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“Tell me, Master Thain, besides the feats of bravery that you have accomplished on this Quest, was there a time before when you showed such courage?”
Pippin looked at the man in surprise. “Do you mean besides sleeping on a perch in the trees? That was indeed strange.”
“But you survived the talan and no one fell off, as you feared.”
They sat, the two of them, and watched the sky. Finally, Pippin answered. “One time,” he whispered. “When I was most afraid.” He smiled at Boromir, “Though I have had many worse fears lately.”
Boromir smiled. “Please, continue.”
“It had snowed very hard; the ground was covered with it. It’s rare we get snow of any measure in the Shire, Master Steward, but for a whole two days and a night it snowed. When we were finally able to get out to play, we decided to walk to the Green-Hill country and try some sledding. When we got there, the forest was beautiful. Birds sang, the sun shone bright; we were looking forward to a full day’s fun. Packed lunches and everything.
“It was just a little past lunch. We’d eaten just about everything and put our packs with the leftovers at the bottom of the hill we were sledding on. Then, we all climbed to the top and started again. Some of the littler Hobbits were getting cold. I was hoping we could sled for at least another hour. I…” Pippin shuddered visibly.
Boromir put his hand on the Halfling’s shoulder. “Mayhap you will tell me at some other time,” he said kindly.
Boromir frowned at the name. “This is a weighty thing upon you, Master Thain. ‘Twould seem to me better to speak of it at another time.”
“No, Master Steward,” Pippin smiled, his old self again. “I just could hear the scream again, in my mind, and it frightened me.”
“Yes. I was getting to that part. I was still at the top of the hill when suddenly I heard one of my friends scream. I looked to the bottom of the hill, and there, just sticking out of the forest, was a great wolf. After I’ve fought off wargs, you’d think I could handle the memory of one lone wolf, wouldn’t you, Master Steward?”
“I jumped on my sled and flew to the bottom of the hill. Looking around, I found a stick, a pretty fair sized one, and stepped between the wolf and my friend. I held the stick up high. I waved my friends away, hoping they would head towards home. They didn’t; they stayed, but behind me. I’d been told about wolves in the Shire; there had been a blizzard once, a long time ago, and they had attacked people. But I never thought I’d see one, much less have to fight one. I was terrified.”
“As well you should be. How old were you at the time, Master Thain?”
“I was almost twenty-two. We weren’t allowed to go too far from home, yet, but the forest was within limits. I stood there, Boromir, and held the stick up and shook. I know I did for I heard my teeth chattering. But I was the oldest of our group and I had to take care of them.”
“I know of what you speak.”
“It was huge, Boromir. Really much bigger than I was. I didn’t know what to do – charge it or try to run. I knew I couldn’t run. It could probably run a lot faster than me. And what if there were other ones nearby? I could be quick, but not that quick. ‘Course I was as thin as a willow-wand at the time, and much quicker than I am now.”
“And,” Pippin smiled, “Master Steward, it was high time for afternoon tea.”
“We stood like that for a bit, seemed like long enough to chase dragons, but the wolf never moved and neither did I. At last, I heard a great crashing behind me. One of my friends had run, run straight back to Tuckburrow and brought some adults with him. The wolf heard the noise too and ran back into the forest. The adults chased them, while one or two stayed back with us. I just sat down in the snow, trying to catch my breath. I wanted to cry, Boromir, I was so afraid.”
“But you did not and you protected your people.”
“I did,” and Pippin turned to Boromir and smiled. “That is what a Thain does, isn’t it?”
“It is,” and Boromir gave him a great awkward hug.
“What’s this?” Aragorn smiled as he strolled down the hill towards them. “Comfort is not needed in these woods. The Lady watches over all.”
“Not when you’re telling a tale that’s scary,” Pippin smiled back.
“Ah! Ghost stories, perhaps?”
“No, really stories.”
“Tell us one yourself, Aragorn,” Boromir prodded. “One where you showed your bravery.”
Aragorn looked at him quizzically.
“I am not jesting, Aragorn. Perhaps when you were younger. Did you not do deeds of bravery?”
Aragorn gestured for permission to sit and Boromir nodded.
Aragorn looked rather shy about telling a tale, so Pippin nudged him. “Won’t hurt you. I finished mine and look! I’m still here!”
“So you are, Pippin. But I think now is not the time to tell tales of darkness, for is not valour usually needed in times of darkness? I think I would prefer to tell a tale of a little fox I once knew.”
Merry walked up and sat down. “A fox, Strider?”
“A fox, and a young one at that, Merry. It was quite some time ago, during my training in Imladris. My brothers were out on a hunt…”
“You have brothers?” Pippin exclaimed.
“I do. Two that are as brothers to me; close in love, not blood. You met them while you were in Imladris. Elladan and Elrohir.”
Pippin’s eyes grew wide. “I didn’t know they were your brothers? Though we didn’t see much of them, always off searching…” Pippin bit his lip.
