The Care and Feeding of Young Hobbits

Pippin watched, confused, as Strider walked away. He turned to Merry, who said quietly, "I don't think he knows about second breakfast."

With a frown, Pippin asked, "What about elevensies? Luncheon? Afternoon tea? He knows about them, doesn't he?"

"I wouldn't count on it, Pip," his cousin said.

Pippin didn't like Merry's tone. He glanced after Strider, and asked, "What about--" He looked at Merry.

Merry just frowned, and looked after the ranger who was disappearing rapidly ahead of them on the trail. "I don't know, Pip. Don't worry about it. We won't starve."

"But if--" Pippin began to protest, but Merry gave him a stern look.

"Look, between the four of us, we'll manage."

Merry began walking along the path again, and Pippin had to jump to get to his side, and walk along. "I'm not worried about starving," Pippin protested. "Well, not entirely. Not *just*. But -- if this Strider person's a friend of Gandalf's... wouldn't he know?"

"He might."

"But he hasn't said anything," Pippin pointed out.

"Well, neither have we."

Pippin frowned again. Merry was being very solicitous and reasonable -- that was rarely a good thing. "But it's still midday," he argued. "What's there to say?"

Merry stopped in the middle of the path, and looked at him like Pippin had just asked why there was mud on the floor after they'd all finished tracking it in. Pippin thought back over what he'd said and what they'd both been saying, and, as far as he could tell, his question was perfectly reasonable. "That's my *point*," Merry said after a moment, as he continued walking.

Pippin watched him go, and shook his head. "I don't think you're making sense, Merry."

Merry sighed and stopped again. By this time Sam, Frodo, and Bill had caught up with them. At Frodo's questioning glance, Merry just waved them on. "Pip. Why would we say anything while it's still daylight? Either he knows, and hasn't said anything because there's no need to, or he doesn't know. If he doesn't know, either he'll accept it or he won't. If he's going to mind... we might as well get as far towards Rivendell as we can, before he decides he doesn't care to travel with us."

"So... we're not saying anything because it's still daylight," Pippin repeated.

Merry sighed, and clapped Pippin on the shoulder. "Come on. Tell me what you want for late supper. That'll distract us for a while."

"I want squirrel," Pippin said immediately.

"Squirrel? Pippin -- those things are so tiny. What about rabbit?"

Pippin shook his head. "No. I haven't had squirrel in ages and ages and that's what I want." He gave his cousin a sorrowful look. "Can't we have squirrel?"

It only took Merry a few seconds to cave in. He tried; he looked sternly at Pippin, then he frowned, before finally sighing. "Right. Well, if we find any. I'll tell Sam."

Merry began walking again, and this time Pippin just watched him for a moment before following along behind. They walked silently, for a while, and after a bit Merry caught up with Frodo. Pippin heard them talking, Frodo asking if Pippin was all right and Merry assuring him that he was. Then Merry was walking a bit faster, and he caught up with Sam. He told Sam that there'd been a request for squirrel for the late supper menu, and Pippin saw Samwise glancing back at him.

Sam wrinkled his nose, but said nothing.

Pippin scowled. Was it his fault that nobody but him liked squirrel? Why'd Merry ask him what he wanted, then?

He walked along for the rest of the morning, at the tail end of the group. He wasn't sulking, but he wasn't interested in chatting with any of the others. When they stopped for luncheon, he took a turn at gathering firewood and busied himself while the others cooked. He kept his mouth full throughout the meal, then when they cleaned up he took his time until he was once again the last in line. But he wasn't sulking. No matter what Merry said.

He managed to keep it up until Strider called a halt an hour before nightfall. The ranger said something about camp, and Pippin busied himself helping Sam unload Bill's packs. He set them in a careful stack, and waited for someone to say the word "supper". He heard 'make a fire' and 'are we setting a watch' but no one mentioned supper right away. Pippin frowned and looked over at Merry. None of the others seemed to be making any preparations for supper, and Strider was saying something to Frodo about the safety of the camp and how they would split up watch.

