7. Inheritance of Peace
It was twenty-two years ago this week, and even then most of the Shire argued it was none of their concern. "Let the Big Folk fight the war!" they said. "The King told us to keep the Road, and let his messengers pass; he never asked for our help in defending the kingdom. We should look to our own borders."
Theobald would have none of that, and he brought his brother around to his way of thinking; though if he'd known Theobald planned to go himself, Bucca might have been less helpful.
The two of them travelled the Shire, and sent messengers out, asking those of age who were skilled archers to gather at the Three-Farthing Stone in two weeks. "For defense of the Shire" was the only reason given; Theobald didn't introduce the riskier proposition of coming to the King's aid until the last moment.
Meanwhile she stayed at home, wondering what would become of the Shire. Evil things were already stirring on the borders, and grim Men riding south on lathered horses had become a common sight on the Road.
The night before the small troop of archers left she wept, of course, and begged him to stay. He wiped her cheeks and told her, "Bryony- lass, I'll be home in a month, never doubt it. We're not going to fight close up with swords and axes; we'll be firing our bows from far away."
If she'd known then, she'd have shamelessly used her condition to make him stay safely home. But her courses had not stopped yet, and she was ignorant of the burden she already carried.
And ignorant of the fact that the war would not pass her by, but sweep through the Shire like a sickle through ripe grain. The archers posted on the borders were cut down, just as Theobald must have been cut down, far away in the North, so that in the end it would have made no difference whether he went or stayed. She would still have found herself, big-bellied and ungainly, scrabbling to hide in the reeds of the Marish as their home burned behind her...
Young Tib runs up to her, begging for another rockcake for his tea. She gives in, and watches him race away again on those lanky tweenage legs, longer than a stork's. He has his father's eyes, but that's all -- the rest is a copy of her. When she cries, alone in bed, that's why; it's so unfair, that Theobald should have given his life to protect a son who will never know him, and doesn't even look like him.
469 words, by Forodwaith
Note: "The Shire-folk survived [the downfall of the Kingdom of Arnor], though war swept over them and most of them fled into hiding. To the help of the king they sent some archers who never returned" (Appendix A, Lord of the Rings). That was in the year 1974 of the Third Age, 374 by Shire reckoning.
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