Lesson One: Hobbits Need a Good Night's Sleep

Somewhere in this heap of hobbits is the one who is supposed to relieve me from watch. I just have no idea how to determine which one it is.

I bend my knees and crouch near the mass of blankets and curls and limbs. Well, let's see, there are a number of hobbit heads here: one -- two -- three. Where in Overheaven's name is the fourth? Or maybe there are four heads here, and I simply cannot differentiate between them. Only the very tops of their curls are showing, as they have pulled blankets and cloaks up over their bodies from hair-covered toes to foreheads.

I lean in a little. "Merry," I hiss, hoping this will produce the desired response. There is no reply from the pile. "Merry," I try again, louder this time. One of the hobbits shifts slightly, and a small hand appears from beneath the blankets. Relieved, I think for a moment that my problem is solved, until the hobbit gives a soft sigh and I realize that it is just one of them shifting in his sleep.

We have been traveling by night, and the thin sunlight illuminating our daytime encampment gives me some assistance. The black curls in the center belong to Frodo, only he has such dark hair. But then on either end there are light-brown curls, one set more honey-toned than the other. One of those is certainly Merry, making little Pippin the hobbit missing beneath the blankets, as his chestnut curls are nowhere to be seen. I am not certain, however, which light-brown head is Merry and which one is Sam. Finally, I take my best guess and reach out a hand to tap a head. "Merry," I say again.

The hobbit rolls from his back to his side (at least so I think from the movement of his head) and groans. "I'm Sam," he says. "Mr. Merry's on the other end."

"My apologies, Sam," I say, sorry to have woken him without need. We have gone at a great pace during this first leg of our journey, and I know the little people have struggled to keep up. In truth, I feel poorly waking Merry for watch, though it is his turn and I would not insult him by taking his duties upon myself. I turn myself toward the other end of the hobbit pile and tap the second light-brown head. "Merry," I say with more confidence, and this time I get the desired response.

"What?" a distinctly surly voice says.

"It's your watch," I whisper, trying not to wake any more hobbits.

"All right," the voice says, now sounding more weary than surly, but there is no corresponding movement in the hobbit pile that indicates Merry is getting up.

I tap his head again. "Merry, get up," I say.

This has a most unexpected result, and I jump backward when a small figure abruptly bolts upright and tosses the covers off its head. "What's happening? Is it time to leave already?" It is still not my relief, but Pippin, astonishingly wide awake as he addresses me.

"No," I tell him, catching my breath after the surprise, "and my apologies for waking you. I was just trying to rouse Merry for his watch."

"Oh, all right then," Pippin says, and begins pushing the figure beside him out from under the covers, seeming to use both his hands and his feet. "Merry, get up!" he says, not at all quietly, and Merry's hands appear to swat at him.

The hobbit on the other side of Pippin begins drawing the blankets back around himself. "Who has woken Pippin before it is time to get up?" Frodo demands. "Can't we have a few hours of peace and quiet?" Pippin responds by diverting one hand from bereaving Merry of his covers to poke his other cousin in the ribs, rather hard from the looks of it.

"All right, I am up, I am up," Merry says crossly, spurred into movement. He crawls out from the covers and then stands in front of Pippin with his hands on his hips, scowling thoughtfully. Pippin freezes in place, watching Merry warily. I have the clear impression that, well, something is about to happen when Frodo says sharply, "Oh, no you don't, lads, I'm sleeping." His hand appears from beneath his reclaimed covers and latches onto Pippin's shoulder. A hard jerk, and Pippin hits the ground with a "whump!", and then Frodo flicks his wrist and the youngest hobbit disappears from view beneath a blanket.

Merry turns from the hobbit pile. "Thank you, Boromir," he says, his usual even temper apparently back in place. "Everything all right?"

"Ah, yes, it's been a quiet watch," I say, rather dazed by the complexity of waking a hobbit for watch. Such a seemingly simple thing . . .

"Have a good sleep, then," Merry says, perching himself atop a large boulder so he can look about.

"Thank you," I say, and then stretch out in my bedroll. These hobbits are curious creatures, I think just before I go to sleep. I do not know quite what to make of them.

Lesson Two: Hobbit Genealogy

Seven faces turn upward toward the boughs of the tree, watching the two figures clamber higher with assured deftness. The elf scowls in displeasure, and I hide a smile at seeing the normally serene elf disconcerted by so small a thing.

"I certainly could have retrieved the arrow myself, Aragorn," he says again for good measure.

"You certainly could have broken several bones when the tree limbs snapped beneath your weight," Aragorn replies levelly, his eyes not leaving the tree. I wonder if he is as nervous about the climbers as I am. The two figures are near the top now, level with the errant arrow, and one of them is inching forward precariously onto the limb the missile is affixed to, while the other one clings to the tree trunk with one hand and his companion's foot with the other. For all that they are so small, I wonder that the delicate branches hold their weight. I am also surprised at their fearless, easy grace in so precarious a place.

"I thought hobbits were afr-- ahem, disliked heights," Gimli comments.

"Well, they aren't something that we terribly relish," Merry replies, feet firmly on the ground, I note. "But Pippin is all Took, and that clan is less worried by heights than any hobbits you'll find. And Frodo's certainly got enough Took in him to fit that bill, as well. I'd rather stay on the ground, myself."

"Are you not cousins?" I query, somewhat puzzled. "Or do you not have Took blood?"

"Well," Merry is watching Pippin yank the arrow from the limb and scoot back to the relative safety of the tree trunk, "my mother is a Took, of course, sister to Pippin's father, Paladin, and my paternal great-grandmother was Mirabella Took, one of the Old Took's children, so I've certainly got enough Took blood in me, but in practical terms, and especially when it comes to climbing things, I'm a Brandybuck, through and through."

Everyone has stopped looking at the two hobbits in the tree, and now are looking at Merry. When our gazes turn inquiringly to Sam, he shakes his head and states unequivocally, "Sirs, there is not a drop of Took blood in me, and there isn't enough gold in a dragon's horde to persuade me to climb around like that."

I turn this over in my head. "So, Merry, you and Pippin are first cousins?"

He is still watching his kin's downward approach. "Well, yes, but we are also third cousins, descending down from the Old Took line, as Pippin's great-grandfather Hildigrim was brother to Great-Grandmother Mirabella."

This seems logical, so I proceed, my curiosity piqued. "Is Frodo then cousin to you both from his Took heritage?"

