15. Chaos, Deceptions, and Deals: The New Shire
"We've come to be gatherin' up some o' your goods and stores," said the hobbit. He wore a cap with a feather in it but was not the Hobbiton area Sherriff that Farmer Burrows knew.
"I've heard my share about this,"replied old Burrows as he looked the group over. "I own my land. There's no landlord that I be owein' anythin' to, nor that has any rights to any o' my goods n' stores. Be off with ya now!"
Farmer Burrows started to shut his door, but one of the Men stepped forward and easily held it open. "Not quite so fast there," he said and pushed his way into the farmhouse's kitchen. "I's got the feelin' that you ain't understandin'." He backed the farmer up against the kitchen table as one of the farmer's sons hastily pushed Mrs. Burrows and her daughters out of the kitchen. The other Burrows lads moved to stand by their father.
"We are gatherin' for fair sharin' on Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins orders. You got lots, but there be them what's got little." One of the other men came into the kitchen, which was now quite crowded, and stared icily at the hobbits. "We ain't askin'. We be taken what's needed, what be your fair share if you will, and that be all there is to it." The Men loomed over the frightened hobbit farmer and his three sons. "You weren't thinkin' of causin' no fuss for us, were ya?" The Man leaned down farther so his large face was nose to nose with Farmer Burrows.
"No," came Farmer Burrows' choked reply.
"That be right good!" said the Man who had done all the talking. "Right good!" He patted the old hobbit roughly on the head, as though he were dealing with a child. "We'll just be goin' out to help them as already were gettin' to work on your contribution." He and the other Men laughed as they left, slamming the door behind them.
Farmer Burrows and his sons rushed to the window and looked out. Wagons had been pulled up to their storage barn. Grain was being taken from the grain bin, hay from the haymow and the root cellar doors were open. They stood watching helplessly as a crew of ten or so hobbits and a couple Men, joined by the ones who had knocked at the door, worked at removing whatever it was they wanted from the stores the Burrows had worked hard all growing season to raise.
"Why did they bother askin' us, Da? They were already loadin' stuff up." The eldest son brought his head and his fist against the window with a thud.
"So's we wouldn't be noticin' what they was already at, Nob." Farmer Burrows put his arm around Nob's shoulders and pulled him away from the window. "So's no matter what we said, they would get what they came for. It be harder to stop what already is started." The hobbits turned from the window to go comfort Mrs. Burrows and the lasses. They could only hope that whoever that bunch of ruffians were, they would leave them enough to make it through the winter.
At the Tunnely farm, and the Boffin farm, the Sandybank's and at the Proudfeet's large many-family holding, on farms near Hobbiton and Overhill, between Bywater and the Three Farthing Stone, and the fertile fields to the north of Waymeet, the harsh scene replayed itself relentlessly.
That same day was a typically quiet day in Michel Delving. One's hearth-side seemed a good place to stay, warm and cozy opposed to the blustery cold outside. His hearth-side was where Mayor Will Whitfoot had been spending his morning.
A knock on his study door roused him from his doze. He sat up as the maid stuck her head around the door to announce there was a message for him.
"Well, bring it here, lass. I cannot read it with you holding onto it, can I?" He held out his hand; she slipped into the room, laid the letter on his palm, curtsied and quickly slipped back out again, shutting the door behind her.
She had made no delay in getting the letter to him, he realized, as the paper was cold against his skin. "URGENT: For the eyes of The Mayor only!" was scrawled across the front of the envelope. Turning it over he saw it was sealed with only a few drops of wax into which no seal had been pressed. He stood and went to his desk, opened the center drawer, took out his letter opener, slit the envelope then went back to his chair by the fire to remove the letter. The room seemed to grow quieter and smaller. He read the missive through twice then stared at it blankly while his hand holding the letter slowly sank into his lap.
There's trouble brewin' round 'bout Hobbiton. Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins is the one behind the Four Farthings Holdings company that's been doing the mischief. He's bought up goodly amounts of land here 'bout and has been takin' more than the usual amount of goods and stores from the ones who farm his land. He's bought many of the buildings in town and is charging high rents. He bought and knocked down the old mill and is buildin' a new mill what seems like it has more parts than what it ought to have. He is now sendin' Men, Men ya understand, to gather goods and stores from farms that aren't his. Somethin' ought be done 'bout this, and right quick.
