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In Empty Lands: 10. Getting to Know You
Getting to Know You
Boromir was seated at the dawn meal the next morning when he was joined not by Elves or other Men, but instead by the five Hobbits. "I hope you do not mind," explained Frodo Baggins, "but as you are the first other than Gandalf and Aragorn to be definitely named to the company that will travel with me, I thought it wise to come to know you."
It was his first close look at the Ringbearer since the Council the day before. Boromir was not certain where it was the Hobbits had met to eat, but none had appeared in the dining hall for the remainder of the previous day. The Gondorian wondered how long it had taken the tall Hobbit to convince his kinsmen that there was no way to dissuade him from the mission he had taken upon himself.
"That does indeed sound a wise decision," he said courteously. "Do sit and make yourselves comfortable."
Elves appeared with cushions to place on the chairs to assist the Hobbits to sit more comfortably at the table, and the five did just that. They then consulted briefly as to what foods to fetch before the broadest of the four gave a gesture of his head to the youngest and rose to lead him to the sideboard where one of the Elves assisted the two of them to fill several platters. Boromir drew his attention back to the three who remained at the table.
He'd thought the old one a rather comical creature when he'd first begun to speak the previous day. Certainly he had appeared full of his own self-importance at the time. But now that he saw Bilbo Baggins close up he found himself wondering just how simple a soul this Hobbit might prove in actuality. There was an indication that those faded eyes perceived more than one might guess, that spoke of far more experience than one would expect from one so small and guileless in appearance. There was something so calculating in his inspection that Boromir realized he would do well not to underestimate this one at all.
Frodo drew his attention away from Bilbo. "I do not believe you have been introduced to my companions. This is Meriadoc Brandybuck, whose grandfather was older brother to my mother."
"You can call me Merry, my Lord Boromir--they only call me Meriadoc when they are angry at me or for very formal occasions, you must understand."
Merry was not as tall as was Frodo, although some inches taller than old Bilbo. His eyes were different in color from Bilbo's, but had much the same set to them, and also much the same expression of consideration to them. As was true of the older Hobbit, he appeared to be most competent and thoughtful. Something in his expression reminded Boromir of his quartermaster in Osgiliath, who always seemed to know in advance just when it would be better to have more new cloaks or extra stores of medical supplies and healing herbs.
"Then, Merry," he replied, "you must call me simply Boromir. My position within Gondor has no bearing here in the northlands, after all. Or has Master Aragorn insisted you refer to him as Lord Chieftain of something similar?"
The younger Hobbit shared a rather startled look with the others. "Lord Chieftain?"
Frodo's cheeks grew rather pinker, although Bilbo's smile grew but wider. Frodo said, "I will allow Aragorn to explain that one once he's returned. But he is more than he appears, as he tried to tell us more than once along the way."
"He told us his real name was Aragorn there in Bree," Merry said rather uncertainly as he returned his attention to Boromir, "but mostly we've called him Strider. I mean, that was how he was introduced to us, after all."
Bilbo was shaking his head as he looked at the younger Hobbit. "Oh, that he would," he said. "But surely you've seen how well he's been treated here."
"Well, of course, what little as we've seen of him," Merry admitted, once again speaking more to his older companion. "And it's been plain enough he's had healer's training, at least from how well he did by Frodo once he was stabbed by that Black Rider. And in spite of how worn his things are, there's no denying they're all very well made and must have once been very expensive, or would be if you could even find things of their quality in the markets of the Shire or Bree. You certainly couldn't find anything of the quality of his trousers or his boots in Bree from what I saw during our stay there. They had to be excellent quality just to stand up to the trip we made here, never mind how long he must have been wearing them before we met him at the Prancing Pony."
"It was the quality of his personal satchel that first struck me," Frodo commented. "No matter how worn it is, it is yet far more gracefully made than anything I've seen similar to it."
