13. A Little Suffering Is Good for the Soul
Pippin obligingly followed and the two checked the stables (petted Bill), the gardens (admired the flowers), the Library (looked wistfully at the maps), the kitchens (didn’t think the lordly Elf would be there but wanted a snack) and finally located Glorfindel in the armory.
Glorfindel was sparring with another Elf in an intricate and deadly dance of flashing knives. The training floor was polished wood, gleaming and smooth, and the Elves were barefoot on its slick surface. Their feet made muffled booming thuds in the vast echoing space; one of the few times, Merry reflected, that he had ever heard an elven footfall. Not daring to distract the combatants by calling attention to themselves, Merry and Pippin sank silently to the floor well clear of the practice arena and watched. Glorfindel and his opponent moved without armor or shield, distaining the use of wooden practice-blades. Attack and counterattack, thrust and parry, the long-bladed knives rang and chimed against each other. The two Elves moved with a grace and speed beyond the comprehension of mortal folk. The two watching suddenly felt keenly the weight of their mortal clay, the ungainliness of their limbs as compared to the slender swiftness of these two opponents. Yet the two sparring were surpassingly careful; the razor-sharp blades passed within a hair’s thickness of each other’s faces and forms but never grazed the flesh.
Their dance was beautiful, but lethal. Watching silently with awe on his sharp face, Pippin felt himself oddly grateful for his simple hobbit heritage, which had never sought war or battle and was content with tilling the green earth and the growing of fields. Merry watched with equal fascination but darker thoughts. He found himself trying to analyze the pattern of their dance, to anticipate a coming attack and think how to counter it. With a small shock, he realized that he was already planning the defense of his cousin on this journey. Merry’s thoughts strayed to his own small sword, untouched since their arrival at Rivendell. To the realization of how little help he was to the Ring-bearer. And now this silly Wager…
At last the deadly dance slowed and stopped. At no signal the hobbits could see, the two halted and for a moment stood panting on the polished floor, the sunlight streaming in from the high windows (set well above the combatants’ sightlines to avoid blinding them during a match), making their hair glow and skin glisten with perspiration and an inner light that seemed to shine through their flesh. Then both bowed to the other and sheathed their long blades.
Wiping his face with a cloth, Glorfindel came to the two watchers and both scrambled to their feet, a little shy at what they had just witnessed. Seeing the apprehension on their small faces, Glorfindel laughed and bowed slightly. “A good match, little masters,” he greeted them graciously. “Would one of you care to wield a practice-blade?”
Pippin shook his head wordlessly. “I would, Glorfindel,” answered Merry softly, “another time though, as we must meet Frodo for luncheon. May we speak with you?”
“It would be my pleasure,” answered the lordly Elf, though Merry thought he gave them rather an uncomfortable glance. Glorfindel led them to a bench by the amour rack and motioned them to sit. “What would you have of me?”
Again Merry went into his spiel, watching the Elf’s face closely. Yes, he definitely looked uncomfortable. Very uncomfortable. The Elf had dropped his gaze from Merry’s eyes and was staring fixedly at the polished floor. “And so, Glorfindel,” Merry concluded, “I wanted to ask you what you told me were the terms of your bet.” ‘There,’ the hobbit thought, ‘let’s hear his reply to a direct question.’
An ear-shattering clatter covered the Elf’s first words. They both jerked up to see the last of the practice-blades and other wooden weapons falling from the armor rack. Like dominoes, each weapon knocked down the one beside it and spilled to the floor in a thunderous clang. A small circular shield rolled completely around Pippin and rattled to a deafening stop by the tweenager’s furry feet. Pip stood in the center of the destruction and looked about him blankly. “Oops.”
* * * * *
Helping Glorfindel replace the practice-weapons took all of the two’s remaining time and with a sigh, Pippin realized they would be late for luncheon. He hadn’t meant to knock everything down, he just wanted to look at one of the practice-blades. But now Merry was more determined than ever to have his theory of conspiracy against them confirmed. Pippin didn’t know what to think about that; what people were saying didn’t seem right, but at the same time it did sound familiar. When Merry decided that lunch could wait, Pippin disagreed strongly but was still towed along to find the Lady Arwen. She wouldn’t do them dirty, his cousin declared.
Upon hearing the object of their search, Pippin immediately began brushing his clothes and trying to rub off the dirt that seemed to inevitably congregate about him. Yanking his fingers through his curls and pulling out some snarls, he hurried after his cousin. Merry was already disappearing back into the House, and had asked two passing Elves of the Lady’s whereabouts. Pippin caught up with him just as he was passing through the garden to enter the Library.
“Good,” remarked Pippin, breathing hard. “We can get Frodo some more books. He’s read most of what we got him already.”
Pippin ran square into his cousin’s back as Merry stopped dead and swung to face him. “Frodo wants more books?”
“Yes, Merry,” replied the youngster, confused. “You heard him say that. Did you have to stop so suddenly? He said it when –“
“Ah, Pippin-lad, you’re brilliant!” The older pulled the younger in for a quick hug, then he was gone up the steps and into the building.
“It’s a Took trait,” said Pippin modestly to the audience of himself, since he stood alone among the fall flowers. “What am I brilliant about?”
