As Boromir left his room to take the noon meal in the dining hall, he found himself joined by Samwise Gamgee, who was coming from the smaller library, a book in his hands.
“You are fetching this for Master Frodo?” the Man asked the Hobbit.
Sam flushed. “Oh, no, sir, Mr. Boromir, sir,” he said. “I was gettin’ it for me. It’s a book as tells of Túrin, you see, and of when Beleg Cúthalion dwelt with him. It’s a long time since I heard that tale from Mr. Bilbo, so I thought as I’d read it while we’re here. I’m afraid as there’s not a good deal else as we can do save read, and it’s been quite some time since I could have time to read as much as I’d like. Maybe it’ll help me keep my mind off of goin’ to Mordor. Is it really as dark as they say?”
Boromir shuddered. “Dark? I very much fear that it is indeed a dark and fell land. However, if we are to walk most if not all of the way, it will take us some months to arrive there.”
“It’s not what I’d thought as we’d be doin’, this trip to the Fiery Mountain to get rid of that Ring,” Sam said in a low voice, almost as if to himself. “But if’n it’s the only way to keep not just the Shire but everywhere else safe, then I suppose as there’s nothin’ else for it.”
They turned together toward the dining hall, outside of which lingered Merry, Pippin, and Bilbo. “You didn’t find him, then?” Merry asked Sam.
“Well, it’s obvious you didn’t find him in the other library, or the kitchens,” Sam responded.
“No, I didn’t. Now, if we were at the Hall I could probably have found him almost straight off, as I knew all his favorite hiding places he’d head to when he wanted to be left alone to think things through or cry himself out without Gomez and the other lads being aware of it and all. But here--none of us but Bilbo knows the place well, and who’s to say what hidden corner he’s found?”
“I did enlist Meliangiloreth to help me look for him,” Bilbo volunteered, “but so far we’ve not been able to find a trace of him. Even as a bairn Frodo used to be among the most difficult of individuals to find when he decided he was going to hide away. Your own mother found him once hiding in the laundry basket, having crawled inside the skirts of one of Primula’s dresses, Sam, there when they lived down in Number Five. That was one thing--when he lived with me, Frodo wasn’t given to hiding away. He’d just go to his room and write!”
“That’s because you just tended to leave him alone when he needed it,” Merry pointed out, turning to lead the way into the dining hall. “He’d only hide out when we younger ones came to call, for we didn’t tend to give him as much privacy.”
Bilbo dropped back to walk by Sam and Boromir. “And what treasure did you find, Sam?”
“Stories of Túrin and Beleg, Mr. Bilbo.”
“Not Túrin and Nienor, then?” And the older Hobbit laughed, not unkindly, as Sam began to blush.
At that moment Merry gestured for Sam to join him, and he hurried forward to find out what the other Hobbit wanted.
“You cannot find your kinsman?” Boromir asked Bilbo.
Bilbo sighed, and turned to look upwards at him, pausing just within the doors. “He’s finding this whole thing very trying, and is not keen to have to wait here for others to decide when it’s safe to leave the valley. Nor does he wish to be burdened down with a large party to accompany him. He had planned to leave the Shire alone, all by himself, and to use his natural ability to hide himself to slip through to Rivendell, hopefully showing himself only when the Road approached the Misty Mountains. I’d warned him, after all, that of all the races within Middle Earth, only the Elves can hide better within plain sight than can Hobbits. Once he approached Imladris he would need to allow himself to be seen by those who guard the approaches to the place to get guidance into the valley. Other than that he was planning to rely on his own skills to see himself fed and kept safe along the road.
“All that talk this morning about danger and all, and not diminishing other folks’ safety in order to give him more protection disturbs him a good deal. And the indications that Elrond sees the Shire as perhaps being in danger--that’s enough to drive him wild! After all, that’s why he realized he must leave the Shire--to keep it safe from any agents sent by the Enemy to search for the--the Ring.
“Oh, why in the name of all the family heads did I ever leave that awful thing to him? He’s quite the best the Shire has produced in a very long time--certainly he has a good deal to him to bring to mind the nature of Bucca of the Marish! The Shire needs the lad there, not traipsing about in the Wild with an evil trinket in his pocket or hanging on a silver chain about his neck!”
So saying, Bilbo turned back toward the room, going to join the other Hobbits, indicating with a cock of his head that Boromir was welcome to join them.
“What worries me,” Sam was saying as they sat together at a particular table, “is that he’s not eatin’ right. Take today--afore that breakfast as you all went to he’d had but a morning roll and some preserves and a mug of tea, and Mr. Bilbo here says as him didn’t eat all that much there. Then no elevenses, and here it is luncheon! And him was so proud as at long last he was beginnin’ to look a proper Hobbit!”
