Title: Lessons in Leadership
Elements: Character Study -- Prompt: your character makes a new friend.
Summary: Merry seeks advice on how to cope with his feelings of inadequacy.
Word Count: 1,703
Lessons in Leadership
Merry peered cautiously around the ornate pillar that marked the entry way onto a secluded terrace overlooking one of Rivendell's numerous waterfalls. As he had hoped, Boromir was there, sitting with his back to the parapet wall. His long sword was set across his knees as he inspected it carefully, occasionally testing the edge of the blade with his thumb. A stone and oil for sharpening were at his side. Merry hesitated, wondering if he should interrupt Boromir's obvious concentration. He had been looking for Boromir in order to talk to him, but now that he had found him, Merry felt suddenly very shy.
"Can I be of service?" Boromir said, without looking up from his work.
Well, there's no going back now! Merry thought, and he walked forward resolutely and sat down opposite Boromir, close enough to watch what the Man was doing, but not so close that he would be threatening, if Boromir was not interested in conversation.
"You take good care of your sword," Merry observed, trying not to stammer in his shyness, wondering if he would really be able to ask this Man what he wanted to know. He seemed so much bigger up close! "I've seen you cleaning it many a time, and keeping it sharp."
"Yes, I try to always make certain my blade is ready for the task at hand," Boromir replied. "A soldier must never meet an enemy with a dulled weapon. He must always be prepared, for he knows not when the enemy might strike."
"Do you expect an enemy even here, in a safe place like Rivendell?"
Boromir lifted his head, as if listening to the sound of the water falling. After a moment, he answered. "Even in safe places, it is important to remain disciplined. Cleaning and checking your equipment is a routine to be followed every day, without fail. I cannot feel safe unless I know my weapon is cared for and ready for use to defend against any foe. It is of great import to be well prepared, now in particular, as we will be setting out soon upon our journey south with the Ringbearer."
"Can you show me how you do it?" Merry asked eagerly. "I have a sword, too, you see. I've been polishing it with a cloth, but I don't really know much about keeping it sharp. I'd like to do better at keeping up with that kind of discipline, if you can show me how."
"Of course I will show you!" Boromir answered. "Come, sit here beside me and I will show you what to do."
They sat with heads together, as Boromir showed Merry how to use the oil and the stone, explaining the many ways a blade could become dull, and demonstrating the best way to grip the sword so that it would not slip while it was being worked on. The hobbit listened attentively, asking questions from time to time.
"What size sword do you bear?" Boromir asked, looking at Merry's small hand beside his own large one.
Merry laughed. "My sword is really only a knife in the hands of a man, but to me, it is the size of a sword. I am glad to be learning how to take good care of it, though. I hope we won't have to fight much on this journey, but I suppose it's a possibility! In any case, I want to become good at swordsmanship so I can be a good leader and protect my friends."
"I see." Boromir looked at Merry thoughtfully for a long moment. "How old are you, if I may ask?"
Merry looked surprised. "Why do you ask?"
"I mean no offense!" Boromir said quickly. "It is just that... two months ago, I had never seen a halfling before, and I know little of your customs and your people. In my eyes, you are young, a child; but I fear I am considering your size only. Your speech belies youth and inexperience, for you speak with thought and wisdom, and your questions are full of insight. Among your people, are you of age to take up leadership?"
"Well, I..." Merry stammered then fell silent. He felt suddenly shy and afraid to say what he was thinking. Yet this was the chance he had been hoping for, the opportunity to ask Boromir the questions that had been burning in his heart for many days, ever since he had come to realize that Boromir was a great leader among his people. "Well, yes, I am of age, so to speak, if you can call it that. I'm thirty-six now, came of age a few years ago, and I'm heir to my father, the Master of Buckland. He's been teaching me a thing or two, but I don't actually have much experience really and he won't be handing things over to me for many years to come. But... but, well, I think about my responsibilities a lot, if you know what I mean."
