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A Lesson on Hobbits III (Legolas)
If they were not the oddest creatures the young elf had ever seen, they were perhaps the most incomprehensible. Samwise, Legolas recited to himself with a glance at the little gardener kneeling by his side, sorting through his pouches of herbs and spices. And Frodo and Meriadoc and Peregrin. Or Sam, Merry and Pippin as the younger ones seemed to prefer being called. No elf would embrace a diminutive of his given name but then, Legolas mused, these people hardly needed to uphold their honor.
The sound of raised hobbit voices made Legolas look up from adding slivers of rabbit-meat to the pots. "Stars!" one of them was saying, "Are you mad? I won’t do it!" The eldest, Frodo, was standing nose-to-nose with the youngest, both of them scowling fiercely. That is, Legolas amended, Pippin was scowling fiercely. Frodo merely looked exasperated. Elven hearing would allow him to easily eavesdrop on their conversation but he did not, respectful of the halflings’ privacy.
Pippin evidently did not care who overheard. Continuing to glare at his cousin, he crossed his arms and shivered, wincing as the bitter wind slipped through his thick, fur-lined cloak Lord Elrond had gifted each of them in Imladris. Legolas was glad that Mithrandir had given them leave for a fire; a hot meal and warm hearth seemed to do much to raise hobbit spirits. He added the last of the shredded meat and stirred one of the pots under Samwise’s watchful eye.
"No!" Pippin said loudly. "And you can’t make me!" The young hobbit spun on his heel and stalked off. Frodo took a half step after him then halted, irritation on his face. He stood hands on hips and stared after Pippin, obviously at a loss.
Legolas looked at Sam inquiringly. Sam shook his head, his attention on measuring herbs into the simmering pots set before him on the fire. The halfling examined a dried bay leaf thoughtfully and added it one of the pots. "Best not to get involved in gentlehobbit business, sir," Sam advised with the wisdom of long experience.
Legolas had heard his father’s tales of the unruly band of Dwarves that had so aggravated his royal sire, and the single halfling who had accompanied them during their brief incursion into Mirkwood. But Thranduil’s stories had given little acknowledgement to Master Bilbo, other than to call the halfling "an affable little fellow," which at first meeting, Legolas quite agreed with. He had found Master Bilbo to be a dignified, learned, well-read and well-traveled hobbit, and was just beginning to understand how very atypical that was for halfling folk.
Hobbits, Legolas reminded himself. They called themselves hobbits. Elves had perfect memory but it was difficult to change an appellation long-used. The Firstborn had not been much concerned with this remote and paradoxical little mortal folk, and the young elf could understand how the mistake of disregarding them had occurred. Who could have foreseen that the fate of all the world would rest on the slim shoulders of a hobbit that barely came up to his waist?
Legolas had first seen the Ring-bearer the morning of Elrond’s Council. That was the Ring-bearer? To judge from Aragorn’s tales, the elf had expected to see a small but doughty warrior, grim-faced, battle-hardened and bristling with weapons. Perhaps a creature like a very small dwarf, but with hair upon its feet instead of its face. Instead, Master Frodo Baggins seemed all dark curls and enormous morning-glory eyes set in a too-pale face, with the build of a dancer and the hands of a scholar. That he was obviously still weak from his Morgul wound was obvious; he sat stiffly among the Council in a chair too large for him, legs dangling uncomfortably. When Lord Elrond called him to rise and display the Ring, his movements were slow and painful. Legolas saw Mithrandir watching him worriedly and the relief in the old wizard’s eyes when the hobbit regained his chair, almost collapsing into it with a sigh of weariness.
Legolas glanced at the Ring-bearer, wondering what the altercation had been about. Rarely did he see discord among the little people—they seemed a remarkably compatible group, affectionate with and fiercely protective of each other. And especially of the youngest. Pippin had reached the edge of camp when a blur of motion erupted from the trees and bore him backward to the earth. In a flash, Merry had wrestled Pippin over and was pressing his face into the dirt, trying for a headlock. Pippin kicked and yowled shrilly and Legolas grimaced in genuine, if momentary, pain. "No," Pippin howled, "I won’t! Let me up!"
"Waste of time trying to be reasonable," Merry growled. "Pippin’s hardly ever taken a bath willingly in his life."
"I like baths!" Pippin shouted. "Just not in a freezing stream! It’s mid-winter, for stars’ sake. And I’m not that dirty!"
"You are certainly getting there," Frodo observed, joining them as the tweenager thrashed about on the ground and bucked, attempting to throw Merry off.
