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Chapter 8. Letter from Gondor
'I'm not as feeble as all that, cousin,' Frodo chided him.
'No, but if I can hurry you into the house, you can have tea on by the time I get back from putting the ponies away,' Merry chuckled. 'I don't know about you, but I'm starving!'
Frodo laughed and got down. 'Perhaps Rose has made some of her meat and mushroom pie,' he teased.
'I'm counting on it!' Merry said agreeably. 'And if she hasn't yet, I'm hoping she will soon!' He led the ponies away to their own dinner and bed.
Entering the kitchen, Frodo found Pippin at the table, elbow deep in bread dough. 'Hullo, cousin,' he greeted Frodo cheerily. 'How goes the beautification of the Shire?' Rose and Sam had obviously filled him in.
'What are you about?' Frodo asked.
Rose entered, wiping her hands on a cloth. 'He pestered me until I'd let him put his hand in,' she said.
'Oh, aye,' Pippin laughed. 'They never let me near the bread dough at home!'
'I wonder why?' Frodo met Pippin's eye, at least he felt as if he did, from the direct gaze Pippin gave him, and he burst out laughing.
Rosie put on a stern look, 'Well, he knows he's not to be playing any tricks with our supper!'
'O no, Mistress Rose,' Pippin said meekly. 'You'll make me eat it...'
'That I will,' Rose said severely. The effect was rather marred by her laugh at Pippin's expression, and she pushed him aside. 'That'll do, lad; let's shape it and put it to rise now.'
When Pippin bounced into the study later, he was a little disconcerted to find Frodo faceless, for though he retained the hat he had taken off the bandages to give himself a breather. Pippin stared in fascination at the pipe that hung in mid-air.
'Did you want something, cousin?' Frodo asked mildly.
'Mistress Rose wants to know if she should set a place for you in the dining room, with Merry and me, or if you'd like a tray.'
Frodo sighed. 'I suppose I'll take dinner here,' he said quietly.
Pippin fixed him with a curious look. 'Why?' he demanded. Frodo shook his head; Pippin excelled at asking awkward questions.
Frodo's irrepressible cousin went on, 'If you're thinking to spare our feelings, think again! Nobody's going to be looking at you, with Mistress Rose's fine cooking to keep their attention. And don't forget my bread!' Pippin paused as Frodo blew some smoke out. 'How do you do that?'
'Smoke? It comes out of nowhere! Neat trick.'
'It's no trick, Pippin, I'm just smoking the same as always.'
'Ah,' Pippin said wisely, 'But it doesn't look the same.' He gave a sudden grin and rubbed his hands together. 'But I don't have time to stand here chatting, Mistress Rose has said I may roll out the crust for the meat and mushroom pie!'
'Don't tell me: they never let you near pie crust at home, either.'
Pippin shook his head solemnly. 'They never even let me in the kitchen door.' A mischievous grin lit up his face, and he turned on his heel and went back to the kitchen, singing.
That night in their room, Sam asked Rose, 'Did Mr Pippin really make the bread today?'
Rose laughed, 'Yes, it was quite good, wasn't it?'
Sam shook his head in wonder. 'I believe he could do anything he turned his hand to...'
Rose said soberly, 'If his father will let him.'
'What do you mean, Rose?'
She blushed and said, 'I'm sorry, Sam, it's not my place to speak of our betters that way.'
But her husband pressed. 'I've walked halfway around Middle-earth with him, you know. I'd really like to know what you were going to say.'
Rose was quiet, then said hesitantly, 'It's just one of my pictures. You know how you always laugh...'
'I won't laugh, Rose,' Sam promised.
She looked off into the shadows. 'Mr Pippin is like bread dough... you can stretch him and pound him and he always comes back, you can push him down and he'll rise again, but if you leave him to rise too long he'll creep out of the pan and all over and make a terrible mess...'
Sam had a very difficult time keeping his promise, but somehow he managed.
'But what his father, the Thain wants, is a lump of pie dough, as cold and hard as himself. You can pound it down with the rolling pin and roll it out flat and it keeps the shape you give it.' Something of sorrow in Rose's voice stifled all desire to laugh in Sam.
She turned her eyes back to him. 'Don't you see?' she said softly. 'If you try to make a pie with bread dough, you ruin the pie, and the dough...' she sighed. 'But...'
'What is it, Rosie?' Sam asked gently.
'I really believe it is as you said, that he could do almost anything he turned his mind to,' Rose mused. 'It's too bad he doesn't turn his mind to helping Mr Frodo.'
