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Recaptured!: 3. Merry Yule and Orange Pips
An alarm sounded harshly throughout Isengard, the sudden wailing noise startling Pippin into full wakefulness. Saruman had left him and Merry chained to his vast bed and, only just a few moments before the loud siren had scared him, had Pippin found himself able to move again.
The noise levelled out then stopped and Pip rolled over to Merry, nearly fainting with fear at the sight of the blood covering his cousin's back. Saruman had inflicted on Merry his anger and frustration in a sadistic attack that had left Merry unconscious and bleeding.
Tears rolling down his cheeks, Pippin pulled himself up by the bedhead and, although it was tricky using only his one good hand, which was manacled to his injured wrist, managed to unhook the chain that held Merry in place.
Merry lay very still and was frighteningly pale. Pippin could not do much to help as they were both still locked to the bed by the chains on their metal collars. He drew the blood-stained sheet up over them both and nestled up to Merry in the hope he might leech some warmth and strength into his cousin's cold body.
Merry's eyes half opened as he felt the movement of Pippin snuggling up to him. "All right, Pip?" He rasped, his voice barely a whisper. Pippin just sobbed a little, almost making no noise, but revealed by his shuddering body against Merry. "Don't cry, Pip. We have to be brave." He nudged his cousin a little. "Come on," Merry's voice was a croaky whisper, he was obviously in much pain. "Tell me a story, one of your funny ones."
Pippin scrubbed his face on Saruman's fine sheet, wincing at the pain in his wrist. But then smiled gamely at Merry and began. "Once upon a time there was a really special high tea, or it might have been an early dinner."
"Are there going to be mushrooms?" Merry asked with interest, almost managing a smile at Pippin's attempt to distract him with talk of food.
"No, it's not that kind of high tea. There's not going to be cake either. But there might be bread and butter with honey or even pudding." Pippin began to warm to his subject.
The story did not take long as the plot was not too complex, the format owing more to the style of a menu than literature, but it lightened both their spirits for a while. As they snuggled together for comfort Pippin could sense that his cousin was still in terrible pain. He could feel Merry's body generating more heat than it should, showing that he was feverish and he was trembling from head to toe but, although he whimpered a little every so often, he did not complain out loud.
Pippin tried to think of another story to distract him, a happier time perhaps. Yule – that was always full of happy memories and stories. Oh, but not the year when he had been caught stealing Pervinca's chocolate to give to Merry. They had both ended up getting a whipping, so that would not be a good story for today.
Pippin's eyes wandered around the room and came to rest on Saruman's laden dining table, far out of reach of the hobbits. There was a large bowl of fruit in the centre and the display was topped off by a big round orange. Pippin knew what it was – he'd had one before and that was a happier Yuletide memory.
Uncle Calderoc and Aunt Emerald had come to visit once more, bringing their enormous brood of children. They always brought something strange and exotic from the Southlands, they were practically foreign themselves, being from most southerly part of the South Farthing, on the Brandywine below Sarn Ford.
The first visit Pippin remembered vividly. He was five years old and his uncle had brought chocolate to be shared out starting with the youngest children. That had not ended happily and Pip, now aged 7, decided that whatever he was given this time, he would share it with Merry for sure.
"Here Pip," Uncle Calderoc held out a strange looking ball. It was a bright colour, like the sun on a late summer's evening. " Here is an orange for you."
"Thank you Uncle." Pippin took the peculiar object with wide eyed astonishment. "Is it for playing with?" He asked uncertainly, "How does it work?"
"No!" His uncle laughed a loud guffaw, "It's for eating! You eat it. Did you never have one before?"
"I didn't Uncle." Pippin turned the fruit round and round in his hands, examining the feel as much as admiring the bright colour. "But can I keep it? Will it still be all right if I keep it until Merry gets here?"
"Oh yes," his uncle ruffled his curls. "It will be good for several weeks."
Well that would be all right Pippin decided, Merry was due to arrive the following day. "How do you eat it though?" Pip asked with a frown, "It's everso big. Do you need a knife and fork?" Pippin was not that handy with cutlery, he had been stuck on a spoon and pusher for far longer than most little ones and even now he used an undersized, child's knife and fork.
"Come and see," his uncle had several more of the strange fruits in his bag. "I've got one for each of your sisters, perhaps one of them will want to try theirs straight away."
