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Twice Twenty  by Dreamflower

In addition to being an entry for the 20_rings challenge, this is also for Imrahoil, who won a fic for guessing how many times I used the title phrase in "It's Nothing Really..."  She requested "So, a ficlet, please...set during Fellowship, something between 1, 2 or all the hobbits and Boromir"

Title: Never Give Up
Theme: Set #2, Theme #9, “Yield”
Genre (s): General
Pairing (s): N/A
Rating: G
Summary: Merry and Pippin learn to use their weapons, with a little help.

NEVER GIVE UP

Boromir stood watching his pupils. There was a bit of pride in his expression; for only a few days of instruction, they were doing surprisingly well in spite of certain limitations. He pursed his lips, and then called out: “Remember, Meriadoc, to *breathe*!”

He tensed slightly as he felt a presence behind him.

“They are doing remarkably well,” said a smooth voice.

“M-my Lord Glorfindel,” Boromir responded. The famed Elven warrior had been pointed out to him at the evening meal the night after the Council. It had taken a few moments conversation, before he finally realized that this was *the* Glorfindel, of myth and legend. He pulled himself together, and reminded himself that he was the son of the Steward of Gondor, and not some callow awestruck youth. “I am pleased with what progress they have made so far--” he started, and then turned once more as the clanging of metal on metal sped up, indicating a flurry of blows. Merry was gaining an advantage over his somewhat smaller cousin. Pippin was blocking well, and then the flat of his blade connected with Merry’s upper arm.

“Ow!”

Pippin flung his sword down and went to his cousin’s side. “I’m sorry Merry! I didn’t mean to!”

“ Peregrin!” Boromir called sternly. “Pick up your weapon!”

Merry was rubbing his arm ruefully, but he shook his head, “Pippin, you are *supposed* to mean to hit me! It’s all right, it will just be a bruise.”

Pippin picked his sword up, and shook his head sadly. “I just can’t think of you as an enemy, Merry. And we *aren’t* supposed to hit too hard--” he looked up at Boromir “--you said we had to be careful of actually hurting one another with these real blades.”

Boromir sighed. “I think we have done enough for this afternoon. We shall work on it some more after luncheon tomorrow.” His face flamed, and he just managed to avoid putting his palm to his face, as he heard the Elf next to him chuckle lightly.

“I see that hobbit nature is not so easily overcome,” said the Elf mildly, as they watched the two hobbits walk away, Pippin still apologizing. “They are so tender-hearted, I can see how difficult it must be.”

“That is not my only problem. They really are not properly equipped. What they are learning now is more like exhibition fighting than anything that will serve them against a foe.” Boromir’s frustration came into his voice, and he forgot that he was speaking to a famed warrior thousands of years old, and spoke merely as one soldier to another. “They know how to care for their weapons now, and how not to cut their own feet off. And I have been able to teach them much footwork and blocking. But I should have wooden sparring weapons for them, and some sort of armor, so that they can give full force to their blows, and so that I can spar with them safely and give them some experience at a foe larger than they.”

“Hmm…” Glorfindel smiled. “Perhaps I can help you with *that* problem. Let us see what we might be able to find. I know what it is you need, for I did my share of training younglings in my time…”

But an hour later both looked discouraged at the finds which had first made Boromir hopeful. They had at least found several wooden practice swords that would only need to be cut down a little bit to match the size of the blades the hobbits bore. But the armor, that was different.

Glorfindel sighed. “I am afraid that even at the tender age of nine, Estel--as we called Aragorn in his youth--was far larger than either Merry or Pippin. And he was the last child to need such training.”

Boromir shook his head at the small armor that even so, would not begin to fit either of the hobbits, even poorly. However--

He reached into the trunk and brought forth a small item made of hardened leather, and smiled. “Lord Glorfindel--do you think there are any here who would craft some items of boiled leather? And perhaps some padded jerkins as well?”

The Elf laughed. “Most certainly, my Lord Boromir! That is well thought! Leather protection for the more vulnerable areas such as throat, elbows and so forth, padding for the rest. It should only take a day or so to craft what you need. Let us speak to the armorer.”

The next afternoon, Boromir took Merry and Pippin to meet the armorer, who took a good many measurements of them both, nodding as he did so. Then they went to the practice area, and he drilled them once more in the basics of drawing their weapons, holding them properly, and taking various stances. Merry seemed a bit cross that he would not allow them to spar, though Pippin seemed somewhat relieved.