"Hold still, you," Merry muttered, pushing Pippin back down. "And don’t you dare try to bite me!"
"Pippin-lad," Frodo cajoled, crouching down before the struggling hobbits with his hands on his knees, "I took a bath and Merry took a bath and Sam took a bath. It was cold but we’re all still alive. And you know how Sam hates rivers."
"I hate rivers too," Pippin wailed piteously. "I almost drowned, you know, in Rivendell! I could have drowned!"
"Perhaps the poor lad could take a spit bath," Frodo said slowly, looking over Pippin’s head at Merry. "Sam could heat up some water in a pot—"
"No," Merry said, ignoring Pippin’s frantic nodding. "You always let him off, Frodo. A bath won’t kill him. He’s filthy."
"Sam! Sam, help me!"
Sam dropped his stirring spoon into one of the pots and stood up. "If you’d listened to your cousins, Master Pippin," he said in severe tones, "you’d have been washed an’ dried by now, and ready for your luncheon."
"Help! Help, my cousins are trying to drown me!" Pippin cried to the Fellowship at large. Legolas looked around to see how the rest of the Companions were receiving these dramatics. Aragorn and Gandalf were apparently deep in discussion, their eyes on the distant mountains and their backs to the melee, but Legolas’ keen eyes noted their shoulders were quivering suspiciously. Boromir had dropped the sword he was sharpening when Merry had tackled Pippin, rising to his feet. The man appeared confused and distraught, uncertain if actualinjuries were being inflicted, and kept looking at Aragorn. Gimli, on guard, ignored the whole commotion as not part of his duties.
Legolas felt he could hardly disregard two kicking, wrestling hobbits. His work finished, he glided over to them to offer what assistance he could. Three sets of eyes turned to him—one pair anxious, one pair determined and one beseeching. "If Peregrin is afraid of the water," the elf said gently, "perhaps he would feel better if I were to accompany him. I will not let you drown, Pippin."
Pippin looked up at the elf, no doubt wondering if he could inveigle Legolas into gaining him a reprieve. Legolas smiled at him encouragingly. "No," Pippin said slowly, "but thank you, Legolas. My cousins are determined to drown me or make me catch my death of cold, so I might as well let them." He heaved a weary sigh, evidently resigned to his untimely demise. "Get off me, Merry."
Merry released him and used a hand on Pippin’s shoulder to push himself to his feet. Pippin stood and made a great show of dusting off his already-disreputable clothing, glaring at his cousins. Then before the others could blink, he was off and accelerating.
"Pippin!" shouted Frodo and Merry together. With astonishing speed, the young one darted to the edge of camp and took refuge behind an enormous old oak. Safely out of his tormentors’ reach, he could not resist one last taunt. He leaned around the tree’s great trunk and stuck out his tongue at them.
Frodo’s normally pale face flushed crimson. "That tears it," the Ring-bearer barked. "Get him, Merry!" Legolas was left standing as the two hobbits hurtled after the tweenager. Pippin stiffened in surprise, obviously not expecting pursuit, then squeaked and ran. His cousins hot on his heels, he braked suddenly and they flew past him. Pippin shot back to the tree and hid on the other side of it. His little maneuver did not fool his kin. Legolas watched the three hobbits chase each other in circles around the tree and rubbed his forehead.
Aragorn left off his discussion with the wizard and drifted over to him. "Are they all like that?" Legolas asked as the Ranger approached.
Aragorn glanced at the noisy running battle. "Like what?"
"Like that." Legolas’ gesture seemed to encompass all that he did not understand about his new travelling companions. "They are the most contradictory folk" ("Pippin, you stop this instant, young hobbit!") "I have ever" ("Wait till I get my hands on you, Peregrin Took!") "encountered," Legolas finished rather breathlessly. ("You old gaffers might as well give up!") "They are—"
Frodo plowed to a stop and leapt backwards against the tree. Pippin roared past him and Frodo flung himself forward, clinching the youngster about the waist. "Pippin, that is enough! You—Oof!"
Merry crashed into them and all three went down in a tangled heap of sharp elbows and furry feet. Legolas had been forced to raise his voice to be heard over the tumult and his last words dropped into a sudden silence, "—so confounding I think I shall be driven mad."
"I often feel that way myself," Gandalf chuckled as he strode past them to speak with Gimli.
The hobbits were too involved in their contest of wills to notice they were the subjects of discussion. Pippin was fighting grimly, intent on escape from a fate he seemed to consider worse than death. Merry was threatening exactly that while Frodo was ordering both of them to behave themselves.
