6. The Tiniest of All
VI. The Tiniest Of All
In which Pippin causes a ruckus, gets a surprise and makes a promise
(Note: Set in the spring of the year 1400 SR, so Merry is 18, Pippin is 10, and Pervinca is 15. Ferumbras, Robin and Daisy are original characters not listed in the family trees.)
1400 SR, Brandy Hall
"Give it back!"
"What's the matter, little baby? Come and take it back if you want it!"
"Don't make him shriek, Ferumbras, you'll get us in trouble. Pippin, it doesn't matter if he gives it back, you're not coming with us."
"I am so!" The last word hit a high note and ended in an indignant screech. I picked up my pace and hurried down the passageway to the cloakroom nearest the Hall's southern entrance.
Ferumbras was securing Pippin's cloak atop a wardrobe, precariously balanced on the inner ledge with one of the doors swinging open, stretched on his tiptoes to his full height so he could reach. Just as I opened my mouth to reprimand him, Pippin grabbed hold of the older child's waist and picked his feet off the floor, using all of his weight to tumble Ferumbras backwards.
Both miscreants landed on the floor with a thud, Pippin beneath the larger lad (and Ferumbras is a big 13, at that), and for a moment I held my breath as the wardrobe quivered a little. But the old piece of furniture had been made to withstand greater forces than squabbling cousins, and did not budge from the place it had probably stood for the past hundred or so years.
Now Pippin had his hands in Ferumbras' curls and from the look on Rumby's face was inflicting quite a bit of pain. Rumby, for his part, was using his greater body weight to attempt to squish Pippin as flat as a sheet of parchment beneath him. Pippin's sister Pervinca was ignoring them both and prissily adjusting her outerwear, while Daisy and Robin, other Brandybuck cousins and both 12, stared in wide-eyed shock at the wild behavior of our relatives.
I decided it was time to make my presence known and came through the doorway with enough stomping of feet to be heard over the lads' commotion. "Peregrin Took and Ferumbras Brandybuck, stop that this instant!" I bellowed, and both lads froze in shock. The next moment, they were scrambling off the floor and as one they pointed accusing fingers at each other and began firing off their grievances.
"Merry, Rumby says I can't go down to the River to watch them repairing the ferry and he took my cloak away and called me a baby," Pippin spilled out, as Ferumbras recited, "Merry, I just tried to tell Pippin he is much too little to come anywhere with us for we don't want to dawdle so that he can keep up and he jumped on me and pulled my hair."
I folded my arms in front of my chest and did my best to look just like my father. "I don't care," I declared. "I don't care who said what or did what. Just stop it before someone older and bigger than me hears all this ruckus and every one of us gets into trouble." I reached up to the top of the wardrobe and pulled down Pippin's cloak. "Now, are we going down to watch them repair the ferry?"
Pervinca decided to grace us with her say at this point. "You are welcome to come, of course, Merry, but you know that Pippin is just getting over that cold and we can't have him holding us back."
I gave her my fiercest look, but wild wargs couldn't intimidate that one, and she just smoothed down her bright curls before pulling her hood over them. "Besides," she continued, "we are all ready to go now, and aren't waiting any longer."
"But Vinca," Pippin wailed, "that's not fair! I would be ready if Rumby hadn't taken all my things! I'll be ready in a minute and you can walk as fast as you want, I'll keep up."
Ferumbras had decided that discretion was the better part of valor and had finished putting on his outerwear while I matched wills and glares with Vinca, and now had the door open and was hauling Robin out into the damp, chilly day. Vinca snagged Daisy by her hair and pushed her out after them, then stuck her tongue out at Pippin and said, "Oops, too late!" before shutting the door after herself.
Pippin gave an infuriated little squeal and looked nearly ready to burst into tears. I put my hand on his head to remind him that I was still here, and still on his side. "Come on, Pip," I said, "we don't need them. Get your gear on and let me pull on some things and we'll go down by ourselves. We don't even have to talk to that rotten crew if we don't feel like it."
My cousin's face brightened considerably and he reached out with both hands to grab me by the waist, tipping his face up to look at me. "Can we, Merry? Just you and me? That will be so much better than going with nasty old Ferumbras anyway!" Pippin and Ferumbras were only three years apart and certainly shared an adventurous spirit, but seemed fated to clash over every little thing.
I handed Pippin his cloak. "Get to it, then," I said, "for we want to be back by luncheon!" I began rummaging around and outfitting myself and soon we were ready. Pippin took my hand and beamed up at me and I basked in the glow of his open adoration as I opened the door.
And then our fortune turned and wrath fell upon us.
"Meriadoc Brandybuck, have you quite lost your mind?! And you, young master, you disobedient little thing, just what do you think you're doin'?!"
