35. After-Luncheon Lessons
Elrond had considered excusing the four from the day’s planned lessons, but Gandalf had vetoed the suggestion. The Ring-bearer was as healed as he could be without a long rest, and time pressed upon them urgently. Outside of the Elf-lord’s borders, evil gathered. The reports of marching Men and Orcs that Elladan and Elrohir and the other scouts had returned with were troubling. Even now, there might be malicious eyes watching the borders of Imladris, waiting to mark the Fellowship’s departure. Involuntarily, Elrond’s dark eyes rose to the sheer cliff-sides of his home, waterfalls sparkling in the sun. How beautiful his home … even in the encroaching decay of passing time. The blues and greys of the sheer stone walls, the constant rain of autumn leaves in gold and orange and crimson… The gilded leaves reminded him of the spectacular blossoming of the halflings’ bruises and his mind returned to the uneasy tableau of hobbits before him.
Bumps and bruises, contusions and cuts… The Ring-bearer seemed the least incapacitated, though Elrond noted that Frodo kept an arm looped through his servant’s and his steps were measured and uncertain. The healer in him cried out against pushing them before they had rested and recovered, but truly, there was no more time for such considerations. The Fellowship must depart - and soon.
As if he had caught Elrond’s thought, Frodo raised his dark head and met the Elf-lord’s gaze. The hobbit smiled tremulously and Elrond was gladdened to see that the little one held no acrimony against him for the rough treatment he had forced upon the hobbit to sedate him. This unexpected ability to sense the nearness of the Nazgûl might be a true asset … if Frodo could control his fear.
“What do you think?’ Gandalf’s scratchy voice sounded in his ear, and for a moment, the immortal Elf-lord had to struggle to overcome his startlement. The wizard chuckled. “Not often do I catch you off-guard,” he murmured. “What weighty thoughts so concern you, my friend?”
Elrond motioned for another chair but Gandalf shook his head and dropped comfortably to the soft earth, stretching out his legs before him and leaning back on his arms. “I was wishing that we could re-arrange the timing of the world,” the Master of Rivendell replied wryly. “Elves do not mark the passing of time … and are unused to being pressured by its demands.”
Gandalf nodded. “I, too, wish we could give them more time.” He leaned forward and drew in his legs cross-wise, running his gnarled hands along the timeworn wood of his staff. “Time for them to heal, to rest … to learn and prepare themselves.” With that, he set aside the staff and rested his hands on his knees. “What is the schedule?”
The Elf-lord’s gaze swept over the quiet halflings. “Samwise and Meriadoc are to work with young Legolas learning knife-fighting. Merry throws a wicked knife but has not learned close-contact work. He may not use his right hand yet but may the left, if he can. I personally do not think Samwise has the speed for such fighting, but we shall see. He has asked to try again, at any rate. That speaks well of him. Peregrin and the Ring-bearer are to work with Boromir today. Both are very quick. Pippin tends to become excited and forgets his teaching, but then, he is young. Frodo is perhaps the opposite; he tries to absorb everything he is told and becomes impatient with himself if he cannot gain immediate proficiency.”
The wizard chuckled, blue eyes warming. Legolas had arrived and was speaking with all the hobbits. They were crowding about him like curly-topped children around a sweets-vendor, examining the knives he had brought with great interest. Merry looked eager and Sam apprehensive. “A most succinct summary. You have gathered all this from your observations?”
“And from Estel’s reports. I do not think Merry and Pippin have yet figured out that the scouting trip on which Aragorn took them was equally to take their measure.”
“And what have you and he decided?” The words were casual, but Elrond felt the weight of worry behind them.
“That these little folk are a marvel. They have the hearts and courage of lions. And a brightness of spirit that astonishes this weary old Elf.”
Gandalf laughed outright then, his eyes sparkling with mirth. He sobered as Boromir strode into the little area, undersized wooden practice-swords clanking in his large hands. The hobbits sobered also, anxious at being parted. Bilbo squeezed Frodo’s shoulder gently and began to make his way slowly towards the Elf-lord and the wizard.
“They are afraid of Boromir,” said Gandalf very softly.
“Cautious, rather,” returned Elrond. “He is very large to them, loud and brash. I have counseled the Man that he should treat them gently until they know him better.”
“And Boromir’s response?” asked Gandalf.
“I do not think he appreciated my advice,” the Elf-lord replied. “But he will be a good teacher. He has a good and generous heart, I think. Perhaps the hobbits’ joy of life will remind him that there is still much worth saving in Middle-earth.”
* * * * *
“Enough! Hold! Hold!” Boromir physically placed himself between Pippin and his too-enthusiastic attack of his older cousin. Frodo staggered back, gratefully taking shelter behind the soldier. Pippin lowered his wooden sword and grinned up at the Man, perspiration running freely down his sharp face.
