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Written for the lotr_community's 2008 Yule Fic Exchange
Title: To Wait for Sun’s Returning
I cast an eye over my flock. The hobbits have seemed to be over their homesickness today, pleased that we had acknowledged the turning of the year yestereve, and spent a little time to celebrate out here in the Wild. Today would have been Second Yule back in the Shire, but that is not so much of a family day as First Yule. And they rested better through this day--I think that we will make some distance tonight on our journey. I was sure it would not take them long to get used to our pace. Hobbits are much tougher than they look.
As Sam prepares the evening meal, Boromir takes Merry and Pippin aside to practice with their weapons. It makes me sorrowful to watch, for hobbits are not a warlike race, and I have a dark foreboding that these skills will be needed--and with them, a sad loss of innocence for my young friends. This time Aragorn has consented to assist with the sparring, while Gimli feeds Bill. Legolas has gone to scout the trail ahead--I wish to be on the move before moonrise.
"Frodo," Merry says, "don't you think it is time for you to learned how to use Sting? I know that your shoulder is still tender, but I think the exercise will do it good!" The Brandybuck is coaxing, and I know that the lad is worried about Frodo's lack of skill with his weapon.
But Frodo shakes his head, and indicates that he will just watch. Merry and Pippin exchange a look of resignation, and Pippin shakes his head, perhaps warning Merry to leave the subject alone. Frodo goes to sit atop a rock, and smiles fondly at his cousins, as they practice the forms and stances Boromir has given them. I wander over and stand behind him.
"Boromir is very good to them, Gandalf," he says, as he quickly senses my presence. "So is Strider, but somehow it surprises me more in Boromir, that he puts up with their nonsense. Boromir seems such a dignified and private person."
Much like the one making the observation, I think. However dignified and private Frodo may be, he has always been patient with his younger cousins. Aloud, I say, "Well, he likes young people. He is very fond of his brother, who is five years younger than he."
Frodo nodded. "Five years seems to be a wider age gap among Men, I'm thinking, than it is among hobbits."
"It is somewhat in childhood, though as the years pass it matters far less."
Frodo considers this a moment and then nods, saying "Boromir is a noble Man. I am glad that he is with us!"
We are silent as we watch the lesson. Boromir sets the two hobbits to attack Aragorn, as he advises them of the best way they can combine their skills to bring their larger adversary down. Aragorn cooperates by moving slowly, and heralding his moves in advance. The Dúnadan allows himself to fall gracefully to the ground under the hobbits' enthusiastic onslaught. Boromir nods, and Merry and Pippin excitedly congratulate themselves. Then Boromir has them repeat the exercise, only this time Aragorn defends himself quickly, and the hobbits realize that they cannot win over their larger opponent under this new—and more realistic--circumstance. They drop back and quit, dismay written all over their faces.
"Never mind, my lads. It has to come with practice," Boromir says. "Yet I think that is enough for one evening."
And now he and Aragorn decide to spar. Merry and Pippin come over to sit with Frodo, and we watch as the two of them begin their swordplay. The clang of weapons concerns me; but we are far from any who might observe us. I have seen no signs of crebain or other spies of the enemy, so I make no protest. It is as good as a dance, to see these two warriors enjoying their sport. Aragorn is doubtless the superior swordsman, but he is not pulling his blows, and Boromir is giving him a good match.
"Good old Boromir!" Pippin cries, a grin on his face.
"If I were wagering," saysid Merry, "I'd put my money on Strider."
Frodo casts a sharp look at Merry, and says, "I don't believe that you need to be thinking about wagering." It is said sternly, in his most repressive older cousin manner, for Frodo disapproves, as do most Bagginses, of wagering.
Merry refuses to be repressed, and simply chuckles at his cousin's reprimand. "No point in wagering while we are wandering out here in the wild."
Pippin arches a brow, and says, "It wouldn't have anything at all to do, of course, with Frodo putting a stop to you and Sam wagering over throwing stones the other day, would it? I think the stakes were to be the carrying of certain items."
