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Sacrament

by CRB and Ladyhawk Baggins

16 March 1420sr

Lily woke in the early morning with Rose sitting near her on the bed. She sat up quickly, her face full of curiosity and some bit of fear. Rose sat next to her to prevent her from getting out of bed, and patted Lily’s arm as she spoke.

“Morning, Lily dear; they bathed Frodo during the night, and while Gandalf carried Frodo into the bathing room, Merry and Pip changed out the feather mattress with one of the extras the Gaffer brought up last night. Then while the others took care of washing and dressing him in a clean nightshirt, I changed out the bedclothes. Nice and fresh, now... but oh, Frodo’s so thin -- he’s all right, Lily dear, trust Mr. Gandalf, but he’s lost a stone-weight if he’s lost an ounce. They’ve managed to get a bit of broth into him, even though he doesn’t wake. He’s sleeping like a log, he is. No more fever; it broke, and his colour’s back.”

Lily attempted to get a word in edgewise, and failed.

“They’ve got a nice bit of lavender steeping in his room, freshenin’ the air. Indeed it’s pleasant in there. They’ve got a nice fire going... it’s a chilly one today, even though the sun’s shining... a lovely day...” Rose sighed deeply. “Maybe we could step outside a bit, later on today?”

Lily longed to see Frodo. She began to wonder if Rose was hiding some sort of bad news about him. Rose was sounding like Bell, chattering on so; Lily had never seen the like from her before. She realized a reply was expected.

“Yes, um, yes of course, Rosie, let’s... but I cannot go anywhere until I’ve seen him...”

“Good! Oh, but Gandalf, he says to us, ‘Well, this lavender is really quite pleasant, my hobbits.’ Then Merry says, ‘It’s nice enough, but not like athelas.’ Then the three of them went on about it like there was no tomorrow. Yes, they’re all awake; you’re the last to rise, but for Frodo. First breakfast is any minute now, but I’ll bring some in for you here. I think they’ve burned the toast; can you smell it? How can anybody burn toast?!”

Still she went on. “Lily, those lads know about so many things I’ve never heard of, ever... since their journey... My Sam has talked of athelas, too! He goes on about it, all excited -- but it’s only kingsfoil, Lily. Can you believe it?”

“Kingsfoil?! That’s naught but a weed!” Lily exclaimed; but she was not truly interested. “But -- I want to see Frodo...”

“I know, Lily, I know. Just rest a bit longer. He’s sleeping so peacefully -- Gandalf is sure he’ll wake on the morrow... How are you feeling?”

“Much better, thank you. Especially, now I know he shall recover...” Lily’s voice caught, and a tear slipped down her cheek. She quickly dashed it away.

Rosie smiled kindly. “There, there, now. Your lad’ll be right as rain before we know it. He’s made of sterner stuff than most folk realize. Besides, he’s got you to live for.”

Without any warning, Rose began to cry. She stood and walked to the east window, pulling one curtain aside. Sunlight streamed into the room. Lily could only see Rose’s silhouette as she wept in the sunshine, hiding her face in her hands.

Lily hurried to her. “Rose!” she soothed, “whatever is the matter?” She rubbed her hand in small circles on Rose’s shoulders, but Rose would not turn to her.

Rose lifted her head from her hands. “I -- I miss Sam. I’m sure he’s all right; I’m sure of it. But -- I’ve been thinking how we almost lost Frodo... it was too close for comfort... losing Frodo would be hard enough, but if I ever lost my Sam, I--”

“Rosie, dear!” Lily embraced her friend, who sobbed grievously; Lily still felt Rose struggling to hold it back. “Rose, you’re completely exhausted! Did you sleep at all last night? Tell me the truth.”

“No. I tried. I couldn’t. Maybe an hour... Instead of tossing all night, I helped them change out the bedclothes and get a fire going, made some more tea and fresh bread... it was no good trying to sleep.” Rose’s words were punctuated by little gasping sobs. With each word, she forced herself to calm.

