Bilbio Bagger awoke one morning to a terrible noise from outside the ridge into which the family smial had been dug, followed by cries of surprise raised by both Men and his fellow villagers. He hastily threw on his clothing and hurried out to find his kinsman Holtgard in confrontation with a group of Men, Holtgard’s family standing a safe distance behind him. “You’d best leave,” Holtgard was saying, “or I’ll have to fight you.”
Bilbio was alarmed. It appeared that this time Holtgard had perhaps taken on a bigger enemy than he might look to conquer, for these Men were big and broad, and probably not above taking what they wanted. But one did need to back up family when it was needed. Bilbio managed to catch the attention of several other Hobbits headed out to find out what was going on and drew them aside. “Don’t let any others join Holt at the moment,” he warned them quietly, “but those of you who have bows or slings or spears, go get them now. We won’t accomplish anything if we just run up alongside Holtgard and try to talk to these, for none of them appears to be of the King’s folk and they aren’t likely to listen to us. No, we need to surround them and throw a few stones of warning at them to get their attention; then when they know they are likely to suffer if they try anything, then we talk. Warn your wives and children to slip out the back way to the hidden bolt-holes in the forest and to keep quiet. We don’t know what this lot is likely to do.”
The others all silently indicated their agreement, and within minutes the village was being quietly evacuated while the menfolk gathered their weapons and found protected sites from which to threaten the invaders.
Holt was still standing between the Men and his wife and children, but the Men had stepped closer, were doing their best to loom over the small farmer and those behind him; and a few were actually moving sideways to try to surround them, perhaps seeking to capture one of the womenfolk or a child to use as a shield or to threaten.
“I tell ye we was give this land!” insisted the leader of the Men. “The village head over that way said as we could settle here, for no one was livin’ on it.”
“I’d not call me and mine no one,” Holt insisted. “We’ve lived here for over three hundred years now. Now, you can just leave peacefully or----”
“Or what, you little manling? What can you do against the likes of us?”
“The village head over that way has no authority to be giving away land, especially land that his folk aren’t living on anyway.”
“I asked you, runt, what you thinks to do about keepin’ us out of land as we’ve took a likin’ to?”
“Do you think we are totally without defenses?”
The Man stepped back half a step and ostentatiously gave the lone grown Hobbit and his huddled womenfolk and young ones behind him a scathing examination. “And what defenses can you give, you rat people? Any of you up to facing this?” He drew out a rather ugly knife.
His stance was that of one accustomed to fighting with such weapons, and Holt found himself straightening, watching the tip of the knife with concern. There wasn’t a great deal a lone Hobbit could do against an armed Man who knew how to use his weapons.
Those who had the group surrounded were watching the place where they knew Bilbio had secreted himself with concern. It was time, he decided, to let these know that Holt wasn’t as isolated and without protection as they thought. He shook the bush by him to signal the rest, and suddenly the knife-wielder found his upper right arm impaled by a short yet nevertheless deadly arrow, and two of the Men who’d gotten closest to the family group behind Holt were staggering as rocks hit them. Several of those behind the leader found arrows in their shoulders, and one in the back of his knee, while one was flat knocked unconscious by the rock that hit him squarely in the temple.
The rest turned in shock, trying to identify where the rocks and arrows had come from; but the Hobbits amongst the trees were slipping sideways to new vantage points and were already prepared for a second volley should it be called for. Bilbio stepped out and signed for the rest not to show themselves. Something about his stance and the bow he held ready to fire gave the Men pause.
“Do you truly think he was without any defense at all?” Bilbio asked, his eyes hard. “And simply because we are smaller than you, do you think you can take what you want from us?”
One of the others who had stood behind the leader and who appeared less belligerent asked, “And how was we to know as this land was already took? We don’t see no houses or barns or fields.”
Bilbio used his arrowtip to point out the village of Bagmaker’s communal grainstore and threshing floor. “Perhaps our homes aren’t obvious to such as you, but certainly that ought to be a sign that this land is already farmed--that and the obvious fields of grain you came over to approach our village. You can’t have missed that those fields were just recently harvested,”
The Men traded looks, and the leader, clutching at his arm and white with shock, licked his lips. “So what, there’s fields after all?” he asked. “With no houses, how’s we to know as they ain’t abandoned? And why’d you shoot at us?”
