4. 'I Think I Could Help You'
‘All right, you rats,’ the ruffian chief called when the coughing and gasping had died down and the rats began to lift their heads, to gaze at the giants surrounding them, expressions ranging from defiance to despair. ‘Which one’s your leader?’
Freddy straightened with difficulty, saying, ‘I—‘ but Old Oakleaf, going into a violent coughing spasm, grabbed wildly for support and pulled Freddy off balance, so that both sprawled on the ground.
‘Got no leader,’ Budgie choked.
‘Do you expect me to believe that?’ the chief snapped. ‘Your leader is one Fredegar Bolger, also known as “Fatty”, and I want him—now!’
‘He’s dead,’ Stonecrop said, wiping tears from his eyes. Of course, the tears came from the smoke, but he managed a convincing break in his voice.
‘Dead? What do you mean, rat?’ the chief said.
‘That raid, last month, the one where you ruffians nearly caught us,’ Budgie said. ‘He took an arrow and died.’ It had been difficult to leave Jay behind, to gasp out his life in the company of ruffians, but they'd had no choice. As Budgie tried to lift him, his brother had pushed him away, saying, 'Go! I'm done for!' Healer's sons, they'd both known the truth. Budgie had helped Old Oakleaf take up Mr Freddy, and they'd run for their lives. As it was, the ruffians' trap had nearly netted the entire band; they'd got away by the skin of their teeth, and several hobbits had been borne away with wounds.
‘There was a hobbit shot and left for dead,’ Bent remembered, rubbing his chin. ‘We never did get a name out of him, he died before we could get him to answer any questions.’
‘He wasn’t fat!’ the chief said irritably.
‘None of these is fat,’ Bent said reasonably.
Old Oakleaf saw him looking closely at Fredegar, and quickly broke in. ‘Hobbits has been on short commons these past months, with your thieving Boss stealing all the food.’
‘Gathering,’ the chief said. ‘Get it right, old gaffer.’
Oakleaf pretended to quail. They’d heard of hobbits being beaten as they were hauled off to the Lockholes, and his bones were old. ‘Gathering,’ he conceded. ‘Fatty wasn’t fat anymore, when he met his end.’
‘So who took over from him, as your leader?’ the chief pressed. The hobbits looked at one another, and several shrugged.
‘Ain’t got no leader,’ Robin said bravely.
‘Yeah, why else d’you think we were stupid enough to let ourselves get caught?’ Rocky snarled.
‘He has a point,’ Jock said. ‘So what do we do, hang all of them? Or just pick one out?’
Again Fredegar tried to speak. ‘I—‘ he said, climbing to his feet despite Oakleaf's restraining hand, though the old hobbit disguised the matter, as if he were pulling at the younger hobbit in an ineffectual effort to get up.
Bent broke in. ‘You start hanging common hobbits, you’ll have a riot in Bywater for sure,’ he warned. ‘They don’t like the hangings, for certain, but the little folk live by some sort of order, and they can understand punishing the leaders. If you start hanging ordinary rats, you’ll scare them too much!’
The Man was helping them for some reason, Old Oakleaf realised. They might survive this yet, if they kept their wits.
‘Please, sirs,’ he quavered, cowering on the ground, drawing their attention away from young Master Fredegar. ‘Have pity on an old hobbit!’
Jock nodded slowly. ‘They’ll fear for their own lives and rise up, and Sharkey will take a dim view,’ he said. ‘And don’t you know who he’ll blame for it?’
‘But they conspired against the Boss!’ the chief said.
‘So throw them in the Lockholes,’ Bent said. ‘Pretty hard to maintain any kind of conspiracy there.’
‘Merry!’ Fatty said sharply. ‘That’s the third time I’ve spoken! What’s the matter with you?’
Merry came back to himself with a start. ‘Nothing’s wrong,’ he said, pulling in his fishing line and re-baiting the hook. Fish had nibbled away the worm as he’d sat deep in thought.
‘Nothing’s wrong,’ Fatty mocked. ‘You’ve been someplace else this entire day, and I want to know where! I don’t even know why I teased Father to have you come to Budge Hall for a visit. The only one you talk to is Pippin, anyhow.’
‘Pip knows how to listen,’ Merry said absently.
‘Does he?’ Fatty said sarcastically. ‘And I suppose these things on either side of my head are there just for show.’
Merry awoke to the fact that his cousin was upset. ‘I’m sorry, Fatty,’ he said. ‘I was just thinking.’
‘Silver penny for your thoughts,’ Fatty said after a pause.
