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In Empty Lands
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A Stone and Nearly Half Again of Nothing

For Mews and for Leianora for their birthdays. At last!


A Stone and Nearly Half Again of Nothing

After their first resting period out of Rivendell, Boromir was surprised to hear Merry raising his voice to his younger cousin. “But that was what I’d set aside for when I awoke, Peregrin Took! How dare you take my winter pear?”

“But I was hungry!” whined the younger Hobbit.

“So, since you were hungry then I must go without?” demanded Merry. “Would you have taken it from Boromir, or Strider? Or Gandalf?”

Pippin’s face went taut. “Oh, I’d never do it to Gandalf. He might turn me into a toad or something of the sort!”

“And why does that make it all right to do it to me? You’d not dare to do it to Sam or Frodo, even. I may love you dearly as if you were indeed my own little brother, but that does not give you the right to take what is mine without even asking! I’m hungry, too, you know!”

Now Pippin’s expression was such that it was obvious he’d failed to imagine such a thing. “But—” he began,

Merry interrupted him, “It’s not as if we were home in Brandy Hall or the Great Smial, or even Bag End or Rivendell, with full larders just down the passage and relatives or Elves to wheedle treats from, Pip. We have only what’s being carried on our backs or Bill’s, and what we find along the way to hunt or harvest. And it’s full winter now, so we’re not going to be able to find the mushrooms, berries, and other fruit we’d pick on the way between Bree and Rivendell. We’ll have to keep our eyes out for wild carrots, yams, and other roots that have survived underground that we might add to our fare. I even suspect that we’ll grow tired of hares, winter grouse, and fish before we’re through.” His expression was still quite severe. “You need to realize you can’t be so self-centered, so I’m going to make you carry this bunch of nothing with you for the rest of the next march—it’s nearly a stone and a half of nothing, and if anything can get through to you that this is what we’ll be left with when we’re done if you continue taking what you please with no thought for anyone else, this ought to do it!” So saying, he reached down to the ground and lifted up—well, from what Boromir could tell, he lifted up nothing! Yet it appeared that what he lifted up had heft, shape, and weight to it, and when he forced it into Pippin’s hands, the younger Hobbit acted as if whatever it was he’d been handed had some substance to it as well.

“No!” Pippin objected. “You can’t force me to carry about this much nothing all night!”

Merry was shaking his head. “I can, too, Pippin, and you will carry it or I’ll tell Frodo on you. And Gandalf!” he added.

“But how am I to carry it?” Pippin asked.

“I don’t really care—put it in your pack if you want to. But you’d best have not tried to get rid of any of it by the end of the night’s march. If you try, I’ll know and I’ll make you suffer accordingly.” And with that the Brandybuck turned away to roll up his bedroll.

Pippin was left looking between the—nothing—he held in his hands and the clouds overhead that obscured the darkening sky. At last he set the nothing down, opened up his pack, and tried to fit the nothing in with his extra outfit and his rations to be eaten as they marched and whatever else he had in there. He apparently managed, but not without having to rearrange things several times from what the Man could tell, and through it all he was muttering about how unfair it was he had to carry so much extra.

They set off, Aragorn having gone ahead this time as scout and Legolas falling behind and somewhat off to the left, his eyes searching for game as well as for potential enemies or spies, his bow ready to hand those times Boromir could catch a glimpse of him. Gandalf had his hand on Frodo’s shoulder, and was leaning over and talking with the Ringbearer as they walked, apparently seeking to distract Frodo from the tedium of the march. Sam and Bill walked in line between Merry and Gimli, both concentrating on not stumbling over stones or roots in the game path they followed. Pippin was not far ahead of Boromir, and after a mark or so his pace began to slow. When the Man caught up with the young Took he asked, “What ails you, Little One?”

Pippin shrugged in a disgruntled manner. “It’s the extra stuff Merry’s making me carry. Almost a stone and a half extra weight! Can you imagine? And he’s threatened to skin me alive if I try to get rid of any of it, even though it’s not of any use at all for us! Just because I ate his pear he’d set aside! I tried to say I was sorry, but he wouldn’t let me speak at all—just handed me this extra weight and told me I was to carry it, and that’s that! About twenty extra pounds—can you imagine?”

Boromir felt his mouth twitching. “Can’t you just get rid of it in the dark?” he asked.

But Pippin was shaking his head. “Oh, he’d know the minute I tried—he’s made me carry such things before, you see, and he’ll know if I try to break it up and get shut of any or all of it secretly. If it’s not the same when I give it back to him when we get to wherever we stop as when he entrusted it to me he’ll tell immediately!”

Boromir thought briefly, and leaned down and whispered in the young Hobbit’s ear, “Perhaps I could carry it for you for a time. That would be something he couldn’t know, could he?”

Pippin looked surprised, as it he’d not thought of such a possibility. “Would you really be willing?” he asked.

“For you, Master Pippin, I would do it.”

Pippin gave a glance forward to make certain that Merry couldn’t see them, but the path had turned and the Brandybuck was out of sight. “If you would, I’d be ever so grateful. And anything I can find that is edible as we march, I’d let you have first chance at it. Would you, please?”