The message bore no signature. The writing looked rough and unschooled, and the words of it chilled the good Mayor's heart.
An hour's time found Mayor Whitfoot, cloaked and muffled up to his eyes, riding at a trot along the Great East Road. He would get to the bottom of this, he thought to himself as he rode along. Unheard of! It was completely unheard of that a hobbit of the Shire would bring Men -- Men for goodness sake -- into the Shire to force his fellow hobbits into giving up any of the goods and supplies they had worked so hard to raise. He tapped his pony up into a canter. It would do him no harm to run a bit, and Mayor Whitfoot wanted to get to the inn at the junction of the Great East Road and the Hardbottle-Sackville road. Sackville. Suddenly the name put a vile taste into Will Whitfoot's mouth. He swallowed it away as he brought his mind back to his mission. If only the letter had come sooner, he might have been able to reach Waymeet and be in Hobbiton by late the next day. As it was, if he got to Hobbiton at all the next day, it would be much to late to do anything.
Mayor Whitfoot had gone about four miles out of Michel Delving when he came to a large tree trunk lying across the road. It looked to him as though some folks were already at work trying to move it, but as he drew closer he could see that looks had been deceiving. The group was not all hobbits, and they were standing about or sitting on the downed tree, making no effort whatsoever to remove it.
"What is this all about?" the Mayor demanded as he pulled his pony to a halt some ten feet back from the tree.
One of the Men, for now the Mayor could see that, indeed, that is what some of them were, sauntered up quickly taking hold of the pony's bridle. "What're you all 'bout? 'Tis more the thing." The Man was scruffy and unkept looking. His eyes were level with Will Whitfoot's with Will being up on the pony.
"I am about going on my way to . . . ," the words stopped in Will's mouth. It was none of their business where he was heading. "Where I'm bound is none of your business, sir. If you will let loose my pony's bridle, I'll go around this obstacle and be on my way."
"On his way, says he!" The Man laughed and turned to the men and hobbits gathered about the tree. "On his way! Now that be right funny. Don't it be lads?" They joined in his laughter while all starting to move toward the Mayor on his pony.
"It is indeed!" said one of the Hobbits as the Mayor and his pony were surrounded.
"Yes. No," the Mayor said. His voice and hands were shaking; he felt confused. "No. It is not funny. It is most serious. You've no business interfering with me." Will wished his voice sounded stronger. "Loose my pony!"
"Where be you heading? Tell me that, and maybe I will 'loose your pony'," the Man mocked the Mayor's words. He narrowed his eyes while bringing his other hand up to hold the bridle on both sides. "Where be you heading?"
"Hobbiton," squeaked the Mayor. "I am heading for Hobbiton."
"That's better," the Man's voice grew slick and soft. "And why Hobbiton, little one?"
Will Whitfoot swallowed hard. " . . . Little one," the Man had called him. He felt a little one, small and vulnerable. "I'm . . . I've," he swallowed again. "I've got business with Mr. Sackville-Baggins."
The Man again took in the crowd around the pony, then turned back to the Mayor. "Where's your permit?"
"Per . . . permit?" stammered Will.
"Permit. No Little Folk are to go a-wanderin' about without a permit. We's got our orders, ya see. So," the Man's voice grew more threatening and he put his face close to Will's, "where's your permit?"
"I ... I need no permit. I'm the Mayor of the Shire, and there are no permits for traveling in the Shire." The full statement the man had made suddenly registered in Mayor Whitfoot's muddled mind. "Orders?" he squeaked out. "Orders? Who gave you such an order? No one has the right to issue such an order!"
"Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins gave the order," said a Hobbit with a wicked glint in his eyes. "He'll be givin' all the orders now."
Mayor Will Whitfoot felt his doom closing in around him with the crowd of Men and Hobbits. The words cut deep into his heart, 'He'll be givin' all the orders now.'
"No permit! Ya hear that, lads? No permit!" the Man spoke loudly to his fellow ruffians without taking his face from Will Whitfoot's. "Then it's off with ya, little one. Off to the Lockholes!" His voice was low and cold.
"But . . . but . . ." Will was quaking from head to foot, "Those are for storage!"