"Oh, certainly, Frodo has Took blood, but his mother was a Brandybuck, of course, so he and I are related several times over through both lines," Merry replies. "He is first cousin to my father, making him my first cousin once removed, coming down from Gorbadoc and Mirabella. But since Mirabella is also my maternal great-great-aunt, as well as my paternal great-grandmother, Frodo also is my second cousin once removed, and because Rosa Baggins, one of old Balbo's granddaughters, married Hildigrim Took, we are also third cousins once removed, again on the Took side."

I really could not come up with an adequate response to this recitation if my life depended on it. Beside me, Gandalf mutters in my ear, with unseeming delight at my bewilderment, "We will expect you to recount all of that later, Boromir, so I hope you have committed it to memory."

Now it seems I have stirred up everyone's interest. "So Frodo is more related to you than to Pippin?" Legolas inquires. "I had thought the two of them more closely related than you and Frodo, as they do favor each other."

"Oh, Frodo and Pippin are quite related," Merry reassures the elf. "They are third cousins once removed just as Frodo and I are, from the Took side, down from Rosa and Hildigrim, but they are also second cousins once removed, Pippin's father being Frodo's second cousin, also from the Old Took, but through Frodo's Brandybuck side, Mirabella also being one of Gerontius' children."

"So Frodo is a Baggins from Balbo?" Gimli asks, and Merry gives him a look that borders on exasperation.

"Frodo is a Baggins from his father, Drogo, one of Balbo's great-great-grandsons, but more importantly, he is a Brandybuck from his mother, Primula, one of Gorbadoc's daughters and sister to Old Rory, my paternal grandfather," he says in a rather affronted voice. "But heredity being as it is, you are right, Legolas, that Frodo ended up looking like a Took."

"What is this?" Frodo demands, swinging down from one of the tree's lower branches. "Are you slandering my family tree again, Merry?"

"I am doing nothing but raising you in the esteem of our companions by pointing out to them your Brandybuck line," Merry answers, "and it is not my fault you came out looking and behaving like a Took instead of a proper Brandybuck, who would never be caught running along tree branches like a squirrel. And at your age, too."

"I thought that was the Baggins in me," Frodo says, dusting off his hands and returning the ill-shot arrow (originally meant as a demonstration to the hobbits) to its chagrined owner. "I seem to recall Bilbo scaling a few trees, more daunting than this, in his day. And at my age."

"That was someone else's doing, and no fault of his bloodlines, I am certain," Merry states with a sideways glance at Gandalf.

"Meriadoc Brandybuck, I know enough of your family history, Took and Brandybuck and whatever else may please you, that I would advise you not go down that path lest I get the itch to begin telling stories after dinner," the wizard answers in an ominous voice, but I can see his eyes twinkling.

"Are you going to tell stories, Gandalf, really?" Peregrin asks, dropping from the tree and landing on all fours like a cat. "I have always wanted to know what happened to Hildifons and Isengar. Our family records don't say much of anything. Did you know them? Do you know what happened to them? Will you really tell us when we stop for dinner?"

Merry is grinning in a way that clearly shows he believes he has got the upper hand over Gandalf in the end, and Frodo is practically bouncing on the balls of his feet with pleasure at the wizard's plight.

"Yes, will you, Gandalf? We would love to hear all about your past adventures with other hobbits," the Ringbearer says, most certainly aware that he is just egging Pippin on. "You've always had a particular fondness for Tooks, though, haven't you?"

"Yes, Gandalf, you did used to come to the Tooks first for everything," Pippin states. "I don't know when the Bagginses became so high in your book. I would have thought a Took would have served you just fine as a burglar. Why ever did you take up with the Bagginses anyway?"

"Yes, Gandalf," Frodo says, all big blue eyes and and deceptively innocent expression, "how could you ever tire of taking Tooks with you on adventures? I'd have thought you'd want to associate with hobbits more connected to the Thain than we lowly Bagginses."

Frodo and Merry are grinning broadly, and I wonder at their boldness in taunting the wizard in a manner I would never dream of. Even Sam is hiding a smile as he fusses with Bill's baggage. But Pippin is looking up at Gandalf with sincere green eyes and an earnest, open face.

"But you wouldn't ever tire of the Tooks, would you, Gandalf?" he asks anxiously. "I mean, really, you just chose Bilbo because you knew he was a Took deep down, right?"

"But of course, Peregrin," Gandalf says, seizing his chance for graceful extraction. He lays a gnarled hand on Pippin's head. "I knew that Bilbo could be the finest hobbit in the Shire if only I could wake up a little more Took in him. And my plan turned out quite well in the end, don't you think?"

Pippin nods, and then asks, "So will you tell us about Hildifons and Isengar at supper? You do know what happened to them, don't you? I mean, you know all those types of things, don't you?"

I am amused, and a little touched, by Peregrin's innocent assumption of Gandalf's omnipotence, but Gandalf seems a mite wearied by it -- perhaps he has more familiarity with the young hobbit's persistence than I do.

"We will see, we will see," Gandalf answers with a sigh. "Come now, we have squandered enough time on Master Greenleaf's archery lesson. Come along, all of you, we must continue."

As we ready ourselves to march, I hear Pippin saying to his second cousin once removed and his third cousin once removed, "Frodo, do get Gandalf to tell us about Hildifons and Isengar tonight. I know he must know what happened to them, and I have wanted to know for so very long."

Aragorn comes over to me and hands me some supplies to affix to my pack. "If you are having trouble keeping that all straight," he whispers, "just remember -- Sam is Frodo's gardener."

Not only are these hobbits the strangest beings I have ever traveled with, their oddities seem to rub off on their companions, I think as I follow after a grinning Aragorn.

Lesson Three: Hobbit Grooming

"Well, at least try to comb it or something," Merry is saying to Pippin in exasperation. The object of his exasperation has just finished what I suppose you could call his ablutions after breakfast, or supper, or whatever you would term it when you sleep all day and walk all night, before settling down to rest. However, there is still a broad stripe of dirt across his forehead, and his hair -- the cause of Merry's consternation -- is sticking up in the front, and matted into a snarled mess in the back.

"It's fine," Pippin says dismissively, then tries to move away when Merry grabs him by the collar and begins squashing down the gnarled curls with his free hand. "Stop that!" Pippin commands, squirming, but Merry has a firm grasp on him (and seemingly some experience with restraining a wriggling Pippin) and does not relent. Finally, though, he heaves a defeated sigh and releases his now surly looking cousin.