In the kitchen, Uncle Calderoc handed out an orange each to Pervinca and Pimpernel, Pearl was not there so hers was placed reverently back in the bag. "Are you going to have your 'or-gange' now Pimmie?" Pippin was hoping to get a taste of his sister's fruit and still keep his for sharing with Merry. "You give me some of yours now and I'll share mine after with you."
"Oh yes Pippin," Pimpernel was not convinced. "I know you, I'll just not be around at the right time and you'll share all yours with Merry." His sister knew it was not malicious, Pippin was never unkind, but he did seem to have trouble remembering promises of this kind. "Just eat yours now."
Pippin shook his head doggedly. "No, I have to save it till Merry comes."
"Well, Pippin," Uncle Calderoc chuckled, "you can't have your cake and eat it."
"Oh is there cake too?" Pippin looked expectantly around. In fact the kitchen was brimming with all sorts of good fare, but all of the treats were off bounds at the moment – Yule would be on the morrow and then the feasting would start in earnest.
"No, Pippin," Pimpernel laughed at him. "It's just a saying. I'll have my orange now Uncle, if I may and share with Vinca. How do we open it?"
Uncle Calderoc took the large fruit and put it on the table, then with a sharp knife cut it in half. Pippin peered at the sparkly inside of the 'or-gange'. There was a thick rim of white on the outside and the inside resembled a waggon wheel of white and golden yellow but seemed to be glistening with juice. It was unlike anything Pippin had ever seen before – let alone eaten.
"It looks too nice to eat," he declared as Pimpernel and Pervinca took a half each. "What's it like?"
"Well you're going to have to wait and see Pip," Pimpernel giggled and bit into her half, making juice squirt up into her nose. She sneezed and snorted and shook her head.
Pippin watched in fascination. "Is it good?" he asked impatiently.
"Of course it's good!" Uncle Calderoc patted Pimpernel on the back to ease her spluttering, "I wouldn't bring you anything that wasn't good!"
Just then Cook swept into the big kitchen with a bevy of maids at her heels, all bearing trays from the pantries. "Out of the way, if you please!" She called, making the children and visiting uncle move quickly to the side and then out of the kitchen altogether as more food was brought in to be prepared for the Yuletide Feast.
Pippin clutched his 'or-gange' tightly, more determined than ever not to start to eat it until Merry arrived. That night he slept with it tucked up in bed beside him.
Pippin rose with the first cry of the bantams outside his window. It was Yuletide morn and Merry would arrive soon! Pippin had been devoted to his older cousin for as long as he could remember. In the first place it had been because Merry was fascinated with the small hobbit baby, smaller than most, and would lean into his crib to coo at him and tickle him to make him laugh and sing him silly songs. Then when his Aunt Eg would let him, Merry sat in a big armchair and held the baby swaddled in his arms, rocking him to and fro and whispering that when he was big he was going to be Merry's forever friend.
As Pippin got bigger, he looked forward more and more to Merry's visits and his own family’s visits to Merry’s home in Buckland. His sisters would baby him, treating him almost as if he were another of their dolls, but Merry played grown up boys' games such as conkers and roopie and he would even pretend play these games with little Pippin, promising to teach him properly when he grew.
Pippin tried hard to grow fast. He wanted to catch Merry up so much, but his big cousin had promised he would wait for him and Pippin had to be content with that.
But an 'or-gange' to show Merry and share with him – that was something special and important indeed.
Pippin looked in the mirror and ran the hairbrush half over his tangles and spat on his hands to wash them over his face. A lick and promsis would have to do this morning and he dashed off to find breakfast and wait at the front door for Merry. Two minutes later he was hauled back to his room by his nanny, washed, combed and set to rights before setting off once more, with his 'or-gange' tucked safely in his little shoulder bag.
Half way to the door Pippin remembered that in order to eat the 'or-gange' he needed a sharp knife. Now that was a problem. He was not allowed sharp knives and, if he needed something cut, he had to ask a grown up. Pippin sighed with deep disappointment. He did not want to get the 'or-gange' cut up in advance because he wanted Merry to see how nice and round and dimply-smooth it was and also to see his surprise when it was cut in two to reveal the strange waggon wheel shape inside. But on the other hand, how were they to eat it without a knife? He was sure they would not be able to divide it up as neatly as Uncle Calderoc had done without one.
