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And Where Are the Children?  by Larner

III

            Some twenty minutes later the two arrived at the Wheaten farm.  Sam hurriedly dismounted to stand at Strider’s side to assist Frodo as he swung out of his saddle.  Farmer Wheaten’s oldest son Treacle came forward to take the two ponies to the barn, his eyes widening with appreciation as he took in the beautiful workmanship decorating the tack.

            “This wasn’t done by any saddler as I’ve seen in the Shire,” he commented. 

            “Nor was it,” Sam agreed.  “Gifts from the Kings of Gondor and Rohan, they was.  Wait until you see the tack give to Mister Pippin or Mister Merry.”  He quickly had the food basket removed from the back of Bill’s saddle, while Frodo untied his saddlebags and the farmer lifted off the water bottles from Strider.  Both the Hobbits from Hobbiton gave their steeds soft words and pats, assuring that they would be well treated by Treacle Wheaten, and the two ponies obediently followed the younger Hobbit out of the dooryard. 

            “His right name’s Trayco,” Farmer Wheaten explained as they entered the farmhouse.  “It’s only his younger brother, Joco, couldn’t say it right when him was a bairn, and so Treacle sort of stuck.  But him will do well by your ponies—loves ponies, Treacle does.  I suspect that we’ll most likely have more and more ponies as time goes on and as Treacle’s more and more in charge.  Now as we have no more of our goats…”  His expression became increasingly saddened as his voice trailed off.

            As they were led into the parlor by their host, Sam sought to lighten the mood by taking up the theme begun by the farmer.  “It was much the same with my Rosie’s brother Jolly.  Him was such a happy one as a bairn and a faunt that his dad was always askin’, ‘And how’s my Jolly-lad today?’  I doubt as Jolly hisself members him was properly named Holman after our uncle as was gardener at Bag End afore my old dad.”

            Frodo appreciated Sam’s intent to ease the farmer’s sorrow, and gave him a subtle nod and smile before adding, “It was much the same with my cousin Peregrin Took.  His sister Pervinca said he didn’t look a proper baby, as red as he was, like an apple, and so they started calling him Pippin.”

            There were quiet chuckles from the three Hobbits as the farmer showed Frodo to the place by the fire that by rights was his own.  At that Missus Wheaten came out of the kitchen with mugs of sweetened tea to hearten them after their ride from Hobbiton, followed by her daughter.  “There, Posy—set the scones on the chest there along with the butter and jam.  Help yourselves, dear sirs,” she invited.

            Frodo and Sam rose to their feet at the entrance of the two Hobbitesses, both thanking them for their hospitality and their welcome, and offering their own services should they ever be needed.  The mother colored prettily at such courtesy offered her, while Posy seemed overwhelmed, shyly retreating back to the kitchen again, returning with a stack of plates and some knives only after she’d taken a few deep breaths and smoothed her hair a bit.

            Soon all were settled with a plate of buttered scones either balanced on a knee or settled on a nearby surface or table, a mug of strong tea to hand.  Missus Wheaten settled in her rocking chair, a basket of wool beside her, while Posy sat on a settle in the corner with a basket of mending by her side.  They heard Treacle enter through the kitchen door, and he came through to the parlor carrying a steaming teapot he’d apparently filled on his way through.  “There will be fresh tea in a moment, once we let it steep,” he advised.  “Let me know and I’ll refill your mugs.”  He set it down on the chest by the platter of scones, butter, and jam, and took a couple onto a plate of his own, along with a good dollop of butter and a heaping spoon of jam, and settled down on the floor beside the hearth.

            Farmer Wheaten leaned forward solicitously toward his wife.  “Now, Marjoram, you know as how the cold gets into your bones nowadays.  Bring your chair forward, closer to the fire.”  He arose and aided her in this approach to the warmth, carefully settling her basket of wool at her side, while Sam saw to the small, spindly table that held her own refreshments before fetching a shawl from atop a chest for her shoulders.

            “Why, thank you kindly, Mister Gamgee,” she said, her eyes wide with admiration.  “Few are so thoughtful.”  With that she reached down into her basket to bring out a nicely wrought drop spindle.  In moments she had a hank of wool in hand and was starting her first length of yarn.

