6. Bad Times
It was a cheerless Yuletide. Falco Grubb's dire predictions back in the autumn looked like coming true after all: winter settled in like a wolf at the door, and fear with it.
Will the Mayor had company in the Lockholes by now. Several hobbits had resisted when the ruffians came to take their pipeweed, and they'd been roughed up and carried off. Near the end of December a large party of Men arrived from away South somewhere. There was more tree-cutting, and they built houses for themselves over by Waymeet. There was a hobbit over there who tried to stop them, and he was for the Lockholes with the others. The houses for the hobbits of Bagshot Row hadn't been started yet, but the Row itself was dug up and destroyed.
The Gaffer and Marigold were still at the farm. As hard as it was on them, losing their smial, it was a comfort to me having Marigold there. She was a solid, cheery little body, like one of those small grey birds that sits in the snow and sings, regardless of the storm. And she encouraged me to keep on hoping that Sam would return, even if she couldn't quite believe it herself.
I took to wearing Sam's old grey cloak anytime I went outside. It was warm, even if it was faded, and it felt doubly warm to me simply because it was his. One day when I hung it back on its hook, I noticed a spot of blue on one shoulder. I went to brush it off – a bit of lint, I thought – but it wasn't lint, it was a small, embroidered flower, a forget-me-not. I looked across the kitchen and there was Mari watching me. I winked at her, and she grinned.
The next day she was busy trimming the Gaffer's hair – he wouldn't let no one else do for him, only her – and I went and embroidered another forget-me-not on the other shoulder. Marigold noticed it a day or so later – she didn't say nothing, but I saw her looking at it when we were in the barn milking – and the next day there was another one, on the hood this time. It got to be a game for us, and more than a game – like a song of hope with no music. I won't forget him, Rosie, the flowers said. Nor I won't neither, Mari. Not ever. After a while there were dozens of forget-me-nots scattered all over the cloak.
After the New Year we got word that Lotho had a new title: he wasn't just the Boss, now; he was Chief Shirriff. He appointed himself to the position, naturally. And he decided that there needed to be a whole lot more Shirriffs, too, for him to be giving orders to. Ted Sandyman and his crew volunteered right away.
From what Da said, the nightly talk down at the Green Dragon was getting pretty heated, what with one thing and another. Food was getting short in some places, and if anyone had any pipeweed, they weren't talking about it. And then Lotho closed all the inns.
At the Green Dragon, a dozen ruffians came in halfway through the evening, when it was crowded. They ordered their ale and then started picking fights with the other customers, the hobbits, shoving them around, knocking the tankards out of their hands. There were angry words and some real fights broke out, and a couple of hobbits were beat up pretty bad. The next day the Dragon was closed, by order of the Chief, as a Public Nuisance and "not conducive to the peace of the Shire"!
Over the next weeks word trickled in that it wasn't just the Dragon; the same thing was happening all over the Shire, to all the inns.
"Too much discussion going on," was my father's verdict. "You let hobbits get to talking about what's bothering them, they might decide to do something about it!"
"And what could they do, Tolman, when Lotho's got all these ruffians to back up every wicked thing he does?" my mother said sharply.
"There's a good few more hobbits than there are ruffians, Lily," he said quietly. "We could drive them right out of the Shire and put a stop to Lotho's nonsense, if we all acted together. But it takes a leader –"
"Not you, Tolman! Don't you go taking that on yourself! That leader you're talking about would more than likely end up in the Lockholes, or worse, and dear knows what would become of his family!"
Da looked at her, at Mari and me. He didn't answer.
The Gaffer was sitting in his old rocker by the kitchen fire, smoking. It was a Sunday night – Da rationed out the pipeweed he had saved, one pipe a week for each of them.
"Twas a black day when Frodo Baggins sold Bag End," the Gaffer said in his gravelly old voice. "He wouldn't've stood for this kind of goings on, not for a minute."
Da sighed and filled his own pipe.
"I don't see how he could've prevented it, Gaffer. Lotho could do everything he's been doing, whether he owned Bag End or not. He's got the money, seemingly, to pay these ruffians to be his bully boys, and the ill will to want to push other hobbits around. I'm sorry myself that Frodo Baggins left, and Sam too, but I don't see how things would be any different if they were here."
"They wouldn't have dug up Bagshot Row!" the Gaffer growled.
"Well, that's true," Da agreed. "It's the only thing that'd be different, though. Mr. Frodo was a fine hobbit, but he was always a quiet one. He wasn't no Bandobras Took, to rally the Shire and throw the monsters out."
I held my tongue – there wasn't any call for me to contradict my Da – but I didn't agree. If Sam was here he'd do something, I thought. I didn't know just what, but something.
In February a crowd of the new Shirriffs started going round collecting food. It wouldn't have been so bad if we'd known it would be going to families who were running short, but it wasn't. Some went to the ruffians – more and more of them were coming into the Shire and settling all over, cutting trees and building houses wherever they liked, never mind what the hobbits who owned the land or the trees might say. And some of the food, even now when supplies were getting low, was being sent away South in wagons.
Da got word of the collections before they got to us, and he went into action. My brothers loaded half the potatoes from the cellar into burlap sacks and hung them on ropes, down inside the house well. It meant we had to haul water for the house from the second well, out in the barn, and that job fell to Nibs, keeping the kitchen water bucket filled.
Mum and Mari and me sat up most all one night sewing new bed ticks. As fast as we finished them, the boys filled them with grain and soup beans, and we slept on sacks of wheat and barley, oats and beans, underneath our feather beds. It became a joke that we needed a stepstool to get in bed now, our beds were so tall with the food sacks hidden in them.