“Why did we shoot at you?” demanded Holtgard, drawing himself up to his full three and a quarter feet in height. “You come at us in a big group and shout at us and threaten one of us with a knife, and you ask why we might shoot at you?” He shook his head in disbelief.
One of the Hobbits nearest the grainfields slipped sideways through the woods somewhat and finally came out of hiding to approach Bilbio. “There are more Men over that way with a large empty wagon,” he said quietly in Bilbio’s ear. “One of the two left with it is approaching to find out what’s going on, I think.”
Bilbio nodded. “Back into hiding,” he said softly, “and keep him covered as he comes. If he comes too close, fell him.” He gestured toward the path the Man would have to follow, and turned back to the others. “If you are truly looking to settle these lands, then where are your women and children? Where are your tools? Why did you come not with plows but with a single great wagon? It appears to me your intent is to harvest only what we have already gathered.”
Again the Men looked at one another. The one on the ground was starting to rouse. One of those near the leader murmured, “I thought you said as these would be easy to scare.”
“Shut yer mouth,” growled the leader. “These folk ain’t deaf, you know.”
“No, indeed we’re not deaf,” Bilbio said. The Men drew closer together.
There was a whack! and a cry of surprise from the path the Men had entered from. “What...?”
Bilbio called out, “You, there--stop where you are. In a moment we are going to send your fellows back your way. Several of them have arrows in them and will need to have them removed. I suggest you go back to that village of Rumstad over there where the head supposedly told you this land was free for the taking and have their healer deal with them. None of the arrows is likely to kill anyone, although the one with the arrow in the back of his knee might well end up crippled if he tries to walk on it. Break the shafts off and get them loaded in that wagon of yours, and get you gone. And I suggest you don’t come back.”
“Why, you little rats!” began another Man, drawing his own knife and preparing to put it through Holtgard’s chest--until a rock hit him between the eyes and he fell backwards.
The one who’d claimed not to have seen the fields he’d crossed bent over him, concerned. “Burl, Burl--you all right?”
But Burl didn’t rouse, and another crouched down to check. He looked up, his face drained of all color. “He’s dead,” he said, his voice hoarse.
“Dead?” demanded the leader.
Bilbio looked at the Men and in the direction from which the rock had come, then back again. “Do we not have the right to protect ourselves? He intended to kill Holtgard there.”
“Burl was my brother!” cried the one who bent over. “You killed my brother!”
“And you would have killed an unarmed Hobbit and perhaps several members of his family in order to steal our harvest,” Bilbio returned. “Your brother had his knife ready to throw. We Hobbits may not be skilled with edged weapons, but we know how to defend ourselves and our land. Now I strongly suggest a couple of you get the one with the arrow in his knee between you and two others take your Burl, and that you leave as you came, and that you don’t come back. Should you return one of the King’s Men will be here to greet you.”
The Men grumbled, but did as they were told, slowly dragging away the body of the downed ruffian as they turned back.
Bilbio’s son Mero came out of hiding to stand by his father as they watched the Men disappear back the way they’d come. The older Hobbit watched after them, then turned to his son. “Do you think you can get to their wagon first?” he asked.
“Of course, A’da,” Mero answered.
“Then do so. The one who was left will be distracted, and will probably come to help with the hurt one and the dead one. Make certain there’s no drink in the wagon--especially if it’s spirits or ale. Dump it out, and do it now, before they get there. Let them go dry to the healer. We don’t want them drinking themselves into a rage to come back and get vengeance before the day’s out. They’ll probably have to stop and get some water, and the nearest place other than here they can get to the river’s bank is three miles north. They’re more likely to actually go to Rumstad that way, and the folk there won’t easily support them against us. That will give us time to get one of the King’s Men here to hear our side of the story before they can come back. Then track them until they’re to the village. If they seek to return, come back the faster.”
Mero nodded and ran off as quietly as only a Hobbit or an Elf could go. Those near the path watched to see the Men make their way to their wagon, and only when all were loaded into it and it was driven away did most return to the center of the village.
