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The Care and Feeding of Hobbits  by Baylor

Whomp! I land solidly on the dusty ground, knocking the breath out of myself. Thump! And then there's the elf, right on top of me. For one so graceful and light on his feet, he is surprisingly heavy.

But there seems to be no harm done, and we both are soon back on our feet, scowling up at the deceptively benign slope of loose gravel and tangled thickets. Well, I am scowling. Legolas is managing to look as unflustered as if he had intended to descend so precipitously all the time. At least we did not slide further down, where the ground sheers off to drop some 60 feet. We can now note the definite change in the terrain as we approach the mountains. Our path has been growing ever more difficult as the days go by.

Legolas and I are brushing ourselves off and making certain our packs are still secure when we are joined by the two younger hobbits, who have quite sensibly come down the slope on their bottoms, using hands and feet to control their descent. I may have thought this approach undignified had I not just landed face-first in the dirt with an elf on my back. Halflings may be small, but these that are my companions I have found to be as sure on their feet and as stealthy as the elf. In this instance, certainly they have surpassed him.

"All right, then?" Merry calls to us both as he reaches steady ground.

"Naught wounded but our pride," Legolas informs him, shaking gravel out of his hair. I give the hobbits a quick nod to show that I, too, am unharmed.

So, then, my pack is all right (though rather flattened), weaponry all accounted for and secure. . . . I pat myself down to make certain nothing is amiss, and then for some reason suddenly place my hand on the small pocket sewn into the front of my surcoat. It is empty.

My heart beating faster, I feel inside the tiny pocket with a finger, but there is nothing there. I begin casting about the ground, and though we have traveled by daylight today due to the tricky terrain my eyes discern nothing but dirt and rocks.

"Did you lose something?" This is from Pippin, watching me with great curiosity.

"Er . . . yes," I answer, reluctant to be made the center of attention over so trivial a matter. Both Merry and Legolas have joined Pippin now, and all three are clearly waiting for me to tell them what it is I have lost.

I clear my throat. "It is nothing, really, just a small trinket." I try to look dismissive. "You need not worry yourselves."

"Well, it must be something if you have carried it all this way with you," Merry points out sensibly.

I flush. "Well, it is just . . . it is a small ring that belonged to my mother when she was a girl. She gave it to me 'ere her passing, so that I might perhaps pass it on to a daughter someday. I do not know why I carry it with me; a foolish notion, I am sure."

Legolas and Merry both give me stern looks (disconcertingly identical on two so different beings) that show they do not believe for one second that the ring is not precious to me, and wordlessly begin to search the ground. But Pippin is all open distress and big eyes.

"Oh, but we must find it then, Boromir," he says earnestly, "if it was from your mother!"

So then all four of us are scrabbling about in the dust searching for a small silver band set with a tiny yet perfect pearl, a reminder of my mother's native sea-country. I am torn between breaking up this scene before the rest of the company arrives from wherever they are dallying, and desperation to find the trinket.

"Boromir," Legolas calls, but he is not holding aloft the retrieved item. Rather, he is peering over the edge. I join him and he points.

There it is, at the bottom of a very tiny, narrow crevice in the wall, about seven feet down, and completely unattainable. My heart aches to walk away from it thus, but there is naught else to be done unless one of us suddenly learns how to fly.

Merry and Pippin have joined us, and flop on their bellies to creep cautiously up to the edge and peer down. After a long, resigned silence, Pippin suddenly says, "I do believe I could get it for you, Boromir, if you held me over the edge."

I am aghast. Why, I would have to dangle him by his ankles to do this thing! And for all I have seen Peregrin scrambling up trees, I cannot believe that his inborn fear of heights is so diminished that he is willing to be suspended over a 60-foot drop just to recover a sentimental trifle for me. Besides, his kinsman would certainly never allow it. Merry is far too caring of his younger cousinís welfare.

"I do believe you could, Pip," Merry says quite calmly. "Your hands are a bit smaller than mine." I know my mouth is hanging open, but I seem unable to snap it shut and provide an appropriate response.

"I think they are right, Boromir," Legolas adds, leaning over the edge to give the feat his own consideration.

I sputter incoherently for a moment, and then manage, "But I could not think of doing such a thing! I will not have you placed in danger just so I can have some small personal item back."

The hobbits twist their curly heads around to look up at me, wearing identical frowns. "Why?" Pippin demands. "You won't drop me, will you?"

Well, of course I never would, and so it is in short order that I find I am the one on my belly at the edge of the high drop, a fierce grip on two grubby hobbit ankles, Merry at my shoulder and Legolas crouched outward over the edge to help guide Pippin on his treasure hunt.