“‘Twas a hard time, Master Thain,” Boromir stated quietly, “but we can still talk about it. At least the parts of Imladris that were more to a Hobbit’s liking.”
“Like the food and the song and such,” Merry smiled.
“Aye. And the friendships started.” Boromir smiled at Pippin.
“Go on with your story, Strider,” Merry apologized for the interruption.
“I was quite young at the time and given to exploration.” Aragorn smiled at Boromir who started, then smiled back. “We were supposed to be learning the tracking of animals. Our instructor had laid down trails for us to try to follow. Each of us, there were ten in the class if I remember rightly, had to follow the trail set for them. We were taken across the Stone Bridge and set off to find our quarry. I set off to follow mine, headed northward towards the Main Path, when I heard something in the distance and off to my left. The sound seemed to come from the glade near what we now call Thorin's Path. I stopped, looked around for my instructor, but did not see him. The glade was close, only a few hundred yards from my original trail and within the safe sector. I walked slowly and carefully closer and closer. The sound, of course, increased as I approached the glade. There was no one about. I considered stopping and telling someone of where I had taken off to but could not find anyone close. I did not want to stop else I might lose it.”
Boromir nodded his head in agreement. Pippin, noting it, nodded too.
“Well, I crept into the glade on my hands and knees, hoping I would not disturb whatever it was making the noise. I need not have been concerned. It was a small fox, newly weaned, and it was caught in a hideous trap. Its foot was torn and bleeding. I was able to creep quite close; it was too hurt to struggle when I took it in my arms. I released the trap and wiped some of the blood away. The foot was not too badly injured. I knew, given time, the little fox would be well, but I took it back with me to Imladris. I was scolded quite thoroughly for not finishing my task, for leaving the group without telling anyone, and for bringing a wild animal back to Elrond’s House. But,” and once again Aragorn smiled at Boromir, “I deemed it a fine adventure.”
“What about the fox?” Pippin asked.
Aragorn smiled. “The fox healed quickly enough under Lord Elrond’s care and ran away into the great wide world.”
“Ah, I’m glad,” Pippin smiled. “Now, what are we going to do about elevenses?”
“You go ahead of us, Master Thain, and warn the Elves that two hungry men will soon descend upon them,” Boromir said, catching Aragorn’s eye in the process.
“Then off I go and after that, I think I’ll need some sleep.”
Boromir covered his mouth with his hand to stifle the laugh as Pippin and Merry loped up the lawn.
“Did you like the story, Boromir?”
“I did. But who set the trap?”
“Ah. I see you did not miss that part. I never did find out. Though Lord Elrond quizzed me most thoroughly about footprints and such about. I was too busy being slightly afraid and trying to find the cause of the sounds; I obliterated most of the tracks of whomever set it. Lord Elrond, I think, was more put out about that part of my adventure, than the bringing the fox back.” He frowned in thought. “I never did ask.”
“Hmm. So Imladris is not quite as protected as Lord Elrond would have us imagine.”
“Nowhere in all of Middle-earth is quite as protected as we would imagine or hope. You must know that yourself, Boromir. What tale do you have to tell?”
“None.” The man stood up and walked up the hill.
Aragorn ran after him, took his arm, and turned Boromir towards him. “Are you angry because I did not tell you about the traps? I told you the truth: I do not know.”
“I am not angry.”
“Then why do you leave?”
“I am tired and hungry.”
“The tales I have to tell all end in death and misery. I would keep them hidden else the Halflings grow fearful. I cannot tell them I am the great warrior they think. My men died about me, defending me, defending Gondor,” he waved his hand furiously, “defending the Halflings even. How do I tell them such stories? I will not hide the information they need to survive our Quest, but they do not need to know of the horrors of the war that lies before us. Not now. Not here.”
“Boromir.” Aragorn pulled the man closer to him. “You are not alone in this. Nor in the defense of Middle-earth. I thought you realized that at the Council.”
“It is well and good to speak of hope when in the midst of a land rich in sorcery, but there is no hope,” Boromir stopped and drew a ragged breath. “There is no hope if you do not accompany me to Minas Tirith. Does that answer your question, Aragorn? Can you tell me, even now, that you will fulfill your promise, your destiny, and fight by my side to save my City, my people?”
He turned quickly as he heard the Halfling call his name. “I am coming, Master Thain. I will take my leave now, Aragorn.” He walked up the hill feeling Aragorn’s eyes following him. He sighed and Pippin looked up.
“Everything all right between you and Strider?”
“It is, Master Thain. As men of Gondor, we have many things to discuss. But right now, my stomach tells me that we will find a fine repast waiting for us. Is that not what you need?”
“I do,” Pippin said firmly. “And you at my side. I’ve already let Merry get a head start. Can we hurry?”
Boromir laughed, shades of anger and frustration falling off him as the leaves off the mallyrn.
I hesitated to use the term 'ghost' but found Gandalf using the term in FOTK, Chapter 2, The Shadow of the Past - so the Hobbits did know what a ghost was.
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