‘I’m afraid they’re not even worth a copper,’ Merry said.
‘It’s about Frodo, isn’t it?’ Fatty prompted.
Merry started. ‘How did you know?’ he asked.
Fatty laughed. ‘I’ve eyes, haven’t I?’ he said. ‘I’ve seen how restless he is since Bilbo went away, and it’s worse every year.’
‘Yes, it is,’ Merry said.
‘What’s the matter?’ Fatty asked. ‘D’you think he’ll be off to find Bilbo without a word to anyone?’
‘Yes,’ Merry said frankly. ‘That’s exactly what I think. There’s something else, but I don’t know what it is. Even Pippin hasn’t been able to find out anything, and you know what a snoop he can be when he decides to stick that long nose of his into someone else’s business.’
‘I know,’ Fatty said wryly, and Merry smiled in spite of himself, for Pippin had told him a few things about Fatty one time, and Merry had chided him for gossiping.
‘I don’t know what to do,’ Merry said at last. ‘I can’t be there watching him all the time, and even if you watched him part of the time, and Folco took a turn, and Pippin stuck to him like a cockleburr on a pony’s tail, we cannot be at Bag End all the time!’
‘I know someone who’s on the spot,’ Fatty said after a moment of consideration.
‘Who?’ Merry asked. He looked over at Pippin, who seemed to be asleep, his hat over his eyes, his fishing pole propped in a “V” formed by a tree branch growing up from a sapling near the stream.
‘That gardener fellow, the one that’s always around Bag End,’ Fatty said.
‘The Gaffer?’ Merry said sceptically.
‘No, his son, what’s-his-name, Ham, Fam, Bam—‘
‘Sam,’ said Pippin from under his hat. ‘Short for Samwise.’
‘Is he some sort of half-wit?’ Fatty asked. ‘Why would he have a name like that?’
‘Ask the Gaffer,’ Pippin said practically. ‘I wouldn’t know. But I will tell you this, he’s got more than half a wit.’
‘You’ve spent time talking with him?’ Merry said sternly.
‘Why not?’ Pippin answered. ‘He always answers my questions.’ He pushed his hat back from his eyes and gave his cousins a cool look. ‘That’s more than I can say about some people.’
‘He’s not of your class, Pip,’ Merry said.
‘You’re such a prig, Merry,’ Pippin said irritatingly.
‘No I’m not!’ Merry said angrily. ‘You’ll get him in trouble, Pip. The Gaffer’s not above taking a strap to his son if he thinks Sam’s put his foot wrong.’
‘Steady, Mer,’ Fatty said soothingly, but Merry shook off his arm.
‘I cannot abide beatings,’ he snapped, ‘especially unjust ones.’
‘Sam’s a bit old for the Gaffer to be taking him over his knee,’ Fatty said.
‘There’s things worse than a strap,’ Merry said grimly. ‘The Gaffer also knows how to tear strips off his sons with the rough side of his tongue. Why do you suppose the older ones moved away, anyhow?’
‘Steady, Merry,’ Fatty said. ‘You’re no knight, riding out on errantry, so you might as well not try to redress all the wrongs in the world.’ Merry was silent, and Fatty waited until his younger cousin had taken a few deep breaths before continuing. ‘Still, Samwise is on the spot, and he sees and hears more than he lets on, I warrant. If you can get a talk with him, next time you’re at Bag End, I think you might find him willing to aid us. Frodo helped him out of a difficulty once, and he worships the ground our illustrious cousin walks upon.’
‘How do you know?’ Merry said.
Fatty smiled. ‘I’ve eyes,’ he said once more.
‘What difficulty?’ Pippin asked.
‘Never you mind, young’un,’ Fatty said blandly. ‘It wasn’t any trouble worth gossiping about. You just listen to the Gaffer talk to his son sometime, you’ll see what’s-his-name—Sam? —has plenty of troubles. Frodo helped him out once, when old Bilbo nearly discharged him for something that wasn’t his fault.’ *
‘Nearly discharged him?’ Pippin said, pressing for more details, his eyes bright with interest.
‘Never you mind,’ Fatty said firmly. ‘I’ve said all I’m going to say on the matter.’ And they got nothing more out of him on the topic of Samwise Gamgee.
‘All right, then,’ the ruffian chief said at last. ‘We’ll march the whole band to the Lockholes. By the time they’re through, they’ll likely wish they’d met a quick, clean death at the end of a rope.’
Freddy exchanged glances with Old Oakleaf. He didn’t like the sound of that.
* For details, see Jodancingtree's story "The Shaping of Samwise"
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.