19. About Men
Everyone knew there were Troubles away down south, and if they didn't want to know the details, they could still be persuaded to slip a bun or two to a hungry Man who spoke fair. At least some of 'em could.
And truth be told, most of the poor wretches who crossed Sarn Ford and found themselves at the Bounds were grateful enough and might do a strong day's work in return for a good meal, and then make their way further on, looking for a bit of land away from Trouble.
And some of the Men were Trouble.
No one really saw at first how much trouble.
I went for Shirriff as a way to see folks and stretch my legs and find good inns. You couldn't say I was lollygagging if I was doing my job, and that job happened to mean strolling about and drinking ale. At least I hoped you couldn't say that. And nice as it is to hear a bit of news, it's duty for a shirriff, I'd say.
It was a good life I had, and I counted myself lucky.
But the Men… a few bad 'uns prowled around in the winter, winter of 1419 that was. They were turned back by the Bounders, rare shots with a bow some of 'em were. But those Beating the Bounds worried, said just shooting an arrow past Outsiders wasn't enough any more, the arrow had to really hit them to drive them off. No one much liked that.
It took a while to understand how different these Men were.
Some of em came to build things for Lotho, and no one paid them much mind- knew they were rough-spoken of course, and we'd be glad to see their backs, but that's as far it went.
Til some of 'em didn't leave.
They built a big shed, and I tell you lots of folks hereabout puzzled what Lotho would want a thing like that for; but then we saw the Men were living there.
It was too late by then. 'Always harder to get the weed out once it's taken root,' the gaffer said over a pint, and I had to agree. And they had taken root in a big way. They didn't act like workmen no more, but like they owned the Shire. And they were rough about it, I tell you.
Taking what they wanted - there was plenty for them - with no thought of what folks needed to live. Hard enough it was to have no smoke and no beer, and lots of us grumbled. But when it came to them gathering up all the food and giving us only the leavings… well you've got to feed your child something! We took what was left because we had to eat, but hobbitlings grew thin and parents grew worried.
Many of us wished we were Tooks then, at least they could keep the ruffians off. But we couldn't, not here in the Shire. And it fair broke my heart that I had any part of this as a Shirriff. After what happened to Folco Chubb when he told the Chief he quit, I wasn't going to do the same. Not and leave your mother alone. It was scariest for the womenfolk after all, them big Men had none of their own women here, and they weren't beyond such a thing. Take anything that wasn't theirs; we all saw that.
It was a bad time, I tell you. Maybe the worst was that there were a few hobbits as did spy-work for the Men, so that a body didn't know who to trust. Not that most Shire-folk would do such a thing, but you never knew who did.Some extra taters or a brace of coneys as reward made some do as they shouldn't have, but if a Dad sees the little ones hungry - well it's hard to stay right when your children are crying about empty bellies. I felt that too when I looked at you in your cradle. A bad time.
It was the Travellers coming back as saved us. It could've been a lot worse before it got better - why, the stories from Bree'd freeze your heart to hear 'em. They killed some Bree-folk, Big and Little alike! Who knows what it would've come to here; the Battle was bad enough. Least we didn't lose anyone else but Lotho Pimple, and good riddance I say.
But the Travellers. Everyone knows the Tale now, of course, but that day they rode up we didn't expect anything good to come of it. Thought they'd toss em right in the Lockholes. A treat it was, to see Hobbits stand up like that. Made us all a bit braver, it did. When the rebellion started the shirriffs were told off to go stop it, but I walked over and I just couldn't stop grinning, I was so glad to see something starting. Took off my feather right away, and even stomped it into the ground a time or two.
It was hard for a bit to get used the idea. Not that they were gone; we were too busy eating our fill and tasting good ale again not to see that. It's the other part we had to get used to.
Don't know as I believe it all, but the Travellers say there's a King way down south, and that he's our King too. First lots of folks didn't like that, thinking we were trading one set of ruffians for another. Then he put out a proclamation that no Man could set foot in the Shire. Not even the King himself!
Guess it'll be alright with that kind of a Man as King.
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