28. The Shire Under Attack
Estella was there to greet him at the west door of the Hall, still grey faced and shaken from the battle the night before.
"Merry said to fire the Hedge as a last resort, if things got entirely out of hand." she explained. "Which they did. The trees were breaking through and we could see other things behind them - " she was shivering convulsively, close to tears. "The Hay burned like it'd been doused with oil, flames shooting up dozens of feet up into the air, and then the trees caught and they flailed around burning and screaming. Awful thin, high screams all night long...it was horrible."
Sam put a comforting arm around her. "You saved Buckland, Estella. Merry will be so proud."
"Where is he Sam? Why doesn't he come home?" she demanded, dashing tears away.
"I'm sure he's doing his best to get back." he soothed. "But it's not just the Shire, Estella, there's trouble all over the Kingdom - that's why Merry and Pippin went north with Aragorn in the first place, to try to track down who's behind it all."
The Mistress of Buckland pulled out a handkerchief and blew her nose. "Well I wish they'd find the answer and come home!"
"Me too!" Sam agreed fervently. "But until they do it's up to us to see to the safety of Buckland and the Shire."
The muster of Tookland arrived later that day, led by the Thain's Lady. Diamond Took listened fascinated to her cousin's account of the night battle.
"Well done, Estella! It must have been exciting."
"It was awful." Mistress Brandybuck corrected. But the horrors of the night had begun to fade as the day advanced and Sam could see she was pleased by Diamond's admiration.
"The most exciting thing that's ever happened in the Shire and I missed it!" Pippin's wife mourned.
"I wouldn't worry about it," Sam said drily, "there's likely to be more excitment tonight."
Diamond's face brightened. "You think so?'
Sam rolled his eyes.
With the Hedge gone there was nothing between Buckland and whatever might be lurking in the depth of the Forest. The Mayor set his little army of Hobbits to digging a long ditch parallel to the line of the Hedge with a breastwork of sod and wooden palings behind it. He wanted his archers to have some cover to shoot from. By evening all was ready.
The Shire Muster spent a tense night behind their little fortification, listening to strange noises floating from deep inside the Old Forest but nothing else emerged. Diamond was bitterly disappointed. Estella hopeful.
"Maybe it's all over."
But Sam shook his head. "No. Something is coming, I can feel it." and both women looked at him uneasily.
The Hobbits spent the next day strengthening their defenses; deepening the ditch and planting rows of sharpened stakes along its bottom, and building a second, higher breastwork behind the first to shield double ranks of archers.
There was some grumbling, Hobbits are hopeful by nature and Estella wasn't the only one who wanted to believe the danger was past. But Sam's authority as Mayor and his reputation as one of the three heroes of the War of the Ring was enough to stifle any protest.
He was helping deepen the the ditch near Crickhollow when Merry's little Boromir came trotting up on his father's pony to announce his namesake was at the Hall.
"What about your father and Uncle Pippin?" Sam demanded shrugging back into his waistcoat and jacket.
"Just Mr. Boromir." the youngster replied. "Oh, and Arandil too."
Shaking his head Sam climbed up on the pony and rode back to the Hall with the child perched behind him.
"Where are Merry and Pippin?" was the first thing out of his mouth when he met Boromir on the lawn in front of Brandy Hall's east door.
"Not far behind I would guess." the Man replied with a smile that faded quickly. "Sam, has there been any sign of wolves?"
"Not last night. Estella?"
The Mistress of Buckland shook her head. "No. There were things behind the trees but no wolves."
Boromir closed his eyes in relief. "I'm in time then. Sam, Draugoth is coming."
"Here?" Sam asked incredulously. "Good heavens why?"
"For revenge," the Man replied grimly. "on all Halflings but most especially on you, Ringbearer."
"Me?" Sam shook his head in disbelief. "Well if that doesn't beat all!"
Estella looked from one companion to the other, confused but not liking what she was hearing. "Who's this Draugoth and what's he got against Sam?"
"It's a long story, my Lady, but I promise he will come nowhere near Sam nor any of you if I can help it." Boromir assured her.
"We're not exactly unprepared." the Mayor reminded them both. "Anybody or anything that tries to get into the Shire is going to have one hell of a fight on its hands - or paws!" It was late afternoon, with the sun low above the western hills, when the Mayor brought the two Men out to see his defenses. Boromir surveyed the ditch and breastworks and nodded approval. "Very good, Sam. I'm really impressed."
"You don't go through battle and death like I did without learning something about fighting." the Hobbit allowed, looking pleased. "It's not exactly the walls of Minas Tirith but it should do for wolves, or even wolf wraiths."
"Indeed. Remember, they don't like light."
Sam snapped his fingers. "Bonfires! I knew I was forgetting something."
"If I am lucky all these preparation may prove unecessary." Boromir said quietly, eyes on the burnt verges of the Forest. "If not, Aragorn cannot be far behind. He'll know what to do." looked down. "Sam, say good-bye to Merry and Pippin for me - and tell them I'm sorry."
Sam looked steadily up at the Man for a long moment, then swallowed and nodded. "I will. Good luck."
"Uncle -" Arandil began a little desperately.
Boromir turned on him, eyes flashing. "Don't try to stop me!" he warned, "this is what I came for, what I must do." then his face softened and he pulled the younger man into a kinsman's embrace. "I am glad to have met you, nephew. Take care of your father for me."
Speechless and in tears Arandil could only nod.
Boromir released him, turned and leaping the ditch passed quickly through the burned stumps of the hedge and into the Forest.
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