6. Troubling News
"I am only passing along what has happened to my own kin, Thain Paladin." Isenbras Took shifted a bit in his chair, quite unable to tell from the Thain's expression whether or not he was being believed. "Fosco Boffin, my brother-in-law, is an honest hobbit, and he himself is one who this has happened to, him renting the land he farms over in the East Farthing. Apparently, it is only those who rent their land or are tenant farmers to whom this 'gathering for sharing' is happening."
"And is it the landowner that is ordering this?" Paladin asked quietly.
"That's an even stranger thing, Thain. I asked Fosco that very same question, and he told me he could not truly say, as he was unsure himself who owns the land he farms. I told him right then that that was nonsense. How could he not know? But he said that his rent was paid to some company or other." Isenbras paused to think a few moments then went on. "Four Farthings Holdings I think he said it was called and that it was always roughish looking hobbits that came to do the collecting. Fosco said he asked once, and all the answer he got was, 'We don't know no more about it than that, and you don't need to be knowin' neither!' He said that this time they came when it wasn't time for the rent to be due and took near to half his stores of grain, potatoes and carrots and apples from the orchard. Said they had orders, and he better just do what they said. He asked who it was being shared with, and they just said, 'Them what needs it!' And it wasn't just the tough looking hobbits this time, he said. They had Big Folk with them. They had Men with them, Thain Paladin." Isenbras sat back in the chair, drew in a deep breath, and carefully watched the Thain to see his reaction, which seemed awfully slow in coming. He had known Paladin Took a good many years, their farms in Whitwell being near to one another. He knew Paladin to be an honest, hardworking hobbit though very much on the quiet side of things, rather odd for a Took. Many were saying he was too cold and uncaring to be suited for being the Took and Thain. But Isenbras had never sensed those characteristics in Paladin, just a love of quiet and an uneasiness when around large groups of hobbits.
"You have given me a great deal to think about, Isenbras," the Thain said slowly and cautiously. "Though this seems to me to be more the Mayor's business, as my concerns are more with Tookland than the happenings elsewhere in the Shire, despite what my title says. However," here Paladin sighed and looked Isenbras squarely in the eye, "just yesterday a report came to me that a group such as this, a group of Men and Hobbits, was seen going to some of the farms north of the town of Tookbank, and that is my business."
Thain Paladin rose, and Isenbras followed suit. "I thank you for bringing this to my attention, and I will give it the most serious consideration, Isenbras. I wish you a good day and give my greetings to your family." They nodded to each other, shook hands, and Isenbras took his leave of the Thain.
Paladin sat back down in his chair, picked up some of the papers from the desk, and turned the chair so that he could look out the round window to the west-northwest, out over the Tookland. He drew a deep breath that he let out slowly from between tight lips. He had been hearing rumors for a while now that there were Big Folk being seen more and more often in the Shire, in the company of Hobbits of poor reputation. Then he had gone to see for himself that there had been a crew of Men tearing down the mill in Hobbiton. Now Isenbras' news and the news from Tookbank added to his growing sense of dread.
He sat a long time staring out the window ignoring the knocks at his study door until the shadows on the fields had started to lengthen and the daylight was less bright. There really was nothing he could do if this was all a landowner dealing with how the crops and goods from his own lands were being handled. Yet, it seemed as though an extraordinarily large number of farms in more than one farthing were involved. He looked at the four letters in his hand. Two of the letters were from the South Farthing: one of them from a Took farmer near Pincup on land he rented, the other from a Took related tenant farmer in the fertile land between the Thistle Brook and the River Shirebourne, telling of troubles at their own farms and mentioning similar problems at neighboring farms. The third came from a North-took in the North Farthing saying that barley was being cut and left to rot in many of the fields. And, not least but the last and most recent, a letter from his brother-in-law, Saradoc, that mentioned increasingly large numbers of Bree Men and Bree Hobbits of "the unsavory sort" crossing the Brandywine Bridge.
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