Then again, he pondered, Merry was practically a grown up and he would be able to procure a cutting knife – that would be it. For all Pip knew Merry might have a knife already of his very own.
As Pip finally saw the carriage coming he was scarcely able to control his excitement, especially when he saw Merry waving to him as he rode on the seat next to Jon the driver. Pippin began waving back and jumping up and down in the driveway; only just avoiding getting run down by the ponies and making Jon pull up sharply, muttering a little under his breath.
"Ho there Pip!" Merry leapt down from the top of the carriage and opened the door to help his mother down the steps that had already been set there by Jon. "How's my favourite cousin?"
"Merry! Merry!" Pippin was jumping up and down with excitement, barely pausing to kiss his aunt politely before almost knocking Merry down in his glee. "Merry Yule! Merry Yule!" Pippin loved to greet his cousin this way every Yuletide, he found it wonderfully entertaining that the greeting was also Merry's name!
"Merry Pip!" Merry returned with a chortle. "You are merry aren't you? Did you grow a bit more? I think you did!"
"Yes, Merry," Pippin clung around his cousin's waist, squeezing him tightly, "I grew four eighths of a whole inch!"
"That's half an inch you silly-billy!" Merry untangled Pippin from his midriff and looked at him carefully, "I think it's more like three quarters of an inch."
Esmeralda and Saradoc had been greeted meantime by Eglantine and gone inside the Smial. Pippin waited impatiently while Merry helped Jon with the luggage, finally capturing his cousin and leading him inside. "Merry you have to get a knife – a good sharp one."
"Pip – whatever for?" Merry turned the determined little lad around by the hand, "Why do you need a knife – surely you're not allowed to have sharp ones yet, you might cut yourself."
"No Merry, not me." Pippin put his hands on his hips in an exasperated stance. "Of course I'm not allowed a sharp knife, but you are and you have to cut our 'or-gange' in half!"
"Cut our what?" Merry smiled at the strange word, trying not to laugh and suspecting that Pippin was mispronouncing something else. "What's an or-gange?"
"Uncle Calderoc gave it to me," Pippin delved into his bag. "It's special and I saved it to share with you and it's called an or-gange." He triumphantly produced the orange sphere and held it up for Merry to see.
"Oh an 'or-gange'!" Merry agreed. "I think I have seen one before." Merry did not want to spoil Pippin's surprise by saying he had actually eaten two in his life. "How wonderful Pip, did you ever have one before?"
"No Merry, but I know how to cut it. Uncle Calderoc showed me!" Pippin was anxious to show Merry his newfound expertise. "But I don't have a knife."
"Well let's see if we can find one, shall we." Merry helped Pippin put the 'or-gange' back in its bag and took his hand as they went off in search of the correct implement.
The kitchen, which should have been a veritable mother-lode of sharp knives, proved barren. Cook and all her helpers were frantically busy, with every available space being used and no time or resource to provide help to two youngsters. "Go outside and play, both of you," Cook admonished, flapping at them. "I've no time today. You can have a handful of currants, then be off."
They both accepted the currants, after all a free treat is never to be sneezed at, but it brought them no nearer to a knife. The dining room was no better. All the cutlery was laid upon the massive dinner table, ready for the Yule feast and they dared not to touch it. There were a few old knives still in the dresser drawer, but they were bent and blunt, no good at all for cutting an 'or-gange'.
The scullery was hopeful but turned out to be knifeless. The few bits of cutlery kept there proved to be three bent forks, a tarnished teaspoon, but all the knives had either been mislaid or taken to the kitchen and not returned.
"I think Papa has a pocket knife," Merry suggested thoughtfully, "Perhaps he would lend it to me." Then he sighed with a memory. "Oh but no, because the last time I borrowed it I left it in the garden and it got wet and rusted a bit, he was very cross."
Pippin sat down at the scullery table with a sigh. The little room was deserted as all the servants were busy in the kitchen or the dining room, but the fire was still burning brightly in the grate and Merry flopped down on the chair next to his cousin and sighed. "I'm sorry Pip, I suppose your 'or-gange' will just have to wait."
