5. Visitors and Visions
Eiluj, shirebound, VI, Baxley, Hai, Zebra, Melime, Natta, Pippinfan1988 and Lady of Ithilien, lindelea and katakanadian - Thank you all so much for reading and responding. You keep me inspired and keep me going. If there are delays in posting, it is because I won't post a chapter until it is edited/betaed now, and that often involves a wait. You are all dear to me, I hope everyone continues to enjoy this story!
Gaffer Gamgee looked up from where he was trimming back his rose bushes to get them ready to be covered for the colder weather that was on it's way. A rowdy group of hobbits mixed in with Big Folk was heading up the Hill Lane towards Bag End. The Gaffer snorted his disgust.
"Don't hardly seem fittin' to call it 'Bag End' any more!" he said aloud to himself. "That name has a reputation of gentility. No never mind how odd folks thought old Mr. Bilbo to be, 'twere a proper place with no one stranger than a dwarf or two, from time to time, and old Mr. Gandalf comin' for a visit."
The Gaffer snorted again and went to stand boldly at his fence glaring at the small crowd. "Naught a genteel thing 'bout none o' that lot," he huffed. "And there! There you have it again! Big Folk! And not lookin' none too friendly, like those ones what's been tearin' down the mill." He shook his head at the backs of the bunch as they went on up the Hill. "And I thought, oft times, that trouble would come of them dwarves and the wizard and such that Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo would entertain. But they weren't naught compared to this rabble!"
He followed them with his eyes as they wound their way around on the lane up to Bag End. "Whatever business would even a miserable penny hoarder like that Lotho have with the likes o' those?" The old hobbit suddenly felt cold and achy. He looked up, "Goin' on time for luncheon. I'd best be headin' in so as not to keep Bell a'waitin'." For a moment, the Gaffer looked off toward the east and rubbed at his aching fingers as he thought about his youngest son. 'Where has that ninny hammer son o' mine . . .' He didn't finish the thought as it made him too sad. He didn't want to go in for luncheon looking sad. He was trying hard to think of nothing but Bell's good bread and soup as he slowly turned the knob, opened the door and went into their comfy old hole.
"You damage the paint on this door and you'll rue the day you were born, and that's a fact!" Lobelia hollered as she fumbled with the new lock Lotho had paid the blacksmith to put on the front door of Bag End.
The leader of the Men started to tense up with anger, but a hobbit tugged on his sleeve. "Best watch your temper, if you value your job, Ron. Lotho don't take kindly to anyone not showin' proper respect to his old Mum!"
Ron Fernberry calmed himself down as a nasty grin came to his lips. He could bide his time as well as the next man. He knew it wouldn't be long until his kind would be in charge here, and they'd be making the little fur-footed mushroom munchers dance to a new tune. Lobelia didn't seem to notice the evil smirk on the Man's face when she finally threw the bolt on the new lock and opened the door.
"Yes, yes," Lobelia said as she stood aside to let them all pass, "Lotho is expecting you. He is in the parlor. It is the first door on the left."
"Yes ma'am, Mrs. Sackville-Baggins," said Tad Foxburr, one of the Hobbits, removing his hat and tipping his head to Lobelia. "We remember from last time."
Lobelia smiled at the group of Men and Hobbits as they passed her on their way into the parlor. They always treated her with respect, and they paid Lotho handsomely for the pipe-weed that he had started to sell them a couple of years back. They had used that gold to buy Bag End. Her eyes traveled hungrily over the graceful lines of the walls and ceilings of the elegant old hole; it was hers at last. Nothing, and no one, could take it from her now! She had showed the wretched nay-sayers and the snooty Baggins'. It was all hers now, hers and Lotho's, as it should be. She followed them into the parlor and stood quietly at the back of the room.
Lotho looked over the Bree folk that filled the parlor at Bag End and smiled his slow, self-satisfied smile. He nodded to his Mother, glad for another opportunity for her to see him being treated as a respected businesshobbit. Lotho had been quite pleased in 1416 when the Men and Hobbits from Bree had come to him on the family farm near Sackville with praise for the weed grown on his holdings and a request to purchase some for a buyer in the South. And why not, he had thought. Why shouldn't he sell his crops to whom ever he pleased, even if they lived beyond the borders of the measly little Shire! He would show those unfriendly, scheming neighbors and witless relatives that he could be the wealthiest, most powerful hobbit in all of history.
"Well, gentlehobbits and gentlemen, I received your letter. How may I be of service to you?" Lotho asked, while in his mind he was thinking of how they could be of service to him.
"Mr. Lotho," Ron Fernberry said, "word has come to us from our b . . . (he had nearly said 'boss' and that would have made things difficult), our buyer in the South-lands. Seems times have been hard there 'bouts. So he sent us to you, knowing that you're a mighty rich and important Hobbit here 'bouts and knowing you've a good many holdings of lots o' different types, to see if you might be able to help them out of their bind."
Lotho puffed up visibly at the compliment. "Of course I can! I am always one to help those in need of helping."
Here Lotho paused. What if they wanted the goods as charity? He was loathe to part with something for nothing and quickly thought of how he could make it clear that he would still expect some remuneration.
"Ahem," Lotho cleared his throat. "Of course, more than happy to help as long as I can cover my costs."
