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A Lesson on Hobbits

Boromir scowled darkly, not from any personal animosity but from simple bewilderment. Try as he might to understand them, these halflings confused and befuddled him, and he could not understand either their small selves or their actions. None of the children's tales about them mentioned what an irrational, confusing, contradictory folk they were.

"Guard your side!" he called to the smallest of their number. Pippin nodded, his intent eyes never leaving his opponent. He shifted lithely, hairy feet seeking purchase on the loose soil and sand of their improvised practice-field. Then Pippin's eyes widened and he froze, his mouth dropping open, an expression of shock on his face. Merry stared at him then whirled around, his small sword coming up into a defensive position. With astonishing quickness, the tweenager (what an odd word thought Boromir) dashed toward his opponent and dealt him a solid whack across the buttocks.

"You little beast!" Merry roared. "I'll get you for that!"

Dropping his sword, Merry darted after his cousin. Pippin jumped in place, then dropped his sword. Then he was off, circling the small dell Boromir had chosen as their battleground with Merry hot on his heels. With a squeal, Pippin ducked behind their instructor then made a face at his cousin from the safety of Boromir's shelter. Young boys in Minas Tirith would never be so undisciplined, Boromir thought resignedly as he latched onto collars and separated the combatants. Lads, Boromir reminded himself. He had already learned that the young hobbits thought themselves insulted if he referred to them as boys. Pippin chortled in triumph while Merry twisted, growling threats under his breath.

Peregrin, or Pippin as he liked to be called, Boromir understood perhaps the best. Pippin was simply young, with a lightness of heart that made Boromir's own heart lift in spite of his worries and cares. He applauded the youngling's joy in life, and delighted with him in his occasional deliberate provoking of his elder cousins.

Merry, or Meriadoc, Boromir could well come to admire. The soldier acknowledged that the young hobbit's mind was quicker than his, those bright blue eyes brimming with an intelligence that Boromir found rather intimidating. The young hobbit's heart could be as carefree as his little cousin's one moment, then his eyes would darken and Boromir would wonder what thoughts were passing through that quicksilver mind.

Samwise he was a bit uncomfortable with. It seemed the hobbit was often watching him, measuring and judging him with those sharp grey eyes. He wished he had not been so unguarded with his words at the Council of Elrond. Since then, the little gardener had watched him distrustfully. But he sensed both strength and honor in Sam, and his devotion to his master awed and humbled Boromir. He knew it was a rare thing for a master to claim both faithful service and friendship from a servant, and he was grateful that Frodo had both in Samwise.

The Ring-bearer was perhaps the most confusing of all. Wise blue eyes, at times shadowed and haunted, stared out of a youngling's face. Aragorn had told Boromir that Frodo was actually older than he appeared, which the soldier could not understand at all. Frodo looked to be about his cousins' age, perhaps even younger than Merry. It made no sense. Still recovering from his wound, Frodo was more apt to watch his cousins' antics than participate, but Boromir sensed a lurking mischief under that innocent face.

What he did not sense in the Ring-bearer was great strength, the pure physical power that Boromir thought the Ring-bearer must possess. How else could such a dreadful mission be accomplished? But the soldier kept his reservations to himself, and now and then he would catch such a look of such determination in the halfling's eyes as to steal his breath. The decision had been made, be it for good or ill, and Boromir would support the chosen Ring-bearer to his last breath.

"Boromir, put me down!" ordered Merry. "That was a despicable trick, Pippin, and I'm going to thrash you for it!"

"You're only angry because you did not think of it first," Pippin replied, dangling comfortably in Boromir's grip.

Boromir gave them both a good shake and set them down. He had to – the halflings were heavier than they looked and the trembling in the muscles of his arms informed him that he would have to put them down or drop them. Merry immediately made a lunge for his cousin, to find that Boromir had not released his collar. "Stop that!" the soldier commanded, giving the young hobbit a second shake.

Finding himself still imprisoned, Merry had to content himself with glowering at his cousin. Pippin smiled back sweetly. "In battle," Boromir said, "a soldier takes every advantage he can to triumph and stay alive." Pippin beamed. "Every honorable advantage," Boromir amended. "Pippin, that was not very honorable."

"It worked, didn't it?" Pippin replied, unabashed. "Besides, Merry ate my sausage this morning."

"Pip stole one of my blankets last night!"