Pippin decided he couldn't stand it anymore, and he went over to Merry and Sam. He didn't think he looked *that* pitiful, but as soon as Merry saw him, Merry sighed, rolled his eyes, and pulled Pippin close. "All right, Pippin, all right. Squirrels. You can wait one hour, can't you? There's no point in catching any now."

But Merry was smiling at him, so Pippin knew he wasn't mad. He grinned. "I can wait." He wriggled happily in Merry's half-hug, until Merry gave him a quick kiss. "There's lots of them in the woods; I've been looking."

"I'm not surprised," Merry began. Then they looked up at Strider, who'd walked over.

Strider was giving them a slight questioning look, but it was a moment before he said anything. When he did, he simply said, "Normally as soon as we stop, someone's made a fire and has dinner on its way." His tone was friendly.

Sam didn't even hesitate. "Oh, not til nightfall, Mr. Strider. Last meal of the day's best eaten after dark." He gave Strider a wide, open smile.

Pippin gave Merry a look, though, and caught the silent warning in his cousin's eyes. Pippin nodded, to let him know he understood. Strider just inclinced his head and headed back to where Frodo was sitting, and Pippin heard them begin to talk quietly about the road tomorrow. Merry let go of Pippin, and whispered, "Well, that answers that."

"Indeed it does," Sam responded. "What do you reckon? I could keep him here, keep him busy while you, Master Pippin and Mr. Frodo go out to hunt your squirrels?"

"What about you, Sam?" Merry asked.

"I'll be fine, sir. Don't worry about me."

When Pippin thought Merry would argue, Sam added, "I'll grab something while Mr. Frodo's on watch and Strider's asleep."

"If you're sure," Merry began.

"Unless you reckon on asking Strider if he minds?" Sam asked, one eyebrow raised.

They all three glanced towards the man, sitting beside Frodo. "No," Merry said. "We'll do it your way."

The hobbits went back to setting up camp, including a small fire to burn before night fell. Pippin got out his pipe, and soon after so did the others and they all sat around smoking and telling tales. As dusk fell, Pippin began to get anxious. He was hungry, and he had had to keep stopping himself from saying so to Merry, out loud.

Finally, though, Merry stood up and said to Frodo, "Think we might find a bite for supper?" he asked casually.

Frodo knocked his pipe out on the ground, and stood up. "Yes, I think it's an excellent idea."

Pippin leapt up from where he'd been sitting, tapping his pipe out against his hand quickly and putting it away. "I'm hungry!" he exclaimed, unable to hold it back any longer.

Merry grinned at him. "I know, Pippin. Come on -- let's go find--" Then he stopped. Merry and Frodo stared at him with barely controlled expressions of horror.

Pippin frowned at them, about to ask -- when he realised what he'd done. The sun had vanished behind the trees and hills, and in his hunger, Pippin had forgotten himself. Rather -- he'd forgotten Strider.

Strider was now on his feet, staring at Pippin in shock. As Pippin turned and looked at him, his eyesight clear in their changed state, Strider grabbed the hilt of his sword. "Nightwalker!" Strider gasped, and he drew his blade.

He was instantly beset by four -- ravenous -- vampire hobbits. It didn't take long for them to bleed him dry, once they'd felled him and each found flesh to bite. When his body lay cooling and motionless, Pippin sat back and didn't dare look any of the others in the eye. "Pippin!" Merry finally said, exasperated.

"What?" he asked, though he knew well enough what.

"You made us eat him," Frodo scolded. "Where are we going to find another guide to Rivendell?"

"Back where we found the first two?" Pippin suggested.

Frodo frowned. "Sooner or later they're going to catch on. We have to get to Rivendell -- we can't keep stopping to eat!"

"It wasn't my fault the first time!" Pippin protested, pointing at Sam. "He bit the last guide we got. And Merry bit the first one the same time as I did."

"All right, all right." Frodo held up his hands. "Come on -- let's get back to Bree, and find another guide. We've plenty of time to get there by sunrise and find someone suitable." He gave them all a piercing look. "And this time *nobody* is vamping out or biting the guide, is that clear?"

The other three nodded, slowly. Frodo seemed satisfied, and directed them to pack up camp. Pippin started to help, then frowned. "Merry? I still want some squirrels."