The day after that, Boromir showed them where a larger enemy would be most vulnerable.

“The first thing you must do is bring your foe down to your level. Here are your most important targets--” he pointed to the back of his knees and ankles--”to hamstring or otherwise bring your opponent down. If you cannot get to the back of the legs, which are often unprotected by armor, or inadequately so, then strike at the feet or lower legs. You will need a blow of considerable force, however, if the feet or shins are armored. If you are together, you may work in concert to bring a foe down. One of you may drive him back, as the other comes behind to trip him. You must be very careful however, *not* to get pinned beneath a fallen foe, for this will leave you helpless to other enemies.”

He glanced up to see that several were watching his speech, including Frodo Baggins and Samwise Gamgee. Although Frodo’s shoulder was still recovering and it was felt that weapons training might be too much of a strain as it healed, Boromir had also offered to train Master Samwise. The hobbit had tried the first day or so, but he was hesitant and diffident, and very reluctant to spar with Merry and Pippin, whom he saw as his “betters”.
After the third session, he had declined to come, in spite of coaxing from the other two, and Frodo had told them to let Sam be. Yet he was currently hanging on to every word Boromir spoke.

“However,” continued Boromir, “if you are in a desperate situation, and have great need to kill a larger foe, then find some means, any means, to have it come at you with all its force. Stand fast, and hold your weapon so that the enemy’s own momentum will cause it to be skewered on your sword.”

Pippin looked a bit queasy at this bit of advice, yet he nodded solemnly, Merry was pale, but clearly taking it in very seriously. The Man glanced over at Frodo and Sam. Frodo looked every bit as disturbed as Pippin, but he saw Sam purse his lips and nod. Boromir felt a sense of satisfaction. Even if the hobbit would not work out with the other two, he would at least be hearing something to his advantage.

He allowed the two to spar again, concentrating on their footwork. Pippin was very agile and nimble, so that in this one area, he surpassed his older cousin.

When they finished, he took them into the armory. “Master Dorlas,” he said to the Elf who awaited them there, “shall we show my pupils what you have prepared for them?”

“Certainly, my Lord Boromir.” He went to a nearby shelf and took down a wooden box, which he brought forth and placed upon a table at one side of the room. He opened it and began to lay the items out. Merry and Pippin clambered up to sit on the table in order to see better.

There were two long white jackets, that laced up at the sides, and had long sleeves that tied on with laces at the shoulders. They were thickly padded and firmly quilted. They looked a bit awkward to wear. Alongside them he placed several items of leather. There were two things that looked like over sized collars, eight items made of over lapping curved and hinged pieces of leather, four smaller and four larger, and two other small items.

The two hobbits’ eyes grew wide at the sight of them as Boromir identified each one--”This is a gorget; it will protect your throat and neck. These are elbow cops, and of course are to protect your elbows, and these are knee cops.”

Pippin pointed to the other two items of leather, pear-shaped and about the size of teacups, without handles. “And what are those?”

“Those,” said Boromir, raising his eyebrows, “are the most important protection of all. A serious blow to the area they protect can not only incapacitate you for the fight, but can have very lasting consequences indeed. And as you have both been identified to me as the heirs to important positions you will wish to take no chances.”

Merry’s face flamed in sudden understanding, and he swallowed hard, nodding furiously. Pippin looked at his cousin in puzzlement.

Merry shook his head. “Pip--they’re to protect the family jewels!” he hissed. “*You* know!”

Now Pippin’s face flamed. “Thunder!” he exclaimed. He crossed his legs and hunched over slightly with a wince.

Boromir and Master Dorlas exchanged an amused glance over their heads.

“There was no time to fashion helms for you, so you will still have to be very careful about head blows.”

The armorer turned to a rack, and took out two wooden practice swords. He gave them to Boromir.

“Get down,” he said.

The hobbits hopped off the table and stood attentively. He handed one to each of them. They took them, and looked surprised.

“These are a little heavier than our real swords,” said Merry.

“Yes, they are. And you will be swinging them a good deal harder. Tomorrow you will begin to spar in earnest, for you will not need to pull your blows for fear of causing serious harm. The padding and the leather will protect you. You may still get bruised, and I am quite sure you will be sore, but hopefully you will not injure one another seriously.”
_______________________________________

As they walked back to the house, Pippin was uncharacteristically quiet. Merry cast a sideways look and him, and nodded to himself. He could tell from his face that Pippin was not upset, but thoughtful, and was trying to work himself up to talking about something serious. When he had it set in his mind what he wanted to say or ask, he’d come out with it.