"I think you just need a haircut," Merry says decisively.

"Merry, no one out here cares what my hair looks like," Pippin replies, now sounding somewhat exasperated himself.

I have noted before the different levels of care the hobbits put into their appearance. Merry and Frodo both do their best to stay as clean and tidy as possible, from their hair to their faces to their clothes. Sam is always careful to keep his face and hands washed, and generally runs a brush through his hair once a day, but all in all does not appear to give a lot of thought to how he looks. But Pippin, I do believe, would happily roll about in the dirt and let his hair turn into a rat's nest and never give it another thought.

Frodo has come up beside his cousins and joins Merry in looking at Pippin distastefully. "Merry's right," he says, "you need a haircut. You look disgraceful."

Pippin puts his lower lip out a little in a pout, making me choke back a sympathetic chuckle, and then reaches his hands up to mush down his wayward locks, to little avail. "You two don't look so grand yourselves, you know," he mumbles sullenly.

Merry and Frodo eye each other critically, and then nod at the same time a moment later. "Right, so we all need haircuts," Merry says. "I don't suppose we have a pair of scissors?"

Sam has been fumbling about in his pack, and at that moment he materializes beside the cousins, holding a small pair of sewing scissors. He clears his throat. "Didn't think about needing them for haircuts, but I figured they might come in handy for something," he says.

"Sam, you're just a marvel," Frodo says admiringly, and soon he is seated on the ground, with Sam standing behind him wielding the scissors. Merry stands nearby to watch, while Pippin, still sulking a bit, plops down on the ground to observe out of the corner of his eye.

There was no discussion about who would cut Frodo's hair -- Sam simply took up his place behind Frodo, and no one questioned it. I find this a curious thing, but deduce that it must have to do with social standing. I suppose that, as Frodo's servant, it is assumed that Sam will be the one to cut his hair. But I also find it curious that everyone assumed that Frodo would be the first to receive his haircut. Surely not because he is the Ringbearer?

I am watching them (Sam is very intent on the task at hand, and seems to be somewhat skilled at it) and puzzling over this turn of events, when Gandalf joins me and lights his pipe. "Frodo is the eldest cousin, you know," he comments after a moment.

I turn to him, furrowing my brow in puzzlement. "I beg your pardon?" I ask.

"That is why he gets to go first," Gandalf clarifies, answering the question I had not asked. "Next to class distinction, seniority in the family line is the most important factor in hobbit society."

"I was wondering," I replied. "They all seemed agreed on how to proceed, but I was not certain of their line of reasoning."

Gandalf puffs a bit on his pipe, before adding, "Hobbits, in general, are very concerned with social order and the proper way of doing things. Do not forget that the three cousins over there also are members of the highest echelon of hobbit society, so these habits are even more ingrained in them."

It is strange to me to think of Frodo, Merry and Pippin as elite members of their society, but I know from our conversations that this is true. In fact, if I understand correctly, Pippin will someday inherit the most important title in the Shire, and Merry an only slightly less important one. And I have long noted the markings of the upper class in their clothing, especially compared to Samwise. All three cousins wear clothing of expensive material, with detailed needlework, while Sam's clothing is plainer, served by simple, if well-done, stitching.

Sam soon declares Frodo finished, and takes care to brush off the stray hair clippings from his master's jacket before letting him stand back up. "Thank you, Sam," Frodo says, running his fingers through his now-tidier-looking locks. "I feel much more like myself now." He turns to look at Merry. "Your turn. Shall I cut it?"

Sam clears his throat. "I'd be happy to do it, Mr. Frodo, sir, that is, if Mr. Merry is willing," he says, and gives them a small, bashful smile.

Merry and Frodo both seem surprised and pleased at the offer, so it is that Merry soon has taken the seat just vacated by his cousin. This behavior I understand, coming from a society that has class distinctions and servants. Sam is Frodo's servant, not Merry's, and therefore it is not entirely appropriate for him to offer his services to another member of a higher class without his master first volunteering him to do so. But under these circumstances, it is a kindness that I am certain is appreciated by both the master and his cousin. At any rate, all three seem pleased with the arrangement, and Merry soon is looking more like the chipper young gentlehobbit I met in Rivendell.

Merry having his hair cut has enticed Pippin out of his sulk, and he joins Frodo in watching with interest. Once Sam has finished, and meticulously brushed down Merry's jacket, he hands the scissors over to Merry, who takes Sam's spot as Pippin sits down in front of him. This is all done with a number of words of thanks and meaningless comments, but again with no discussion on how next they are going to proceed. Indeed, Pippin does not even join in the conversation, just settles himself and then scrunches up his face as Merry begins to tug at the tangles in back.

"I suppose they all know that no one but Merry is allowed to cut Pippin's hair?" I say to Gandalf in a low voice.

He chortles a bit, before replying, "I dare say so, though if Merry were not here, I imagine it would fall to Frodo. But if I were the wagering type, I would say young Peregrin has only ever had his hair cut by two people, his nurse and Merry. Hobbits are quite indulgent toward their offspring, and that rapscallion is the beloved baby of both the Took and Brandybuck clans. He has never been handled with anything but the utmost care in all his life."

After watching for a bit, I decide it is just as well that someone with experience is wielding a sharp instrument near Pippin's head. He is always fairly restless, but now is doing his best to hold very still, clearly knowing better than to peeve Merry during this process. However, it seems that every so often, he cannot help himself and twitches a mite, or shifts just a little. Fortunately, something alerts Merry to each movement just before it happens, and he moves the scissors away and patiently waits for Pippin to settle again. I am absolutely fascinated by this, and even Gandalf seems to be watching with keen interest. I cannot for the life of me work out what it is that lets Merry know Pippin is about to move, and in what direction, but their motions are as choreographed as an intricate dance. I also note that Merry often combs his fingers reassuringly through Pippin's curls, an action that seems to soothe Pippin quite a bit.

Still, the youngest cousin's knees are bouncing impatiently by the time Merry declares him fit to be seen again and releases him. Once Pippin bounds up, I note that Merry has simply chopped off the gnarled mess in the back, and that Peregrin's hair is now shorter than I have ever seen it. This does not escape Pippin, either, when he reaches up to examine the result with his fingers. I hear Gandalf give a small noise that I believe is a smothered chortle.

