17. Tasks and Preparations
The wizard had stayed with Frodo until very late, long after an embarrassed Sam had awoken from his own unplanned nap. After exchanging a final few words with Samwise, the wizard left to attend dinner and the Hall of Fire, promising to arrange for trays to be sent to Sam and Frodo, if Sam could coax his master to eat. Sam stayed at his post and turned away the constant stream of visitors that came to ask after his master with soft voices and worried faces. The three Big Folk of the Company came also, Boromir and Legolas and Gimli, and Sam regretfully turned them away. He felt awkward about refusing members of the Fellowship, but Elrond’s orders that Frodo not be taxed were very clear and Sam was not about to disobey them.
That held for Merry and Pippin too, when they showed up with their arms laden with fruit and pies purloined from the kitchens. Ever practical, Sam accepted the food but turned his master’s cousins away. He shut the door on their sad faces and hoped they would spend the rest of the evening thinking about their actions.
* * * * *
Pippin threw down the scrub brush and sighed deeply, rolling his shoulders to ease the strain along his aching back. Merry looked over at him from the base of another fountain and grimaced in sympathy, rocking back on his knees to ruefully examine his water-shriveled, reddened hands. The two hobbits had been working since first light, determined to redeem themselves in the Master of Rivendell’s eyes.
Before first light, they had reported to the kitchens to assist the cooks, and had managed to enjoy themselves mightily despite the hard work. Rare indeed was the hobbit that did not like to cook and in this Meriadoc and Peregrin were no exception. Both hung eagerly over the cooks’ shoulders (or more accurately, under their arms) to watch the mixing of the breads and muffins and sweet, frosted sticky buns that they so loved.
The two were set to arranging trays and if they sampled whatever they put on the trays, they did replace the food. Merry marshaled his good will and resisted the urge to pepper Sam’s sausages in repayment for having the door closed on him the previous night. When he came to their cousin’s tray, Merry chose the mushroom-laden dishes carefully. Pippin dashed outside and returned a moment later, sprigs of bluebells in his hands. These he had gathered growing wild near the herb garden and laid them alongside the cutlery of Frodo’s tray.
And now it was almost time for luncheon, and the two hobbits were exhausted. Sweat dripped freely into their eyes and stung abominably and their curls hung in limp bedraggled strands. But they had scrubbed the moss from six fountains (and the base of one bench) and were feeling tired but virtuous.
In unspoken agreement, the two decided on a rest. Merry flopped on his back and threw up an arm to shield his eyes from the glare of the weak autumn sun. Pippin dragged himself over and collapsed on his cousin’s chest, ignoring the faint, protesting “oof!”
“I hurt everywhere,” Pippin moaned, “and my stomach’s about to crawl up my backbone.”
“It shouldn’t be long ‘til the chimes ring for luncheon,” Merry replied, rubbing his side where one particularly sharp elbow had dug in. He raised himself up slightly and surveyed the sweating, grimy figure resting on him. “Pip, you’re filthy. There’s moss in your hair. How did you get moss in your hair?”
“You’re filthy, too,” his cousin retorted. “I must have brushed my head against the stone when I was scrubbing.” The youngster sighed deeply and rubbed at his arms, wincing as muscles in his forearms jumped painfully from the unaccustomed work. “Merry, I’m hungry.”
“C’mon, then,” Merry rolled over, disregarding Pippin’s squawk as his comfortable cushion shifted. “We’d best get cleaned up. They won’t let us into the dining hall, looking like this.”
Elrond watched the two drag themselves to their feet and leave for the baths. They did not see him as he stood still and silent among the shadows of the tall trees. The Elf-lord nodded to himself, pleased to see the mettle of these young ones. They did not shrink their duty, despite sore hands and exhaustion. Never did he think that they would be able to defend the Ring-bearer, but he would not discount the contributions they would make to Frodo’s sanity and well-being. Many times had the Elf-lord wished to reconsider his perhaps too-hasty agreement to their inclusion in this Quest, but no longer did he so. Frodo would need the love and support of his cousins as much as he would need the swords and bows of his protectors.
The faintest rustle among the fallen leaves alerted the Elf-lord to the approach of another. Estel drew even with him just in time to see the last curly head depart around the corner. They stood for a moment in companionable silence, each occupied with his own thoughts. At last the Elrond acknowledged his foster son with a slight cant of his dark, ageless eyes.
“Is all in readiness?”
“Almost,” Aragorn replied. “There is much that needs to be completed yet, that must be especially made because of their small size. But their lessons can begin as soon as Frodo is able.”
“Could we not start the others before? Even a few days of additional practice might make the difference in their living or dying on this journey.”
A small smile lit the Ranger’s stern features. “I would normally agree. But Sam will not leave his master. And I think those two will be too stiff for much sword or bow-practice, for several days at least.”
The small smile was echoed on the Elf-lord’s face. “Good. Those two young ones have upset my household quite enough. I would have a few days of peace, before we must turn Imladris into a training-ground for halflings.”
* * * * *
Merry and Pippin again tried to see their cousin after lunch. Sam opened the door at their knock and gazed at them levelly, his grey eyes measuring. After a moment’s consideration, he allowed them in.