The Elves in the kitchen were more or less expecting them, as the two young hobbits tended to show up there after their session with Boromir expecting a bit of sustenance. They were provided with a small basket of sweet buns and a bottle of perry, and then went into the nearly deserted dining hall to eat.

Pippin finished two of the buns, and then looked at Merry very gravely indeed. “Merry, do you really think we can learn enough to hold our own? Much less protect Frodo?”

Merry returned his solemn regard. He had some doubts of his own. “Boromir seems confident that we can learn enough.”

“But,” said Pippin astutely, “Boromir is *supposed* to seem confident. He’s our teacher. I don’t want to make a mistake at the wrong time, and--” he swallowed, “endanger someone. Don’t get me wrong, Merry, I’m not saying we shouldn’t go with Frodo. He *needs* us. But I don’t want to think I know how to do something, and then find out it’s no good after all.”

Merry pursed his lips for a moment, and thought rapidly. Pippin absently ate another sweet bun, and took a swig of the perry, and watched Merry as his cousin’s mind was working. Suddenly Merry grinned. “I know who we can talk to. Someone else who’s had to fight larger foes!”

“Cousin Bilbo?” asked Pippin incredulously. “He told us himself that his winning over the spiders was pure luck, and he never used his sword a stroke in battling goblins!”

“No, not Cousin Bilbo! Someone else--come on then.” He grabbed Pippin by the shirt sleeve and as they took off, Pippin grabbed one more bun.
______________________________________

The Dwarves during the day were nearly always to be found in their own quarters.  Gloín looked very surprised when his son Gimli answered the knock upon the door, and then ushered in the two youngest hobbits. He had come to know them since his arrival, as they had been with Bilbo when the Dwarf had entertained them to tea, and they had shared a table at breakfast and luncheon, but at those times, Bilbo, Frodo and Samwise had also been present.

The two hobbits gave a polite half-bow of greeting. “Master Gloín , Master Gimli,” said Merry.

“Do come in, young hobbits,” said the older Dwarf, “Please, be seated. I know you would not say ‘no’ to a goblet of ale? Gimli, if you please?”

The younger Dwarf went briefly into another room in their chambers, and returned with a tray bearing four goblets. They were larger than hobbit-sized, but smaller than those used by Men or Elves, clearly items the Dwarves had brought with them.

Gimli offered the ale to their guests. His curiosity was piqued as to the reason for this visit. He would be travelling for many months with these hobbits. It behooved him to get to know them better. He gave a goblet to his father, and then sat down with his own.

Gloín took a sip, and then asked, “To what do we owe the honor of this visit, my young friends?”

Merry sat forward. “You know that we have been getting lessons on how to use our swords from Lord Boromir of Gondor?”

The dwarves both nodded. “Yes. We’ve observed your lessons once, in fact.”

The two hobbits exchanged a glance. “Boromir is a good teacher,” said Merry. “But, well, we have a question we think that you perhaps may be able to answer better than he.”

“And what may that be?”

“We are wondering, quite honestly, if the lessons will actually mean anything if we should truly run into trouble. Any foe we meet is bound to be much larger than we. I am wondering--*we* are wondering if we truly would stand any sort of chance in a real fight.”

Pippin leaned forward as well. “Seeing as you’ve fought enemies, and well, Dwarves *are* larger than hobbits, but still, it seems that most enemies would be larger than Dwarves, if you know what we mean?” His green eyes were wide, and his young face earnest.

Gimli found himself impressed. To be honest, he had not previously formed a particularly high opinion of the intelligence of these two youngest hobbits, for most of the time he had heard little from them save jests and banter. But this spoke of both perspicacity and a serious intent to carry their own weight on the journey.

Gloín nodded. “I see. Well, Master Took, you are quite correct. Dwarves are accustomed to fighting foes much larger. And I can understand your concern, coming as you do, from such a peaceful race.” He took another sip of his ale. “Tell me, what advice has Lord Boromir given to you, regarding the fighting of larger enemies?”

Merry answered, repeating Boromir’s advice of earlier in the day. “He seemed to think if we can get whatever we’re fighting down, we would actually stand a chance. But, after all, he is teaching us, and it would hardly give us confidence if he told us otherwise.”

