"Up past Mithlond is nearly uninhabited. There's land for farming, and the mountains are thickly forested. Your men can hunt, can't they? There should be game enough to keep them until they can grow crops."
They were gathered round Canohando's bed, for he wearied if he was up for more than a few hours, and it was no short matter to devise a plan for the Hobbits' future. Hodfast had brought in two of his advisers to their council, and Arato had been sent for from the Tower. Seven of them then, with Malawen, racked their brains to find a way out of the trap that Delving had become.
"My sons are warriors, not gardeners, old man. They hunt, for sport and meat, but most of them would not know a rake from a hoe."
Hodfast grinned. "You wouldn't know yourself, Commander, if I hadn't shown you."
"The Hobbits can till the soil while the Guardians hunt," said Malawen, but Radagast shook his head.
"That will do to start with, but not for long. The land that's empty now will not remain so; the hour is too late to plant another Shire. The Small Folk must learn to be elusive. Invisibility is their best safeguard with any but their sworn friends."
"We will show the Guardians how to farm, and caution will teach Hobbits to be secret." That was Hodfast's cousin, Sweetapple, famous for the orchard he used to have, away in the South Farthing.
"You may have a score of years before a new wave of settlers comes to share the land," said Radagast. "Make your homes underground within the forest, and let the Guardians keep your secret from strangers. I hope when newcomers arrive they will be more peaceable than these wolves who have over-run the Shire."
"That's well and good, but how do we convey the Hobbits to this empty land?" Arato spoke sharper than he'd intended; he tried to soften the effect by explaining. "We have more women and children in the Tower than warriors. Six hundred Hobbits here – "
"There's settled country to the South," said Hodfast. "Big People, but Hobbits might be able to slip in round the edges, as they say. I'd sooner see us scatter out, not cluster all together, however safe it seems."
Radagast nodded. "That's wisdom, Mayor. Find me a couple of dozen who want to try it; I'll go with them and see what we can do. But quickly, mind! We have no time to spare."
Sweetapple spoke diffidently. "Let me take a group to that empty land you spoke of. We can start digging smials, and planting soon as the frost has left the ground. It'll get things started and be fewer mouths to feed in Delving."
Canohando struggled to sit up against the headboard, massaging the stump of his leg. He had put the wooden one aside when he lay down, for it still chafed him in spite of Radagast's ointment. "You've put your finger on the problem, lad. How do we keep those here from starving until we can get them all away?"
"Did you starve with me in Mordor?" Radagast reached inside his sleeve and brought forth a folded square of coarsely-woven fabric. Before their eyes he shook it out – for an instant it hung limp in his hands, an empty sack that nearly reached the floor; the next moment it was bulging with all manner of lumps and protuberances. He reached in and drew out a loaf of bread as long as his arm.
"Would you like butter or cheese with that?" he said courteously to the Mayor. Without waiting for reply, he laid out a slab of cheese. "Wine?" he asked Arato. A skin of wine joined the cheese. "Can you find us some glasses?" he said aside to Sweetapple.
The Hobbits stared at him round-eyed, beginning to back away, but the Commander burst out in a laugh that shook the bed.
"How had I forgotten! Hope you bring indeed, old man, and the Valar rain down blessings on your head! No, my Hobbits, this is wholesome fare; don't be afraid to eat. Now we have time to do what must be done, with no fear of starvation."
He took up the stick of bread, breaking off one end and biting into it, before he passed the rest to Malawen. "Eat, melethril, and show them that it's real. Now I can believe a better day will come."
There was no difficulty in finding Hobbits who would go with Sweetapple to break land in the new country, even though the Commander was careful to explain that their settlement would have to be hidden and temporary, the cleared fields given over to the Guardians when they arrived – and further, that Hobbits would have to teach the Men to farm. One old gaffer spoke for all the rest.
"Hidden suits me fine, after what I've seen this year. I don't think I'll ever feel safe again in a house that's open for everyone to see! I'll show your folk the ins and outs of farming, but as for me – I'd sooner gather acorns in the forest, secret-like."
In less than a week Sweetapple had chosen twenty Hobbits to make his expedition. Some of the wives insisted on going along, and several of the children – "None younger than twenty-three," he told them sternly. "This is not a picnic!" Radagast filled their packs with foodstuffs from his sack, and they carried a minimum of garden tools. Hodfast had offered a couple of pack ponies, but the Commander vetoed that.
"You must be ready to melt into the bushes at the least alarm – baggage would slow you down, and ponies are hard to hide. Arato, you'd best send someone with them to scout the way."
"Begging your pardon, but we'll find our own way." Sweetapple seemed to have grown in dignity, for all he stood no taller than Arato's belt buckle. "Hobbits settled the Shire without nobody's help, and I'm thinking it's time we learned to stand on our own again. You've given all you had protecting us, Commander, even to your leg, and don't think we're not grateful, for we are. But there's not many Guardians left, and your folk had better start looking to your own interest and let us look to ours. We'll find the way all right, and be there waiting for you."