* * * * *
Pippin followed his ears and came upon his cousin and the daughter of Elrond in the rotunda at the center of the enormous Library. The great circular room boasted deep chairs of surpassing comfort and carefully supplied and trimmed reading lamps. Books lined the two-story rotunda from floor to ceiling, branching out into row after unending row, deep into the two side wings of the building. It was quiet and wonderfully peaceful and the smell of slightly musty books was warm and reassuring. It was one of Pippin’s favorite places in Rivendell. Excellent place for a nap.
Arwen reclined gracefully in one of the great cushioned chairs, a scroll dangling from one fine-boned hand, as she inclined her dark head to listen to Merry’s words. She nodded elegantly and Pippin reminded himself not to gawk this time and make himself the fool. How beautiful she was … flawless skin like the finest ivory…
Hair like flowing obsidian, dark eyes like living jewels…
As graceful as a willow tree in the spring breeze…
The tweenager blushed bright red as he realized that once again he had been caught wool-gathering. Arwen smiled at him gently, which only increased his humiliation. Merry awarded him a disgusted look and turned back to the elven princess.
“And so, my lady, Pippin and I wished to confirm the wager you placed on our cousin’s little effort. Would you mind?”
“Not at all, Master Meriadoc.” The Elf-woman’s voice was as lovely as her form, thought Pippin. “If Master Frodo is not sufficiently recovered to complete the circuit around my father’s garden, then I will sing for Bilbo the songs of my mother’s people. It would be my pleasure. If Frodo is strong enough to complete the walk, then you will arrange with my father to grant Estel reprieve from riding out on a scouting trip, that he may spend the day with me on a picnic. Is that not what we had agreed?”
“Yes, thank you. Just checking. So glad to have that cleared up. Pippin?”
A voice like the cooing of doves, the singing of a brook over a grassy shore…
“Oh, Pip – you’re hopeless. Come on.”
* * * * *
They were quite late to luncheon. Sam gave them an indiscriminate glare as he opened the door, still clearly in a snit. Nevertheless, he ushered them in to join their cousins, who had already selected their favorites from among the heavily-loaded trays that had been delivered.
“Well, hullo at last,” Frodo greeted them. “Glad you could make time to join us.” Sitting next to him, Bilbo snorted then applied himself to a delectable mushroom pot pie. Merry briefly debated the wisdom of tackling the old hobbit again but didn’t dare try to worm the truth out of Bilbo in Frodo’s hearing. Feeling frustrated and somewhat abused, he loaded his plate and sat down to eat.
“Merry,” murmured Pippin around a mouthful of cheese, “you’re making yourself upset over nothing.”
Merry shook his head. “Something’s not right here, Pip. Something’s just not right…”
“Remember the ‘arrangements’ Arwen mentioned? Have you given any thought to these ‘arrangements’ we have to make with Lord Elrond if people win their wagers? I mean,” Pippin rushed on when Merry paused to look at him, “we didn’t specify the terms first. We have to do anything he tells us to.”
“Tell you to do what, Pippin?” Frodo eased himself into one of the chairs and leaned carefully against the padded back. Once he was settled, Sam slid his tray onto his lap, managing to work in a quick glare at the two while his master’s attention was occupied by the food.
“Ah – nothing. Nothing at all.” Merry’s quick interruption earned him a surprised look from Frodo. Merry hurriedly buttered a slice of bread and beamed at his cousin. “Frodo, you’re so much better. Why don’t you come with us to the Library the day after tomorrow? Pippin reminded me that you wanted some more books. There must be thousands of books and scrolls and maps.”
Frodo’s eyes gleamed with excitement. “Why wait until then? Let me take your arm, Cousin, and we’ll go after lunch. I’d much rather do that than walk around the courtyard again.”
Merry choked and Frodo gave him a concerned glance. “No, no, Frodo, you can’t do that.”
Desperate, Merry cast through that quicksilver mind of his. “Because you haven’t received Lord Elrond’s permission yet. I don’t think we want a repeat of the Hall of Fire incident, do we?”
“Noooo…” Frodo admitted. “I should do him the courtesy of asking.” He sighed deeply, those beautiful eyes shadowed. “There is so much of Rivendell I haven’t seen yet. Neither has poor Sam. We haven’t even been to a single feast.”
“You haven’t missed much, Frodo,” Pippin interjected in an attempt to be comforting. “It’s just music and singing and fine wines and eating much too much wonderful food –“
“We’ll ask Lord Elrond if you can come tonight, Frodo!” Merry grinned, seeing another detail taken care of. “Do you good to get some real food in you. Then when he sees how well you are eating, you can ask him for permission to visit the Library. It truly is a marvelous place, Frodo. And to get there, you have to walk through one of Elrond’s gardens. You’ll enjoy that.”
Sam made a stifled sound and Frodo turned to him. “Are you all right, Sam?”
Eyes fixed on his own tray, Sam nodded. A red flush began creeping up from his collar. “Jus’ something caught in me throat, sir.”
“All right, then,” replied Frodo. “A few more turns around the courtyard this afternoon and I’ll have no trouble walking to the Hall of Fire this time.”
“After your nap, sir.”
“Sam, I don’t want to take a nap.”
“Listen to Samwise, Frodo-lad.”
Listening to his kin and friends talk, Merry felt himself relaxing. He’d get to the bottom of this … just not right now. Not until after luncheon, anyway.
* TBC *
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.