17. Rule Breakers
Everard Tookbank farmed an average sized holding just off the Great East Road and just west of the Three Farthing Stone. He was out in his barn tending his cows early in the morning on twenty Afteryule, when a commotion arose in the farmyard. His dogs had set to barking until he heard a yelp, then it grew quiet. He hoisted himself off his milking stool to see what had happened.
“Blackie! Patches! Ya daft dogs. What are . . .” Everard stopped and stared. A large group of fierce looking Men and hobbits with feathers in their caps stood bold as day in his farmyard. He looked down and saw Blackie lying on the snow. Patches was nosing his old friend and whimpering. One of the Men was tapping a club against his leg.
“Alright, lads. Get busy with ya,” the club-holder ordered, and the Men started for the barn and the grain bins. The club-holder stepped over the dead dog to stand in front of Everard. “Unless you want to be paintin’ the snow red like yer dog, you’ll leave us be. We’re just here to take what you’re owin’, then be on our way. Understand, little one?”
Everard nodded. He saw one of his sons start out of the pig barn but waved him back in. The lad saw and silently ducked back into the shadowy doorway.
In a half hour’s time, the Men and feather-capped hobbits were gone, along with a third of Everard Tookbank’s stores. As soon as they were out of sight, he sent his oldest son, Fulco, off on their riding pony as fast as he could ride to Great Smials. Fulco was not the first to arrive at Great Smials that morning. There were at lest five farmers or their sons ahead of him. He recognized his neighbors, for all who stood there in the entry hall of the huge smial farmed land that lay just south of the Great East Road.
Thain Paladin II had not yet finished first breakfast when the maid came in to tell him there was a frightened looking farmer wishing to see him. He told her to see the hobbit to his study while he left his diningroom hurriedly to get dressed. By the time Paladin arrived, there were eight farmers anxiously awaiting him.
Ten minutes later the normally sedate Paladin Took stormed out of his office. He shouted orders to his startled secretary then to every servant or resident of Great Smials that he passed. He and the group of farmers nearly ran for the door that was closest to the stable yard. Twenty minutes later each of the eight farmers was leaving at a gallop to the farmlands south of the Great East Road and east of the Waymeet-Sackville Road. Each farmer was accompanied by three skilled Took hunter/archers along with three or four of the younger, stronger males of the Great Smials household. Thain Paladin rode with a larger group heading for Whitwell. He knew there was one holding that Lotho Sackville-Baggins would not be able to resist plundering.
It had taken awhile for Yengan, Moctok, Natuck and Slengan and the Gatherers under them to get all they could from the stores of the farm owned by Thain Paladin I. Before the family titles had come to him, Paladin and a good many paid farmhands had together worked the land of the large holding. Now the profits of the farm were evenly split amongst those who worked it in Paladin’s stead. Paladin had sent word to Talley Took, the Master Farmer over the property, after the visit from Lotho’s representatives alerting him to the possibility of Gatherers arriving at the farm. But it had made no difference. The group that arrived at the Thain’s farm consisted of large Men armed with clubs and whips, with only three hobbits. The hobbits being brought along only to gain access to the storage bins and cellars that were too small for the men to get into. It had been a long morning’s work, taking the twenty Gatherers three hours to fill the twenty-three horse drawn, Man-sized wagons with grain, vegetables and hay. Well over half of what remained of last harvest’s bounty. They were nearly to the main gate with the caravan of heavily loaded wagons when their way was blocked by what looked to be a small army of stern hobbits. Thain Paladin sat on his pony, a bit ahead of the crowd, dead center in the middle of the road.
“You can just turn those wagons right around and take everything back to where you stole it.” The Thain’s tone was icy, his voice strong.
Yengan continued to ride forward on his horse until there was only twenty feet of empty road between him and Paladin. He pulled a club out of a holder on his saddle and began to slap it against his empty hand. “Don’t think ya know what ya be sayin’, little one, nor who ya be sayin’ it to. We be the ones what have the right to be here. We be followin’ the orders of the Chief of yer wee little Shire.” The sharp sound of the club slapping his hand accented Yengan’s words. “Ya’d best be movin’ yerself and the rest o’ the mice out o’ the way, afore ya all get hurt.”
“Enough mice can befuddle the best cats.” Paladin’s voice was tense with controlled anger. “Especially if the cats finds themselves surrounded.”
With their usual hobbit quiet, farm hands who had been rousted by the hobbits from the Smials had come up along the field side of the hedges that ran ten feet from each side of the road. They now stepped out, armed with hoes, pitchforks and a few bows with arrows nocked at the ready. Most of the Men were no longer looking so confident. Moctok, Natuck and Slengan rode up to form a line immediately behind Yengan. Yengan rode forward a few paces.
“Unless I see a hand raised in show of a truce, you had best come no further,” The Took and Thain warned.
Yengan hesitated at Paladin’s threat, then proceeded to walk his horse two more steps. Nine Took archers stepped out from the crowd behind Paladin, nocking their arrows to take aim on Yengan.