“I can’t help anyone if I’m weeping like a ninnyhammer,” she laughed, fighting tears.

“Rose, Rose... after we get first breakfast, and I see my Frodo, and we get you a bath--” she caught her own image in the mirror “--and get me a bath, as well... you must sleep!”

“But--!”

“No, none of that, Rose. If you don’t nap, I shall not go on a walk with you.” She smiled to soften the firmness of her tone. “You haven’t slept proper since three days back, I’ll wager... I thought you rested every time I did, but now I suspect not. Look at yourself in the mirror! -- no, don’t!” She laughed, and Rose stopped crying, long enough to inspect her reflection.

“Oh, my gaffer’s gammer! Look at me, I’m a sight!” Rose sniffled and began to laugh, and Lily joined her. “We are a sight.”

“I can’t recall when last I looked like something the cat dragged in,” Lily giggled. “I’m glad Frodo is asleep. I’d hate for him to wake and see me this way. Yes, a bath first; he might just wake up when I look in on him...” She paused and murmured, “I hope he wakes...”

Rose embraced her quickly and then corrected her. “Before baths, we eat first breakfast.”

There was a knock on the bedroom door.

“That’ll be Pippin... Come in, Pip!” called Rose.

Pippin entered with a smile and a tea tray. “Here you are, ladies. Good morning, and a beautiful day it is! You’re both looking lovely!” He placed the tea tray on the carved cherry-wood bureau.

“Listen to him!” Rose teased. “Peregrin Took, it won’t work. Your charm only goes so far! We’re a sight, and you know it!”

“A sight for sore eyes, ladies, that’s what you are, and I’ve never been more serious.”

Pippin’s voice changed completely. “The Shire’s still here, it’s still lovely, Sam’s planting trees as we speak, the sun is shining, and the Fourth Age has begun. There’s a new King in Middle-earth, and a lovely Queen; Lord Faramir and the fair Eowyn rule over Ithilien...

“A terrible evil has been conquered, in large part due to the sturdy hobbit asleep down the hall -- with the help of our dear Sam... The world is new. We know how to pray, and Who to thank, and Frodo’s going to live. Isn’t that a grand thought, now?”

Rose and Lily stood speechless.

“One day you’ll understand all this, but for now, please believe me... you’re both young, and, dare I say, in love, and you’re both pretty as any Elven maid.”

He started to leave the room, and paused at the door. His eyes twinkled. “Yes, you do need a bath, but--”

“Pippin!!” Rose laughed, “You Tookish rogue!!” She grabbed the nearest pillow and aimed it, but Pippin was gone, grinning as he went.

They heard his distinctive accent fade away as he called to them. “First breakfast is on the table! Come and eat now, or we’ll eat it for you!”

They continued to laugh as Rose set the pillow back on the bed.

“Let’s wash our faces and go. Lily, I have a wonderful story to tell you after firsties. Then baths, then I’ll nap. Then we’ll take that walk.”

“Is -- is the story about Frodo?”

“My goodness, you do have but a single thought, dear Lily! Yes, it’s about Frodo,” Rose laughed.

Lily blushed, and Rosie laughed again.

---------

First breakfast was burnt, but they did not care. Pippin was right; the world was new, and Sam was planting trees, and Frodo would live, and Lily longed to see him. Soon...

Merry and Pippin managed to coax Gandalf into a chunk of Rosie’s fresh-baked bread and peach preserves before going out for some fresh air themselves.

Lily could no longer contain herself. She finished drying her hands and hung the blue linen towel on a hook near the hearth to dry.

“I must go and at least take a peek at him, dear Rose... then I’ll freshen up properly...”

“All right, love, but not too long; if I know you, you’ll...” Rose finished pulling the apron off and turned around to her friend, but Lily was already gone.

Rose smiled to herself and opened the kitchen window to gaze out over the new herb garden; it was cool, but not too very cold, a surprisingly pleasant day for March. She would leave the window open, and mayhap open one of the greatroom windows, just a tad...