            “Then you are as skilled with a drop spindle as you are with a wheel?” Frodo asked.

            She nodded, not looking up from her work.  “It’s how all us lasses learn, after all.  Posy there is a right hand with it.  But since they took my wheel, it’s what I have left, and now as we’re certain as there’ll be a Free Fair this summer it’s past time to make certain there’s somethin’ to sell at it, don’t you see?”  She let the thread lengthen, and wound the extra length about the rod before adding more wool.  “I used only a drop spindle for years before we got the wheel.  A Dwarf as attended the Free Fair that year alongside old Mister Bilbo noticed my yarn, and asked if’n a wheel might do me better than simply a spindle, and I laughed.  Where was I, a Hobbit of the Shire, to come up with a spinning wheel?  I asked if he could make such a thing, and he said, no, he couldn’t, but he knew who could.  He asked if I could weave him a blanket so big by Yule, and I told him, of course.

            “A few days before Yule a message come to us to come to the Green Dragon, as a Dwarf wished to meet with us.  We could only imagine it was the one as we’d met with old Mister Bilbo, so I wrapped up the blanket I’d recently finished weaving and brought it with us.  Sure enough, there he was, along with Mister Bilbo, standin’ in the side parlor beside this beautiful spinning wheel,  Said as he’d gone all the way to the Elf-place of Rivendell to fetch it for me, as none understands the making of things with wood and fiber as much as the Elves.  He taught me the simplest way of startin’ the thread and how to use the pedals, and helped us fetch it home, as it wouldn’t fit in our wagon.  And here it stayed until the Big Men came with the Gatherers and Sharers, and I learned to make beautiful yarns with it.  I don’t see as why them took it, as none looked to be a weaver or anything of the sort.  Maybe it was simply because of the beauty of the thing.”

            Frodo shook his head.  “We still don’t understand all they did, or why they took many of the things they did.  I didn’t see any spinning wheels while we were in Rivendell, but that means little, I suppose.”

            Sam answered, “I think as Pippin did, there but a day or two after we arrived.  The Lady Arwen found him hiding in a bush, weepin’, and took him to her work room.  I think he said as there was at least one wheel there, and several different looms, and baskets of yarns and fabrics of different types.  She gave him some handkerchiefs as she and her maidens had made for Mister Bilbo and kept on hand to give him whenever he might think as he needed more.”

            “And what was he weeping about?” Frodo asked.

            “Well, you were in a right bad way at the time, as you ought to member.  He’d gone out of the room give to him and Merry so as not to waken Merry in the night.  We was all pretty exhausted and upset at the time, you know.”

            “I see.”  Frodo returned his attention to Missus Wheaten.  “So they made a wheel for a Hobbit and sent it by a Dwarf?  They are kindly folk, those who dwell in the Hidden Valley.  I bless them for their kindness toward you as well as that shown us and Bilbo.”

            Missus Wheaten’s nose and ears grew decidedly pink.  “Then, then you have seen the Elves of Rivendell?”

            Sam gave a big smile.  “Seen them?  Yes, ma’am—we’ve indeed seen the Elves of Rivendell, and of the Golden Wood, and of elsewhere while we was travelin’ through Middle Earth.  But Rivendell was where we headed first, or first after Bree, at least.  And it was almost the last place we stopped on our way back, for Mister Frodo here wished to share their birthday a last time with old Mister Bilbo, who’s been livin’ there in Rivendell most of the time since he left the Shire those eighteen years agone.”

            “Are the Elves of Rivendell as beautiful as is said?” asked Posy.

            Frodo’s eyes shone with pleasure as he turned to answer.  “Oh, that is true.  But, then, all Elves, even the wood Elves of Mirkwood, are fair beyond description.  We were allowed to meet so many peoples from throughout Middle Earth, and I am glad it was so.”  His eyes rose to the wall behind the farm’s daughter, a wall that seemed unnaturally bare.  “Was that where the missing loom sat?” he asked.