Ron smirked a bit at Lotho. The little worm would have his pay, wouldn't he! Ron thought. But he said, "Gold they have a'plenty, Mr. Lotho, sir. 'Tis food stuffs they've naught." And with that he tossed a fair sized pouch to Lotho, who caught it and nearly dropped it because of it's weight. "Two hundred gold coins. That enough to 'cover your costs', Mr. Sackville-Baggins?"
Lotho was astonished at the wealth he held in his hands, and his thoughts raced with all the purchases that could be made with such abundance - more farms, more shop buildings, mills and smithies and inns, more of the Shire to be his and his alone. Then he thought, how does he handle it all? How can he make sure he gets what is his and that things are done to his liking?
"One thing more, Ron. I could use a few more good strong lads like these ones you have with you and those that I have already at work tearing down the mill. The extra Big Folk would sure make gathering up all you need go quicker. Of course, I need the Little Folk in charge under me to make the gathering go smoother." Give me a few days to think of how many I will be needing and where. Then I will send word to you in Bree, and we will get whatever it is that the folk down southwards are needing."
Lotho Sackville-Baggins and Ron Fernberry shook on the deal and took their leave of each other, each feeling he had got the best of the arrangement.
Esmeralda had stayed for three days at Great Smials, a nice visit all told in spite of the reason behind it. She had spoken a few more times with Lanti about their now shared secret, giving her sister-in-law as much comfort as she could and promising to send word immediately should she experience anything having to do with their sons. On the morning of the sixth of Winterfilth, Esme and her escorts waved their farewells to Paladin and Eglantine and headed off down the Stock Road toward Buckland.
The mid-autumn sun had set by the time the three travelers to Buckland arrived at the Tree and Leaf Inn, which marked the halfway point between Tuckborough and Stock. After a simple but tasty supper, Esmeralda excused herself and left the common room, heading for bed. Her room was warm and cozy, her bed and pillows fluffy with down, her blankets soft and comforting so she quickly fell asleep.
She was walking along the Brandywine with nine year old Merry skipping happily along beside her as she carried baby Pippin in her arms.
"Can he come in swimming with me, Mum?" Merry asked.
"No, my dearest. He's too little for swimming," Esmeralda answered looking at the wee green-eyed hobbit lad in her arms.
"But then he will never come swimming with me," Merry pouted as he spoke. "He will always be littler than me!"
A tree appeared along the bank of the river. Merry and Pippin were climbing the tree while she watched them, laughing at their antics and praising their bravery. She was only slightly bothered that, for some reason, Merry was noticeably younger than his younger cousin.
Esme was pushing the swing that hung from a branch on the tree. At times it was Merry who squealed with delight as he sailed up and away from her, but it was Pippin who swung back down. Then it would be Pippin flying away and Merry floating back. Merry was a wee lad, Pippin full grown; Merry a tween, and Pippin barely older than an infant. The swing moved slowly back and forth. Now she stood to one side, and a youthful Pippin was pushing Merry who looked as he had the last time she had seen him, a hobbit in his prime not much past his coming of age. Back and forth. Back and forth. The clouds covered the sun as the darkness grew and the swing moved back and forth. Merry pushing Pippin, Pippin pushing Merry. Pushing harder. Pushing softer. Back and forth. Back and forth. And it was colder and darker, and she trembled from more than the cold. Merry pushed Pippin hard and as the swing flew away Merry grew and changed into a tall, black cloaked menacing shape. Esmeralda Brandybuck tried to scream as what swung back was the limp form of Pippin hanging by his neck. And the darkness became complete.
Esmeralda felt herself falling face down into the ebony void only to be brought up short as she landed on her chest, nearly winding herself. She was panting with breathlessness, her eyes tightly closed against the fearsome darkness. She felt a hand clasp hers, and she returned it's trembling squeeze. She opened her eyes. Merry's wide, terrified eyes looked deeply into hers, and suddenly she knew that she looked back at him through Pippin's eyes. The hand her Merry clutched so tightly was Pippin's hand. She felt a cold that threatened to freeze her heart and a tightness, like being bound, drawing in until her lungs could barely take in breath. She heard a voice calling out words she did not know, the sound of them lifting the frigid darkness from her mind.
Esmeralda opened her eyes to see the gentle play of firelight on the ceiling of her room at the Tree and Leaf Inn. She lay there trying to calm her pounding heart until she could sense what she sought so desperately. Finally, assurance flooded into her as she closed her eyes and sighed; she knew her dear ones lived.
A terror greater than anything they had ever known swept through Merry and Pippin as the dark shapes of the Black Riders rose around them.
"Down! Down on the ground, worthless ones!" the frigid voice in their heads commanded them, and they flung themselves to the hard earth.
Pippin clenched his eyes so tightly shut they ached. He dare not look again upon those evil shapes. He lay with his face in the dirt unable to move, barely able to breathe until he felt shaking fingers fumbling to grasp his hand. Merry. Pippin turned his hand palm up and his fingers and Merry's interlaced, each one squeezing until it hurt. Pippin opened his eyes to find Merry's gaze already fixed upon him. Merry's eyes were wide with horror. Pippin felt a strange stirring deep within him, and he knew she was there, that through his eyes Aunt Esme was seeing her Merry. Pippin could feel her hand somehow between his hand and Merry's, and he was pained knowing she shared their terror. Frodo's voice rang out speaking words that sounded Elvish, Strider leapt forth brandishing flaming branches and both the Riders and the heart-numbing terror were gone. Slowly the feeling of his Aunt's presence faded from Pippin's mind.
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.