"You had better not drop him, you know," Merry says low in my ear in a tone completely lacking any teasing quality, and I wonder fleetingly if perhaps I should not have already taught him quite so much swordplay.

I do not reply, but just hold onto my squirming charge, and obey his and Legolas' directions ("Higher!" "No, more to the left," "Well, don't put my face right into the dirt, please," and one "Oi, Merry, there's a rock here shaped just like a mushroom!") until Pippin gives a triumphant "I have it!"

Ankles to knees to thighs to waist, and then Legolas reaches out to grip the hobbit by his jacket and we pull him back to solid ground. I swing him right-side up so I can see his beaming (if rather dirty) face, and there, clutched in his grip, is my mother's ring, whole and unmarked.

"Thank you, Pippin," I say as he places it in my palm. "Truly." I do not know how to tell him that not only am I touched that he would go to such measures for me, but that both he and Merry would so willingly trust me with his well-being, so I just clasp him firmly on the shoulder.

Peregrin will have none of it, though, and bounds right into my arms for a quick hug. "You are very welcome, Boromir," he says, delighted and proud. "I would hate to lose anything of my mother's ever. I would be so sad that I think I would just cry."

I return his embrace cautiously, startled yet pleased, and then let go. "Yes," I agree. "It has not much monetary value, but I do treasure it in her memory."

Pippin flashes me one last proud grin before bounding back to his customary position at Merry's side. "Did you see me?!" he demands. "That is one for Cousin Bilbo's book when we get back. I don't believe either you or Frodo would have dared do that."

"There are many things Frodo and I would never do that you don't hesitate to, so I don't see as how that alone makes something an accomplishment to be proud of," Merry says wryly as he attempts to dust his cousin off a bit.

"Oh, you're just jealous," Pippin declares, puffing out a bit. "Legolas, would you have let Boromir hold you over a mountainside?"

"Oh, certainly not," Legolas says decisively. "Why, I don't think there is another member of the company who would be so daring." He seems as oblivious to the scathing look Merry sends him as he was to the deliberately loud conversation between Frodo and Merry last week about elves who encourage hobbit-lads to act unnecessarily impetuous after a wood-gathering assignment turned into a ruins-exploring expedition.

Further discussion is cut short by the arrival of Frodo and Samwise down the small incline that began the day's adventure. "Be careful," Legolas calls warningly, but they both take the same sensible route of descending on their bottoms that the other two hobbits used and soon join us.

"Pippin, what did you do, roll down the hill? Look at you!" Frodo exclaims when he reaches his cousins. "Merry, whatever have you been letting him do?"

Merry looks askance at the accusation. "Let him do? Since when do I have any type of magical powers over errant Tooks? Especially this one! At any rate, you are the senior cousin here. If you don't approve of his appearance, perhaps you should keep a closer eye."

Frodo is finger-brushing Pippin's hair, sending dust flying from it and causing it to bush out from his head in a most unsightly manner. "Frodo, Boromir held me over that cliff," Pippin states proudly, unruffled by both Frodo's ministrations and his elders speaking about him as though he were not present.

"Oh, I am certain," Frodo says with a guffaw. "He better have not, or I shall have to report him to Briony as I did Fredegar when he dunked you by your ankles into that water barrel, and you know what happened to him."

Just then, the last three stragglers crest the hill, and Gandalf and Aragorn have us all moving again in a flurry of cloaks and bags and pony and boots and furry little feet. I find myself beside Meriadoc, and once we have spread out a bit again, I lean over to quietly ask, "Who, then, is Briony?"

"Oh, Pippin's childhood nurse," Merry says with a chuckle. "She is continuing her reign of terror over her third generation of Tooks with his sister Pearl's lot. And if you think you, man of Gondor that you are, should not quake at the threat of being reported to her, you are quite mistaken."

I am greatly amused and struck by the image of a young Pippin under the tutelage of an iron-fisted matron. "I am surprised, then, that Pippin is still so daring a youth," I comment.

Merry snorts. "Oh, he is not afraid of Briony in the least. But woe to the young hobbit who crosses her path and dunks her favorite charge in a water barrel. Or makes him eat a worm. Or dares him to climb into the chicken coup."

"Or dangles him over a cliff," I add, now smiling broadly.

"Indeed," Merry says solemnly. "But don't worry, your secret is safe with me so long as you never report to Briony that I let you dangle her Pippin over a cliff."

A firm clasp of our hands seals the bargain.

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