Pippin sank all the way to his ears in the steaming water with a delighted sigh. The last hot bath he had so enjoyed had been his first in Minas Tirith after the War. For all the splashing, sponging and cold river dips theyÂ’d managed in the weeks before returning to the White City, it had taken a real bath in a tub with steaming water and soap to just feel normal and clean again. It might well have been in his head, but the stench of dead troll had refused to leave his nose until this ultimate return to civilization.

Not that waking under Diamond Took had been even remotely comparable to that stinking creature. Pippin could easily imagine what her heavy winter clothes had muffled, the solid weight of slender muscle and soft curves stretching across him and the warm scent of fur and lavender tickling his nose in the dark.

He was startled from his pleasant daydream by the click of the closing door and sat up to find a dark-haired lass gazing back at him from across the room.

“Ah… Can I help you, miss?”

“That’s what I was wondering myself actually,” she answered with a smile.

“Uhmmm… No, I’m fine, thank you.”

“All right, then,” she mumbled, leaving with a curtsy.

“Well, that was odd,” Pippin muttered, settling back into the water.

He was slipping back into a pleasant haze when the door again opened without warning to admit a little round woman, carrot curls peeking from behind a stack of towels.

“I thought you might need these,” she stammered, nearly tripping over the little bench by the door.

“Thank you,” Pippin replied politely, though he could see a large number of them were already neatly folded on a nearby shelf.

“Where shall I put them for you?” she asked, eyes fixed on the copper tub that still concealed the rest of him.

“By the door is fine with me.”

“Anything else I can do for you?”

“Nothing comes to mind right now,” he answered, feeling increasingly uncomfortable in the face of her unblinking stare.

She mercifully chose that moment to leave and Pippin reached for the round soap that lay near to hand. He was standing with his back to the door when it opened yet again and he dropped into the water with a loud splash.

“Don’t you people ever knock?” he shouted over his shoulder, blushing furiously and rubbing at his bruised knees.

“Well, really! Next time you can wander the halls looking for your own dry clothes!” his latest intruder snarled back as she left, slamming the door nearly off its hinges.

Determining that haste would be his best strategy, he hurried through the last of his soapy chore in the cooling bath. He ducked beneath the water one last time and surfaced to find a pair of gray-green eyes peeking over the rim of the tub.

Checking the blistering comment that had first come to mind, he smiled and winked at the little lad. “This is a very busy place for a bathroom, wouldn’t you say?” he asked, wiping the water off his face.

“Aunt Opal says you’re awfully rude,” the little boy said, idly pulling at one stray lock of fine brown hair.

“Your aunts, all of them, should know better than to surprise a strange hobbit in his bath,” he replied with a grin. “What else did she have to say?”

“That a girl might have to let out more than sleeves and hems to accoma… accodo…”


“Yes, accommodate you. What does that mean?” he asked, his little face scrunched in puzzled concentration.

“Ah…. I’m just awfully tall is all,” Pippin replied with a slight blush. “So what’s your name? I’m Peregrin Took,” he said, offering the lad a dripping hand to shake.

“Bandogrim Took, but no one ever calls me that, they just call me Ban.”

“No one ever calls me by my proper name either, unless I’m in a great deal of trouble. My friends call me Pippin.”

The small boy nodded and finally took his hand with a serious smile.

“Well, Bandogrim Took, what say you we escape your curious aunts and see what the kitchen might yield? I’m utterly famished.”

The little boyÂ’s face lit with a familiar mischievous grin and he turned to hand Pippin one of the fluffy towels that lay nearby.


“Bandogrim Took! You’ll be washing dishes for a week if I find you in that kitchen!”

The little hobbit crammed one last crumpet into his mouth and ducked into the second pantry with a final wave. Composing his face to his most innocent expression, Pippin set his fork down on the empty plate, which had only moments before held a most excellent slice of apple tart. Sated, clean and well informed on all the latest goings on in the North-Took smials at Long Cleeve, he felt ready to tackle the problem of talking a dozen strong hobbits from Angrim Took, who at that very instant walked in, trailing casually behind his rotund mate. The mistress of the house strode into the large kitchen, swept the room with a glance and finally planted herself across the table from Pippin, hands on hips.

“Well, there you are. I’m afraid my daughters have quite lost their minds. They swore you washed yourself straight to nothing! I can see you found the apple tart without much trouble.”

