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The Care and Feeding of Hobbits  by Baylor

I move backward, deflecting my foe's blade, and then push forward in attack. It is a beautiful day, and I enjoy the sound of metal on metal, the sweet smell of the grass, and the delight of the exercise. I drive my opponent a little further back with a flurry of blows, giving no quarter, but he rallies with a swift sideways dodge followed by an aggressive lunge toward a vulnerable spot. Unfortunately for him, I anticipate the move and take this opportunity to not only block the thrust but to disarm him and land him flat on his back.

Meriadoc scowls fiercely at me, but accepts my hand up. "Very good, Merry," I praise him, and I speak true. He has the workings of a fine swordsman in him -- sure of foot and hand, quick to anticipate his opponent's moves and plan counterattacks. Of all four hobbits, he has shown the most natural ability with a sword, and the most interest in developing this skill.

Merry, however, is quite definitely not pleased with his performance. "Not so very good," he replies grimly as I pull him up. "I am dead right now, in case you didn't notice."

I incline my head slightly in acknowledgment, then add, "But that is what we practice for, you know. It is the only way to learn."

Merry is not looking at me, but is putting his sword carefully back in his sheath, as I taught him to. Then he turns to peer back toward the pavilion, checking on his cousins, no doubt. I have come to notice that this is a habit with him, and he performs a "cousin check" at least once an hour. The scene there doesn't look any changed from when we left half an hour before. Sam had been mending Pippin's spare shirt when our practice began, but now he is sitting and simply gazing about the beauty of Lórien with a bedazzled look on his face, though the shirt remains clutched in his hands. There is no movement from the nest of bedding that I know contains Frodo taking a post-luncheon nap, with Pippin curled up beside him. Both are still exhausted, despite three restful days already spent in Lothlórien. The other three members of our company left after second breakfast and have yet to return, so for the moment, Merry and I are the only beings stirring in our little corner of the Golden Wood.

Having reassured himself that all is well with his kin, Merry drops down upon the soft grass and draws up his knees so he can rest his outstretched arms around them. He then lowers his head so I cannot see his face. I frown, wondering what is troubling him. Surely it does not bother him so that I disarmed him; I have done so many times before. I sit beside him unobtrusively and remain silent, waiting to see if my friend wishes to share with me what weighs upon him so.

"We weren't of any real use, you know," he says finally. "We stood no chance of defending ourselves. If you and the others had not been there, we would have been cut down in moments. For all that you have taught us, we are still just hobbits. We are small, Boromir, Pippin and Frodo and Sam and I. We are not great warriors, and no amount of practice is going to change that."

Ah, so this is the trouble. It is not entirely true, however -- Sam felled his orc in Moria, and the other three hobbits used their blades well enough to send some others fleeing with more respect for Shirefolk. But I understand his fears, and I will not say they are unfounded.

"That is why Frodo was given companions, though, Merry," I say quietly, which is at least the truth, if not entirely comforting. "That is why I am here, and Aragorn and Legolas and Gimli."

Merry snorts. "Yes, Boromir, but why am I here?" he asks. "Gandalf said he would rather trust to friendship than to wisdom or weapons, but that was when . . ." He falters, so I finish the sentence for him.

"That was when Gandalf himself was here to protect and guide Frodo," I say softly. "To protect and guide us all." Merry nods, finally lifting his head so that I may look into his troubled eyes. "And now you are afraid that he erred in his decision."

Merry nods once, jerkily, and then looks away from me. I ponder my response carefully. In truth, I had thought that Gandalf and Elrond's folly of allowing a hobbit to bear the Ring to Mordor had been compounded further by their decision to send his two young cousins on this hopeless quest with him. Samwise I could understand -- he certainly would never be parted from Frodo, and he does countless little kindnesses and services for Frodo daily that go far in easing his burden. But these two younger hobbits -- I had once thought their inclusion in the fellowship not the wisest choice.

But in my travels with them, I have seen how close a bond these four have with one another, and the great strength they draw from each other. Frodo is far from his homeland, surrounded by people who were complete strangers mere months ago, and whom he now must place total trust in, even to put his very life in our hands. His guard has come down somewhat, but there is a difference in the way in which he and the hobbits are able to interact with each other. Only when the four of them are together are they completely relaxed and at ease.