So Boromir found himself taking Pippin’s pack and slinging it over the shoulder opposite his shield. Pippin was now darting here and there, now and then pausing to check out rattling foliage and actually finding some onions, which he dug up and stuffed into his pocket.

After another mark, however, the Gondorian found the extra weight to be bearing down on his shoulder. He tried to carry on with no complaint, but when Pippin came to indicate he’d do well for some of the trail rations given to the Hobbits to help them get through the long marches out of his pack, he could tell that the Man was in discomfort. “I’d best take my pack back in any case,” he said. “We’re no longer in such wooded country, after all, and Merry’s bound to tell I’m letting you carry my share.”

Boromir gladly let the Hobbit’s pack drop to the ground. “If you say so. I will still be willing to carry the nothing, however. Perhaps you could manage to stow it in my pack instead of yours.”

Legolas came even with them just as Pippin was fitting Boromir’s extra trews into his pack. “There is a problem?” asked the Elf.

“Oh, no!” Pippin exclaimed breathlessly. “I was just helping Boromir better distribute the weight of what’s in his pack, is all. I help Frodo do this on occasion. He says I’m good at it.”

Legolas gave them a questioning look, but offered no response to the Hobbit’s words. He merely looked at the path ahead of them and commented, “You’d best get moving rapidly. You have dropped far behind the rest by now.” With that he stepped aside and melted into the low shrubbery that surrounded them.

Pippin didn’t flit from side to side as he’d been doing earlier, but wasn’t lagging, either. Boromir shook his head, smiling at the young Hobbit’s imagination and how he’d been able to infect the Man himself with it. Now that Pippin wasn’t convinced he was carrying nearly a stone and a half’s weight of nothing, he was walking just the same as he had all through last night’s march. Imagine—just thinking he was carrying that much extra weight had made him convinced that his pack was truly weighing the more on his shoulders and back! Silly, fatuous child! Smiling to himself, Boromir resumed the quickened march behind the young Took.

But the more his pack dragged at his own shoulders, the more Boromir son of Denethor found himself thinking about how much just a little extra weight can wear down at a person’s stamina. And he could swear that his pack felt heavier….

He found he had lagged behind again, and that he could barely make out Pippin’s form far in front of him. He picked up his pace again. What was wrong with him that he was letting one so small draw so far ahead? He was a Man, after all, tall, strong, and doughty! It would not do to let himself be bested by one barely more than a child!

He managed to catch up with Pippin, who was now not that far behind Gimli, who in turn was now walking even with Merry and apparently sharing some jest with the Brandybuck. Both Merry and Gimli laughed aloud, the Dwarf’s laughter rolling with mirth and the Hobbit’s high and light-hearted. Well enough for Merry, Boromir thought sourly. It wasn’t as if he were carrying twenty pounds or so of extra weight in his pack!

Pippin was raising his water bottle and taking a drink from it, and did nothing to seek to catch up with his kinsman. He was determined not to get close enough to allow Merry to realize he’d palmed off those extra pounds of nothing on someone else, or so Boromir read the situation. But still the Hobbit kept the pace set by the others, and when Merry glanced his way would lift his chin with an air of defiance and stubbornness. How could the Man help but admire Pippin’s cheek?

And his own pack seemed heavier and heavier by the quarter mark!

Sometime after the middle of the night they paused so that all could relieve themselves as needed and they could take a more substantial meal, even if it was in the form of jerked meats and dried fruit and a cake of trail bread. Boromir was the next to last to enter the area designated as their temporary camp, and let his pack fall with a decided plop! to the ground. Something in the sound of that fallen pack caught the attention of Frodo, who rose from where he’s settled on a tussock of grass and came to the Man’s side.

“Did you find something of interest as we traveled, perhaps in that period when you and Pippin fell so far behind?” he asked. “Your pack sounded heavier when you dropped it than it did in the morning when we stopped to sleep.”

“Oh, it’s nothing,” Boromir was quick to answer. “I am just finding myself more weary today after a full night’s march and less than comfortable sleeping. I fear that I went more than a bit soft while we were in Lord Elrond’s house, what with comfortable beds and full and regular meals. Give me a few days to harden myself again to life in the wild. I will do so rapidly enough, I promise.”

But Frodo shook his head, his eyes on the Man’s pack. Suddenly he cut his eyes between Boromir and Pippin, and he gave a grim smile. “He has you carrying something of his, doesn’t he?” the Ringbearer said. “Let me see it.”

“But you will find nothing in my pack----” the Man began.

Frodo’s head lifted in enlightenment, and he looked over his shoulder at Merry, who was suddenly listening with interest as well. “Is Pippin under discipline?” he asked his cousin.

“Yes,” Merry answered. “He took my pear and ate it, and I gave him a stone and nearly half again to carry.”

Frodo shook his head as he returned his gaze to that of Boromir. “You are the Captain-General of the troops of your people, are you not?” he asked.