Before I could quite process what was going on, my small companion's hand had been yanked from mine and his outerwear was flying off his body and back into its proper place in the wardrobe. I stood with my mouth open as Briony, Pippin's nurse, skillfully divested him of clothing and then loomed over him like some dark harbinger of ill will. One look at Pippin's rueful face and I knew I had been unwittingly ensnared in an act of rebellion.
Briony had her hands on her hips, and her stormy expression was directed right at -- me. I closed the door very, very carefully and began removing my own outerwear.
"Do not think, Master Brandybuck, that just because we are avisitin' at your home that what I say regarding this one is not the law," Briony barked. "When I say he is not to go outside, he is not to go outside. You should try employin' a little o' that common sense you Brandybucks claim to have in spades. Why, the lad was in bed with a cold not two days ago, and well you know it, the way you were underfoot the whole time, and here you are ready to take him out trompin' through the mud and breathin' in the damp. Why don't you just dunk him in that River while you're at it?"
I hung everything in its appropriate place, moving slowly, as if not to startle a mad animal.
"And you," the thundercloud redirected itself toward Pippin, "is there something about the words, 'No, love, you cannou' go outside today,' that you did not understand? Hmm? No? More trouble than all three lasses put together, that's what you are! Now get back in this here smial and don't even think about pokin' even the end of your little nose outside of it for the rest of the day!"
Pippin slunk into the passageway. Briony stood in the doorway, hands still on her hips. I looked at her, uncertain what was expected of me. Finally, she sighed in exasperation and pointed a finger in the direction of my cousin.
"Go on!" she said. "See if you can find some entertainment for him that will not end with him needin' a healer!"
I slunk after Pippin, staying carefully out of Briony's reach, and we slithered down the hall, darting glances behind us to see if Briony was still guarding the cloakroom. (She was, naturally.) We finally made it to the third study, which was uninhabited at the moment, and let out our breath in mutual relief.
"I'm sorry, Merry," Pippin said ruefully, but I knew from the look on his face that what he was mostly sorry about was not being able to go down to the River.
"Pippin," I said reproachfully. "And you know how I live in terror of Briony." I had never had a nurse, and the proprietary, sharp-tongued Briony had always intimidated me.
Pippin gave me a doleful little smile and shrugged his shoulders, his whole demeanor clearly saying, "It was worth a try." He looked terribly crestfallen, and I just couldn't bring myself to be angry with him.
"I know," he sighed, "but this was supposed to be a fun trip, and I haven't gotten to do anything fun at all. Stupid cold, and I'm all better anyway. And I don't care what she says, I'm not taking a nap like a baby today."
The poor little lad, he hadn't had a good visit, what with falling ill the day after they arrived and being held prisoner by Briony in his bedroom for the past several days. I had tried to amuse him as best I could, but I knew he wasn't having the fun he had hoped for. This one little cousin has gotten me into more trouble than all the rest of the brood combined over the years, but I can never stay mad at him. I ruffled his curls.
"Pip, you shouldn't go outside if Briony says you're not well enough to," I said, adding, "And you shouldn't go getting me into trouble by doing things you know you're not supposed to but I don't know you're not supposed to."
Pippin traced a line in the rug with a toe. "I know," he muttered, looking at the floor and not me. I made a little note in my head to have a chat with Pippin about being more careful of his health once he was more receptive.
But for now, bribery seemed the best method. "Tell you what," I proposed, "I will stay inside and play with you all day, and if you are good -- and that includes taking a nap without a fuss -- I will smuggle you out to the livestock barn for a special surprise later today."
Pippin looked at me now, both hopeful and suspicious. "What kind of surprise?" he asked.
I laughed. "If I tell you, it isn't a surprise, now, is it? But I'll say this -- Ferumbras doesn't know about it, and I'm certainly not going to tell him, so it will be just your surprise."
Now Pippin looked intrigued. "Oh, yes, I'll be good," he said eagerly. (I knew that offering him something Ferumbras the Evil Cousin of Woe could not have would seal the deal.)
"Make it a promise, and promise me right," I said.
"I'll be a good lad, all day and night," he answered in our favorite children's rhyme, and I bent down so he could complete the ritual with a wet, smacky kiss on my cheek.
We holed up in the third study, which we turned into a great battleground between the clothespin dolls and the carved wooden animal armies, emerging only for meals. Briony poked her head in periodically, and I figured all was forgiven when she brought us a piece of cake to share and some cider. By two o'clock, the wooden animals had decimated the clothespin dolls and both victorious and conquered soldiers had been put back into the toy chest. I figured we had time for Pippin's surprise and then his nap before tea.