“I see you still carry your weapons. Excellent. May I see them?”

Merry and Pippin exchanged surprised looks. For some reason, Gimli thought their surprise was not that his father had asked to see their swords, but for the fact that they had them. It was clear they had completely forgotten they had their weapons.

Merry stood up, drawing his sword carefully, as Boromir had taught him, and proffered it to Gloín, hilt first, across his left arm, also as he had been taught. Pippin stood up, and waited until Gloín passed Merry’s sword to his son, and then he offered his in the same way. Both hobbits stood quietly, clearly anxious to hear what the Dwarf had to say.

Gimli returned Merry’s to him, after a lengthy examination of the runes upon it, and then he returned Pippin’s, after a somewhat briefer look. Impressive. Very impressive. He had heard from his father how the swords--really, they were more like long knives, but as they now purposed to be swords, that is how they should be thought of--had been found in the Barrows near Bree. Clearly both weapons were very old.

Gloín looked at Merry and Pippin, as they returned their weapons to the sheaths, and they sat down once more. He leaned back. “Those are neither of Elven nor Dwarven make; however both of them are clearly of ancient and noble lineage, made by Men of the West. I can tell you that they will not dull easily and, with the potent runes they bear, will be very deadly to any of Morgoth’s brood. They will not glow, as do Orcrist, Glamdring or even Sting, in the presence of such enemies, however. You will find, though, should it ever come to that, they will easily cleave the flesh of any foe who has black blood.”

At this statement, both hobbits went pale, and Pippin swallowed audibly.

“Black blood?” he asked.

Gimli and his father exchanged glances. These two really were very untutored in such things. Gimli said, “Trolls, orcs and the like--their blood is black, not red.”

Gloín added “The advice Lord Boromir gave you is very sound. When fighting, Dwarves generally hew the legs from their enemies, and then finish them off upon the ground. But we wield axes. Such small swords would work well in hamstringing or otherwise crippling your foe. Pay close attention to your teacher. Lord Boromir is a mighty warrior of his race, and will do all he may to see you are prepared to defend yourselves.”
______________________________________

Frodo and Sam had watched Merry and Pippin walk off. “They are probably going to the kitchens, Mr. Frodo. Should we go with them?” Sam still felt Frodo’s appetite was not back to what it should be, and he knew the Elves in the kitchen spoiled Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin with treats.

Frodo shook his head. He still felt disturbed at hearing Boromir’s advice to his cousins. It was dreadful to think they might be going somewhere that such advice would be needed. It was even more dreadful to think of his young cousins forced into having to *do* such a thing. Yet it would be even worse if they were unprepared for it if it happened. And--he looked at his companion. “Sam, are you sure you do not want to take some more lessons from Lord Boromir? He seems to be a very good teacher.” Frodo meant that last. He had done enough teaching of Merry and Pippin himself to recognize it.

“I’m sorry, Mr. Frodo, but I just can’t somehow feel easy with Mr. Boromir. He’s just too grand a Man for the likes of me, I think.” Sam sighed. That wasn’t the real reason for his unease, yet he could not for the life of him put his finger on what *did* bother him about the Gondorian, and it weren’t fair to say anything, for the Man had always been perfectly polite. He said the one thing he knew would make Mr. Frodo drop the subject. “Of course, if you *tell* me to, I will.”

With a sigh, Frodo shook his head. That was not playing fair at all, and Sam knew it. It wasn’t that Frodo never told Sam to do anything, but any telling of that sort was strictly related to his duties. And Frodo considered that what Sam was already doing in coming with him to be far above and beyond the call of duty. “If you feel that strongly about it, Sam, then I’ll say no more on it. Perhaps, though, you can get a few pointers from Merry and Pippin later on. I just want you to be safe.”

“Of course, Mr. Frodo. And maybe I will talk to Strider when he comes back--I’m sure he can give me some advice on how to swing a sword around.”

Frodo chuckled. “No doubt he can.” He found it quite humorous that while Sam felt the Gondorian son of the Steward “too grand”, he still felt comfortable calling the Heir of Isildur “Strider”.
______________________________________

Merry and Pippin felt a good deal better about some things after their talk with Gimli and GloÍn, and a great deal worse about others. Merry found their assurances that Boromir’s teaching would be helpful set his mind at ease, but the way the two Dwarves simply assumed that they *would* be encountering such things as Orcs more than a little grim. And every so often, he would hear Pippin mutter “black blood” under his breath.