            Missus Marjoram sighed.  “We had two looms took.  The one there belonged to the farm, and has been used by the Wheatens for about six generations, more or less.  The other was the tapestry loom from the second parlor on the north end of the house.  That I brought with me when I married Hiro here,” indicating her farmer husband.  “The one as stood there was a tall loom, and you can see the place where the brackets helped stabilize it against the wall so’s it couldn’t fall over.  The other was a standin’ loom.  My grandfer made it for my grammar, and she taught me to use it and how to do weavin’ of several sorts.”

            “How did you meet?” Frodo asked.

            Hiro Wheaten shared a smile with his wife.  “We’re cousins of sorts, third cousins twice removed on our mums’ sides.  See, Marjoram was a North Took from Long Cleeves, as was my mother’s mum.  When Gamma Milkweed couldn’t use the big loom no more, she wrote to her kinfolk to ask if there was a lass who could help with the weavin’, Marjoram come in answer to that letter, and in time we fell in love and got married ourselves.  That was when her dad brought the tapestry loom to her.  My mum had little talent for the weavin’, so’s she was that glad to see Marjoram come to see to it as the old loom didn’t go without use.  And when we got married we got the goats as a weddin’ present, which added to our standin’ as weavers here at our farm, along with the wheat as we produce.”

            “And you have no idea as to why they took your spinning wheel or the looms?”

            Missus Wheaten shook her head, while her husband answered, “No, Mister Baggins, sir.”

            Something about Treacle’s expression caught the deputy Mayor’s attention, however, and after flushing some the young Hobbit explained, “Well, while they was tyin’ down the tall loom in their wagon, one was askin’ as why they’d want such things, and the one as was the leader said as the Boss wanted them for when he got there.  Said as us rat-folks would have to work hard once the Boss came.”

            Sam shot Frodo a questioning look, and saw his gentle Master’s face harden.  “Saruman!” the Baggins said between clenched teeth.  “Saruman was already planning on coming here, even then!  When was this?” he asked of their hosts.

            “It was back in March, I think,” Marjoram answered.  “It was after the days first started to darken, the day afore the south wind shook the dark clouds away.  But then the darkness came back, and from the south and east.  It got very dark, and felt like a shadow was pressing on our hearts.”

            Sam and Frodo searched each other’s faces.  Frodo’s face had paled further, and Sam could see the memory of pain in the depth of the crease that now lay between his brows.  “So, that was when Saruman was still imprisoned in his own tower.  But somehow he was communicating with his people who’d come here, and intended to escape somehow, already planning on hiding out here in the Shire and taking Lotho’s place as our tyrant.”

            Sam nodded his agreement, then realizing the Wheatens were all confused by this interchange, he explained, “That Sharkey—he was also known as Saruman.  Him was a Wizard, like old Gandalf, but had gone bad—right bad.  Seems as him had talked Lotho Sackville-Baggins into makin’ hisself the king of the Shire long afore we knew as we needed to leave the Shire to protect it.  The Big Men as Lotho used to take power over our folk—they was sent him by Sharkey.”

            “The wind changed to come from the true south on the day of the Battle of the Pelennor Fields,” Frodo said to Sam.  “That wind blew Aragorn’s fleet up the river to the White City and allowed those defending Gondor to defeat the army Sauron had sent there.”

            “But the darkness come back,” Sam agreed.  “It was terrible dark while we was crossin’ to the mountain.  And we know when it was as the wind changed to blow from the west and cleared it all away.”

            Frodo gave a single, sharp nod in response to that.  He fixed his attention on his mug of tea, and took a deep swallow from it, emptying it.

            “Would you like some more?” Missus Wheaten asked tentatively.

            “Oh, yes,” Frodo responded gratefully.  “If you please!”  He accepted his refilled mug and held it between his hands, close to his chest, sniffing deeply at its spicy scent as if reassured by both the odor and the warmth before taking a sip of it.  “Yes—thank you so, Mistress Wheaten.”

            Leaning forward in concern, Farmer Wheaten asked, “Are you cold, then, Mister Baggins?  Shall I build up the fire?  You are shivering so!”