The broad one appeared with a large tray on which lay two platters. He set one before Bilbo and the second before Frodo, gave a brief nod of acknowledgment, and turned to hand his tray to the waiting Elf while taking the platters from the tray held by the young one. As he set a platter before Merry and another before the empty spot beside Merry, Frodo introduced these two. "This is Samwise Gamgee, a most worthy Hobbit in my employ. His father was gardener at Bag End from before my birth, and Sam has followed his father in that role, He was chosen by Gandalf to accompany me here after he was caught spying on the two of us. And this one is Peregrin Took, a younger cousin to both Merry and myself. He's Merry's first cousin and my second cousin."
Bilbo took up the explanation. "The four of us, you must understand, are all descended from the Old Took. Old Gerontius was my grandfather, and Frodo's great grandfather, and was great-great grandfather to Merry and Pippin here. Although, now I think of it he was great-great grandfather twice to Merry, for all he's a Brandybuck and no Took, through both his father and his mother, his mother being younger sister to Pippin's father...."
Apparently noting the blank look on Boromir's face he gave a self-deprecating laugh. "Ah, don't mind us--we're Hobbits, after all, and this is very important to us, although it's of no interest to much of anyone else, I've found."
Sam had set the last platter before the last empty spot at the foot of the table and returned the final tray to the unnamed Elf with thanks. He now sat himself rather solidly before that last platter and picked up his fork. Noting the interest in Boromir's face he explained, "Don't look at me--I'm not related by blood nor marriage to none of them--not for more generations than even Hobbits count, at least."
Somehow that struck the Man as far too funny, and he began to chuckle, which rather quickly grew into a full-throated laugh and then into a quite loud guffaw. The Hobbits looked at him surprised, and conversation around them went quiet; but he could no more control his laughter than he could voluntarily stop breathing for more than a moment at a time.
Merry appeared startled, but both Bilbo and Peregrin quickly proved delighted by this laughter, with the old Hobbit turning to Frodo and clapping him on the shoulder. "There--I told you, my boy, that this would be a most satisfactory companion for the way--as jolly a one as any Dwarf. Didn't I tell you so?" he asked triumphantly.
Sam merely looked questioningly at Frodo, who shrugged helplessly. Then both turned their fascinated gazes back to Boromir, apparently waiting patiently for Boromir to regain control of himself.
"I say, Merry, that we should have a fine time traveling with this one," Peregrin stated.
"No one said you should be going with us, Pippin," Frodo responded rapidly, turning his attention to his youngest kinsman.
"They'll have to send me home tied up in a sack to keep me from following you, Frodo Baggins," Pippin said, his temper suddenly showing itself. "And that goes equally for Merry, right, cousin?"
"We didn't come all this way to let you go on alone," Merry agreed, apparently relieved to find what appeared to be a well-worn argument restarting.
"Lord Elrond has indicated I am to have eight companions--I would hardly call that going on alone," Frodo returned, although without the heat he probably had shown the first few times he'd undoubtedly said it.
Sam merely shook his head and attacked his eggs with gusto. "Hardly fit conversation for a meal," he mumbled around a full mouth.
"That's enough, lads!" Bilbo suddenly said. "You are not to trouble Frodo with this, Merry and Pippin. It's not he who must be convinced, but Master Elrond, and he won't be convinced by childish displays in his dining room."
"But he's letting Sam go, when he shouldn't have been at the Council to begin with! I mean, he's been rewarded for the cheek of slipping in where he wasn't supposed to be----" Pippin's voice was rather strident.
"He said, enough." Frodo's voice was actually quite soft, but something in it stopped the young Hobbit colder than if he'd been yelled at.
Pippin stopped, his mouth still open. Then with a rather stifled, "Yes, Frodo," he turned his attention to his enormous platter of food and began eating.
Boromir finally mastered his laughter. "You must forgive me. Something in the way that was said simply struck me as being quite droll. almost like something my brother might have said when he was small."
Pippin paused with his fork part way to his mouth, his eyes alert with interest. "You have a brother?"
"Yes, a younger brother, Faramir. And you?"
The young Hobbit gave a look about at the other Hobbits around the table. "The only one of us who has any brothers is Sam. I have three older sisters, but Frodo, Merry, and Bilbo were all only children."