“Ya haven’t the guts, mice. Ya’ll learn it here like they be learnin’ it elsewhere in this runty little country o’ yours. So you can talk a threat all ya want, Master Mouse. We be takin’ what we be takin’. I know who ya be, and I know ya think this all be yours, but ‘tain’t no more. We’ll take it all and use your Tookland for our privy!”
Yengan raised his club while driving his heels into his horse. It leapt toward The Thain of the Shire but suddenly jerked aside awkwardly. Yengan fell lifeless to the ground still clutching the reins. Three Took arrows pierced his heart, another his throat, the rest lodged in his torso as he fell. Moctok swung his club at the nearest archer, breaking his arm.
The fight that ensued was short. The men were not accustomed to the hobbits fighting back. When Moctok suffered the same fate as Yengan and several others were wounded, they leapt from the wagons, fleeing across Paladin’s fields toward the Waymeet-Sackville Road. Several hobbits had been knocked unconscious. Many of them had broken arms or cuts from whips, but none were killed.
Paladin awkwardly dismounted. He stood over the bodies of the two dead Men. Blood dripped from a whip cut on his chin, his right arm was supporting his broken left arm. He bowed his head for a few moments then looked at the Tooklanders gathered around him.
“Let us not begin to see this as a normal way to deal with these Men, these outsiders,” he said quietly, yet his voice carried and all the hobbits heard him clearly. “Let us try to spill no more blood on the Tookland. Life once taken cannot be returned. Let us not ever take it lightly. These Men are to be treated well in death and buried in a respectful manner near, but not in, the family graveyard.” Paladin paused again, wondering in his heart if this had been the right thing to do. “Get the wagons turned around. Get the goods put back in the barns and cellars. Any of you who know how to tend to wounds come help with the injured.”
Later that day the reports came to The Took and Thain in his bedroom at Great Smials where he was resting with his arm in a cast. There had been one more Man killed while he had delivered a fatal blow to Isenbras Took at one of the farms south of the Great East Road. Many on both sides had been injured, but the Men and hobbits who sought to do Lotho’s Gathering had fled the Tookland.
Esmeralda Brandybuck had spent the ending of nineteenth Afteryule at her husband’s bedside. He had soon recovered from his collapse but had remained so distraught that the healer had given him a sleeping draught. Even so, his rest was fitful.
Before the dawn of the day, twentieth Afteryule, Saradoc had gotten out of bed and headed for his office. There was a great deal of planning to do. It was past afternoon tea when he sent for Esme.
“We need to talk,” Saradoc said in a tone he usually reserved for dealing with visitors on business matters. He indicated the most comfortable of the chairs facing his desk. “Sit down, please.”
Esme sat stiffly in the chair, her hands clasped together in her lap, apprehension deepening the lines on her face. She was completely unaccustomed to being dealt with in this manner by her usually loving husband. In a hushed tone she replied, “Yes, dear.”
“I have made a hideous mistake.” Esmeralda began to disagree, but Saradoc with a wave of his hand, silenced her. “I have made a hideous mistake and you have been hiding something from me. I will see both of these situations corrected.” He gestured to a letter on the desk. “This came through by Quick Post from Great Smials. They tried a more direct approach with your brother. He was offered a partnership in the takeover of the Shire.”
“No! Paladin would never . . .”
“Paladin would not and did not. He sent them packing with his hunting hounds at their heels. He then sent this letter to me. The hobbits and Men who approached him made no attempt to hide who their employer is, who it is who has taken control of the Shire. It is none other than the son of old cousin Bilbo’s nemesis. It is Lotho Sackville-Baggins. Apparently, like many others in the Shire, he perceived Paladin as a cold, unfeeling business-hobbit. Figured Paladin would join right in, so he would add Tookland to the rest of his holdings. According to our brother, Lotho owns or controls nearly all of the Shire’s farms and businesses. Paladin fears he’s not seen the last of them. He fears he won’t be able to hold Tookland against them.”
“How did the courier get through? My escorts and I were nearly not allowed to cross the river to come home. I can’t imagine they would let a courier through.”
“The Brandywine is frozen solid near Haysend. He crossed there.”
Esme nodded. “And . . . is he well? I mean Paladin. Is he alright? Did he say anything about himself and Lanti?”
Saradoc stood and walked around his desk. He pulled one of the other chairs around and sat in it facing his wife. He took her hands in his, but his look was stern. “Now we come to the other matter, Esmeralda. Paladin ends his letter with assurances that, at this time at lest, they are all well. He then expressed their hopes that you arrived safely, thanking you for your reassurances regarding Pippin, Merry, Frodo and Sam. That he hopes your gift is not too much for us to bear and that you will keep he and Lanti informed.” Saradoc gently but firmly took hold of his wife’s chin. Pain and sadness mixed with the stern look on his wan face. “Our brother obviously assumes I know something I do not. What ‘gift’ are you bearing that I know nothing about?”
