Into the Westfarthing
It seemed so odd to find herself once again in her own home rather than on the road or in Ruvemir’s comfortable home in Minas Anor. She carefully hung her traveling cloak on the hook by the door and set her personal satchel on the hall table, then turned to allow Pippin and Budgie to carry her trunk into the smial and place it in the parlor. “Thank you so very much!” she said at last. “Four months since we left--it barely seems possible!”
Pippin nodded. “We made the journey much more quickly than we did before--of course, before we were having to remain hidden, and were walking almost the entire way as well, save for the few days we sailed down the Anduin from Lothlorien to Amon Hen. But then we were also going far more round about, also.”
“And it’s almost the end of May. It will be Midsummer and the Free Fair before we know it,” she said. “I’ll have a great deal to tell Fosco and Sythie.”
“Well, now that you’re situated, we will leave and head back to Budgeford and the Great Smial. The Thain will be pleased I haven’t grown again.”
She smiled and saw the two of them out, then went into the kitchen to see about making herself some tea. A letter lay on the table there. She saw the room was clean, wood had been carefully laid in the stove ready to be lit, and a vase of flowers had been set on the windowsill. She got the fire going and filled the kettle, and then took the letter, opened it, and began to read.
An Elf came to Brandy Hall to let us know you would be home in a day or two, so I took the liberty of coming to your hole to see all aired and readied for you. However, I hope you will come to Westhall as soon as you can, as I have the distinct feeling that Emro has some mischief in mind, and I’ve gone ahead to check things out and to see if there is anything I can do until you arrive.
P.S. I hope the journey was well worth it. BB
Now what is the Hobbit up to? she wondered as she got out the teapot and caddie, checking to see that all smelled to be fresh enough to make a good cup or two. She noted that there was a loaf of bread in the box, only a couple days from freshly baked, cut a couple slices and prepared to toast them, and got the cheese from the cold room to slice it to go with the bread. She’d need to market on the morrow, she noted, for there was little in the hole fresh to eat.
She finally scalded the teapot, spooned in the tea, filled the pot and set it to steep. She went back into the parlor while it steeped and picked up her personal satchel to take it back to her bedroom. She was reaching for the doorknob when she heard a sound within, then went still with shock. Someone was in her hole! Slowly, she turned the knob and pushed it open, then peered into the room. A huddled shape lay on her bed, apparently sobbing into her pillow. Narcissa entered slowly and looked down with surprise.
“Forsythia?” she asked. “What are you doing here?”
The lass raised her head, her eyes swollen with crying. “You’re home!” she exclaimed. “Oh, Narcissa--you’re home at last!”
“Yes, I’m home, and that’s where you are supposed to be as well. What are you doing here?”
“I had to run away!”
“Because--because Da says--says I must marry Beasty!”
“What?! You must marry whom?”
She must have had a strange look on her face, for in spite of herself Forsythia started to laugh. “He says I must marry Beasty Bracegirdle--Bedro Bracegirdle.”
Narcissa couldn’t quite understand. “Wasn’t Bedro Bracegirdle one of the former Shiriffs who ended up in the trial?”
“Yes--he was perfectly awful in the way he treated folk near Buckland during the Time of Troubles.”
“Then why on earth would Emro think to try to force you to marry him?”
“His da wants me to marry him. Beasty has a lot of reparations he still has to pay, and his da realized that I was likely to get a good dowry in a marriage, so began to push Beasty to court me so as to get the dowry and pay it off. And--and they’ve gotten Da to gamble with them, apparently.”
“But a bride’s dowry isn’t supposed to be used to pay off the groom’s debts.”
Narcissa shook her head. “No, the dowry is to help the new couple set up on their own, and is supposed to be invested in things that will help the bride if something happens to her husband. Do you like Beasty? No, wait, if you’re calling him Beasty it is obvious that you don’t.”
Forsythia shook her own head. “Everybody calls him Beasty except his da. Not that anyone likes Bigelow Bracegirdle, either. I wonder sometimes how any Bracegirdles ever get married, as all the ones I’ve seen or heard tell of tend to be terribly liverish.”
Narcissa laughed. “I don’t know about liverish, but I do know they tend to be very self-centered and grasping. What on earth would ever convince your Da that he ought to even consider such a proposal?”
“I don’t know for certain. He seems to have become drinking partners with Beasty’s da.”
Narcissa thought deeply. “Your da never used to drink much.
“He drinks more since Mum died.”
“I see.” Narcissa sighed. “Where is Fosco?”
“He stayed in Westhall. He is furious.”
“I can imagine.” She thought again. “Was Brendilac there when you came here?”
