to worry for his lineage; so when it became apparent that his wife Eglantine was heavy with child once again, there was both joy and anxiety in his spirit. As the months drew on and Eglantine swelled, many of the wizened hobbit-wives began to postulate that this fourth child would indeed be the son that was so greatly desired. Paladin, though encouraged by this news, refused to allow himself to take these predictions for truth until he had seen for himself.

That day had now come in the spring of 1390 (by Shire Reckoning) and it was something of a momentous occasion for both the Tooks and the Brandybucks, particularly since Esmeralda was Paladin’s sister and the relations of their families so closely knit. The Thain was throwing a small family celebration in honour of his new son -Peregrin was his name- and they were of course invited. Meriadoc (shortened to Merry out of endearment) thought that this was quite a bit of fuss to be making over one little baby and was wholly put out at all the attention his new cousin seemed to be receiving.

Merry was after all an only child and a young one at that, having only reached his eighth year as hobbits ken. His father Saradoc, the Master of Buckland and Brandy Hall, knew of the restlessness his brother-in-law felt as far as family lines were concerned and counted himself blest that his first child happened to be a boy. But any voiced concern of Merry’s was disregarded as he was lifted into a waggon that bore him several long miles across the East and West Farthings with his parents and a few other of his close Buckland kin. His mood was already soured from being awoken so early that morning, and the tedious journey and the light rain-showers encountered during the ride to Tookland only made it worse; but it was the detestable, uncomfortable outfit he was forced to wear that truly made his demeanor a foul one.

And thus Meriadoc Brandybuck swore that from that day henceforth, until he died or his senses were lost, to have nothing to do with Peregrin Took, and to think of him as fondly as one would a splinter in their finger.

Instead of taking the East Road through the centre of Hobbiton, Saradoc and family went the lesser route through Woody End and the borders of Green Hill Country to avoid having to turn south at Waymeet and double back past Tookbank. It was thus well after nightfall by the time the many glowing yellow windows set into a great silhouette of rolling hills glowed into view, and the Brandybucks and Tooks converged upon the threshold of the Great Smials after the waggon had been unhitched and the ponies led away.

It was indeed a greater fuss than Merry had originally supposed, almost as if it were a fabulous holiday or a festive ball. He thought it quite unnecessary but he nonetheless wormed his way between the concourse of loudly chattering and bantering relatives, some of whose faces he’d never seen in his life, and helped himself to the vittles ere finding a bench in a nice corner to sit in and brood indignantly by his lonesome.

He was a little comforted to see his cousin Merimas Brandybuck in attendance and looking as bored as he was, but he soon lost sight of him and gave up all hope for good company, since Fredegar (Fatty) Bolger was no-where to be seen. He did however catch a glimpse of Everard Took and they sat together and talked for a while, sighing tragically in the way young people do over the whole affair as if it were really the most horrifically boring thing in all their lives. But soon Everard fell asleep and his mother gathered him up and put him to bed.

Meriadoc yawned and was wondering just how much longer he could endure sitting in that corner when a rustle of fabric came as someone settled down onto the bench next to him. ‘It is quite a ruckus, isn’t it? You’d think that I bore a golden elf with all the bustle being stirred up here.’

Merry looked up to see his Aunt Eglantine, perhaps a little wearied and drawn but still bright-eyed and pink-cheeked, wink at him gaily, holding in her arms the small bundle that was the source of this daft commotion.

‘Evenin’ Aunt Eg,’ Merry said deftly and with a great tone of tragedy. ‘Is that Peregrin?’ He nodded towards the infant.

‘Indeed it is,’ she said. ‘but I’ve taken to calling him Pippin.’

Merry tried not to scowl visibly but the very mention of that nick-name made him want to curl his lip and hunch down like an old miser. It sounded disgustingly naÔve and innocent even though he already held this Peregrin -this sweet adorable Pippin- accountable for ruining his life; surely now Pippin was going to steal the hearts and attention of the entire Shire and all of the other little lads would be overlooked. In Merry’s child-mind he assumed that no one was going to want him anymore now that Pippin was around, this magnificent son-of-the-Thain-of-the-whole-entire-Shire who was probably going to grow up to be charming and perfectly behaved and devastatingly handsome. Merry thought he would like to run away and die to save himself the inevitable torment in later years.