---------

Lily hastily made her way to Frodo’s bedroom door, then stopped. She closed her eyes and sighed, endeavoring to gather her courage.

“Good morning, Miss Lily,” Gandalf greeted her. Though obviously still tired, the old wizard was happy.

“You may come closer if you wish, child,” he encouraged gently. “Frodo is very much on the mend, though I cannot say he is fully healed, by any means. But that is no matter; I hadn’t expected it. He’s resting well now, and we’ll be able to get some more broth into him again nearer to luncheon, I should think.”

Lily approached the bed tentatively, until she stood next to Gandalf, seated on the cedar chest once more.

Frodo! She could barely feel any darkness at all in him, now... perhaps he would truly heal!

Lily heard Rose’s feet patter down the hall and turned to see her in the doorway.

“Rose,” Lily whispered. “Come in! Look how peacefully he sleeps now!”

“You needn’t whisper, ladies. He is sleeping quite heavily. You must remember he was awake for three days and nights, at least. I don’t know how long he was awake before Master Cotton discovered him.”

“Neither do we, though he was with me the day before, sir,” Lily added, as Rose stepped next to her. “But look at him... even though he’s thinner than ever... oh, Rose, I can’t even say it... he’s so...” she stopped, shy in Gandalf’s presence.

The wizard smiled; he pulled out a long pipe from the folds of his robe and patted his sides until his hand found the pipe-weed satchel.

Rose offered, “You don’t need to say it, love. I know. He is indeed. Samwise says Frodo has an Elvish air about him. Mayhap; but I’ve never seen an Elf. I only know you’re thinking what we all think -- he’s beautiful. There -- I said it for you.”

Lily turned to embrace Rose, and laughed softly.

“Yes... it feels a bit odd to say such things, in front of Gandalf.” She blushed red, smiling.

“Dear ladies, you ought to know that someone who’s seen the coming and going of the ages as I have doesn’t embarrass anymore!” He laughed out loud as he attempted to light his pipe, and had to start the process all over again.

Lily barely heard him. Frodo had more colour in his cheeks, and was breathing evenly, deeply... his hair was no longer damp; the dark curls were shining again, thanks to the bath he’d been given in the night. He was so drawn! but he would be all right... he’d need real meals as soon as he could take them...

She only wanted to touch him once...

Lily began to reach for him, but Rose laid a gentle hand on her arm.

“Wait, love... now, you know you’ll never leave this room if you start that... Next you’ll want to kiss his cheek! And what kind of chaperone would I be? You kissin’ him in his bed! Come along now... you can see him again later -- when I take my nap! -- with Mr. Gandalf here as chaperone, for a short time. How’s that? I’ll not tell you my Frodo-story unless you come with me!” Rose threatened, with a wink.

Lily withdrew her hand gradually, and giggled with Rose. “You’re right, of course. I shan’t want to leave, and I mustn’t wake him, even by accident; he needs his rest...”

A sigh escaped Lily. “Let’s go, dear Rose. I’m glad one of us has some sense this morning! Gandalf, sir, may we bring you anything?”

“Not a thing, ladies, but thank you. I may close my eyes for forty winks, after my pipe is done. If you happen upon those two young warriors, somewhere about in the halls, tell them not to wake me! I’ll wake myself!” He chortled, and took another puff on his pipe.

“Yes, sir. Thank you again, Gandalf... I can never, ever thank you enough.”

“Miss Lily, I would have been more grief-stricken than you could ever imagine if anything had befallen this dear brave hobbit. I thank the Creator, who called me to this place and allowed me to give what aid I could. And as I will be chaperoning --” his voice grew mock-severe “-- would you talk with me for a while here, when Miss Cotton takes her well-deserved nap?” His eyes twinkled at Rose.

“Yes, sir, indeed I shall,” Lily agreed. “Come, Rose, I want to hear your tale!” She knew better than to give in to the temptation to glance again at Frodo.

Gandalf’s smile broadened as the two lasses began to chatter even before they were out the bedroom door.

