3. From the Inside, Out
The Shire of 1418 was, as marked by it's borders on the maps of the time, nearly circular. With the Hobbits love of round doors and round windows, their country may well have ended up being round had it not been for the bit taken off one edge, like a cookie with a piece broken off, where the Brandywine River determined the Shire's eastern border. Nearly at the center of this nearly round country was the town of Hobbiton. A typical hobbit village with a town square, although even it was more round than square, nice little shops, the Town Hall and a mill. It was serviced by an inn and a tavern, The Green Dragon Inn on the Hobbiton side of the nearby town of Bywater and The Ivy Bush Tavern along the Bywater Road.
Hobbiton was also where Bag End was located. A fine hobbit hole set into The Hill overlooking the village. It had for many years now, been a bone of contention between certain members of the Baggins family, but now those who felt it was by rights theirs finally held the deed.
Lotho Sackville-Baggins stood upon the front walk at Bag End and looked out over Hobbiton. He smiled a self-satisfied smile because he knew that much of what he saw belonged to him. Already the work had started on tearing down the old mill, which he had purchased from Ted Sandyman a mere month before Lotho and his Mother, Lobelia, had moved into Bag End. He owned several of the buildings the shops were in, and the notices had gone out regarding the increases in the rent. He owned several farms in the area and would soon be combining them and turning former owners into tenant farmers who would pay him in produce and crops grown on his land. He owned several of the finest pipe-weed plantations in the South Farthing, where he and his Mother had lived before finally getting Bag End. Most of that crop was already headed out of the Shire. And he would soon be destroying the barley crop on the farms he owned in the North Farthing. He didn't much care for beer, and his land could grow other crops.
And now rumors were reaching his ears, through the many hobbits he paid to be watchful, that Foolish Frodo was gone. Missing, it seemed, after his new house in Crickhollow had been broken into and disturbed. All the better! His plans for the Shire would progress that much more smoothly with Frodo gone completely. He would need to talk again with his friends in Bree. Things could hurry along even faster now. Yes, he thought to himself that fine day in early Winterfilth, good times were finally ahead for Lotho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins.
Hamfast (the Gaffer) Gamgee and his wife Bell sat nervously in the parlor of the Hobbiton healer, Olo Proudfoot. In the evening of 1st Winterfilth, they had received a letter from Brandy Hall in Buckland, at least that is where the Quick Post messenger said it was from when he handed the Gaffer the envelope. An unusual thing and so, they thought, most likely important news of some sort, possibly regarding their son, Sam, as he now lived in Buckland. Neither the Gaffer nor Bell could read, well not enough to handle a full letter, and they had brought it the next morning for Olo to read for them. He had done this for them before and had written letters for them as well. Olo did this for many of Hobbiton's working class hobbits, and he never betrayed their confidences. Bell had gasped at the description of the Crickhollow house being attacked and again at the mention of the Old Forest. She had clutched the Gaffer's arm and tears had started to fall down her cheeks, but the letter had ended well. Mistress Brandybuck said that their Sam was fine, though she didn't say how she knew it. Bell and the Gaffer thanked Olo as he returned the letter to them before they started back to #3 Bagshot Row.
"What do you think all that meant, Ham?" Bell was once again clutching her husband's arm.
"That our ninny-hammer son has gone and gotten hisself into some sort o' trouble. I know he said he was goin' off with Mr. Frodo, but never said naught 'bout trapessin' off into the Old Forest."
"Do you really think they can be alright?" Bell was still feeling anxious. "I mean to say, I know the Mistress said they are and all, but how could she be knowin' that? Is there aught we should do, do you think? Ought we go to the Bucklands and talk with her maybe?"
"Nay, Bell." Ham patted her arm and tried to smile a reassuring smile. "Nay, no need for us to be runnin' off to where we don't belong. I'm sure they just went for one o' Mr. Frodo's walkin' trips. They'll be back and madder 'n hornets that the house and such is damaged."
They were drawing abreast of what remained of the mill where a rough bunch of smallish Men were busy at the job of tearing it down. The Gamgees hurried past and tried not to stare at the workers as a shiver ran down their spines.
