Originally written in 2006 for Marigold's Talechallenge 28, otherwise known as the ‘Nekkid Hobbit’ challenge. In addition to nekkid hobbits, I had to include shepherd’s pie and a garden rake. This is one of my personal favorite stories that I've written.
Paladin Took stared in astonishment at his son, who was running toward him across the front hall at full speed. At least, he was fairly certain it was his son. It was difficult to tell, for the lad was covered from head to toe in what appeared to be mud. His clothes, his fair skin and his normally bright golden hair were now a deep brown colour, and long strands of slimy green weed graced the top of his muddy curls so that he looked as if he was wearing a very peculiar feather head dress.
“Peregrin Took!” he exclaimed in horror, stepping swiftly backward and holding out his hands to fend off his son when it appeared that he was about to launch himself with reckless abandon into his father’s arms. “What in the name of the Valar have you been up to?”
Pippin slid to a halt, flecks of drying mud spraying all over the recently swept and scrubbed floor. Bright green eyes regarded him with evident surprise from a mask of odiferous goo. “I was catching frogs, Papa, down at the pond,” replied Pippin with a look that said as clearly as words: ‘isn’t it obvious?’
“Catching frogs again! Pippin, what have you been told about playing in that pond, particularly in your good clothes. I don’t know what your mother is going to say when she sees the state of them.” Well, actually Paladin had a fair idea, but it was nothing he could repeat in front of a child.
“But Papa, I wasn’t playing,” Pippin objected. He shoved a slime-encrusted hand into the soggy, sagging pocket of his little jacket. “See?” He withdrew his hand and held it out. “I catched a frog. May I keep him? Please?”
Over Pippin’s dirty fist, bulging brown eyes set in a doleful green face regarded Paladin Took with resignation. It was a frog’s lot in life, their expression seemed to say, to be caught by mischievous young lads.
Paladin could certainly sympathise. It was a father’s lot in life, after all, to have to raise those mischievous young lads, and hide the consequences of their misdeeds from their mothers whenever possible. He sighed. In the Took household, that was nearly a full-time job.
“No doubt he’s a very nice frog as frogs go,” Paladin said, steeling his heart against the imploring look he knew was coming, “but I’m afraid he cannot stay, Pippin. Frogs don’t survive long out of water, you see, and they must have flies and moths and such to eat.”
“He can live in my bathtub, Papa,” suggested Pippin hopefully, “and I can catch bugs for him to eat.” The imploring look was very much in evidence, and astonishingly affecting even through a mask of mud.
Oh yes, Eglantine would certainly approve of that plan, Paladin thought wryly. “I’m afraid that simply won’t do, Pippin-lad. The frog wouldn’t be happy living away from all his- er- froggy cousins. I imagine he has a Merry and a Frodo of his own who would miss him terribly if he left home.”
“Oh.” Pippin knit his brows, causing a large chunk of mud to fall off his forehead, and thought furiously. “But we could find them and bring them here, too, couldn’t we?” he suggested, brightening as a solution to the problem presented itself.
It was difficult not to smile at such inventive thinking. Pippin was, Paladin thought with fatherly pride, a very bright young lad. And it was a shame to disappoint his son’s hopes, but if his mother would find one frog in the bathtub objectionable, Eru knew what she would think about three of them sharing it.
“It’s simply not possible, Pippin. I’m sorry. But we’ll get you washed and changed before we return the frog to the pond, so that you may enjoy his company for a little while longer, all right?” Pippin nodded disconsolately but seemed resigned to the fact that he wasn’t going to be able to keep the frog. “Now we’d best get a move on before your mother sees you. As it is, she is going to be very distressed to discover you’ve ruined yet another shirt and pair of breeches.”
Pippin hung his muddy head. He had been scolded any number of times about his unfortunate tendency to tear, lose, stain or otherwise wreak havoc on his clothing. “I’m sorry, Papa,” he said contritely, and, pocketing the frog, followed his father to the bathing chamber, depositing a trail of mud and bits of slimy weed in his wake.
“Master Pippin!” It was Cook’s outraged voice.
Pippin, sitting on the edge of the kitchen table just about to take another large bite out of a scrumptious raspberry tart, started guiltily. The pastry fell from his hand. Down the front of his shirt it slid and onto his lap, smearing both liberally with crimson jam before it landed on the stone flagged floor right next to the remains of a blackberry tart that had met a similar fate a short time earlier.
Uh-oh. Not again, thought Pippin.