The two sat in the outer room and waited while Sam asked his master if Frodo would see them. They could not hear their cousin’s reply, but when Sam returned to admit them, those grey eyes held warning. “Don’t you go upsettin’ him, now,” he whispered at them. “He’s had a bad morning.”
Frodo did not look at all pleased to see them. Pippin prudently stayed behind Merry, through their eldest cousin did not look capable of rising and throttling them. Frodo’s face was very swollen and the eye underneath the cut was now completely closed, with the bruising extending down his cheek almost to his jaw. The shoulder-wound sported a fresh, thickly padded bandage. Frodo leaned back against the pillow and folded his arms, glaring at them out of his one good eye.
“Well?” Pippin received the impression that all that kept his eldest cousin from shouting was his inability to open his mouth more than a little.
Merry eyed Frodo cautiously and edged closer. “Frodo,” he began softly, “Pippin and I -” he gulped suddenly and the suppressed tears in his voice were unexpectedly answered by Pippin’s. “We didn’t … we didn’t mean to hurt you.” Another gulp. “It … it just got out of hand. I’m sorry, Cousin.”
“I’m sorry, too, Cousin.” Pippin gathered his courage and stood away from Merry, his green-gold eyes watering. “We didn’t mean any harm.”
“You never do,” Frodo replied softly. “But harm came of it, nonetheless. Merry, you had no right to take wagers on me. Then you didn’t tell me, and somehow, I find that the most difficult thing to forgive.”
Merry ducked his head, grief at Frodo’s disappointment in him searing his heart. Pippin had less restraint; the tweenager burst into tears and with a loud wail, flung himself on his eldest cousin, not noticing the grimace of pain that flashed across Frodo’s face. Frodo wound his right hand in Pippin’s curls as the young hobbit sobbed against his side, looking over his head at Merry.
“I’m sorry,” Merry repeated softly. Frodo held his eyes for a long moment, then slowly nodded. The acceptance in those gentle eyes lifted the weight of the world off of Merry’s shoulders. With a deep sigh, he joined Pip at Frodo’s side and after a moment, felt a gentle hand brush through his hair.
“I never could stay angry with you for very long,” Frodo’s soft voice mused above their heads. “Pippin-lad, calm down. Calm down now.”
Sam shook his head from his post from the door, thinking that the two had gotten off far too easily. A few tears, a few apologies, and his master softened like dry earth when the spring rains come. He’d not be so forgiving –
Samwise’s attention was returned abruptly as the two hobbits rose to take their leave, fearful of further tiring their cousin. Merry was saying, “When Sam and Pip and I started this Wager business –“
“Yes, we –“
Then again, Sam thought as the two hurriedly departed, a forgiving heart is a wonderful quality…
* * * * *
“How goes the work?” Aragorn ran the miniature bow through his strong hands, feeling the curve of the wood, the flexibility of the draw. The wood felt cold under his hands, smooth and polished, a long elven-bow shortened to the size of a hobbit.
Legolas shook his head, blond hair tied out of his eyes as he continued to sand the ash that would form a bow for one of the halflings. Various pieces of seasoned wood, carving knives, arrow fletchings and other tools were scattered about him as he sat cross-legged on the ground. “I have never made so small a bow, Aragorn. These are smaller even than a child’s. I do not know if the little ones will even be able to draw them.”
“They must learn,” responded the Ranger absently, drawing the bow carefully to its full width without snapping it. “The art of archery is not much practiced among their kind for other than hunting, but they need to learn the bow for defense.”
“Defense…” murmured the Wood-elf. “Aragorn, even if they master the bow enough to not be a danger to themselves and to us, have you considered the strength of their draws? Even at full extension, an arrow from one of these bows would not bring down an enemy, unless it was a very lucky shot at close range.”
“Then they will be used for hunting,” Aragorn replied. “I would like to see the hobbits not so dependent on the Big Folk, as they call us. I am to teach them to live off the land, survive in the Wild, and supplying their own dinner is part of that.”
The Man dropped to his haunches beside the seated Elf. “We must give them every advantage that we can, Legolas. Even if we do not hold out much hope for their making use of all that we teach them.”
The Elf nodded and returned to his work, his slender hands caressing up and down the wood. “I have more hope of them learning swordplay. The Man Boromir has agreed to teach them, you said?”
“Yes,” Aragorn responded. “They have quite excellent swords, which they need to learn to honor and care for. Frodo’s was destroyed at the Ford of Bruinen, of course … I must see to its replacement...” The Ranger’s eyes lost their sharp focus momentarily as he mentally added yet another item to his long list of duties. He picked up one of the small arrows that Legolas had completed and ran it through his fingers. “What did you use for the fletching? Goose feathers are too large … are these duck?”
“Duck,” agreed the Elf. “I have asked the cooks to keep for me the plucked wing feathers of all chickens and small fowl they use.” Legolas’ clear eyes creased briefly in mirth. “One said he was most pleased to have more work for the halflings assigned to the kitchens in the mornings; left unoccupied, he said, they eat far more than they produce.”
Aragorn grinned as he rose to his feet, dropping the arrow back into the small pile of finished work. “Aye. Well, perhaps the hunting and snaring skills I will teach them will help in providing for those hobbit appetites. Pardon me, my friend. I must continue on my errands.” Legolas merely nodded at him, his attention again on the small bow that was being born between his long-fingered hands.
* 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.