"And now we're storing Hobbits what breaks the Rules! Nab him, lads!"
With that Will Whitfoot, the Mayor of the Shire, was pulled off his pony and his hands bound tightly behind him. He was marched back to Michel Delving as the crowd of rowdy hobbits and Men jeered at him. The hobbits of Michel Delving stood gapping at the sight of the Mayor and his escort. Word spread quickly that a large number of men and hobbits had forced their way into the Lockholes to cart out the old mathoms that had filled those rooms and tunnels for years. When the rabble who had arrested the Mayor arrived, his cell was ready. He was dragged along the tunnels until they reached an end, deep inside the hill. His hands were unbound then he was roughly shoved into a small windowless room. Will Whitfoot saw a thin mat and blanket lying on the hard dirt floor; his nose was assailed with the pungent odor of damp earth; his ears heard the door close behind him then the sound of the newly installed bolt being thrown home. The Lockholes of Michel Delving officially became a prison.
Saradoc Brandybuck sat staring at a blank piece of paper. Not entirely blank, he had written the date, 19 Afteryule, S.R. 1419 at the top. His mind was not on the letter he needed to write to the farmer of one of the Halls holdings. His thoughts early on this unnaturally cold morning were flying loose in his head: the letter he had written to Paladin, the whole matter of so many Men apparently in the Shire, Esme having run off to Great Smials and Merry. He gasped in a breath and held it. Merry. His only son, his only child, his precious child. Well, not a child, no longer a child. He let his breath out between barely parted lips. Merry was a fully grown, mature young hobbit. But the weight on Saradoc's shoulders intensified. It made no difference, no difference at all. All that mattered was that his dear son was gone.
His thoughts were interrupted by a knock at the study door.
"Yes?" he called.
His secretary opened the door and came in a few steps. "Three gentlehobbits from the North Farthing to see you, sir."
"Show them in, Madamas," Saradoc replied setting his un-begun letter aside as he rose to his feet to greet his visitors. "Gentlehobbits! Welcome, and please, be seated." Saradoc gestured to three chairs that Madamas had drawn up before the desk.
The three took seats and the best dressed one of them cleared his throat. "We thank you for seeing us, Master. We know you are a busy hobbit."
"You are most welcome," Saradoc said with a nod of his head. "Now, who are you, and why have you come all this way to speak with me?"
"I," said the hobbit who had first spoken, "am Fastolph Tunnely. I own a large sheep farm in the North Farthing. These are Tonenbras North-took and Faldo Grubb, respectively; they both have large grain producing holdings in the North Farthing." Each hobbit nodded to Saradoc in turn, and he returned the gesture. "We have come because we feared that you may have heard incorrect stories regarding certain happenings of late in the East, West and South Farthings."
"What," he said to the hobbits, "do you fear that I've heard?"
"That your fellow hobbits in the various Farthings are being treated unjustly. That their hard work, their stored crops, are being taken from them needlessly."
Saradoc slowly nodded. "Yes, I have heard such things. Do you have information to the contrary?"
"We do, Master, sir," continued Mr. Tunnely. "It is for the poorer hobbits of the North Farthing that this is being done, sir. We had a spell of very nasty weather, strong winds with hail right before the harvest. A good many farms lost both crops and livestock." Messrs. North-took and Grubb nodded in agreement. "We were hoping, sir, that we might obtain your permission to seek the aid of the hobbits here in Buckland. There are many hobbits of the North Farthing still in need, Mr. Brandybuck."
Now, the giving of descriptive names or titles to the Master of Buckland was an old Buckland tradition. There was Madoc 'Proudneck' and Gorbadoc 'Broadbelt' and Gormadoc 'Deepdelver' to name a few. Saradoc was known far and wide as 'Scattergold' because of his kind heart and generosity. He was deeply touched by the thought of the hobbits of the North Farthing going on short rations when Buckland had been blessed with a bountiful crop last fall.
"The Hobbits of Buckland will gladly do what we can to help. I'm sorry that there has been so much misunderstanding about the reason behind this business. My brother-in-law, Thain Paladin II, is another one who has been given such misinformation. I fear he thinks someone is trying to take over the Shire."
