4. Fight the Good Fight
Shire Reckoning 1397 – Great Smials
"Pip? What have you been up to?" Merry poked his head around the door, "Falling off the pony trap, at your age."
"Merry!" Pippin had not been told that Merry might be coming, as Pearl did not want him getting over excited and then disappointed if his cousin was unable to visit.
"Oh Pip!" Merry had not expected such bad bruising. Pippin's nose had swollen up even more overnight and his eye, still closed, had now changed colour to a glorious purple and yellow. "How did you do all that just falling down? I've seen you tumble before, you usually bounce."
"Didn't Pearl tell you? Or have you only seen Mamma?" Pippin looked down with an embarrassed expression at his scraped hands. "Pearl told a fib for me Merry, but don't tell on her will you?"
"Of course I wouldn't." Merry sat down on the bed and took Pippin's hands in his own and looked at the grazing with a knowing nod. "You've been fighting, haven't you?"
"I didn't fight Merry," Pippin rested his head forward on the welcome shoulder, "that's the trouble. I'm smaller than everyone else and I just get hurted."
"Well did you try to fight back?" Merry stroked the brown curls with a touch as gentle as his tone. "Or didn't you get a chance?"
"I'm not sure." Pippin sighed. "They were so big and I don't really know how to fight."
"You fight with me." Merry lifted Pippin's head up a little so he could look at him properly. "You whack me good, sometimes."
"Oh Merry," Pippin gave him a little push now, "that's only playing and you know it."
"And these lads really meant business, didn't they?" Merry did not really need an answer, he could already see.
"Yes, and they said lots of dreadful things too, Merry," Pippin felt his throat fill up with the mere thought of the taunts and drew a deep breath to stop the tears falling again. "About my Mamma and Papa not really wanting me and saying that they bought me off a gypsy."
"I could see to them for you Pip." Merry offered, "Some of the other lads and me. You tell me their names and I'll go and get them."
"Oh yes, you mean like a big brother." Pippin lightened up considerably at the thought of his big, brave cousin giving the bullies a good beating. "After you did that writing for me, Mr Penawl has stopped punishing me. He even helps me now, so you made that better Merry! I'm sure the rough lads would take notice of you."
"Hmm! I'm not so sure that would be the best idea though." Merry suddenly realised he had never explained to Pippin that he had put the schoolmaster in his place by telling Gandalf about the problem.* He had obviously then had some sort of conversation with Mr Penawl, exactly what transpired Merry didn't know, but he could not ask the wizard to intervene in this problem. Perhaps him fighting Pip's battles was not the answer in this case. "Is there one in particular, you know, that seems to start it – egg the others on?"
"Yes, his name is Jeb," Pippin flinched a little at the mere thought of the big lad, "But he's awfully big Merry, I don't know if even you could fight him."
"Of course I could Pip," Merry laughed at the thought of a school lad getting the better of him. "But I might get accused of bullying then Pip and that wouldn't be good – for either of us."
"So what can I do Merry?" Pippin touched his hand up to his painfully bruised eye. "I'll have to ask Papa not to send me there any more, but I know he'll be disappointed with me."
"Well I could teach you how to fight." Merry suggested, looking at Pippin critically with his head on one side.
"I can't fight," Pippin sighed, "I'm too small."
"No you're not. A lot of it is brag and knowing a few good tricks." Merry laughed. "That's how I managed when I was little."
"Did you?" Pippin's eyes opened wide at the thought of Merry ever being little. "Who taught you?"
"Well, I know it seems odd now, but Cousin Frodo taught me quite a few tricks." Merry smiled at the thought. "Although mostly he taught me how to talk my way out of trouble, but I think you need a bit more than that. Perhaps some of the things Bilbo's gardener's lad, Sam taught me. Shall we start after tea?"
"Oh yes Merry," Pippin clapped his grazed hands together in excitement. "Could we?"
"Now then Pip," Merry eyed Pippin critically. "Show me how you make a fist." Merry had barricaded the door by pulling the chest of drawers in front of it. He was almost certain that no one in the Great Smials would approve of him teaching Pippin to fight.
"Like this!" Pippin clenched his little hands over and held them out towards his cousin.
"No… do it as if you mean to hit someone." Merry ordered. Pippin tried again, bringing his right fist up behind his head and dropping the left to about waist height.
"Hmm…" Merry scratched his head; this was going to be harder than he thought. "That won't do."
"I'm not very good – am I?" Pippin said rather dejectedly. He would have looked rather comical, had it not been for the swollen nose and the bruised eye. As it was, he looked rather sad and small.
"Come on!" Merry cheered him along, "you'll learn. Now put this fist here," he moved the left paw to just in front of the swollen nose, "That way you can stop punches hitting you. And put this one," Merry moved the right hand forwards until it was level with his eye and then moved the elbow down. "Like that."
