8. Of Mushrooms and Music
'It'll be a good year, everything is growing as if making up for lost time,' the steward commented. He hesitated, then added, 'Folk are going hungry now. They cannot wait until early harvest.'
'Yes. What do they have?'
'Those ruffians left little enough. Folk who managed to hide somewhat have shared with their neighbors. I know Brandy Hall has given out much food; we'll be running short, like as not, before harvest comes in.'
'The cherries are ripe now, and a few early greens. Flour, now... winter barley's a month away, at least, and it won't be a good crop, the little we managed to sow when the ruffians were still here.'
'Too bad we didn't cast them out sooner.'
'Oh, aye. The earliest grain harvest, besides whatever winter barley we will get next month, looks to be July. And we cannot keep the birds out of the fruit, even with nets. Seems as if they are as hungry as everybody else this spring.'
'Send word around that the Hall is hiring beaters to keep birds out of the crops.' He might as well live up to the appellation "Scattergold". 'How about milk and eggs?'
'Ah, now, that's one piece of good news. We could bathe in milk and cream if we wanted, and there are plenty of eggs coming now.'
'All right, then.' He sat back to think the matter over. 'Let's divide the excess milk; rather than letting it all go to the pigs we will encourage extra cheese production. The soft cheeses don't need ripening, they can be eaten right away. We will slaughter more meat, too. I don't want to run the flocks and herds down too far, but people have got to eat.' The steward started to speak but he held up a hand to forestall him. 'If a hobbit has no money, take pledges instead: road repair, flood control, that sort of thing.' The steward nodded. They turned to the plans for the new digging.
Saradoc's thoughts returned to the problem of food. They were so close to early harvest. Though the barley crop promised to be poor, that plus the early vegetables would be enough to tide them over until the winter wheat came in. Another month and they would be "home free". He chuckled at the thought, and an image arose in his memory of being a small hobbit-lad playing in the summer dusk, hiding behind a tree, trying for just the right moment to run "home" without being tagged by one of the bigger hobbit lads or lasses.
The steward looked up at the chuckle. 'That's a fair sound, Sir.'
The steward gazed at him solemnly, then his face creased in a smile. 'It was good to hear you laugh again, old friend.' He scrutinized Saradoc, then nodded to himself. 'Young Master's doing better, it is said.'
It shouldn't surprise him that Meriadoc was the subject of discussion among the servants. He had been sunk so deep in his own worries he hadn't thought about it before. He found his own face, unbidden, smiling. 'Yes, Cardoc. It seems he is.' They turned back to the plans.
Soon they were finished and the steward took his leave. 'I will get the word out about the food.'
'I am sure such news will spread quickly.'
Cardoc's smile faded. 'I hope so. The people have been digging for roots in the woods, but I am afraid some soon would be desperate enough to try the Old Forest.'
'We cannot have that,' Saradoc agreed. Cardoc left and he sat back in his chair to view the green vista outside the window. They were almost home free.
He heard the sound of voices raised in harmony coming down the hall, then the door sprang open to admit the tuneful pair, who happened to be his son and nephew. He added his voice to the mix and they sang the next two verses together. A sweet high voice joined them, and Esmeralda appeared in the doorway to help finish the song with a flourish. The song ended in laughter, and Saradoc felt a tight spot he didn't know had been there relaxing deep inside.
'Ah, that was lovely,' Esmeralda sighed. 'You lads must come around oftener. That does my heart good.'
Pippin bowed deep with a sweeping gesture. 'Your wish is my command, fair lady,' he said gallantly.
'Go on with you!' his aunt said, laughing, 'I will hold you to that, rapscallion!'
'As long as you keep feeding me, I will keep coming around!'
'Just like the stray cats your aunt insists on feeding,' Saradoc contributed.
'Stray cat? If Aunt feeds stray cats, then by all means I will be one! ...and speaking of cats...'
Saradoc waited. One was never sure what would come next from his nephew's mouth.
'Cats like fish, and so do I! And so, dear Uncle, Merry and I have come to invite you on a fishing expedition on this fair day!'
'Neatly done, Pip,' Merry said aside to his cousin.
'Oh, I told you I could bring it into the conversation! Now do not shake your head at me, Uncle! Or I will wheedle until you give in! Think of the waste of time when we could be fishing instead!'
Saradoc found himself laughing against his inclination. He caught Esmeralda's smiling eye; she nodded encouragement, and before he knew it he had agreed.
'Fine! The ponies are saddled, a picnic is packed, let us go and see what we can catch for the supper table!' Pippin sang.
Ponies saddled already? He must start being stricter with the scamp, Peregrin seemed to think he had his uncle wrapped neatly around his little finger. All right, then, he would start on the morrow. But today, he intended to enjoy himself.
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.