1. Make It One for Paladin
Note the Second: This fic deals with some themes that even adults might find disturbing. Those who know me may be tempted to think this is to some extent autobiographical. It isn't. Robin's thoughts are not mine, though his emotions are to some extent loosely based on personal experience.
Note the third: The verse at the beginning is adapted from the chorus of Michael Longcor's "Blacksmith of the Brandywine" (not based on Middle-earth, words by Pat Garvey). As always, I thank him for the inspiration.
"Make it one for Paladin and all his gallant men,
And one more for Bag End's mistress fine.
One for the hobbits true who'll never drink again,
And don't forget the Hero of the Brandywine.
Robin Smallburrow grimaced as the words – so oft-repeated since Bywater – rang through the air. Three weeks, and still whenever he heard of the great deeds he struggled for breath. The glorious Travellers returned from the south, their foreign mail glittering in the sun; Lobelia's clunking the Big Folk over the head with her umbrella; how Freddie had shot feathered barbs through six throats before they caught him.
Make it one for Paladin and all his gallant men...
He cursed Lily silently, making a mental note to take a long walk through the lonely fields the next time his wife pushed him to get out and join his old friends for a pint or two. He so rarely journeyed beyond their home these days, and he knew that must worry her. But he simply could not bear the cheer of those hobbits who still felt able to sing.
He felt his face flush at the mere mention of Paladin's name. Had he not been charged with keeping order in the Shire? A fine job he had done of that! By day he reminded himself that he was never a Bounder and when he had joined up a shirriff was more cowherd than sentry, but by night those arguments grated against his senses like a hundred clashing cymbals. He was oath-bound to uphold the Rules, but what had he done? Let those gruesome Men march across land charged to his defence. Deliver his own kin to Lotho and Sharkey for judgment and stand witness when they paid for their "treason" with their lives.
He could still see the vacant look in his cousin Hal's eyes as the coarse rope squeeszed his last breath from his throat, as his legs stopped kicking and his head dropped forward. Worse had been the young widow's face, first the desperate cry when she heard the news and later the calm acceptance that had marked her as she assured Robin that she did not blame him...
What would he have done, if Bywater had hills and archers enough to defend itself like the Tookland had? Would he have had the courage to fight and not just offer service for a little more meat and ale?
...and one more for Bag End's mistress fine...
The sight of Lobelia walking along Bagshot Row was the first clear memory he had after Hal's hanging. Before that he only recalled images of stunned eyes and tear-stained cheeks, captured in time as if by paint and brush. What was she complaining about? Something about shacks those rough men wanted to build near her oh-so-beloved Bag End. Robin had fought through the fog that crowded his head in those days and tried to make sense of why that upset her so.
He had of course heard the comments muttered over drinks at the Green Dragon ever since she had taken possession of Bag End. He even added his own thoughts on occasion. Frodo and Bilbo were generous – if cracked – and she had no business ousting the old master's rightful heir. Her son was weak, and it was their fault that Big Folk now tramped across the fields of the Shire and claimed the best food. It was her fault, and Lotho's, that those foul-blooded, rough-handed, hard-eyed Men ever crossed the Brandywine to begin with.
Robin swallowed hard, fighting the bile that threatened to rise in his throat, and took a quick sip of his drink to wash it down again. Everything tasted so foul these days! Ale, weed, meat, even simple bread – he hated to eat, for it only reminded him of the things he had enjoyed at Sharkey's mercy while Hal's widow and young daughter near starved. He had tried to give them his pay, of course, but Hal's wife wouldn't have it. Why did Frodo have to sell that hole to such as Lotho and Lobelia? Why did things have to change?
He remembered how Lobelia had jumped off the ground and brought her umbrella down on the head of those men's leader – Bill, Robin recalled – with a resounding whack!. They had taken her away after that and locked her away where she could never enjoy the sun, but Lobelia had been freed to the sound of cheers. They even named her in song. How dare they! Did they not remember what she had done to them all?
...One for the hobbits true who'll never drink again...
Robin ran his hand under his chin, trying to rub away the memory of coarse feeling, as though that would change things . He had gone home after Hal died and taken a length of rope from the cellar and laid it against his neck. Just to feel what Hal had felt, he told himself at the time, but as soon as he did it he realised he could never know his cousin's fear this way. Quickly he looped one end around the other – he had always been so good with knots – until it was so tight he could scarcely breathe.
He climbed onto the kitchen table and looked up at the roof. Should he follow Hal all the way? It would be so easy, just throw the long end over the beam and step off. He was naught but a liability to all those close to him, alive. But something stopped him. To this day he could not say what.
He had seen more dead in the days after. When they freed the prisoners, the lockholes were ripe with the stench of death. And then there were the hobbits they had buried after Bywater, and those that died from hunger and sickness for weeks after the Ruffians were driven beyond the bounds; babes and the aged, mostly. Each pair of glazed-over eyes reminded him of all the ones that came before them. Why did he live on, while so many others had died? Was it that he was lucky enough to be caught by the troubles in the prime of his life, when he was not so likely to fall ill as he might have fifty years from now? That he was coward enough to not stand against those he knew were evil? For those were the only virtues he could claim.
...And don't forget the Hero of the Brandywine.
He knew that referred to Fatty – that was how all the songs and tales named him. He had taken a mass of untrained hobbits as worthless as untried iron and pushed them until they were like tempered steel. With Old Maggot's help they had hindered ruffians on both sides of the Brandywine. Cart-wheels would fall off and deliveries would be delayed, pigs locked tight in pens would somehow find a way to escape, ale-casks would mysteriously develop holes. Robin wondered if Fatty ever truly believed he would last forever.
Yet Fatty had survived. He was too powerful, too valuable, for Sharkey to let him die easily. It was grunts like Hal – the hobbits whom Fatty swept away with dreams of freedom and convinced to join his merry gang of fools – who could die quickly, before the ruffians were driven out. No, Robin would never sing Fatty's praises. He would never forgive Lobelia for letting Sharkey in the Shire, or Frodo for selling Bag End. But he could at least live on, and not interrupt their song. Let them enjoy their victory. He knew that the Shire was better with the Sharkey dead and the Ruffians gone, even if it couldn't right the wrongs of the past.
Robin downed what was left of his drink, wiped the ale from his lips and the tears from his cheek, and turned to gaze into the fire.
'Look here, Cock-robin!' said Sam. 'You're Hobbiton-bred and ought to have more sense, coming a-waylaying Mr. Frodo and all. And what's all this about the inn being closed?'
'They're all closed,' said Robin. [...]
'You ought to be ashamed of yourself having anything to do with such nonsense,' said Sam. 'You used to like the inside of an inn better than the outside yourself. You were always popping in, on duty or off.'
'And so I would be still, Sam, if I could. But don't be hard on me. What can I do? You know how I went for a Shirriff seven years ago, before any of this began. Gave me a chance of walking round the country and seeing folk, and hearing the news, and knowing where the good beer was. But now it's different.' ("The Scouring of the Shire", The Return of the King)
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.