For Addie, Julchen, and Catherine for their birthdays.
September 15, 1418
"Who left this here?" demanded Frodo, pointing at a parcel lying on the tiles of the entranceway to Bag End.
Pippin and Merry exchanged guilty glances, recognizing both were responsible for its unwanted presence but neither wishing to admit to having anything to do with it. "Perhaps Sam left it there?" suggested Pippin as if hopeful the gardener would cheerfully accept responsibility for the offending item.
"I sincerely doubt it," Frodo said, shaking his head. "Sam's not the sort who leaves things lying on the floor under a bench. Besides, he mostly comes and goes by way of the kitchen door." He leaned closer and sniffed at the parcel, and pulled back violently, holding his nose against the stink. "Good heavens!" he gasped. "What a reak!" Noting how the two of them were flinching, he fixed both his cousins with his sternest stare. "You had best out with it," he advised them.
"Well," Pippin began uncertainly, "it's not that we'd intended to leave it there, mind you."
When it became evident that the young Took was not going to say anything further, Frodo turned his gaze on Merry, who ran his finger around inside his collar. "Dad sent it, actually. He thought you would appreciate some squab."
"Some squab? Oh, well I might, if it weren't apparently already going bad and stinking up the hole," Frodo responded, his expression darkening noticeably. "Why is it sitting there?"
Merry cast a hopeless glance at his younger companion before hazarding, "We sort of forgot about it?"
"And just how did you manage to forget a package containing an unknown number of dressed squab here?" There was no question that Frodo was definitely upset.
"It wasn't so much that we forgot it here," Pippin said, "as that we left it in the kitchen at the Floating Log last night."
"In the kitchen?" Frodo looked to Merry for confirmation.
Merry appeared most uncomfortable as he added, "Yes, near the kitchen fireplace. I suppose it was my fault, as I should have gone in myself to ask them to place it in the cool room."
"Actually, I do believe they have an ice house," Pippin interjected.
"So, why didn't the squabs make it into the ice house at the Floating Log?" Frodo asked, looking fom Merry to Pippin.
"Well, you see, Merry didn't tell me the package needed to go into the ice house or the cool room." Pip was pointedly refusing to look at Merry now, while the latter gazed at him with growing frustration. "He only told me to take it to the kitchen and have Calendula see to it for me."
"So, why didn't you do so?" Frodo asked.
"I did take it to the kitchen, but Calendula wasn't there. She was in the guest rooms, I believe. So I left the parcel by the fireside where she ought to have seen it when she came back. Then, when I was going back to the common room I ran into her. No, I mean it! I really ran right into her, and she almost dropped the tray she was carrying. And if she didn't begin to tease me!"
Frodo sighed. He could easily imagine the scene. Calendula Greenbalm had served at the Floating Log for years, and loved teasing the tweens who came through Frogmorten. And certainly Peregrin Took had proved one of her favorite targets for teasing, considering how cheeky he could be. Not, of course, that being the Thain's son and heir didn't add to her interest in the lad. Calendula certainly was not above considering the advantages of a potential--agreement--with the Thain's son. To become the future Thain's Lady would be quite the triumph for a mere cottager's lass from the East-farthing.
"We were both laughing so hard that I quite forgot to mention the parcel I'd left by the hearth. So when Merry sent me to fetch it before we left the inn, I found it right where I'd left it. I fear that it had been quite warm all night. But it wasn't until we got here and I went to get it out of my pack that I realized that what was in it had gone--off. Decidedly off," he added unnecessarily.
Frodo's face was a study in carefully controlled temper. He leaned closer to the package and quickly drew back again. "Well, you can take it out to the compost heap right now," he instructed Pippin. "Get it out of here! Now! And you," he added to Merry, "can help him. Now, out with the both of you!"
"He's not happy with us, is he?" murmured Pippin to Merry as he watched Frodo head for the kitchen, his back unnaturally straight.
"When we managed to ruin the squabs my father was sending him for his birthday dinner? You know how much Frodo loves squab. Dad wanted Frodo to have at least one happy memory of his last birthday spent in Bag End, you know." Merry turned his head and took a deep breath. "You'd best hold your nose. This is pretty ripe!"
So saying, the Brandybuck led the Took from the hole, holding the odorous package out at arm's length.