"Merry, it's too short," Pippin complains, but Merry shakes his head at him, unperturbed.

"No, it isn't," he states. "This will keep it from getting so snarled, since you seem to have forgotten how to use a brush. It also means I won't have to cut it again for a while, so be grateful. Besides, your hair grows so quickly anyway, it will be too long again before any of the rest of ours will."

Pippin looks a little mournful as he touches what remains of his curls, but does not complain anymore, and joins his cousins in turning to look at Sam.

"Come on, then, Sam, one good turn deserves another," Merry says, holding aloft the scissors. "I'll cut yours for you."

Sam flushes red. "Oh, Mr. Merry, really, mine is fine, I'm sure. There's no need for you to do that."

"Oh, no, Sam, if I have to get all of my hair hacked off, so do you," Pippin says decisively. "Let me cut Sam's hair, Merry. I haven't had a turn yet at being barber."

This suggestion brings a look of stricken horror to the faces of the other three hobbits, and Frodo quickly pipes up to put an end to that thought. "I think not, Peregrin. I am the eldest, and I haven't had a turn yet either. I shall cut Sam's hair," he says with an amused smile.

Now Sam is practically squirming with discomfort. I understand his dilemma without Gandalf explaining it to me. It is completely inappropriate for a master to cut a servant's hair, yet if Sam refuses, he will be going against his master's wishes and will offend him. Frodo takes note of the reluctance on Sam's face, and coaxes him a bit by saying, "Come on, Sam, I promise not to butcher it. I cut Merry's many times when he was a little lad, and you know I used to cut Bilbo's for him. Come along, have a seat."

So it is with a red face that Sam slowly, reluctantly, sits down in the spot Pippin just vacated and watches as Merry turns the scissors over to Frodo. This haircut is delivered in utter silence, Sam's look of discomfort never fading. Yet it is Frodo's face I am watching. He is intent on his task, yet has the same look of tender care on his face that Merry's had while he cut Pippin's hair. Sam's devotion to Frodo is blaringly apparent to anyone spending more than a few moments in their company, yet now I can see that Frodo is no less devoted to his servant. It is a rare blessing for both master and servant to share this type of bond, and I am suddenly grateful that the Ringbearer has this good fortune. He will need every small advantage he can find before this quest is over, I suspect.

Soon Frodo is finished with his self-appointed task, and proudly examines his handiwork. "Much better," he declares, then looks about at all of his companions in satisfaction. "I do believe I recognize you all again," he says happily, then puts his fingers in Pippin's curls, tugging a bit. "Merry, these are a little short," he comments.

"I told you," Pippin mumbles, still sounding rather put out.

Merry grins good-naturedly at Frodo. "I say they are just fine, and since I am the one who will have to comb through them when they are an abysmal mess, I think I should decide how long they are."

Frodo sighs. "Very well," he replies. "I don't wish to take over that task, so I will not criticize."

"And I can comb my own hair," Pippin adds, still in an aggrieved mumble.

"Of course you can," Frodo soothes, finger-combing the locks in question until they meet his satisfaction. "Are all of you ready for bed, then?"

They all are, and soon have created the by-now-familiar mound of bedding and warm hobbit bodies, out from which I can only see the tops of four sets of now-shortened curls.

Lesson Four: Hobbits Make Loyal Companions

A light dusting of snow is drifting from the grey afternoon sky, and I find it mesmerizing in my weariness. I shake myself and stand up, determined to stay alert on watch. I stamp about a bit to warm my legs, and survey the still, flat landscape, but find no indication of danger. Then I turn to observe camp, and find everyone still sleeping soundly, weary from the last arduous march.

My watch companion, however, I discover is also moving about a bit on the other side of camp, kicking up small flurries of snow with his furry feet and tipping his head back, eyes closed and smiling blissfully as he lets the snowflakes kiss his face.

I smile to myself as I sit back down to watch him. Finally, he catches note of my observation, and blushes a little. He walks over to me, still red-faced.

"I am sorry," Pippin says, "I suppose I am not much good as watch if I am running around like that."

"I am certain you would not neglect your duties and allow a foe to approach unnoticed," I say, gesturing for him to sit with me. "Besides, I think Gandalf was overly cautious in insisting we watch in pairs today. This land seems barren of all life."

Pippin settles himself beside me on the low boulder, pulling his legs up and digging his toes a little into the sparse snow. "It does not snow so often in the Shire, so it is always a splendid treat for us when it does," he comments as way of explanation for his behavior.

"It is so in my land, too," I tell him. "Though it snows often upon the mountains, in the city itself it only snows once every few years, so it is always a grand occasion." I smile to myself, remembering happier times when a snowfall could delight me as much as it still does my small companion.

"What are you remembering?" a piping voice interrupts my thoughts, and I turn back to Pippin. He blushes again, and ducks his head. "I am sorry," he says, "you just looked like you were having a happy memory."

I smile at him. "I was," I admit. "You reminded me of my brother, Faramir, for a moment, when he saw his first snowfall. He tipped his head back like you were doing, to let it fall on his face. I can hear his laughter even now, so many years later."

Pippin is looking at me with interest, and brings his arms up to encircle his knees, clearly expecting me to go on. I close my eyes and picture it again.

"We were quite small -- Faramir was about four -- and my mother woke us very early one morning, telling us she had a special treat for us. She bundled us in warm clothes and took us into the courtyard, and it was just cold enough that a perfect little snow was falling. I had seen snow before, but Faramir had not, and at first he was afraid to go into it. But I ran ahead and kicked some around and let it fall on me to show him that it would not hurt, so soon he followed. He ran around and let it fall on his face, and on his tongue, and kicked it about and mashed it in his hands. He asked my mother where it came from, and she told him the Valar send it when winter is too dreary, to make the world beautiful again until spring blossoms."

I open my eyes and see that the tale has delighted my listener, who is smiling broadly. "That is a good memory, Boromir," he says. "Thank you for sharing it."

"Thank you for reminding me of it," I answer, and smile back.

Pippin rests his chin on his knees. "So you have a brother? Do you have other siblings, too?"

"No," I answer, "just one younger brother, but he is dear to me."

"What is he like?" Pippin prompts.

I pause to turn the question over in my head, and finally say, slowly, "He is not much like me, save in appearance. He does not care for battle and glory, though he is a brave captain in defense of our home. His men love him dearly, for he has a great heart, and knows the little details of all their lives. But he cares more for learning and the beauty of our land than for adventure."