Saradoc did not notice the slight flinch his mention of a takeover elicited from his guests as they quickly recovered themselves. "Shall I send out some of my household to gather what is needed?" he asked.
"No!" Fastolph Tunnely said quickly and loudly. "No," he said again as he calmed himself a bit. "No, we wish no inconvenience to you or yours. We have sturdy lads from the North Farthing that will do the hauling about in this foul, cold weather."
"Well then," said Saradoc as he stood and offered his hand to the hobbits, "this matter is settled. You may tell any farmer who troubles you that the Master of Buckland has given you permission to gather goods and stores to aid our fellow hobbits. And you perhaps should know, there are reports of Men moving about in the Shire. Be careful that none of them trouble you or confiscate the contribution you collect."
Hands were shook all around, and the visitors left. As soon as they were out of view of the multitudinous round windows of Brandy Hall, something in the deportment of the three hobbits changed. Their shoulders slouched, and their chins held less high.
"Drat it all, if I'm not goin' to have a rash from this here high, stiff collar, it'll be a wonder," the supposed Mr. North-took said.
"Aw, shut yer hole, Hambut Moss, you daft pig!" growled Till Bulge, who had pretended to be Fastolph Tunnely. "At least you didn't have to be a memorizin' all that nonsense and havin' to study up on talkin' like some stuffed shirt from the North Farthing, like I done."
"Ha!" laughed Togo Leatherfoot, alias Faldo Grubb. "That be what ya get for lookin' like a hobbit from a big muckity-muck family," he laughed harder. "You're too pretty, you are."
Till glared at his partner. "That'll be enough out o' you, Togo! We needs get to them's as waitin' on us at the meetin' place, now that we have his "lordship's" permission. They'll be able to get started this afternoon if we don't dawdle. And ya'd best remember, there be Men in the Shire."
They laughed as they hurried off into the cold, grey day to get the teams of gatherers going. This was the only time in his life that Saradoc Brandybuck's tender heart and generous nature betrayed him and the hobbits of Buckland who lived under his care, but it was the worst of times for his good judgement to have failed him.
Paladin drained the last drop of his breakfast tea with a sigh. He looked lovingly at the faces of his family who were seated around the table. He and Eglantine were joined each morning by their three daughters and their families. It made for a crowded table, but the elder Tooks would not have it any other way. They loved each daughter, son-in-law and grandchild dearly. The only face missing at the table was Pippin's.
As Pippin had grown, the discomfort Paladin had with excitement and adventure had brought a distance to their relationship. Mind you, they were still close with a deep love for each other, but Paladin had felt more at ease with his son when Pippin had been a little hobbit. In those days his son's urge for adventures had been easily satisfied by listening to Bilbo Baggins' stories or going on over night walking parties with his cousins. But Paladin had seen the faraway look growing in his son's bright green eyes, those eyes so like Esme's. He thought of his talk with his sister. Now he understood why the Tookish wanderlust had taken root in Pippin's heart. It pained and frightened Paladin to think of his lad going out into the wide world with only Frodo, Merry and the gardener lad, Samwise, to watch over him. Actually, Samwise being there gave Paladin some small measure of comfort. Sam was a stable lad, physically strong, a hobbit of the soil as Paladin himself had been before becoming The Took and Thain. Paladin felt sure Sam could take good care of them all.
A soft knock preceded the entry of a maid into the Thain's private dinning room. She quickly approached Paladin, then spoke quietly to him.
"Thain Paladin, sir. There are . . . there is a group here asking to speak with you."
"A group?" queried Paladin, also keeping his voice low. "A group of what, lass? Dogs, sheep, farmers, businesshobbits? A group of what?" As usual, Paladin meant his comment to be humorous but sounded more gruff than he intended.
"Hobbits, sir. Hobbits and . . . ," the maid was pale and she leaned even closer to the Thain's ear. "Hobbits and Men, sir. There be Men with them, sir." Her small voice was shaky with fear.
Paladin hid well the surprise this news gave him. He appeared calm as he folded his napkin before setting it on the table. "I will see them in my study in ten minutes," he told the lass.
"But sir. They said they would see you in the entry hall as the ceiling is high enough there that the . . ." she dropped her voice to a mere whisper again. ". . . so's the Men can stand."