'Oh, but I think he does,' Sam contradicted.
'Have you not noticed how relaxed Mr Frodo is around him? He's the only one of us who is free and easy, who doesn't tiptoe around Mr Frodo's condition.'
'You're right,' Rose breathed. '...and here I thought I was teaching the lad a thing or two, this day. Turns out I'm the one who learned the biggest lesson.'
The rest of the summer passed uneventfully. In mid-August, Merry and Pippin turned up again at Bag End. Frodo was glad to see them, for in truth he was lonely, having kept much to himself. It was one thing to lock yourself up in your study and not go among other hobbits because you didn't feel sociable. It was quite another to feel as if you had no choice in the matter.
'How long are you staying this time?' Frodo asked them.
'A few days,' Merry said, off-handedly. 'Had any messages from Gondor?'
So that was it.
'Yes, a letter came just yesterday,' Frodo admitted.
'Ah,' Merry answered, then turned to Pippin. 'It's your turn to put the ponies away.'
'Right!' Pippin answered cheerfully. 'You go off and have a deep discussion with Frodo, I won't interfere. I'm going to go pester Mistress Rose in the kitchen, it's much more fun.'
Frodo stared after him. 'That was easy,' he said.
Merry sighed. 'He knows he can get all the details out of me later. It's a long ride back to Crickhollow.'
'Come on back to the study,' Frodo said. 'Rose will undoubtedly bring us some ale there, and we wouldn't want to keep her waiting.'
Sure enough, only a moment after they had sat down a knock came at the door and Rose entered with a tray. 'I thought you might like some refreshment, Mr Frodo,' she said. 'Dinner's about an hour away.' The tray contained cheese and homemade crispbread, cut up apples, and two glasses of ale.
'Rose, you are a comfort to me,' Frodo said. 'I don't know what I would do without you.'
'Probably move in with those two scurrilous cousins of yours,' she said easily, 'and ruin your reputation.'
'Probably,' Frodo agreed with a smile. 'What's left of it, anyway.'
Rose smiled and put the tray down. 'Just let me know if there's anything else you need.'
'You haven't left Pippin alone in the kitchen, have you?' Merry asked suddenly.
Rose laughed. 'He's holding the baby!' she said. 'We're very fussy today, cutting a tooth, and he seems to know just how to keep our mind off it.'
After she had closed the door, Merry shook his head and muttered, 'I'm sure he's had plenty of practice with the Thain.' Frodo laughed, but Merry got back to business. 'What did Strider say?'
'Read it for yourself.' While Merry read, Frodo unwound the bandages to free his mouth.
Merry looked up. 'Why don't you undo it all the way? It can't be comfortable to go about muffled up all the time.' Without waiting for an answer, he went back to reading, and Frodo gratefully complied. Munching on a piece of cheese, he stared out the window and waited for his cousin to finish.
With a sigh, Merry laid down the closely written sheets. 'He says a lot, never knew him to be so wordy before.'
'A lot, and nothing,' Frodo answered. Despair washed over him. 'O Merry. What am I going to do?'
Merry got up from his chair to come to where Frodo stood, putting a comforting hand on Frodo's shoulder. 'What about the elves? He suggested asking them.'
'You must have noticed that he held out little hope,' Frodo said softly. 'I'm almost afraid to go to Rivendell to find out...' He didn't tell Merry about the other letter, in his pocket, containing Celeborn's answer to his query.
'You, afraid?' Merry asked in amazement.
Frodo turned. 'Yes,' he admitted. 'I can't imagine living the rest of my life this way.'
Merry threw his arms about his cousin. 'Frodo!' he said, shocked. 'Don't give up!'
Frodo stood rigid in his cousin's embrace, then relaxed and returned the hug. 'I'm not giving up,' he said softly. 'I've kept on without hope before, you know.'
'I know,' Merry said simply. Closing his eyes, he could feel Frodo's wet cheek against his own, and in his mind's eye he could see his cousin's face. He was distracted by the tickle of curly hair where one hand rested at the back of Frodo's neck.
Stepping away, he said, 'You're badly in need of a haircut, cousin. You're about as shaggy as a pony.'
'I hadn't noticed,' Frodo said absently.
'Doesn't your hair get in your eyes?'
'Not that I can see,' Frodo answered, and suddenly it struck both of them so funny that they howled with laughter.
Samwise, coming in the door, listened with a smile. It had been a long time since he'd heard his master laugh.
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