One of Holtgard’s sons was sent off to the bolt-holes to call back the women and children, and a few set about preparing a morning meal while the elders gathered to discuss the situation.
The village was bigger than it had been when the Grey Wizard had come to witness the marriage of Bilbiolo and Platina of the Weavers. There were about twenty family holes now supporting a population of slightly over a hundred individuals, and all the male Hobbits regularly practiced with bow and sling, while all, from youngest bairn to oldest gammer, kept up their skills with thrown stones.
“That was the third time in a year we’ve had strange Men come here,” Imo Longsmial said, his eyes shadowed with concern. “And this time they was set to actually kill.”
“I know,” Corio Bagger, Bilbio’s brother, replied. “If they hadn’t been so loud we could have lost both Holtgard and the grain we have stored before anyone was the wiser.”
“How are you going to get a Kings Man to come here?” asked Holtgard, arriving with his youngest daughter in his arms.
“Why were you provoking them, Holt?” demanded Imo.
“If I hadn’t, would any of the rest of you awakened in time to stop them taking our winter’s store?” Holt demanded. “We can’t survive without that grain, and you know it. We worked hard to get what we did from the harvest this year, and it’s just barely three quarters of what we harvested last year--and we were battling the weevils for it by the time spring got here. Our families can’t live on nothing, you know.” He turned back to Bilbio. “How are you going to get a King’s Man here? And how are we going to feed him once he is here?”
“The folks at Dorlath have several of the King’s Men stationed there. I’ll go there today and be back by tomorrow afternoon.”
“And if those ones try coming back tonight?” asked Imo.
“You’ll have to set folks watching for them,” Bilbio explained. “Mero’s following them to make certain they actually go to Rumstad, and I told him to pour out any drink they have with them so they’ll have to go at least to the low bank three miles up just to get water, and they won’t be able to drink themselves into a state to come after us.”
“They’ll never forgive us that one of their folk died,” worried Jessup Sackins.
“But it would be all right with them to have killed Holt and perhaps one or more of his lads and maybe his sister, wife, and their mother?” demanded Corio. “No, we have the right to protect our own. You saw that fellow--he intended to kill Holt, just because Bilbio told them to leave our village alone.”
“What were you and almost your whole family doing out there just at dawn?” Bilbio asked Holt.
“It was Snowdrop here,” Holt answered him. “She was having a bad dream, and woke us all up saying bad folk were coming, absolutely insisting on it, even. So finally I took her out just to show her they weren’t----”
“Except she was right--again,” Bilbio sighed as his wife Violet arrived from the bolt holes with their granddaughter in her arms. “She dreamed it right when the hail storm was coming last spring, and when the wild boar came through and uprooted so many of the young trees we had just planted, and the time the river overflowed....”
Violet sighed as she eyed the small child in Holt’s arms. “It appears this one dreams true, so perhaps we need to heed her dreams. As for you, trying to face those Men down by yourself was as foolish a thing as anyone’s ever done. It’s a tûk you are if you’re anything. That you’ve lived this long is a miracle, with all the foolish things you have managed to survive in your life.”
“Yes, it’s Holtgard the Tûk I am--Holtgard the lucky Tûk.”
“You should take that as your second name,” Imo commented as he accepted a wooden trencher of food from one of the younger ones.
“Where’s Mero?” Violet asked.
“He’s shadowing the Men to make certain they go to Rumstad. We’ll have warning if they try to come back.”
“You have him following Men in a wagon pulled by horses rather than ponies?” his wife demanded. “He’ll have to run to keep up, and will be ready to drop when he gets back! What if they see him? And why are you bolting your meal?”
“I need to get to Dorlath and fetch back a King’s Man in case they come back or try to complain against us.”
Not long after he was off himself heading for the Dúnedain village of Dorlath in search of one of the King’s Men, pasties and dried meat and fruit in his scrip, a water bottle over his shoulder. He followed the familiar path, hurrying as he could, arriving not long before sunset--except----
There were King’s Men there, examining the smoking ruins. Bilbio walked out into what had been the village square, and suddenly found two swords at his throat and three archers with their bows drawn on him. He froze, waiting to be recognized.
“Put down your weapons--this is a Perian, not an enemy,” commanded a young Man.
