6. 'Courage is Found in Unlikely Places'
They came to the trough in the town square, filled fresh each morning and at need until the waning of the day meant no more thirsty animals passing by. The ruffian chief held back his Men, watching tolerantly as the hobbits fell to their knees around the trough, scooping up stale water, with its bits of hay and other debris floating atop, from the few inches left in the bottom.
Finally, he said in a bored tone, ‘That’s enough.’ The ruffians prodded the hobbits away from the trough with clubs and the butts of whips, forming them to march again to the Shirriff house. Pounding on the door, the ruffian chief shouted, ‘Open in the name of the Boss! We’ve got prisoners here to house, and hungry guards to feed!’
The door was opened by a weary Shirriff, obviously awakened from sleep, and the ruffians shoved the hobbits inside, telling them to sit down in the corner of the room. ‘You’re too late for supper,’ the chief told them nastily. ‘Too bad you couldn’t march a bit faster.’
Turning to the Shirriff, he said, ‘We’ll be wanting bread and cheese, freshest you got. If the bread’s stale, you’ll lose your feather, and maybe more.’
‘Yes, sir,’ the Shirriff stammered. With a regretful look at the prisoners, he hurried off to the storeroom where the ruffians’ rations were stocked.
The ruffians fell to hungrily, with a great smacking of lips, loud remarks on the quality of the food, sighs of satisfaction, and calls for more. Their prisoners sat silent in their shadowy corner, huddled together for comfort. Freddy noticed Robin weeping silently, and reached out to squeeze his hand. When the tween looked at him, shamefaced in the dim lantern light, he smiled and nodded encouragement. Robin wiped his eyes on his sleeve and tried to sit a little straighter.
‘This apple’s wormy!’ one of the ruffians erupted with a curse. He threw the offensive apple at the prisoners, half expecting them to fight over the prize, but they sat without apparent reaction (though the apple disappeared quickly from sight under someone’s leg). He grunted, dissatisfied. The little rats must be too drained to provide any entertainment.
After eating to repletion, the ruffians rolled out their blankets on the floor, all but the two that would take the first watch, and began to snore.
The hobbit prisoners sat silent a long while, and then the apple slowly began to pass from hand to hand. There was perhaps a nibble for each, maybe as much as a bite, large, glossy apple that it was, of the kind that had filled Farmer Cotton’s waggon on a long-ago market day.
‘Good apple,’ Fredegar Bolger said, continuing to enjoy his purchase. He could tell that the farmer wished to speed him away from his pretty daughter, and he took a perverse pleasure in standing there, savouring each leisurely bite. When he’d finished the first apple, he tossed the core towards the farmer’s ponies and laughed to see one of the beasts stretch his neck to seize the treat from the dusty ground.
With a wink at Rose, Fatty fished the second apple out of his pocket and nibbled delicately at the skin. Farmer Cotton glared, but the gentlehobbit looked up at the sky and remarked on the fineness of the weather. The farmer maintained a stony silence.
Finishing the second apple, after he’d drawn out the eating as long as possible, Fatty fished out a snowy handkerchief from his pocket and delicately wiped his fingers. Gentlehobbits, after all, possess manners, and do nothing so indelicate as licking one’s fingers after eating.
‘How much?’ he said.
‘Eh? What’s that?’ Farmer Cotton said, blinking.
‘For the waggon?’ Fatty said, with an expressive gesture.
‘I don’t take your meaning, young sir,’ Farmer Cotton replied.
‘I’ll take the whole waggonload of apples,’ Fatty said with a grin. ‘Wonderfully fine they are, sweet—‘ his eye caressed Rose’s blushing cheek, ‘and ever so juicy.’
What Farmer Cotton really wanted was to flatten the impertinent tween, but that would be an imprudent move, since the Shirriff had just walked up and was buying an apple from Rose.
Farmer Cotton named an impossible figure, at least four times what the apples were worth. Without batting an eye, Fatty took his purse from his pocket and paid the farmer. ‘Just the apples, mind,’ he said, ‘and a bargain at that price! You can have the waggon back after you deliver the contents.’
‘And where shall I deliver them?’ Farmer Cotton said. ‘Cartage is extra.’ He remembered that the Bolgers lived in Eastfarthing, nearly to the Brandywine Bridge.
‘Not far,’ Fatty said thoughtfully. ‘Only as far as Bag End, you can take them there, can’t you? Up the Hill from Hobbiton.’
‘I know where Bag End is,’ Farmer Cotton said through his teeth.
‘Very well, old fellow,’ Fatty said lazily. ‘Here’s a little extra for your trouble,’ and he dropped a golden sovereign into Farmer Cotton’s hand, enough to pay for the repairs needed for the farmhouse roof, and then some. ‘O, and buy a new hair ribbon for the lass, or ten of them,’ he said generously, adding a handful of silver. ‘There’s a good hobbit.’
‘Yes, sir,’ Farmer Cotton gritted.
Fatty turned to walk away, but then looked over his shoulder to say, ‘O yes, I nearly forgot. The apples are for one Meriadoc Brandybuck, who is staying with his cousin Frodo Baggins at the moment. He’s extraordinarily fond of apples, you know.’
Leaving the open-mouthed farmer and daughter behind, he chuckled as he walked away, swinging the heavy walking stick that went everywhere that he did. He wished he could see Merry’s face when the apples were delivered.
When the apple finally came to Freddy, he hefted the remnant thoughtfully for a moment, then passed it on to Robin. ‘You take my portion,’ he said in a tone too low for the drowsy guards to hear.
‘I couldn’t!’ Robin whispered, trying to push Freddy’s hand away.
‘No, really, lad,’ Freddy insisted, placing the bit of apple in the tween’s hand and closing Robin’s fingers about it. ‘You finish it off,’ he said kindly. ‘I couldn’t eat a bite, really I couldn’t.’
Robin hesitated, but Budgie hissed at him to obey, and so he took that last bite that was left, and proceeded to eat the core, worm and all, more than likely, in the darkness.
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.