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(Originally written for the 2010 Shire Kitchen Recipe Fic Challenge on LiveJournal.)
Title: Friends in Need
Now he and Archer were riding West upon the Great Road, and he found himself wondering if he should depart for a season and visit his family in the Shire. But he had never received an answer to his long-ago letter, and it seemed to him that his family might have been angered at his long absence. Perhaps it would not be a good thing to go back just yet-- for he was quite sure that if he did, he would never be allowed to return to his Ranger duties.
The Road had not changed much since he'd last journeyed along it; the Barrows still stood as a menacing presence to the South of the Road, and at mid-day they had passed the area where he had once been captured by brigands. He rode along at Archer's side, remembering how carefree and innocent he had been the last time he had passed this way, before that encounter. Suddenly, he gave a glad cry.
"Look, Archer! It is Mistress Polly's cottage!" He pointed to a tidy little steading, slightly ahead and to the North of the Road. "She was the first friend I met after leaving the Shire. Do you suppose we could call on her? I should like to tell her hello, and ask after her family!"
"Mistress Polly?" Archer asked doubtfully.
"Mistress Polly Thistlewool. Her daughter is Mistress Tilda Butterbur of the Prancing Pony in Bree!" He said this with every confidence that this connection would sway his companion.
"I do not know, Trotter. She might welcome you, but I misdoubt her welcome to me."
"Oh, Archer! I'll vouch for you!" He gave the Man a winsome look, widening his eyes to their fullest. He'd discovered that this worked even better on the Men than it ever had on his parents.
Archer laughed ruefully. "I can never say 'no' to you, Trotter! But if she chases me off with a pitchfork, do not be surprised!"
Trotter just laughed, and the two riders picked up their pace and approached the farmstead.
As they got closer, Trotter was surprised to see some small signs of neglect. It looked as though the geese had been at the garden, and the door to the small stable stood open. He could hear a cow lowing forlornly, as though she had not been milked. He glanced at Archer, and realised his companion had noted the same things.
"Something is wrong, Trotter. I hope that your friend is well."
Trotter dismounted Porridge, and raced up to the cottage door, and knocked. He heard shuffling steps, and then a quavering voice said, "Who is it?"
"Mistress Polly?" he called. "It is Hildifons of the Shire. Do you remember me?"
The door slowly opened, and his elderly friend looked down upon him. "Why bless me! It is you, Master Hildifons! My Tilda told me you'd gone off into the Wild with one o' them Rangers!" Then she looked up, and noticed Archer on his tall horse. "And I see you must've took up with 'em! Well, it looks as though they've done you no harm." She turned a gimlet eye on Archer, who smiled at her. His smile quite transformed his dour face, and she responded in kind.
"Mistress Polly, this is my friend Archer. We were passing by, and thought to call. Is all well with you?"
Just then a voice called from the interior: "Who's there, Ma? Is it Diccon?"
"Nay, Jon, 'tis not your brother! 'Tis a hobbit and his friend!" She looked back at her guests. "Well, you might as well come in. Nay, all is not right. Me son Jon put his back out three days since, and 'tis all I can do to look after him, much less manage the work about this place! We'd been a-hoping his brother would call, for we'd no way to send a message."
Archer dismounted. "Perhaps we may be of help, Mistress Polly. We can do some of the tasks that need doing, and then, if you tell me where to go, I can take a message to your other son, if it be not too far distant."
"Oh, bless you!" she cried, tears appearing in her rheumy old eyes. She lifted a corner of her apron up to wipe them. "Come in, come in!"
Trotter saw that the neat little cottage had not seen much change in the last five years. Mistress Polly led them to the back, where a doorway covered with a homespun curtain led to a small bedchamber. A Man in his middle-years lay upon a bed. He tried to move when he saw them, and then gave a wince of pain.
"Who's this then, Ma?" He gave Archer a wary look.
" 'Tis Master Hildifons and his friend Archer. They've offered to help, and Archer's offered to take a message to Diccon."
The Man sighed with relief. "My thanks then, to ye! I feel a right fool, putting out my back so! I was trying to move a stump all on my own, y'see. 'Twas a very bad idea!"
"Indeed!" said Archer. "I noticed that your cow seems to need milking. What else needs to be done immediately? I can take care of those things before I take your mother's message to your brother."