---------

Rose fought with her vest laces, but her fatigue was getting the better of her. This particular one laced up the back. What possessed her to wear this one three days ago?

“Lily, dear, can you --”

Rose turned to see Lily staring into space, daydreaming. Rose smiled at her, but was careful not to laugh. Lily suddenly heard Rose’s question, and jumped up from the bed where she had been sitting.

“Oh, yes! Of course, here; let me help you.” Lily began to work on the laces. “Please, Rosie, don’t keep me in suspense! You were saying a very special letter came here to Frodo, and--?”

“Thank you for doing those laces; I’m breathing better already. Yes. You should have seen him when your letter got here in February...”

Lily’s brows raised in surprise. “My letter? The one I sent him in February? Oh! -- how silly of me -- of course! That’s the one I sent in answer to his very first to me -- after our time apart, before he came to Deephallow. Oh, Rose, you were here when my letter came?” Her heart beat a little faster.

“Yes, indeed. I was here making supper for them, Samwise and Frodo both.” She paused a moment. “Maybe I shouldn’t be telling tales on Mr. Frodo, but it’s sure and certain our lads’ll never tell you, so I shall!”

Lily finished the laces, and Rose let out a sigh. “Oh, thank you, dear, I really think we got this vest on a mite too tight the other morning before coming here. We were both distracted!”

“Rose--” Lily started to giggle, and had to force herself to stop. She felt happy, but overly tired somehow, and silly. “I’ll go into a laughing fit any moment if you don’t tell the story now! And if we don’t get our baths soon, we’ll miss second breakfast! Merry and Pippin, what a schedule they keep! Frodo told me they’re like soldiers that way. I’ve never seen anything like it, though it’s just as well...” She sighed, still fighting off the urge to laugh.

Now it was Rosie’s turn to laugh, as she removed the vest and laid it over the wardrobe door. “This chemise... look at it! It doesn’t even match the vest! Why didn’t you tell me?” But she was smiling.

Lily finally realized she was being teased.

“Rose... please --! This is a true story... not some ruse to distract me --?”

“Oh, it’s true, sure and certain! I’ll not keep you waiting any longer; you may burst, and I don’t want you missing a meal...

“Sam answered the door when the post came that evening. He didn’t know Frodo had sent you a letter. When Frodo realized it was a letter from you, he just held it in his hands, running his fingers over the lettering, gentle-like. Sam practically had to beg him to open it.”

Rose giggled. “Though Frodo tried, he couldn’t, o’course, what with his hands shaking so bad; he could barely hold it, let alone open it... So he gave it to Sam to open -- don’t worry! Sam only opened it for him; he didn’t read it.

“Poor Mr. Frodo, he was terrified... at first, he didn’t even look at it, and he asked Sam, ‘Do you think she’s terribly angry with me, Samwise? Do you think she’ll ever be able to forgive me?’ I was fit to be tied...

“Bless Sam, patient as always, he says, ‘I don’t know, Mr. Frodo, and you won’t neither, not until you unfold that letter and read it.’

“It was all I could do not to burst on the spot. I wanted to snatch the letter out of his hands and read it myself. But I didn’t. I waited patiently, so to speak, trying to remember not to let supper burn at the same time... Lily, your eyes are as big as saucers!” Rose began to laugh again.

“ROSE!” Lily was giggling as well.

“All right, love... Frodo read it through quick, and then again, slower -- and the smile that spread across his face, Lily -- it was a wonderful sight to behold. Before this week, the last time I remember him smiling like that was at Yule! With you.”

Her voice lost its teasing tone. “Then those eyes of his filled up with tears and he could barely speak when he told us, ‘She wants to see me. She wants to see me. Oh Sam, she’s counting the hours!’ he says.

“Well, Sam just beamed, and it was all I could do to still get supper on the table. Frodo hardly ate a bite. We didn’t begrudge him; he just read your letter over and over to himself.

“So, then, we were pretty well through with supper; when Frodo looks up from your letter and says, ‘I must go tomorrow. I do hope it doesn’t put you out at all, Sam.’