And they were off again. With a defeated sigh, Boromir released them and turned to climb upwards to the small outcropping of stone on which Frodo had sat to watch the whole debacle. The Ring-bearer perched comfortably on the rocky shelf, swinging his legs over the drop. Behind him, Sam was frying up some potatoes and sausages, keeping one eye on the proceedings in the dell. Boromir sniffed appreciatively. He and his students had not eaten yet, allowing Sam to feed the others while the Company sought resting places among the piled rocks and sparse bush of this little place, not far out of the deserted land of Hollin.

Frodo edged to the side on the rock and patted the place beside him. Boromir looked back at his students (Merry was chasing Pippin around the dell and threatening him with a lingering and painful death) and sighed again as he sank down at the eldest cousin's side. Frodo looked at him sympathetically. "You mustn't feel bad, Boromir. I've been trying for years to make them behave." Frodo echoed the Man's sigh, his chin cradled in his hands as he watched his cousins. "Without much notable success.

"But then, they are young," Frodo continued indulgently, a smile curving his lips. "Merry is barely an adult, and Pip is only twenty-eight. They both have a lot of growing-up to do."

Boromir shook his head. Another confusing attribute of these little ones. At twenty-eight, he had been the veteran of many battles, scarred and grim, with childhood but a distant memory. At Merry's age, thirty-six, he had been a leader of men for over a decade. Yet Pippin was considered barely past childhood, and Merry seemed able to slide between responsible adulthood and youthful abandon without a thought. It was altogether disconcerting.

A shadow passed over them, then Aragorn sank into a crouch on an adjacent rock, his pipe curling sweet-smelling smoke into the clear air. "It is useless to try to understand them, Boromir," the Ranger advised casually, obviously baiting Frodo. "Hobbits are a nonsensical people. I speak with authority – I and my folk have guarded the Shire for many years."

Frodo looked back at him, eyes sparkling. "In that case, one would think you would know us better, Strider. Yet my lads and I had to introduce you to basic hobbit necessities like second breakfasts and elevenses and afternoon naps."

"I would dispute the term 'necessities'," the Ranger replied, settling himself comfortably. "And furthermore…"

This was another thing that Boromir did not quite understand. He glanced between the two as the man teased and the hobbit gave him back as good as he got. The easy camaraderie between the halflings and the Ranger, the affection between them, was not a thing that would have existed in Gondor. Many times he had captained troops assigned to protect important persons, but never did he remember being friends with those he protected. Right now, there was no more important person on Middle-earth than this slight, dark-haired halfling and the evil thing he carried next to his heart.


Boromir wrenched his attention back to the conversation, to find both hobbit and man had fallen silent and were looking at him. "I am sorry," he said courteously, "my thoughts were wandering. What did you say, Frodo?"

"I was saying that my folk place … well, shall we say … a different emphasis on what is important than do Big People."

"Meals, warm holes, meals, good harvests, and meals," contributed Aragorn lackadaisically, producing a series of small smoke rings.

Frodo ignored him. "Security, safety … plentitude and peace," the hobbit said so softly that Boromir had to lean toward him to hear. "The brewing of ale and the smoking of pipe-weed… Bilbo used to say that." Frodo smiled wistfully. "And meals. But mostly, hobbits share a love of all things that grow.

"Hobbits aren't…" Frodo began slowly, then glanced at Boromir with an odd expression. "We don't seek out battle or conflict. We aren't warriors. Never in our history have we gone to war, except for once. And that so long ago that it is forgotten by all but those who love old books, like me. We are not a violent people."

A shriek below them disabused this statement. Frodo grimaced. "Present company and circumstances excepted." They glanced down. Pippin had tried to escape by climbing up on the rocks and the delay had allowed Merry to catch up with him. Merry had a death-grip on one ankle and was intent on hauling his younger cousin down to where he could throttle him. Pippin had locked both hands about a protruding tree-root and was hanging on for dear life.

"Does your definition of 'present company' include Meriadoc?" Boromir managed to ask neutrally.

Frodo shut his eyes as Pippin suddenly released the root and launched himself backwards, landing on his cousin with a whump they heard from where they sat. Pippin's crow of delight was muffled by Merry's groan. Then the hobbit muttered something Boromir's human ears could not distinguish.

Frodo evidently could. "Meriadoc! You watch your language, young hobbit!" The Ring-bearer sat back and regarded his scarlet-faced cousin with satisfaction. "Merry's always been a tad … argumentative," he continued as the subject of their discussion fought to get his breath back, hands clenching in the sand as he made little wheezing noises. "He is not a hobbit you want to offend."

