2. 'Then I Would Like Supper First, and After That a Pipe'
The rebel leader concentrated fiercely upon the task at hand: scratching another mark upon the heavy walking-stick to mark the passage of yet another day since the Troubles began. Well, perhaps that was not wholly accurate; the markings actually reflected how long they’d been here in the Brockenbores, near the hills of Scary.
Once he had, with careful precision, made the mark the same size and depth of the others, he sat back and sighed. How many more marks, before the end?
His sharp ears heard a soft comment. ‘D’you think they’ll starve us out, then?’
A snort. ‘What do you think? We’re on our last meal as it is. Naught more where this came from, and I doubt they’ll let us sneak out to fetch supplies.’
‘What’ll we do? Surrender?’ came the worried voice.
‘You afraid you can’t live without vittles?’ There was a sneer in the tone.
‘You know what they say about hobbits that don’t eat,’ another put in.
‘That’s sick hobbits, y’know,’ said a fourth. ‘Hobbits survived famine before this, y’know, or there wouldn’t be no Shire today.’
‘Is that a fact?’ the sneerer said. ‘You been studying up on your history, eh, Budgie?’
‘There ain’t no Shire today,’ the worrier whispered.
‘There’s a Shire, yet,’ Budgie Smallfoot said stoutly. ‘As long as Tookland holds out, there’ll be a Shire.’
The rebel leader arose from his rock and limped over, leaning heavily on the walking-stick. ‘Are you afraid of hunger, Robin?’ he said quietly. ‘You may have my portion.’ He nodded to Stonecrop, who was carefully portioning out the last loaf of bread. All they’d had the past four days had been one loaf a day, since the ruffians had caught them short, just before the next planned raid. Each loaf had been divided amongst twenty, and after today even that smidgen would be missing. At least there was a natural lake, deeper within the cave, ice-cold and fresh-tasting, probably spring-fed, though no hobbit would care to dive under to find its source.
In the flickering light of the lamp, turned low to conserve oil, Robin could be seen blushing furiously. ‘No sir, Mr Bolger, sir,’ he mumbled, ducking his head. ‘I couldn’t conscience taking your portion, sir.’
‘Freddy,’ Fatty Bolger corrected. ‘We’re all equal here.’
‘Freddy, sir,’ Robin said, even lower. Had he a cap, he’d have fingered the brim and bobbed his head.
Stonecrop finished cutting the loaf into ten slices, and then each slice in half. He portioned out the bread, and all stood or sat and ate in silence, perhaps thinking of merrier meals a lifetime ago, before the ruffians came.
‘Six places set! Six places!’ little Freddy Bolger caroled as he skipped around the table.
‘That’s right, my love,’ his fond mother replied, lighting the candles in the silver holders. She stepped back to admire the effect: snowy linens, silver polished to a high sheen, candles of the finest quality casting a lovely glow over all.
‘Who’s coming to dinner? Who’s coming?’ Freddy sang. He began to count. ‘Six dinner forks, six salad forks, six fish forks, six dessert forks... that’s four-and-twenty, mamma!’ His eyes shone.
‘There’s my bright lad,’ Rosamunda Bolger nee Took said with a smile. ‘Can you not guess? I shall give you a hint. A little cousin... and a big one.’
‘Merry!’ Freddy shouted in excitement, ‘And Frodo!’
‘Yes,’ his mother laughed, ‘But hush, you’ll waken your sister, and you know how Estella is when she wakens too soon from her nap.’
Freddy resumed his dance around the table and began to count the spoons. ‘Six teaspoons, and six soup spoons, and six...’
‘What’ll happen to us?’ Robin said softly, when he’d made his portion last as long as he could, and licked his fingers for any lingering crumbs.
‘Aw, I imagine it’ll be the Lockholes for us, lad,’ Budgie said cheerily. ‘We’ll be in good company, at least, what with Mayor Flourdumpling gone before to prepare our places for us.’
‘But... they’ve started hanging folk up from trees,’ Robin whispered. ‘My auntie told me, last time I visited, when she begged me to stop at home and not go raiding no more.’