"Now that is worryin' me more than our empty headed lads wanderin' off," the Gaffer said when they had gone far enough to not be heard. "What're we to do with no mill? And what blockheaded fool would be bringin' in Big Folk to do the work, I asks you?" He looked down at his wife and saw the fear in her eyes. "You'd best not go about much without me or one o' Daddy Twofoot's lads goin' with you. And naught at all after dark."
Bell nodded her head, her fear still shining in her eyes. She was going to sorely miss her Sam being close by at Bag End.
Esmeralda and an escort arrived at Great Smials on the 2nd of Winterfilth at dusk. She had convinced Saradoc that such news had to be delivered in person, especially to kin as close as a brother and his wife. Paladin and Eglantine had requested that dinner be held, as the message that arrived that morning had said her news was urgent. They now sat in the high-backed chairs in Thain Paladin's study with Esmeralda facing her brother and sister-in-law.
"I'm not sure where to begin," Esmeralda said. "Did you know that Pippin was to be going with Frodo Baggins and his gardener, Sam Gamgee, to Frodo's new house?" The Tooks both nodded but said nothing. "The three of them walked while Merry and Fredegar Bolger drove the last cart load of heavy items. The plan being that Merry and Fatty would have the house somewhat in order and comforts ready for the others when they arrived after their walking trip."
Esmeralda looked down at her hands that nervously clenched and unclenched in her lap. "We know they arrived, but we now also know they did not remain at the house." She looked at her brother, fear shining in her clear green eyes. "There are fell things afoot in Buckland, Brother. We now know that some sort of Men all cloaked and clad in black had been asking for a Baggins at Farmer Maggot's farm. Others said they thought they had seen riders in black at a distance passing into the Shire on the Great East Road. Whatever they are, whoever they are, they have not been seen since," she shuddered, "since the dark hours of morning on the 30th of Halimath."
She reached over and gently touched Eglantine's knee, and her sister-in-law placed her own hand atop Esmeralda's. "The house was broken into and ransacked." Esmeralda's voice had dropped to a whisper and Eglantine Took's free hand went to her mouth to stifle her gasp.
"They are safe. They are safe, dear one. For now at least, they are safe," Esmeralda hastened on. "Fatty Bolger had stayed behind so folk would think Frodo to still be at Crickhollow. He escaped and set off the alarm calls." Esmeralda's gaze went off into the darkness at the edges of the study. "I've heard alarms since living at the Hall, for fires or the Brandywine River flooding. But this time . . ." She trembled again her eyes turning to meet her Brother's. "It was the Horn-call of Buckland. That has not been heard in truth since the Fell Winter, Paladin, though all who live in Buckland are taught it. When Fredegar had recovered himself enough, he asked to speak with Saradoc alone. That is when he admitted that Merry, Pippin, Frodo, and Sam had left the Shire, that they have gone into the Old Forest. It seems they are headed away somewhere, away from the Shire. More than that he would not say, if indeed there is more he knows."
They sat in silence as the words made their way deep into their hearts. Away. Away from the Shire. Paladin drew a deep breath. Tooks had left before, as had his half-Took cousin, Bilbo. But few had returned. He had long feared the strange urge to wander that he had seen in his son, and now he had this to add to the other rumors and reports he was hearing: strange folk seen entering the Shire, that the Hobbiton mill was being torn down, although it was in fine condition, and rough looking Big Folk, Men, doing the work of demolishing it. Then there were a number of farms being bought up around the South Farthing and Hobbiton, although no one seemed to know quite by whom.
Eglantine stared wide eyed into the fire. She was only a Took by marriage, and at that she had surprised her family by joining herself to a family known for it's eccentric behavior. But Paladin was not like that, he was calm and pragmatic. She looked at Esmeralda. She had seen and heard of the strangeness in her sister-in-law, however, her husband's youngest sister and Adalgrim Took's last child. She had been overly curious, a bit wild, possessed of a quick eye and an even quicker wit, and able, most often, to get her own way. Pippin was so much like her, even in looks, that the Saradoc Brandybucks and the Paladin Tooks had been teased about it by both extended families. They finally rose and went to dinner. But Esmeralda knew she would have to speak of other matters with Eglantine alone on the morrow at the latest.
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.