“‘And after all, sir,’ added Sam, ‘you did ought to take the Elves’ advice. Gildor said you should take them as was willing, and you can’t deny it.'” — The Fellowship of the Ring, A Conspiracy Unmasked

I. Brandy Hall
In which a conspiracy takes shape

“Our cousin Frodo,” whoosh, “is most definitely,” squelch, “up to something.” Clump.

Pippin made this pronouncement immediately upon entering the third study at Brandy Hall — my favorite haunt — where I was passing a rainy day in front of the fireplace reading and dozing. It was accompanied by the removal of his wet outer clothing, which he deposited in a heap on the rug before tossing himself heavily into the other end of the sofa. I pulled myself into a more upright position to give Pippin more space and looked over at his damp, flushed face with amusement, glad to see him after nearly two weeks apart.

“Well, hello to you, too, Pippin. It’s wonderful to see you again. Will you be staying long?” I asked with mild irony. “Mother’s going to have a fit if you do not pick up those wet things,” I added. I hoped he had come straight in from the east entrance and had not dripped water through the entire Hall looking for me.

“Didn’t you hear what I just said?” Pippin exclaimed. “Are you not at all concerned?”

“I am most concerned about sending Mother into a flurry and ruining what has been, up until now, a perfectly peaceful and pleasant day,” I replied, looking pointedly at the pile of wet garments and the trickle of water now escaping from them. I wanted to hear what he had to say about Frodo — very much, in fact — but I knew if I didn’t get Pippin to clear away his outerwear now, it would lie on the floor until I picked it up myself.

Pippin heaved a sigh worthy of the long-suffering and hefted himself from the sofa to scoop up his belongings and disappear back down the hall. While he was gone, I set aside my book and filled my pipe.

“What’s more,” Pippin continued the moment he re-entered the room, “I am certain Sam knows something about it, though I couldn’t get a word out of him. I think Frodo may very well intend to give us the slip and follow after old Bilbo, and that just won’t do at all!”

I lit my pipe, watching Pippin out of the corner of my eye. Fortunately, he was more talking at me than to me, and didn’t seem to find my reticence odd. “And why is that, Pip?”

He tossed his hands up at my thickheadedness. “Because I want to go with him, of course! How can one go off on adventures without a Took? Bilbo has quite ruined things for us by giving Bagginses the corner on travels and dangers.”

His answer took me off-guard and I choked a little when I started to laugh just as I was pulling on the pipe. He scowled fiercely at me, his face the picture of indignation.

“Don’t laugh, Merry. Gandalf always used to come to the Tooks first when he needed a good hobbit or two to rely on for an adventure. Why, he and old Gerontius were lifelong friends, but you wouldn’t know it for all he never shows his face at the Smials anymore. And the next thing you know, Frodo will be off without a word, just like Bilbo, and I will be too old for it in another 60 years when Gandalf needs a new hobbit!”

Pippin ended this rather exuberant speech by tossing himself despondently into the depths of the sofa again, which this time gave off an objecting “whump” and a small puff of dust. After a moment, when I didn’t respond, he fished out his pipe and silently held out his hand for my tobacco pouch. I silently handed it to him and waited for him to fill and light his pipe.

“So,” I said after we had sat and smoked for a few moments, “tell me where you have been and what you have been up to. I take it you have been keeping Frodo company, but what makes you think he is hatching these nefarious plans? Has Gandalf resurfaced up at Bag End?”

“No,” Pippin said glumly. “I just came from there. But Frodo has maps scattered all over the dining room table and he had just come back from being off tramping for a few days — by himself, mind you! — and talking with dwarves off on the Road and he just has that LOOK, Merry, you know the one, like he might go out for a stroll in the garden and just decide to keep going.”

Oh, I did know that look, and Frodo had been wearing it for months now. It was the same look Bilbo wore for the entire year before his infamous final birthday party. My stomach sank a little. What was going on up in Hobbiton, and why I had not had any word about it? I fed Pippin another little verbal nudge to keep him going.

