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B2MeM Challenge: March 13, 2013
An Evening at the Maggots
Maggot squinted into the darkness from the seat of his waggon; the evening was young, but the trees were black beneath the violet sky. Someone had just passed him on the road and it did not look like any hobbit! "Ho, there! Who's that tramping in the Marish! Some beggar by the looks of it! What's your business here?"
"Well, well, Muddy-feet! From one that's late for meeting away back by the Mithe, that's a surly greeting! You old farmer fat that cannot walk for wheezing, cart-drawn like a sack, ought to be more pleasing!"
The hobbit farmer heaved a sigh of relief, amused at the insults being heaped on him. Surely he deserved them for not waiting longer at the Mithe Landing* for his old friend. But he'd been tired and hungry, and he knew the missus would have supper waiting.
"Penny-wise tub-on-legs! A beggar can't be chooser or else I'd bid you go, and you would be the loser. Come, Maggot, help me up! A tankard now you owe me. Even in cockshut light an old friend should know me!"
Maggot laughed and reached an arm out to grasp Bombadil's and help him up the cart. He might not be young, but years of farming had left him sturdy and strong as an old oak. Bombadil sat beside him, and laughing in his turn slapped Maggot on the back. "You were late!" said the hobbit chuckling.
"Jolly Tom is never late, but comes at his own choosing; you should have stayed there lest my company you'd be losing!" Tom then laughed, loud and long. It made Old Maggot's heart glad to hear it, truth to tell, he'd never heard aught like Tom's laughter-like a spring breeze it was, or maybe birds in the rushes, or moonlight on the River.
They drove along quietly, passing right through Rushey, though the doors of The Crane and Otter stood invitingly open-the yeasty smell of ale and the merry songs of the hobbits inside wafted out invitingly, but they did not stop, nor even slow down. Passing through the village they turned left on Maggot's Lane-a rough road it was, for it had never been built as road, but had been worn into being by much use over the years by carts and waggons travelling to Bamfurlong and back again. It was a tooth-rattling ride, and conversation was not possible, what with all the jolting.
But the stars had come out and were twinkling over the long low farmhouse, its thatched roof undulating like a hill over the round doors and windows. Warm yellow light sent a welcoming glow through those windows. Maggot drove past the house to the barn, and a hired hobbit came out to take the ponies and waggon. Maggot clambered down and Tom hopped off the seat, and they walked back to enter in through the kitchen door.
Maggot's seven sons, who ranged in age from twelve to thirty all jumped up to politely bow when Tom came in with their father, while his four daughters, all lively tweens, gave him curtsies. Tom laughed, ruffling the curls of the youngest lad, and smiling at the lasses, who all blushed. He gave his own bow to Missus Maggot.
She simpered, and said "Go on wi' ye, now, Master Tom!" and went to fetch the tankards, for a great cask of ale was waiting to be broached.
Soon supper was on the table: fresh baked bread, with butter and honey; a pot of beans; a great dish of Missus Maggot's famous mushrooms, cooked up with bacon and onions and garlic; roasted potatoes; turnips and carrots mashed up with butter; stewed apples; and a pear tart for afters, and a wheel of cheese with some biscuits for the filling up of corners.
The food finished, Maggot's daughters and his wife soon cleared the table and his sons pushed it aside, and his oldest daughter brought out a flute and his youngest son brought out a drum, and soon the whole family was dancing a lively bransle**, and then they stepped off in a reel, and Tom joined them. He pulled a pibgorn** from his jacket, and accompanied himself as he danced a jig, and then he played for the daughters to dance the Springle-ring. But the younger ones' heads began to droop, and soon the Missus was chivvying her brood off to their beds. "I'm off to bed as well. Morning comes early, husband!" she reminded Maggot. "Don't wag your chins all night!"
Old Tom and Maggot took their tankards by the inglenook. Maggot poked the fire up a little, and took out his pipe.
In his jolly voice, song as much as speech, Tom filled Old Maggot in on the goings on across the River-funny tales of the beasts and birds, frightening tales of the Old Forest and the Barrows, news from Bree and news from Haysend and Breredon. News of Elves passing West through his lands, most not returning, news of Rangers watching the Bounds.
And Maggot had his own news to tell. His tales were not so droll nor exciting as Tom's but newsworthy they were: mostly tales of a great party to be held in Hobbiton any day now, a party for Old Mad Baggins and his heir young Frodo.
"Young Frodo was a rapscallion in his time, poor lad, after his folks was a-drownded in the River and he dwelt at Brandy Hall. Young Master Saradoc, as is the Son of the Hall, was his guardian there, for Master Frodo was the son of poor Miss Primula, the Master's youngest sister and Master Saradoc's aunt. I recall one time as my dogs chased him up a tree after he'd been over here a-scrumping after my mushrooms! Can you believe, he asked me for a thrashing, rather than risk the Master punishing him by a-shutting him up for a while? I give him one, too-no better nor worse than I'd've give me own lads, and he scarpered back to the Ferry with the dogs at his heels! But he's coming of age now, and I'm a-thinking he's left such tweenish japes behind him. Though I doubt me he'd be pleased to know his Uncle Bilbo's sent us all a invitation to that Party-writ in gold ink, it was! They say there's to be outlandish guests, too! That old wandering conjurer Gandalf is supposed to come, and there've been Dwarves a-coming along the Great Road, too!"
Tom smiled. "There's more to old Gandalf than little folk can know; but he'll bring along his fireworks and give you all a show!" Would his old friend come to call as he passed through to the Shire? He often did. But Tom did not say this aloud.
"I hope so! None of my young'uns has ever seen fireworks afore."
They talked a while more. "The leaves they are a-turning now and falling," said Tom, "and it will be the springtime before I come again a-calling."
But his old friend had fallen asleep by the fire. Tom stood up and smiled-morning was nigh, and the Sun would soon show her face. He took the pipe from Maggot's hand and put it upon the mantelpiece. Then he left, murmuring "Sleep well old friend and waken refreshed and a-new, and may your lady not find any reason to scold you."
And then he made his way into the grey and misty morning drizzle. He smiled, thinking of his own lady a-waiting him, the River-woman's daughter. Fair Goldberry had sent him this gentle reminder that he had been too long adventuring from her side. Perhaps he'd gather her lilies as he made his way home up the Withywindle. Softly he sang:
"Old Tom Bombadil was a merry felow;
* Mithe was a body of water in the Shire, the outflow of the Shirebourn river. At the Mithe there was a landing-stage called Mithe Steps, from which a lane ran to Deephallow and so on to the Causeway road that ran from Rushey to Stock. (The Tolkien Gateway)
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