Eglantine interrupted his thoughts by asking, ‘Would you like to hold him, Merry?’

‘Never!’ he cried too suddenly and drew himself down into a dark little figure. ‘I’d drop ‘im like a stone and everyone would hate me. No thank you, Aunt Eg.’

‘Nonsense!’ Eglantine laughed. ‘You can balance a tea tray in one hand and a dish of scones in the other while hopping on one foot without spilling a thing-and don’t you contradict me, Meriadoc. I’ve been to tea at Brandy Hall plenty of times and seen for myself just how graceful and gentle you are. If anything, won’t you at least hold him a moment while I go chat with some of the guests?’

Merry looked worried and reluctant but held out his arms nonetheless, and received the bundle named Pippin as gingerly as one would a hissing opossum.

‘Yes, just lean your arm up a bit like that and support his head; hold him close. Well, there you go! You make a marvelous baby-holder, Merry,’ said Eglantine as she rose to leave. ‘And don’t fret-if you drop him I won’t tell a soul.’

‘I hope for my sake that I won’t,’ Merry said. After his aunt had left he looked down at Pippin and harrumphed softly to himself, and hoped none of the other lads would come about and see him playing baby-sitter. ‘So,’ he said to Pippin. ‘Why don’t they call you Perry instead? Peregrin and all that. It makes more sense for your name to be Perry.’ A smile came to Merry’s face for a moment. ‘Merry and Perry. We’d almost sound like a team then, wouldn’t we?’

But then he bolstered his indifference and said, ‘Well, I could see why the name Pippin would fit you; you’re about as red as one.’ He gazed down at the plump, rosy cheeks of the sleeping babe. ‘I thought I should tell you now: I’m having nothing to do with you, y’ know. I’ve gone through a great bother all because of you and it won’t be the end of it, I can tell. You’re goin’ to get me into trouble before the end or my name isn’t Meriadoc Brandybuck. Thank goodness I live in East Farthing otherwise I don’t know how I’d be able to stand havin’ you so close around. Pippin, son of the Thain,’ Merry scoffed. ‘Well you are certainly the apple of Uncle Pal’s eye, probably other folks’, too. Don’t think for a moment I won’t forget this easily, so you’d best be ready to rue the day when you’re old enough to get me into trouble. I’ve got my eye on you, Pippin. Don’t you try anything.’

Little Pippin yawned and opened his eyes up at his cousin, who fell silent and said no more. Then Aunt Eglantine returned and relieved Merry of his burden, and he noted the room felt much colder without that warm bundle held against his body. Then he hardened his heart and put the incident out of his mind, and returned to sulking alone.

Life in the west-lands of Middle Earth flourished peacefully under blue skies and fey sweet breezes carried from the sea many leagues away, and in no time at all five years had gone by in the Shire (at its own reckoning naturally); the rains had come and passed, harvest times and light snow and lazy summer days when the sun kissed the green hills of West Farthing and glittered upon the face of the Brandywine. Fair had the months been of late, and all peoples seemed to be in good spirits because of it. The Shire-folk were content as they went about their lives with their minds seldom reflecting upon matters beyond when the next meal of the day occurred or tending to their trades, whether it be gardening or tailoring or farming or raising up their young ones. Even some of the lesser well-off hobbits found a spring in their step and a whistle on their lips for the good years that had been keeping up appearances, and for the most part, things were tranquil and happy.

Or at least they were until the day he showed up again.

‘Bless me, Eglantine! Have you been feeding this child?’ Esmeralda Brandybuck laughed as her sister-in-law stepped over the broad threshold of Brandy Hall and let young Pippin down from her arms.

‘Constantly, Ez, but nothing seems to stick to him,’ said Eglantine. ‘he could gorge himself for weeks on end but never put on an ounce. I do hope he fills out more when he reaches his teens.’

Esmeralda picked the lad up and set him upon her hip. ‘Well, plump or no, what a handsome hobbit he is! It’s been years since Merry was small enough to carry like this, and I do miss the sound of children’s voices sometimes.’

‘You can always change that,’ Eglantine winked. ‘I’m certain Saradoc wouldn’t mind providing your with a few more sons or daughters.’

‘O goodness!’ laughed Esmeralda. ‘I couldn’t possibly! Merry is quite an hand-full to look after alone without two or three little ones running about.’