The next day when they arrived at the practice field, Boromir had their new gear ready for them. He helped them into it, and then helped them out of it, and then made them put it all on again by themselves. When they had all the gear on, they looked at one another and began to first giggle, and then to laugh more and more hysterically, falling on one another and pointing, gasping incoherently at the sight they made.

Boromir knew that this was a way of releasing the stress they had been under, so he let it continue for a few moments, before he schooled his own face to sternness, cleared his throat loudly, and bellowed, “Meriadoc! Peregrin! Straighten up *now*!”

Startled, they instantly obeyed, though they were careful not to catch one another’s eye lest they start all over again.

The Man looked them over. The thickly padded jackets covered them from shoulder to knee, with slits at the front, back and sides, for ease of movement. The leather gorgets covered their throats, necks and collarbones. He checked the fit of the leather elbow and knee cops, and then took off his gauntlet, and gave them each a swift “thwack” across the groin area, for the cups were hidden beneath their clothing. Their eyes widened, but there was no wincing nor yelp of pain, so clearly they had placed them properly.

He handed them the wooden practice swords. “Remember the stance I taught you?” Instantly, the two stood straighter, placing their feet shoulder’s width apart, with their right foot slightly behind, and the sword held at the ready. “Very good. You have a good advantage in having feet slightly larger for your bodies than Men do. You should be able to maintain your balance more easily. Let me see your footwork.”

Both of them moved in the steps that the Man had taught them. “Good. Now, bring your sword back, and instead of checking its movement as I was having you do for safety with the real weapons, swing it forward with all the might you may without losing your balance.”

There was a large pole at one side of the practice field, hacked and scarred. Boromir took them to it, and had them take turns landing blows on it as hard as they could, stopping them now and then to correct how they did so, or to demonstrate with a Man sized practice sword what he wanted. Their hands and arms grew weary and numb with the force of the blows, but he kept them at it. Finally he called a halt. In spite of the brisk fall air, all three of them had worked up quite a sweat.

“Very good. I expect you will be very tired and have sore muscles tomorrow. I recommend a hot bath tonight.”

“Do you want to come with us now, Boromir, and have a bite to eat and drink?” Pippin invited. Once or twice he had done so after their lessons.

He smiled. “You go along, my friends, and I shall be there in a few moments.” He dropped onto one of the benches that surrounded the practice field, and applied a towel to his face.

“Lord Boromir?”

At the sound of that gentle, but firm, voice, Boromir lowered the towel from his sweaty face, to glance at another face level with his, though he was seated, and the other was not.

“Ringbearer,” he replied courteously.*
__________________________________________________

Frodo felt a good deal better after his talk with Boromir. The Man did seem to believe that Merry and Pippin would not be completely helpless with their weapons. As for himself, he no longer had a weapon--his had shattered at the Ford. Perhaps he should speak to Aragorn when he returned. If he were going into the Wild, he *should* have a weapon. Still, he felt a bit relieved that he did not.

He decided to take a stroll before returning to the house. He had not actually been outdoors *alone* since he had wakened from his injury. Everywhere he went, there was either Sam or a solicitous cousin at his elbow--or all four. He could not fault them for their care of him. If one of them had been snatched from the jaws of death, he was certain he’d be doing the same. Nevertheless, the attention could be a bit smothering at times.

He took a path that ran east of the practice grounds, and curved around a copse of beeches before it turned once more in the direction of the Last Homely House. Seen from this vantage point, it appeared that the building simply had grown out of the ground. It was truly beautiful, and in spite of the alien architecture, very welcoming and appealing. He stopped for a few moments to admire the view.

“Master Baggins?” the mellifluous voice made him jump. He had not heard the Elf approaching behind him at all.

“My apologies!” said Legolas, “I did not mean to startle you!”

“That is quite all right, Prince Legolas. I was admiring the view.”

“Please, call me simply ‘Legolas’. We shall be travelling companions for some time, and titles are cumbersome and unnecessary.”

Frodo smiled. “Very well, if you will call me ‘Frodo’.”

The Elf nodded. “It is a lovely view. Rivendell is so different from my own home.”

Frodo grinned. “I am quite sure that it is. I have heard many a detailed description of your home from Uncle Bilbo!”

