Otho choose Lobelia Bracegirdle for her beauty. She said yes to his money and family reputation. Not that the Bracegirdles were poor by any stretch of the imagination, but they weren't Bagginses, nor even Sackville-Bagginses. Otho would have been wise to have paid closer mind to the firm set of Lobelia's lovely lips and the lines that were already in place on her pretty face from too much frowning. As with most of Otho's decisions this had been a poor one. When the deal was done and done, he had married a harridan.
The tavern was a fine place to leave one's problems (and one's wife) behind, or so Otho thought. The usually jovial company, the warmth of the open hearth in the cool, damp months or a table under a shade tree in the warm dry months, with deals to be drawn up, opportunities to pursue and ale in unending supply. Otho was soon home less and less while away more and more. Talk was that if their only child hadn't been conceived in their first few months of marriage he wouldn't have been conceived at all. And while every grand scheme of Otho's soured, his wife lived as though to the Great Smials or Brandy Hall born. "The best of everything and everything at it's best!" was Lobelia's battle cry. It was only the passing of Lobelia's father five years after their marriage that kept them from the perceived indignity of having to find gainful employment. After that, Otho lived on the dole from his wife while Lobelia handled all the family finances. It was, after all, her money. Unlike her husband, Lobelia was a shrewd businesshobbit. Through her savvy investments and questionable deals the family was able to maintain a reasonable standard of living for many years.
It was when Otho's health began to fail that things started to fall apart. He had his first major illness in S.R. 1402, and shortly thereafter the creditors began sending their notices. Soon they were sending burly hobbits to knock on the door of Otho and Lobelia's home demanding their payment. Otho had been borrowing against his wife's money. Tabs at his favorite inns and taverns, gambling debts, failed business ventures all handled with assurances that it could be covered easily with Lobelia's money. He had paid just enough to keep them at bay but because of interest the amounts due had actually grown. Lobelia covered them all. For a couple of years their son Lotho went to stay with relatives. To some it was said he was with relatives in the North Farthing, to others it was told he had gone east or west, but never in the South Farthing where the stories were easily checked upon. In truth he had gone to Bree. He had worked for a distant cousin of Lobelia's in his emporium, living on next to nothing while sending the bulk of his pay home to his Mother. She had soon set them on a sound financial foundation, and though things had been tight they were able to keep up the appearance of being a family of more than moderate means.
Lobelia never had a good word for any of her neighbors, except to their faces. They were all jealous she said, not to be trusted as they would turn on her and Lotho the first chance they got. When Otho fell ill, offers of help came from the towns folk and his family. Lobelia burned them all without telling Lotho of their existence. She told him instead that they were totally forsaken with no help available. She felt that if he knew help was available, he would not have gone to Bree. That and she would not have herself being beholden to anyone. In her mind every offer of help carried the double meaning of those other hobbits now gloating over her, mocking her high style of living while laughing up their sleeves.
As with the neighbors, Lotho had never heard a kind word for his father from Lobelia. She ran down everything about her husband and his family while he always behaved like a whipped dog whenever he was home. Otho Sackville-Baggins died in S.R. 1412. His wife and son attended the sparse funeral with not a tear shed between them. His only mourners were a few of the henpecked hobbits who, like himself, had spent their time at the inns and taverns to escape their miserable homes.
While in Bree Lotho had learned that pipeweed from the Shire was highly prized. So soon after returning to Sackville, he began to purchase acreage planted in the crop. His outside connections paid off enabling him to buy more acreage, then whole plantations and other types of farms and businesses as well. He had no love for the Shire. He hated it's forests and streams, and he hated the land except for whatever profit they could make for him. He hated his fellow Hobbits. He saw them as selfish, conniving, greedy and mean spirited while he saw himself as working for the betterment of their sorry lot in life, a talented planner and wanting only what was his due. The black clouds in his soul had grown darker as his father had lingered. By the time of Otho's death they were barely contained. In 1418 S.R., by the time Bag End came up for sale and the money for the purchase was of no consequence to Lotho Sackville-Baggins, the storm within him was roiling. The move to Hobbiton now fit his plans quite nicely. He should live in the town that lay at the heart of his Shire. It was the thirteenth day of Afteryule. The cloudburst was near, and the tempest would blast the old Shire away.
