7. The Travellers Return
I waited eagerly at first, sure that he would come – they would come, for of course Mr. Frodo would be with him! – in a matter of weeks, at the most. But the weeks slogged on, cold and wet, then warm and rainy as spring arrived at last, and he didn't come, and there was no news, or at least none that was good. Bad news we had aplenty.
The new Mill was built in Hobbiton, a dirty, clanking monster. As promised, the cost for grinding our grain went up. For each barrel of wheat brought to the Mill, Lotho took half the flour.
"It's ruinous! He's left little enough grain to anyone hereabouts, with his 'gathering' – and I have yet to see any 'sharing'!" Da said. We were sitting round the supper table, and he looked thoughtfully at the crust of bread in his hand. "Less bread, Lily, and more porridge, from now on. Make that last run of flour hold out as long as you can. We can't afford to give half our wheat to Lotho. And if we can't afford it, I don't want to think how some others are getting by. Those poor souls from Bagshot Row, for starters."
I knew they weren't getting by very well. Their new house was only about a mile outside Bywater, but Marigold couldn't come work at the farm anymore. It was against the Rules for her to stay with us, and the Gaffer wouldn't have her walking back and forth. Nor my father wouldn't have allowed it, neither – it wasn't safe for any lass to be walking alone any distance from home, with the ruffians always looking for trouble.
I'd ridden along with Da when he took the first load of wheat to the new Mill, so's he could drop me off to visit Mari. I was shocked at how thin they'd gotten, her and the Gaffer both.
"There's not much to eat," she confirmed. "We were lucky your Mum gave us what she did, when we moved in. What Lotho gave us, you could make maybe a thin breakfast and a light supper, that's all. I'd like to know what he did with all the good food he took from us – gave it all to those thieving ruffians, I suppose!"
I'd brought soup beans and oatmeal with me, and she whisked them into hiding straightaway.
"Did you hear about Fatty?" she whispered.
"No, we don't get much news, and I guess Da don't tell us half what he hears, neither, not wanting to scare us. What about Fatty?"
"He was leading a band of rebels, Rose – can you imagine? Fatty Bolger? I never thought I'd see the day! They were stopping ruffians when they found little groups of them on the Road – holding them at arrow-point and taking their money and stuff, and then giving it to hobbits who were hard up. They had holes over in the Brockenbores by Scary – I guess they thought they were pretty safe up there, like the Tooks in Great Smials. But the ruffians came and smoked 'em out. He's in the Lockholes now, with any of his band that didn't get away," she finished sadly.
Poor Fatty – poor, food-loving, comfort-loving Fatty! I hated to think of him in the Lockholes. But the thought of him leading a band of rebels – I had to laugh, the whole idea was so preposterous. Fatty Bolger, of all people in the world!
"I heard he went off to try and rouse the Thain – I guess he couldn't do it," I said.
Marigold looked at me in surprise. "You really don't get much news, do you? The Thain isn't letting any of the ruffians into the Tookland at all – all the Tooks who can handle a bow are out patrolling, day and night. And especially since they took Fatty – the Thain won't let that happen at the Smials; they'll never get close enough to smoke the Tooks out! But Fatty wasn't satisfied just to keep them out of the Tookland – he wanted to take back the whole Shire! Only he could never get enough hobbits to stand with him."
I could only shake my head, remembering our visit to Fatty back when Sam first disappeared. It had been so easy to distract him with good food and drink, till he told us secrets he had never meant to tell. He hadn't struck me much like a hero, but it seemed there was more to Fredegar Bolger than met the eye.
"I'll bet Lotho got a shock, when he found out who was leading those rebels," I said, and I was proud of Fatty, but sorry for him too. For what good had it done, in the end? He was in the Lockholes now.
When Sam gets home, he'll do something, I thought. And then I was afraid – would Sam, too, end up in the Lockholes?
The summer dragged by. It was harder and harder to get any news – with the inns all closed, there was no place for hobbits to gather and talk about what was going on. Most everyone stayed close to home and minded their own business. You never knew if anything you said might get reported back to the "Chief," so you kept a quiet tongue with anyone but close kin.
My brother Tom started driving the pony cart out on Sundays and bringing Mari and the Gaffer back for noon dinner. I'd told Mum how thin they were, and she made up her mind she was going to give them one good meal a week, anyway.
"And Lotho Pimple can like it -- or he can go jump down the Bag End well, I don't much care which!" she said fiercely.
Da looked worried at first, but then he said, "Right you are, Lily! If Lotho's upset about it, he can come to dinner too – though I won't promise what kind of mushrooms are in the pie!"
It was good to see Marigold again, but it was no use talking to her about Sam, nor about the dream I'd had.