He had snitched the blackberry tart from the oven when Cook went to fetch more butter from the cold cellar, only it had been so hot that he’d had to toss it back and forth from hand to hand, wincing and going ouchouchouchouchouch. It was sheer bad luck that the delectable, flaky golden pastry had burst open in midair and sprayed blackberry filling all over the pristine whiteness of his shirt before landing with an explosive purple splat on the floor.
Pippin had been much more careful in handling the second tart, and everything would have been fine if Cook hadn’t shouted like that and startled him. Life simply wasn’t fair, he decided aggrievedly. He was still in disgrace over the frog incident, and now this had to happen. Blackberry was bad enough. But blackberry and raspberry together? Disaster.
Cook marched over to Pippin, and fixed him with a stern look. Her arms were akimbo, her starched white apron fairly bristling with indignation over her ample bosom. “You’ve been at my tarts again, you young rascal,” she declared, her brown eyes snapping under lowered brows. “And making a proper mess wi’ them, too. Look at my clean floor! Well, Master Pippin, just you wait until I…”
tell your mother, supplied Pippin mentally; he had heard this lecture before. Several times, in fact.
“…tell your mother. What my mistress is going to say I…”
daren’t guess, Pippin went on with his mental recitation.
“…daren’t guess, but if I have anything to say to it, you’ll be…”
sent to bed without your supper!
“…sent to bed without your supper!” Cook took Pippin by the arm- very gently, for her bark was indeed worse than her bite, and didn’t the lad have a way about him with those sweet features and green eyes- quite melted one’s heart, it did- and led him away to his mother’s sitting room.
Pippin knew from past experience that his mother was far too softhearted ever to send her youngest child to bed without his supper. But the look of disappointment in her eyes as she examined his jam-and-crumb-smeared form from top to toe was an even worse punishment. It made him feel rather sick inside, the way he did when he ate too much cake at tea, as if a mass of butterflies was flapping around and trying to get out.
“Oh Pippin, what am I going to do with you?” Eglantine Took sighed after Cook, shaking her head and muttering about the state of her kitchen floor, had retreated and left the miscreant to his fate. “At this rate, I shall have to hire a full-time seamstress and laundress simply to keep you in clean clothes.”
“I’m sorry, Mama.” Pippin hung his head yet again. “I didn’t mean to be naughty.”
Eglantine regarded her son with fond exasperation. “You are always sorry, Pippin, and you never mean to be naughty. And yet you continue to get into mischief. But there,” she added softly as Pippin sniffed pathetically and raised his eyes to hers, and she saw a shining tear slide from the corner of one eye and trace a path down his petal-smooth cheek, “we shan’t say anymore about it, but do promise me you will try harder to stay out of mischief, all right?” She took a handkerchief from her pocket, and gently wiped Pippin’s face.
“I promise,” Pippin vowed, and really and truly meant it, as he did every time he promised to stay out of mischief. Was it his fault that mischief seemed to come looking for him? A sudden idea occurred to him. “Mama?”
“Yes, my love?”
“If mischief comes looking for me again, I promise to take off all my clothes first.”
Eglantine had to hold her handkerchief over her mouth to stifle some very un-matronly giggles.
“Now, what would you lads like me to make you for your supper, hmm?” asked Bilbo Baggins, looking around the kitchen table at Frodo, Merry and Pippin. The three lads were making rapid inroads into a huge second breakfast that Bilbo had whipped up, but it was no difficulty for them to think about a future meal even whilst they were devouring the one in front of them.
A chorus of suggestions rang out, ranging from the doable (shepherd’s pie, suggested by Frodo) to the impossible (roasted dragon tail, suggested by Pippin), and Bilbo began making mental notes and counting the supplies in the pantry. Even for one who had supplied thirteen Dwarves and a Wizard with an impromptu meal, making enough food to satisfy the appetites of three young hobbits was a formidable challenge.
“Potatoes!” Bilbo exclaimed aloud, snapping his fingers. “If I’m going to make you lads a shepherd’s pie, we’ll need more potatoes. I used the last of them this morning.”
“I’ll have a word with Sam later, Bilbo, and ask him to bring some in for you,” offered Frodo around a mouthful of scone.
“Thank you, my dear boy.”
“And perhaps I’ll even help him,” Frodo added with a grin. “Digging around in the dirt for potatoes can be rather fun.” For a moment, Frodo looked a child again, and not a grown hobbit nearly out of his tweens.
“Oh, can I help, too, Frodo?” asked Merry eagerly. “I’ve never dug for potatoes before.”