Forsythia became more hopeful. “No, he wasn’t. Was he on his way there?”
Narcissa nodded. “He left me a note saying this, and that he was worried Emro was up to something. Apparently he is more sensitive to conspiracies than I am.” She looked at the younger lass and considered their next move. “I think we need to go to the Great Smial and see the Thain--maybe Will Whitfoot as well. They’ll be able to convince your da that your dowry can’t be legally used to pay your husband’s debts, and that forcing a marriage between a couple who are not in love is equally wrong. You aren’t in love with him, are you?”
“Like you said--I wouldn’t call him Beasty if I were. No--he’s done nothing except to chase us and tease us and threaten us and beat up on Fosco since Fosco and I were tiny. Why would I ever fall in love with someone like that now?”
“Good question. Well, let’s have some tea and then head to Bywater and rent the pony cart, shall we?”
They were on their way out the door to Bywater, Narcissa with her personal satchell ready for a couple nights and Forsythia with the bag of items she’d brought with her, when a wagon came even with them. Inside sat Sancho Proudfoot and Cyclamen. “Hello, Narcissa. It appears that you are being sought as we speak, along with a lass from Westhall. Is this the one, then?”
“Yes, I found her in the smial when I got home. And who is it who seeks us, and why?”
Sancho laughed. “We have a brace of Bracegirdles waiting at the stable at the Green Dragon and another one in Hobbiton at the Ivy Bush, looking for the two of you to come rent a pony cart or pair of ponies.”
Cyclamen smiled. “It’s quite exciting, isn’t it, Narcissa? Hello, Forsythia. This is about you, then?”
Her father looked down at her. “You know this one?”
“Yes, Da,” she said as she looked up into her dad’s eyes. “She’s our cousin Forsythia Baggins.”
Sancho sat up straight with surprise. “Baggins?” he asked.
“I’m Dudo and Emerald’s daughter,” Forsythia explained, feeling a bit embarrassed.
“I see. And what do the Bracegirdles want with you?”
“To marry me off to their cousin Bedro.”
Sancho laughed. “And do they truly think that since Lobelia’s day we want another of their clan in the family?” He shook his head. “Well, then I obviously am going to have to help you get somewhere other than into their clutches.”
“Well, we’d decided to head to the Great Smial first,” Narcissa said. “As Forsythia’s mother was born there and she’s a great granddaughter to the Old Took, I believe we can call on the Thain for aid.”
“Then shall we give you a lift?”
“Glad to accept it, although I’d not thought I’d get home only to head out for Tuckborough almost immediately.” She saw Forsythia into the wagon and turned to lock the door, then joined Sancho on the box.
In moments they were on the way to Tuckborough via Whitwell. “Thought they’d pay less attention to this way, if they were to realize someone had given you a lift,” Sancho said. “Griffo and Daisy were visited by Brendilac Brandybuck the day before yesterday, and he and they left for Westhall yesterday morning, Griffo stopping by to speak with me quietly as they left the village. He told me there was some problem that might involve you as soon as you got home, and asked if I could keep an eye out for you. I checked yesterday and saw no sign of you, so as soon as Cyclamen came in the door we come to get you and hopefully find out what is going on. I know I am not going to allow anyone to push my cousins into unwanted marriages.” He looked over his shoulder at Forsythia. “You’re not even twenty-five yet, are you?”
She shook her head. “Only twenty-three. Even if Da signed for it, it wouldn’t be legal--at least I don’t think it would.”
Sancho looked at her consideringly. “No, we at least were twenty-five, Angelica and me. Course, if Frodo hadn’t spoken for us, perhaps we wouldn’t be married now; but he saw how much we loved each other and got our folks calmed down and on our side.” He turned his eyes back forward, a wave of sadness for a moment reflected on his face. “May the Valar ease him,” he murmured softly.
Just as softly, Narcissa responded, “I believe they are doing so, Sancho.” He looked at her questioningly, and she smiled, then looked over her shoulder at Sancho’s daughter. “Cyclamen, did you tell your dad about the White Tree yet?”
“The White Tree? Oh, yes, Dad, you can’t believe how beautiful it is, growing there before the Citadel of Minas Tirith--except they call it Minas Anor once again....”
By the time they arrived at the door to the Great Smial Cyclamen had told her father the story of the White Tree from the gift of a seedling from Elvenhome to Númenor, the smuggling of a seedling away by Isildur and its eventual planting in Minas Anor, the death of the last White Tree as the Line of Kings waned in Gondor, of the finding of the new one up in the Hallows on the mountain as described by the King himself, of its replanting, of seeing the old one where it had been laid to rest in the Rath Dinen, and finally of the last night with the King, going out to the Tree to offer it and its ancestor in Elvenhome greeting, and feeling as if, for a moment, Frodo were there, too, and that he was happy.
