4. Knit Two Together
Pippin wondered if Frodo thought this was his last gift to him, this time away from his father, before leaving, and laughed within himself. 'You won't find it quite *that* easy to get rid of me, Cousin Frodo!' He frowned. He hadn't been able to argue Merry into letting him come along on the journey, but he was determined to keep trying.
The Thain could no longer be put off, and Pippin was resigned to spending the month of August at home. He had the promise of dividing September between Hobbiton and Buckland, helping with the actual move to Crickhollow, the little house Merry had found for Frodo.
Merry had spent the bulk of July in Buckland, though he had ridden to Hobbiton several times during the month. Now he and Pippin were riding back to Buckland, where Pippin would spend a brief visit before returning to Tuckborough. They had arranged by letter to meet Fredregar Bolger along the way. Fatty Bolger was on his way to spend August at Bag End, to take his turn on watch. At the moment Sam and Folco Boffin had the duty of watching Frodo. Even though Folco wasn't in on the secret, he and Frodo were great friends and Merry knew he'd stick close when Sam couldn't be there.
The three conspirators, Merry, Pippin, and Fatty, met in a cave a few miles off the road. Merry had discovered this cave years ago, on one of his walking trips. Hobbits in their "tweens", the irresponsible twenties before coming of age at thirty-three, were encouraged by their elders to expend their considerable energy in long walks and rides and visiting unsuspecting relatives. Merry had taken advantage of this custom and knew great chunks of the territory between Buckland and Michel Delving as a result.
'Keep your voice down,' Merry hissed.
Fatty looked at him in surprise. 'There's no one within ten miles of here!' he protested.
'Gandalf told Frodo that the Enemy has spies everywhere, even birds and things,' Pippin said. 'We can't be too careful.'
Fatty shot him a condescending look. 'You've been listening to too many nursery tales, cousin,' he said.
Pippin bridled but Merry put a hand on each of his cousins to stop the argument before it began.
'Pippin's right,' he said. 'We can't be too careful.' He dropped his own voice to a near whisper. 'It's getting close, very close,' he said. 'I think we're still all right for August, but it's coming, probably some time in September.'
'Before the move, you think?' Fatty asked.
Merry hesitated. 'If Cousin Frodo wanted to slip away without notice, I think he'd wait until the move; there'd be no speculation that way. He leaves Hobbiton to go to Crickhollow, it's a long way, not convenient for visiting, he disappears into Buckland and no one thinks twice about it.'
'What about the Bucklanders?' Pippin asked.
Merry grinned, 'Ah, but they're a queer lot, anyhow, no telling what they might do!' He imitated a gaffer sitting over a pint. 'If that there Frodo Baggins is foolish enough to leave the sensible folk at Hobbiton and move back into the wilds of Buckland, well, he ought to expect trouble.' The three laughed, and Merry got down to business again.
'Now, Pippin, you're going to the Smials, but my mother will be sending along an invitation to her brother the Thain at the end of August, asking that you come for her birthday. Hopefully a plea from his own sister will cause him to shake you loose.'
He turned to Fatty. 'You can stay at Bag End for the whole month?'
'Yes, and into September,' Fatty answered. 'My parents already know I'm helping with the move.'
'Right,' Merry nodded. 'I'll be in Buckland much of the month, getting things ready.' At Pippin's questioning gaze, he said, 'This is no hobbit walking party we're preparing for, cousin, but a long journey into the unknown. We have to be ready for every contingency we can think of, and some we can't even imagine yet.'
Fatty gave a shudder. 'I'm glad it's you going off with Frodo and not me,' he said.
Merry reached over to tousle his head, 'You're such a homebody, Fatty,' he teased. 'Good to know somebody will stay behind to have the tea hot when we get back.' Fredregar grabbed his arm, pulled him onto the damp ground of the cave floor, and they had a short tussle before breaking apart with a laugh.
'I wish I could go,' Pippin said wistfully.
'We've been through all this before,' Merry said, not without sympathy. 'If you were of age there would be no problem, but you're only twenty-eight, Pippin. You're not old enough to go off without your father's leave, and you're too old to run away from home.'
Pippin sighed. 'D'you think a dragon or troll would be any worse than my father?'
Merry and Fatty laughed, and the latter said, 'Ah, well, cousin, if you all go off and leave me, who would I have to talk to?'
'It's never stopped you talking before!' Pippin returned acidly.
Merry laughed, then sobered and looked from one cousin to another. 'So. Are we clear on everything?' There seemed to be nothing more to discuss, and the cousins took their leave of one another, Fatty turning his pony towards Hobbiton and the other two heading in the opposite direction.
'Why are we going this way?' Pippin asked.
Merry grinned. 'Short cut. I found this little path the last time I was here. It'll cut ten miles off the journey to Buckland; instead of having to double back to get to the road.'