“Have you not been assured of that more than once?” Boromir demanded.

“Have you never had to discipline one of your younger men who’d made a gaffe of some sort or another? How would you feel toward anyone who tried to interfere in that discipline, Captain Boromir? Pippin knows better than to take someone else’s rations when all is carefully measured and must last an unknown period of time. He was given a punishment sufficient for his offense, and you would think to lighten it? Does he not deserve the punishment meted out to him? Instead, you have weighed yourself down unjustly and unnecessarily, and allowed him to roam free of it. What has he learned, other than that he can coax you into helping him when he must learn to control his own appetites? Give me the nothing he was meant to carry.”

Boromir had to keep himself from gaping stupidly at the Baggins. A quick glance at Gandalf indicated that the Wizard was amused, while Aragorn, just returning with a hogshead of water from the nearby stream, looked on with curiosity. “You want the nothing that you say I am carrying for Peregrin here?” he asked.

Frodo’s eyes did not waver. “Yes, it was given to him to carry, and he is the one who should do so, not you. Your own burdens are sufficient to your day, I would say. If you please, Boromir.”

Gimli glanced with question toward Aragorn, who shrugged in return. Feeling foolish, Boromir sat down upon the ground and drew the pack, which even dragged as if it had extra weight in it, to him and untied the sloppy bow with which Pippin had fastened it. How on earth was he to find something in his pack when he knew that Pippin had packed nothing extra into it? And why were all, including himself, taking the whole situation so seriously? Well, all the Hobbits, at least, he thought. He fumbled his hands through his things before Frodo stepped forward, shaking his head with mild dismissal. “Give it here,” Frodo said, and so saying he drew it toward himself. He first brought out the trews and set them aside, and on a second delving he gave a grunt of satisfaction. “I’ve found it, Merry.” With a grunt he lifted out—


He held it up to show to Merry. “Is this what you gave to Pippin just before we started, Merry?”

The Brandybuck nodded. “The same, Frodo.”

“I assure you that it was I who offered to take it. Pippin did not ask this of me,” Boromir said, and felt even more foolish for going so far into the pretence.

The Ringbearer’s gaze searched the Man’s face, and finally softened. “I salute you for your compassion toward this young scapegrace,” he said. “But do allow him to finish his punishment on his own. You should not suffer by carrying twenty pounds or more of extra weight when it was his burden, properly meted out to him. Thank you, but let himself prove himself worthy of forgiveness.” So saying, he tossed aside the—nothing, and the Man could have sworn he heard a distinct thud upon the ground. Frodo turned a stern eye on Pippin, and told him, “Now, you pick that up and put it back into your own pack, and don’t let us catch you allowing anyone else lighten your load until Merry says that he is satisfied. Shame on you, adding to the burdens Boromir has been carrying!”

Pippin, obviously chastened, nodded, his eyes cast down, and in a moment he was emptying out the contents of his pack and refitting everything around the nothing.

When Sam came to give him his portion of the meal, the gardener handed Boromir an extra handful of dried peaches. “You meant well, sir, and good intentions shouldn’t be ignored, no matter how poor the judgment. Here—you deserve these, if I may say so as one who perhaps shouldn’t. You’re a good one, I’m thinkin’.”

Boromir smiled, heartened by the stout Hobbit’s praise. He’d seen enough of Frodo’s companion to realize that Sam didn’t say things he didn’t mean, and that his good will was not lightly bestowed.

When the march resumed, Gimli was given the tail of the line, and a wild goat Legolas had shot was laden over patient Bill’s regular load—they might get a hot meal when they stopped for the day’s rest if they could find a sufficiently concealed camping spot. Boromir joined Gandalf at the front. Pippin had been set in front of Frodo and Merry, who walked together, and he was shifting his shoulders as if the weight were uncomfortably heavy. Legolas walked behind the three Hobbits and before Sam and the pony, while Aragorn again went ahead to scout the way.

Certain that neither Frodo nor Merry were paying any attention, Boromir commented with an exaggeratedly casual air, “It’s quite funny, that young Peregrin has been caught so in the situation that he believes he truly feels the weight of nothing, do you not agree?”

The Wizard tapped the side of his nose with the end of his staff. “I have found that each people has its own magic. Even Men, Boromir son of Denethor, have their own ways of causing confusion to others, and of finding reality in what others dismiss as mere imagination. Do not discount ways you cannot understand. I suspect that this form of discipline was devised by Frodo if not by Bilbo, and that the others have fallen into it. What someone believes in can become reality—and that is a good part of the foundation of my own powers, you will find. That Frodo has added his own authority to the discipline imposed on young Peregrin there has added to convince the scamp of the seriousness of his transgression.”

Boromir shrugged, and was amazed as to how much lighter his pack felt now that the nothing had been returned to its original bearer. But, as he dropped behind Gandalf after a time, he found himself wondering just who it was who might be being gulled, and just how many were involved in the possible prank. But a glance over his shoulder at Pippin, squirming under the extra weight in his pack, caused him to feel lighter in heart, at least, once more.


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