"We weren't supposed to be only children," muttered Bilbo as he raised his cup, and Boromir saw a fleeting expression of grief on Frodo's face, quickly controlled.
Merry explained, "My mum and his kept losing bairns, you see," indicating Frodo. "They both felt rather lucky to end up with one child who lived."
"I am sorry," Boromir said gently. "My mother died when my brother and I were young, I was about eight, and he was five."
He gave the young one a swift glance--auburn curls and ingenuous green eyes, wide open and apparently interested in everything. Smaller than the rest, and more slender, as was Frodo Baggins himself, Peregrin looked much like a youth among Men of about eighteen to nineteen summers--not yet of an age, perhaps, to be counted a full adult, but close to it, or so Boromir judged. Accustomed to being treated as the youngest, obviously, so much so he followed the directions even of a gardener? Well, admitting to being the youngest of four, and the only son, helped to explain that--if he was anything like those of his men who were youngest sons he had probably been made to fetch and carry all his life and knew no other way to respond but to comply. Yet he saw this one, too, had a good deal of consideration and cleverness in his gaze, and a degree of stubbornness that had undoubtedly served him well at helping him from time to time to gain his own way in spite of the others. An active one, and probably a bit of a chatterer whose very chatter would cover far deeper thoughts than one realized might be going on in that innocent-seeming head.
Then there was the gardener--an open, patient expression, that of one accustomed to perceiving what needed doing and then seeing it done as directly and with as little fuss as possible. And, with the constant glances given to Frodo Baggins, one who had chosen to devote himself whole-heartedly to his Master! One with an eye to beauty, but who saw himself as simple. Undoubtedly the perfect servant, if far more familiar than servants one saw in Gondor.
At last Boromir turned his scrutiny to the Ringbearer himself, and saw--responsibility--a familiar sense of responsibility, much like that he knew in his younger brother. A face to arrest attention, apparently young and innocent until one looked into his eyes. But how could one truly describe the expression of those eyes?
There was the memory of intense pain in those eyes; the memory of loss. The smooth face spoke of one newly come to adulthood; the eyes spoke of one far more mature than this one seemed. There was humor there, and compassion, and a degree of impatience with those less intelligent than himself. And yet there was patience there also--it was the face of one who had come to terms with himself and knew that all his intentions would come to fruition--or not--when the time was right.
And there was a degree of stubbornness there as well, a tendency that would be best kept in mind.
Most interesting. Boromir felt rather intimidated by this one, particularly as he realized this Frodo Baggins was making his own evaluation of Boromir of Gondor.
"You are a warrior, I am told?" the Hobbit finally asked.
"Yea, so I am. And you?"
The Hobbit made a dismissive gesture before lifting his fork and neatly cutting off a bite of ham. "I barely know which end of the sword to hold," he said. "Strider--Aragorn--did try to give us some instruction, but we did not have much chance to practice while on our journey. I fear that all the good I managed to do was to slay a cloak and break the blade of my sword after I'd crossed the ford."
The Man was arrested by this description of Frodo's experience with wielding a blade. Slew a cloak?
The small one called Peregrin--Pippin--protested, "But you got us out of that barrow alive!"
Frodo shuddered, setting down his fork, his appetite apparently fled. "Only because the wight wasn't paying attention to me at the moment. If it had realized I had awakened and was sitting up, holding that awful knife----"
"Let it go, my dear boy," Bilbo advised, putting his hand on Frodo's shoulder. "Do not allow it to burden your memories. You did very well--that's the thing to remember. Now, you need to eat every bite Sam has brought you. You need to build back your weight to look a proper Hobbit again."
Frodo and the old Hobbit shared a look apparently filled with years of familiarity. Frodo closed his eyes and allowed his older kinsman to pull him briefly against him, accepted the kiss Bilbo gave his hair, and at last straightened, setting himself to eating his meal.
Uncertainly, Boromir looked at the two younger Hobbits, at last addressing the youngest of the party. "You are called Pippin?"