“Bless my Sam, he says, ‘O’course not, Mr. Frodo. I’ll help you pack and make sure you get an early start.’ Then those tears did spill over, and next thing you know we were all crying.”

Rosie’s eyes were even now damp with unshed tears. She laughed softly as she saw a tear slip down Lily’s cheek. “Oi! Enough of that, now. Everything’s going to be all right!”

The two embraced tightly.

Rose continued, “Here now, let’s get our baths, and I’ll get my nap. Then you can see Frodo, and have your chat with Mr. Gandalf, and then we’ll get a bit more broth into that lad of yours.”

“What does Mr. Gandalf want to talk to me about?” Lily wondered aloud.

“Who knows, with wizards,” Rosie replied. “Let’s get our baths so you can find out.”

---------

Lily was nearly finished lacing and tying her best yellow leather vest, and Rose was adjusting her skirts, when a sharp rap at the bathing-room door made them both jump.

“Second breakfast on the table!” they heard Merry shout. “Come and get it, or it’s forfeit!”

They could hear the smile in his voice even through the door.

“We hear you, Master Brandybuck!” Rose replied smartly. “No need to shout! You’ll see us in two shakes!” She was smiling as well.

“Are you nearly ready, Lily? I’m awfully hungry-like. Didn’t eat a nice big first breakfast like I’m accustomed to...”

They pattered down the hall to the kitchen. Lily carefully avoided glancing behind her to Frodo’s room, endeavoring to ease the yearning, once again, to look in on him, at least until Rose was well and truly napping.

Lily resorted to chatter in a further attempt to distract herself from looking in on Frodo. “I’m not surprised you’re hungry, Rose. Firsties was burnt, after all!”

“I know -- hope they’ve managed better with secondies...” Rose lowered her voice to a whisper.

The two friends tucked into second breakfast eagerly. It was a beef soup laden with vegetables, with pan-fried mushrooms in butter on the side.

“Merry, this soup is wonderful,” Lily enthused, trying to hide the relief in her voice.

“You cooked up the mushrooms just right,” added Rose. “As good as my Sam... oh! Please don’t be tellin’ him I said that.”

Merry tossed more mushrooms into the frying pan, remembering only at the very last moment to add more butter to the pan before they burned. He looked over his shoulder at them. “I’m betting you’re just extra-hungry this morning, ladies. That always makes food taste better. And I won’t tell Samwise.” He grinned.

Merry took the new batch of mushrooms off the hearth fire and set it on the iron trivet in the center of the trestle table. He sat down just as Pippin made an entrance.

“Good morning, ladies!” Pippin greeted them cheerfully, taking a seat next to Merry. They could hear the underlying fatigue in his voice.

“Good morning, Pippin,” Lily replied; Rose only nodded, just having bit into her toast. “How is Frodo faring?”

“Quite well, I think... his colour is good, and the fever’s not returned. He’s sleeping soundly. Gandalf and I poured a bit more broth into him -- his favourite: barley, mushrooms, and beef; but still, it’s not easy getting even something as simple as broth into a sleeping hobbit. He wakes, barely -- I’d hardly call it waking, really -- I hold him and Gandalf spoons it into his mouth, and he swallows most of it. Between you, me, and the neighbor’s dog, it’s going to be a while yet, before he’s looking like he ought again.”

“He hasn’t eaten proper, but off and on, since he came back from the Quest,” Rose added, without looking at Lily. “He’d already lost a fair bit o’ weight, even before this -- this illness...”

“Right now he’s nearly as thin as when we met up again in Ithilien,” Pippin reflected sadly.

His voice trailed off as Merry gave him a long look. “Have some of this soup yourself, Pip... with some of the beef in it. The carrots are still sweet. Found some rather decent-looking ones in the cellar pantry. Samwise puts all of us to shame with this cooking business... pardon me, lasses... that is, he puts Pip, and me, and Frodo to shame. And Gandalf. Ladies, never, but never, eat Gandalf’s cooking. I don’t see how he can be a wizard and cook like that... you’d think he could do a bit of magic on the vittles...”