Legolas chuckled. “Well, he certainly had the opportunity to observe our dwelling in minute detail.”

Now Frodo laughed outright. “He called it ‘having to endlessly burgle the same house over and over’.”

“Yes, I am certain that it felt that way to him at times!” He chuckled once more, and then looked curiously at Frodo. “And you seem to be on your own for once--I don’t believe I have seen you without at least one other hobbit by your side since the Council ended.”

“I sent Sam off to Uncle Bilbo. I wanted to watch Merry and Pippin at their sword-fighting lessons, and have a quiet word with Boromir of Gondor.”

“I have watched them at their sword-play. He is a very good and patient teacher. And he is a mighty warrior himself.”

The two began to walk toward the house. “Well,” said Frodo, “that is very good to hear. I have formed a favorable impression of him as a teacher, but I know very little of the skills involved in wielding such weapons. It is good to know that his ability matches his instruction, if you know what I mean.”

“I do. Some teachers can impart knowledge of a skill without being particularly skilled themselves. Rest easy, though. Lord Boromir is not among that number. I have watched him enough to know. And his survival to make the journey here, alone, would tell me more.” Legolas looked at Frodo quizzically. “You are very cautious about your young kin.”

The hobbit smiled, as if at fond memories. “I’ve done my share of teaching them myself.” He sobered quickly. “They’ve given up a good deal to come with me. I cannot help but worry.”

Legolas stopped, and caught Frodo’s gaze with his own. “They are doing what they believe they must. But they have come to support *you*--you should allow them to do so in whatever way they can, or they will come to feel that their sacrifices are in vain.”

Frodo looked startled for a moment, and then nodded. “I think that you are probably right. But I have worried and watched over them since they were born. It will be difficult to see the roles reversed.”

“I think, however, that they will have it no other way.”

Frodo nodded. They had arrived at the house, and the two parted ways with a quiet farewell.
_________________________________________________

Merry and Pippin had grown used to drawing a small audience for their lessons. The first time or two it had happened they had allowed it to distract them, and had also shown off a bit, and acted somewhat silly to the amusement of those watching. But Boromir had soon disabused them of that, and now they knew better than to acknowledge that anyone was watching at all.

And now that they were able to spar outright, they soon found they had to concentrate a good deal more, now that they were hitting one another as hard as they could with the practice swords. Boromir had told them the truth about being stiff, sore and bruised afterward, but what they had discovered for themselves was that in the excitement of sparring, they did not always realize how hard they had been struck until afterward. The wooden swords clacked and clattered, and the thump when it landed on their padded “armor” grew more seldom, as they learned how to block one another’s blows.

“Get your shoulders back, Peregrin! Follow through with your full reach! Meriadoc, how many times must I tell you--breathe!” Boromir watched intently, nodding as they began to engage more fiercely. Merry, as often happened, began to gain an advantage, and pressed his cousin hard. Pippin was blocking the blows well, but a particularly hard stroke sent his own weapon flying.

“Hold!” called Boromir. “That was very well done! I think that is enough for today.”

Puffing, the two hobbits looked at one another, and then with a grin and a quick embrace, got ready to quit the practice grounds.

“Merry, a word with you.”

Merry looked at Boromir, surprised. “Go ahead, Pip. I’ll catch up with you later.”

“What is it, Boromir?”

“Merry, you are getting entirely too lost in the action. I am repeatedly having to remind you to breathe.” Boromir looked a bit frustrated, for actually in most ways Merry was a very quick learner, and was talented with his weapon. It was only in this one thing that he had difficulty. “Why do you keep holding your breath?”

Merry shook his head, feeling a bit chagrined. “I don’t really know, Boromir. I get so caught up in what I am doing. I mean, I’ve never really had to *think* about breathing before, unless I was swimming.”

Boromir shook his head. “You really do need to remember to breathe, Merry. Your engagements with Pippin are fairly short and we often stop so that I can instruct you. But in a real skirmish, not breathing could be dangerous.” He sighed. “Pippin does not seem to have this problem; perhaps you could ask him.”

Merry gave a nod, his face red with embarrassment.

Boromir clapped him lightly on the shoulder. “Do not be dismayed. In all other ways you are doing very well, and I am very pleased with your progress.”

The hobbit looked up, the shame quickly banished by pleasure at his teacher’s praise.

“Now, you had better catch up with your cousin, or he will have already finished eating whatever treat it may be that they have found for you in the kitchens.”

