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Chapter the Eleventh: Good Knight, Sweet Prince
Pippin gasped, trying to catch his breath. He could scarcely sleep for this blasted cough! He coughed until his head ached and his sides were sore, and still this blasted tickle in his chest persisted. “Drat!” he said again.
“Poor lamb,” came a voice from the doorway. He looked up to see Ioreth enter with a basket on each arm. “I have something for that cough of yours. Perhaps it will help you rest. You look hungry, my dear.”
Pippin wondered exactly how one might look hungry, yet the old nurse was right, he was indeed quite hungry. Having given Pippin a syrupy concoction that eased the tickle in his throat, Ioreth took a tray from a nearby table and placed it in Pippin’s lap. Her gnarled but still nimble fingers grasped a silver dish from inside one of her baskets and drew it out, placing it on Pippin’s tray and lifting from it a linen napkin.
“Whatever is this?” Pippin said, “It does not look too appetizing, I’m afraid. I hope it tastes better than it looks. I trust they aren’t what they look like!”
“Have you never had crab, then?” Ioreth said, taking a chair beside the bed. “What do they look like to you?”
“Well, I don’t wish to upset you, but they rather look like spiders. Very large ones, but spiders, only with those big claws.”
“Oh, but you don’t think I would serve so awful a thing to my special patient, do you? No, my dear, these are crabs, and not just any crabs, they are soft-shells!”
“I have heard of crabs before, but I’ve never eaten them, or even seen them. Boromir spoke of them; he seemed quite fond of them, if memory serves.”
“Aye, he was very fond of them. He enjoyed catching them as much as eating them!”
“Catching them?” Pippin picked up fork and knife. “How does one go about eating these things?”
“As I said, these are soft-shells, so you just cut them, as with any other dish.” Ioreth watched Pippin cut a piece of crab and pop it in his mouth. She smiled, quite pleased with the expression on the face of her ‘lamb’. She had heard that this hobbit had a nose for mischief and the curiosity of a kitten, but she refused to believe it. How could so sweet a creature ever cause mischief? “Yes,” she continued, “Boromir loved to catch crabs. Why, I remember the day he learned how as though it was but a fortnight ago!”
She watched the hobbit take another eager bite of crab. Intent on his meal as he was, he looked at her as though he was expecting her to elaborate. “’Twas on Dol Amroth, one fine day when he and Lord Faramir went to visit with his uncle, Imrahil. ‘Twas soft-shell season then, too. Aye, I remember it well. Poor lamb, he had only just lost his mother, and Prince Imrahil thought the pair of them, the Lords Faramir and Boromir, could do with some time by the Sea.”
Ioreth watched Prince Imrahil pull up the crab-trap from the end of a long dock, empty its contents into a net, and hand the net to his young nephew. “You’ve caught yourself a delicacy, Boromir!” The Prince smiled at the look of puzzlement on the faces of his nephews. “These are soft-shell crabs! There are quite a few of them in here with the hard-shells. Each year, you see, the crabs shed their shells. For a time, they have no shells, and are soft and vulnerable. In only a matter of hours, the new shell forms, like armor.”
The boys looked up at their uncle silently. They had been all but wordless since Finduilas had died, and had become more inseparable than ever. An expression of sad fondness crossed Imrahil’s face as he looked at his nephews. The sun over the island Kingdom had tanned the faces of the boys and brought golden light to their red-gold locks. They were the very picture of good health, but Imrahil knew their hearts must still be quite heavy. His gaze lingered on the eldest child. How like Finduilas he was, with his warm, golden locks and his sea-water eyes as opalescent as mother-of-pearl. The lad had taken to watching after his younger brother almost obsessively. As they walked back to the beach, Imrahil saw Boromir lift Faramir and carry him as if his younger brother was, in fact, his own son. He placed a hand on Boromir’s shoulder.
“Let Faramir walk, my boy,” he said gently.
Boromir, with obvious reluctance, let his little brother down and watched anxiously as Faramir ran the rest of the way down the dock, crying “Ioreth! Ioreth! We caught crabs, we caught crabs, we caught crabs, we caught soft-shells!” Faramir tripped in his excitement, and Boromir almost bolted forward, but Imrahil held him back.