Merry glares at Pippin, and Frodo chuckles. "He should be grateful to me. Sam would have won, and Merry would even now be carrying the extra blankets as well as all of the potatoes, if I remember correctly."
"Well, I would not want to wager against either one of them," Pippin says stoutly. "They are both my friends!"
Just then Aragorn, with a flick of his wrist, sends Boromir's sword flying.
Boromir's initial look of surprised dismay quickly gives way to a grin and a shake of his head. "I must see how you did that!" he cries. Retrieving his sword, he and Aragorn slowly replay the series of moves.
"Aha!" says the Gondorian, as they come to the crucial move. He stops and repeats the same flick that Aragorn had used.
The hobbits have been watching with amazement. Frodo arches a brow, and gives Merry a significant look. "Boromir," he says emphatically, "is a good loser."
Merry purses his lips. "And what do you mean by that?" he asks, though it is quite clear that he knows.
Frodo refuses to be drawn. "Exactly what I said, cousin."
Pippin chuckles. "He means, Meriadoc, that you could learn from Boromir's example."
Merry chooses to get huffy. "I don't know what you mean by that, Pip! Since when am I not a good loser?"
This causes Pippin and Frodo to exchange a look of incredulity, followed by laughter from both of them. Merry tries to maintain his look of injured pride, but soon enough a twitch of his lips and a small chuckle indicate that he has taken the point.
Just then, Sam calls out that the food is ready, and Merry and Pippin dash to the cookfire, with Frodo following at a slower pace. The two Men sheathe their weapons, and walk up to the fire, where Gimli has already seated himself. Merry and Pippin are dishing up the food, when Legolas returns with the news that our path ahead will be clear.
As we eat, Merry and Pippin choose to sit quite near Boromir, one on each side of him. The talk turns once more to Yule, though this time the discussion is merry, and not melancholy as it was yesterday. The two young hobbits ask Boromir about the Gondorian customs.
"You don't celebrate the turning of the year?" Pippin's curiosity borders on the incredulous. "No feasts? No greenery? No gifts?"
"What sorts of traditions?" asks Merry.
"Well, what you call 'First Yule', we call 'Yestarrë' or 'Last Day'. On that day, we fast, and remember the year. Most people on that day make a list of all their failings during the year, the things they have done wrong or the things they ought to have done, but left undone. If there are any close to us, whom we have hurt in any way, we seek their pardon on that day. We reflect on our list, and then at the end of the day, we give it to the flames." Boromir looks off into the distance, and I can tell he is thinking of his father and of his brother. From my knowledge of Denethor, I am sure that Boromir is recollecting the ways in which he failed his father on this journey. But I, myself, am quite certain that what Denethor would consider failures in this regard, are nothing of the sort.
"That seems a rather gloomy way to celebrate," says Merry doubtfully. "I certainly don't like the idea of fasting! And why dwell on your failures?"
Pippin looks up at the Man thoughtfully. "I think it sounds like a good idea, myself --not the fasting part, but the list!" he says stoutly. "Then you can put it all behind you for good and all! So long," he adds, "as you do put it behind you. Some people might just keep on thinking about it even after they burn their list."
Ah! My wise little fool of a Took! He has a large heart himself, and often sees true into the hearts of others. He reminds me a good deal of his Great-grandfather Gerontius. Not just for his pointed face and sharp green eyes, nor his Tookish impulsiveness, but also for his generosity of spirit--a quality he also shares with Frodo. It is clear he has given his friendship and loyalty to this Man of Gondor, and love lends him insight. He can tell that Boromir bears a burden, though what it may be he knows not. Alas, I fear that I do, for I suspect he has been hearing the whisperings of the Ring since our leavetaking of Rivendell. My poor Boromir, too long have you lived in the shadows of despair. Still, I have hope for you! And I hope even more, now that you have earned the love of hobbits!