“You’re serious, aren’t you Merry?” Lily queried, still amused at his warning. “This really is delicious. Thank you...”

“You’re most welcome, Miss Lily; and I’m hardly ever completely serious,” -- at this Merry smiled inscrutably -- “but in this case, I’m decidedly serious. Pip here will attest to it... am I right, then, cousin? Remember that concoction Gandalf came up with on the ride home, just out of Rivendell? Even Sam wouldn’t eat it, and he was one hungry Gamgee that night! We never allowed Gandalf to cook for us again, after that...” Merry chuckled at the memory.

This elicited fond laughter from Rose, but her eyes did not reflect it, instead revealing the measure of how much she missed Sam, though only Lily noted it.

Pippin started to smile as the memory returned. “Oh, aye, I’d forgotten about that. I think I was hoping never to remember it again! We’d just been eating the best food of our lives, all that glorious fare in Rivendell; them treating us like we were in King Elessar’s court, our favourite hobbit meals and such. Gandalf’s meal couldn’t possibly compare... We all of us turned our noses up at it, but...” Pippin stopped.

“...Frodo,” he continued wonderingly. “Frodo still downed some of it...”

Lily and Rose waited silently for Pippin to finish; but Merry had a fair idea of what his friend wanted to say, and decided to help him along.

“I reckon I’ve never really stopped to think about it... none of us thought of a thing, then, except getting home, nothing else, and -- and we’d just been feted at Rivendell... feted like royalty...”

Pippin gazed at Merry. “I do remember... Frodo ate the mushrooms and the tomatoes out of that stew, or whatever it was, the bits he could manage to get past his throat, and then he thanked Gandalf, and meant it; you could hear it in his voice. Even Sam wouldn’t eat it, and Sam’s not the picky sort; but Frodo sometimes was, before -- before all this... I remember it clearly now. He thanked Gandalf quite sincerely, then laid himself down on his bedroll, and went to sleep.”

“He is changed...” Rose commented quietly. “He’s not the same. I don’t know as how to say it. I’d never have called him ungrateful before, but -- now he’s, well, he’s grateful for the smallest things, things I don’t think twice on. Samwise sees it all the time and points it out to me. Frodo never hesitates to say ‘Thank you’ for any little thing done for him...”

Lily’s voice was far away. “Frodo told me life in the Shire was so easy, before the Evil came. He wasn’t angry, but he said none of us knew how easy our lives were, then; not even him.”

She set her spoon down and stared at the hearth fire opposite her. “To be thankful is to know,” she murmured, half to herself.

“To know what?” Merry asked softly.

Pippin noticed Lily was lost in thought, and answered. “I think it means that if you’re grateful, then you understand what’s important?... it makes sense, Merry, if you think about it long enough. Lily? Where did you hear that?”

Lily smiled a little. “My da,” she replied simply. She refused to let tears form in her eyes, and swallowed hard. “He said if we’re grateful for things, even the very little things, and don’t take them for granted, it’s not hard to be happy every day. And he didn’t just say it; he lived it, very well, himself...

“It’s almost like knowing a big secret; the secret to everything. Our family was -- is grateful... we’ve tried to keep to it as best we could. It really does make a soul happier. There’s always something to be thankful for, even in the worst times. He said when Mum died it was terrible, but to think how good it was we had her as long as we did... he was right. We still grieved, and we still miss her, and Da, but we can see there’s more to it than grief.

“Then again, we didn’t really know who to thank before. There was no one to pray to, not that we even knew what prayer was... It’s much easier now; we know Who to thank. I think Frodo must have known about the Creator even then, on that end part of your Quest. He told me he asked a thousand questions, starting in --” she struggled to recall the name “-- in Gondor, when -- when the King was wed.

“Yes, it sounds like something Frodo would do,” she continued softly. “He wouldn’t have let even one meal go by without giving some thanks, even for that concoction of a stew, as you called it...”