"You must miss him," Pippin says, and I nod.

"I do," I admit, feeling a pang of desire to sit and talk with my brother on the high walls of Minas Tirith once more. I turn back to the hobbit a moment later, and attempt to shake off my sudden loneliness. "And you?" I ask. "Do you have any brothers?"

"Oh, no," he answers, brushing a snowflake off the end of his nose. "But I have three older sisters. And, of course, I have Merry and Frodo."

I chuckle at this. " Three older sisters?"

Pippin nods and smiles. "Yes, they do seem like a lot sometimes. Pearl is the oldest, and she is married now and lives on the other side of the Tookland -- that is the part of the Shire my family lives in. She has two little lasses, and was to have another baby this midwinter. I suppose it has already arrived." His face is distant and wistful for a moment, and I wonder if this is the first time it has occurred to him that he has a new little niece or nephew that he has never seen.

"Then there is Pimpernel. She is not married yet, for she says all the lads are silly and the same. But Mamma says one day she will find one who does not strike her as so silly. Pimmie has studied much with our healer, and knows a great deal about herbs and such. She is very clever and nice, but not always so much fun.

"And then there is Pervinca." Pippin rolls his eyes and pulls a funny face intended to make me laugh, which it does. "She is closest to me in age, and we played together a lot when we were little, but she can be a great deal of trouble." He lowers his voice as if telling me a great family secret. "Vinca is rather loud, and not very good at keeping secrets," he confides. "She also likes to be in charge all the time. She is very pretty, and has many suitors, but I think they are all rather afraid of her. Father smacked the back of my head for saying so, though, so I keep those thoughts to myself now."

I chuckle at this image, and imagine that Pippin's poor parents have their hands full between the young lady he has just described and the hobbit beside me. "So no brothers, hmm?" I ask. "I suppose that is why you are so close to Merry and Frodo?"

"Oh," he says carelessly, as though these words should explain everything, "Merry is just my Merry, you know, whether we'd had brothers or not. But it is really because of him that I am so close to Frodo. They grew up together at Brandy Hall, before Bilbo adopted Frodo, and were very close, even though Frodo is so much older."

I know that Frodo is the eldest hobbit, but he does not appear to be much older than his companions, so I am surprised that Pippin mentions his age. "Frodo is not very much older than Merry, is he?" I query.

Pippin laughs. "Frodo is old , Boromir," he states emphatically. "He turned 50 this year, while Merry is 36, and only just come of age three years ago." He must note the look of surprise on my face, for he adds, "I always thought it was just a Baggins trait, him looking so young, and Bilbo before him, but now I know it is because of the Ring." His voice drops and grows somber at the end of the sentence, and his brow furrows in concern. I turn the conversation, still curious.

"And when did you come of age?" I ask.

"Oh!" Pippin looks back up in surprise. "But I have not. I am only 28, so it will be nearly five years yet."

Now my brow is furrowed in concern. I knew that Pippin was young, but I did not know that he was not even considered an adult by hobbit standards. I suddenly understand better the way his fellow hobbits treat him. He looks at my face, then turns the conversation hastily.

"Merry really was too young to be a playmate of Frodo's, but he was born just a couple of years after Frodo's parents died. Frodo did not have any siblings, so he was really quite all alone, for all that Brandy Hall is so filled with our relations. Aunt Esmie -- that is Merry's mother -- told me once that she thinks Frodo needed someone of his own to love very much, and Merry was such a nice baby that Frodo just adored him. Then when Merry was older, Frodo was like a big brother to him -- Merry doesn't have any brothers or sisters, either. Frodo taught him all kinds of things and they were always having fun. Frodo moved to Hobbiton with Bilbo when Merry was --" here Pippin scrunches up his face in thought "-- seven, but Bilbo liked Merry quite a bit too, of course, so he spent lots of time at Bag End, as did Frodo at Brandy Hall."

"And when you came along, you just insisted on going everywhere with them," I finish the story for him.

He blushes a bit and nods. "Well, they need someone to look after them, don't you think?" he says with self-depreciating humor, then adds quietly, "But I would not trade them for brothers of my own."

"I don't imagine you would," I answer, just as quietly, and he leans against my side a little in gratitude. We finish the rest of our watch in silence, watching the snow turn the world beautiful again.

Lesson Five: Hobbit Customs & Celebrations

“Boromir,” Pippin says, tugging at my cloak as he trots along beside me, “Boromir, Strider says it is your birthday.”

I chuckle, wondering where Aragorn has come across that bit of information. “Yes, it is,” I tell the hobbit, “but I’m afraid I haven’t any cake to share with all of you.”

Pippin smiles up at me. “Happy birthday, Boromir,” he says sincerely. “Don’t worry about the cake.”

“Thank you, Pippin,” I answer, and lay a hand briefly on his curly head. “And you should not worry about a present.”

“Why?” Pippin asks, looking visibly startled. “Do you have some for us?”

“What?” I ask, puzzled.

“Presents,” Pippin says patiently. “For the rest of us. Because it’s your birthday.”

I stare at him. “Presents for you?” I respond. “Shouldn’t you have presents for me?”

“Whatever for?” Pippin demands, wrinkling up his nose. “It’s your birthday, you’re the one who should have presents for the rest of us.”

“Pippin!” two voices call at once, and I suddenly realize that everyone else is most certainly listening to this strange conversation. Well, at least Merry and Frodo are, and now they have paused to wait for us.

“Peregrin Took,” Frodo says in a reprimanding voice when we reach them, while Merry looks up at me and says, “Dreadfully sorry, Boromir. No one expects you to have presents for us way out here in the middle of nowhere.”

“He brought it up!” Pippin protests. “I wasn’t going to say anything about presents at all, I was just going to say happy birthday, but now he says we’re supposed to give him presents. On his birthday!” He is bristling with indignation.

“What?” Merry asks, and eyes me suspiciously. “Why would you expect presents on your birthday, Boromir?”

“Is that not your custom?” I ask. “To give a person presents on his birthday?”

Now Frodo has begun to laugh. “No,” he says, “though I can see it is your custom. No, hobbits give away presents on their birthdays.”

“You mean you receive presents on your birthday?” Merry says, and when I nod, he adds, “Well, that’s just bollocks.”

Merry!” Frodo says, and Sam, just joining us with his faithful Bill, chokes back a laugh. Pippin ignores them and gives me a pitying look.