Sancho looked over his shoulder at his daughter, and saw that the pleasure in her was too deep and solemn to be only imagination. No, she truly believed she’d felt Frodo’s presence. He looked at Narcissa beside him, and she, too, nodded. “We all felt as if he were there, somehow there, beneath the other Tree, aware of us as we were aware of him. And the expression on the King’s face--it was so gentle, so tender. Frodo was happy, Sancho, very happy, and I think surprised, to feel our awareness of him.”
The look on the young carter’s face was well worth the length of story. “I so hope he is happy, Narcissa,” he said gently. “I so hope he is. He has done so much for us all, he deserves all the happiness he can get.”
“We know. And now--we now understand better what all four of them did and what it cost all of them, how very close we all came to being in a new age of darkness. I wish you and Angelica could have gone with us, Sancho. I so wish it.”
He smiled as he set the brake on the wagon and got down to help the three lasses out. At the same time the door opened and one of the housekeepers came out.
“Yes, may we help you?” she asked, giving the freight wagon a sidelong glance.
Narcissa straightened. “Hello, Willa. We need to speak with the Thain and his heir, if they are available.”
Willa recognized her. “Mistress Narcissa? Miss Forsythia? I see. If you will come in I will see if the Thain is available at the moment. He and the Mistress were having tea with the Mayor and Master Peregrin and Mistress Diamond, for they’ve only just returned home very shortly ago.”
“Yes, I know,” Narcissa said, smiling. “This is Master Sancho Proudfoot, one of Frodo’s cousins from Hobbiton, and his daughter Cyclamen.”
Willa’s face broke into a smile. “Oh we are always glad to host Frodo’s other kin, sir. Welcome.” She led them into one of the front day rooms. Many of the gammers who’d gathered there to enjoy the sun turned to look at them with interest as Willa headed off to the Thain’s private dining room.
She was back very shortly and led them to the door and bowed them in, as a maid set out cups and plates and utensils for the three of them.
Paladin rose with pleasure. “Welcome back, Narcissa. Sancho, Cyclamen, Forsythia. Would not have expected to see you this soon, I must say. Did you come home to find a situation that needs to be dealt with immediately, Narcissa?”
Narcissa nodded and explained what she’d found in her smial on her return and the circumstances surrounding the apparent marriage proposal. The Thain, the Mayor, and Pippin looked to one another, their faces grim. “Did you lock your doors when you left?” Paladin asked.
“Yes, I did.”
“Good. I’ll send Bard, Tolly, and Hildibrand over immediately to check things out in Hobbiton, Bywater, and Overhill. I think Peregrin, Reginard, Coridin and I will accompany the two of you up to Westhall to see to the situation there. What do you think, Will?”
“It sounds like a good plan,” the Mayor answered. “You aren’t twenty-five yet, are you, Forsythia?”
“No, sir, not for almost two more years.”
“Then even if he were your real da and he signed permission the marriage wouldn’t be legal. As it is, the number of signatures required even if you were twenty-five is pretty intimidating in itself, if you remember from when we signed the fostering agreement.”
Paladin smiled, and agreed to bring his copy of the agreement with them. “Do you wish to come with us, Will?”
Will sighed and thought. Finally he answered, “Probably better if I don’t, if Bedro Bracegirdle is involved. This will require another public hearing, and it will be better for my appearance of neutrality if I don’t take part. How about the other Bracegirdles that are supporting Bedro in this? Do you know which Bracegirdles are involved, Sancho?”
“I recognized Largo, Bongo, and Borano when they arrived in Hobbiton.”
“Bartolo doesn’t appear to be involved?”
The carter shook his head. “No, sir. Or, at least not here in our area he isn’t.”
“Good. Would hate to see him involved in this, for Delphie’s sake. I’m certain Bigelow will be into it up to his eyebrows--he’s getting more and more heavily into drinking as the years pass, and am not certain how his liver is holding up to it all.”
Paladin turned to Eglantine. “I hope you don’t mind just having Pippin arrive home and going off again, but we ought to be back in three days’ time. Can you spare your husband, do you think, Diamond?”
Diamond sighed and nodded, while Eglantine commented, “It’s part of being the Thain, after all. No, just go on with you.”
Pippin smiled and leaned over his mother. “I’ll be back as quick as I can, Mum,” he said, kissing her cheek gently. “Enjoy the brooch.”