Merry darted off, and Boromir glanced over at where the small knot of spectators had been. Only Mithrandir was still there, watching with a twinkle in his dark eyes.

Boromir walked over to him. “Mithrandir. I have had little chance to speak to you privily since I arrived.”

“We both have had many duties to occupy our time, Boromir. Yet I am glad of a chance to talk to you. How is your brother?” He paused. “And your father?”

“Faramir was well when I left. He was unhappy that I was the one to carry our message here to Imladris, but I am afraid that father would not entrust him with the task, and I thought it might be safer if I undertook it. Yet he is probably now in Ithilien, for he is captain of the Rangers there now.”

“Is he indeed?” Gandalf nodded. “I am sure that he does well in that duty.”

“Yes,” Boromir smiled in proud reminiscence. “His men are very devoted to him. They think very highly of him.”

“And Denethor?”

There was a brief silence. “My father is doing his best. But Gondor is sadly beset.”

Gandalf sighed, but did not pursue the subject. “I see that you are doing every bit as well teaching our young hobbits as I thought you might.”

Now Boromir grinned. “They are apt pupils, and try very hard. I find I quite like them.”

Now Gandalf laughed. “That, my dear Boromir, is inevitable when you are dealing with such hobbits as these, who well know just how charming they are!”
_______________________________________________

The next morning, Rivendell was a-buzz with the news that Aragorn and the sons of Elrond had returned from one of their scouting expeditions, and would remain for a few days before setting out again.

Aragorn spent the morning briefing Elrond, Gandalf, Frodo and Sam on what had been discovered so far. Afterward, he accompanied them to luncheon. Merry and Pippin had finished their meal, and were on their way out.

“Strider!” Pippin exclaimed joyfully. “I’d heard you were back!”

“It’s good to see you, Strider,” Merry said, less exuberantly, but just as cheerful. “I wish we could stay to talk, but we’ve a few things to do before we meet Boromir for our lessons!”

The Ranger watched them hurry off, shaking his head with a grin. “And what are these lessons they are on about?”

Gandalf answered. “Since you had to be gone, we asked Boromir to give weapons-training to those two young rascals. They really need to know how to use them, but it also keeps them busy.”

Aragorn raised a brow. “And keeps the Gondorian busy as well? I see.”

Frodo flushed. “Actually, I’ve been told they are proving to be very good. And I have seen him at work with them. He is a good teacher!”

Aragorn nodded, noting the way Frodo had jumped on what he considered a slight to his cousins and their instructor. “Perhaps we should go and watch after we finish eating.”
_________________________________________________

When they arrived at the practice grounds, there was already a small knot of spectators--Aragorn noticed that the other members of the Company--Legolas and Gimli--were there, as well as Elladan and Elrohir and Glorfindel, and standing with Lindir was Bilbo.

The two hobbits had warmed up a bit with the exercises that Boromir had given them, and then spent several minutes hacking at poles.

“Now,” said Boromir, “I want the two of you to remember what I told you, and I want you to try and take me down. Do not fear to harm me--use as much force and guile as you need.”

The two of them looked at one another, grinned and nodded. Boromir took a stance, and the hobbits began to circle him, seeking a chance to move in on him. With his long reach, he was weaving a defense with his own practice sword, trying to keep them at bay. After a moment, in which neither of them could seem to get near him, they glanced at one another and moved apart, to either side of him, and began an intricate dance in and out, seeking to get beneath his guard.

Aragorn grinned. “Very clever. He will have a difficult time guarding himself against them both.” He watched their stances, and their footwork, pleased. Indeed, Boromir *was* a good teacher if they had learned so much in such a short time.

Suddenly, Pippin, who was on Boromir’s right, ducked under his arm, and aimed a blow at the back of the Man’s knee. Boromir saw the danger and swung around to block it. Merry took the advantage to roll beneath the shield and take his feet from beneath him. The Man stumbled back, and though he attempted to regain his balance, Pippin gave him a shove. He went down flat, and found himself with Merry’s practice sword aimed at his throat and Pippin’s at his heart. Both of them were flushed and breathing hard.

“Are you all right, Boromir?” Pippin asked, though he did not move his weapon.

Boromir laughed. “I am fine, little one. Both of you, that was most excellently well done.”

They stepped back, and allowed him to get to his feet, and were startled at the sound of applause.