"Are we going to get into trouble again, Merry?" Pippin asked as I wrapped him with care in coat and cloak, tied his favorite scarf snugly around his neck, and then slipped my own coat on.
"No," I said, thinking he sounded much too eager about doing something that would get us into more trouble. Then I added, "Well, I don't think so." I decided I'd better make sure, and poked my head out of the cloakroom for a quick Nurse-check, but there was nary a skirt in sight. "Not if we go right now and come back before Briony notices," I finished, wrapping Pippin in a blanket I found at the bottom of the wardrobe and picking him up. We darted out the door undetected.
"Merry, down!" Pippin commanded, but I shook my head.
"Oh, no," I said. "Briony is right, I ought to use my head more often. You are just getting over being sick, and the ground is all cold and wet and you don't need to get those little feet all frozen. Besides, we will do my surprise my way, or not at all."
The threat of losing his surprise quieted Pippin, and he clung to me as we made our way to the livestock barn, where I set him down. "Now, let's see," I said, hunting around the hay in the bottom of an empty pony stall. I knew I had seen them here just last night . . .
"There, Pippin," I whispered, and pointed.
Pippin drew in his breath and clasped his hands together in delight. In the far corner of the stall was a large gray cat, and squirming all about her were half a dozen kittens, so new that their eyes weren't open.
Pip fell to his knees and leaned in closer to see, moving so quietly and carefully that I could scarcely believe this was the same child who had been shrieking and toppling older cousins in the cloakroom that morning. I knelt beside him and reached for one of the kittens. Old Winnie watched me cautiously, but didn't object. I cupped the kitten in my hands and held it out to Pippin, who was barely breathing in his excitement as he reached out to pet it.
"Oh, Merry, it's so soft!" he exclaimed. "Look how little and sweet!" It was little and sweet, and so was the picture Pippin made carefully stroking the downy fur. The kitten's mews rose in distress as it blindly searched my hands for its mother, so I set it back down with its siblings.
"Oh, Merry, look at this one!" Pippin was peering into the depths of the haystack at a small, wiggling creature, and when he drew back with his prize he was holding a brown-and-gold-striped kitten in his cupped hands.
"It's so little," he said in wonder, running a finger tenderly along the kitten's spine.
"Careful," I cautioned him. "It looks the tiniest of all." I looked at the little kitten rather in awe myself. Despite being not nearly the size of the other kittens, it was quite full of life, squirming on Pippin's hand blindly and opening its mouth to emit the tiniest "mew."
"Why is it so much smaller than the others?" Pippin asked, still staring raptly at his furry bundle. He was still stroking it with a gentle care seldom exhibited by the rambunctious lad.
"Oh, sometimes babes just get born smaller than they should be." I was studying Pippin's face as I said this, following smooth forehead to delicate eyelashes to sharp nose to sweet bow mouth. I remembered a tiny, tiny hobbit baby with all these beloved features already in place, squirming in my arms and making a noise not unlike the kitten's mew, and I was suddenly struck anew with the force of my love for this smallest of cousins.
"Here, you hold it," Pippin said, and then oh-so-carefully placed the wee thing in the palm of my hand. I held it gingerly and noted with astonishment that it fit completely in my hand, it was that little. It had not looked so tiny held in Pippin's hands, and I realized with a jolt how much smaller than I he was.
Pippin had his cupped hands back out, so I deduced that my holding time was up and transferred the kitten back to him. "It will be all right, won't it, Merry?" he asked anxiously, running another careful finger over the runt's head. "Its mother will take good care of it, won't she?"
"Of course she will, Pip," I replied. "But if you want, we can bring it some extra milk and special treats to help it grow big and strong."
Pippin didn't tear his eyes from his precious find, but he smiled broadly in delight. "Oh, yes," he said, "we need to do that. This one needs extra love to grow up."
I knew that if Pippin looked up at me right then, he would never understand why my eyes were damp. I leaned nearer to him, both to look at the kitten in his hands and to feel his warm little body pressed close to mine.
"You know, Pip, you were small like this when you were born," I began.
"Like this?!" he exclaimed, jerking his head up to look at me with huge eyes.
I laughed. "Well, no, not small like this kitten. I meant you were smaller than most hobbit babies are when you were born."
"Oh." He had no interest in this information and returned his focus to the kitten. I knew he had heard many times how he was sick when he was born but then he got better and that made him a very special little hobbit. I had seen him roll his eyes at the recitation of these facts by various elderly aunts (who usually managed to pinch his cheeks while relating the story of his birth).
"I was so happy you were finally here, so you could get bigger and play with me," I continued. His head moved ever-so-slightly, and I knew his interest had piqued just a tad. I finished reeling him in by leaning even closer and whispering in his ear, "And I was so glad you weren't another lass!"
