5. Slip Stitch
He answered casually when his father asked about the pony, handing back the change. His father didn't quibble at the price he'd paid, and Pippin was glad to let the matter drop. The less notice his father took of the grey pony, the better.
Pippin spent what time he could with the grey pony, but not enough to bring the beast to his father's notice. He'd be twenty times a fool to allow his father a hostage for his good behaviour again.
He was surprised when Merry showed up in the middle of the month for a visit. Merry greeted him cheerfully, saying, 'I hadn't heard any explosions coming out of Tookland so I thought I'd stop by and see if you're all right.'
'I'm fine, why shouldn't I be?'
'You're in Tuckborough,' Merry answered. 'That's enough.'
The Thain was in an expansive mood that evening, welcoming Merry jovially and asking after his mother Esmeralda, the Thain's sister. Merry answered politely, and the Thain went on to other topics.
Halfway through the fine dinner, he turned to his son. 'Well, Peregrin, it seems you've done something right for a change.'
Pippin stiffened. 'Yes, Sir?' he asked.
'I went out and took a look at that grey pony of yours. He's worth twice what you paid for him! You got a good bargain, lad. I'm sure he'll turn us a tidy profit at the pony sale in September.'
Merry saw the hastily concealed shock on Pippin's face before his cousin looked down at his plate to spear several pieces of meat on his fork.
Pippin's mother Eglantine had caught that flash of distress as well. 'Paladin?' she said, putting her hand on her husband's arm. He turned to her in an unusually good humour. She thought twice about what she had intended to say; her son would only suffer all the more if she tried to interfere. 'Would you like another glass of ale, dear?' she said, while her glance went down the table to rest on her son. He nodded, understanding, and her heart ached for him. She determined she'd persuade her husband to send him off to Buckland with their nephew Merry, when he left.
Merry found Pippin in the stables, later, feeding carrots, freshly pilfered from the kitchen garden, to the grey pony. He stood for awhile in silent commiseration, then a sudden thought struck him and he turned to his cousin.
'That's why you never named him,' Merry breathed.
Pippin nodded, holding out another piece of carrot. 'He was never mine, to begin with.' He looked up suddenly. 'Merry, could you buy him?'
Merry was thunderstruck. For a wild moment he considered the idea, then shook his head. 'I'm sorry, Pippin. You paid three gold coins for him? And your father expects to turn a profit?' Pippin nodded silently. Merry hated to say it, but he continued, 'I just don't have that kind of money. And my parents, knowing I have Bright Nose, would not understand my wanting to buy another pony.'
Pippin sighed and turned back to the pony. 'I know,' he said. 'I shouldn't even have said anything. I'm sorry.'
Merry wanted to ask him what he was apologising for, but he let the matter drop. He was sorry, too.
Merry sent off a letter to Buckland, describing the mess. Perhaps his parents might decide to buy the pony anyway, to add to the fine stables at Brandy Hall.
Ten days passed, and though it had seemed as if the heat of August would last forever, the nights suddenly became cooler and a hint of autumn crispness stole into the evening air.
'It is almost September already,' Merry said. 'I've got to be getting back to Buckland, then it'll be off to Hobbiton to help Frodo move.'
'I thought your mother was going to invite me for her birthday,' Pippin said.
'I'm expecting the letter any day now,' Merry reassured him.
Merry received his father's reply in a batch of letters that came from Buckland, several addressed to the Thain. His father asked for more details about the pony. That was encouraging, it showed that he was actually considering his son's suggestion.
That night at dinner, the Thain said, 'I've got good news!' All eyes turned to him, as he beamed at Pippin. 'No need to wait until the pony fair, I've found a buyer for your pony! And that saves us the transaction fee we'd have had to pay at the fair.' He chuckled. 'Good business, all around.'
Pippin tried to smile. Seeing that his father expected an answer of him, he said, 'That is good news, Sir. I hope you got a fair profit.'
His father chuckled again, 'O yes, I did!'
Eglantine spoke up. 'Paladin, when does the sale take effect?'