‘Speaking of Merry, where has he gotten to? I was hoping he could look after Pippin while you and I rode to Bucklebury.’

‘Half a moment-I’ll call him,’ said Esmeralda as she went to one of the round windows and leaned out. ‘Merry! Eglantine is here!’

Shortly Merry, now a feisty thirteen year-old, came trotting happily in from playing a game with the other children and greeted his aunt ere halting dead in his tracks when his eyes fell upon his mother and the thing she had, that creature he had been trying to avoid for the past five years with some success, now face-to-face with it and caught completely unarmed. The pint-sized thing smiled at him happily and Merry felt his insides begin to rot.

‘Hullo, Merry! How tall you’ve gotten,’ said Eglantine. ‘It certainly is good to see you looking so well. What a fine upright lad you’re going to become! Let me see that handsome face of yours; oh yes. You’re a dandy, young master, and no mistake. You must be Saradoc’s pride and joy! My, how long has it been since you’ve last seen Pippin?’

Merry thought queasily, ‘Not long enough.’

Pippin wriggled out of Esmeralda’s arms and made a direct line for Merry, who was by now looking for a window to throw himself at or something that could be used to keep the offending youngster from getting too close. Alas that he did not think more quickly, for Pippin was soon fastened tightly about Merry’s waist like a snake that strangles its prey. Merry recoiled and tried to remove the child without actually touching him; of course Esmeralda and Eglantine thought that this display was simply too adorable and were cooing over it like a pair of dove.

‘Bless me, will you look at that! I do believe Pippin has found his new best friend.’

‘No!’ cried Merry with horror tainting his panicked voice.

‘Isn’t that darling? I don’t even think he rightly knows your name or who you are.’

‘He usually doesn’t warm to folk as quickly as that. He must see something special in you, Merry.’

‘He can’t! He doesn’t!’ he insisted, and Merry grabbed a nearby walking-cane and used it as a lever to pry the grinning child from his person. ‘Won’t somebody get ‘im off me?’

‘He gets clingy sometimes,’ said Eglantine as she went to Merry’s side and removed her son, who then began to struggle and squirm frantically.

‘Meddy! Meddy!’ he cried with his arms reaching out toward his cousin, who tried not to look too happy to be rid of the parasitic burden in front of his aunt.

‘Gracious me! Did you hear that, Ez? He said Merry’s name!’

‘I don’t recall ever mentioning it to him directly,’ said Esmeralda.

‘My Meddy!’ Pippin insisted adamantly until his mother put him down and he re-attached himself to his cousin defencively. ‘My Meddy,’ he repeated.

‘No no no!’ Merry despairingly groaned as if he had been sentenced to his death. ‘I’m not your Meddy! Tell ‘im no, Aunt Eg! He’s squeezing my guts out!’

‘Don’t throw such a fuss, Merry,’ scolded his mother. ‘I’m expecting you to keep an eye on Pippin while Aunt Eg and I go to town. We’ll be back in a few hours and I don’t want to hear of any trouble, understand?’

Merry was mortified. ‘You can’t leave me with ‘im! You simply can’t! I can’t-! I mean, Folco and I were playin’ Bases with some of the other lads and-’

Interrupted Esmeralda, ‘Well, I suppose you’d best find something else to do until we return. Uncle Mac is right next door if anything terrible happens which I hope it won’t.’

‘But I-!’

‘No more words, Meriadoc! You will look after your cousin and that’s that!’

Suddenly it seemed as if that death sentence were not quite such a figure of speech, and Esmeralda and Eglantine departed from Brandy Hall before Merry could think of an excuse to give. But without them around he could perhaps set things right with Pippin, so as soon as they were out of sight down the road Merry took hold of his little cousin and forcibly removed him. Pippin seemed to think it was a game and was laughing in his high, sweet voice until Merry scowled so terribly at him that he became quite silent.

For a while he said nothing and merely stared at Pippin with narrow eyes and arms crossed over his chest; Pippin stared back as if waiting for Merry’s permission to speak. He was a fine, bright-eyed young boy with lighter than usual locks of curls -almost golden brown they were- and a narrow though fair and elegant face with a pert mouth that was wont to smile endlessly. His eyes were not as plain brown as many hobbits’ were, instead they were a twinkling green, like the grass on a dewy summer’s morn. His nose was perhaps sharper than most folks’, his frame was a bit scrawny and slender but it did not make Pippin ugly; rather it made him look more cunning and capable of mischief than a homely, well-rounded lad. Merry had a sixth sense when it came to determining if one were capable of stirring up trouble, and as far as he could tell it was practically dripping off of Pippin like water.