Now that they had him down, Pippin’s cousins were divesting him of his clothing. He struggled and shouted but it was two against one, both of them larger than he was. Legolas observed that the youngling’s cousins did not seem to be inclined to be gentle about it. Frodo and Merry relieved Pippin of his cloak, jacket and shirt, but the lad refused to relinquish his breeches, holding onto them with both hands. Merry hauled on the tweenager’s scarf and Pippin was forced to pull the yarn away from his throat or strangle. Frodo tugged off the breeches, ignoring his cousin’s furious yelps.
"For being as quiet-footed as Elves," Legolas said, "they produce an astonishing variety of noises at astounding volume." Merry and Frodo dragged their cousin to his feet and each had hold of an arm, towing the struggling hobbit towards the stream. "They chatter, sing, ask questions, offer comments, challenge you to riddle-games, spin tales, beg for stories and generally talk almost all the time they are awake," the elf continued. "Are all young ones like that?"
"No! No! No!" Pippin was howling desperately. "Nonononono!" The tweenager threw himself forward, hoping to catch his captors off-guard. Frodo and Merry released him and Pippin fell flat with a bone-rattling thump.
"Slippery little thing, isn’t he?" Merry asked Frodo grimly as they each bent to secure a leg.
Aragorn considered Legolas’ question. "From my experience, I would say most of them … yes. Except when they are eating, of course." Only someone as familiar with the Ranger as Legolas would have caught the laughter in Aragorn’s voice. "Samwise is a little more shy and Frodo is a little more reserved, but in general … I would say that is an accurate assessment of hobbit-kind."
"They squabble with each other," the elf said, a note of horrified fascination in his voice.
"I am unable to dispute that," Aragorn replied equitably, watching as Frodo and Merry began dragging the struggling young hobbit towards the water. Pippin scrabbled at the ground but could not impede them.
"And they do not seem to be much concerned with their personal dignity," Legolas continued, amazed. There was a final desperate scramble on the bank then a pale pink form was tossed unceremoniously into the water. A piercing shriek drilled through their eardrums. Elf and man shuddered. From behind them came the sounds of splashing, accompanied by quavering yips. Aragorn inserted a small finger into his ear and wiggled it about. Legolas looked over his shoulder anxiously.
Pippin had been pitched into a sheltered cove where the stream formed a pool only a few inches deep with a soft, sandy bottom. Despite their handling of the young one, Legolas noted that the two elder hobbits had chosen a still, safe place, free of eddying currents. Had the season been summer and not the depths of winter, a dip there would have been most pleasant.
Pippin sat up and glared at his cousins. Shivering violently, he locked his arms around his upraised knees and hugged himself, every visible inch of him breaking out in goosebumps.
"It is a good thing that this land is deserted," Aragorn commented. "That screech would have terrified a pack of wolves, had any been about." The Ranger smiled faintly, then returned his attention to the elf. "As to their ‘personal dignity’…" Aragorn was silent for a moment, thinking. "I would say rather that hobbits care more about living in the present than in glorying in the past or contemplating the future. For them, that moment, that ‘now’ consists of family, friends, food and the fortunes of life. Whatever those fortunes may be at the moment," he continued reflectively, his gaze on the hobbits.
"Well, don’t just sit there," Merry was growling in exasperation. "Wash!"
"The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be done," Merry retorted pitilessly. "If you don’t hurry, we shan’t save any food for you." Pippin reluctantly dipped a hand into the cold water and splashed it on himself.
"And how do such small folk eat so much?" Legolas asked. "They eat twice as much as we do, and we are near to twice their size. I do not understand all these meals. There are at least six from what they explained in Imladris, with innumerable ‘something strengthenings’ between. Now that we have begun our journey, they seem to invest much of their energy in anticipating, discussing and planning each meal. They compare recipes, negotiate ingredients, and argue methods of preparation. When it comes to actually eating, they relish the food as an elf would adulate a grand aria, sung by the finest choir in Elvendom. Then immediately they began to look forward to the next meal." Legolas paused to seek for words, gesturing vaguely with a slender hand. "I grant you, Master Samwise’s cooking is a gift beyond measure, but food seems to occupy these little ones’ attention far more than seems justifiable. How can one activity hold so much interest?"
Merry was evidently not satisfied with Pippin’s efforts, for he rolled up the cuffs of his breeches and borrowing an unused pot from Sam, waded out to his little cousin. Dipping the pot into the stream, he poured its entire contents over the tweenager’s head. Pippin whimpered miserably.