“So what did Sam Gamgee have to say about it? You said he knows something.”
Pippin snorted. “Oh, you know Sam, he won’t say much about Frodo. Worried about being thought disloyal, I suppose. But I cornered him in the tool shed before I left Hobbiton, and he was downright skittish about me asking questions. He knows something, all right, but I don’t know that it’s any better asking Sam than asking Frodo himself.”

I turned Pippin’s words over in my head, fiddling with my pipe. I hadn’t been to see Frodo in some time, my father having kept me busy with my responsibilities in Buckland. And I’d no word from Bag End in quite awhile. Maybe I had been too comfortable with my arrangements. After all, Sam was a stickler for loyalty…

“Hey!” Pippin’s voice was dangerously suspicious. “You don’t know anything about this, do you? You do! You’ve known about this before I set foot here in the Hall!”

“Oh, Pippin,” I began, but he was off. I knew there was no stopping him so I settled back to wait him out.

“Meriadoc Brandybuck, I can’t believe you! You know what Frodo’s plans are and you weren’t going to say a word to me. You were just going to let him run off like Bilbo did and have all the fun for himself. And to sit here and act like you didn’t know a thing!” He gasped, and the tips of his ears began to turn red. “But you’re not going with him, are you? Oh, Merry, that’s just cruel! Why would Frodo ask you and not me! And how could you leave without me? How could you, Merry?!”

Pippin was on his feet by now, looking like he didn’t know if he should tackle me or cry or both. For my part, I couldn’t decide what I should to with poor Pip: hug him or laugh at him or thunk him on the head.

“Pippin, Pippin!” I said, putting my palms up in surrender. “For mercy’s sake, I’m not going anywhere! And I don’t know any more than you do about Frodo and his plans. Just calm down and let me explain.”

“But he has plans, doesn’t he? You know that Frodo has plans and you didn’t tell me!” Pippin continued in a petulant voice, a flailing arm coming dangerous close to Aunt Peony’s favorite vase. “You just let me go on and on about –”

“PIPPIN!” I fairly roared. “Be quiet for one moment and let me speak.”

Pippin closed his mouth with an audible click and came to a halt in front of me, his arms crossed in front of his chest. I sighed in relief and lowered my voice to a normal speaking level.

“Thank you! What I was trying to tell you is that I don’t know if Frodo has any plans to leave or not. All I know is what you know — he’s had that LOOK. I spent a fair amount of time at Bag End this past winter — you know that, you were in and out enough — and I noticed Frodo looking at maps and gazing out at the Road often enough to get nervous. So when I left, I told Sam Gamgee to get word to me if he thought Frodo was getting ready to bolt off somewhere by himself. I don’t want to be left behind while Frodo is off adventuring any more than you do! I figured if Sam sent word, I would swing through Tuckborough and nab you and we could descend upon Frodo and convince him to take us along. After all, it would be hard to send us away if we were there all ready to go. I didn’t say anything only because I don’t know anything, cousin, and didn’t want Frodo to catch wind that I had an eye on him, least it make him more sneaky about his departure. So, there, that is all and I hope it satisfies you.”

Pippin opened his mouth, and then closed it again, pressing his lips tight in thought. He returned to his seat and tried again a moment later. “But then why did Sam act so strangely when I asked him about it? He was very nervous.”

I rolled my eyes. “Oh, I don’t know, Pippin, maybe he was nervous you would fly off the handle and jump to conclusions.”

“Oh, really, Merry, there’s no worry of that…” Pippin said, his voice trailing off at the last word. The tips of his ears turned red again. “All right, all right, maybe I did get overexcited. But I really thought for a moment there that the two of you were scheming to run off by yourselves. You wouldn’t, Merry, would you? You meant it when you said you would come through Tuckborough and get me?” he finished anxiously, leaning toward me a little closer.