"He's not coming back, Rosie. We'll just have to face it. A dream doesn't prove anything."
I wanted to argue, but she was so thin and pale looking, I didn't have the heart. There was no garden spot by their new house, and it wasn't safe for her to get out and walk – she was pretty much stuck in that horrible, bare little house. I just hugged her, thinking all the time – you'll see, Mari! He's coming, he is, but I sure wish he'd hurry up about it!
And then it was autumn again, but there was little in the cellar this year. The harvest had been good enough, but as fast as we could gather it in, the ruffians came and took it from us. It was the same for everyone, whether a big farm like ours or the littlest garden – anything a hobbit had, some ruffian would come and take it away.
We hid what we could, of course. Our beds were tall again with sacks of grain hidden under the featherbeds – we hid food every place we could think of, but we had to let them take the lion’s share of it. We didn’t want them to realize we were holding some back, and start searching.
Worst of all, in September Sharkey came. We never actually saw him until the very end, but the ruffians bragged of him all the time, and they got meaner and more hateful than ever, if that was possible. They even arrested Mistress Lobelia and dragged her off to the Lockholes – Lotho’s mother, no less! You’d think he would have stopped that, but maybe he was afraid of Sharkey like everybody else.
She had more spunk than he did, for we heard she went after those ruffians with her umbrella before they managed to bundle her off. Even with everything so terrible, we had to laugh at that!
We were taking our wheat out to Frogmorton again this fall – the new Mill in Hobbiton wasn't grinding wheat any more. It was running all the time, clanking away day and night, sending up a cloud of evil-smelling smoke and fouling the Water, my Da said, killing all the fish. But nobody seemed to know what it was doing.
There was a new Mill at Frogmorton now -- owned by Lotho, needless to say. Da wouldn't let me go with him, nor Nibs either. He went himself and took my older brother Tom.
"It's not hobbits running that Mill, it's some of those ruffians," he explained over supper the night before. "I don't want you young ones out there, nor I don't want you, Jolly – you're too quick to talk back. I wouldn't go near the place myself, but we have to have some flour. I won't make a second trip, though. It isn't worth the risk, nor it isn't worth the price Pimple's charging either. You'll have to go easy on the flour, Lily."
He left before dawn, and he was back before we went to bed. He left Tom to bed down the pony and put away the flour, and called us all into the kitchen.
"I've got something to tell you, and I want you to listen for all you're worth,” he said. He looked grim, frightened and angry both at once. "I want you to stay close at home, all of you, and stay out of the way of those ruffians! They've started killing hobbits, not just sending them to the Lockholes."
"Killing?" my mother whispered, blanching.
"They've been shooting with arrows, I don't know why. I don't know – this thing gets worse and worse, and something will have to be done to bring an end to it. But what we can do, with them settled in all over the Shire – !" He sighed. "At any rate, you've got to stay out of their way, just as if they were wild animals. There's no safety for any hobbit anywhere around them. Jolly, that means you too, do you understand me? You especially!"
Fear settled on the house, and no one smiled anymore. Sunday came, and Da wouldn't let Tom take the cart for the Gaffer and Marigold.
"I'll take them some supplies," he said. "I'll go on foot, after sundown. Better than taking the pony out on the Road in the middle of the day."
That was towards the end of October. And then the first of November I woke up singing again! Just like in the spring, happiness bubbled up in me, and I fair danced around the kitchen as we made breakfast.
"Rose," my Mum said, "I'm glad to see you happy and all, but I'm sorry to say, lass, there ain't no reason for it. Things are about as bad as they could be, and there's nothing to sing about that I can see."
"But there is, Mum! Sam's coming home -- I can feel it!"
She swung the pot of porridge away from the fire and took me in her arms.
"Rosie… he's not. He's not! He's gone, lassie, and he'll not come back no more. I know you loved him, we all loved him, but you got to let him go, dearie."
"Mum, he's not dead! He's coming home!"
"That's what you said last spring, remember?" She sighed. "You go on back to bed, see if you can fall asleep again. These bad times, it's hard to face up to things, I know. But you got to keep your grip on what's real and -- what isn't. Go on, Rosie, back to bed with you."
I went. It was true, I'd been expecting him since the spring. So who was right, my dream or everybody else? Even Marigold was sure now, that Sam was dead. I was the only one still waiting for him.
Three months or three years, I remembered. Or ten years. I'll still be waiting. That's what I told Mari last year.
I went and got his cloak off the hook in the kitchen. The family was all around the table and they looked at me, but no one said anything. I got a mug of tea and went and sat in the old rocker in the front room, sewing more little blue flowers on the dark wool of the cloak.
And that night he came home. Just like I'd told Mari he would, he came riding into the farmyard on a pony.
"You haven't hurried, have you?" I said.
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.