            Frodo shot a brief warning glance at Sam, and tried to reassure his host.  “It is nothing, sir.  As Sam let slip, I was badly—wounded during our journey from Bree to Rivendell.  We arrived in time for the wound to be tended to by Master Elrond, the ruler of the place.  He is considered to be the finest healer in all of Middle Earth, and he was able to heal me.  But I bore the wound longer than perhaps is wise, and I have been advised that it will trouble me for as long as I remain in Middle Earth.  Its greatest effect is to make me feel chilled, even when others are more than comfortably warmed.  Do not trouble yourself for my sake, sir.”

            With that the deputy Mayor turned his attention back to the farmer’s wife.  “So, you will sell the yarn at the Free Fair?”

            “Yes, although we do have a few table looms for small projects—mats, belts, ribbons, and the like.  And our Posy there has a fine hand for tatting and for makin’ bobbin lace, while there are times when I take out my needles to knit.  We’ll have items to sell as well as yarn when the Lithe-days come.”

            “I look forward to that,” Frodo said.

            After thinking on it for a time, he asked, “Did they use the same wagon when they went to the Binbale Woods apparently with the intent to cut them down?”

            Hiro Wheaten scratched his head.  “I’d say as it was the same wagon, what I remember.”

            “How long after they came to take your looms did they go to the woods?”

            Father and son exchanged questioning looks.  Treacle answered, “Not too long afterward.  I member as it was the day as the wind changed to from the west and the darkness was chased away.”

            Both Sam and his Master straightened at that.  “So,” Sam said slowly, “that was just after we made it to the Mountain and—and It was gone.”

            Frodo had again paled markedly.  He turned to Treacle to ask, “Did they go to the woods before or after the wind changed?”

            “Oh, they passed here ’bout an hour afore the west wind started and it grew to a gale.  There was the two wagons—the big Men’s wagon and the one as was from the Teasel place as the Hobbits was drivin’ and followin’.  I was up in the loft of the barn, checkin’ on the barn cat and her kittens, and could see them plain.  She had six kittens, our Puss did, and cunnin’ little things they was.  I stayed there, and felt the world go still.  Never felt anything like that afore, I didn’t!  Made me shiver somethin’ terrible, it did.  I mean, it frightened me, but it made me feel thrilled, too, if’n you take my meanin’.  And then there was a ruckus from the woods, and most of the Big Men and the Hobbits after them come runnin’ down the road from the forest to the village, like!  Not one of ‘em looked our way at all!  Some of the Big Men was shoutin’ about haints, whatever them is, and others wasn’t wastin’ breath they needed for the runnin’.  Titus Sandyfoot was white as a sheet, and scared as scared.  Bet as him could tell a tale if’n you can get him to talk.  Never went out with the Gatherers and Sharers again after that, and only goes into Overhill to cadge a drink from Leo Banks, who makes a mighty strong hard cider of a fall.”

            Frodo responded to this news by going quiet, obviously thinking deeply.  Finally, he looked at the young Hobbit and asked, “Would you please go to the Sandyfoot home and ask him to come here, to your farm?  If nothing else works, you can tell him that he is summoned to speak with the deputy Mayor about the activities of the Big Men when they were lording it over the Shire.”

            It was Hiro Wheaten who responded.  “Mayhaps it would be better if’n I should go, Mister Baggins, sir.  After all, no one would question as I’m a Hobbit grown, in spite of Treacle bein’ thirty-five.”

            “You are wise, Master Wheaten,” the deputy Mayor replied.  “If, of course, you don’t mind going for me.”

            Hiro’s face grew stern.  “Considerin’ how he took part in the raidin’ of our larders, I’ll take some pleasure in makin’ Titus Sandyfoot answer now, even if’n it ain’t about hisself.”  He rose, touched his forehead in respect, and set off for the Sandyfoot holdings.  “I’ll be gone mayhaps a half an hour,” he called back before he closed the door behind himself.

            “Now,” Frodo commented to their hostess, “if I might make use of your privy?  Is it out the back?”

            “Oh,” Marjoram said proudly, “but we have a proper water closet here at the back of the place.  And Hiro and Treacle plan to add a bathing room this coming summer.  Ah, what a luxury to have a proper boiler and not have to fill the tub by hand!  Like I haven’t known since I left Long Cleeve!”  Now that her husband was gone, her voice had more of the lilt of the North Tooks, and Frodo smiled to hear it as she led him from the parlor.

 





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