“Face it, Master,” sighed Sam, dropping his foil with a desultory clunk! onto the low bench the four Hobbits used for their weapons, “I’ll never be any good with a sword!”
“Nonsense, Sam,” Frodo said. “Just imagine it’s but a variation of the Staves Dance. You can do that well enough, you know, for you taught me.”
Sam looked doubtful. “But it’s not a dance as we’re doin’, Mr. Frodo, sir.”
“And what’s the difference between doing weapons forms and a dance, Samwise Gamgee?”
“You’re sayin’ as you think of the forms as we’re workin’ on as a dance?”
“So, that’s how you’ve been doing so well with them, eh?” commented Merry, leaning on his foil. He looked over at Boromir and confided, “He’s the best dancer in the Shire, you see.”
“Only because Bilbo’s been here for the past seventeen years,” Frodo said, smiling.
“What is this Staves Dance?” the Man asked.
“It’s a dance that’s popular in the Northfarthing,” Pippin explained. “Many of my North-Took relatives are quite good at it. But it’s just not done by most Hobbits from the Westfarthing—they tend to consider it uncouth, dancing with long walking sticks, don’t you know.”
Merry added, “I suspect most of those from the Westfarthing who watch it imagine getting hit by a staff and shudder inside.”
Pippin nodded his agreement.
Boromir was intrigued. “You dance with staves?” he asked.
“Oh, yes,” Pippin said, warming in his enthusiasm. “And Frodo and Sam do it very well, you see.”
“Would you like to see it?” asked Merry. He turned to Frodo. “I saw some staves in the armory there, and a few were pretty short. Must have been used a long time ago when there were children here in Rivendell.”
Sam was flushing. “I don’t know, Mr. Merry,” he began, but Frodo cut him off.
“Oh, no, you don’t, Samwise Gamgee. You’re quite good at it, and you know it. Now, let’s you and me go into the armory there and see if we can find a staff apiece to perform it with.”
“But there’s no music!” objected Sam.
Frodo waved at Pippin. “With Pippin here, you’d say that? Oh, no, you know better than that, Sam. Pippin can do the music.” So saying he grabbed his companion’s arm and dragged him, still reluctant, into the armory.
“You’ve seen him dance this before?” asked Boromir of Merry.
“Oh, yes. He used to dance each year at the Free Fair in Michel Delving, although it’s been a few years since he did it last. When old Olimbard learned Frodo had learned the Staves Dance from Sam, he insisted he join a group of residents from the Long Cleeve to present the dance on the dancing ground before the ale tent. Had planned to show him up, I suspect, but Frodo was the one who did the showing.”
“How did Sam learn this dance?”
“Oh, one year, early on after Frodo went to live with Bilbo in Hobbiton, Sam’s parents sent him off to his Uncle Andy in the Northfarthing to try his hand at becoming a roper. My father says that the quality of rope that Sam made during his term at the ropewalk there in Tighfield was excellent, and he would have made a master roper. But Sam’s first love is gardening, so he came back to Bagshot Row, insisting his father take him as an apprentice. And there he’s stubbornly stayed ever since.”
“He’s an excellent gardener,” Pippin assured the Man.
Frodo and Sam came out of the armory, each one holding a stout rod somewhat longer than his own height. “I feel a right fool, doin’ this for a person what hardly knows Hobbits,” Sam muttered under his breath, but he and Frodo squared off, facing one another with their staves held at chest height.
“All right, Pippin; give us a chorus, then,” directed Frodo with a swift glance at his younger kinsman, and then he turned his attention back to Sam. Sam held his staff horizontally, and Frodo adjusted his grip to hold his own upright.
Pippin began to sing.
Where the music of Elves made Boromir’s scalp prickle, Pippin’s singing instead made him smile at the simple, vibrant, mortal beauty of it. From the corner of his eye, the Man realized that others had entered the salle, and he saw Mithrandir’s bushy brows lift with pleasure.
“We’re to be given a special honor,” the Wizard murmured to his companion.
It was probably as well that Sam’s back was to the door, or he might have refused to dance at all had he realized that Lord Elrond was now one of his audience, Boromir thought. But then the chorus was being repeated, and the dancing began….
During the journey to follow, Boromir was to think back on that exhibition with great pleasure. Frodo was graceful when presenting his forms with his weapon; but now—he was a living flame when he danced, a flame that lit a corresponding fire in Sam. There was nothing oafish in the gardener now, not when dancing opposite Frodo Baggins! The staves flashed and clattered together, were whirled overhead and leapt over as they skimmed the ground. But the two performing the dance shone equally as they danced to the music of Peregrin Took’s voice.
Boromir could only stand and watch, transfixed as he was not by the songs given in Elrond’s Hall of Fire. He saw not two stunted individuals of foolish appearance, but instead two competent warriors who trusted one another implicitly, for had a single blow from either staff landed on a head or shoulder there would have been cracked skulls and broken bones. But the other’s staff was always there to shield its wielder from certain injury, or the body would have twisted away or leapt high over the other’s weapon.
The dance finally ended, but the enchantment continued for a few moments as Sam and Frodo faced one another, Sam breathing heavily and grinning widely, and Frodo’s head erect with triumph. “That was a right workout, and no mistake, Master,” Sam panted, raising his staff to lean on it.
Frodo, however, didn’t even appear remotely winded. But his eyes were shining as he noted their host’s approval. “You did superbly, Sam,” he said in praise, and Sam flushed the more with sheer pleasure—until he turned and realized that more than Boromir had watched the performance. He first paled, then went stark red with embarrassment, although he kept his head erect. Frodo flashed him another quick smile as he handed the gardener his own staff. “Here, let you return them and get your composure once more. And you are as good as any gentlehobbit from Long Cleeve any day, Samwise Gamgee.”
As he entered the armory, Sam again was glowing with pleasure at his Master’s approval, and Boromir realized that this would help the gardener face the attention of the Master of Imladris and the Wizard the better.
As for Mithrandir—you would have thought the Hobbits’ skill was somehow his own doing, or so Boromir found himself thinking.