11. Pieces Moving Into Place
11 Afteryule, S.R. 1419 dawned with stark, bright sunshine but biting cold temperatures. Steady columns of smoke rose from every chimney in Bree, Buckland and the Shire. Dry, cozy Hobbit holes enticed their occupants to stay indoors; only farmers with livestock bothered to venture outside. There wasn't a room in Brandy Hall that was without a fireplace, excepting the storerooms, closets and pantries. Not to mention there were wool and flannel blankets and garments in every wardrobe and linen closet. Not a wee hobbit babe in it's cradle nor the oldest gaffers and gammers at the Hall were bothered much by the unusual cold.
The same could not be said for the Mistress of Brandy Hall. Esmeralda Brandybuck spent the day merely feeling chilled, but nightfall found her chill deepening until she sat huddled in a chair by her fireplace, wrapped in a quilt which she had over her warmest sweater, woolen dress, flannel petticoats and knitted wool leggings. She even wrapped up her furry feet in what was actually a lap robe, yet the chill deep within her remained. Her maid fairly loaded the Master and Mistress's bed with warming bricks. Esme wore two of her heaviest flannel nightgowns to bed, yet as the night wore on, Saradoc was awakened by his wife's shivering. He rolled over to snuggled up against her back, his right arm wrapped around her hugging her close. Esme soon quit shivering, but she mumbled in her troubled sleep. Saradoc held her close, while murmuring loving assurances in her ear.
She heard her name as though it came from far away and she struggled to find a way to answer.
"Esmeralda, dear," Saradoc said taking her face gently in his hands then kissing her forehead and the tip of her pointed nose. "Wake up, Esme!" he spoke more loudly this time.
"I am trying to, my dearest husband." Esme's voice was thick with sleep. She opened one eye after drawing a deep breath. "Is that breakfast I smell?"
"It is. And I'll have you know, young hobbitess, that the Master of this smial himself has carried it from the kitchen to your bedside." Saradoc smiled lovingly at his wife, while with a gentle touch he moved a few errant curls out or her eyes. "He must think very highly of you," he added with a little grin playing about his lips.
Esme smiled a wry smile before stretching and yawning. "You," she mumbled before quite finishing her stretch, "you, sir, must be losing your eyesight. 'Young hobbitess,' indeed!" she huffed, but her smile grew bigger.
Saradoc laughed as he helped his wife to sit up. He plumped up the pillows behind her and wrapped her favorite shawl around her shoulders before kissing her on the top of her head.
"The number of years that have passed have little to do with anything, my love." He set the breakfast tray across her lap, then pulled the cloth off of it with a flourish, bowing as he draped it over his arm. With a sigh he sat in the chair he had drawn up to the side of the bed. "I've cousins ten years younger than me who behave as though they are in their dotage, while you, my Tookish bride, never seem to act your age."
"Meaning that I act childishly?" Esmeralda spoke slowly with a sly grin, as she poured tea from the small porcelain tea pot into her delicate floral painted tea cup.
Saradoc's mouth hung open as he realized his words had not quite meant what he had intended. "Well, no!" he finally exclaimed. "No, of course not, eh, no dear!"
"No, of course not!" Esme laughed as she stirred a large amount of honey into her tea. "All eighty-two year old hobbitesses go sliding with the lads and lasses on frozen ponds." She took her husband's hand in hers and kissed it. "You really should have been out with us two days ago before this bitter cold set in. We did have a grand time." They looked at each other lovingly, her green eyes sparkling with the childlike delight that belied her years. Being mindful of the tray, Saradoc leaned over to kiss Esme. The coolness of her lips brought back to his mind the reason he had brought her breakfast to her.
"Are you still feeling chilled, my love? Your lips feel a bit cool." His deep blue eyes looked concerned, as his brows drew together over the bridge of his nose.
"No," she said softly, as she reached to lay her hand to his cheek. "Well, perhaps a bit cool-ish yet. Not nearly like last night. Merry's eyes are just like yours." Esme caressed Saradoc's face as tears began to blur her vision.