“Of course I meant it, you silly hobbit!” I exclaimed fondly. “Otherwise you would just be following after us, and who knows what kind of trouble you would get yourself into before you caught up with us. It could wreck all of Frodo’s plans, whatever they may be. Besides, we’ll need to use someone as bait if he has it in his head to fight dragons like Bilbo.”

“Hmph!” he said haughtily, giving me his most scathing look. “I suppose I’ll believe you, though you two would have given me the slip before if I weren’t too smart for you.”

“Too nosy, you mean!” I said with a laugh. “Pippin, you were all of eight years old and you had no business trekking about the countryside with us, even if it was just in Green Hill Country. Your mother nearly had a nervous fit when she found out you’d followed us and we hadn’t sent you straight back home!”

“Still, it speaks to a pattern,” he replied in a lofty voice that I knew well meant he had forgiven me.

“Yes, I’m surprised you are still willing to associate with two such inconsiderate relatives as Frodo and myself,” I said wryly.

“Well, someone must keep the two of you out of trouble and set a good example,” Pippin said without a trace of irony. “So, when shall we leave?”

“Peregrin Took, have you been in the cups this early in the day? Did we not just discuss in excruciating detail the fact that I know nothing of Frodo’s plans, or even for certain if he has any plans?”

His face drooped. “Oh, yes, that was the short of it, wasn’t it? Still, it seems we should have some type of plan for keeping a watch on Frodo better than relying on Sam Gamgee.”

I set my pipe down and looked Pippin in the eye with my most serious face. “We could do much worse than Sam Gamgee, cousin. He is as trustworthy as they come, and he cares too much for Frodo to let him go wandering off alone. That alone insures that he will alert us if anything is happening.”

Then I smiled and laid a hand on Pippin’s arm. “But I have heard enough from you to convince me that I should ride to Bag End this week and check on Frodo. I’ll have another word with Sam, make sure he is still with us and tell him to be a little more active in his news-gathering, so to speak. I’ll also tell him you’re in on the plan now. How does that suit you?”

“Splendid!” Pippin declared. “I believe we shall be off on an adventure before the end of summer, Merry! What a grand time we shall have! And maybe we will even bring old Sam along. He is always talking about Elves with the most smitten look on his face, have you noticed?”

I laughed. “I have indeed. But for now, it is a cold and wet day and I propose we enjoy being safe and snug indoors, with no dragons in sight and tea time now upon us. What do you say we make a raid on the kitchen?”

“You are full of grand ideas today, Meriadoc.” Pippin was already following me out of the room and toward the kitchen. “Say, you don’t think Frodo will insist we go without tea on our adventure, do you? I mean, I could see elevenses or second breakfast, but surely not tea.”

“Certainly not if he has to listen to you carry on about it,” I called back over my shoulder.

“Just what I was saying — the two of you most definitely need me along as a voice of reason and intelligence,” Pippin stated definitely. “How you would ever have gotten along without me — Hoy! Merry!”

The rest of my cousin’s oration on his own merits was cut off as I closed the kitchen door firmly on his face and pushed the wedge underneath it with my foot. He would be around one of the other doors in half a minute, but that was enough time for me to snag the lone surviving tart sitting on the table, half-hidden by a discarded apron.

I was licking jam from my fingers when Pippin made it around to another door. “What did you do that for?” he asked, his face pink and scowling.

“What I want to know is how we will feed the voice of reason and intelligence,” I said, ignoring his question. “We’ll have to each carry our own weight in supplies to keep you satisfied.”

“I’m a growing hobbit, Merry,” Pippin said cheerily, balancing a scone atop a teacup. “And I don’t see why we should let adventuring keep up from our tea.”

“That’s the spirit,” I said with a chuckle. I nudged the wedge out from under the door and opened it. “Shall we?” I asked Pippin, who was now carrying a well-laden tray.

“We most certainly shall,” he answered with satisfaction.


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