"I do know what you mean," Boromir smiled. "Thirty-six, you say? Why, that makes you one year older than my brother, Faramir, and only a few years younger than myself!" He shook his head in amazement. "Forgive me for judging you by size alone. You are most definitely of an age to lead."
"That's just the problem, though," Merry sighed. "I don't know if I'm good enough to be a leader. I mean, it's one thing to take charge in Brandy Hall, it's another to be able to take care of my friends. I'm responsible to take care of everyone, especially Pippin, who's the youngest. And I'm good at organizing things and taking charge of projects, but... but I feel so inadequate at times! And I'm afraid! How can I lead if I'm afraid? When we were attacked at Weathertop and the Black Riders came after Frodo, I couldn't do anything to help him. I just fell down in terror and was useless for helping anyone. If he'd been killed or taken, it would have been my fault. As it is, he was wounded and I couldn't do anything to stop it. It didn't even help me to have a sword, I didn't feel any braver for having one!"
"Having a sword can often help one to feel braver, but sometimes that bravery is false. It takes a wise leader, Merry, to recognize that courage comes from within, and not from holding a sword in your hand."
"You can say that, you're bold and have more courage than I'll ever have!" Merry said plaintively. "You're a great leader of men and strong and not afraid, even without your sword!"
Boromir smiled down at Merry. "Who ever said I am not afraid? I, too, have faced evil enemies and felt like falling down on my face in terror."
"But you didn't. You faced them."
"Yes, I faced them, because I had to. But not without fear! Here is your first lesson in leadership, Merry: be afraid, and use your fear to sharpen your skill and your wits, but do not let your men who follow you see that fear. They must think you are strong and resolute, fearless before all enemies, laughing at danger -- even when you are quaking in your boots and your heart is like water in your breast!"
"You... you feel like that, too?"
Boromir nodded gravely. "I do. Less so now than at the beginning, when I was young and unused to leadership. It is hard at first to steel yourself to not letting the fear show, but it will come more easily as you grow into it. But it will never go away. The fear is always there."
"Did you ever fail, and let the fear show?"
"Yes." Boromir sighed heavily. "But I cannot let those times of failure define me. This is your second lesson in leadership, then: let your failure go, and vow to learn from it instead of be bound by it. A good leader grows with experience, and sometimes experience is gained more through failure than through success."
"So you just take a deep breath and plunge into the fray, even if you feel sick and sure you are going to make a hash of it?"
"Exactly!" Boromir grinned.
"Strider was like that," Merry recalled. "On Weathertop, he leaped to our rescue, with nothing but a flaming torch against all those Black Riders. He admitted to being afraid of them once, but that didn't stop him from plunging into the fray! I guess he just knew what he had to do and he did it."
"That is the mark of a good leader, Merry -- doing what is necessary to protect those in your care, without thought for yourself. Sometimes one just needs to take action, and not think about being afraid. Are you able to act when you need to, without hesitation?"
"I don't know," Merry said truthfully. "I hope so. Thank you for your words, you encourage me. I was hoping you'd be able to help me sort it all out! I may not be a leader yet, but I feel like can face it better now. I feel like maybe I could be a bit more confident to take action, now that I know it's okay to be afraid. As long as the fear doesn't show, right?"
"Good," nodded Boromir, satisfied. "You have taken a big step in your understanding, Merry, and I suspect that the next time you face a situation where you feel afraid, you will act with confidence and courage in your role as a leader."
"I hope so!"
Boromir looked down at sword in his hand, tapping it lightly with a long forefinger. "There are practical ways to increase one's confidence and lessen the hesitation one feels before action," he said slowly. "Being confident in battle helps you feel confident in other ways, and that boldness comes from practice. Would a little sword practice aid you in establishing some confidence, do you think?"
"Yes!" shouted Merry joyfully.
Boromir grinned. "Come then! Let us go fetch this sword of yours and see what we can do about honing your skills and with it, your confidence!"