“Very good, Pippin,” the Man said and the tweenager’s whole face lit up, green-gold eyes shining. “But you must remember that the point of the sword is dangerous, too. Thrust, don’t hack.”
“But these swords are blunt, Boromir,” Pippin explained. “Why can’t we use our own swords?”
“Because I do not wish to be cut to pieces, thank you very much,” replied Frodo, regaining his breath. The exercise had invigorated him, chasing the last of the drug from his system. His shoulder ached abominably and he rolled it with a wince. He drew in a deep breath and laughed at Pippin’s expression.
“Hah! If you were not such a slug-a-bed, Cousin, you would be faster,” Pip grinned in return, then grimaced at the other two as they sought seats in the shaded gazebo to rest. “Are you going to just sit there? I want to go another round.”
Frodo turned sideways on the white bench and laid himself down, standing the practice-sword in the corner. “Pippin, why don’t you go find Merry and Sam and show them what you’ve learned? I imagine they are ready for a rest, too.”
Pippin’s answer to that was a whoop. He was gone in a flurry of furry feet before Boromir or Frodo could remind him not to interrupt the others’ practice. Frodo drew breath to call after him, and then exhaled it in a whoosh. Boromir glanced at him and Frodo shook his head ruefully.
“Are all young halflings so…” Boromir paused, seeking a tactful description, “…energetic?”
Frodo smiled at him, somewhat shy now that it was just the two of them. He had spoken with the Man several times but had not really much contact with him yet. He felt more comfortable with the ethereal Elves than this fellow mortal. “Pippin is very young, Boromir. And his clan is known for being rather … impetuous.”
“Impetuous,” muttered Boromir. “That’s a good word.”
Frodo sat up and began swinging his legs idly while the cool breeze dried the sweat on his face and body. He had removed his cloak but kept his jacket on, not warm despite the bright sun and exercise. He lifted his face and breathed deeply, rejoicing in that simple action. Suddenly aware of the silence, he glanced beside him to see the Man staring at his feet.
The Man colored when he realized the hobbit had followed his stare. “I mean no offense,” Boromir said hurriedly. “You are a folk out of children’s legends for us.”
“None taken,” returned Frodo equitably. “My kin and I have not had much experience with Big Folk, either. Other than Gandalf. Is there something you would wish to ask of me?”
The Man was quiet for a moment, debating with himself. Then he blurted, “How can you walk on such big feet?”
“How can you walk on such little feet?”
The two smiled at each other. “I think we shall be friends,” said Frodo after a moment.
* * * * *
Pippin found the others in a small clearing some way from the gazebo, out of earshot of he and Frodo and Boromir. On the way over, he had achieved total victory over a prickle-bush that had dared to snag his cloak. Then he had cleaned his sword as Boromir had taught him, and guiltily kicked the broken branches out of sight under a gorse-bush.
The combatants were so intent upon their lesson that his arrival went unnoticed. After watching for a moment, Pippin selected a soft-looking grassy hillock in the shade and eased himself down to lean against a tree, using the inborn unobtrusiveness of his kind to avoid distracting Merry and Sam. Legolas stood back from them, providing solo instruction as Glorfindel had other duties that day. The two hobbits were circling each other, a blade in one hand, the other held up and spread for balance and defense. Legolas watched them carefully, his light, clear voice providing constant coaching. They didn’t use practice-blades, Pippin noted, then remembered the cut on Sam’s hand from his previous bout and decided that wooden swords were not such a bad thing.
Samwise was panting, his round face florid but determined. Merry moved more gracefully, light on his feet, his face equally resolute, the knife held in his left hand. Pippin felt a surge of pride in his cousin as Merry easily avoided Sam’s rush, springing away and whirling to tap the stocky hobbit on the back with the hilt of his blade.
“Good!” cried Legolas. “Well done, both of you!”
Sam lowered his blade with a groan, wiping his face with his sleeve. Merry laughed, rubbing his right forearm with the left hand. “All right there, Sam?” he asked.
“All right, Mr. Merry,” Sam puffed. “You’re not hurtin’ your arm, are you?”
Legolas caught Merry’s arm in a light grasp, turning the wrist up to examine it for swelling. “Enough for today, I think,” the Elf commented. “You must not overtax that healing break, Master Meriadoc. Lord Elrond would have my head.”
“It is a little sore, Legolas,” Merry responded. “But not terribly so. Look.” So saying, Merry flipped the blade from his left hand to his right, and with a graceful flowing movement, drew his arm back over his shoulder and threw the knife easily towards the shadowed bole of a convenient tree.
A shrill scream resounded through the little clearing. “Pippin!” shrieked Merry.
* TBC *
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