‘All right, you,’ Merry said at last as he stood firmly. ‘let’s get a few things straight here. Firstoff my name is Merry, not Meddy, and I’m not yours, so there. Secondly I’ll have you know that I’m not your guardian, so whatever trouble you stir up is your own fault, understand? Are you listenin’ to me?’

But Pippin had quickly gotten bored of hearing his cousin talk and was now engaged in the exploration of the immediate premises with or without him. Merry yelped as Pippin made for the fancy vase on the end table, and swatted him away from it. Then it became a game (at least for the younger of the two) to run throughout the entire house from one fragile object to the next and try to send it shattering down to the floor. Though his legs were short, Pippin was small and swift, and Merry was quite out of breath from chasing him all over Brandy Hall ere long; it was only a matter of time before he had to collapse into a nearby chair to rest, leaving Pippin unattended.

Then there came a horrible shattering sound that curdled Merry’s blood like rotten cream, and he flew into the drawing room and saw little Pippin standing over the pile of powder that was once one of Esmeralda’s coveted china book-ends. Merry wanted to cry and roar and be sick all at once-he reached his trembling hands out towards Pippin and said quite calmly as if nothing had happened, ‘I am goin’ to murder you, Peregrin Took. I am goin’ to break every little bone in your body until you’re soft as a rotted tomato, and then I’m goin’ to beat you all over with a club until you’re blue and black and green, and then-’ He started toward Pippin, who was very, very frightened by now and retreating slowly away from his deranged cousin. ‘-I am goin’ to bury you out in the Old Forest where the Barrow-wights will be your only playmates, and I’ll tell Aunt Eg that you fell into the river and were carried off by the current and drownded.’ Merry smiled insanely. ‘It’ll be perfect! I’ll be blamed for breakin’ Mum’s book-end and for lettin’ you wander off into the river but it’s more than worth it to get you out of my life! Come ‘ere, Pippin, my dear little cousin!’

The young Took let out a squeal like a frightened piglet and ran away from Merry as fast as he could. Merry chased him out the front door and across the broad lawn before Brandy Hall, through three different gardens (trampling many of the flowerbeds) and into the glade where he and the other boys had been playing Bases earlier. Somehow or another Pippin succeeded in getting away from him and disappearing out of sight, which made Merry all the angrier. ‘Fie!’ he shouted. ‘Curse you, Peregrin Took! you wretched, snotty little brat! You’d better not come back here or else! I hope you get lost and eaten by wolves! Good riddance!’

There were of course no wolves within miles and miles of the Shire, and now Merry had to deal with his mother’s broken book-end all by himself. He half hoped that Pippin would show up again later so that he could carry out his grim deed of murder and deceit, but he hoped more fervently that he get lost for good in the forest and never be seen again. That cheered Merry up greatly just thinking about it.

He returned to Brandy Hall and began the task of first trying to piece together the book-end, but it proved hopeless. He would simply have to tell his mother that it was an accident; for even if he said that Pippin had broken it she wouldn’t believe him, or assume that he and Pippin had been rough-housing about, in which case Merry would be blamed also. For the next hour he rehearsed his explanation for the accident while the remains of the book-end sat tied up in his handkerchief on the table, and did nothing to quell the dread festering in the pit of his stomach. And if Pippin didn’t return soon he’d be blamed for that, too-or at least the murder of him, for Merry fully intended to keep his promise if ever he saw his cousin again. Whatever the outcome of this event, it did not bode well for Meriadoc Brandybuck, who feared his father’s belt more than a pack of ravening hounds (though he had never been confronted with a pack of ravening hounds, but he imagined that if he were he would gladly throw himself on their mercy rather than to face the disgruntled Master of the Hall armed with a belt).