"And behind the ears!" Frodo called from shore.
"Yes, Cousin. Perhaps you would like to slog out here and help?"
"You’re doing fine, Merry. Carry on."
"I’m fre–fre-freezing to death!"
"And they want to know everything about everything," Legolas continued. "Not that they are impolite about it," he hastened to add when Aragorn raised an eyebrow at him. "But they are so exceedingly curious. Frodo wishes to learn about elvish history and the finer points of our language. Sam wants to hear songs and poems. Those two" (with a wave at Merry and Pippin) "ask for a constant stream of tales."
"You are a fount of information, Legolas," the Ranger said gravely.
Merry had evidently decided that Pippin was clean enough, for he urged the violently shaking tweenager to his feet and the two stumbled to where the others waited. Frodo and Sam both had blankets ready and the shivering young hobbit was wrapped in so many layers that he resembled a ball with a head at one end and feet at the other. Frodo urged he and Merry down by the fire and Sam pushed mugs of hot tea into their hands.
"I do not begrudge them the tales," Legolas said slowly, continuing his previous thought. "But it seems it must be now for the little ones, always. Why must it be now? There is time."
"For an immortal elf," Aragorn replied, all traces of humor deserting his voice. "For the rest of us, we are all too aware that each ticking of a clock brings us closer to death. And Frodo—" The Ranger fell silent and his stern features tightened.
"What?" Legolas questioned. "Frodo what?"
"I think our Ring-bearer fears he may have the least time of all," Aragorn said, dropping his voice to the softest of whispers. Legolas heard, of course. The elf looked at the small group thoughtfully, noting the gentle smile on Frodo’s face as he toweled Pippin’s hair dry, combing his fingers through the snarls. Now that the ordeal was over, the youngster’s sullen demeanor had disappeared and he was laughing at his cousin as Merry carefully dried between his toes and brushed out his foothair.
"You believe our Ring-bearer will not survive this quest?" Legolas asked, his voice no louder than the Ranger’s.
"I believe Frodo believes it," Aragorn replied softly. "And I believe he wishes with all of his heart that his two cousins had not come, however grateful he is for their presence. And he wishes Sam back home in the Shire, safe and happy, wedded to a lass there."
Legolas was silent, thinking as he watched the hobbits. Sam was testing the stew critically. Apparently satisfied, he began ladling it into a bowl, which Frodo carried to Boromir. Then Frodo returned to collect a bowl for Gandalf, then Gimli. Merry cast off his own blanket and rose to help but Frodo pushed him back down, scolding him cheerfully to wrap himself up again.
"Is there anything we can do?" Legolas asked at length.
Aragorn shrugged. "Indulge him, whenever possible. Give him those elvish tales. Feed that curiosity. It will keep his mind from what he carries. Perhaps it will help keep him sane."
Legolas hissed softly and Aragorn nodded. Frodo was approaching them, a bowl of stew steaming between his hands. The hobbit could not carry two of the Big People’s bowls at once. He offered it to Legolas with a bow. "What are you two talking about?" the Ring-bearer asked. "You look so serious."
The elf smiled as he accepted the bowl. "We were discussing the peculiarities of Hobbits," he said easily.
Frodo’s beautiful eyes sparkled. "Well, I might say the same of Elves. I shall never get used to you sleeping with your eyes open." He paused, sensing that something deeper lay beneath their light words. "Pippin is now fit company, if you would care to join the rest of us."
"You are sure?" Aragorn asked.
Frodo nodded. "Merry forced him to wash behind his ears." He looked at them searchingly, the laughter draining from his eyes. "Is there something I should know about?"
"No, Frodo," Aragorn answered, knowing that Legolas would not tell the hobbit an untruth. "I was just suggesting that Legolas tell you several elvish tales that are similar to those of hobbits."
Frodo’s eyes lit up again. "Oh, would you?" he asked Legolas, delighted. "I must write this down to give to Bilbo. Many of our oldest stories, for instance, echo those we heard in Rivendell…" Capturing the elf by the hand, Frodo led him back towards the others, forcing Legolas to juggle his stew alarmingly.
Legolas sank down next to Merry, and Frodo and Pippin crowded about him eagerly. Sam continued dishing up bowls of stew but his shining eyes were on the elf. Smiling at them, Legolas began to speak. Aragorn stood for a long time and watched, looking at their faces, and thinking of ancient prophecies and the queer creatures that were hobbits.
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