A few moments later, armed with a list of tasks, Trotter and Archer found themselves busy. As Archer milked and fed the cow, who was most grateful for the attention, Trotter busied himself in the small garden-- indeed the geese had wreaked minor havoc, but Trotter was able to set things to rights, gathering up such undamaged vegetables as he could, and seeing to putting the plants back in order. It looked much better when he was finished, and he had a basket full of carrots, onions, turnips and other things that had not seen too much damage. Mistress Polly told him the geese were all at the small pond back of the cottage now, and he decided to leave herding them back for later. While Archer gathered and brought in firewood, Trotter fetched some pails of water from the well, and while Archer fed and watered his horse and Trotter's pony, and secured Porridge in the stable, Trotter gathered up another basket-- this one filled with apples from the two trees which grew behind the little house.
Mistress Polly watched gratefully as these necessary jobs were done, thanking them effusively.
"Me son Diccon's place is about a league to the West," she said, "and about a furlong and a half North of the Road. Tell him we could use his help. And if his mother-in-law could come along, Jon 'd be most grateful; she's a healer of sorts, and mayhap she can do something about his poor back."
Archer nodded. "I will bring them back with me as quickly as I may, Mistress Polly!"
He rode off to the West, turning and giving Trotter and Mistress Polly a jaunty wave before disappearing over a rise and round a bend in the Road. "Ah, Master Hildifons!" she said, "I couldn't be happier that you passed this way, you and your friend. I must say, he's quite different to what I hear about Rangers! Quite well-spoken, he is, and kind as well!"
"I may tell you, Mistress Polly, most of what people have to say about the Rangers is utter nonsense! Why, I owe them my very life! I should have listened to you that day and stayed over with you, for I fell into grave danger that very night, and it was only the courage of the Rangers that I avoided a sad fate!"
Mistress Polly looked most interested, and Trotter told her of his encounter with the brigands, and his rescue by the Rangers. She was enthralled, for Trotter had quite a talent for telling a tale, and his own feelings about the memories it brought back made him even more than usually eloquent.
"Well, seeing as there will be more people than me and my Jon here to sup tonight, I suppose I shall need to see what I have on hand for cooking."
Trotter looked at her weary face. "Mistress Polly, you've had a dreadful time the last few days. Why don't you take your ease this afternoon, and allow me to see to making supper! I am sure I can manage, and if you wish, you may sit and supervise and tell me where to find things-- I would like it very much, I would, for I've not had a chance at a proper cooking hearth for weeks!"
Mistress Polly was no more proof against his winsome expression than Archer had been, and she truly was tired. She made no more than a token protest to his suggestion, and soon found herself ensconced in a chair near the fire, a coverlet over her knees and a cup of tea in her hand. She watched in amazement as Trotter bustled about, assembling the things he'd need.
He used the vegetables he'd rescued from the garden to start a soup, and then asked Mistress Polly where he could find other ingredients. She directed him to some sausage she had put in the cold cellar, and to the baking supplies she kept in a box there.
He came up with his arms laden, and looked over his treasures-- then he grinned, and went outside for a moment, coming back with the basket of apples he had collected. Before long, the soup was bubbling in a cauldorn over the fire, while among the embers, barleycakes and apples stuffed with sausage were giving off delightful aromas. He poured himself a cup of tea, and topped off Mistresss Polly's cup, and sat next to her on a small footstool as she regaled him with stories of her grandchildren's doings.
It was somewhat past the time a hobbit would call teatime, but a little before what would be called supper, when they heard a commotion in front of the house. Trotter bounced up and raced to the door, while Mistress Polly followed more slowly.
There was Archer, on his horse, escorting a waggon. The waggon was driven by a Man somewhat older than Jon-- that must be brother Diccon, Trotter guessed. Two women sat with him, one seemed to be the same age as the Man, while the other seemed no younger than Mistress Polly herself. And in the back were five boys, appearing to range in age from twelve to twenty. The youngest leapt out before the waggon was fully stopped, and raced over to Mistress Polly. "Gammer!" he shouted, and grabbed her about the waist.
"Ah, young Tam!" she laughed, and ruffled his hair.
"Ma!" said the Man, as he clambered from his seat. "I wish I had've known sooner you and Jon were in trouble!"
"Well, you're here now, Diccon, thanks to Master Hildifons and his friend."