"Yes--Pervinca, who's next older than I, couldn't pronounce Peregrin properly, so she was calling me Peggin, or so Pearl has told me. Lalia mistook what she was calling me on the day they took me to the Great Smial to inscribe my name in Old Yellowskin and thought she'd said Pippin instead, so she called me that, and everyone else did, too. I mean, she was the Thain's Lady, after all, and no one was allowed to question Lalia Clayhanger Took--or at least not to her face."
Frodo paused over a bite of fruit compote. "She was an uncomfortable person to have to deal with. I remember Lotho once spilling a goblet of Old Winyards in her lap when somehow Mummy and I had managed to offend her."
Bilbo laughed. "You remember that, do you? I'm surprised! She'd sent over the most awful shirt for you to wear, one she'd had made for Ferumbras when he was small--made him look a right mam's lad, it did! Your Aunt Menegilda purposely poured a cup of grape juice over it so your mother could truthfully tell the old bat it was too stained to wear. She suspected, of course, and started making over Lotho to try to punish your mum, not that Primula minded in the least."
"And I remember throwing the cake at Lobelia and making it look an accident so she'd leave."
Pippin was listening avidly. "Really? And Lotho dared to pour a cup of wine on her? And here I was thinking I'd never approve of anything ever done by Lotho Sackville-Baggins! And then you glued Lalia to her chair!"
"I did not!"
"No," agreed Bilbo. "That was Isumbard, wasn't it?"
"No, it wasn't Isumbard, either."
"No, it was Reggie," interrupted Merry. "He told me, although he admitted the idea came from you. But I bet Isumbard was wishing he had done it."
"Reginard did that?" Pippin asked, obviously surprised and impressed.
"Well, we were of an age," Frodo said. "And Lalia was being particularly difficult to everyone that year, and had just been unutterably rude to Bard's sister Linden."
"I was just so glad when she finally died," Pippin sighed, once he'd swallowed a drink of juice. "Even if it did cause such suspicion to fall on my sister."
"I was so angry when Ferumbras gave Pearl that necklace--it made it seem he was rewarding her for ridding us all of Lalia, and as if he himself were courting her." Frodo's expression was very stern.
Boromir was fascinated. He had no true appreciation for the incidents described, but it was obvious these were all familiar with the situation.
"What's this about Pearl being under suspicion for killing the old harridan?" Bilbo demanded.
Well--perhaps not all of them were familiar with all the situations!
Pippin hastened to explain, "Well, Lalia's chair rolled off the porch and down the stairs, and she died in the fall. You know the gossipers in the Shire--Lobelia immediately started hinting that either Pearl or Lalia's nurse had pushed it."
"But it was really the state of the thing," Frodo said. "Ferumbras explained how difficult it was to get it fixed and how they'd not been able to afford to replace it; and she had been warned not to sit on the porch like that as the brakes might give way, but she would do so anyway. And one day they did give. Pearl was horror-stricken!"
"And Ferumbras gave her a necklace? Which? That string of pearls Isengar had brought back from his voyages?"
Bilbo sighed. "Ferumbras Took was always about as sensitive as a bull with his eye on a cow in season. Poor Pearl."
"They finally gave over all the gossip once Pearl married Bard," Pippin added.
"Good girl." Bilbo turned his attention to Frodo. "I'm only glad you finally recovered from her throwing you over that way. Too bad, though, that you and Narcissa...."
"Bilbo!" Frodo's face was pale, and his cheeks bright with embarrassment.
For a time they ate in silence, Merry and Pippin exchanging glances and Sam purposely focusing on his food with only occasional glances at Frodo as if to make certain he didn't need anything else.
At last Bilbo turned his attention back to the Man. "Here we are, supposedly learning more about you, but instead we're talking of Shire matters, and the only one of us with the sense not to gossip like a common farmer's wife is our Samwise."
The gardener turned a bright pink.
"So, tell us about this dream you had, and how it led you to Rivendell," the old Hobbit continued.
