3. Foreign Cousins
"We're waiting to greet Uncle Calderoc and Aunt Emerald and I don't know how many cousins." Merry explained once more. "Mamma or Papa should greet them really, but they're both busy, so I have to wait."
"Why do you have to grate them, Merry?" Pippin did not really mind what he did as long as he got to do it with Merry.
"Greet them Pip! Because it's manners is all." Merry was actually quite proud to have been delegated such a task. "The Master or Mistress should welcome relatives and guests to the Hall, but Papa says there's no knowing when they'll be here because they've come from so far, so I'm to wait and call him or Mamma when they arrive." Merry smiled down at his excited little cousin. "It's a very important job Pip."
"Is it?" Pip's face shone, pleased to finally be doing an important job with Merry. "Am I doing it right, Merry?"
"Absolutely." Merry agreed.
At that moment the carriage rounded the bend and started down the long drive. The two young hobbits waited impatiently to see what their relatives would be like, although being from the most southerly part of the South Farthing, on the Brandywine below Sarn Ford, they would almost certainly be strange and foreign.
Merry stepped forward to open the carriage door as it drew up, but his uncle had already opened it and jumped down and clapped Merry on the back, "Hello, Hello, what have we here?"
"I'm Meriadoc, Uncle Calderoc, welcome to Brandy Hall. Papa will be here directly and he bade me greet you and Aunt Emerald and…and…" Merry frowned as he suddenly realised he could not quite remember the names of all his cousins.
"Never mind, Meriadoc. There're a lot of us to remember." First their mother Emerald descended from the carriage, followed by stream of hobbits, the smaller ones from inside and some bigger boys from on top. "This is Callum, Callibob, Myrtle, Dacrydd, Fern, Danbide, Ruby, Hyacinth, Sapphire, Heather, Lily, and the baby is Snowdrop."
Merry nodded to or shook hands with each of his cousins and then remembered Pippin standing quietly beside him. "Oh and this is Peregrin Took." He pushed Pippin forward a little, "but we call him Pippin."
"Ah Paladin's son!" Uncle Calderoc picked Pippin up and lifted him high in the air. "You're a dainty one no mistake."
"I'm five!" declared Pippin with as much dignity as he could muster whilst being hoisted off the ground, "and I'm one foot, five and a half inches."
"My, my!" His uncle chortled and set him back down on the ground, "practically as big as a mountain troll!" He ruffled Pippin's hair and turned to shake hands with Saradoc, who had now arrived at the front door.
Merry meanwhile had started to talk to the other cousins. "We've got lots of special things with us." Dacrydd was saying. "Papa even managed to get some chocolate from a trader he knows from down South."
"What's chokolit?" Merry asked in awe. "I never even heard of it."
"Oh we have it all the time." Myrtle announced airily, "Papa always gets it for us."
"No he doesn't!" Callibob snorted at his sister. "Take no notice Merry, she's such a madam! We have it about once a year – on Papa's birthday usually."
"Well we do have it more than most." Myrtle retorted. "Cousin Meriadoc has never had it at all!"
"What is it Merry?" Pippin asked tugging at his cousin's coat. "What do they have all the time?"
"I'm not sure Pip," Merry put on his grown up face again, "Something for good little lads and lasses I expect. You go inside now with the others, I have to go and help with the carriage."
"Merry! Merry! Wait for me!" Pippin was running along the corridor as fast as his short legs would take him. "Please Merry!"
"Oh Pippin!" Meriadoc had received another lecture, this time from his father, via Paladin, about spending time with Peregrin, but since his new cousins had arrived he found their company exotic and enticing. He had spent until nightfall the previous day helping in the stables with Callum and Callibob, who were 17 and 16 and each had their own pony and sword. Also they could shoot arrows and sometimes went hunting with their father.
But Merry dutifully stopped and waited for Pippin, while the two older lads carried on, bent on their mission to acquire third breakfast in the form of Yule fare that was doubtless adorning the pantries by now. Merry knew this was a strictly illegal pastime, but there was scarcely a lad in Brandy Hall who did not at some time try to outwit the cooks.
"What is it Pippin?" Merry could not help sounding a bit impatient. He knew that Callum and Callibob would not tolerate a five-year-old's company, especially as they had so many younglings in their own family.
"I found you!" Pippin declared with delight.
"So you did!" Merry smiled in spite of himself. Pippin's enthusiasm for his company was hard to ignore and it was nearly Yule after all.
"What are we going to do?" Pippin asked, his hand creeping into his cousin's, establishing his determination not to be dismissed.
"Well, I don't suppose you'd want to – but I was about to go and steal some mince pies." Merry whispered conspiratorially, expecting to frighten Pippin into scurrying off to find his big sisters.
"Great!" Pippin breathed. "I know a good way, Merry. We can climb through the little outside window in the top pantry."
"Pippin!" Merry was genuinely shocked. "Who told you about that window?"
"Frodo!" Pippin squeaked, happy to have surprised his big cousin. "He telled me when he was little he was the only one could get in there."
"In that case, he was a very naughty little hobbit!" Merry laughed at the thought of Frodo getting caught in the pantry. "Do you want to try it?" Merry had suddenly realised that if he could capture some illicit Yule fare ahead of time, he might increase his standing in the eyes of his older foreign cousins.
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