"Is that what is troubling you, dear? Is worry for the lads what is chilling you so?" Saradoc rose, took the tray from the bed then set it on the floor. He sat down on the bed beside his wife and pulled her into a firm hug, rubbing her back as she began to cry. Tears ran down his own cheeks while he gently rocked her. "I am sure they are all well. They have most likely decided to wait out this nasty weather someplace where they are warm and dry. We will see them come the warmer weather, I'm certain." He said this aloud, but his heart clenched within his chest. He felt no certainty at all. In truth, he had begun to doubt he would ever see his dear son, impish nephew, nor Frodo and Samwise again. Esme clung to her husband. She knew their loved ones were alive, though she also knew the deep cold she felt was somehow tied to them, to what they were enduring. She wept because she missed her son. She wept for her nephew, her cousin and their friend. She wept from the growing knowledge within her that worse things were yet to come, both away with their lads and at home, in Buckland and the Shire.
Gradually, the tears of the Master and Mistress of Brandy Hall subsided. Esme ate her breakfast, then she rose to dress warmly for the day. The deep chill left her, but the sense of watchful dread did not.
Away to the east, and a bit to the south, the Fellowship spent the day struggling to leave Caradhras the Cruel behind. The mountain pass had been denied them. Frodo and Sam, Merry and Pippin were still deeply chilled, though the work of climbing back down the mountain warmed them somewhat. The snow no longer fell, and the clouds soon broke, moving away to the west and a bit to the north.
In Hobbiton, Gaffer Gamgee pressed his head to the round window of #3 Bagshot Row in an effort to see better off to the east. Daddy Twofoot's middle son had come by to see if Bell and the Gaffer were set well for firewood and had brought with him the news that the bitter cold did not seem to be slowing down the work on the tarred sheds that had sprung up on the north side of the Grange. The Gaffers eyes weren't the best, but not the worst either. He could see the glint of little fires that burned for warming the workers and heating the tar. He turned away from the window with a sigh.
"Somethin' amiss, Ham?" Bell asked him, anxiousness edging her voice. She sat close to the fire in their parlour, a shawl about her shoulders and a lap robe tucked around her legs. Her feet where on a cushioned footstool as close to the fire as they could safely be. The clicking of her knitting needles had stopped when she asked her question.
"Yea and nay," Hamfast replied, as he eased himself down into his chair. "Yes, there be things amiss, but nought that is new. Dimm Twofoot was just by, and I was tryin' to see a bit of what he told me. Said they was workin' on them shacks down yonder by t' Grange. Workin' in this cold, mind!"
"And are they?"
"Aye, I could see the light o' their fires." The Gaffer shook his head, then took a glance back toward the window. "Can't for the life o' me figure out what is so all mighty important about them sheds that any fool would be out in this here nasty cold to be buildin' on them."
"Well," Bell sighed as her knitting needles resumed their clicking, "I would think it be none o' our business, but they are an ugly eyesore, and that's a fact."
"Still has me wonderin' though," the Gaffer said in a thoughtful tone, as he reached for his whittling. "Whatever are they a buildin' them ugly things for?"
Life and business at the Prancing Pony should have quieted down after the Little Folk's Yule celebrations and the Big Folk and Little celebrating the New Year. This year, however, business was still booming. Barliman Butterbur looked about his common room as he dried off the bar from yet another drunken patron sloshing his ale. The room was nearly full as it had been non-stop since about the time of the incident with Bill Ferny and Harry Goatleaf, full of rough and oft-times sinister looking men from away southwards.
Old Barliman sighed. He should be glad of the business. There would be no need to tend to the pennies as closely as in years past. No, there was a feel to this lot that he did not like, and he wished they would take their business elsewhere. But elsewhere was busy too. There was only one other inn in Bree, a disreputable place that barely stayed in business. This year it was bursting at the seams, it being much more to the liking of this crowd than the Pony. He shook his head as he took an order for another round at the table by the windows. He was being run ragged since the Hobbit barmaid who had been hurt by Bill Ferny's friend had quit, not that Barliman blamed her. He had paid for the healer and given her double the usual severance pay. And the little Hobbit chambermaid had quit as well, saying that the new guests were talking to her and looking at her in ways that scared her. Yes, business was good at the Prancing Pony, but it's keeper was not glad of it.
