When Sam and Frodo came out of the inn, Merry waiting was for them at the entrance to the stable-yard with their three ponies. "Where's Lad gone to?" Frodo asked. "And where's Pippin?"
Merry waved a hand in the direction of the road. "Lad's gone that way, out of town toward Waymoot. Pip's gone after him. I told him to go ahead and not lose sight of Lad, and we'd come after."
They got on their own ponies and rode out themselves, taking care to keep beneath the trees beside the road. As they left Michel Delving and went past the empty fair-grounds, they could see a single rider moving swiftly along ahead of them--a dark shadow-shape on the moonlit path, but they weren't sure whether it was Lad or Pippin.
After they had gone several miles toward Waymoot, the road dipped down into a gully and the woods grew thick on either side. The rider ahead was lost to sight, but the trio continued on through the darkness, until the road rose again and they spotted a flurry of white motion in the trees. As they drew closer, they saw it was Pippin, waving his arms to draw their attention.
"What's happened?" asked Merry once they were near enough to speak without shouting. "Did he see you?"
Pippin shook his head. "I stayed in the shadows, and kept this-" He plucked at the cloak wrapped about his shoulders, the one that the Lady Galadriel had given him, "pulled close to hide me. Even if Lad heard someone riding behind him, he wouldn't see me."
"Then what's happened to him?" asked Sam. "You didn't lose him, did you?"
"No! I know just where he is."
"There's a little cottage in the woods, just down the path-" Pippin pointed to a narrow track that branched off from the main road just beyond him and wound away under the trees. "I only came back to wait for you and show you where to go. You'd never find it on your own." He turned his pony and urged it into the lane. "Come on."
The others followed him down the path, which went through the woods until it brought them out at an empty pasture; in the moonlight, they could all see that the path went on, skirting the edge of the pasture and curving around the base of a steep hill that rose on the far side.
"It's just beyond," Pippin whispered.
"We'd better stay in hiding," Frodo decided. They left their ponies in the woods to cross the pasture and climb the hill on foot.
In a hollow on the other side of the hill sat the small mound of a cottage surrounded by a circular hedge. Lad's pony was grazing on the trim little lawn within the circle. A lit lantern hung at the cottage door, and the light of at least one candle flickered within.
"Who lives here?" Frodo wondered. "Who does he come to visit?"
"I don't think there's anybody home," said Pippin. "The house was dark when Lad arrived, and he let himself in."
"Shh-!" Sam hissed. "Someone's coming!" All fell silent to hear the sound of swift hooves crossing the pasture. The four hobbits threw themselves down to hide in the bushes, and peeked out through the leaves as this new arrival rode around the hill, up the path toward the cottage. The rider appeared to be female, but her face and form were concealed by a hooded cloak--a most inappropriate garment for a warm summer night!
Lad must have heard her approach as well, for he came out to stand in the cottage doorway as the rider vaulted her pony over the gate and rode up to him. As she dropped from the saddle, Lad stepped forward to greet her. Her back was turned to the hobbits on the hill, and her face still hidden by the hood. The pair took each other's hands and leaned closer together; if she or Lad spoke, they were too far away to be heard. Hand in hand, they went inside.
"It's a secret hideaway," said Merry. "They must meet here by arrangement."
"A love-nest!" Pippin agreed eagerly. "But who could she be?"
Frodo thought of Cosy from the inn. But why would she and Lad go so far to meet when they might do so more conveniently in Michel Delving? And what about Mrs. Broombindle? Where was her farm? She might very well live nearby. Frodo had seen for himself that Myrtle Broombindle was an accomplished young rider who could easily make a jump like the one they had just witnessed. Was her mother as skilled?
"What do we do?" asked Sam.
"I don't wish to interrupt them yet," said Frodo. "Let's wait awhile, and see what happens next."
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