There was no time to think how to hide any other food before the Shirriffs came. They took all our meat, all the cheese and dried fruit, and two thirds of everything else they found. By the time they got done, there wasn't much left of the bounty that had filled cellar and attic back last autumn. They took every drop of our beer, as well – I think Da felt that more than anything.
But for all that we were luckier than most. Thanks to my father's quick action, we still had enough to last out the winter without going hungry, no matter if we were thoroughly sick of potatoes and bean soup. Many folks had far less. We tried to help out where we could, hiding a sack of beans or oatmeal under our cloaks when we went visiting, but you had to be careful who you shared with. There were some who'd repay your kindness by reporting you for hoarding food, and that was a sure ticket to the Lockholes.
Spring was slow to come. There was snow in March and it lay a long time. Even when it began to melt, the days were cold – a nasty, damp cold that seemed to get right into your bones. And then, the middle of the month, the nightmares began.
Not that the whole winter hadn't been one long nightmare, from the day Sam disappeared! But these were dreams, horrible dreams, that came night after night till I dreaded to go to sleep.
The first one was the worst, and I couldn't even remember it, not really. All I remembered was darkness, thick, suffocating darkness, as if there had never been any light and never would be any, ever. I woke up crying and sobbing and scared poor Mari half to death.
The next night I lay awake a long time, listening to Mari's quiet breathing and reaching under my pillow to touch Sam's book, like it was a talisman to shield me from the dark. But I fell asleep at last and dreamed of walking, walking, all night long. I woke up exhausted.
Every night after that I dreamed of walking, and you wouldn't think there was anything frightening about that. But fear filled the dream like a choking fog, and I cringed as I walked, staring around me as if some deadly peril waited just out of sight to pounce on me and destroy me. There was a dull red glow on the horizon, and that terrified me more than anything else.
In the daylight world, things were no better. The houses for the displaced hobbits of Bagshot Row were finished at last, and we loaded the Gamgees' household goods in the farm wagon and carried them to their new home. It was a disheartening sight.
It wasn't just that the houses were new and raw, not painted yet and nothing growing around them. They were rough and badly built, the fireplaces too small to do any proper cooking, and no ovens at all. There was no glass in the windows, just ill-fitting wooden shutters to keep out the wind; there were wide cracks between the floorboards, and the floors were full of splinters.
"Slip-shod," said Da, trying to make the front door close all the way. It was hopeless – the whole building was out of true, and the door scraped on the floor and stuck in its frame. "A strong wind would blow the whole ramshackle mess from here to Buckland, and good riddance to it!"
Lotho was there, preening himself, to see everyone move in, and Da went over to talk to him. I couldn't hear what he said, he kept his voice low, but I heard Lotho's answer – everyone did.
"Nonsense, Cotton, you'll do no such thing! These are fine new houses, miles better than those dirty holes they were living in before, and you'll not be keeping anyone at your place who's not of your own family. It's a new day in the Shire, man – every family to its own house, and no doubling up."
It looked like Da tried to argue with him, but Lotho brushed him off and turned away, and one of the ruffians slouched over and pointed at us, where we stood watching, a nasty smirk on his face. Da stiffened and glared at him, but then he came back over to us.
"What is it, Da? What did he say?" Jolly asked him.
"Said we can't keep Marigold and the Gaffer with us anymore – you heard him! Every family to its own house, no matter if the house is a clap-trap, rickety shack that I wouldn't put my pigs in!"
"Not him, Da, not old Pimple – I heard what he said right enough! What did that ruffian say to you?"
But Da shook his head and wouldn't answer. We got the Gamgees' bits and pieces set up in their new house, and Mum pulled some small sacks of beans and oatmeal out from under her cloak and gave them to Marigold.
"Hide these away, dearie, and don't let no one know you've got any food. They sent all of you away from the Row without any, so they must be meaning to give you some – but it may not be enough, whatever they give you. You stop by and see me when you can, and I'll have more for you." She caught Mari in a long hug, and turned away with tears in her eyes.
That was the twenty-fifth of March. I didn't pay the date any particular mind at the time, but it came back to me later.
It was hard going to bed that night, without Marigold sharing the little bedroom. The nightmares had wore me down so I hated to sleep, and yet I was so tired. It had been a very silent meal, when we got back from the Gamgees' new house. Mum sat at one end of the table looking frightened but not speaking, and Da sat at the other end looking angry, but frightened too.
When I finally lay down, I spread Sam's cloak over me like it was a blanket, or a shield. I don't know if I really thought it would keep the dreams away; it was just a comfort, now his sister wasn't lying next to me in the bed.
That night the dream was different, and it stayed with me for a long time afterward. I was walking again, but the fog was gone and I was surrounded by fire. It came closer and closer, the fire, till I couldn't move at all, and it leaped around me till I thought sure I'd be burned alive. I knew I was in a nightmare and I tried to wake up, but I couldn't pull out of the dream and the fire was hot around me. And then suddenly it wasn't hot. The fire was still there and I was in the middle of it, but it was only pleasantly warm, like a summer breeze, and I walked through it like it was a field of flowers. I walked and walked through the fire, and it was so warm, so nice, after the winter's cold, and I was singing.
And when I woke up, I was still singing. Sam was coming home – I knew it. I knew it!
I sang while I dressed, and while I built up the kitchen fire for breakfast, and when I went round after breakfast making the beds. I laughed out loud and hugged my parents and my brothers, and they looked at me with pity and worry and tried to make me go lie down and rest. And that just made me laugh all the merrier – never mind, they'd see I was right! Sam was alive – alive! – and he was coming home!
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.