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In the Court of the High King  by Dreamflower

Chapter 22

A few days later, Jolly, Rolly and Denny were strolling around the Seventh Circle. It was a lot bigger than they'd initially thought, and there were other buildings there than just the Citadel, though Jolly told the others that Mosco had said they were really all connected.

As they approached one such building, they heard the sounds of friendly shouting, as well as loud clanking and clattering. They spotted some boys coming in their direction, and one of them was Sador.

He halted, and the other boys did as well. "Good afternoon, Master Hobbits!" he said politely with a bow. He introduced the three boys who accompanied him, and who looked at him with awe that he knew the pheriain who had come to the City.

"What's going on over there?" asked Jolly, waving a hand in the direction of the noise.

"Oh, that's the armoury, with the training grounds behind it for the Guardsmen and the trainees. That is where we are going, for our own lessons--all of us hope to be Guardsmen one day, and they set aside some time for us to practice and learn."

"Could we watch?" asked Rolly.

Sador nodded. "A lot of people often come to watch the training," he replied. "Come along!"

The boys led them within the armoury. Inside the building was slightly dim. To one side the hobbits saw a forge and smithy, though there was no activity there at the moment. To the other sides were racks of spears and poles and wooden swords, and on the wall hung various sorts of armour, and on shelves were helms of many sizes, all of it looking rather old and battered. There were several boxes and chests against the wall. A door at the left bore a large padlock. An older Man sat near the door, sanding a wooden sword. He was clad in the livery of the Tower, and had a long scar that ran down from underneath his left sleeve all the way to the back of his hand.

"Ho, boys! Who have you brought with you today?" he asked heartily. He looked at the hobbits curiously.

"These are friends of the four pheriain--I mean hobbits--who saved the City during the War," said Sador proudly. Once more he made introductions.

"And this is Guardsman Derufin, one of our teachers."

"I am most honoured to meet friends of the Ringbearers and the Ernil i Pheriannath and the slayer of the Witch-king," he said.

Jolly blushed. "Don't know why it's such an honour, sir. They was the ones who did great deeds; we're just plain hobbits of the Shire."

"But you are their friends, Master Jolly" he replied with a twinkle in his eyes. "We seldom got the chance to honour them enough while they were among us. By honouring you, we honour them."

He turned to the boys. "It's time for lessons," he said. "Get your gear."

The boys went to one of the large chests and began to take things out: bulky padded jackets, and some rather oddly shaped items of leather. They helped one another into their practice armour: the padded jerkins, the gorgets to protect their throats, and leather knee and elbow cops. One leather item each boy took out they turned their backs to one another and to Master Derufin, and dealt with alone. Turning around once more they also drew out heavy leather gloves and from another chest, caps of boiled leather reinforced with metal bands.

As the boys got ready, Denny asked "What's in that room?"

"That is the place where the true swords and the armour for the Tower Guard is kept. Out here is kept only old armour and practice weapons," Derufin replied. He looked at the hobbits. "Would you like to practice?"

"Us?" Rolly stared in amazement, his eyes growing huge. "We wouldn't know what to do in all that gear! Besides I don't guess you've got anything that'd fit us."

"I am sure that we do," he replied. "You are not much smaller than Sador, and we have gear to fit younger and older boys--I am sure that some of it would fit you three. What say you?"

Rolly and Denny stared at each other, but Jolly said, "Oh, come on, lads! I'd like to give it a go!"

Denny gaped at Jolly, but then said, "Why not? After all, one of the last things Da said afore we left the Shire was to try and learn anything we could!"

So Derufin rummaged through the chest from which the boys had retrieved their gear, and through another one next to it. He held up various items to check the sizes, putting some aside and replacing others back where they had come from. When he had found what he needed to outfit the three hobbits, he gave them to them and had the boys help them into the gear. They were embarrassed and not a little surprised to discover what the item was that the boys had turned around to put on.