Boromir felt confused. “I had not noted that Frodo Baggins was particularly slender.”
Bilbo sighed. “For a Hobbit he’s always been thin. I know they tell me he lost a good deal of weight along the way, but it’s hard to see, as he doesn’t seem that much thinner than he was when I left the Shire, actually. And I note he’s wearing one of the shirts he used to wear before I left the Shire--I remember taking delivery of it from your sister Daisy and her husband, Sam.”
“When I saw as he’d packed a couple of them shirts I was surprised,” Sam agreed.
“Maybe it was just a feeling or a dream he’d had,” suggested Merry. “It happened often enough when we were younger he’d just know something would happen, or was happening.”
“Funny,” commented Pippin, who’d returned from the sideboard with platters for Sam and Merry, “how Frodo, being a Baggins, appears to have inherited the Took Sight. I know Aunt Esme has it, of course, and I’ll swear that Da has had his own dreams a time or two.” He set the plates on the table, asking, “Would you want me to get you something, too, Bilbo?”
“Took Sight?” asked Boromir.
“That’s what they call it--either knowing things will happen or having frequent dreams about what will happen.” Merry turned to Pippin. “Bring me an extra one of those honey rolls, please, Pip. Thanks.” He looked back to Boromir. “It appears to happen fairly frequently among the Tooks and those who have a fair amount of Took blood. They say that long ago one of the Tooks took a fairy wife, although no one seems to know exactly what that means, much less when or where, whether it was one of the Tooks once we Hobbits came to the Shire, or when we lived elsewhere about Eriador, or if it was back when we lived wherever it was we came from.”
“The valley of the Great River, east of the Misty Mountains,” Bilbo supplied automatically. “Master Elrond has some records of our arrival in Eriador in his journals, you see.”
“Does he?” Merry asked, intrigued.
“Oh, and you will make certain to bring me a goodly amount of those eggs, won’t you, Pippin-lad? They prepare them especially well here,” Bilbo said.
“I’ll come with you, Master Peregrin,” Boromir said, rising to follow the young Hobbit to the sideboard. He was glad he had, for the Halfling’s grateful smile was more than ample reward.
“So, you are serving all today, then?” the Man asked as he and Pippin approached the sideboard.
“Frodo told me I must to make amends for having given Sam such a hard time this morning before Frodo went to the breakfast with Lord Elrond. Sam doesn’t like it any, for it’s not in his nature to allow himself to be waited upon--he is certain that he’s to wait on everyone else, you see. I don’t mind at all, really. After all, with three sisters, and all of them older than I am, it’s not as if it were something new. I was always upsetting them and having to wait on them for a day or two to make amends. My mum has always insisted we must make amends. It’s usually rather a relief to spend time at the Hall with Merry or at Bag End, for Aunt Esme and Frodo aren’t as certain we should always make amends as Mum is.
“Although, you must understand that Frodo himself always tries to make amends when he’s hurt someone--someone who didn’t deserve it, at least. I don’t think he’s ever tried making amends to any of the Sackville-Bagginses, but then they’ve always been awful, anyway. They’ve never forgiven Bilbo for coming back alive when he did, just after they’d had him declared dead for having been gone for a year and a day. And then when they learned for certain that Bilbo had adopted Frodo as his heir and they got only a box of silver spoons....”
Boromir was feeling rather overwhelmed at all this information, most of which was totally alien to the life he’d known himself. He reached for an apple, only to have Pippin interpose his own hand. “Oh, no, you don’t want that one,” he said. “It will not be the sweetest one. And that one is just past its best. Here--this one.” He deftly picked out a particular fruit and set it on the plate Boromir had taken up for himself. “And for the honey rolls, the ones on that side of the tray were just brought in so will be fresher. Can you get me a couple of spoons full of the eggs there? Thank you!”
As they walked back to the table Pippin was still talking. “That’s all you are going to eat? I don’t understand how you Men can eat so little! After all, you are almost twice as tall as I am. I’d think you would need a good deal more food than we Hobbits do, but you’ve only taken about half enough for a decent luncheon back in the Shire! If you ever dine with us at the Great Smial, you’d best take at least half again as much or my mother would think you didn’t like her cooking and would be most upset.”
Boromir managed to squeeze in a word. “She would?”
“Of course she would--to disappoint a guest? That’s just not done in most Hobbit holes!”
“Do you truly live in holes?”
