1. Lesson 1: Hobbits Need a Good Night's Sleep
I bend my knees and crouch near the mass of blankets and curls and limbs. Well, let's see, there are a number of hobbit heads here: one -- two -- three. Where in Overheaven's name is the fourth? Or maybe there are four heads here, and I simply cannot differentiate between them. Only the very tops of their curls are showing, as they have pulled blankets and cloaks up over their bodies from hair-covered toes to foreheads.
I lean in a little. "Merry," I hiss, hoping this will produce the desired response. There is no reply from the pile. "Merry," I try again, louder this time. One of the hobbits shifts slightly, and a small hand appears from beneath the blankets. Relieved, I think for a moment that my problem is solved, until the hobbit gives a soft sigh and I realize that it is just one of them shifting in his sleep.
We have been traveling by night, and the thin sunlight illuminating our daytime encampment gives me some assistance. The black curls in the center belong to Frodo, only he has such dark hair. But then on either end there are light-brown curls, one set more honey-toned than the other. One of those is certainly Merry, making little Pippin the hobbit missing beneath the blankets, as his chestnut curls are nowhere to be seen. I am not certain, however, which light-brown head is Merry and which one is Sam. Finally, I take my best guess and reach out a hand to tap a head. "Merry," I say again.
The hobbit rolls from his back to his side (at least so I think from the movement of his head) and groans. "I'm Sam," he says. "Mr. Merry's on the other end."
"My apologies, Sam," I say, sorry to have woken him without need. We have gone at a great pace during this first leg of our journey, and I know the little people have struggled to keep up. In truth, I feel poorly waking Merry for watch, though it is his turn and I would not insult him by taking his duties upon myself. I turn myself toward the other end of the hobbit pile and tap the second light-brown head. "Merry," I say with more confidence, and this time I get the desired response.
"What?" a distinctly surly voice says.
"It's your watch," I whisper, trying not to wake any more hobbits.
"All right," the voice says, now sounding more weary than surly, but there is no corresponding movement in the hobbit pile that indicates Merry is getting up.
I tap his head again. "Merry, get up," I say.
This has a most unexpected result, and I jump backward when a small figure abruptly bolts upright and tosses the covers off its head. "What's happening? Is it time to leave already?" It is still not my relief, but Pippin, astonishingly wide awake as he addresses me.
"No," I tell him, catching my breath after the surprise, "and my apologies for waking you. I was just trying to rouse Merry for his watch."
"Oh, all right then," Pippin says, and begins pushing the figure beside him out from under the covers, seeming to use both his hands and his feet. "Merry, get up!" he says, not at all quietly, and Merry's hands appear to swat at him.
The hobbit on the other side of Pippin begins drawing the blankets back around himself. "Who has woken Pippin before it is time to get up?" Frodo demands. "Can't we have a few hours of peace and quiet?" Pippin responds by diverting one hand from bereaving Merry of his covers to poke his other cousin in the ribs, rather hard from the looks of it.
"All right, I am up, I am up," Merry says crossly, spurred into movement. He crawls out from the covers and then stands in front of Pippin with his hands on his hips, scowling thoughtfully. Pippin freezes in place, watching Merry warily. I have the clear impression that, well, SOMETHING is about to happen when Frodo says sharply, "Oh, no you don't, lads, I'm sleeping." His hand appears from beneath his reclaimed covers and latches onto Pippin's shoulder. A hard jerk, and Pippin hits the ground with a "whump!", and then Frodo flicks his wrist and the youngest hobbit disappears from view beneath a blanket.
Merry turns from the hobbit pile. "Thank you, Boromir," he says, his usual even temper apparently back in place. "Everything all right?"
"Ah, yes, it's been a quiet watch," I say, rather dazed by the complexity of waking a hobbit for watch. Such a seemingly simple thing . . .
"Have a good sleep, then," Merry says, perching himself atop a large boulder so he can look about.
"Thank you," I say, and then stretch out in my bedroll. These hobbits are curious creatures, I think just before I go to sleep. I do not know quite what to make of them.
Author's note: Thanks to the MANY people who helped me polish this one, and for sharing their time, talent and ideas with me: Marigold, Eretria, Llinos and Murron, especially. May your beer be laid under an enchantment of surpassing excellence for seven years!
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