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O The Fox Went Out on a Chilly Night  by Lindelea

Chapter 1. In which the hobbits try to establish that adventures are not all that common

It had been an easy day of travel, in part for the old man's sake. Jack, though his health had been much improved with the news that he was no longer barred from the Shire by the King's Edict, having been presented a much-decorated certificate to that effect, was still feeling the effect of age and old injury. Even the King's healing hands had no remedy for that.

The night was young, and the travellers sat around the fire, roasting wild mushrooms the hobbits had gathered as they walked, and there was much laughter and cheer in the group, some of whom were going home, and others, on their way to adventure. Or something to that effect.

'Now, Jack, whatever you might think, hobbits are not in the habit of having adventures...'

'Not if they've grown into their common sense, that is,' Ferdi said smugly, and nudged Pippin with the point of his elbow. 'Of course, some never do seem to grow into common sense.'

'It is the pot calling the kettle black,' Merry said with a grin.

The fire popped, sending sparks spiralling upwards, as if they sought to dance with the stars that studded the sky above the high treetops.

'I beg your pardon,' Ferdi said, sitting upright and putting on his most prodigious frown. Merry, however, was not quenched. Ferdi, after all, was a younger cousin.

'So my finding young Pippin in the middle of nowhere, seeking Bag End (though he was in actual fact headed for the South Farthing, as I recall), was something out of the ordinary?' the old man said, drawing on his pipe. He looked up and nodded in appreciation as his adopted son, Robin, drew a blanket around his shoulders, over his cloak. Though the night was mild, his old bones were not so resistant to the chill of sitting on the ground as they had been in his younger days.

Merry laughed, jabbing the stem of his own pipe at the listeners. 'Might have been, if my cousin were not so very Tookish,' he said.

'Speak for yourself,' Ferdi said. 'As if you were always one to sit sensibly by the hearthside... you were every bit as bad as our little cousin, and worse! For you were not content to brave the dangers of the wild by yourself, but drew your younger cousin into mischief with you!'

'O now,' Pippin said in defence of Merry. 'It was my own idea to follow Frodo... Merry wanted me to stay, but I couldn't let them go off by themselves into danger.'

'I didn't mean that time,' Ferdi said hastily, putting out a staying hand to Pippin's arm, with a look of apology.

'That time,' Jack said, his eyes bright with amusement. 'Just how many times have you led your young cousin astray, Master Meriadoc?'

'And not just that one younger cousin,' Ferdi said. 'Pippin is not the only younger cousin he has drawn into...' he paused, with a look of distaste, as if the next word offended his palate, 'adventure.' He gave Merry a dark look. 'Quite a corrupting influence, I fear, but then, you know what they say about Brandybucks!'

Jack laughed heartily, while Robin looked mystified. 'Not fit for your tender ears, lad,' the old man said at last, as his laughter quieted, and the teen nodded, though from his look it appeared he'd be asking young Faramir Took about the matter at a later time. 'A corrupting influence, Master Merry! I'd never think it, to look at you. You are every inch a proper hobbit... much as Bilbo must have appeared to be, before Gandalf inveigled him away from his comfortable smial...'

'Adventures are nasty, uncomfortable things,' Ferdi said fastidiously.

Merry laughed. 'That,' he said, 'from one who was known to sleep in the notches of trees and blanket himself with dry leaves when nestled in a hollow log...'

'That was not adventure,' Ferdi said with dignity. 'It was a necessity.' He raised his chin, all the better to look down his nose at his older cousin. 'Not at all like the time you led your little cousin astray, and him barely more than a faunt at the time...'

'Pippin followed Merry into danger from his earliest days, did he?' Bergil said. He had walked around the perimeter of the camp, checking in with each guard in turn, and had reported to the Captain of the travelling company that all was quiet. Most of the hobbits were already asleep, and these remaining by the fire would be seeking their bedrolls as soon as they finished their pipes, according to their custom.

'Indeed,' Ferdi said, and added with another dark look for his older cousin, 'but it wasn't Pippin I was thinking about just now...'

'Do tell, Uncle Ferdi,' young Faramir said in his best coaxing manner. 'Is this about the time that you and Uncle Merry took the pies from the windowsill...?'

'No, it was not that time,' Ferdi said.

'Then was it the time you and Uncle Merry decided to ride the ponies in the field, for a lark, and...'

'No, it was not that time, either,' Ferdi said.

'Perhaps it was the time that he and Merry decided to look for Oliphaunts,' Pippin put in, leaning back and drawing on his pipe so that the glow lit up his eyes with mischief. 'Though I was only a faunt at the time, I remember the scolding they got...'

'It was before you were born, as a matter of fact,' Ferdi said loftily. 'And I don't think they told you about it, for they didn't want you to get ideas in your head about wandering off... not that it stopped you...'

'Before I was born? And a story I haven't heard?' Pippin said, leaning forward again. He drew up his knees and circled them with his arms. 'Well, you mustn't stop there! Tell on!'

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