Esme closed her eyes. Now was not a time to charm her husband’s mind with her eyes. No. Not this time. Her thoughts were spinning in her head. She had never told him.
She had never told him because she knew, she knew beyond doubt that he would not believe her, could not believe her. But suddenly a faint hope glimmered. Why wouldn’t he? The Brandybucks had no Fairy-blood influencing them, but they were strongly of the Fallowhide strain of hobbits, who were said to be Elf-friends. Hadn’t Gorhendad Oldbuck left the Shire to claim the strip of land he named Buckland? He had begun the building of Brandy Hall and changed his family’s name. Odd things for a hobbit to do. Bold things. Mad things. Perhaps . . .
“ ‘Tis a Tookish thing, my dearest love,” she said as she brought her eyes up to meet his, guarding her gaze carefully. “A Tookish trait that not all of us Tooks inherit. Paladin did not.” Esme allowed herself to look a bit deeper into Saradoc’s eyes. “I inherited it. Pippin did too.” Her mind was racing. How much? How much to say to this hobbit she loved above all others? “I . . . I just know things, darling. Beyond any doubt. With complete certainty. I feel things; I know things.” She paused again. Deeper, just a bit deeper into his eyes and his heart, she let herself slip. Some of the tension eased from Saradoc’s face. “I know our son is alive, Saradoc. I know it. As truly as I know I am sitting here in your office, I know. Merry and Pippin, Frodo and Sam -- they are all alive and well.” She hoped he would not ask for more. She wasn’t sure she wanted to tell him of the times of fear and horror that she shared with Pippin.
“And you haven’t told me?”
“I didn’t think you would believe me.” She heard in his voice and felt in her spirit his sense of being betrayed. She tenderly stroked his cheek with the backs of her fingers. “You being such a Brandybuck’s–Brandybuck and I such a Tookish–Took.”
Saradoc finally smiled a sad smile. “An understandable doubt to have, my little Tookish bride. Very understandable, indeed.” He sighed, and his smile faded. “I’m not sure I do believe you. I want to. It would be nice to have this dread . . . this fear for Merry lifted from me. Especially with everything else that is now happening.” A wry, half-smile came to his lips. “I will try. For your sake, for Merry’s sake, I will try to believe you though it seems beyond reason to me. I fell in love with a wild Took lass. I need to accept all that entails. Come, sit on my lap so I can hold you, my beloved Took.” But while his embrace comforted Esme, Saradoc was filled with a new fear. Madness. Many hobbits said there was madness in the Tooks. He wouldn’t be able to bear it if madness were to take his darling Esmeralda from him. He shook his head slightly as he fought to send the fear from his mind. They had other things they needed to discuss.
“I need to change the subject, my dear. There was a list of Rules posted, apparently throughout the Shire and Buckland this morning. Rules that I have decided we have to appear to obey.”
Esme raised her head from Saradoc’s shoulder. “ ‘Appear to obey’? Not actually obey?”
“If we obey them, the hobbits of Buckland will suffer. I fear we all will suffer as it is, but many times worse if we blindly obey Lotho’s Rules. I will need your help. We will have to be sly.” He lightly chuckled. “It would be good if,” he had to pause before he could go on, “if Merry and Pippin were here. They have so much experience at that sort of thing.”
Esme kissed his cheek while chuckling herself. “Yes. And don’t forget Frodo. He was quite the handful when he was young. I think he taught the other two all they know.”
“Yes.” Saradoc returned the kiss and smiled the first full smile he had had all that day. “Though I’m sure Merry, then Pippin, enlarged and improved upon his teachings.” He hugged Esme as he sighed. “We could use all our lads now. We will have to use their plots and schemes in reverse. We will be needing to figure out how to get food and supplies to the poorer hobbits. How to sneak the old and infirm into the Hall for the sake of their health.”
Esme sat up to search her husbands face. She could see, he was being deadly serious. “Things will be that bad?” she asked, her voice a mere whisper with the shock of this news.
“Who knows what will be left of the food supplies after they finish their Gathering. There are Rules against using too much firewood, against taking in guests, against sharing food and supplies with other hobbits, and as you know, against hobbits traveling without permission. If we are obvious in our disobedience, it will make matters worse. They are able to arrest any hobbit caught breaking their Rules, with no trial or hearing held in their defense. Mayor Whitfoot is already a prisoner in the Lockholes.” A tear ran down Saradoc’s face. “For all but the Sackville-Baggins’ and those that support them, it will be that bad.”
Author’s Note: I am currently battling a nasty writer’s block on the writing of this story and “Little Ones of Their Own,” the two stories I am most wanting to work on. I have nothing new ready to post on ‘Little Ones” and have only one more chapter beyond this one written for this story. I have no intention of quitting, I will finish “Little Ones of Their Own” and continue with “While We Dwelt in Fear,” it may just be a longer process than any of us would like. My apologies and I hope you will stay with me.
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