“It is lovely, dearling. And you do look so good, so much--”
“So much better than the last time? Yes, I’m certain I do. It was very reassuring. And the King and the Lady Arwen send their greetings.”
“Did you have to stand guard much?”
“About two days out of three, Mum.”
“Well, you’d best get ready. Is Jewel up to the ride, do you think?”
“I’ll ride Musa, Mum. I’m certain she’ll be ready for a good outing.”
“Be careful then, the both of you. Diamond can tell me more of the details while you are gone.”
“I will be glad to, Mum Lanti,” Diamond said.
Pippin nodded, turned to his wife and gave her a hug and a kiss. “You keep care of yourself, beloved,” he murmured.
“And don’t let them give you any sauce, Pippin.”
Pippin smiled and kissed her again, then left to ready himself.
A half hour later Sancho and Cyclamen were on their way home accompanied by the three Tooks sent that way by the Thain while the second proposed party was on its way to Westhall, arriving at the Jumping Cricket in Bedlinger an hour after sunset. The Thain took rooms for them at the inn, and in the morning they rode the rest of the way to Westhall and the Gravellies’ farm. Pippin wore his new uniform, his sword at his belt, while Reginard and Coridin each prominently carried his bow and quiver. The Thain himself drove the pony cart in which he, Narcissa, and Forsythia rode. As they drove they discussed strategy, settling on a plan as they finally approached Westhall shortly before noon.
As they drove past the inn there Narcissa looked for signs of the Brandybuck’s presence. As they passed through the village common Narcissa said, “I wonder where Brendilac is? He left a note that he was coming up to see what was going on, and Sancho said he left Hobbiton with Daisy and Griffo. He’s had a feeling something was brewing here since before we left for Gondor.”
“Brendilac is supposed to be here, then? He’s a remarkably sensible Hobbit--I’m certain he would be circumspect.”
Narcissa nodded, but felt uncomfortable.
There were two other carts and a single pony in the drive when they arrived. Paladin looked at the situation with interest, while Pippin loosened his sword in its sheath and Reginard made certain his bow was properly strung.
“Neither of the carts is the one Brendi usually drives or Griffo’s rig, although the single pony looks familiar--I’m certain I’ve seen it in the Hobbiton area,” Narcissa commented. Together they dismounted and approached the door. Reginard knocked heavily, and after a moment they could hear movement behind it.
“Who’s there?” called a voice.
“Paladin and Peregrin Took,” Reginard answered.
The door opened enough to assure these two were indeed there, then opened reluctantly the rest of the way. Bigelow Bracegirdle stood inside, his eyes suspicious, then lighting up to see that Forsythia was there with the Thain and his heir.
“So,” he said, “you’ve returned the bride to her home, have you?”
“We heard the news that there was a wedding in the offing,” Paladin said pleasantly, “and thought we would escort her back for it. Found her in Overhill.” Forsythia found she did not need to pretend to look apprehensive.
“We will take her now,” Bigelow said, reaching for her.
“Not so fast, Bigelow,” the Thain said. “She is one of my kin, after all, and I’ve a mind to see the marriage contract you’ve written up.”
Bigelow’s face became concerned, and he looked behind him at whoever was also in the entryway. “I’m certain there’s no need for that,” he said hurriedly. “Lothario himself has reviewed it....” They heard a noise as if someone were headed back into the passage to the back of the farmhouse.
“Lothario?” interrupted Paladin. “Interesting. Who is to perform the wedding? I’m certain that Gander wouldn’t agree, for he has routinely refused to marry underage Hobbits.”
“Oh, now, not Gander--we’re to go back to Hardbottle.”
“You won’t be going right this moment,” the Took commented in a voice of steel. “And until I see the marriage contract, no one is going anywhere.” He nodded to his son and his cousins who had ridden escort, and the three pushed their way into the house. Pippin went through the entry and down the passage followed by Coridin, his face set. Reginard stood aside to let the Thain and Narcissa enter on either side of Forsythia. “You see,” the Thain continued, “I was there when the fostering agreement was written and signed, and I am completely aware of its requirements. Until Forsythia and Fosco come of age, they cannot marry without the agreement of the village headman here in Westhall, the Mayor of the Shire, the head of the Boffin family, the head of the Took family--which, strangely enough, is myself; and Mistress Narcissa here as their independent guardian, as well as that of Emro as their physical guardian. Any contract you have, therefore, as I know I have not agreed as yet to any match, will be invalid.”
“But----” Bigelow Bracegirdle had gone white.
There was a noise of argument from further back in the house, and Paladin Took looked that way with interest. “I hope no one is trying to obstruct my son’s way,” he said quietly. “He is rather good with that sword of his, you know.”