"The study served well when old Gandalf the Wizard would come to visit the Old Took. It will serve well enough for these . . . these visitors, whoever they may be," Paladin said as he rose from his chair. "I am sure they are not nearly as important in the wide world as Gandalf. You will show them to my study, or they may be on their way."
The maid nodded and left the dinning room. Paladin turned to his wife. "Lanti, a moment alone if you will my dear." He pulled back her chair then held his hand out to assist her.
"I will be back in a minute or two, my dears," Eglantine said to her family, then she was escorted from the room by Paladin. When they were down the hall in her sitting room with the door closed, Paladin wrapped his arms around her and held her tightly.
"What I have been fearing has apparently arrived, my dearest Eglantine." Lanti could feel his heart pounding against her. She returned the tightness of his hug while gently rubbing his back with her right hand. "There is a group of hobbits and Men who have arrived to talk with me," Paladin continued. "I dread what I am about to hear." He held her close and rested his forehead on hers. For a few moments he did not speak.
"Do you love me, Lanti?" He whispered.
"Always," she whispered in reply and tipped her head to kiss him.
"I . . . I am afraid, Lanti. This has been sneaking up on me ever since I first heard the rumors of the so called gathering going on. Gathering, ha! Plain stealing is what it is. It has nearly ceased of late, but I've known in my heart that it was not finished. I knew they would eventually have to come to me." Paladin lowered his head to his wife's shoulder and clung to her. "And they have Men with them. Saradoc warned me there were greater numbers of Men in the Shire. I have no experience dealing with Men. I fear treachery such as we hobbits have rarely faced. My fear has been haunting my dreams; it has been darkening my days." He brought his head up to look into Lanti's eyes. "I am out of the realm of my experience. Will you love me if I make a mistake, Lanti? Will you love me if I fail you, fail our family, if I fail the hobbits of the Tookland and the Shire? Will you love me even then?"
Eglantine held her gaze steady into her husbands eyes. "I will love you, Paladin Took, whatever befalls you. I trust you to do what you think best. I know what many others seem not to know, that you love the Tooks, Tookland and the Shire. Whether your choices go well or ill, I will stand beside you. I will love you with all my heart, come what may."
Paladin stood straighter. He pulled back a bit from their embrace and placed his hands on Lanti's shoulders. "Then I will be fine," he said and kissed her firmly. He squared his shoulders before turning to leave the sitting room. Eglantine left the room slowly to give herself a little bit of time before she returned to the dinning room. She was a healer. What she had seen in Paladin's eyes, she had seen before. The look of resignation when a patient has accepted his own impending death. She hoped with all her being it would not come to that.
The two hobbits who had been sitting in chairs when Paladin entered his study rose as he came in. One of the Men had been sitting in the only chair in the room that was big enough for a man, the chair that Gandalf had always used whenever he came to the Great Smials to visit the Old Took. With a look from the hobbits, he also stood, although he could not stand straight. The other man was seated on the floor and made no effort to rise. Paladin sat down in the leather chair behind the large desk and motioned for his guests to do the same. As they sat down, Paladin glanced at the calendar on his desk, 19 Afteryule, S.R. 1419. He had the feeling it would be a date he would never forget.
"Sirs," Paladin said. "Please state your business."
One of the hobbits spoke up. "I'm Tad Foxburr, Thain Paladin, and this gentleman," Tad gestured to the Man in the chair, "is Ron Fernberry. We are here to offer you a chance to be part of a business opportunity."
"I am willing to listen, proceed Mr. Foxburr."
Apart from a nod acknowledging Ron Fernberry's presence, Paladin chose to focus on the hobbits in his study. At least with them he felt on solid footing, less intimidated. Ron was using this chance to study this supposedly powerful hobbit. For now Paladin was looking and sounding like a puffed-up version of Lotho. This hobbit's manner was all business. He was aloof with a touch of iron in his voice but obviously thought highly of himself and his little titles. Perhaps, Ron thought, this fool plan of Lotho's would work.
Tad stood to spread a map of the Shire out on Paladin's desk, picking up various objects and using them to weight the corners down. "We are here on behalf of a most prosperous hobbit, Thain Paladin. His holdins are quite vast, as is shown here, those lands that are his bein' shaded in red. He has a well established trade goin' on with a country, well, with a buyer for a country in the far south."