“So you only get birthday presents once a year?” he asks. “Boromir, that’s dreadful! Why, back home I think I get at least three presents a week. I can’t imagine going a whole year between presents!”

“And how do you remember when everyone’s birthday is?” Frodo asks (though not before delivering a soft smack to the back of Merry’s head). “I mean, one never forgets one’s own birthday, but if you were expected to give other people presents on their birthday -- well, those are a lot of birthdays to remember.”

“A lot of birthdays for Sam to remember, you mean,” Merry mutters.

“You’ve got that right,” Sam agrees with a sigh.

“What?” Frodo squawks. “I don’t need Sam to remember everything for me, thank you very much.”

“Frodo,” Pippin says with the exasperated air of the long-suffering, “last winter when Sam went to visit his sister Daisy you forgot to light the fire under that stew, and then you forgot to put your letters in the Post the whole time he was gone and wondered why no one was answering you.”

“And you completely forgot about Cousin Pansy’s wedding,” Merry adds. “You’d gone off walking in the Northfarthing and not only didn’t attend, you didn’t send a gift or a letter or anything at all, after you’d promised her you would be there.”

“Didn’t know about that one,” Sam says, and then, when everyone looks at him, clarifies, “The wedding, I mean, else I would have sent him along to Buckland like he should have done. Don’t believe he ever told me when the date was.”

“I suppose I must have -- forgot,” Frodo says, nearly choking on the last word, The tips of his ears are flushing red, and his cousins laugh with glee. Even Sam looks a little amused.

“Merry,” Pippin giggles, “do you remember when he left me at the market?”

“Oh, yes!” Merry says. “’Where’s our little Pippin?’ Bilbo asks him, and there’s Frodo, looking all around like he might have stuck you in a pocket and just didn’t know which one. And then leaving me and Berilac behind at the Fair that year!”

“When the two of you talked your way into the Dog and Badger!” Pippin answers, now clutching his sides with laughter. “Uncle Saradoc made him pay the whole bill!”

“All right, all right!” exclaims Frodo, now completely red-faced. “I may be a little forgetful at times. But I am a very important hobbit and have many pressing things to attend to.”

“Such as what?” Merry gasps, laughing nearly as hard as Pippin, who seems quite beyond speech.

“Like wishing our new friend Boromir a very happy birthday,” Frodo says, and turns to bow graciously to me. “May you celebrate many more in better company than that of my ill-behaved cousins.”

I have managed not to laugh throughout the recitation of Frodo’s past mishaps, but I cannot keep the smile from my face. “Truly, Frodo, I cannot recall ever having a merrier birthday than this,” I answer, and cannot resist adding, “And my memory seems much better than some I could name.”

Pippin falls over, squealing with laughter, and Merry looks ready to burst in two with delight. Even Sam casts me a quick, amused grin. Frodo, though, merely bows again, a small smile on his lips.

“I would hold that comment against you, Boromir, save that I shall not recollect it momentarily,” he says, and now Merry falls over as well.

“Boromir!” Aragorn calls from in front of us. “Stop making the hobbits fall over or we won’t be able to make camp early enough for your party!”

As I haul Merry and Pippin to their feet and encourage them to pick up their pace, I wonder how I have survived all these years with such backwards birthday traditions. I shall be certain to rectify the situation once I am back in Gondor.

Lesson Six: Making Good Use of Your Hobbit

Whomp! I land solidly on the dusty ground, knocking the breath out of myself. Thump! And then there's the elf, right on top of me. For one so graceful and light on his feet, he is surprisingly heavy.

But there seems to be no harm done, and we both are soon back on our feet, scowling up at the deceptively benign slope of loose gravel and tangled thickets. Well, I am scowling. Legolas is managing to look as unflustered as if he had intended to descend so precipitously all the time. At least we did not slide further down, where the ground sheers off to drop some 60 feet. We can now note the definite change in the terrain as we approach the mountains. Our path has been growing ever more difficult as the days go by.

Legolas and I are brushing ourselves off and making certain our packs are still secure when we are joined by the two younger hobbits, who have quite sensibly come down the slope on their bottoms, using hands and feet to control their descent. I may have thought this approach undignified had I not just landed face-first in the dirt with an elf on my back. Halflings may be small, but these that are my companions I have found to be as sure on their feet and as stealthy as the elf. In this instance, certainly they have surpassed him.

"All right, then?" Merry calls to us both as he reaches steady ground.

"Naught wounded but our pride," Legolas informs him, shaking gravel out of his hair. I give the hobbits a quick nod to show that I, too, am unharmed.

So, then, my pack is all right (though rather flattened), weaponry all accounted for and secure. . . . I pat myself down to make certain nothing is amiss, and then for some reason suddenly place my hand on the small pocket sewn into the front of my surcoat. It is empty.

My heart beating faster, I feel inside the tiny pocket with a finger, but there is nothing there. I begin casting about the ground, and though we have traveled by daylight today due to the tricky terrain my eyes discern nothing but dirt and rocks.

"Did you lose something?" This is from Pippin, watching me with great curiosity.

"Er . . . yes," I answer, reluctant to be made the center of attention over so trivial a matter. Both Merry and Legolas have joined Pippin now, and all three are clearly waiting for me to tell them what it is I have lost.

I clear my throat. "It is nothing, really, just a small trinket." I try to look dismissive. "You need not worry yourselves."

"Well, it must be something if you have carried it all this way with you," Merry points out sensibly.

I flush. "Well, it is just . . . it is a small ring that belonged to my mother when she was a girl. She gave it to me 'ere her passing, so that I might perhaps pass it on to a daughter someday. I do not know why I carry it with me; a foolish notion, I am sure."

Legolas and Merry both give me stern looks (disconcertingly identical on two so different beings) that show they do not believe for one second that the ring is not precious to me, and wordlessly begin to search the ground. But Pippin is all open distress and big eyes.

"Oh, but we must find it then, Boromir," he says earnestly, "if it was from your mother!"

So then all four of us are scrabbling about in the dust searching for a small silver band set with a tiny yet perfect pearl, a reminder of my mother's native sea-country. I am torn between breaking up this scene before the rest of the company arrives from wherever they are dallying, and desperation to find the trinket.

"Boromir," Legolas calls, but he is not holding aloft the retrieved item. Rather, he is peering over the edge. I join him and he points.