And it was not long until all sat down to a fine meal of soup, barleycakes and sausage-stuffed apples, listening to the children's jests and to Trotter's tales. It was settled that the two oldest grandsons would stay until their uncle was on his feet again, which Mistress Ella, who was Diccon's mother-in-law and a healer as well, said might be a week at the least, if he behaved, and a fortnight if he did not.
Trotter and Archer slept that night in their blankets on the floor by the hearth among the grandsons.
The next morning, they left to Mistress Polly's blessings and thanks, and with pockets full of apples.
She stood next to her son and daughter-in-law, and waved until they were out of sight, and said with a sigh, "I'm right glad to know as there's more to them Rangers than folks think!" She poked her son with a sharp elbow. "Next time you hear someone call them Rangers 'stick-at-naught', you just up and tell them about those two!"
Trotter's Sausage-stuffed Baked Apples
1 Tablespoon butter
Preheat the oven to 350o.
In a skillet, melt the butter, and sauteé the onion until translucent. Break up the sausage and add to skillet. Brown the sausage, making sure not to allow large chunks. While the sausage is browning, prepare the apples: slice off the stem end, and use a paring knife to core the apple part of the way-- leave the bottom intact. If you should accidentally make a hole, you may plug it with a little piece of apple. Once cored, hollow the apple out, reserving the pieces. Make sure to leave about a half inch "wall" all around, so that you have a little apple bowl.
When the sausage is browned well, drain off some of the fat. Chop up the reserved apple pieces, and add those to the skillet as well. Stir in the breadcrumbs, and then slowly add just enough of the juice or cider so that the mixture will hold together. Stuff the sausage mixture into the prepared apples, and arrange them in a baking dish. Pour about a half inch more of the juice or cider in the bottom of the pan.
Bake the apples for 35 to 40 minutes, until they are tender but not mushy. Serve hot.
They both reached for the last berry tart at the same moment, and then each snatched a hand back, as they realised the other wished to have it.
They eyed one another warily, then Trotter, with his customary hobbit politeness said sadly, “You may have it, Archer.”
“No, no,” said Archer, blushing. “You baked it.”
Trotter sighed. “We could share it.” Broken in half, it would barely make a mouthful apiece.
“I know,” Dirhael interrupted his two friends mischievously. “How about a wager? Winner gets the tart.”
Archer eyed him suspiciously. “You are one to stir up trouble, Poet!”
Trotter's face lit up. “What sort of wager?”
The Poet grinned, and glanced over at their chief, who sat leaning against a tree enjoying a pipe. “What do you think, Longshanks?” he asked.
Arador chuckled. “Leave me out of your nonsense.” The patrol had been searching for a band of sheep thieves that had been troubling the folk thereabouts. Fortunately, they had been seen-- it was clear they were Men and not Trolls. The Rangers had come across sign of them, only to lose the trail again, due more to ill-fortune than to the cleverness of the outlaws-- a herd of wild swine had obliterated their tracks. After a few hours of fruitless effort to pick up the trail again, the patrol had decided to stop and make camp. Trotter had, of course, made an excellent meal for them all, including some small tarts of berries he had foraged, mostly bramble-berries and bilberries, which he had baked amid the embers. As to the entertainment of a wager-- whatever Dirhael proposed, he was sure that it would be interesting. But he was chief, and he would stay out of it-- for now.
Archer repeated Trotter's question: “What sort of wager?”
“Perhaps your bow against Trotter's sling?” he asked casually.
Both Trotter and Archer grinned. They had tested themselves against one another on that matter in the past, and were very nearly even in their wins and losses.
But now Arador had a suspicious thought. “And what, pray tell, would be the target?”
“Well,” said Dirhael casually, “there is a tale I have heard, of a man who was considered the greatest archer of his land...”
As if with one voice, Arador, Archer and Trotter all cried out: “NO!”
The Poet looked much put upon. “I just thought...”
“No,” his chieftain repeated firmly. Dirhael sighed.
Recently he had heard a tale that seemed to come from the time of the war with Angmar, of a man who had been forced to prove his skill with a bow by shooting an apple from his son's head. Dirhael had been very much taken with the story, and on more than one occasion had tried to get someone to agree to try it, with himself as the bearer of the target.