"Oh but Merry, it won't be the same if we have to wait until after dinner." Pippin pulled the fruit out of its bag again and set it upon the table. "We'll be all full up and it won't be as exciting to taste something new." Hobbits generally regarded anything new to eat as a particularly noteworthy event and liked to be properly prepared to enjoy it. Even at Pippin's tender age he knew how to treat a new eating experience with the respect due to it.
"I don't know how to open it though Pip," Merry admitted. Both times he had been given an orange his mother had cut it in two and given him the halves to suck and chew on. He remembered the contrast between the sharp sweet flesh and bitter pith. He had loved the juicy flavour but thought that the pith tainted it somewhat, but somehow, no matter how he bit into the halved fruit he could not avoid eating the peel at the same time.
"Let's see if we can get into it without a knife," Pippin suggested. "Look Merry the outside is quite soft really if you dig your fingers in. Perhaps I can just tear it in half."
Pippin dug his fingers into the peel and a squirt of zest flew up and hit him in the eye. "Ow! Merry, it bit me first – food's not supposed to do that."
"Oh Pip," Merry put his hand on Pippin's forehead and examined the sore eye. "I think it's not damaged, just stings a bit perhaps."
"Stings a lot you mean." Pippin rubbed his eye and then, with a determined set to his jaw, squared up to the recalcitrant 'or-gange' again. He held it at arm's length and dug his fingers in once more. To his astonishment he found that the top orange part came away quite easily, leaving a white skin underneath. Carefully Pippin pulled all the reddy-yellowish peel away and left it in a little heap. He now had a smaller white ball, but it still wasn't in half.
Carefully Pippin dug his fingers into what seemed to be the top. His middle finger pushed through and breached a little hole in the skin, he pushed a bit further and suddenly the whole thing fell in half. Pippin picked up the pieces and looked at it closely. "There's no waggon wheel inside Merry!" Pippin was quite disappointed.
"No but look Pip." Merry had been expecting the circular wheel as well, but now he could see that the 'or-gange' had been carefully divided into even segments. "It's all divided up inside, see." He pulled at the fruit and a whole piece, sealed inside a neat white skin came away. "It's like it was already wrapped ready to eat." He held out the segment before Pippin's mouth. "Open up."
Pippin opened his mouth and Merry popped the piece of orange in whole. Pippin bit down and chewed. His face slowly lit up with undiluted pleasure. The tingling sensation of sweetness and the sharp refreshing flavour was like nothing he had ever tasted before in his short life. "Oh Merry, Merry." Pippin was totally lost for words. Instead he pulled another segment of 'or-gange' free and put it in his cousin's mouth.
Merry bit down on the fruit and smiled. Then bit again and realised how much better it tasted without the bitter pith mixed in with the sweet juicy flesh. "Oi Pip!" He squelched with a mouthful of fruit. "This is wonderful. You invented a new way to eat an 'or-gange'!"
"Did I Merry?" Pippin looked at the segmented fruit on the table as he pulled the whole thing apart and laid the pieces in a neat row. "I think perhaps I did!"
"Fliff!" Merry suddenly stuck his tongue out and pulled something from his mouth. It was a little white stone. "I forgot about the pips."
"Pips?" Pippin laughed, "It's got my name in it – just like the apples do."
"Oh yes, got to have pips, or you wouldn't get new 'or-ganges'." Merry held out the little white pip in the palm of his hand. "That's what you grow new 'or-gange' trees with."
"We could plant one – in the garden, Merry." Pippin suggested. "Then we could have as many 'or-ganges' as we want."
"Of course we could Pip." Merry laughed and popped another slice of fruit into his cousin's mouth. "But we have to eat all the orange first.
Oh but Merry it's called an 'or-gange' you know."
"Yes Pip, I know." Merry smiled, "but you know the grown ups call them oranges."
"They do?" Pippin frowned and then tried the word out for size, "orangeese."
"Oranges." Merry corrected once more.
"Oranges." Pippin finally managed. Then, without missing a beat, forged on. "So when our tree grows," he stated with conviction, "When it's Merry Yule, we'll have orange pips."
"Pippin – that's perfect!" Merry laughed and what did you think of your first orange?"
"Perfect Merry!" Pippin declared. "Just like you!"
"Anyway Merry," Pippin started his story, his arm cuddled soothingly around his cousin's waist. "Once upon a Yuletide there were two hobbits and an orange…"
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