8. Lesson Eight: Hobbit resiliency and good nature
There is no hope. I know this in my heart, in my bones, at the very core of my being. I have known it all along, I realize now. I just refused to believe it. All of our striving thus far has been to no purpose. The Fellowship has been doomed to fail ere we ever set out on this fruitless journey. These others have not seen the armies the Enemy gathers to him. They have not perceived the evil that dwells in the East. And for all that I have seen, I know it is just a glimpse, a glimmer, of his true strength.
There is no hope. We are on a quest of folly, and at the end of it, the White City will fall and the last vestiges of Man will be swept away in the black tide. But I am resolved to it. This is the will of the Council, this is the decision of the wise, and I have pledged myself to it. I will return to Gondor and captain the final defense, and we will fight to the last man, and the one thing that may have aided us, the one thing that would have given us any hope of victory, will remain unwielded. Yet such is the will of the wise, and of the fallen.
I am so wrapped in these black thoughts that I do not perceive right away that I am not the only member of the fellowship still awake, despite exhaustion and grief and troubled heart. Two soft, murmuring voices reach my ears as might the burble of a brook, wordless yet speaking, gently flowing over me.
I turn my head, and in the white light of the stars and the moon, I see that the Ringbearer and one of his cousins are awake and talking quietly to each other. It is warmer here in the pavilion the elves have provided for us than it has been on the road, so the hobbits are not piled atop one another and burrowed under blankets, but they are still lined up like four peas in a pod, each one touching the next.
At one end, Samwise is on his stomach, sound asleep and snoring. His face is turned away from the others, keeping watch even in slumber, and his shoulder is wedged against his master's back, so that he might know if Frodo stirs or is distressed in the night.
Beside his servant, Frodo lays on his side facing his cousins. Merry is on the other end on his back, an arm wrapped around Pippin, who is half on top of his elder cousin, his face firmly buried in Merry's shoulder. On his other side, Frodo is rhythmically, absentmindedly rubbing Pippin's back, soothing some nighttime unrest no longer apparent.
Frodo and Merry's faces are turned toward each other, talking in low voices that do not carry words to me, so I study their countenances. I can see lines of grief and strain where they were not before on Frodo's face, and I know he feels Gandalf's death in all its crushing weight. But for all the toil of our journey I can see stamped on his features, at this moment they are turned toward his young kinsman with a wistful, fond expression, and a smile curls about his lips. Merry's expression is similar, and blue and brown eyes shine at each other in the dim light. It occurs to me that they are remembering some happier time, reliving some amusing event, recalling some beloved story.
I am drawn to them, and I find myself rolling to my side and shifting forward to catch their words. Perhaps some fragment of the peace, no matter how bittersweet, I see in their faces will float this way and grant me the forgetfulness of sleep, if nothing else.
"Really, Frodo, no one would have ever believed you if for not the bruise on his forehead in the morning," Merry is saying with a grin. "I mean, bashing his head on the chandelier while Bilbo tripped over the footstool and old Ponto Goodbody crashed off the bench and ended up sleeping it off under the kitchen table. It just shows that no good ever comes of that brew of Ponto's."
"I saw it with my own two eyes and I could scarce believe it myself," Frodo replies with a silent laugh that shakes his shoulders. "I nearly packed up my bags and came back to the Hall, I was so bewildered. I did not know whether I should be amused or frightened. For all I may have seen adult hobbits stumbling about enough after one celebration or another, to see a Big Person, and a wizard at that, weaving about the room, waving his staff around and arguing with Bilbo about obscure points of dwarvish history -- well, it was quite an introduction to life at Bag End."
They are talking about Gandalf, I realize almost with shock. And not only are they talking about Gandalf, they seem to be recollecting a most unflattering story, and deriving great enjoyment from it.
Merry is chuckling. "Well, I never could be afraid of him, really, after hearing that tale, though I was too young for several years to quite understand what had happened." He sighs, then smiles again. "Do you remember that day we weren't keeping a close enough eye on Pip and he got himself all scratched up in the Gaffer's blackberry bushes and Bilbo had to patch him up? Bilbo came storming out of Bag End and took us to task, and we came inside and found --"
"Gandalf on the parlor floor with Pip's toy carved animals all around him, making him a little stable for them out of silverware, a vegetable platter, and the butter dish," Frodo finishes, his eyes aglow with pleasure. "And Pippin, sitting right on his lap tugging on Gandalf's beard, chattering away and giving directions, as though it was the most natural thing in the world. I think even Bilbo was a little thrown by that scene, though he didn't dare show it."
"Well, they were the best dishes, after all," Merry says, "and you know how fussy Bilbo is about those things."
"Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
Blunt the knives and bend the forks!
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates --
Smash the bottles and burn the corks!"
they sing softly together, both shaking with silent mirth. Frodo buries his face in between Pippin's shoulderblades to stifle his laughter, and Pippin stirs a bit, making some sleepy dream noise. "Shh, shh!" Merry scolds, still grinning and quivering a little as he strokes Pippin's errant curls. The youngest cousin settles back down without waking, and I catch Frodo placing a little secret kiss on Peregrin's shoulder as he nestles himself back into his sleeping space. Merry lifts his free hand and stretches his fingers out to Frodo. Their clasped hands come to rest on Pippin's back, and it is mere moments later that I hear their breathing change to the deep, steady pattern of slumber.
I return to my back and let out a gust of air in amusement, disbelief, and something akin to awe. Here we are, the protectors, the warriors, too crushed by this blow to speak of it yet, while those we watch over are able to say his name freely, to even laugh at old recollections, to . . . I flounder, not knowing quite what I have witnessed. I think of the elves of Lórien, singing laments to Mithrandir that Legolas, who had called him friend, had not the heart to put into words for us. I cannot believe the little folks' grief is any less sharp; indeed, having seen Gandalf with them, how he guided and taught and nudged each of them daily in the most familiar way, nearly as a beloved uncle or grandfather, I know that their grief must surpass all of us in the Fellowship, save perhaps Aragorn.
Yet they are able to speak of him so soon, so fondly, with such pleasure, even tinged as it is by the shadow flickering at the edges of their eyes. This was no lament for Gandalf's death, this was, this was . . . this was a song celebrating Gandalf's life that I had eavesdropped on.
The more I learn of hobbits, the more amazed I am by them. I did not think we would be able to rouse them from their grief outside the eastern gates of Moria, so traumatized were they, so devastated by the loss, and in those first moments, physically hauling first Meriadoc, then Peregrin, to their feet, I cursed the Council and its folly, sending these innocents out to face this type of horror.
Yet it seems the wise are called the wise for good reason, for here I lay, plagued by grief and hopelessness, while mere feet away my small companions make their own peace with grief and turn dauntless faces toward hopelessness.
I swallow hard around the lump in my throat. Perhaps, I think, it is not so hopeless after all. Perhaps the wise did foresee things I could not when they prophesied that the hour of the little folk is at hand.
And with that thought, the peace that emanates from the hobbits envelopes me and fills me with serenity and, like them, I drift into healing slumber where my only dreams are of wizards still young enough at heart to sit on the floor and play with hobbit-lads.
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