So when Merry at last heard the sounds of his aunt and mother approaching up the front walk, he stoked his courage and went out to meet them in the foyer. He held the handkerchief gingerly and succeeded in only stuttering, ‘There was an accident while you were away…’ to the piercing gaze of his elders ere a small blur of curls rushed in from the still-ajar front door and placed itself between Merry and his Inevitable Doom-a blur of curls that was the missing Peregrin Took; he gazed up at his aunt and mother pitifully while all words hitched in Merry’s throat, and he tried to decide whether or not to cut him down right there in front of everybody or just wait it out and see what happens, and then make a move to kill him if he started to blame Merry for anything. Luckily the rational side of his mind won the latter for the count and he was rendered silent.

‘Goodness! What’s all this about an accident?’ said Esmeralda.

‘I bloke your book-end Auntie Ez,’ Pippin murmured in his small voice. ‘Meddy tried to stope me. I d-didn’t mean to blake it.’ Tears began to run down his cheeks, and he rubbed them away with his little fists. ‘I lan away from Meddy when he tried to get me back. I’m soory Auntie Ez. I didn’t mean to!’

Merry gaped.

‘O Pippin,’ his mother comforted. ‘A fault confessed is half redressed. I’m proud that you had the courage to tell the truth. But it still won’t un-break Auntie’s book-end, I’m afraid. You can think good and long about what you did on the way home and by then I’ll have thought of a fitting punishment for you.’

‘Aunt Eg,’ Merry said haltingly, as if he hadn’t meant to speak at all.

‘Yes, Merry?’

‘You, you mustn’t be so hard on ‘im. He is a child, isn’t he? Children break things left and right; I should have been watchin’ him more carefully. I… please don’t punish him needlessly, Aunt Eg. He-he’s so small!’

‘Why, Meriadoc. I never knew you cared so much for Pippin!’

‘I don’t!’ he insisted and then reproached himself. ‘Well… it’s just that he’s… I’m…’

Eglantine scolded, ‘Now don’t you be trying to take all the credit away from your cousin, Merry. Though I appreciate your concern.’ She turned to face her son. ‘And you, my little one, should count yourself lucky to have as gracious a cousin as your Merry.’

‘My Meddy,’ Pippin nodded in agreement as if the fact that he should be severely punished meant nothing to him as long as His Meddy was still his own to call.

Because much of the day had been spent trying to piece together (no pun intended) the incident at Brandy Hall, Eglantine and Pippin were obliged to stay the night and set out in the morning; a Took always made for a welcome guest in any Brandybuck household, and the hospitality of the Bucks is the subject of many long-winded accounts of praise amongst the Shire-folk.

Pippin’s punishment was to take Merry’s place in helping to wash the dishes after supper, not a small task by any means when a large meal and invited guests happened to be in company, but it was not too brutal in any case, and Pippin had soon redeemed himself with his Auntie Ez, who didn’t think much of the book-end when in comparison to Pippin’s excruciating charm. Merry repined over this for a short time, for if he had broken it he certainly wouldn’t be pardoned as easily. But in the end he wondered if Pippin had been aware of how austere the consequences would have been for Merry and had decided to take the blame upon himself. If that were the matter, then Merry certainly held his young cousin in a different sense of esteem after that.

He managed to corner Pippin after he had finished carrying out his punishment, when the rest of the dinner party were beginning to gravitate toward the veranda to puff on their pipes and catch up on the day’s gossip; Merry crouched down until he was almost eye-level with Pippin and whispered, ‘What did y’do that for, Pippin? Why didn’t you let me take the blame?’

The young hobbit shrugged like it meant nothing and smiled impishly. ‘I yuv my Meddy,’ he said, as if that made all the reason in the world.

Merry straightened and mulled for a few moments over the strange little creature grinning so cheerily up at him. None of it seemed to make sense: a boy so young already endowed with a sense of honesty and responsibility? Why then did he act like such a mindless fool until the time called for such virtues? It addled Merry endlessly until he finally had to give up and assume that it was all simply a part of Peregrin Took beyond all explanation and reason and was better off left unsaid anyway. It was still somewhat unsettling to dwell upon, and Merry wondered if perhaps the youngster were inherently queer from the beginning, which he supposed he was. All Tooks were queer in their ways, probably more so than the Bucks (although both were equally well-noted for this characteristic by outside folk). I myself can’t even imagine what the ordinary gentry thought of Merry Brandybuck, being that he is both a Took and a Buck with even a bit of Baggins mixed in for measure; but I can quite assure you it must be incredible, for good or worse might best be decided by others in time soon enough.

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