Eglantine Took could scarcely believe she was doing what she was doing. She stood in the tunnel outside her husband's study and was listening through the door. 'It has come to this,' she thought. 'Listening at the door like some gossipy servant.' But she needed to know what was going on. Old Grigory Took had come to call on The Took and that was a cause for concern. Old Grig was known far and wide as a Took who had little respect for the office of The Took, even less for the office of Thain of the Shire. He had been a thorn in the flesh of The Took and Thain since Fortinbras II held the titles, and that put it back a few years. Eglantine could only hear snatches of the conversation.
"Naught to worry about," came Old Grig's voice.
" . . . concerned . . . inadequate supplies . . ." That was Paladin.
"Trustworthy . . . Four Farthins Holdins . . . no fear . . ." droned Old Grig's scratchy voice.
"They are afraid . . . Men . . . Hobbiton, Michel Delving, Long Bottom . . . in fields . . ."
" . . . nonsense . . . false reports . . ."
Eglantine suddenly heard the voices more clearly, as they had risen and turned toward the door. She quickly scooted into a storeroom just a short way down the tunnel, closing the door behind her as she heard the study door opening.
"Thank you for your time, Grigory, and I will keep all you have told me in mind." Paladin's tone was strained and formal.
"You just do that!" Old Grig snapped back. "Show you got more sense than the last two idiots who held your titles. They didn't have the sense between 'em to make even one good decision. This here that we've talked about will be good for the Shire, good for us Hobbits. You'd be makin' the biggest mistake you can if you don't see that!"
Lanti slumped against the door of the storeroom. None of this sounded good. Now she understood her husband's long silences and quick temper. Nothing had changed from what had been going on before Yule. While over and above it all, hung the gloomy cloud of their only son and their dear nephew being gone. Just the other day she had happened upon Paladin, standing in their bedchamber, holding the small charcoal portrait of Pippin in its frame to his chest, his head hung in despair. It had been awhile since she had heard from Esme, as well. She had written of a horrible experience on her way home back in early Winterfilth. It has been another time of seeing through their dear Pippin's eyes. A terrifying event involving those hideous Black Riders that had so badly frightened Fredegar at the little house in Crickhollow. Esme wrote that for nearly the whole month of Winterfilth a deathly gloom had hung over her, but that it eventually lifted. Then, while Lanti and Paladin had been at the Hall for Yule, Esme said only that there had been nothing for the longest time. But after 25 Foreyule she had vague feelings of soreness, hunger and a sense of being pursued but knew that all four of the missing hobbits were alive and well. Since the Yuletide visit, there had been nothing. No word concerning Esme knowing how their sons, their dear studious cousin and the lads' good friend were doing. Eglantine drew in a deep breath and held her head high. She was a healer. She dealt with pain and sorrow often, so she could deal with this. But her heart still ached within her as she left the storeroom to take her afternoon tea with Paladin.
At Brandy Hall Esmeralda went to bed the night of 12 Afteryule glad that she had finally warmed up as the day had progressed. It was good to snuggle into her bed wearing only one nightgown and without quite as much weight from extra blankets. Her dreams came and went as dreams are wont to do, flitting from one thing to another. Some were the type that seem to be really happening, while others were those that even in the dream she knew things were not quite right. As they wound around in her mind, she began to notice something that moved through them all at the edge of her thoughts but was unidentifiable. Eventually, in her dream, she was outside in the falling snow, and a hobbit who seemed vaguely familiar was approaching her along the road.
"A good afternoon to you, lass!" hailed the old hobbit. "Nasty bit of weather for you to be out and about in."
"It appears so," replied a bewildered Esme.
"Been snowing and blowing since Blotmath and has nary slowed a bit." The old hobbit was now near enough for Esmeralda to better see his face. Bright green eyes set in a sharp featured face lifted slightly to meet her gaze. The old one was a Took, and a Took with the Fairy blood running in his veins. "Folks won't soon be forgetting the winter of late 1311 and early 1312 Why the Brandywine is all frozen over and there is talk, though how it spreads about with everyone snowbound I can't say, but talk is that there are White Wolves raiding the Shire!"
Esme gasped and a shiver ran through her. 1311 and 1312 The Fell Winter! She heard again the sound that had been floating at the edge of her hearing-- the howling of wolves! She trembled again.