Merry and Pippin turned cocky grins at the spectators, the first time they had really noticed them.

“Would you like to spar with one another now?”

“Oh, yes please!” cried Pippin, face shining. Merry nodded enthusiastically.

“We’ll do it a bit differently today. I am not going to interrupt you. Be careful, still, as I have told you, of head and feet, but I want to you fight on until one of you yields. I will not call ‘hold’ unless I see a danger of real injury.”

Several of the spectators were smiling and anticipating some good entertainment. But Frodo looked at Sam. “Did he say ‘fight until one of them yields’?”

“Yes, Mr. Frodo, he did say that.” Sam bit his lower lip.

“Uh-oh.”

Gandalf chuckled.

Aragorn glanced down. “Is that a problem?” he asked Frodo curiously.

Frodo rolled his eyes. “Let us just say that for Merry ‘yield’ is not in his vocabulary. He always *has* to win. But over the years he’s also made it clear to Pippin that he doesn’t expect any quarter from him. Pippin used to give up too easily when they were younger, but Merry’s trained that right out of him.”

“Ah. I see.” This should prove very interesting.

Boromir had stepped back to watch. “Lay on!” he called.

The two began edging in on one another cautiously, not immediately striking any blow. Boromir nodded, pleased at the way they were holding themselves and their weapons.

Suddenly Merry lashed out with a snap. Pippin threw up his sword and blocked it, and the clack of wood on wood was loud. Now they began to move back and forth, exchanging blows almost in rhythm. Merry got beneath Pippin’s guard and landed a hard blow against his cousin’s left side. Pippin let out with an ‘oof!’ but did not falter, and a moment later landed a blow of his own.

Now they moved quickly, and there was an exchange of several blows, but neither of them was anywhere near to the point of giving in or crying quarter.

Boromir was nodding in satisfaction, but as the exchange continued, he shook his head, and place his palm over his face. “Meriadoc,” he muttered, “breathe.” He sighed, and shook his head but did not call out to them.

Aragorn began to frown a bit.

“What’s the matter?” asked Frodo, who had been watching his cousins in amazement. Merry had always enjoyed rough sport, Pippin not so much, but the younger hobbit was definitely holding his own, and in fact in appeared that Merry was slowing down a bit.

“Merry is holding his breath,” said Aragorn.

“Oh,” said Frodo. “He’s always done that when he is concentrating on something very hard.”

“But it is not a good idea in a fight, Frodo.”

Pippin landed a couple of hard blows, and then Merry moved more quickly. He managed to get under Pippin’s guard several times, and Pippin found himself backing up.

Suddenly Merry stopped, and swayed a bit. Pippin went in but Merry blocked him, and then--

Keeled over.

At the same instant that Boromir yelled “Hold!” Pippin threw down his weapon and knelt by Merry’s side. Frodo was already racing there with Sam at his heels, and Aragorn right behind him.

Merry sat up dizzily. “What happened?”

“Master Brandybuck!” said Boromir angrily. “What have I told you about breathing.”

Aragorn supported his back. “Take a few deep breaths, Merry. In. Out. In. Out. There, that’s it. You simply swooned from lack of air.”

Merry looked up at the ring of concerned faces, and his face flamed with embarrassment.

Pippin sat back with a relieved thud. “Well, Merry, it looks like I won.”

Merry glared at him. “No, you didn’t. I did *not* yield.” He looked up at Boromir. “Can we finish now?”

Boromir burst out into a hearty guffaw. “No, you cannot. Pippin did in fact win, even if you did not yield, because you allowed yourself to become incapacitated. You *will* work on your breathing, Meriadoc.”

Merry sighed. “Yes, Boromir.” He allowed Frodo and Sam to help him to his feet, and tried to ignore Pippin’s chatter.

“Did you hear that, Merry? Boromir said I won! I almost never beat you, Merry! Can you believe it Frodo, I beat Merry at something for once…”

As they walked back, Merry cringed. He was never going to hear the end of this.

But he was going to break himself of holding his breath if it killed him.
__________________________________________________
*“A Conversation in Rivendell”
http://www.storiesofarda.com/chapterview.asp?sid=2714&cid=10567

AUTHOR‘S NOTE: The description of the training given to Merry and Pippin by Boromir is based entirely on my uninformed observations of SCA fighters, and I am sure that there are any number of inaccuracies. Please forgive them, for I am no fighter myself.





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