In Bree, in a dark corner of the Prancing Pony, Yengan was holding a meeting with his cohorts. He had been escorted out of town with Bill Ferny and Harry Goatleaf but had been snuck back into the town by their followers who had stayed on the fringe of the fight. A map of the Shire lay unrolled on the table with the unsavory group hunched over it.
"Natuck, how many neigh to Hobbiton?" queried Yengan.
"We has ten as is already in ta town a workin' at ta buildin'. There be another ten in pairs all 'round 'bout it in ta country side."
"Grimlock, what of Michel Delvin'?" Yengan tapped his grubby finger at the town on the map.
"Twenty all told there 'bouts as well, Yengan. All knowin' their tasks."
"Moctok?" Yengan looked up from under his brows at Moctok.
"I's got ta Bridge and ta Great East Road through ta Michel Delvin'. All's ready and waitin'. Our men at the Bridge, our men in ta fields and such along ta road, our men in ta inns what had rooms big enough." Yengan gave Moctok a nod.
"Slengan, what of your territories?"
"We's ready and eager. We be fifty of us a hidin' in ta woods near their runty town o' Woodhall an' another thirty in ta hills an' woods 'round 'bout Tuckborough. The lads near ta Woodhall will move up close to Stock when the time comes, then can be in Buckland real quick like. We's got some work crews in other towns what are gettin' new mills. No problems."
Yengan continued to tap the map thoughtfully. "All o' you better be understandin' that we needs be careful. We needs keep up it lookin' like Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins is the boss. We will get as many o' their own kind to work under us as we can. Sharkey's orders. We don't rile them overmuch so as they think 'bout fightin' us. They must not know what's hit 'em. Not that the little rats could do us harm!" Yengan leered and laughed. "Soon, " he gloated and spread his hand on the map. It covered most of the Shire. "Soon."
Esme and Saradoc Brandybuck had not parted company easily. For reasons he simply could not understand, that she seemed unable to adequately explain, she had insisted on taking a trip to Great Smials.
"Esmeralda, no," Saradoc had said as patiently as he could after fifteen minutes of discussing the matter. "It is frightfully cold. One of our light snows is falling and might actually accumulate. There are . . . ," he hesitated. He had not wanted to worry her with tales of Men still moving into the Shire.
"There are what, Saradoc? Goblins? Ghouls? Bogey Men?"
He had flinched at the word "Men."
Esmeralda noticed the flinch. "There are Men?" she asked after a pause.
"So I've been informed, yes. I do not know exactly where. I do not know how many, but I've heard from more than one source that there are Men in the Shire. More than just the ones who are working in Hobbiton and a few of the other towns." Saradoc had taken hold of his wife's shoulders and looked deeply into her eyes. "I can't help but feel this trip you propose would not be safe, Esme."
Esme had looked down at the floor for a few minutes then raised her eyes to meet her husband's. For the first time in a long time she purposefully made use of her entrancing green eyes. She had gazed at Saradoc until his deep blue eyes widened ever so slightly, then she spoke. "I have to go, dearest. I simply must. I'll use the enclosed carriage and you can send an archer with the driver if you feel you must. Send two more to ride alongside if that will make you feel better. But I must go."
Saradoc had found himself struggling to think. It seemed against all reason to let her go, but what had come out of his mouth was, "As you will then." Within an hour he found himself watching the carriage go down the road with it's escort in place, wondering why he had suddenly changed his mind.
Now it was night time. Esmeralda and her entourage, through biting cold and blowing snow, had finally arrived at the Tree and Leaf Inn, supped and gone to bed. In her dreams she wandered in a barren land near a looming mountain. At it's base a pool sparkled with the blue reflection of the moon. Although the scene was breathtakingly beautiful, fear hung in the air. She tried to put the mountain behind her but which ever way she turned it filled the horizon. Then she felt an icy, damp touch upon her ankle. Esme gasped and jumped away. A snake-like thing writhed in the mud. Hundreds of them writhed headless and eyeless in the watery mud. She screamed and screamed until it was one long scream. A darkness came, in which her scream became the wind and the cold and the blowing snow of the Shire. Dreaming became waking, and it was now the fourteenth day of Afteryule.
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.