“Even the legendary archers of the Golden Wood,” said Arador, “would not do such a thing for sport! You are old enough to know better, and should not allow your desire for a good tale to lead you astray. Even should you be unscathed afterwards, I for one do not care to risk the wrath of your lady wife. Ivorwen would skin me alive if I should allow you to partake of such foolishness!”
Dirhael looked abashed at this rebuke. Trotter picked up the disputed berry tart and presented it to Dirhael with a bow. “In payment of your performance,” the hobbit said with a flourish.
The Poet took the point; he also took the tart.
Archer snorted skeptically. “You do realise that this was probably his goal all along, do you not?”
At this, they all burst out into laughter, save the Poet, whose mouth was full.
Soon the others pulled out their pipes, and sat back to take their ease after the excellent meal Trotter had provided. To make amends for his earlier jape, the Poet entertained them with a old tale out of Westernesse, of an impoverished fisherman, his shrew of a wife, and a mysterious wish-granting fish.
When the tale had ended, Trotter stood up and dusted off the seat of his breeches. “We have more than two hours of daylight left. If it is all right with you, Longshanks, I think that I shall do a bit of scouting and foraging.”
Arador laughed. “It is probably more the latter than the former you wish to do, Master Hildifons! It would not go amiss if you found more berries!”
Trotter chuckled. That had been to the front of his mind. “Still, perhaps I will also find some sign of our quarry!”
“Do not stray too far, my friend.”
Trotter nodded and retrieved the cloth sacks he used for foraging, and silently vanished into the trees.
At first he had no luck. He had very nearly stripped the berry bushes nearest their campsite, and there were no convenient nut-trees near, save oaks, and acorns were only for the desperate— they were often bitter, and even more often, tasteless. He noted the area where they had finally lost the sheep-thieves. Wild swine were quite happy with acorns, and eagerly ate them. They had torn up the faint game path and any traces of the outlaws who had passed that way earlier. Trotter went on, at first more intent on seeing if he could find some more berry bushes. Then he spotted some bilberries. It was probably too shady for brambles. There were not enough there for more tarts, though there were certainly enough to make the morning porridge tasty. He picked as many as he could reach, not trying to greedily reach the upper berries, which he left for the birds. Then he thought he saw another bush further off-- but on reaching it, saw that it had even fewer berries on it.
He had nearly decided to turn back, when he spotted something a bit further on. Was it-- could it be? Mushrooms! Near a fallen and rotting oak was a magnificent stand of mushrooms, their round golden stems and velvety brown caps declaring them to be summer ceps, and most delicious. He began to fill one of the foraging bags with delight, though he had to take care, for summer ceps are more delicate than some other mushrooms.
One of them was ruined. Smashed flat! He glared indignantly at the ruin of what had been a perfectly huge specimen. How wasteful! It took an instant for the significance of what he saw to set in. And then he had to wonder: who had stepped on it out here in the middle of nowhere? Had he found sign of their quarry at last? He gazed more carefully: to the left of the remains of the mushroom was the faint imprint of a booted foot.
Trotter hesitated. It had been less than an hour since he set out. He could go a little further, make certain these were the right men, then go back to tell the others. But he'd only go on for about another quarter of an hour and then turn back. He looked up through the sparse canopy of the trees at the Sun's position. Yes, he could spare that much time, he thought. But no longer. If he were caught out after dark, his friends would worry.
Not even ten minutes later, his search was rewarded: the sight of smoke, the smell of roasting mutton and the sound of coarse voices gave him to know he had found their quarry.
Cautiously, very cautiously, he approached on silent hobbit feet, staying hidden from their sight. Four Men, roughly dressed sat about a small fire, picking their teeth. Three sheep were tied to a nearby tree.
One of the Men gave a loud belch. “We'll be to me brother-in-law's place by mid-mornin' tomorra,” he said.
“Hope as he'll pay us as good for these woolies as you said as he would, Willem.”
The one addressed as Willem spat out of the side of his mouth. “Don't you worry none, Mik. He'll pay up good. He'll mingle these in wi' his own, and none'll ever know he din't breed'em his own self. Then he'll sell'em for a pretty penny.”
A third one spoke. “Be glad when this is done. Herdin' these smelly things is too much like work for me. Woulda been a sight easier to just relieve a few travellers of their wallets on the road.”