Down in the dell, Pippin scrambled out of his cousin's reach then leaned over him anxiously. "Are you all right, Merry?" drifted up to the watchers.

Merry cracked open one eye and glared at him, then sat up, rubbing his stomach. Then he launched himself from a sitting position, arms outstretched. Pippin yowled and leaped backwards, but he had come too close. They both went down in a tangle of curls and elbows and hairy feet.

Boromir bit back a smile. Aragorn's solemn eyes met him over Frodo's head, and the soldier's urge to laugh at the thought of one of these tiny people being a threat faded further. He had never spoken with Frodo or any of the hobbits about the Ring-bearer's pursuit by the Black Riders, his wounding on Weathertop, or the dreadful, desperate race to win through to Rivendell. But he had seen the toll that journey had taken upon him during his recovery in Rivendell, and in Frodo's movements when the Ring-bearer was weary. He honestly did not know if he could have endured such pain and terror with as much courage as this small person who sat so quietly by his side. At that moment, Boromir became aware that something was growing in him that had not been there before – respect.

Aragorn puffed on his pipe and stretched his long legs out before him. Here was another initial impression that wanted correction. The Ranger's clothing might be scuffed and patched, but his weapons gleamed with care. Here was another, Boromir thought, that he was learning was worthy of his respect. Apparently unaware of Boromir's scrutiny, Aragorn took the pipe out of his mouth and gestured idly towards the battle-in-progress with the stem. "Are those two going to be finished any time soon?"

"Are they making too much noise?" Frodo asked worriedly.

"No, but they should eat and get some rest. I do not fear the noise – Boromir chose well. The clash of swords will not escape this rock formation. Nor shouts," he continued, as the tweenager's piercing yelp made them wince. Merry had Pippin down and was either trying to strangle him or was tickling him furiously.

Boromir looked at them anxiously but Frodo seemed unconcerned. "I will teach you a thing about hobbits, Boromir," Frodo said, climbing to his feet. "Here is a certain way to obtain their obedience." He cupped his hands around his mouth and leaned forward. "Merry! Pip!" he called. They looked up, Pippin shaking sand out of his hair.

"No luncheon for you until you finish your sword lessons!"

"Frodo," Pippin wailed, "we're hungry!" Merry rolled off Pippin and struggled to his feet, trying to straighten his waistcoat and breeches. Pippin caught the arm extended down to him and pulled himself up, brushing sand from both their persons. Standing shoulder-to-shoulder, they looked up at their cousin beseechingly. Boromir was glad that Frodo was the one issuing this mandate; he wasn't certain that he was strong enough to withstand those pleading, sorrowful eyes.

"You are not to give them anything, Sam," Frodo said loudly, turning around to address his friend. "Not until Boromir says the lesson is over." Sam smiled, humor glinting in his eyes. He deliberately stirred the contents of his fry pan, and the delicious, mouth-watering aroma rose up and drifted on the breeze.

"Your plate's almost ready, Mr. Frodo," replied Sam in an equally loud voice. "That little bit o' wild onion spices the taters up a treat. Nice and crispy… Shall I start on the young masters'?"

"We were just … exercising," Merry said hurriedly. "Weren't we, Pip?"

"Yes, yes," Pippin agreed, nodding so vigorously that his hair fell into his eyes. "We're ready to finish our lesson now, Boromir." Both young hobbits darted back and recovered their swords, facing each other in the guard position. "Boromir! Are you coming or are we done?"

With a laugh, Boromir stood. "Thank you for the lesson on hobbits, Master Baggins," he said respectfully to the Ring-bearer. Frodo nodded.

"Go on, then," Frodo encouraged. "Aragorn and I will watch."

Wondering if he now understood halflings a little better, Boromir climbed back down the ledge and drew his sword. Exchanging careful parries with the two young hobbits, Boromir noted only peripherally the sight of the Elf leaping lightly from rock to rock, then balancing gracefully atop one to stare into the distance. He returned his attention quickly to the fray when Pippin dealt him a solid blow and danced quickly back out of reach.

"That's good, Pippin!" Merry commented encouragingly, earlier hostilities apparently forgotten. Pippin nodded and looked pleased with himself as Merry stepped forward for his turn. He then hastily defended himself against Boromir's rush, eyes wide. Boromir disengaged and allowed the hobbit to recover his breath. He had a lot to learn about these small, contradictory folk, Boromir thought, but then … he could not find better teachers.

The End