'The middle of September,' her husband answered. Turning back to his son, he said, 'So you can still use him until then. Might as well ride him to Buckland, your aunt's asked if you could visit on her birthday. My sister doesn't ask for much. I'm inclined to say yes.'
'Thank you, Sir,' Pippin said tonelessly.
That night Eglantine sought out her son in his room. 'I'm so sorry, Peregrin,' she said, tears in her eyes. 'I know how fond you were of that pony.'
'It's all right, Mother,' he said spiritlessly. 'I never figured on keeping him anyway.'
'You've worked so hard, training him...'
'Well, I wanted to make sure his new owner would treat him well. If he's well trained he's less likely to suffer abuse, I hope.' Pippin answered. They were silent for a moment, then Pippin said, 'I guess this is goodbye, Mother. Merry and I will have to leave in the morning if we're to be in Buckland in time for Aunt Esmeralda's birthday party.'
'Yes,' she answered, and pulled him into a hug. Pushing him back again, holding him at arm's length, she looked at this son of hers. 'You've been quite a scamp, over the years, but I think you're turning out quite well,' she said. 'I want you to know I'll always love you, no matter what.'
'I love you too, Mother.' It struck him that she'd had a brother once, whose name was never mentioned in the family. This brother had run away from an overbearing and abusive father, it was said, and gone to sea, never to return. As he met his mother's gaze, he realized that she half-expected him not to return from Buckland.
'I'm not one to run away, Mother,' he said, stung.
'I know, lad,' she answered. 'We all make hard choices. You have honoured and respected your father even when he has had little right to it. If someday, I hear that you've decided not to come back to Tuckborough, I will understand. And know,' she repeated, 'that you will always have my love. Always.' She drew him into a fierce hug, released him abruptly, and left the room.
Since there was no longer any need to be on his best behaviour, Pippin and Merry decided to have a bit of fun the next morning before leaving. First off, Pippin stole into old Uncle Ferdinand's room while the fat old hobbit was snoozing after breakfast, and lightly lifted the elaborately carved wooden teeth that reposed in a glass by the easy chair.
Merry met him in the hallway, and they made their way to the kitchens, trying not to laugh. Pippin stopped at the kitchen door, saying, 'I'll get the ponies saddled, then, and meet you in the yard. You know they don't allow me in the kitchen anymore.'
'No worries, cousin,' Merry said gaily. 'I'll just pick up a sack of bread and cheese for the journey and be right out.'
Pippin heard him greeting the cooks as he turned away. Washing up was nearly finished, and soon the kitchen would be empty and silent, the stew for the midday meal already bubbling away, the bread cooling in the pantry, and nothing more needing done until an hour or so before the meal.
Out in the yard, Merry joined him, sack in hand.
Pippin eyed the angle of the sun. 'Are you sure you don't want to stay for luncheon and leave after?' he said.
'Oh, no, we'd better leave right away,' Merry said. 'We want to get to Buckland in time for late supper, you know.'
They waved farewell to the hobbits who'd come out to see them off. There would be no hugs; Paladin scorned public displays of affection, but Pippin shared a last special look with his mother before turning to the road.
Merry set a fast pace, and they trotted through Tuckborough without speaking; in fact, they were halfway across Tookland before Pippin turned to him to say, 'Well?'
Merry grinned. 'Uncle Ferdinand's teeth now safely repose at the bottom of the pickle barrel,' he said.
'Excellent! I wonder how long it will be before they find them?' Pippin said.
'I don't know, but he'll be tasting pickles for a long time after, I fear.' Merry answered.
'Poor fellow,' Pippin shook his head.
'I also...' Merry began, and stopped.
'What?' Pippin inquired.
'I put salt in all the sugar bowls, substituted talc for the saleratus, and switched all the labels on the spice jars!'
Pippin whistled in admiration. 'You *have* been busy!' he said.
Merry lowered his eyes modestly. 'All in a day's work,' he said. Then meeting Pippin's grin, he said, 'Come on! I'll race you to that little group of trees.'
'You're on!' Pippin shouted, and they kicked their ponies into a glorious race.
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.