Paladin had also risen to have a better view of the map. He nearly gasped aloud but managed to stifle it. A full two-thirds or more of the Shire was shaded in red, left untouched were distant sections of the North and West Farthings where there were no towns or villages. Most of Tookland was still not shaded, showing white against the red, except for a few small isolated incursions between Waymeet and Tookbank and a small area to the west of Pincup. The whole of the East Farthing right up to the Brandywine was solid red as was the South Farthing from some twenty miles below the Green Hill Country to it's southern border. Tookland stood like an island surrounded by a crimson tide. Buckland was trapped between the scarlet shading and the Old Forest.
"As you can see," Tad continued, "him that we represent is well established throughout the Shire, ownin' both farms and businesses in all these here marked areas. This is a thrivin' concern, and he is interested in takin' you on as a partner. He is interested in workin' with the Tooks, as they have the respect of a good many hobbits and, you sir, are known all over as a businesshobbit who values above most else a bottom line that is in the black."
"Carefully, go carefully!" Paladin's heart warned him. He shut his eyes and drew in a deep breath. The image of the map remained firmly in his mind. So much of it shaded in red; so much of it gone. Of course this hobbit would want to work with the Tooks. Tookland was still free. He opened his eyes to look Tad firmly in the eye. "And just who is it you represent, this hobbit who will not come to transact such business with me in person?"
Tad boldly returned the Thain's piercing gaze. "He's most busy right now, Thain Paladin. There is much happenin' at this very moment that he needs to tend to. But we are his most trusted, how to say it . . . workers, privy to all his business matters. We speak with full authority, sir."
"And you have still not answered my question, Mr. Foxburr. For whom do you work?"
"Mr. Lotho Sackville-Baggins." The voice answering belonged to no hobbit.
Paladin turned his head to look at Ron Fernberry. Paladin's heart was racing. He feared the hobbits and men in his study would be able to hear it's pounding. "Treachery! Be Cautious!" His thoughts were shouting in his head. Yet outwardly nothing showed. He had never been demonstrative in front of strangers, even less so after the many business meetings he had suffered through while cleaning up the horrible financial mess his predecessor had left behind when he passed away. He would have failed miserably at restoring solvency and order to the holdings of the Took family if any of the business hobbits and landowners he had dealt with had been able to see the shame he felt at the condition of the estate's financial affairs.
"Indeed?" Paladin sat down in his chair and placed his hands on the desk before him, interlacing his fingers to keep them from shaking. "All of this," he nodded at the map, "is owned by Lotho Sackville-Baggins?" Paladin paused, looked into Ron Fernberry's eyes a few moments, then continued. "Would it, perhaps, be as accurate to say all of this is owned by the Four Farthings Holdings?"
Ron nodded his head. "Indeed, Mr Took. Indeed," Ron was agreeing to more than Paladin's statement. He had decided that Old Lotho had been right. This Thain Paladin was as cold a fish as Lotho himself. He hadn't flinched a bit at any of what he had heard. He decided to press their advantage. "Indeed, he recently became awares of an unfortunate incident to the west o' here. Near . . . near . . . what be the name o' that place, Tad?"
"Right. Michel Delving it be. A little incident with the Mayor, I think he was called. Yes, the Mayor o' the Shire. Seems he went and got himself in a spot o' trouble, and he ain't Mayor no more. So Mr. Lotho has kindly taken on the overseein' o' everythin', seein' as he owns most o' it anyway. He's now Chief o' this country and is settin' up a new order to things."
Paladin looked down at the map. It seemed as though the red on the map was the blood he could feel draining from his veins as a biting chill froze him to his core. He reached out his left hand to touch Michel Delving and Hobbiton, both in the Shire now owned and controlled by Lotho Sackville-Baggins. His forefinger moved to rest on Tuckborough, gently caressing the small white spot on the map that was Tookland. This land was his home. The Shire was his home. He was The Took and Thain of the Shire . . . of the Shire . . . the Shire. The chill was replaced with a burning heat. The blood Paladin had felt draining away now flushed his cheeks with a red glow. His forefinger curled to join it's fellows in making a fist. The fist slammed down hard on the red-shaded map.