“Come, Boromir, I should like to speak to you privately, since you are the oldest.” Imrahil sat on the edge of the walk and motioned for Boromir to join him. The boy tore his eyes away from Faramir to look up at his uncle. “Now, you see, he is unharmed by his fall. Boromir, you cannot forever hold onto him. You must let him find out for himself what he can and cannot do.”
“But Uncle! He is only little, I am his older brother! My duty is to take care of him, now that Mother… ” The boy looked down at his hands, then raised one hand to his mouth to bite at a nail.
“Here, lad, let us take a look at these crabs. You see the ones with the soft shells? Well, you and Faramir are much like them. Your mother and father were always there to protect and guide you. They were like the shells on the hard-shelled ones. But now, my sister your mother is gone, my boy. Denethor is deeply sorrowful. He loved my sister dearly, as did we all. When he is better, perhaps he can help you and Faramir through this dark time, but for now, why, he is so benighted by his loss that he cannot see what he must do. You and Faramir are like the soft-shells. This is a very trying time for you and your brother, so you see; you have to wait, to be patient. Too soon you will have shells of your own to protect you, when you grow to be men. Yet when you are grown to manhood, do not forget, you may be hard on the outside, but inside, keep a soft spot or two, for those whom you hold dear.”
“Like the crabs, Uncle?”
“Yes, like the crabs. It is only the shell that is tough, you know. The crab itself lies within. The shell protects the crab, but it is not the crab itself. Do you understand what I am trying to say?”
“I rather think that I do, Uncle.” Boromir looked at his hands once more, but he no longer nibbled his nails. “It is very hard, you know, to be without a shell. But I shall be patient, as you say. I must still take care of Faramir, though. Mother would have wanted that, I think.”
“She would be so proud of you, my boy,” Imrahil said, tucking his nephew under his arm for a brief hug. Too soon the boy would think himself too old for such open affection. “And now the time has come for two young crabs to go in for supper!”
Boromir looked at the net full of crabs and laughed. “Will this crab be eating those crabs for supper?”
“Of course, my boy!” Imrahil said, handing the net back to Boromir. He watched the youngster run the rest of the way to Ioreth whom, Imrahil was certain, had been listening to every word. As he approached the nurse, the pair of boys pelted off like colts towards the kitchens of Imrahil’s private chambers. Imrahil offered his hand to Ioreth to help her up. He watched her eye her charges as they ran, and she brushed a tear from her cheek.
“Wise words, my Lord,” she said to him, nodding her approval. “My Lady Finduilas would be well pleased.”
“I thank you, good Ioreth, for the compliment as well as your guardianship of my nephews,” said the Prince. “Your loyalty to your charges mirrors your loyalty to Minas Tirith, a good example for my nephews to follow. I know the task proves difficult betimes. As fond as I am of Boromir, he can be as obstinate as a bull.”
“I beg to disagree with my Lord!” Ioreth said haughtily, “Boromir, like his brother, is a lamb, I tell you! Hmmph!” Imrahil laughed to himself as she departed after her charges with a flouncing of her skirts, which bespoke her ire at his seeming criticism of his nephew. Looking back over her shoulder, she departed with “A lamb, I tell you!”
“What are these?” The hobbit took the papers and began shuffling through them. “Why, these are all drawings, and is this Boromir’s name here?”
“That they are,” she replied. “Deft was Boromir in hand and eye. He was not always a soldier, you know.”
“These are quite good,” Pippin remarked. “Look, here is one of a crab! They look like this when they are alive, then?”
“They do,” she said. “Keep the drawings, dear. I think he would enjoy knowing you had something of himself to remember him by. And now that you have eaten, you look quite sleepy. You should rest now, the sooner to regain your health.” She took the drawings and set them aside, then tucked the blankets around Pippin and sat quietly until he dozed off.
She looked at the sleeping hobbit, his lids like gold-fringed shells on his cheek. She had heard tales of his bravery, and did not doubt them in the least. She had also heard that hobbits seem soft on the outside, but could be as tough as old roots, but she would have put a description of this particular hobbit a little differently.
She rose from her chair, rubbing her aching back, but despite the pain in her aged bones, she bent and secretively placed a kiss on Pippin’s cheek. “Rest well, little crab,” she said. She paused at the door, looked back at him as he slept. “A lamb, I tell you,” she said softly.
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