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This was first posted on Silk Screen Views.
PART FOURTEEN – SWORD PRACTICE
“This is your favourite spot, isn’t it?” Tamsyn asked once they’d arrived. They both sat with their backs against the trunk of the copper beech, shoulders touching, and looked out over the hills to the south, away from Tuckborough.
“It is,” Perry confirmed. “I always go up here when I want to think. It’s the highest hill around, you can see for miles. I can see Tuckborough if I want to, or look away from it if I don’t. I can see Frodo or Izzy or Tulia when mother sends them for me, and run if I don’t want to be found. It’s perfect.”
Tamsyn smiled. “I had a spot like that, back when we still lived in Oxford,” she reminisced. “When I wanted to be alone, I’d sit in this secluded little spot by the river where I could spend hours with a book, or just look at the boats passing by.”
“Where do you live now then?” Perry asked. “Don’t you have a spot like that there?”
She gave a wry chuckle. “Most of the time I live in London, which is big, crowded, dirty and noisy. Finding a place like this in there is almost impossible.”
“Then why do you live there?”
Tamsyn sighed. “Sometimes I ask myself the same question.”
They were quiet for a while, their silence companionable, then Perry wrapped his arm around her and drew her against his chest. “Tam, why does it feel like I’ve known you all my life?”
“I don’t know, Perry, but I feel it too.” She scooted over until she was sitting sideways on his lap, and rested her head against his shoulder.
“You smell of apples, on top of everything else,” she said, breathing in his scent. “It’s even better than usual.”
“Same goes for you. You used the lilac soap, didn’t you?”
She nodded. “I’ve always loved lilacs.”
“Shame you can’t be here in spring. There are several bushes by the house. On warm spring evenings the scent gets so strong that you can smell it all around the house, even the furthest corner.”
“That sounds lovely. I wish I could be here for it,” was all Tamsyn said in reply, and then they were quiet again until they heard Frodo’s voice in the distance.
“I think that’s the call for dinner,” Perry sighed. “Come, he’d better not see you sitting on my lap.”
They met Frodo halfway down the hill and Perry sent him back with the message that they were on their way, then they continued at leisure, holding hands as they walked. It felt so natural to Tamsyn that she never even thought to let go as they entered the warm, inviting hobbit-hole. Esme took one look at them when they walked in and her eyes widened. Then she clasped her hands together and beamed a smile at them. She ambled over, grabbed Perry’s face and gave him a resounding kiss on each cheek. She did the same to Tamsyn, then walked off, wiping at her eyes.
She hadn’t said a word.
Utterly bemused, Tamsyn looked at Perry, who lifted their interlinked hands with a shrug. “I think we just got engaged,” he said with a half-smile.
Tamsyn smiled back, but she felt a stab of sadness that it wasn’t true, because the more time she spent with him, the more she found herself wishing that it could be.
When she went to bed later that night, she found another rose on her pillow, and it joined the other two in the vase. Her thoughts were on her predicament, and how on earth she was going to ensure that the portal to Middle-Earth would be protected, but by the time she fell asleep she was no closer to a solution.
* * * * *
When she woke up the next morning she remembered the party that day, and dressed with extra care in a deep lilac dress which had been right at the bottom of the chest. The colour was so vibrant that it made her wonder what hobbits used to dye their fabrics; she wouldn’t have thought they could have created something this bright.
The cut was also different from the other dresses she had worn. The bodice was more elaborate, and the skirt was double, so that it flared out widely when she turned a pirouette.
Her hair she left loose but for two locks at the front, which she plaited into slim braids and fastened together at the back of her head. It felt good to dress simply to look nice, rather than to make a certain impression on chauvinistic men.
The kitchen contained only Esme, as always stirring in various pots and pans, which she interrupted to serve up a full breakfast.
“Where is Perry?” Tamsyn asked when she’d finished eating.
“He’s in the practice yard with his father and brothers,” Esme replied with a fond smile.
“The practice yard?”
“It is the Thain’s tradition to train his sons in swordfighting, ever since Pippin the Great learnt to fight in the lands of Men,” Esme stated proudly.
“Swordfighting?” Tamsyn asked, baffled. “Why would they need to learn to do that?”
Esme chuckled. “Why don’t you go and see? I’m sure Peregrin will be more than happy to explain, and I’m sure you will enjoy it better if it comes from him.”
Tamsyn smiled, and in an impulse she went over to the woman and kissed her on the cheek. “Thank you, Esme, I will. Where is the practice yard?”