“How can we be certain he had no part in this?” asked one of the archers.
“I--I just arrived myself. I was coming to the village for--I was coming for aid for our folk.”
“This was the work of Men, not Periain,” the young Man said. “No Perian would have done what was done to those,” and he pointed at a few twisted shapes lying on the other side of a smoking wall.
Uncertain what it was he was seeing, Bilbio came forward where he could look more closely, then was turning aside to become noisily ill. Then the young Man was kneeling by his side, supporting him, murmuring soothingly at him. At last he found his stomach emptied and starting to settle, and he looked up into the young Man’s eyes, seeing grief, fury, and determination in equal parts there.
More Men were coming in, two of them carrying small children in their arms, children who were alive and clinging to them. “We found them crouched about the body of a young woman, either their mother or perhaps an aunt,” one of the soldiers reported. “She had two arrows in her. She must have bled to death.”
Their young captain’s jaw clenched. He turned his attention to Bilbio. “You said you were coming for aid yourself?”
Bilbio looked about at the remains of the village, then paused as he heard furtive movement in the bushes. He pointed that way, and quietly the King’s Men melted to one side or another.
Out of the shadows of an orchard came five older children, two lasses among Men and three lads, and one woman carrying an infant in her arms. They looked about warily, then with growing relief as they recognized their own folk in the armed Men. “You came!” the woman said. “You were too late to save the village, perhaps, but not to save the rest of us. There are a few more, I think, here and there hidden in the fields and woodlots. They came in the middle night. They took some as slaves, I think, and some of the women among us, they----”
“We know,” the young captain said.
“Mostly they appear to have been after our stored harvest,” she finally managed to add.
“It was the same at our village,” Bilbio said. “It was just ere dawn when a number of Men came with a large empty wagon, apparently intending to steal our grain. We were able to chase them away, and we slew one of them. We sent them off toward Rumstad, told them to use the healer there to get the arrows out. They had knives, and at least one had a sword. They intended to kill us if any of us got in their way.”
The armed Men all looked at one another. “This sounds as if someone is purposely focusing on smaller villages,” the captain said, “stealing their harvests and taking some as slaves, then taking all they’ve gathered for some purpose of their own.”
“Common thieves, or a small private army?” one of the older Men suggested.
“Shall we go and find out, gentlemen?” the young captain asked.
“What of these, though--the survivors of Dorlath and this village of Periannath?” asked another younger Man.
“I came only to fetch a King’s Man in case they should return,” Bilbio said, shaking his head. “Our folk are on the watch, and my son is following the Men and their wagon. They did turn toward Rumstad.”
The captain thought, then gave a nod of decision. “Pergilad, you keep five others here by you. Dig proper graves and see the fallen here honored properly, and then gather all goods and food that can be gathered. Verdig, I’m sending you as messenger to Fornost--bring back ten more Men and two wagons, and supplies for these. We’ll send them west toward the lands surrounding the Crossroads. No, make that at least five wagons, and we’ll see about moving the Periain and their harvest as well. We don’t have enough Men to protect these lands now, what with Angmar’s increased activity.”
“Shall we wager on whether or not Angmar is behind these attacks and the stealing of the harvests here?” growled the older Man.
“Why should we wish to move our village?” demanded the Hobbit.
“There have been forty assaults on villages and farmsteads in this region in the past two months,” the Captain explained. “All have begun in the night, and all that we’ve been able to investigate were preceded by visits from strange Men who appear to have been watching the growth of crops and judging when they would be harvested. This has been true of villages of both Men and Periain.
“You say your folk routed those intent on taking your village. How?”
Briefly Bilbio described the encounter, including the fact a thrown stone had apparently led to the death of one of the Men. “My own folk are fearful, Master,” he said, shaking his head. “We managed to kill one of their Men, and so they are more likely to want vengeance as a result.”
The captain straightened. “I see. It was well and masterfully done, your routing of them. But you are correct--they are more likely to want vengeance now. No, we’d best find them and those who sent them, and see an end to it. But at least now we have a clear idea as to where these were headed, which indicates where their commanders are likely to be. And you are certain they are not of our folk?”
“Definitely not of your people, Master,” Bilbio replied.