After some time further Pippin returned, herding before him Emro Gravelly, who was distinctly drunk, Bedro Bracegirdle, Ted Sandyman, and another Bracegirdle that Narcissa didn’t know. “Fosco isn’t here, and they deny knowing anything about Griffo, Daisy, or Brendilac, although Brendi’s document case is in the kitchen,” Pippin said. He looked to Forsythia. “Any place they might be hiding any of them or their buggy?”
“I’ll go check,” the lass said.
Narcissa looked at the five the Thain and his heir now confronted. “I’ll go with her.” Together they went through the house and out the back door, Coridin joining them; and Forsythia led the way to the known bolt holes, sheds, and storage holes. They found the Brandybuck pony cart in the larger byre, and the ponies in a stall in the smaller one. But after searching high and low they found no sign of the lawyer or the others.
Climbing down out of the hayloft in the larger byre, Forsythia was almost in tears. “They’re not up there, either. Nor are they in the root cellar or the cool storage.”
Coridin looked from one to the other. “Is there anywhere else they and Fosco might be, somewhere they might have escaped to?”
“There’s the hideout where we used to meet with Iorhael,” she said. He looked at her blankly. “It’s what Cousin Frodo had us call him when we first met him,” she said in explanation. “It’s a cave we found when we were ten.” Together she led them off to the northwest where there was a hillier area of the farm covered by trees.
“We are so glad that the Big Men didn’t come here and cut down trees, or they would have found it, I’m sure,” Forsythia explained as they worked their way through brush and shrubs and brambles to a steeper area on the hillside. An outcrop of the rock cast a deep shadow on the face of the bare rock here, and she led her way toward the shaded area, singing out a few lines of what Narcissa recognized as one of Bilbo’s walking songs. In a moment she led the way in through the barely discernible mouth to a small cave, not a great deal more than a shallow room barely big enough for a couple of Hobbit children to find comfortable to sleep in. She turned to the side where she and Fosco always kept candles and a striker in a niche, and quickly had one of them lit. Brendilac Brandybuck lay on the floor wrapped in a bedroll, his face white with pain, and Fosco sat beside him, a water skin and small horn cup at hand. Fosco looked up at them with concern.
“Sythie?” he asked. “Sythie? Are you back? Has Narcissa returned home yet?”
“Yes,” his sister answered him, “Cousin Narcissa just returned yesterday, and we came here together. Mr. Coridin from the Great Smial is with me, too.”
“You’re safe?” he asked. “Mr. Coridin? Is the Thain here, too, then?”
“Yes, he and Pippin have things under control inside the house," Narcissa said. "What happened?”
“Mr. Brendi arrived yesterday evening and demanded to see the marriage contract, saying he knew it was invalid. There was a fight between him and Beasty, who hit him and knocked him down, then kicked him twice, very, very hard in the chest and side. He couldn’t get up, was all bent over himself. They put him into a room and locked him in, only I got him out last night and brought him here. He’s badly hurt, and I don’t know what to do for him. It was all he could do to come here.”
Coridin examined him briefly, looked at Narcissa, and said, “Run for a healer--quickly.”
“I’ll go with you,” Fosco said, rising, glad to give over the care of the lawyer to an adult. Moments later Hobbit lady and lad were racing through the woods and then across the fields to Lyria Bottomly’s home, the lad holding Narcissa’s arm.
Lyria heard the details and immediately sent Fosco next door to get the aid of the Sandheavers, who had three strapping lads. They were headed back to the cave within minutes, Lyria with her healer’s kit over her arm and and the oldest Sandheaver lad with two poles while Narcissa carried two blankets.
Coridin had been giving Brendilac small swallows of water at five minute intervals, calming and seeking to soothe him. Not, however, until he heard Narcissa’s voice would the lawyer calm down. “You are back! You’re safe!” he whispered.
“Yes, I’ve been safe the whole time, for our group was well guarded, between Merry, Pippin, and the Dúnedain who accompanied us. I never thought, however, to be safer traveling than you here in the Shire!”
He smiled up at her through his pain. Lyria examined him, and indicated, “We must get him into a proper bed where I can do proper treatments for his injuries. I will need to do compresses and poultices and to strap his chest....”
Soon the Sandheaver lads had one of the blankets carefully arranged around the poles to make a stretcher, Brendilac was wrapped in the other two and the one Fosco had brought, and together Coridin, Fosco, and the youngest Sandheaver got him onto the stretcher, lying on his side. With the twins on one side and Narcissa on the other, they headed back to the Gravellies’ farm.