10. Lesson Ten: Keeping your hobbit entertained
Then I spy the barest shiver of one of the bushes near the pavilion. I note Aragorn's eyes flick to the bush, and I know he has seen it too. He shakes his head at me ever-so-slightly, so I do not go to investigate or call out, but I remain watchful.
A single leaf falls from the bush as the approaching foe darts from it and dashes behind a tree trunk so quickly that I nearly miss the barest glimpse of bouncing chestnut curls. The three hobbits, their backs turned from the danger, continue with Frodo's tale -- he is being much aided by both Merry and Sam -- unaware of the small figure now on its belly, creeping silently like an adder toward the pavilion. It slithers along until it is behind the stack of cushions the hobbits are reclining against, and very nearly out of my sight. I see only the top of a wiggling hobbit posterior as the enemy prepares to pounce.
Unfortunately for him, he also snickers in glee just the barest bit as he crouches. The hobbits do not appear to pay the almost indiscernible noise any heed, but I am so enraptured by what must be about to happen that I notice the slight changes in their bearing: Frodo taps his crossed foot on his knee, Merry tenses his body into readiness, and Samwise eases himself the slightest bit away from the cushions. None too soon, for with a battle cry impressive to have come from such a tiny being, the enemy launches his small self over the barrier of cushions and onto his waiting cousins.
Forewarned as they were, the foe stands not a chance, and Merry has him before I can so much as blink, using his greater body weight to hold his prisoner still until he secures his hands. Which leaves Frodo free to go in for the kill.
"No no no, Frodo!" Pippin shrieks in what appears to be both delight and terror. "No no no no tickling!"
His pleas are to no avail, and Frodo seems to have every sensitive spot mapped out. Poor Pippin, betrayed by his own delight at his impending ambush, is red-faced and gasping for breath by the time they release him to sprawl limply on the cushions, still twitching every so often and emitting the occasional giggle.
"You are so very mean," he says sorrowfully, casting big, unconvincing eyes at his elders. This time it is I that betray myself with a snicker. Pippin turns those eyes upon me accusingly and, straight-faced, I discreetly point at an unwitting Aragorn to deny that I find any humor in poor Pip's plight.
Merry settles himself back into his spot on the cushions. "WE are so very mean?" he says. "We do not go around creeping up on people and pouncing on them like some kind of wild animal. You are lucky that Aragorn didn't draw his sword and kill you in defense of Frodo."
"He wouldn't," Pippin replies, unconcerned. He stretches lazily, like a cat. "How did you know I was behind you?"
Frodo has wandered over to the table looking for yet another bowl of fruit. These hobbits have appetites the like of which I have never before seen. He meanders back to the cushions, bringing the bowl with him. "Because you laughed, goose," he says fondly. "When we take our journey back up, we shall have to gag you every time enemies are about."
Frodo says the words lightly, but they remind us all that this is just a respite, and even greater dangers than we have so far faced await us once we leave this haven. An uneasy silence settles on us for a moment, and then Aragorn breaks it by asking Pippin, "Well, Master Took, did you have a pleasant look about the woods of Lórien? Did your companions tire of your company and send you back or are they returning as well?"
The hobbits had indeed been, as the Lord of the Galadhrim had said, worn with sorrow and much toil when we had arrived, and for several days they had slept long and often, and none slept sounder than the smallest one. But when his vigor returned, it was seemingly boundless, and, though I would not sound harsh, he was a great deal underfoot. The previous day, he had upset a wine jar onto a stack of blankets, twice awakened a napping Frodo, pulled everything out of Merry's pack looking for pipeweed and then neglected to repack the contents, and scraped the soles of his feet trying to slow his descent after a failed attempt to climb up a smooth-barked mallorn tree like some type of curly topped insect. I strongly suspect that it was Aragorn's doing that when Legolas had joined us for breakfast this morning, he had proposed taking Pippin with him to explore more of Caras Galadhon. Gimli, as was his wont these days, accompanied them, and I just now could see the tall figure of the elf and the stout one of the dwarf approaching over a hillock.