Boromir began to explain, but had to admit to himself that he was more curious to know about the incidents and folk of whom the Hobbits spoke so familiarly. He'd been brought up in the isolation of the Citadel, with few children his own age nearby during his childhood, and his one nearby cousin, Húrin, son to his father's older sister, all but an adult by the time he'd been born. He found the warmth and familiarity with which the Hobbits treated one another fascinating, and by the time the meal was over he felt envious of their close relationship.
"And you are good with your sword?" asked Pippin.
"I'm one who teaches others now," Boromir explained.
"Could you perhaps teach us? Or at least me," Pippin added hastily, having caught the alarmed expression on Frodo's face. "We Hobbits are accustomed to archery, or at least we Tooks are. But we don't use things like swords, usually. I mean, I'd only ever seen two of them--the Sword at Brandy Hall and Bilbo's old sword Sting, before he left Bag End." He turned to look at the old Hobbit. "Did you really bring it away with you?"
"That I did. I decided that if I were to go through Mirkwood again it would be best to take it with me, as Sting already had done well against the great spiders there. I can't think of a better blade to use against such monsters, really."
"I bet it would not have broken after Frodo lifted it against the Black Riders like the one from the Barrow did," the young Hobbit sighed. "It might have helped him then."
Bilbo shrugged, but looked thoughtful. "Perhaps."
"But we won't be wearing swords..." Frodo began.
"Nonsense," Merry said. "If Lord Elrond won't let us go, then I'll give you my sword from the Barrow. I don't want to think of you without some kind of protection of your own, out there in the wild!"
The expressions of the two younger Hobbits were equally determined, and Boromir noted that Sam was nodding with approval. "That's right, Mr. Frodo," the gardener agreed. "You can't be the only one as doesn't have some sort of protection, and particular since you know as you can't trust the Ring makin' you invisible as a way of keepin' you safe. I mean, Master, look at how It didn't hide you none from the Riders."
Reluctantly Frodo nodded his understanding. "That's true, but then I had no idea how it was the Ring worked to make someone invisible. That It dragged me into the world of the wraiths themselves...." He shuddered again, and his face was now very pale. He rubbed at his shoulder as if it were paining him.
"All the more reason to learn how to successfully wield a proper weapon," Boromir suggested. "Perhaps Lord Elrond would have some weapons appropriate to your stature here in Imladris. As an Elven stronghold I would expect there is an armory here of some sort. I already know they do have at least one weapons smith here. After all, they have been discussing how to reforge the shards of Narsil into a usable blade again."
Frodo looked up with interest at that. "Then they will remake the Sword of the King?" he asked. "I am glad, as I believe Aragorn will need it in these last battles against the Dark."
The Gondorian felt somehow envious, seeing the expression in Frodo's eyes as he spoke of the northern Chieftain. Already there was a strong level of trust built between the Ringbearer and the Pretender, as Boromir had begun thinking of the other Man. The realization during the Council as to the lineage of Aragorn son of Arathorn had led Frodo to a greater appreciation of the Ranger's potential place in the rule of the outer world, and his existing respect for Aragorn had grown so much Boromir felt he would be unlikely to reach a similar relationship with the Hobbit.
It was at that point that the Elf who'd led Boromir to his room on his arrival approached their table. "Master Frodo--Elrond asks that you return to your chamber when you are finished with your meal so that he can examine your shoulder to see how your recovery progresses. He does not ask that you hurry your meal in any way, but expects to be able to meet with you there in perhaps half an hour."
Frodo Baggins looked up gravely. "Then I will be certain to be there. I find I cannot yet eat as much at a time as I am accustomed to eating, so I will be finished here soon enough at any rate. Thank him for me, please."
The Elf gave a bow. "With pleasure, small Master."
Sam looked after with admiration. "Master Lindir--he's quite the singer, he is. Wonderful folk, Elves."
Frodo's expression as he looked back to his friend was indulgent. "Yes, they are, but not as wonderful, I think, as you four."
Again the gardener flushed, with pleasure this time.
When at last Frodo left the table Boromir realized he envied the Hobbit for far more than just his role as the Ringbearer.
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