“Out beyond the vegetable garden. You’ll hear them before you see them.”
Sure enough, before Tamsyn was even halfway past the vegetable patches she heard the clacking of wood on wood, and when she emerged from behind the beanstalks she entered a rectangular area where Faramir was instructing Frodo. Perry and Izzy were watching them from a bench along the side.
“Hello Tamsyn!” Faramir greeted her. “Do join us, it’s been a while since we had an audience. You’ll have to bear with young Frodo here though, this is only his fifth lesson.”
“I’m sure he’ll do fine,” Tamsyn said, smiling at the boy before seating herself on the corner of the bench. “Morning Perry, morning Izzy.”
Izzy blushed and mumbled a ‘good morning’ back, but Perry gave her such a look of admiration that it made her blush.
“Good morning,” he murmured for her ears only. “You look stunning today.” He added a quick kiss to the cheek, and she blushed deeper.
“Thank you. You look…” She took in his shirt, which he had clearly just quickly slung back on in between sessions, and his hair, which hung in wet ringlets from his head. “You look like you’ve been busy this morning,” she finished with a grin.
He grinned back. “Father gives a good workout, for all that he’s seventy-five.”
“So I see,” she replied, looking at Frodo. The boy was intent on parrying Faramir’s hits, which appeared to be based on the numbers he called out.
“One is overhead, two is high left, three is high right, four is low left and five is low right,” Perry clarified, keeping his voice low so as not to disturb his brother’s concentration. “Once he gets better he’ll need to do it without the numbers, or father will call the wrong numbers to confuse him. For now he’s just learning the basics. Oof!” He winced when Frodo took a stinging slap to the thigh.
“Perry, step up,” Faramir said, and Perry jumped up and nimbly caught his father’s practice sword as it was tossed to him. He took over the attacks on Frodo while Faramir stood behind the boy and corrected his stance and sword grip.
“One,” Perry said, and lunged. Frodo caught the blow on his own wooden blade.
“Hold there,” Faramir said. “Felt that in your arm, Frodo?” When the boy nodded he said, “Give way with your knees a little when you catch an overhead blow, then it won’t jar so much.” He demonstrated, and Frodo nodded. “Okay, continue.”
“Four.” This time Perry came in low at the knee, and Frodo suffered another slap against his leg.
“Point your sword down when you parry that one, son. You tried to catch it with the blade pointing up, and the blow was too low for that.”
Frodo nodded again and parried the next few of Perry’s hits without fault, even if he lacked finesse.
“Good,” Faramir said after a few more minutes. “Take a break, Frodo. Izzy, step up.”
Izzy fidgeted when he got up and cast an apprehensive glance at Tamsyn before accepting the sword from Frodo.
“Don’t mind Tamsyn,” Faramir said. “She’ll only be looking at Perry anyway.” He winked at her and she laughed, blushing again.
Perry grinned and took off his shirt, tossing it across a fence behind him. “Come on then, Izzy, let’s give her a show,” he said, also winking at Tamsyn. He stepped into an attack, and for close to ten minutes Tamsyn watched with growing admiration as the two brothers gave it their all. Perry was clearly the superior fighter, but Izzy gave a good account of himself and managed to land several hits.
“Enough,” Faramir called, and Izzy immediately let himself drop flat on his back to the ground, exhausted. Perry leaned his hands on his knees as he caught his breath, then held out a hand to Izzy to help him back up.
“You’re getting real good,” he said with a grin, and Izzy blushed like a tomato.
Tamsyn grinned at the boy as he walked back to the bench. “You did well there, but I reckon you ought to have hit him harder,” she said, nodding at Perry. “He still looks smug.”
Izzy glanced at Perry, then at Tamsyn, and gave her a tentative smile. He said nothing though, and Tamsyn figured that he would take longer to open up to her. It was a shame that she would never get the chance to get him that far. It made her smile fade, and her eyes turn distant.
“Copper for your thoughts,” Perry said in her ear, startling her.
“It’s not one you want to know about,” she replied, shaking her head. “It’s not one I want to have. Tell me, what’s the purpose of this practice? Hobbits are the most peaceful people I know of.”