And I also see how each of his companions bolsters Frodo in a different way. Sam is his constant helpmate, always making sure Frodo eats enough, is warm enough, is sheltered as much as may be from the elements. Merry is the one with whom Frodo can creep off with and talk to at length, about matters as light or as pressing as his need may be. He is the one Frodo can turn to in order to get another hobbit's opinion on events, to hear another's trusted thoughts on how to proceed or what to make of something outside his knowledge. And Pippin can always be called upon to lighten Frodo’s mood; indeed, to lighten the hearts of all the Fellowship. His cheerful spirit and innocence reminds us all of the reason we pursue this Quest. He is also the one that Frodo can seek physical comfort from, even if it is in the manner of Frodo doing the comforting. I oft have noted how when he is fussing with Pippin's wayward curls or clothing or trying to tidy his disheveled appearance that the tension from Frodo's face drains, and the light returns to his eyes as whatever Pippin is saying never fails to amuse him. Right now, as Merry and I sit in silence, Frodo is curled up in sleep around his younger cousin not for warmth or safety, but for the mere cocooning comfort of that small body, a liberty he would never take with anyone else.

I take a deep breath. "I do not know if they made the right decision, Merry," I say. "Only time will tell us that. But I do know that strength lies not only in the sword, or in a warrior's stature. There are other kinds of might, and I am beginning to understand the value of them, through my friendship with you and your fellow hobbits. I see daily the strengths you all lend to Frodo, and I cannot think but that he must need you all by his side as surely as he needs my sword."

Merry, his face still turned toward the horizon, smiles wistfully. "Hobbit sense and hobbit love," he murmurs, and I feel it is more to himself than to me.

"Indeed," I say, not sure of what he is thinking, but agreeing that these are the virtues I am fumbling about trying to name.

Merry's smile broadens, and he turns to look at me again. "It is something my father said to me, just before we left. He guessed there was some type of dire trouble afoot, and said he hoped it would not prove greater than hobbit sense and love could handle."

I smile back at him. "He sounds like a wise hobbit," I say.

Merry ducks his head a bit. "He is my da," he says simply, then adds, "I told him that I would rather have those things on my side than great armies of men." Then he looks back up, blushing a bit. "Not that I am not glad you are here," he says hastily, clearly fearful of offending me.

I raise an eyebrow at him in what I hope is a menacing manner. "Do not make me fight you for the honor of all men, Meriadoc. You may not like the result."

He grins at me, the glum mood dissipated. "Shall we go again, then?" he asks, and I respond by standing back up and drawing my weapon. He follows suit and we soon are once more engrossed in the intricacies of sparring. I am pressing forward again, looking for my opening, about to take my final blow -- and then somehow my weapon is flying out of my hand and the cruel tip of a steel blade is stopped scarce an inch from my heart.

Merry's face is a mixture of pride and embarrassment as he moves his sword away from the kill position, and then stoops, intending to pick up my weapon and return it to me. But I am too quick for him, and without giving it any thought, I have picked him right up off the ground with a proud roar and swung him about in delight. I am immediately embarrassed, and set him back down, but when I do so, I note that he is beaming with bashful pride and pleasure.

"Well, that looked like one for the Shire," says an amused voice from behind us, and I turn to find that Aragorn has returned at some point and is lounging nearby, watching us. Merry's face turns a bit redder, but I clap him on the back.

"I regret to inform you that we were battling for the honor of all men," I tell Aragorn, and he laughs.

"You did a poor job in our defense, then," he says, adding, "but as this foe was so skilled and swift of hand, I suppose all of mankind will have to overlook this one failure on your part."

Merry's face is still red, but he bows to Aragorn quite formally, and states, "You should be doubly forgiving, as the conquered is also the teacher and deserves his due for many hours of diligent tutoring. I am glad that his patience has finally paid off."

For all that Merry does show a great deal of promise in wielding a sword, this is the first time he has bested me, and I cannot help but feel proud of my student. I clap him on the back again as he sheaths his weapon.

"Well done, indeed," I say, and he nods up at me.

"Thank you, Boromir," he says sincerely. "Thank you for everything."

I bend down to earnestly look into his face, and speak in a low voice meant only for his ears. "I still do not know if they made the right decision, Merry, but I do know this -- I am proud to be able to say that I have been a brother-in-arms with Meriadoc Brandybuck of the Shire, no matter what end we all come to."

His face is awash with a gratitude that warms me in a way few other things have. "If my father knew you, he would be very glad to know that you are helping Frodo, and not just with your swordsmanship," he says, and I think that it is the highest praise I have ever received. I leave my arm to rest about my comrade's shoulders as we return to check upon the one we both seek to uphold, each in our own manner.

Note: The conversation with his father that Merry refers to is not from canon, but is a shameless self-promotional reference to my story "Take Them As Was Willing, from the chapter "Buckland."

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