There it is, at the bottom of a very tiny, narrow crevice in the wall, about seven feet down, and completely unattainable. My heart aches to walk away from it thus, but there is naught else to be done unless one of us suddenly learns how to fly.

Merry and Pippin have joined us, and flop on their bellies to creep cautiously up to the edge and peer down. After a long, resigned silence, Pippin suddenly says, "I do believe I could get it for you, Boromir, if you held me over the edge."

I am aghast. Why, I would have to dangle him by his ankles to do this thing! And for all I have seen Peregrin scrambling up trees, I cannot believe that his inborn fear of heights is so diminished that he is willing to be suspended over a 60-foot drop just to recover a sentimental trifle for me. Besides, his kinsman would certainly never allow it. Merry is far too caring of his younger cousin’s welfare.

"I do believe you could, Pip," Merry says quite calmly. "Your hands are a bit smaller than mine." I know my mouth is hanging open, but I seem unable to snap it shut and provide an appropriate response.

"I think they are right, Boromir," Legolas adds, leaning over the edge to give the feat his own consideration.

I sputter incoherently for a moment, and then manage, "But I could not think of doing such a thing! I will not have you placed in danger just so I can have some small personal item back."

The hobbits twist their curly heads around to look up at me, wearing identical frowns. "Why?" Pippin demands. "You won't drop me, will you?"

Well, of course I never would, and so it is in short order that I find I am the one on my belly at the edge of the high drop, a fierce grip on two grubby hobbit ankles, Merry at my shoulder and Legolas crouched outward over the edge to help guide Pippin on his treasure hunt.

"You had better not drop him, you know," Merry says low in my ear in a tone completely lacking any teasing quality, and I wonder fleetingly if perhaps I should not have already taught him quite so much swordplay.

I do not reply, but just hold onto my squirming charge, and obey his and Legolas' directions ("Higher!" "No, more to the left," "Well, don't put my face right into the dirt, please," and one "Oi, Merry, there's a rock here shaped just like a mushroom!") until Pippin gives a triumphant "I have it!"

Ankles to knees to thighs to waist, and then Legolas reaches out to grip the hobbit by his jacket and we pull him back to solid ground. I swing him right-side up so I can see his beaming (if rather dirty) face, and there, clutched in his grip, is my mother's ring, whole and unmarked.

"Thank you, Pippin," I say as he places it in my palm. "Truly." I do not know how to tell him that not only am I touched that he would go to such measures for me, but that both he and Merry would so willingly trust me with his well-being, so I just clasp him firmly on the shoulder.

Peregrin will have none of it, though, and bounds right into my arms for a quick hug. "You are very welcome, Boromir," he says, delighted and proud. "I would hate to lose anything of my mother's ever. I would be so sad that I think I would just cry."

I return his embrace cautiously, startled yet pleased, and then let go. "Yes," I agree. "It has not much monetary value, but I do treasure it in her memory."

Pippin flashes me one last proud grin before bounding back to his customary position at Merry's side. "Did you see me?!" he demands. "That is one for Cousin Bilbo's book when we get back. I don't believe either you or Frodo would have dared do that."

"There are many things Frodo and I would never do that you don't hesitate to, so I don't see as how that alone makes something an accomplishment to be proud of," Merry says wryly as he attempts to dust his cousin off a bit.

"Oh, you're just jealous," Pippin declares, puffing out a bit. "Legolas, would you have let Boromir hold you over a mountainside?"

"Oh, certainly not," Legolas says decisively. "Why, I don't think there is another member of the company who would be so daring." He seems as oblivious to the scathing look Merry sends him as he was to the deliberately loud conversation between Frodo and Merry last week about elves who encourage hobbit-lads to act unnecessarily impetuous after a wood-gathering assignment turned into a ruins-exploring expedition.

Further discussion is cut short by the arrival of Frodo and Samwise down the small incline that began the day's adventure. "Be careful," Legolas calls warningly, but they both take the same sensible route of descending on their bottoms that the other two hobbits used and soon join us.

"Pippin, what did you do, roll down the hill? Look at you!" Frodo exclaims when he reaches his cousins. "Merry, whatever have you been letting him do?"

Merry looks askance at the accusation. " Let him do? Since when do I have any type of magical powers over errant Tooks? Especially this one! At any rate, you are the senior cousin here. If you don't approve of his appearance, perhaps you should keep a closer eye."

Frodo is finger-brushing Pippin's hair, sending dust flying from it and causing it to bush out from his head in a most unsightly manner. "Frodo, Boromir held me over that cliff," Pippin states proudly, unruffled by both Frodo's ministrations and his elders speaking about him as though he were not present.

"Oh, I am certain," Frodo says with a guffaw. "He better have not, or I shall have to report him to Briony as I did Fredegar when he dunked you by your ankles into that water barrel, and you know what happened to him."

Just then, the last three stragglers crest the hill, and Gandalf and Aragorn have us all moving again in a flurry of cloaks and bags and pony and boots and furry little feet. I find myself beside Meriadoc, and once we have spread out a bit again, I lean over to quietly ask, "Who, then, is Briony?"

"Oh, Pippin's childhood nurse," Merry says with a chuckle. "She is continuing her reign of terror over her third generation of Tooks with his sister Pearl's lot. And if you think you, man of Gondor that you are, should not quake at the threat of being reported to her, you are quite mistaken."

I am greatly amused and struck by the image of a young Pippin under the tutelage of an iron-fisted matron. "I am surprised, then, that Pippin is still so daring a youth," I comment.

Merry snorts. "Oh, he is not afraid of Briony in the least. But woe to the young hobbit who crosses her path and dunks her favorite charge in a water barrel. Or makes him eat a worm. Or dares him to climb into the chicken coup."

"Or dangles him over a cliff," I add, now smiling broadly.

"Indeed," Merry says solemnly. "But don't worry, your secret is safe with me so long as you never report to Briony that I let you dangle her Pippin over a cliff."

A firm clasp of our hands seals the bargain.

Lesson Seven: Hobbits & Blizzards Are Not a Good Mix

I cannot believe the folly of Gandalf and Aragorn, attempting the Redhorn Pass in the dead of winter. I believe Gandalf when he says Saruman is a great peril, but surely the Gap of Rohan is not so insurmountable as this mountain. When the Third Age is long past and forgotten, whatever new creatures inhabit Middle-earth are certain to be puzzled when they uncover our frozen remains -- and one enduring Ring -- some bright summer day.