Lily’s voice drifted farther away than ever. “Sam told us there was nothing to eat when they were in Mordor... after the special bread from the Elves ran out--”

“The lembas,” Merry offered.

“Yes, I think that was the word. My memory’s not clear.”

Lily became silent and pleaded in her heart, please let him heal, Creator... please.

Rose added thoughtfully, “Sam told me about it later. After the lembas ran out, there was naught to eat, and hardly a drop of water... they had rationed for days, and even so, ran out. Sam can’t rightly remember it all now; he told me he’s not sure anymore -- he thinks they went without food -- even the lembas -- for the last three days, and without any water at all the last two... They both knew, even if they got the Ring destroyed, they’d starve or die of thirst before they could ever get back to the rest of you. Then Sam said the Eagles came... it was just like what Gandalf said to Frodo, during the healing, yesterday. Oh, my dear Sam... I do hope he comes home soon. I miss him so.”

“We know, Rose. We miss him too, especially now, in all this.” Merry continued sadly. “We never went hungry for long on the Quest. There was that bit of unpleasantness when we were captured by orcs, but in truth, it prepared us for what was to come. We saw battle, but rarely found ourselves wanting for food or drink. Things were a bit worse in Minas Tirith during the siege, but it was short, and nothing at all to what Sam and Frodo suffered.”

Rose laid her spoon on the table. “Samwise told me your battles, and all the others, were just as important. They kept the -- the Eye off Frodo. And off my Sam.”

Lily shuddered as her memory of the Eye stirred. She pushed it away and concluded aloud, “Frodo would say it was all necessary. Now I only pray he will truly wake.”

She stood up. “Thank you again for second breakfast. Thank you for coming to help us...”

“Not even Shadowfax, the most wild horse in all the earth, could have kept us away from here, Miss Lily,” Merry grinned. “We would have been beating the door down to get in. Or just slipped through a window.” He winked.

Rose stood wearily and yawned. “Please pardon me. I must snatch some sleep. Hardly can keep my eyes open. Lily dear, I’ll get myself to bed. Go see Gandalf now, and Frodo.”

Lily and Rose embraced. “Thank you, Rose. I shall. Sleep well. Wait... what about the dishes?”

No more talk of doing any dishes is allowed in this hole until after we leave for our homes, and that’s a ways off, ladies...” Pippin was feigning sternness, but he could not maintain the ruse. He burst out laughing at the serious expressions on Rose and Lily’s faces.

“You’ll never be a decent Thain unless you can get that perfected, Pip... You’ve got to keep a straight face! Like so...”

Pippin laughed harder as Merry looked up at the bewildered friends from his seat at the table and put on his deepest voice.

“Any hobbit-lass who dares broach the subject of dishes again shall have to take it up with me,” he decreed. His face remained determinedly taciturn.

“So say you, Master Brandybuck,” answered Rose and Lily in unison, bobbing curtseys and suppressing giggles.

Pippin was holding his side, unable to stop his laughter. “All right, all right. You can be Thain. I knew you really wanted it all along. Dad’ll be furious, but I’ll take a long holiday --” he wiped tears from his face with the back of his hand “--to Ithilien. He’ll get over it... Oh, he won’t know; that’s right. He’ll have passed on, by then. It’s settled, Master Brandybuck. You shall be Thain! Mayhap we were switched at birth, anyway...”

Now it was Merry’s turn to laugh. “Pip... we’re eight years apart... switched at birth?”

When they turned, the ladies had gone, but they heard laughter receding all the way down the long hallway.

The two friends walked down the hall together until they reached Sam’s room; Rosie gave Lily a smile, and her hand a quick squeeze, before disappearing into the bedroom for her rest.

---------

Pippin got his breath back. “Let’s have a pipe out in the garden, oh future Master of Brandy Hall.”

“Let’s, oh future Thain.” Merry smiled mischievously.

They were still smiling when they found their pipes and left for the back garden.