The Fencing Lesson

by Varda

'Pippin is faster, but Merry has a longer reach' said Aragorn, sitting on a sun-warmed rock looking down on the little space among gorse bushes where the two young hobbits were practicing with their short swords. A cold wind nipped at them from the snowfields of Caradhras above but it was pleasant here in the sun, and they had had something to eat and were resting.

'They're both hopeless' said Boromir. Aragorn took the pipe out of his mouth and turned to look at the unsmiling warrior beside him.

'They're only hobbits!'he said. Boromir made a face.

'I know they're hobbits; I know all about them, who their mothers and fathers are, their grandparents, second cousins, third cousins, aunts and uncles.....' Aragorn laughed at him.

'They like you!' Boromir raised his eyebrows

'They never stop talking. What do they do to people they don't like?' 'Then they don't talk to you, they talk about you' Boromir looked at him. 'I'd rather have a host of orcs after me than have a bad reputation in The Shire' said Aragorn and he laughed again.

'You like them too, Aragorn, you know their ways. And Frodo trusts you' Boromir nodded to where Frodo sat on a rock watching his cousins. He was laughing, something rare for Frodo. Sam had brought him something to eat but he was more interested in Merry and Pippin pretending to be soldiers.

Aragorn looked back at Frodo but said nothing. The clumsy clanging continued. Boromir winced. 'Remember they never held a sword till a few weeks ago' said Aragorn. 'I hope they never need to hold one for real' said Boromir. 'Why don't you give them a lesson?' said Aragorn. Boromir looked at him in surprise' 'Me? Why not you?' 'You are the best swordsman. I do not flatter....' Boromir grinned. 'I think you do, but nevertheless it would be a waste of time' Aragorn's face darkened. 'I think you underestimate hobbits. They are hard to daunt or kill. Give them a lesson, they will learn quickly, mark my words' Boromir looked down at the little pair, wrestling with the unfamiliar weapons. They resembled two curly-headed children from Gondor. Boromir thought about the perils ahead. He knew himself how dangerous this route was, even if they were never detected. It would be a kindness to show the little folk a few guard moves. He had taught many warriors before, he was indeed accounted a great swordsman. He looked about; they would not move on for a while yet. Gandalf sat smoking his pipe on a rock and Legolas was standing silhouetted against the cobalt sky, his bright eyes shaded by his long fingers as he looked out towards the south. Did he ever tire? Gimli also gazed south, thinking no doubt of Moria, about which he talked incessantly. Boromir's glance strayed again to Frodo, sitting on the rock where Sam had now rejoined him. He was picking at his food but Sam was eating enough for two. It was very hard to get close to Frodo for a word or two, there was always either Sam or Aragorn with him, and both were wary and protective. Boromir felt annoyed; as if he was not to be trusted....

High clear hobbit voices interrupted his thoughts. Merry and Pippin were arguing over how to hold a sword properly. Boromir sighed and stood up. Aragorn grinned and winked at him.

'Show me those swords' Boromir said. Merry and Pippin stopped in surprise then their faces lit up with joy and they exchanged delighted glances as Boromir corrected their stance and showed them how to grip their swords. 'These are good blades, if little more than long knives. Where did you get them?' asked Boromir. Merry and Pippin looked at each other, wondering how this tall stern man would take the account of their capture by the barrow wight and their rescue by Tom Bombadil. But Boromir seemed to have found his answer by holding Pippin's blade up and studying the red letters engraved on it. 'This is a sword of Westernesse, only from long ago!' He seemed to fall into a reverie gazing at the bright blade and some moments passed. Then he seemed to shake himself and handed the blade back to Pippin and barked at them; 'right! On guard! as I showed you....'

Boromir drew his own great bright sword and took each hobbit in turn through his paces. He had to pull his blows and proceed gently, in case he broke a hobbit arm. 'One, two, three' Pippin moved quickly, even too quickly 'careful, not too high, watch your guard'. The bright curly head bobbed as he parried the great long sword. His face showed delight that Boromir was showing so much interest in them.

'Now you, Merry' Merry was taller and stronger but not as quick or agile. He was also still eating.

'Eat or fight, make up your mind!' said Boromir in exasperation. Aragorn cackled with laughter. 'Never give a hobbit a choice that involves food' he shouted down to them. Merry swallowed hard. 'Ready!' From behind came more laughter and Merry saw Frodo laughing at them, and Sam shaking his head in mock despair.

The hobbits got the hang of it quickly, even Boromir realised they were agile and stronger than they looked. They tended to stand rooted to the ground a bit with those big furry feet. 'Move those feet' shouted Aragorn with his pipe between his teeth. Boromir glanced back at him then turned to the hobbits again missing the secret signal passed between them. He raised his sword and brought it down on Pippin's guard.

'Ouch' yelled the hobbit making heads turn all over the camp. He dropped his sword and cradled his nipped hand. 'Sorry!' said Boromir in sudden concern, lowering his sword and leaning over the apparently stricken hobbit. 'The Shire!' shouted Merry hitting him behind the knees with the flat of his sword. Taken by surprise Boromir fell backwards and dropped his sword as two hobbits piled onto him and pinned him down. Aragorn started laughing, lowering his pipe to enjoy the spectacle of the lord of Gondor struggling with two little folk. Boromir was laughing too, as Merry tried with all his strength to push him flat and Boromir answered by tickling him. Pippin tried to pin the man's arm but got his own pinned down instead. 'He's got my arm, Merry!' Frodo laughed till the tears came.

Then Legolas bounded up onto a high rock. For a moment the Elf stood still, almost like stone himself. He gazed intently south. Sam was looking that way too; hobbits were keen-eyed too. He could see a dark blur on the bright field of sky. 'What is that?' he asked. 'It's nothing' answered Gimli. 'Just a wisp of cloud, blown by the wind...'

Below in the clearing Boromir, with his warrior's reactions, had sensed an alarm and got to his feet, still holding Pippin. Aragorn strode over to him, helping Merry up. Boromir narrowed his eyes and gazed south. 'It's moving fast, against the wind' he said softly. He and Aragorn turned their heads together to look south, like two hounds on the hunt, one bright, one dark. Then Legolas shouted in a voice almost unrecognisable and harsh 'Crebain from Dunland!' 'Hide!' roared Aragorn, diving for Frodo as Boromir shouted 'Merry....Pippin!' and seizing the two hobbits bundled them before him under a spread of gorse.

There was an ecstasy of panic as the company dragged bundles under rocks and threw water on the fire and hid as best they could in thorny gorse and whin. The cloud grew larger till it filled a quarter of the sky. They all lay as still as they could, squinting out into the sunlight waiting for they knew not what, then with a deafening cacophony of screeching a horde of great black crows, bigger than ravens and flying low across rocks and gorse swept over their hiding places. Still as they stayed, hardly daring to breathe, the company felt they were watched, seen. The crows checked and circled the campsite several times. Merry put a hand on Pippin's arm to reassure him and felt him trembling. Then with another burst of deafening screeching the black flock scattered, reformed and flew away back to the south.

Slowly the company crawled out of their hiding places. Everyone looked pale and shaken. The suddenness of the attack had shocked them all. They no longer felt safe. Pippin glanced around as if fearing another surprise attack. Gandalf crawled out of his hiding place, his pipe still clutched in his hand. 'Spies of Sarumen!' he said 'the passage south is watched.' Frodo looked up at him. He was pale and out of breath. Gandalf looked away from him to the sharp snow-covered peak that loomed above them. 'we must take the pass of Caradhras' In the silence that followed Sam coud be heard muttering;

'A nice pickle we're in now...'