Frodo has been taking note of the conversation. He nods, as if to himself, and then asks, "So what do you do on 'Metarrë'?" he asks, getting a look of surprise from everyone except Aragorn, who chuckles to himself. Gimli is blinking in amazement, and Legolas' eyes have widened.
"How," asks Boromir, "did you know what we call 'First Day'?" He is genuinely surprised, for he has been told by all and sundry how isolated the Shire is. To hear the word from a hobbit is unexpected.
Frodo shrugs. "Uncle Bilbo taught me much. But just because I know the word does not mean I know your traditions."
Boromir laughs at this answer. "We do celebrate on that day. We make another list, this time of the things we hope to accomplish during the coming year, and of the bad habits we hope to break! Families hold a small feast in the evening, and the children wear wreaths of laurel upon their heads. At the end of the meal, all read out their lists to one another."
I cast an eye over the Company, to see that the meal is nearly finished, and another eye at the sky. I stand up and say, "Speaking of the 'end of the meal', I do believe that we have come to it. Come now, let us break camp and prepare to leave! I wish to be away from here before the Moon shows himself over the mountains..."
Merry and Pippin gather up the dishes and pans and carry them down the rise to a small streamlet that runs through a copse of holly trees. They are gone rather longer than usual for the task, and I wonder if they have found something to distract them. I am considering sending Gimli down to fetch them, when they return. Merry is carrying most of the dishes, and Pippin has some greenery in his hands. As they draw nearer, I see that he has a small wreath of holly--so that was what they'd been doing!
Merry delivers the clean crockery to Sam and Frodo for packing, and Pippin comes over to Boromir, holding up the wreath.
"I'm sorry we couldn't find any laurel. I don't think it grows much around here. I hope the holly is not too prickly!" The young hobbit is smiling broadly, but I can sense a bit of anxiety behind his friendly look--will this Man be offended by their gesture? Merry is watching, biting his lower lip and holding his breath. He not only does not wish to offend Boromir, but he is also worried that Pippin's feelings might be hurt if the Man rejects their little offering.
Boromir turns with a start, and his quick indrawn breath he changes to a cough. Ah, but his acquaintance with hobbits is yet too new, for him to feel completely at ease among them. Men of Gondor, unlike hobbits, are not in the habit of wearing their emotions on their sleeves. He is touched by the hobbits' thoughtfulness, I think, though he seeks to cover such tender emotion lest they think it weakness in him.
With a quizzical expression, he reaches hesitantly down to take up the holly wreath. He examines it carefully, and then says "I thank you for thinking of me, Merry and Pippin," and places it atop his head. I smile to myself, congratulating him on not wincing--the holly must be prickly, after all. He casts a look at the rest of us, daring anyone to laugh. But I see no signs of amusement from Aragorn, Legolas or Gimli, and Frodo and Sam are looking quite pleased. As for Merry and Pippin, they grin to see that he has accepted their gift.
As we begin our nightly walk, Merry and Pippin place Boromir between them.
"Now, Boromir," says Merry, "you must tell us what you hope to accomplish this year!"
The Man is silent for some time, and I am listening for his answer, as are the young hobbits. Frodo is at my side, and I know that he, too, wonders what the answer will be.
Pippin grows anxious about the Man's silence, and blurts out, "But we did not do the part about the regrets!”
Pippin thinks a moment, and then ticks off a few on his fingers, "Well, perhaps I should have spent a bit more time with my sisters and my nieces. And I wish I'd taken better leave of my parents. I didn't know we'd be gone so long as this..." His voice trails off, for in trying to spare Boromir, he has succeeded in making himself melancholy.
And then Boromir speaks. "I think there are only two things this year. I hope to come home to Gondor. And I hope to protect my people."
Pippin reaches over and takes hold of the Man's hand, and after an instant, Merry does the same at his other side.
We walk on in silence for a while.
Then I hear Pippin's voice, soft, low, and clear, raised in a familiar Shire song. Soon enough, the other hobbits join in.
"When night is longest,
Pippin begins the song once more. This time, we all join in.
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