“Don't be daft, Bart” said the last one. “Them Rangers been 'round these parts lately. Waylay a few fat merchants, we'd have'em breathin' down our necks, we would! They won't take no mind of a few sheep as could've strayed.”
“Garn! You may be afraid of the Rangers, Ted, but I ain't!”
As he watched the Men, a daring idea came to Trotter. He felt in his pockets for the good throwing stones he always kept there. Pleased to feel that there were enough to serve his purpose, he looked around. A large elm overhung the Men's campsite. He grinned to himself, and keeping low to the ground he made his way to it and shimmied up on the side of the tree facing away from the brigands. Moving carefully, he found a perch on a sturdy branch, which gave him a good view of his prey. He pulled forth one of the stones-- it was smooth and rounded and fit his palm perfectly. With one swift motion, he let it fly.
The stone struck Willem squarely in the back of the head, with scarcely a thud. The Man silently keeled over.
“What the?” Bart jumped up. Mik gave a curse and dove flat to the ground. What Ted would have said or done was moot, as Trotter's second stone caught him and laid him out flat. He ducked down for an instant as the two remaining villains looked round wildly. It never occurred to them to look up. Mik crawled over to Willem and tried to rouse him. Bart drew a wicked looking knife and yelled “Show yourself, you coward!” and then began cursing most foully. Trotter's third stone went to his temple, and he fell as though pole-axed to the ground.
Mik stared in shock at his three unconscious companions. “Leave me be! Please leave me be!” he screamed, and then he began to blubber. Trotter very nearly felt sorry for him, but he remembered only too clearly his own time as captive amid similar ruffians. So he sat up, and let fly one more stone. Mik's wails were instantly silenced.
Trotter waited a few moments, to be sure none of them were feigning their senselessness, and then he scrambled down.
He surveyed his victims with a certain amount of satisfaction. He, he alone and with no help, had subdued them! “Don't get too smug, Hildifons Took,” he told himself. “They could come to any moment if you haven't killed them.” A quick check of the pulse at their necks showed him they all still lived. He went behind the tree where he'd left his two foraging bags and removed the drawstrings. Then he went and rolled the Men so that two pairs of them lay back-to-back. Pulling their arms behind them, he tied them together. Then with a bit of effort, he pulled the belts from two of them and fastened their ankles securely. He stood back, and looked at them. He'd made sure it would be too difficult for them to untie themselves, and he had also made sure that each pair of trussed-up thieves was not close to the other. He checked for weapons, finding nothing more than knives, which he took and threw some far distance away. Just then, Bart stirred, and glared at him. The Man drew his breath to speak, but Trotter took his last stone from his pocket and clocked him again.
He pursed his lips. They were fairly helpless, but he'd have to go get the other Rangers. He couldn't handle taking them in on his own. If he left them and they woke up, they might make a fuss.
He fetched his bags and regretfully emptied them, though he was careful as could be with the mushrooms. After all, he'd be back! Then he took each bag and put it over two of the Men's heads. The bags were coarsely woven, and they'd have no trouble breathing, but it might discourage them from yelling. Then he carefully put out the fire, for it would not do to have it burn unattended. He glanced up at the sky.
His foray had taken far more than a quarter-hour. But perhaps his news when he got back would keep his friends from being too angry at him.
Trotter turned and looked once more at his captives. Then whistling a jaunty tune, he started back towards his patrol's camp.
The Sun was finding her rest as he neared the spot where the swine had torn up the trail. It was getting quite dark, and he could spot a few stars between the branches above him, when he heard a voice calling: “Trotter! Trotter!”
His friends were searching for him!
“I'm here!” he called, and stopped moving, so they'd find him more easily.
The other three converged on him. “What took you so long?” asked Archer.
“Are you all right?” asked Dirhael.
“Well, erm...” at the expression of mingled relief and fury on Arador's face, Trotter very nearly forgot his news. But then he found his voice. “I found our sheep-thieves!”
“What?” Scolding forgotten, Longshanks immediately turned to business. “Where? Are they likely to get away?”
Trotter couldn't help it. He chuckled. “I don't think so. I left them all four trussed up as tight as a Yule goose on a spit.”
There was a moment of stunned silence, and he was the subject of three pairs of astonished grey eyes. Finally Arador nodded. “You can explain yourself along the way, Trotter. Take us there.”