"Lawks!" exclaimed Denny. "I never would've thought about protection...there..."

"Me either," said Jolly. "I'm glad to see others thought of it before us, though. I really would like to be a dad one day!"

Rolly just shuddered, as he made sure his cup was securely adjusted.

Derufin led them out to the fenced in practice area, and they lined up against the back of the armoury to watch the last of the Guardsmen spar. There were three pairs of them, hacking away to the clatter of their practice swords, then two, and then the last pair of fighters kept going.

"Hold!" called a familiar voice. It was Captain Targon. "I call a draw!"

The sparring partners doffed their helms and the hobbits recognised two of their fellow travellers from the Shire, the Guardsmen Artamir and Adrahil, who were brothers. The two of them came over near where the boys and the hobbits stood with Derufin, for a bucket of fresh water was there, and a dipper. As the two winded Guardsmen refreshed themselves they noticed the hobbits standing there and greeted them with delight.

"Masters Banks and Master Cotton! Have you decided to learn how to fight?" Artamir asked.

Jolly shrugged and said, "It seemed like it might be a good thing to know! And Sador was saying as how Captain Pippin and Captain Merry would come here to practice..."

"So your class is increased, is it, Derufin?" Adrahil smiled and chuckled.

The armsman nodded. "Yes, it looks as though I have three novices, for this day at least." As some of the other Guardsmen noticed who was there, they came over as well.

When Captain Targon approached, he spoke to Derufin. "Would you object if I took the hobbits through their first paces, so that you can concentrate on the boys?"

Derufin nodded. In truth, he was relieved, for the boys would of course be more advanced than the hobbits. As Derufin led Sador and his friends over to one side of the enclosure, Captain Targon led the others to the opposite side, where about half a dozen thick poles were standing, planted deeply in the ground. They were hacked up and scarred. The Captain stood in front of the poles and had the hobbits stand before him.

"First, you must stand as tall as you can. Place your feet apart by the width of your shoulders. Denham and Rollin, I note you carry your swords in your right hands, so place your right foot slightly forward. Wilcome, your sword is in your left hand, so place your left foot slightly forward. Hold your swords in front of your chests, angled to the opposite shoulder."

As soon as they had all taken the position he described, he went to each to make slight adjustments, and then gave them a new position. After he worked with them a while on their stance, he set them to hacking at the poles.

Unnoticed by them, among the bystanders around the practice ground were the King himself and Freddy and Beri.

"It looks like fun," said Beri. "Perhaps I'll give it a try. Imagine how Merry would react if I was able to spar with him when I get home!" He grinned. "Though he'd still probably wipe the floor with me."

Freddy shook his head. "I'd be no good at that! Give me a bow, or a sling, or just a good sized rock anytime!"

Aragorn chuckled and shook his head. "It reminds me of watching Boromir teach Merry and Pippin in Rivendell once. I had come in to make a brief report after a scouting mission, and was able to watch them at one of their sparring sessions..."*


It was nearly teatime when Jolly, Rolly and Denny returned to the guesthouse, tired, dirty and sweaty, but determined to keep trying. They'd arranged to join Sador and his friends three times a week at the training sessions. Jolly was in high spirits especially. He was used to hard physical work on his father's farm. While they had been travelling, that had been exertion enough, but since they had been in the City, he'd begun to feel caged and lazy. This was the best he'd felt in a long time.

As they described their day to the other hobbits, they were embarrassed to find that Freddy and Denny had been observing them, and went even pinker to find the King himself had been there!

"Don't be embarrassed," Freddy said. "The King told us an amusing story of when Merry and Pippin were learning." He went on to regale them with the tale, and most of them laughed heartily to hear of Merry's own very embarrassing mishap.

"Do you think," asked Berilac, "that it would be all right if I joined you sometimes?"

"Of course, Mr. Beri!" exclaimed Denny.


*A reference to my story "Never Give Up" on this site in my anthology "Twice Twenty".


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