‘Hanging folk up,’ Rocky Furrytoes mimicked. ‘Whate’er do you mean, Smallfoot? Like cloaks on pegs? That’s the silliest thing I’ve ever heard.’
‘Hanging them up, with ropes around their necks,’ Freddy said quietly.
‘But that would kill them!’ Rocky protested, shock in his tone.
‘I do believe that is the intended result,’ Freddy said. ‘However, I don’t think any of you need to worry. They only serve that particular dish to certain troublemakers.’
‘Leaders?’ Stonecrop asked. A silence fell. Freddy led this particular band of rebels, and none of them wanted to see him hanged by his neck from a tree.
Finally, Budgie spoke. ‘Look at the bright side!’ he said. ‘Perhaps we’ll starve to death before that happens.’ There was a grim laugh, which the hobbits didn’t bother to stifle. The ruffians knew they were there, after all.
‘Next time...’ Stonecrop began.
‘Eh? What was that, Stony?’ Freddy said, settling down and putting his pipe in his mouth. It was empty of course, there’d been no pipe-weed to be had for months, but he still liked to suck on the stem and think. No ideas for escape came to mind; none had presented themselves since the ruffians had taken up camp outside the front and back entrances to the cave. He thought of Estella, safe in Tookland, he hoped, and his parents, still stubbornly staying in Budge Hall. When Pimple Baggins was able to positively identify one Fredegar Bolger as a leader of rebels, he’d feel justified seizing all Freddy’s family owned and turning them out into the street. Would anyone dare to take them in, or would they become wandering beggars as so many before them, hiding in caves in the hills of Scary north of Budge Ford, or living in hollows of trees in the woods south of the Great East Road, coming out after dark, dodging ruffians and begging a bite at the back doors of those not yet dispossessed?
‘Next time, let’s look for a cave with more than two openings,’ Stonecrop said. ‘That way, if the ruffians discover the back door—‘
‘We can go out the side door,’ Rocky said. ‘I’ll second that motion!’
‘All in favour, say "Aye"!’ said the irrepressible Budgie.
A chorus of “Ayes” reached the ears of one of the ruffians watching the cave mouth. He sent word back to his chief, who soon came up.
‘What is it, Bent?’ he said.
‘Something’s happening,’ Bent said. ‘They’re laying plans, or something. I just heard a shout within, sounded as if they’d decided something.’
‘Perhaps they have,’ the leader said, ‘but it’ll be of no avail. Word’s come from the Boss that he’s tired of us sitting on our tails doing nothing. He wants the leader of this particular band, and he wants him now. He’s left one tree standing in Bywater, a good hanging tree, and he wants to make an example for the hobbits there. They’ve been getting restless of late.’
‘What of the others? Will it be a wholesale hanging?’ Bent asked, feeling a bit queasy over the prospect. Sure, the Little Folk were nuisances, and he could see setting an example, but since the Boss had come to Bag End, things were getting nastier, and he wasn’t sure he liked it.
‘Naw, we’ll just march ‘em off to the Lockholes, stopping off at Bywater so they can watch their chief learn to dance at rope’s end, give them a bit of a breather.’
‘Haw, that’s a good one, Chief!’ Bent’s fellow watcher Jock guffawed. ‘A breather! While they’re watching a hanging! Haw!’ Bent looked at him with dislike, then hooded his eyes before either of the other Men noticed. If things kept on like this, he was going to slip away at first opportunity, unofficially resign his position amongst Sharkey’s Guards, find better pickings.
‘All right, you just settle down and keep your watch,’ the chief said. ‘We don’t want any of these rats to slip away and miss the fun, now, do we?’
‘Haw,’ Jock chuckled, more softly. He settled down on a rock, and after a sharp glance from the chief, Bent followed suit. The chief was watching for deserters, he realised. Two Men had disappeared over the past week, two who’d grumbled over the lean pickings now that the Boss had nearly sucked this land dry. No escape tonight, he thought morosely. He’d have to bide his time and watch for his chance.
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.