Trotter was tired-- after all, he'd already made this trek before, but his elation overcame his weariness, and he was only too glad to explain his actions as they walked back. He basked in his comrade's praise of his cleverness, and Arador was especially pleased that he had managed to subdue the rogues without endangering himself. “Although, Trotter, if you had not been able to knock all of them out, and any had remained conscious, you would have been treed until we could find you.”
The others laughed. They'd never known Trotter's stones to miss, but Trotter understood his chief's concern, and decided to keep it in mind if ever there was a next time.
He was quite satisfied to show the others his captives, still arranged as he had left them. From beneath one of the bags a voice was steadily cursing, but the rest were silent.
The other Rangers laughed at the comical sight, but Trotter had something else on his mind. He went over to where he had emptied the bags, and sighed with relief. His bounty was undisturbed. “I think,” he said, “that we shall have fried mushrooms for breakfast tomorrow.”
(Written for the LOTR GFIC "Hearts & Flowers" challenge.)
Title: A Brother's Heart
Theme: Hearts & Flowers
Elements: brotherly love, broken heart, violet (faithfulness)
Author's Notes: This story is a sidebar to my story “Trotter”
Summary: A brother never forgets.
Word Count: 1,322
Isembold Took sat on the fallen log by the duck pond behind the Great Smials, and tossed a handful of bread crumbs out upon the water. Half a dozen squawking waterfowl converged on the treat, but their benefactor found no amusement in their antics. Feeding the ducks was just an excuse to be here. He gave a heartfelt sigh.
“Ah, Hilfy! If I’d only gone with you, you might be here with me tomorrow, and stood as my witness.” Three years it had been since he’d seen his younger brother, three years since poor Hildifons had been thrown over by Gardenia Sackville. Three years since Isembold’s offer to accompany his brother on a visit to the North-tooks had been declined, and Hildifons had disappeared from the Shire.
It had been almost two months after the dejected Hildifons had set off on his journey when Isembold and his older brother Hildigrim had been called into their father’s study…
”Lads, I’ve some disturbing news from the Northfarthing.” Gerontius’ face was pale and troubled.
“What is it, father?” asked Hildigrim.
But Isembold’s heart dropped to his toes. He suddenly knew in his heart that something was wrong with his younger brother. After all, they’d had not a single letter since he’d left.
“Last week, I wrote to your brother in care of the North-tooks at Long Cleeve. Imagine my chagrin today to receive a letter back from Cousin Bandigar, informing me that Hildifons was not there and never had been.”
"Never had been?" Isembold repeated, feeling stunned.
His father nodded, and handed the letter to his sons. Hildigrim took it, and after a quick perusal, passed it to Isembold, who barely glanced at it.
"Bandigar says they were surprised by the letter we sent, as they had not expected a visit from Hildifons, and he had never shown up there. I want the two of you to go up there. But slowly. Ask around, find out if he stopped and stayed somewhere else in between. See if you can find out what became of him. It's possible he had an accident along the way somewhere and was injured, and if he were in no state to identify himself..."
Isembold swallowed hard. Or, perhaps was dead. Hildifons would not have tried to harm himself over his heartbreak. But he was distraught, and could easily have had an accident of some sort if he were not paying close attention. What if he'd galloped in unsafe country? Or tried to jump his pony over a hedge it could not manage?
Hildigrim and Isembold rode towards Hildifons's likely first destination. There were inns in Hobbiton and Bywater. The innkeeper and the regulars at The Green Dragon in Bywater recalled him.
The innkeeper said, "Yes, we recall Mr. Hildifons. A couple of months back he was in here, bought a round for the house, and gave us the tale of the Battle of Greenfields! A right good story teller, Mr. Hildifons was." He looked hopefully at the brothers, for business had been quite brisk that night when Hildifons Took had been there.
But Hildifon's brothers were in no mood to tell tales. "Did he speak of where he was going?" Hildigrim asked the room at large.
"Aye," said one hobbit, a grizzled old gaffer. "He spoke o' his cousins, in the Northfarthing, up to Long Cleeve. I've a grandson in Needlehole, what's on the road to Long Cleeve, and I told him to be wary o' the road up that aways, seeing as how it passes through the Rushock Bog, and we've had a wet summer. He said he might cut cross country." The old fellow shook his head. "Young folks is so impatient. Best to stick to the roads. It's why they have 'em."