"Like this?" Pippin held the stance Merry had put him in.
"Yes." Merry caught hold of both the little hands and pulled them back down. "But first you need to make a fist properly." He unfolded Pippin's hands and curled them back up with the thumbs outside the fingers. "Never keep your thumbs inside your hand. You hit someone really hard and you could break your thumb."
"I don't think I could ever hit anyone that hard." Pippin clenched and unclenched his fists experimentally a few times, putting the thumbs in the right place.
"All right, but now what?" Pippin asked. "What do I hit?"
"This." Merry held a pillow from the bed against his side. "Punch it just as hard as you can."
Pippin shut his eyes and swung at the unsuspecting pillow with all his strength, but Merry on the other side barely felt it. "How was that?" he asked hopefully.
"Not too good, Pip." Merry confessed. "First of all, what were you aiming at?"
"The pillow of course."
"With your eyes closed?"
"Oh, that's wrong I suppose."
"Yes," Merry agreed, "I know that eye is swollen but don't close them both, look at what you're aiming for. Try again."
Pippin adopted his stance, folded his hand correctly and took another swing. This time Merry did feel the blow, but it was not much better.
"So what were you aiming for that time?" Merry asked again.
"The pillow. I didn't close my eyes and I did hit it." Pippin protested.
"All right, but you shouldn't aim for the pillow…" Merry began.
"But you said I should, Merry. How can I hit it if I don't aim for it." Pippin wailed.
"I want you to aim six inches behind the pillow." Merry said with a smile.
"How can I do that?" Pippin shook his head, baffled. "I can't reach round it, not the way you're holding it."
"I don't want you to reach round it," Merry explained. "I want you to punch through it. Straight through the middle of it."
"I'll never do that, Merry." Pippin sighed, his cousin seemed to want the impossible.
"I know. But that's where I want you to aim." Merry said. "Just try it."
Pippin bit his lower lip and drew back his fist and fixed his mind on where Merry had told him to punch. This time the force actually knocked Merry a few paces backwards.
"There! I felt it, Pip!" Merry shouted triumphantly. "You made a real punch!"
"I did?" Pippin looked at his fist as if he had never seen it before. "Oh Merry!"
"Now hit me." Merry dropped the pillow and held his chin out towards Pippin's fist.
"No, I don't want to hit you Merry!"
"It's all right," Merry smiled, "I don't think you'll hurt me – yet."
Pippin swung his fist at Merry, missed completely as his cousin moved backwards and ended up on the floor.
"Merry! You moved." Pippin complained. "That's not fair."
"Yes it is," Merry laughed as he picked Pippin up off the floor. "Nobody is going to stand still like a pillow while you hit them. You've got to learn to punch fast as well as hard."
"This is harder than writing, Merry." Pippin sat on the bed a little dejected at his lack of instant success.
"I know. But it takes a little time and effort Pip." Merry flopped down beside him. "And you don't want to spend the rest of your days getting black eyes."
"No." Pippin agreed. "But do you really think I can learn?"
"Oh yes." Merry hugged him a little. "All you have to do is to forget everything I'm telling you."
"That makes no sense Merry. Why?" Pippin had never known his cousin to be so contradictory.
"Because once you've got it in your head you shouldn't have to remember it," Merry said, "you just do it automatically without thinking."
"I don't understand." Pippin was still baffled.
"Look at it this way. Do you think all the time about how to walk?"
"No, of course not, I know how to walk." Pippin giggled.
"Exactly. The same applies to this." Merry explained. "Once you've learnt how to fight you shouldn't have to think about how to do it. Just forget it and let your fists do the remembering."
"Oh Merry, fists don't remember things."
"Of course they do. Yours remember how to put food in your mouth, don't they?" Merry knew this was certainly true. "You don't have to keep telling them what to do."
"But that's different." Pippin sighed.
"No it's not. You just didn't need to fight before, but now you do." Merry gave his cousin a small squeeze, "and once you learn, you'll not forget it ever again."
"Now I think you need some theory and then we'll do some proper punches," Merry continued. "Remember, try only to fight one lad at a time. The others will usually fall back if you single out the leader. Also, there are lots of other ways to fight, besides using your fists – as long as no one can see what you're doing too clearly."
The lesson carried on throughout the afternoon. Merry taught Pippin how to use his elbow to deliver a blow; how to smack his head into an aggressor's nose; how to use his feet to best advantage; how to avoid getting hit and, most importantly, how to win.
For several days Merry stayed by his cousin's side and they practised every move, every blow, every dodge and every trick. By the end of the week, Pippin had floored Merry twice and punched a hole right through the feather pillow, making a terrible mess. The strangest part of the accident though, was that Pearl had cleared up the scattered feathery down and never said a word about it – to either of them, but she had given Merry a strange, knowing little smile.
*See Recaptured – In Dreams Chapter 104/12
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