"NO!" The visitors jumped and Paladin's chair was knocked to the floor as he stood. "NO!" Items on the desk shook as Paladin's fist pounded the map. "If there is no Mayor, if there is a need for someone to fill the role of 'Chief,' it will be the rightful hobbit with the authority to step into the position." Paladin's voice was loud, possessing great authority. "There is no need for any 'new order'. There is already order in the Shire. If the Mayor is unable to perform his duties then, it is the Thain of the Shire who takes the reins and no upstart. It makes no difference how much land he owns."
None of the visitors moved. They stared at the stern hobbit who seemed to grow taller before their eyes.
"No, there is no 'new order!' No need for a 'Chief!' I do not know by what deceits Lotho acquired all his holdings, but this will not happen. These actions of his will cease." Paladin's fist crashed into the map again. "Business? This is no business. It is treachery! Gathering? No, by his orders you have been stealing. Trespass and thievery! It is over, finished! Word will be sent, and other's will soon learn of these traitorous deeds!" Paladin grabbed the map at it's center, crumpled it with both hands, then threw it into Ron Fernberry's face. "I will have no part in this. You may tell Lotho Pimple that he is a traitor. From now on his workers will be treated as the thieves and trespassers they are. Get out of my home, off of my land, out of Tookland, and out of the Shire!"
As quickly as they could manage, the visitors left the Thain's office. Once outside of Great Smials they ran, even the Men ran, with Paladin's pack of hunting dogs at their heels.
It was well into the afternoon of the nineteenth when Esme and her entourage finally arrived home. She and Saradoc fairly ran into each others arms.
"What is happening, Saradoc!" Esme said breathlessly into his ear.
"What do you mean?"
"The ferry, we nearly weren't allowed to come home."
Saradoc took her by the shoulders and held her back so he could look at her face. "What do you mean, Esme?"
"There was a group of Men there, and old Moro Brandybuck the ferry-hobbit looking scared to death. The Men said we needed a permit to cross from the Shire into Buckland. And I said I needed no such thing. The biggest of the Men said there were new rules now in effect and that there was no traveling about to be done by the 'Little Folk' without a permit. Old Moro spoke up and said that we were Brandybucks and were heading home. Then I said that was true, that I am the Mistress of Brandy Hall and that they had no right to prevent me from going where I wished. They laughed at me, Saradoc. They laughed and mocked me and said it was with the Master of Buckland's permission that the new rules were in force. But seeing as we were headed home, they would let us go this time. Whatever is going on, Saradoc?"
Saradoc pulled his wife close to his chest and held her so tightly she could barely breathe. What was going on? He had no answers. Esme wiggled and pulled herself loose.
"Here, darling. Here is a letter from my brother. He said it was urgent and I should give it to you first thing." She pulled the wrinkled envelope out of her small carry bag and handed it to her husband. He took it and, still holding Esme with one arm, opened it and began to read:
I have read your letter to me and given this reply great thought. Your news of a surge in the numbers of Men entering the Shire is troubling. It agrees with what I have been hearing from Tooks throughout the Shire. It couples in my concerns with this: the talk of the gatherings being done to help hobbits in need are lies. In the North Farthing they were told it was a blight in the South Farthing. In the South Farthing it was storm damage in the North Farthing, and so on. I have heard from all the Farthings of the Shire. It had been an excellent harvest in all areas.
These stories are lies, Saradoc. Lies. And I now think there is a connection between these lies and the Men within our borders. I fear grim times are upon us, dear brother. Hold fast. Don't believe their lies. I will send you more information as I am able.
Saradoc's strength drained from him. He sank first to his knees then to sit with a thump in the snow, pulling Esme with him. All the color drained from his face.
"I've ruined us." he moaned. "I've given over Buckland to liars and cheats. I've ruined us." Saradoc 'Scattergold' Brandybuck, The Master of Buckland, fainted into his wife's embrace and was then carried into Brandy Hall.
Away in Hobbiton, Lotho Sackville-Baggins propped his feet up in front of his cozy hearth. The room was warm, but the look on his face would have chilled to the bone any hobbit who saw it. But none did. The reports had all come in. The whole of the Shire and Buckland were his. Tookland would soon fall, he was sure of it. The reign of Lotho Sackville-Baggins, Chief of the Shire, had begun.
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.