DUCK'S OFF THE MENU

Sam leaned back on his elbows, with a contented sigh. "I could almost think we were in the Shire."

Merry looked up from selecting a sandwich. The five hobbits sprawled upon a grassy bank, beside a small stream. Rivendell had many powerful rivers and waterfalls, but it also had quiet streams that trickled through aromatic evergreen woods, and soft meadows. "I must say, this is a lot less scary than some places here. That balcony outside Frodo's room is terrifying."

The others all glanced at Frodo, but he seemed to be dozing. He had been doing a lot of sleeping since their arrival, which was perhaps not a bad thing. The now ancient Bilbo snored softly at his side.

"Elves do seem to be very fond of long drops," Pippin concurred with a shudder.

"Aye. When you think of how much they love the land, you'd think they'd want to be closer to it." Sam straightened, with a frown. "What's that?"

"What's what?" Pippin was not really looking at anything beyond the remains of the picnic that had been provided for them.

Sam pointed. "That bird. I aint never seen the like."

On the far side of the stream a rotund little bird waddled toward the water on webbed pink feet. Frodo had apparently not been as deeply asleep as he appeared. "Oh my. It looks like one of those patchwork animals my Aunt Petunia is so fond of making."

Sam tilted his head to one side, considering. "Beggin' your pardon Mr Frodo, but this at least looks like a bird."

Merry chuckled. "Yes. No extra beaks."

"Or third wing," Pippin pointed out.

"Still, and all, it's a strange thing," Sam noted. They all paused for a moment to admire it.

The little bird was indeed quite spectacular. It's beak was pink, it's full cheeks, russet. It looked as though it wore a little iridescent purple waistcoat, hemmed with strong bands of black and white. A stripe down the centre of its head started out blue above the eyes, changed to russet, and then turquoise as it reached the back. The wings, now tucked neatly across aformentioned back, were soft beige for the most part, tipped with black and white striped flight feathers. At the shoulders sprang two extraordinary little orange fans, like a pair of miniature sails. Random stripes, in varying colours, completed the ensemble, weaving through the plumage, as though some manic seamstress were determined to use up every last scrap of iridescent silk in her stash.

Pippin frowned. "I wonder what it tastes like."

"Pippin!" Frodo batted his younger cousin on the shoulder. "Don't you dare."

"I don't think Lord Elrond would be very happy with you killing one of his Noldorim Ducks. Those birds were brought over with the exiles." Bilbo had stopped snoring at some point during their discussion, and now Frodo helped him sit up.

"That must be a very old duck," Pippin observed, his eyes widening.

Bilbo gave out a rusty little chuckle. "Well, not that particular duck, lad. However, his many times great grandparents came from the Undying Lands."

"I wonder if it tastes as strange as it looks," Pippin murmured, undetered. "Perhaps the meat is multi-coloured too."

Merry snorted. "Don't be silly, Pip. Hens have different coloured feathers and their meat is just white."

"If my cousin, Hal, were here he could shoot it for us. He's mighty handy with a bow," Sam observed.

"Then I am very pleased that he is not here, Master Gamgee." All the hobbits spun about, to find Lord Elrond towering above them.

Sam jumped to his feet and offered a hurried bow. "I was just thinkin' out loud, sir. I beg pardon if I've offended."

Elrond's eyes twinkled. "You are forgiven, Samwise. But, as I was walking in this direction, I offered to carry a message from my daughter. I am to remind you that the evening meal will be served within the hour." He nodded to the scant remains of their picnic. "Although perhaps you are already replete?"

Pippin and Merry set to with a will, gathering up plates and cups, and Bilbo chuckled. "Have you learned nothing of hobbits, Master Elrond? These four will browse through the day, from meal to meal, with hardly a gap between to wash their hands. They shall be at your table, with appetites intact, have no fear."

"Then I shall advise my daughter that I have completed my task. Good day to you, gentlehobbits. And please leave my ducks alone." Before they could reply he turned about and seemed to melt into the thick undergrowth behind him.

Merry shivered. "I don't think I shall ever get used to the way elves do that."

As though in agreement, the small duck let out a high pitched peep, before sailing blithely on its way, downstream.

END