“It’s something Pippin and Merry introduced, after the scouring of the Shire,” Perry replied. “They didn’t want hobbits to ever get caught out again. Oh, everyone handled themselves well enough at the time, but it would have been easier if we’d known how to fight.” He paused for a moment before continuing, “Initially they wanted all hobbits to learn, but after a few generations no one could be bothered anymore, except the Tooks and the Brandybucks. We’ve kept it going all this time.” Then he elbowed her playfully and added, “Besides, it’s great fun to give Pala a good kicking when he’s being an insufferable git again.”
Tamsyn laughed, but Faramir said, “Perry, don’t call your brother a git.”
“Bah, you know he can be,” Perry scoffed. “He’s such a goody-two-shoes that he’s never even nicked an apple from the larder without mother’s permission.”
“Whereas you, Peregrin Took, regularly need to be reprimanded for the disappearance of other people’s property,” Faramir said, giving his son a stern look. “I bumped into Tolman Chubb yesterday. He told me that one of his melons was stolen the day before. He seemed convinced that you had something to do with it. Hardly the behaviour you would expect from the son of the Thain, as I have told you many times before.”
Perry snorted. “Can he prove it was me?”
Faramir sighed. “No, but that’s hardly the–”
“It was me, actually,” Tamsyn interrupted him, her tone casual. She let that hang for a moment while four pairs of incredulous eyes turned to her.
“Tam–” Perry began, but she spoke over him.
“Faramir, please correct me if I’m wrong, I know that we in the Westmarch are a bit… aside from the hobbits in the four farthings, but the position of Thain, whilst one of authority, is mainly ceremonial, right?”
“Yes, it is,” Faramir confirmed, still astonished, “but–”
“And you are in charge of hobbit military affairs? I suppose that otherwise you mainly intervene in minor disputes, solve neighbourly quibbles?”
“Yes, I do. My dear, I don’t see where you are going with this.”
She smiled at him. “Faramir, from what I could see just now, Perry’s military capabilities seem more than sufficient, though I’ll admit that I’m hardly an expert. As for the stealing… I saw that patch of melons. Most of them were rotten, because Tolman doesn’t do anything with them. Why I don’t know; maybe he just doesn’t like sharing, but that doesn’t make it right to let them go to waste. Also, people will be happier about being judged if the person judging them is someone who they know has made mistakes himself. Someone who knows that no one is infallible. And lastly, was Pippin himself not known to often steal from Farmer Maggot’s crop?”
Faramir stared at her, dumbfounded, then he started to laugh. Quietly at first, but before long he was guffawing with such abandon that his sons all stared at him as if he’d sprouted another head.
“Tamsyn, you are an uncommonly wise girl,” he said eventually, nodding at her. “Come, Perry, show me that military prowess of yours again.”
He stood up and Perry followed, giving Tamsyn a look that promised he was going to kiss her senseless later, then took up position opposite his father. They started to spar, and Tamsyn once again feasted her eyes on Perry’s body.
Izzy scooted closer to her. “Did you really steal one of Farmer Chubb’s melons?”
Tamsyn’s mouth twitched. “Yes, I really did, but please don’t tell your mother, or she might not like me as much as she does now.”
“I won’t. Why are you staring at Perry so?”
She laughed. “I’m just admiring the view, Izzy.”
He gave his brother a critical look. “Girls like looking at that?” he asked, cocking his head dubiously.
“I can’t speak for all girls, but this one definitely does.”
“Okay,” he said, and scooted away again, still looking uncertain. Tamsyn concentrated on the fight, and when Perry and Faramir finally finished, they found her with a contented smile on her face.
“We’ve not bored you away yet then, my dear?” Faramir said.
“Not at all,” she replied. “I could watch this for days.” She stared at Perry as she said it, and Faramir chuckled.
“Good, just making sure. Come, boys, time to wash off the sweat, we’ve got a party to go to. Go get ready.”
“How long do we have?” Perry asked, his eyes locked with Tamsyn’s.
“Couple of hours. We’re expected around mid-afternoon.”
“Right. Time for a bucket of water and some food then, in that order,” Perry muttered, and strode off with a last smouldering look at Tamsyn.
“He’s very smitten with you, you know,” Faramir quietly said behind her. “I do hope you’re aware of it. For all that he can be difficult sometimes, he’s still my firstborn, my son, and I do not want to see him hurt.”
“Faramir, I adore Perry,” Tamsyn told him from the bottom of her heart. “I would never intentionally hurt him.” She did not look him in the eyes, however, since she could not hide the guilt in them. She knew that there was no way she could avoid hurting Perry unintentionally.
What will happen at the party? Find out in part fifteen!