“All right, but you’d better change into your oldest clothes first,” Frodo advised his cousin. “It’s dirty work, Mer, not like scrumping- that is,” he corrected himself quickly, with a sidelong look at Bilbo, “picking mushrooms.”
Bilbo’s eyes twinkled, but he pretended not to notice Frodo’s slip. “Well, I see this is going to turn into quite an adventure,” he said as he reached for the teapot. “But you’ll pardon an old hobbit if he doesn’t join you. My potato digging days are over, I fear. Now, who would like some more tea?”
None of the other hobbits noticed Pippin’s uncharacteristic silence during this conversation, nor did they observe the expression on his face as he finished his scrambled eggs on toast and drank his milky tea. This was too bad, for, knowing the young Took as they did, his distracted look would have immediately put them on their guard. It was the one that meant mischief was about to come looking for him again.
As soon as the meal was over, Bilbo escaped to his study for some peace and quiet, and the younger hobbits tackled the considerable pile of dirty dishes and cutlery. Pippin cleared the table, whilst Frodo and Merry washed and dried. The moment he was done with his task, however, Pippin slipped away unnoticed. It wasn’t until Frodo had dried the last plate and handed it to Merry to put away in the china cupboard that they realized their young cousin was nowhere in sight.
The hunt was up, and it went on for some little time.
“Oh dear, where can he have got to?” moaned Frodo to Merry, when they met back in the front hall after a fruitless search of Pippin’s favourite hiding places inside the smial. “Thank Eru we haven’t got a pond at Bag End! Uncle Paladin’s story sent chills down my spine, Merry.”
Paladin Took had related the frog adventure to Bilbo and Frodo before he left Merry and Pippin to stay with their Baggins cousins, for he wasn’t entirely convinced that his son had abandoned the idea of keeping a frog in his bathtub, and wanted to prepare them for the possibility. Not that this was anything unusual, of course; every time Pippin visited Bag End, a laundry list of his latest misadventures accompanied him.
Merry watched with sympathy as Frodo paced back and forth in a distracted fashion. Pippin tended to have that effect on his friends and relations. “You know, Frodo,” he said thoughtfully to his cousin after a minute or so, “Pip was unusually silent when you brought up the idea of helping Sam with the potatoes. And it’s precisely the sort of lark he’d enjoy. I wonder…”
Their eyes met, and without another word, they raced out the front door and around the side of the smial to the kitchen garden.
“Well now, Master Pippin, and what might you be up to?” said Sam Gamgee, coming unexpectedly upon the young Took in the potato patch.
“I’m digging for potatoes, Sam,” replied Pippin, pushing his damp curls off his forehead with one hand, and scowling, “but they don’t seem to want to come out of the ground.” He’d been raking and raking, and never seemed to get anywhere.
“Ah, that would be because you’re using a garden rake,” Sam pointed out. “You can’t use that for digging up taters. You need a spading fork.”
“Oh. Do you have one, Sam?”
“I do, but I hope you don’t mind me asking, Master Pippin, why you’re digging for potatoes?” Sam inquired politely, ignoring for the moment the mystifying fact that the young lad was stark naked, and his clothes folded and placed in a surprisingly neat pile nearby on the grass.
“For cousin Bilbo. He needs more potatoes so he can make us shepherd’s pie for supper.”
“And he asked you to fetch them, did he?” Sam was dubious, and with good reason.
Pippin looked down, and scuffed his toes into the soft dirt. “Not exactly. Frodo said he’d ask you to do it, and then he and Merry said they’d help you. But I thought if I could fetch the potatoes instead,” he added, thinking fast, “then you wouldn’t have to.”
“That was right thoughtful of you,” Sam replied dryly. “But I’m afraid I don’t understand why you had to take off all your clothes, Master Pippin. Seems a mite odd, if you ask me.”
“I promised Mama that if mischief came looking for me again, I’d take my clothes off first so they don’t get dirty,” Pippin confided in a low voice.
“Ah,” Sam nodded although he was having the greatest difficulty in not laughing. “Makes sense in a strange sort of way. Well, let me fetch you a spading fork, and then I’ll show you the proper method for digging up taters.”
Sam went away and returned in a few minutes bearing several of the wooden-handled three-pronged forks. He handed one to Pippin, and was about to demonstrate how to loosen the spuds gently from the soil without damaging the skins, when Pippin said, “Aren’t you going to take off your clothes, Sam?”
“I can’t say as I was planning on it, Master Pippin.”