“Yours is a most welcoming and organized kitchen, and therefore a true comfort to a hungry hobbit far from home such as myself,” Pippin replied, with a handsome bow, only slightly awkward in his borrowed clothes.

“Why, thank you, Master Took. Whoever said that southerners had little sense of order or decorum has never met your father’s sons,” she said, a pleased smile wreathing her round face and lifting from it the worry lines that hid a gentler disposition than anyone supposed.

“On behalf of my long-suffering mother, I thank you. I’m afraid she despairs of my ever making a proper gentlehobbit, but your words will give her hope, at least.”

“Well, you’ve a silver tongue if nothing else, lad,” she said with a little laugh. “Angrim, will you show our guest his rooms before you go? I must find my son and tell him little Ban has wandered out of my grasp once more. That boy will be the death of me…”

Pippin repressed an amused grin as his host rolled his eyes dramatically behind his wifeÂ’s broad back.

“And clean up after yourself, you backsliding old dog,” she snapped, swatting his arm as she swept from the room.

The older hobbit threw his hands up in the air with a weary smile and sat down across from his young guest.

“My uncle always said that Tookish women were like the Brandywine in flood; you can ride the waves or stand out of the way, but only a fool will try to cross them,” Pippin said with a grin, thinking fondly of the mistress of Brandy Hall, who’d surely have found a kindred spirit in Angrim’s little wife.

“Your uncle is a wise hobbit.”

“My uncle married Esmeralda Took; not everyone would call that wise.”

“And you?”

“I call that lucky, but then I had the benefit of her protection rather than her wrath most days.”

“Aye, can’t say they don’t have heart, our Tookish ladies,” Angrim answered with a smile, pouring them both a fresh cup of tea. “So, you were too smart to die out there yesterday, but either foolish or desperate enough to take the chance by cutting across the moor. What brings you to my door, Peregrin Took?”

“Ah… Well, there some trouble that needs looking into, and from what I’ve heard, you’ve sturdy hobbits hereabouts that might be able to lend a hand. There are too few of us bounders in the north to do it on our own.”

“You’ve gone for a bounder, then? I don’t imagine your father’s overly pleased by that,” the older hobbit said, sharp eyes noting the quickly concealed grimace that twitched over Pippin’s face.

“I often fail to please my father these days,” he answered, his tone falsely light. He looked up into the clear gray eyes of his host and shrugged. “However, that is neither here nor there. Several families have disappeared from their homes near the North to West marker and that is my only concern at this time. I need cool heads and good eyes to help me track down the cause.”

“That is indeed a rather serious matter. What is the mayor’s thought on this? Will he not dispatch more shirriffs to see to things?”

“My partner has gone to inform the mayor’s office of the matter, but I’ve the authority to deputize as many as are called for in this kind of situation. I didn’t want to wait for word back before I started to get together a few likely lads and I have heard encouraging things about your folks. After all, you’ve no need of bounders up here do you?” he asked, referring to the strange circuitous route bounders took to bypass the upper reaches of the North Farthing. The long-standing agreement between the North-Tooks and the Mayor had come as a surprise to, and had been the first of many facts that had driven home to him how little he truly knew of the Shire.

“Haven’t seen one all my life, save to serve him lunch at my table,” Angrim said proudly.

“Well, the Rangers claim that no creature, great or small, crosses the moor with ill intent and lives longer than a day.”

“Rangers, eh? Well, they’re not far from wrong, in spite of being too tall to think straight, in my opinion.”

“Oh, Big Folk aren’t all that bad, and most Rangers are fine fellows, if a little on the odorous side,” Pippin said with a smirk. “But they do praise the sons of Bullroarer Took as canny and brave, and I most certainly agree. I would ask for your aid in service to your neighbors, if not at the mayor’s call.”

Angrim stirred another lump of dark honey into his tea, pride and caution warring across his weathered features.

“The moor is a dangerous place, and not all of us love the choice Bandobras made for us, placing us in the path of the north wind and the wolf. But it was a good choice, to protect his brother and the Shire, and I, for one, do not regret it,” the older hobbit said, determination setting his face. He reached across the table to offer Pippin his hand. “Give me a few days to make preparations and it’s with a wolf pack you’ll head your hunt.”

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