'Short cuts make long delays,' Pippin quoted the old saw.
'Not in this case, cousin,' Merry said confidently. 'I know this area like the back of my hand.'
They had travelled for about half an hour when Pippin wrinkled his nose. 'What's that smell?'
Merry pulled up Bright Nose. 'The path goes through a bog before it gets back to the road,' he said. 'We'll have to go a little slower here. As soon as we see the warning flags we'll turn aside to skirt the dangerous section, then back on the path and it's not much farther to the road from there.'
'A bog!' Pippin didn't like the sounds of this.
Merry smiled. 'It's been marked the usual way, just look for stakes with fabric fluttering from the top.' He sobered. 'Look sharp. If we can smell the bog, we must be close already.'
He spoke to Bright Nose, and the pony walked ahead again. The grey pony followed unwillingly, tossing his head. He would go quietly enough by another pony's side, but he did not like to see another pony ahead of him. Pippin stroked his neck even as he kept his other hand firm on the reins. 'Steady, lad, with a bog around this is no time for a race.' The pony decided to argue, and Pippin pulled him to a stop. 'None of that, now,' he said sternly. The pony tossed his head and snorted, and Pippin answered, 'We're not going anywhere until you settle down.'
Merry turned in the saddle to see why Pippin had stopped. 'Are you all right, cousin?' he called.
'Fine!' Pippin called back. 'We're just having a little discussion; we'll be right along!'
'Well, don't take too long about it!' Merry said. 'We--' At that moment his pony half reared and took a great leap. Merry, turned in the saddle, had no hopes of keeping his seat, and Pippin, for the first time he could remember, saw his cousin fall from a pony.
As he watched, horrified, the chestnut pony sank to his belly in sticky black mud, plunging and struggling. Somehow he pulled himself to firmer ground, climbed out of the bog and stood trembling, legs black with slime.
'Merry!' Pippin shouted.
'Stay back, Pippin!' Merry called desperately. His fall had thrown him deep into the mire; he had already sunk past his waist and his struggles only caused him to sink faster.
'Hold still, Merry, I've got a rope,' Pippin yelled. He jumped from the grey pony's back to dig frantically in his saddle bag for Sam's rope. When he turned back the bog had taken his cousin to the neck, only his head and one arm were showing.
Pippin threw out the rope, and Merry grabbed for it, but the effort thrust his head beneath the bog and all Pippin could see was the desperate hand.
Working quickly, he tied his end of the rope to the grey pony's saddle, pulled the other end of the rope back from the bog, made a firm loop about his waist. 'Stand, lad,' he commanded the grey pony. 'Stand fast, just like I've taught you.' He turned to dive into the bog.
He managed to swim along the surface towards the fingers that still reached to the sky, and just as they disappeared he was close enough to grab at the arm he knew must be below. He got one hand on the slippery arm and the other hand found Merry's head and took firm purchase in his hair. He raised his head above the mire to shout to the pony, which was watching him from its turned-back head.
'Walk on, lad!' he gasped. The grey pony nodded, began to walk away from the bog. He hesitated when the rope grew taut. 'Walk on!' Pippin shouted again, and the pony complied, pulling them steadily from the sucking grip of the bog. When they were free, on solid ground at last, Pippin gasped, 'Whoa!' and the grey pony stopped.
Pippin turned to his cousin. 'Merry!' he said urgently. He shook the slimy black shoulder. 'Merry, wake up!'
Merry's eyes opened, white in his black face. 'What...?' he said groggily. 'How?'
Pippin hugged him close. 'We got you out,' he sobbed. 'We got you out of there.' Both of them were covered with stinking slime, limp, exhausted from the struggle.
Merry's filthy hand reached up to grip Pippin's arm reassuringly. 'It's all right, Pip,' he said. 'You did a fine job.'
'I thought I'd lost you!' Pippin gulped.
Merry grinned. 'I'm harder to lose than you think!' He struggled to his feet. 'Come on,' he said. 'There's a farm near here where we can get cleaned up. We need to tell the farmer that the bog's swallowed up his warning markers.' He reached down a hand to help Pippin up.
'Thanks,' Pippin said. He took the rope from around his waist and began to coil it. He'd hang it on the saddle until he could wash out the muck.
'When did you start carrying rope around with you?' Merry asked. 'That was good thinking, cousin.' He was silent for a moment, and Pippin could see he was thinking deeply while gazing at the rope.
Merry looked up again, meeting Pippin's eyes. 'I think you might be a handy fellow to have on a walking party,' he said softly.
Pippin took a great breath and stared. Merry nodded. Pippin let the breath out in a great burst, Merry grinned and clapped him on the shoulder, and the two turned to their ponies and mounted, to ride in a wide circle around the bog, towards the neighboring farm.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.