At the mention of the bog, the two brothers exchanged a troubled look. They stayed the night in Bywater, and the next day slowly made their way towards Needlehole, stopping briefly in Hobbiton, to see if there were any news of him along the way.
Mindful of their father's instructions to be thorough, the journey to Needlehole took longer than it should have, as they made inquiries at every cot and smial and hamlet along the way.
No one could recall a young hobbit, travelling alone along that way in the last couple of months.
At Needlehole, they found themselves staying at The Golden Goat. The innkeeper, had not seen Hildifons either, but his son was the local Shirriff.
Young Mim Puddifoot joined them at their table, and his sister brought them a platter of ham and bread and cheese, and a pitcher of brown beer. Isembold could not help but blush when she smiled at him. Mim introduced her as his sister Violet.
She blushed as well, but said without simpering, "I'll bring you a freshly-baked brambleberry pie when you are ready for afters."
Mim grinned at her as she walked away. "My sister's a good cook, as well!" Then he turned sober as he faced the Took brothers. "We've had a very wet summer, and the bog is more dangerous than usual. Most years, I may have one occasion of livestock wandering in there and getting caught. This year we have twice had to pull sheep from the bog, and a local tween who ventured in to do some duck-hunting got lost. It was a very near thing for him, for we found him clinging to a rotting log, exhausted from holding on. Had we come an hour later, it would have been too late."
"Are you saying that our brother may have drowned in the bog?" Hildigrim asked, his voice holding all the horror that Isembold was feeling.
Mim shook his head. "All I'm saying is, if he travelled this way, but none have seen him, it's a possibility to keep in mind. But there's no way to know he even got to Rushock Bog."
After they had finished their meal, heartened somewhat by the pie, the two discussed what they should do next. Finally it was decided: Hildigrim would travel on towards Long Cleeve, while Isembold remained in Needlehole, and with Mim's help, would search the area around Rushock Bog for any possible signs that Hildifons had passed through there.
"Be careful, little brother," said Hildigrim, as he mounted his pony to leave the next morning. "Don't fall into the bog yourself while I am gone." His tone was light, but his eyes were troubled.
"I'll be careful, and will not go alone," Isembold had replied, and then watched his older brother ride on.
He had stayed at The Golden Goat for nearly three weeks, searching in vain for any sign that Hildifons had passed that way. He spent the days following Mim about in the bog, and the evening in the inn where he came to appreciate the company of Miss Violet Puddifoot. By the time Hildigrim returned with no news, good or bad, Isembold and Violet had reached an understanding.
Now his own wedding day would dawn upon the morrow, and Isembold would sorely miss having Hildifons stand witness with him. Hildigrim, who had only recently had a rather scandalous wedding himself to the very young Rosa Baggins, would be at his side instead. No scandal for Isembold. His Violet was steady, unlike his flighty young sister-in-law; and she was faithful, unlike the fickle Gardenia. She was as pretty as her nameflower, and as shy.
Most of the time, when he thought of his younger brother, it was with guilt and the conviction that if he had been at his side on that journey that he could have prevented what he was sure had happened: that his brother lay somewhere at the bottom of Rushock Bog.
But every now and then a strangely un-hobbity thought came to him, that Hildifons was somewhere in the Outlands, out in the Wide World, alive and well. If that could be true of any of his brothers, it could be true of Hildifons.
A drabble written for a request of pandemonium_213, who asked for something about my OC, Hildifons "Trotter" Took.
(The year Thorn was seven, Moriel asked me to remain in Two Rivers. He was to start school, and was not happy about it. Arador consented to my staying, and it was arranged that I would assist the schoolmaster... From Trotter, Chapter Eighteen, "As Time Goes By")
“Why do I have to go to school?” Thorn pouted.
“To learn how to read and write and do sums, and learn the lore of your people,” Trotter answered calmly.
“You never went to school! You told me that hobbits do not have schools!” Arathorn crossed his arms and glared as though he had made an irrefutable point.
“No, I didn’t. I had lessons from my older brothers.”
“You are my brother! You can teach me.”
“So I can. At the school, as I’ll be the schoolmaster’s assistant this year.”
The child’s jaw dropped. “You tricked me!”
Trotter just grinned.
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