“Well, we all do. Not that we did when we lived on the farm at Whitwell when I was younger, my family, I mean. We had a house there, but it was a proper Hobbit house--low and looked much like a smial dug into a ridge. That’s what Hobbit houses are supposed to look like, you see. But now we live in Tuckborough in the Great Smial, and it’s all dug into the longest ridge of the Green Hills. Merry lives in Brandy Hall, which is almost as big as the Great Smial, only it’s in Buckland east of the Shire. Frodo and Sam both live in the Hill. Sam lives down at the foot of the Hill, in one of the smials dug into the lower regions of it. Frodo lives much higher, there in Bag End, which was dug about halfway up the Hill. Frodo owns the Hill, so he’s landlord for Sam’s family’s smial--or, he did own the Hill--he’s sold Bag End, though, so he doesn’t own that any more. But he told me he didn’t sell the rest of the holes to Lotho, the ones down on Bagshot Row, along with Bag End. So that’s all right for the Gamgees....”
“Peregrin Took!” Bilbo interrupted as they reached the table. “That is quite enough blathering! Stars above, lad--you would talk the ears off of the corn!”
“He’s nervous and upset is all, Bilbo,” explained Merry. “But he is right, you know, Pippin--you are talking far too much!”
The younger Hobbit thrust one of his platters at Bilbo, and allowed the other to slap down on the tabletop as he fell into his chair. “I’m sorry!” he muttered as he wiped his sleeve across his eyes. “But I just can’t bear the thought of us having to stay behind--Merry and me, I mean! We’ve come all this way so that Frodo didn’t have to do all this alone, and besides, he always promised that when he went on an adventure we could come, too!”
“It’s not as if I was nobody,” began Sam.
“I don’t mean that!” Pippin said. “But he’s a Hobbit, and the others will all think he has to be taken care of, and it will drive him quite mad, and you know it!”
As he again started to wipe his eyes with his sleeve, Bilbo sighed. “Use your pocket handkerchief, lad.”
“I don’t have one--we used it on Frodo’s shoulder after he was wounded.”
Merry fished in a pocket and produced a square of linen cloth. “Here, Pippin. I managed to have one left.”
After Pippin had blown his nose, he continued, “And what is this about there being trouble at home in the Shire? There wasn’t any trouble there in the Shire when we left!”
“Except for those Black Riders,” Merry noted. “And they didn’t stay there--they were following us, and that’s where Strider is, isn’t it? Out in the wild to make certain they were well washed away? No, Pippin--right now you keep it, at least until it has been laundered.”
The younger Hobbit nodded absently as he stuffed the soiled cloth into his own pocket. He picked up a fork and took a bite of eggs, then set it down again, brooding. “And if there are enemies threatening the Shire, what could we do about them?” He looked up to meet Boromir’s gaze. “What do we know about fighting other than dealing with Lotho Sackville-Baggins and Ted Sandyman, or that Tolman Smallburrow who used to live in the Hall? You remember him, don’t you, Merry? I mean, it’s one thing to be facing one of our own. But if there are Big Folk who are threatening the Shire, what can we do about it? We were about useless against the Black Riders when they found us at Weathertop, after all!”
Sam nodded, if a bit reluctantly. “It were old Strider who saved us there. But him’s faced such folk afore, I’m thinkin’. He knew what to do--light a fire and make torches and all. But even then we couldn’t keep Mr. Frodo safe.”
Boromir found himself shivering, remembering his own last encounter with the Nazgûl when they’d managed to cross the Bridge in Osgiliath. “Even we of Gondor have difficulty standing against them, friends,” he said, meeting Pippin’s eyes, and then Merry’s and finally Sam’s. “Do not feel shamed--if you stood against them at all you have done more than many Men whose courage is well known, but who found the mere presence of the Ring-wraiths was enough to unman them.”
He saw Pippin’s eyes widen with surprise at such a pronouncement.
The Hobbits shared looks, then turned their attention to their meal, obviously thinking on what had been said. At last Sam said, “Mr. Bilbo here says as an Elf and a Dwarf’ll be goin’ with us, at least for a time, until we get near enough to their home for them to turn off.”
Boromir swallowed the last of his meal and nodded. “Yes, so it appears. They shall stay with us at least as long as we remain on this side of the Misty Mountains, as it appears their homes are somewhere near Mirkwood.”
“Legolas of the Woodland Realm is from Mirkwood,” Bilbo advised him. “I saw him often enough during my own stay in his father’s halls. While Gimli now lives within the realm of Erebor, there beneath the Lonely Mountain, some distance east and south of the Woodland King’s home. He was born, however, here in Eriador, in the Blue Mountains, far to the west and north, after Smaug drove the few who survived out of their home and to their kindred here.”