Pippin giggled at this. "Me too!" he declared.
I jostled his shoulder, very gently so as not to make him drop the kitten. He was stroking it tenderly with a single tiny fingertip, and the little creature seemed to be falling asleep.
"I was even happier when you got better after you were so sick when you were first born," I said. "I couldn't wait for you to be able to run and play and talk, and now look at all the things you can do with me. But sometimes you need extra care, too, just like this kitten, because of being born so little. And we all just want you to grow up big and strong."
Pippin was frowning intently and not looking at me, quite intentionally, I felt sure. "I'm not a little baby anymore, Merry. I was just sick when I was a baby, you know, not now."
It had been about two years since Pippin had suffered a serious illness, so this wasn't strictly true, but remembering how I had calculated years during my own early childhood, Pippin probably designated anything beyond a year ago "babyhood." Certainly the direness of that last bout with the Winter Sickness was a hazy, long-ago memory to him, even if it was sharply, painfully clear in my head.
I carefully put an arm around his shoulders and was pleased when he didn't shrug me off, as it meant he was still listening to me. "No, you're not a baby anymore, and you did get better after being so sick when you were born. But, Pippin, hobbits aren't supposed to be born that small for a reason, because they aren't all grown inside as well as out. That's why the healers think you've had so many illnesses in your chest, because your lungs weren't done growing when you were born. It doesn't mean you're sick, but it does mean you have to be extra careful about taking care of yourself and not falling ill. It means when your mother or Briony tells you that you can't do something the other lads are doing you should listen, because they just want to make sure you grow up big and strong, as you want the kitten to grow up and be healthy."
Pippin furrowed his brow in thought, but still didn't look at me. Finally, he said, "It would be sad if he got sick and died, wouldn't it, Merry?"
I leaned my cheek against his curly head. "It would be the saddest thing that ever happened to his family, Pippin," I said seriously.
"Well," he said, "I will have to come and see him every day, because the mama cat will need some help making sure he is taken care of good. She's got all these other kittens, too, you know."
I made a noncommittal sound. I was not certain if I had lost him during my little moral tale, or if he had simply resolved the issue in his head and moved on.
"So I know he'll be all right, then, because it will be just like you do," he continued.
"What?" I asked, unable to follow his logic.
Pippin finally tipped his face up to look at me. "You help make sure I get taken care of good, Merry, so I don't get sick and die," he said with the casual, brutal honesty of a child.
I was taken aback and simply opened and shut my mouth a few times before I could compose an answer. "It's what I try to do, Pip," I finally said.
"Oh, you do, Merry," he assured me positively. "But don't worry, I promise I'll grow up good. Otherwise you'll be sad, and I hate when you're sad."
I was unable to find an appropriate answer to my cousin's promise, but doubted I could have gotten it around the sudden lump in my throat anyway. Fortunately, Pippin's mind was already on other things. The mother cat had come over to investigate where her missing baby was, and Pippin set his bundle down on the hay carefully. "Here he is," he told her cheerily. "All asleep and happy." The cat scooped the slumbering ball of fur into her mouth and scurried back to her pile of mewling kittens.
He leaned comfortably against me and I put my arms around him, and for a few minutes we watched as the mother cat arranged herself and the babies began to nurse. I tucked the blanket about his shoulders where it had slipped. "I think it's time to go in, Pippin, what about you?"
He heaved a great sigh. "All right, but it's more fun out here," he said in the tone of one who suffers greatly from the ignorance surrounding him.
I tweaked the tip of his ear. "I'm sure we can find something fun to do after your nap," I said.
"Aw, Merry," he said. "A nap?"
I stood up and stretched out my arms to him. "That was part of our deal, Pippin, and you know it," I said firmly.
He looked up at me with a scowl for a minute, and then smiled in acquiescence and reached out his arms to be picked up. I scooped him up and tucked his layers in around his body before heading out of the barn.
"Do you know what I think, Merry?" he said into my ear as we headed back to the Hall.
"What do you think, Pippin?" I answered.
"I think I wanted to be born early because I couldn't wait to be your cousin," he said, and then gave me a little squeeze.
I pressed my face into his curls for a second, swimming in pure love for the small cousin in my arms, and gave him a squeeze back. "Well, I'm glad you liked me. Imagine how disappointed you would have been if you made all that fuss about coming early to see me, and then you just couldn't stand me? What if I had been . . . Ferumbras?!"
"Ew, Merry!" he said, laughing. "I would have been angry! But I knew it was you. I always know you, Merry."
I touched my forehead to his. "I always know you, too, Pip."
And together we snuck back to the Hall, anticipating naps and tea and stories and pastries, and hoping to avoid the ire of Briony and the malevolence of Ferumbras.
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.