Thanks to Marigold for her help and patience!
Brandy Hall, Buckland, The Shire – SR 1392
“Explain this to me again, Meriadoc, and don’t leave out any of the uninteresting parts.” Esmeralda Brandybuck sighed and stared down at her son sternly. He looked unrepentant and still a little damp from his recent exploits. “Now.”
Merry sighed, himself, and thought back to the morning’s events. Where had his plan gone so wrong? All he had wanted was to give Pippin a bath…
~ ~ ~
Merry stared at his nearly two-year-old cousin in bemusement. Pippin wasn’t even allowed outside by himself, yet he was filthy, from tiny furry toes to curly copper hair. “I didn’t know there was so much dirt in Brandy Hall, Pip. Did you find all of it to help Mum clean? That was nice of you.” He tickled the toddler’s belly, making him laugh, then frowned as he remembered his mother’s words earlier that morning.
“Take care of Pippin, Merry – Aunt Tine and I are counting on you to be responsible for him. And don’t let him come near Vinca right now – we don’t want him catching her cold.”
Merry had taken his mother’s words to heart, and had kept Pippin in the children’s playrooms from second breakfast until then, not long before lunchtime. And now he had noticed Pippin was dirty – too dirty, in fact, for him to think he had been taking good care of his younger cousin. His mum would probably come to take Pippin back to his own mother shortly, and what would she say if she saw him in such a condition? No, the only solution was to give Pippin a bath.
Merry had luckily been able to draw his own bath for quite some time now, and had realized that Pippin was too little to use all but the smallest of Brandy Hall’s assorted baths. He left Pippin sitting next to the bath with a firm admonition to “Stay here” and ran to fill a bucket with warm water. The bathroom was cleverly provided with a fire and a large barrel of water that stood next to it and was replenished every hour, but unfortunately the fire and Pippin’s bath were on opposite ends of the large room.
He had come back, breathing hard from the exercise, surprised to find Pippin calmly in the same position as when he had left. Pippin looked up from unraveling the bathmat and beamed at him. “Baf, baf, Meh!”
Merry grinned back as he hoisted the bucket to the rim of the tub and emptied out the water, being careful not to fill the tub so high that it would overflow with Pippin’s added weight, and checked the temperature carefully. “Hang on a minute, Pip. There. Want a bath now?” he asked cheekily, knowing full well the answer.
“Now, Meh! Pip baf!” came the reply.
Merry helped Pippin take off his dirty clothes (doing most of the work himself, as Pippin didn’t understand why he couldn’t wash his clothes at the same time as himself) and placed them to one side. That had been his first mistake, by not having clean ones for Pippin to change back into, but he had believed he could carry the newly bathed toddler down to the Tooks’ guestrooms and grab new ones then.
Pippin always loved a good bath, and proved it by immediately splashing Merry with water upon his entrance into the tub. “Meh baf too!” he cried.
Merry had mock scowled at him and dried his face with the towel (another oversight had been not gathering at least three of them). “No, no, only Pip bath,” he corrected. He snapped his fingers at the surface of the water, making a stream shoot up that Pippin followed avidly with his eyes. “Do you know how to blow bubbles, Pip?”
Pippin looked at him inquiringly. “Meh?”
Merry made Pippin laugh in glee by blowing air into the water with his mouth, creating bubbles to entertain his younger cousin. But when Pippin tried to imitate Merry’s snapping trick and caused Merry’s shirt to get soaked through, Merry decided it was time to get to work.
First he soaped up Pippin’s hair. He played with making Pippin’s hair stand on end for a while before Pippin had become bored and splashed him again. After that he quickly washed the rest of Pippin and rinsed him, much to Pippin’s delight. “You could almost be a Brandybuck, Pip, you like water so much.”
Despite Pippin’s tender age, he was not inclined to look favorably on any claims of him being anything else than what he was. “Pip Too’, Meh, no Meh B’an’y’uck!”
Merry laughed, but didn’t reply, instead lifting Pippin out of the bath to sit on the mat. Pippin sucked on a thumb as if deep in thought while Merry tried to dry him with the already soggy towel. He finally gave up and stared at Pippin uncertainly. Pippin looked back at him innocently. “Could you stay where I put you, Pip? Just while I get another towel – and perhaps your clothes, as well?”
Pippin smiled. “Pip stay Meh!”
Merry frowned, doubting this enigmatic answer. But he gathered up the equally wet Pippin and towel and carried them both over to the barrel warmed by the fire, reasoning that maybe they would both dry some, if closer to the heat. “Stay right here, Pip. Don’t move until I get back, all right?”
Pippin stuck his finger back into his mouth without replying and curled up on his side, as if to take a nap.
Encouraged, Merry walked to the door, then looked back carefully. Pippin hadn’t moved; in fact, he seemed asleep. He smiled and slipped out of the door, quietly closing it behind him.
~ ~ ~
“…then when I came back, he was gone, Mum! I didn’t lose him on purpose!” Merry concluded. He suddenly bit at a hangnail as a new thought hit. “You found him, didn’t you? He is all right, isn’t he? No one stole him or—”
Esmeralda interrupted. “Pippin is fine, Meriadoc.” Merry winced at the continued usage of his full name. “Fortunately, one of the maids went in to fill up the water barrel and stopped him from grabbing the lump of coal that had bounced out of the fire and landed not a foot from him.” She stared down at him as his face drained of color. “Honestly, Meriadoc, I would have thought that you knew better than to leave him alone like that. He could have burned himself terribly, or got into a hundred other scrapes. What were you thinking?”
“I didn’t know,” Merry whispered, worry and haste making him trip over his words. “He stayed the last time I told him to – I thought he was asleep – I wouldn’t have wanted to hurt him, Mum – he knows not to go near fires—”
“Merry,” Esmeralda cut him off and knelt to his height. She put one hand on his small shoulder and, with the other, wiped the tear from his cheek. His blue eyes gazed anxiously into hers. “Merry, my lad, Pippin does not know that. He is only a baby, love – he does not realize the danger.”
“But I told him…” Merry trailed off and looked down at his hands, tightly clenched together.
“Pippin does not know that what you are telling him is best, either, Merry. He’s a very curious lad, and it is only natural that he wants to explore things.” Esmeralda raised Merry’s chin so that his eyes met hers again. “But you are only a lad, too, and that was my mistake – giving you complete responsibility over him. Next time you think he needs a bath, let me know and I will help you, hmm?”
Merry bit his lip. “But I like being responsible for him, Mum. He’s Pippin. I want to take care of him.”
Esmeralda smiled. “No one will stop you from taking care of him, Merry. But you can let others help you, as well. Now,” she stood and took his hand, “what say we go tell your Pippin good night so he can finally get his nap today?”
Merry nodded and smiled. “Yes, please, Mum!” And, hand in hand, they walked down the hall.
~ ~ ~
Minas Tirith, Gondor – SR 1419
When the bell first sounded the tone for the army to form up, the two hobbits did not move. After a minute had passed, however, they stood as one and walked to the door. Neither said anything, but one suddenly clutched at the other to pull him into a tight hug, and they stood like that for a few moments. Then the younger one gently pulled away and left the room quickly, not looking back.
Merry made no motion to follow, merely staring at the doorway in mute despair. He heard his mother’s voice echo in his memory: “No one will stop you from taking care of him, Merry… No one will stop you…”
He sighed and began the slow walk to meet Bergil, knowing now that the world was much larger and more dangerous than a ten-year-old hobbit could comprehend – and that there were some things about which even one’s mother could be wrong.