"Young one," the old hobbit said as he touched her arm in concern. "You have gone rather pale all of a sudden. Let me take you home. There's a good lass," he added as Esme allowed herself to be turned and guided down the road. The thought drifted through her mind that the old hobbit's sight must be horribly poor to call an eighty-two year old hobbitess 'young one'. "My father, Gerontius Took," the old hobbit continued, "is The Took and Thain. He would never forgive me if I left you out wandering in this dreadful snow and cold. Come along with me to Great Smials. Oh, and my name is Hildigrim Took, and I am at your service, young lass."
She looked at him with wonder in her eyes. He was her own grandfather! But, he was dead! She had barely known him. They walked along until they came to a sharp bend in the road. The blazing colors of autumn swirled on the wind that brought the howling of the wolves ever more loudly to her ears. Her Grandfather was gone as was the snow choked road. Before her lay a barely discernable path leading into the fiery autumn woods.
The woods surrounded her. The sound of the wind faded away, but the howling of wolves lingered, mixed now with the sound of sparkling laughter. The laughter came from ahead of her, then to the left, ahead again, then behind making Esmeralda spin and turn till she was nearly dizzy in the effort to find its source.
"Here," came a melodic whisper.
Esme spun to her right to see a female being standing before her. Her hair was a rich reddish golden color with autumn leaves caught in the wild tresses. She was only slightly shorter than Esme, though much more slender in build. Her face was as pale as starlight, her chin and nose sharply pointed, her cheekbones high, yet over all was a sense of delicacy that lent beauty to the sharp features. Green eyes that flashed and sparkled like old Gandalf's fireworks shone out from the dainty face.
"Fear me not, child of my child. No spells shall I place upon you, nor shall I befuddle your mind. Be at peace with me." She approached on silent feet until less than an arm's length of space stood between them. Her head tipped to one side in a charming manner as she looked intently into Esmeralda's eyes. "Dreams have rules unto themselves," she said, speaking to the question that had been in Esme's mind. "And what is not allowed in Arda is allowed herein. What would not be real there can be real here, my child."
Esme felt her fear for herself leave her but ever growing with the howling of the wolves was fear for Merry, Pippin, Frodo and Sam. Their faces came quickly to her mind's eye, and her heart ached. The Fairy, for so Esme knew her to be, sighed and reached out her hand to softly touch Esmeralda's abdomen.
"Your child, who is not one of mine, has gone with my young Tookling on a perilous adventure, has he not?" The flute-like tones of her voice had dropped to a sadder pitch.
"Yes," came the first word Esme had uttered.
Again the sparkling green eyes of the Fairy and the softer green eyes of the Hobbitess met, and Esme felt the pull that she knew her own eyes held, though stronger and more practiced.
"Hearts bound together. Spirits entwined. Cousins brother-like. Nephews son-like. Love binding all together like the strands of a rope, each strengthens the others." The stars in the green eyes of the Fairy sparkled. "I will give to you, child of my child, and to she who is mother to my young Tookling falcon, what comfort I am able to give. You must share this with her, share it to strengthen the rope, to bind the hearts more tightly together." The Fairy raised her hand to gently caress Esmeralda's cheek. "Child of my child, your son, who is not one of mine, is strong of heart. He will help bravery to grow in my young Tookling. He will keep him from flying too high. But your son allows his cares to grow into ponderous weights. My Tookling will keep his heart light in the dark and remind him of the joy they seek to save. These words are for you, child of my child, and for my young Tookling's sorrowing mother. You will remember them.
In peaceful Shire tending a field,
On the sea foam or where mountain stone does not yield.
Forget not that where ere they roam,
I always, forever, care for my own."
The Fairy brought her other hand up to cradle Esmeralda's face, then she kissed the little rivers of her tears. "I will care for my own as best as I am able, and those they treasure with them: you, child of my child, and she who is dear to both you and my young Tookling; my young Tookling who tries his wings and the one he loves as a brother; the one who bears the burden and the friend who gives care to them all."
Esme awoke on the 13th day of Afteryule with the knowledge that she had to visit Eglantine filling her head and the smell of the woods in the autumn fading around her.
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.