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Bread And Water

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They were weary and anxious and sore when they arrived at Rivendell. Gandalf met them and Elrond was already tending Frodo and Sam went to sit outside the door. Strider and Gandalf walked off together, talking in low voices. Merry and Pippin were left in the hall, falling down beside what luggage they had left.

"I thought we'd never get this far," said Merry.

"I suppose Frodo will be all right now," Pippin said, frowning.

"Elrond is looking after him, and Gandalf too. He'll be right as rain." Merry clapped Pippin on the shoulder. "Cheer up. We're safe now and nearly warm."

"Yes, safe and forgotten, like an umbrella fallen down behind a shelf. Not wanted now that the rain has stopped." But his voice was far from bitter, for their hearts were a little lighter now and their feet a little drier.

A few minutes later, a tall woman entered the hall, an elf, grave and fair. "Come," she said. "I will show you where you can rest."

"And eat, I hope," Pippin whispered, then flushed when the lady laughed.

"You will find all that you require, have no fear. You have faced great danger for ones so young and you deserve both repast and repose." And she showed them to a room lit by lamps and warmed by fire. Supper was laid ready on a low table and two large baths smoked nearby. In the corner, beds were made and the covers turned back.

"Very homelike, eh, Pip?" Merry dropped the bags to the floor.

"Just what I've been wanting these last two weeks. Thank you, my lady." And they both bowed low.

The lady smiled. "If you have any further need, you have only to call. Someone will come." And she left them there and closed the door.

"Well, what shall it be, Pippin, my lad? Supper first? Or baths?"

"Supper by the fire, but quickly. I want my bath hot."

So they fell to and dined on new loaves and butter and cold venison and cheese and apples. If they longed for pork pie and pickles and beer, they did not mention it, but drank Elrond's health with strong red wine.

"That's taken the edge off," said Merry. "Now for the bath."

They piled their clothes in a corner and climbed in, each to his tub. The water was deliciously hot and scented with lilac.

"You'll smell like a flower now, Pip."

"What did I smell like before?"

"I didn't like to mention it, but there was a strong odour of mushrooms about you."

"I thought you liked mushrooms."

"To eat for dinner, not to travel with."

"I'll spare your feelings, Merry, and won't tell you what you smelled like."

"Roses, of course."

"More like fertilizer, I'm afraid."

"Well, now I'll smell like roses and lilacs and violets too."

"So will I, if you come help me scrub the mushroom off my back."

Merry laughed and climbed out of his tub and into Pippin's. The baths were made for the tall elven folk and there was plenty of room for two hobbits in one bath.

Merry washed his friend's back with a cloth and rubbed the knots out of his shoulders into the bargain. Pippin wriggled a little. "That's just the thing, Merry. Now turn around and I'll do you."

Merry relaxed under Pippin's hands and just nodded when Pippin suggested Merry's hair could do with washing. Eyes closed against the soap, Merry drowsed and was half convinced he was back at home and only dreaming about rings and Black Riders and danger in the dark.

Then suddenly he was underneath the water and choking. When he came up, coughing, he turned and ducked Pippin twice before he could get away.

Pippin sputtered. "I thought Brandybucks liked the water!"

"Yes, to row on it in boats, not live under it like fish."

"And to swim in it like otters?" Pippin splashed Merry in the face.

Merry splashed him back and they didn't stop until a wave rose over the lip of the tub and spilled out onto the stone floor.

Holding Pippin's arms to his sides, Merry leaned in close. "Can you behave yourself now, Peregrin Took?" Pippin's eyes shone and Merry moved his hand under the water and Pippin behaved himself very well indeed. So did Merry.

When they got out of the bath, the water was cooling. Their cheeks were rosy and their fingers were wrinkled. They dressed in soft white robes that were laid out for them.

"We'll be mistaken for elf lords now, Merry, we look so noble."

"Is there any bread and butter left?"

But they had eaten everything already, so instead they shared a pipe before the fire, toasting their toes upon the hearth. Pippin stroked Merry's hair, combing it with his fingers as it dried.

"Merry, how long do you suppose before we're off back home?"

"That depends on Frodo. He must get well first."

"He will get well, don't you think?"

"I told you that he will, didn't I? Anyway, I can't imagine anyone not being well here in Rivendell." Merry leaned his head on Pippin's shoulder.

"Merry..."

"Yes, Pip?"

"Now you smell like pipeweed."

And they both laughed and did not speak again. When the pipe was spent, they slept at last, twined together in one bed, and Pippin snored.