"I had a splendid day," Pippin answers Aragorn as he helps himself to fruit from Frodo's bowl. "Legolas and Gimli are coming, but they are rather slow." Behind his cousin, Merry rolls his eyes and Frodo chokes a little on his fruit.
Pippin ignores them and stuffs more fruit into his mouth, then says around it, "We went very high up in the trees, even higher than we went the first night we got here, and there are whole houses and halls up there, and we went to a big open place and listened to a lot of elves singing and playing instruments and ate a very, very good luncheon, and then we walked all around on roads that stretch right between the trees, and we went up and down a lot of stairs, and Legolas talked to lots of other elves, but most of them only speak Elvish, so they didn't talk to me or Gimli, though Legolas told us what they were saying, and then we came down to the ground and walked around in some very pretty parts of the woods and then we came back here for I think it must be time for supper."
"And we certainly don't want to ruin this magnificent day by being late for it," Legolas adds to Pippin's rapid recitation as he strolls up. One can never tell when an elf is being mocking, but Pippin seems unconcerned by Legolas' comment and contents himself with polishing off another pear. Really, I don't know how these hobbits' stomachs can hold as much food as they consume.
"Whmph err eee mmphing?" Pippin says. Frodo and Merry both frown severely at him and Frodo says in a reprimanding voice, "Don't talk with food in your mouth, please, dearest."
"And we are eating as soon as you pick your lazy body up and help get supper around," Merry adds, apparently having understood the fruit-obstructed question. I don't know how the hobbits can be so particular about mealtimes, given that they have eaten incessantly throughout the day every day since our arrival, but somehow they manage to attack each meal as though they have not had any food in many hours.
Pippin acquiesces eagerly, and we soon enjoy another pleasant repast together, getting a more detailed accounting of the day from Legolas and Gimli, after which we all are soon reclined upon the cushions again in sated contentment. Aragorn, Gimli and Merry light their pipes, and Legolas hums softly to himself as he watches the stars.
As for myself, I watch the hobbits under half-lidded eyes that threaten to close despite my wishes. I wish now that I had first come to know them in a peaceful place such as this, rather than the harsh environment of the road. I regret that I did not spend more time with them in Rivendell. Never would I have imagined that such a seemingly simple people would present me with so many conundrums. I watch Sam bring Frodo a blanket to ward off the chilling night air, wrapping it about his master's shoulders with gentle care before setting himself down at Frodo's side. Pippin is sprawled, half-asleep but watching Legolas and listening with quiet delight to his wordless song, his head on Frodo's lap, eyelids ever lowering as Frodo strokes his curls. Merry is beside them, legs stretched in front of him and crossed at the ankles, talking quietly with Gimli, but with the corner of his eye always upon his kin and comrades. Frodo, too, is listening to and watching Legolas, a small smile playing about his lips, but then his eyes catch mine and we study each other for a moment before his smile deepens and he tilts his head in acknowledgment of me. I smile back at him and flick my eyes to the now-sleeping Pippin, allowing the smile to become a fond grin. Frodo returns it and then looks down with indulgent love at his young cousin.
There is so much more to these little people than I ever could have fathomed: more resilience, more courage, more joy, more love, more strength, more perseverance. Coming to know them has been a gift, one that has allowed me dare to hope that this complicated people will be the one to save us all, even from ourselves.
My heart would believe this, even though my mind turns ever more frequently to the massing armies that await us in the East, and the grim knowledge of the strength of the dark power that opposes us. Yet something deep within my heart says, "Do not despair! All is not yet lost, and hope remains."
Whatever we face, certain defeat or victory beyond all hope, I will see it through as befitting a man of Gondor, heir to the Stewardship, one of the Fellowship chosen at the Council of Elrond. As will my companions, I will go to my end with honor, even though all else be wrenched from me by the Enemy. But here amidst the mallorn trees, surrounded by a company I never would have imagined when I set out from the White City, I would listen to my heart and trust these small folk to redeem us all.
I want to believe my heart. But why then, I wonder, does my hand twitch so at the glimpse of a gold chain about Frodo's neck?
(Epilogue to follow)