“You have been there, in the home of the Elven King?”
“Oh, yes, years and years ago, just--just after I found the Ring.” There could be seen no sign of humor on the old Hobbit’s face. “I was wearing It to stay invisible, so the Elves never realized I was there. I must suppose I was terribly lucky It preferred to remain asleep as long as I was in an Elven stronghold, for It did not appear to threaten me there, or try to slip off my finger as It did when I tried to get out of the goblins’ tunnels.” The other three Hobbits had turned their attention to him, and he sighed. “Oh, yes, I do believe that It was not happy when I sought to take It outside the goblins’ back door, and that was why I suddenly found It was off my finger and those guarding the way could see me. After all, that was apparently why I found It where I did--It had slipped off of Gollum’s finger already in the tunnels, apparently hoping to be found by one of the goblins the Great Goblin would send down to the lake to bring back fish for his supper--whatever ones managed to survive Gollum, at least. Or, at least that is what Gandalf, Master Elrond, and Glorfindel believe. I wasn’t certain I believed It could choose to slip onto or off of a finger when It wanted until I heard what happened to Frodo there at the Prancing Pony. I am certain that Frodo would never have put on the Ring in such a company, not at all! No, that was the work of the Ring Itself. Of that Gandalf, Elrond, Aragorn, and Frodo are all certain.”
“It’s still hard to think of a Ring being aware, and alive-like,” muttered Sam.
Bilbo gave a slight nod. “Frodo won’t speak much of what it’s been like, but both he and Gandalf have let me know that indeed the Ring has awakened, and there is no question Frodo has felt It probing his mind. As for Aragorn--from the look on his face when I asked him if he’d felt It probing at his, too, I’d say that he at least has been aware of It as well. It’s frightening.”
Pippin, however, appeared to still be thinking on the reported danger to the Shire. “What kind of folk do you think could be sent to the Shire? And would it be the same one sending them as sent the Black Riders, do you think?” he asked Merry.
Merry’s eyes showed the same concern. “I have no idea, Pippin.”
“I doubt it’s goblins, Pippin-lad,” Bilbo said. “Lord Elrond’s sons and the Dúnedain don’t allow many to slip far past here, you must realize. And I’m not certain how most other enemies of the Free Peoples could penetrate that far into Eriador. Those that try to come south past Annúminas or Fornost from Angmar are almost always caught by the Rangers, while those trying to slip along the coastline must get past Glóin’s folk in the Blue Mountains and the Elves who live along the Firth of Lhûn, while those who might come by boat from the southwest are usually stopped by the Elves of the wandering tribes who still have halls in that region. That leaves enemies from the south or from here in the east. And as I said, Elrond’s sons and people and the Dúnedain Rangers who patrol the Angle usually get them fairly quickly. Also, Aragorn tells me his Rangers patrol quite far south as well, as far as the old city of Tharbad.”
“And so I was told when I came through there,” Boromir added, remembering his own adventures crossing the Hoarwell.
Pippin considered this information for a time while he ate his breakfast. At last, as he finished the last crumb of his own three honey rolls, he looked up meaningfully to catch the Man’s eyes. “You remember what you said, that you teach younger soldiers to use their weapons?”
“You do that?”
“Yes, I do, when I am home in Minas Tirith or working with new recruits in the fortress we maintain within the ruins of Osgiliath.”
“Would you teach us Hobbits? Teach us how to use our weapons properly, I mean? Or at least Merry and me, and Sam. I don’t think Frodo really wants to know, though. But he should at least learn how to defend himself with a sword. It’s not as if we’d be able to do a great deal of good against enemies with swords using thrown stones or a proper punch, or so I’d think. And those who come against us are likely to use swords and knives, don’t you think so? And wouldn’t anyone who tried to endanger the Shire be more likely to have swords and knives, too?”
Something in that earnest gaze moved the warrior’s heart. “I believe you would do well to learn to use your weapons, as long as you have them,” he agreed. “I will seek audience with Lord Elrond and ask if we might use their training grounds and whatever salle they might maintain.”
Even Bilbo appeared relieved. “I will give Frodo Sting--perhaps today, if he comes out of hiding early enough. But you are right, Peregrin Took--it is about time that once again Hobbits learn to use swords. I doubt any have done so since Bucca left the Shire to join Arvedui Last-king’s muster. However, it appears that is about to change.
So it was that Boromir found himself bound to teach swordcraft to the four younger Hobbits.