At least we have stopped struggling upward, and taken what meager shelter we can against the cliff wall. A strong gust of wind covers me in snow to my drawn-up knees, and once I uncover my legs I turn my head with difficulty to see how the little folk fare.

They are nearly buried in the snowdrift, even though poor Bill seems to understand his purpose in standing in front of them and does his best to shield them. They are covered so deeply that I cannot even see Frodo or Pippin's faces, and Merry and Sam huddle in upon themselves in what must be bitter misery indeed if they are unaware of the plight of the other two hobbits for whom they normally show such care. I stand as swiftly as my frozen limbs will allow and grope about in the snow bank, pulling out the first hobbit I grasp. It is Frodo, and he shudders, then kicks, rabbit-like, when I pull him from his heap of snow, rousing him. I am even more incensed with the leaders of the fellowship -- did they intend to leave the hobbits to freeze or suffocate under a mound of snow?

"This will be the death of the halflings, Gandalf," I say to the wizard. "It is useless to sit here until the snow goes over our heads. We must do something to save ourselves." I struggle to kick aside some of the snow pile and set Frodo back down between Merry and Sam. Then I snatch Peregrin out of the snow that covers him to his curls. He is cold and limp in my arms, his hair wet and his face blue with the cold. I am suddenly fearful that for this little one it is already too late, but a small whimper causes me to gasp in relief and I clasp him to me even more tightly. I do not bother to put him back down in his freezing seat, but sit down myself and place him on my lap, wrapping cloak and blanket around us both.

"Give them this," Gandalf says, pulling a flask out of his bag. "Just a mouthful each -- for all of us. It is very precious. It is miruvor , the cordial of Imladris. Elrond gave it to me at our parting. Pass it round!"

When the flask comes to me I take my sip and feel the warmth, more healthful and enduring than any spirits that have ever passed my lips, flow through my veins, and the deep chill in my bones subsides somewhat. Pippin, huddled against my chest, is not truly conscious, but I place the flask to his lips and tip his head back to force the cordial in and he accepts it. He gives a deep shudder and seems to come around a bit as I hand the drink off to Gimli on my other side. "Are you all right, little one?" I whisper into his pointed ear.

He shivers miserably and clings to me, burrowing closer. I tighten my embrace slightly, hoping that I am warming him at least a little. "I am so very cold," he says in a dazed whisper through chattering teeth.

Whether the cordial wears off quickly or the storm worsens, I am soon freezing again as the snow and wind whip into our faces unrelenting 'til I can scarce make out my companions through the maelstrom. The other hobbits are fast disappearing again under their snowdrift, and this time Aragorn stands to fish Frodo out from under it and place him on his own lap. I slip a hand out of a glove and feel my small companion's face and feet. He is frigid with the cold, and shakes uncontrollably with every breath. The freezing air is cutting into my lungs every time I struggle to draw a breath, and I gather from Pippin's condition that it is doing the same to him. I did not jest when I said this would be the death of the halflings, and it may very well be the death of us all if we do not take some kind of action. This little one, at the least, will not see daylight again under these conditions.

"What do you say to fire?" I ask the wizard. "The choice seems near now between fire and death, Gandalf. Doubtless we shall be hidden from all unfriendly eyes when the snow has covered us, but that will not help us."

To my surprise, he relents. "You may make a fire, if you can," he replies. "If there are any watchers that can endure this storm, then they can see us, fire or no."

Legolas takes charge eagerly, and I know it must be a dire chill indeed if the elf feels the cold. He gathers the faggots we have carried with us, but his efforts to strike a flame in this cursed wind are for naught. Grumbling, Gimli joins him, but this storm surpasses even the skill of a dwarf. Pippin is limp against my chest again, though I can still feel him taking halting breaths. Aragorn stands, Frodo bundled in his arms, and moves to hand the Ringbearer to Gandalf so he can join Gimli and Legolas in their efforts, but Gandalf waves him off. It seems that he, too, has finally reached the conclusion that the halflings, and indeed all of us, are in mortal peril of freezing to death.

Gandalf picks up a faggot and holds it aloft, commanding, " Naur an edraith ammen !" and thrusts his staff at the stick. It bursts into flame. Thank the Valar!

"If there are any to see, then I at least am revealed to them," Gandalf states as he sits back down. "I have written 'Gandalf is here' in signs that all can read from Rivendell to the mouths of Anduin."

I do not care who sees at the moment, nor does the rest of the company seem to as we draw near to the fire. Legolas picks up Merry and hands him to Gandalf, who bundles the hobbit into his cloak and turns their faces toward the flames. Merry's blue hands emerge to reach out toward the warmth. The elf then scoops up Sam and sits down, drawing them near the fire. Aragorn and I likewise pull up as close as we dare to the welcome heat with our bundled companions, wedging the dwarf between us. Thus, each shoulder to shoulder for warmth, we turn our backs on the black night and our faces toward the heartening flames.

After a while, Pippin stirs in my arms and moves to peer outside of his coverings. "Oh, a fire," he says in blissful awe. He squirms around until he can point both his feet and his hands out toward the flames. He body still is shaking from the bitter chill, but at least he is aware and alert again, and I am enormously relieved. I press the slim body tightly against mine as we warm ourselves, and not for the first time, I wonder what possessed Gandalf to insist that this young one come with us, and what will come of that decision in the end.

The young one in question yawns against my surcoat and nuzzles against the soft material. "Are you cold, Boromir?" he asks drowsily. He has stopped shaking, for the most part, though an occasional shudder runs through him.

"Yes," I answer with a half-chuckle. "It is freezing out here, or did you not notice?"

"You seem too big to get cold," he murmurs, eyes drooping closed with the weight of his fatigue.

"Well, I am not," I assure him, and draw my arms a little tighter around him, surprised by the swell of protective urges I am feeling. "Are you any warmer?"

"Yes," he says, a near-whisper, eyes finally shutting. "I am cold, but it is not so bad now."

"Then sleep," I whisper back, and I indulge myself by pressing my face into those unruly curls for a moment. They are fine and soft against my rough face, and I fight off the desire to place a kiss atop that curly head. Peregrin may be young, but he is not a child, and I am a man of Gondor, not one of his cousins. But still, I leave my face to linger a moment longer, turning my back to the bitter wind to best protect the precious bundle in my arms.

(NOTE: Much of the above dialogue is directly from Tolkien's "The Fellowship of the Ring," from the chapter "The Ring Goes South.")

Part Two