Pippin looked anxiously up at Sam. “I think you’d better. Your papa might be upset if you get your clothes dirty. He might even,” he added in a thrilling whisper, “send you to bed without your supper.” Pippin had met Sam’s Gaffer on several occasions, and the crusty old hobbit rather terrified him.
Sam thought it far more likely that he’d be sent to bed without his supper if his father saw him gardening in the buff, but Pippin’s green eyes were so imploring and filled with anxiety that he hadn’t the heart to say no. “All right,” he said, and quickly stripped off his shirt, breeches, and smallclothes, folded them, and set them down next to Pippin’s on the soft grass.
“Now then,” Sam said after he was done, “let me show you how to use a spading fork, Master Pippin. You don’t want to go damaging them taters.”
And that is how Frodo and Merry found their errant cousin, buck-naked and wielding a spading fork. If that was a shock, the sight of an equally buck-naked Sam supervising him was even more of one.
It was a sort of choking, gasping sound from both Frodo and Merry that alerted Sam and Pippin to their presence. Pippin looked up and smiled brightly at his cousins. “Sam’s showed me how to dig taters,” he said matter-of-factly, holding aloft a dirt-encrusted tater as proof. “He says I’m a ‘real help and no mistake’.” He beamed. There was a smudge of dirt on his nose, but he was otherwise (for him) remarkably clean.
Sam grinned, rather enjoying the open-mouthed astonishment of Frodo and Merry. It wasn’t often that a Baggins and a Brandybuck were struck speechless. “And so he is,” he said with an approving look at his young apprentice gardener.
“S-sam,” Frodo stammered, recovering his voice whilst Merry continued to gape, “you- you haven’t got any clothes on.”
“I haven’t?” He looked down at himself. “Well, fancy that, Mr. Frodo! If you ain’t right.”
Merry and Pippin began to giggle, and Frodo exclaimed in exasperation, “Sam Gamgee!”
“Sorry, sir.” But Sam’s eyes were twinkling, and his mouth was twitching at the corners.
“Now would you please explain exactly what is going on here?” Frodo demanded, fixing Sam with a stern look, whilst Merry and Pippin continued to snicker. “Have you completely taken leave of your senses? What on earth would your Gaffer say if he saw you?”
“Well, sir, that’s a right good question. Master Pippin here is of the opinion that my Gaffer might send me to bed without my supper if I got my clothes dirty working in the garden. It was him as advised me to take ‘em off, same as he did, just to be on the safe side, like. So I did.”
This was too much for Merry. “Oh, P-pippin,” he gasped, and began to howl with laughter.
Frodo strove valiantly to maintain both his stern expression and his composure, but soon lost the battle. “Only you could possibly come up with such a suggestion, Peregrin Took,” he laughed, wiping tears from his eyes. “Taking off your clothes, indeed.”
However, it appeared that Pippin wasn’t through with his suggestion quite yet. “You and Merry are going to help, too, aren’t you?” he asked hopefully when the laughter finally died down. “You promised cousin Bilbo you would.”
“You can’t go breaking a promise to Mr. Bilbo, sir,” exclaimed Sam, shocked. “Why, he might send you to bed without your supper!”
“Sam has a point, Frodo.” Merry gave his cousin an impish glance. “And I certainly wouldn’t want to miss out on any of Bilbo’s wonderful cooking.”
“I sense a conspiracy going on here,” Frodo joked.
“There are two extra spading forks,” Merry added, his eyes dancing. “One for each of us.”
“I guess it must be fate then,” said Frodo, smiling.
Within moments, Frodo and Merry, too, had removed their clothes, added them to the growing pile on the grass, and joined Pippin and Sam. It wasn’t long before they admitted that the warm sun and the gentle breeze on their bare skin really felt quite pleasant, and it was nice not to have to worry about getting their clothes dirty as they worked.
Perhaps, they decided, some of Pippin’s suggestions weren’t quite so crazy after all.
‘Those lads are certainly having a merry time,’ thought Bilbo, as he listened to the sound of laughter drifting in through the window of his study from the direction of the kitchen garden. ‘Perhaps I’ll just have a look and see what they are up to.’
He got up from his writing desk and went to the window. He had to lean far over the sill and push back a tangle of brightly coloured nasturtiums in order to see the vegetable garden. What he glimpsed nearly caused him to pitch headfirst over the windowsill and into the rose bushes below.
“Bless me!” exclaimed Bilbo aloud, righting himself. For a moment there, he thought he’d seen his nephew and heir, his two young cousins and his gardener standing naked in the potato patch. Chuckling, he returned to his seat. ‘I really must get a new pair of spectacles,’ he thought, shaking his head.