The Man again considered. He looked again at the one identified as Verdig. “If you find my father’s troops, send them toward Rumstad. Tell him we may have found those who have done these attacks, and that they are far more numerous than we’d thought.”
“Yes, Lord Argeleb,” Verdig answered, clasping his right arm to his chest and bowing slightly.
“And you say you sent your son to follow the wagon sent apparently to carry your grain?” Argeleb asked the Hobbit.
“Yes, Master. Mero will watch them well.”
“How many horses to pull the wagon?”
“And how many wounded?”
“Four all told, plus the body of the one known as Burl.”
“With one to drive the wagon, that’s at least six in it. That’s a heavy load,” Pergilad noted. “They won’t be moving fast.”
“You saw no other horses?”
“None, Master,” Bilbio told him.
“And how many Men in all?”
“Perhaps ten still able to fight, sir.”
“Sixteen, then, sent to take your stores, and most now on foot.” At last the captain smiled. “Then it appears we may at last have a chance of catching up with them fairly easily.” He turned. “Dúngil--fetch our horses and tell most to mount up. We are going to hunt some raiders, and if possible take them alive.” He looked down at Bilbio. “Would it disturb you to ride before me, small Master?” he asked.
The Hobbit swallowed. “I suppose not, Master.”
The woman with the babe was coming forward. “Captain, you are our Prince?” she asked, her face losing much of its burden of care. “Oh, bless you, my Lord Argeleb, that you yourself are come among us and will avenge our village. The Valar guide you!”
And then things were happening swiftly as horses were being brought up, the tall, young captain was swinging up into his saddle, and Bilbio found himself being lifted up and settled before Prince Argeleb himself....
“Now, why would me and mine wish to go further west?” demanded Lithiro of the Sackers. Once those known now as the Sackers had been part of the village of the Makers of Bags, but their quarrelsome and suspicious nature had led them to leave and found a village of their own, one to which many of predominantly Stoor blood had been drawn. One of the children of Merlin and Starflower had gone with them, but the other four had chosen to remain in the village of the Baggers, and in time a few like Jessup Sackins had returned to the first village.
Bilbio sighed as he tried again to explain to this, his distant kinsman. “The King and his son are pursuing a war in the area. They’ve found several bands from Angmar were sent down to steal as much of our harvests as they can, and then to burn the villages and even salt the land in some cases. They’ve enlisted folk from south of here to aid them, giving them part of the harvests they steal and apparently taking the rest north back to their own lands to support their armies. I’m not certain whether their harvests have been worse than ours or if they’ve raised so many soldiers they don’t have enough left to work the land; but they are intent on taking all foodstuffs they can get, and are taking many as slaves as well.
“I’ve seen many of the farms and villages they’ve taken--they’ve all been burnt afterwards. If we want to keep from having our people taken by the raiders or ridden over by the armies we’re going to have to move out of the way.”
“I’m not going west,” insisted Lithiro’s older son Beled. “If we must leave our own village we founded and dug out ourselves, then I’m going east, back over the mountains, back to the great River where our folk lived before.”
Lithiro’s brother Blado looked from his brother to his nephew, and sighed as he returned his attention to Bilbio. “How long do we have to get ready?”
“Two weeks. The King is providing wagons to carry our goods and our stores, and we can take them all the way to the Breelands. So far the enemy hasn’t disturbed those lands, apparently. But we have to leave. Dorlath is no more, and those who managed to survive and who were rescued from slavery are going west with us, west and in some cases north.”
“Wise idea,” grumbled Lithiro, “when the enemy is from the north to head that way as if it was safer.”
“Well, the enemy is both from north and south of us,” Bilbio pointed out. “They haven’t assaulted the King’s fortress of Fornost yet, though. I think most who go north intend to go there, or perhaps to Annúminas, although that’s not as safe as Fornost.”
“And you’re going west?” asked Lithiro as if only now was he certain Bilbio was indeed leaving his home village.
“We are all going west. The village of the Makers of Bags is simply no more at this point. We killed a Man to protect our harvest, and then helped kill more when the raiders returned. If they come again they’ll kill all of us, and the King’s Men can’t spare enough to serve as guards indefinitely. Now, will you be ready in two weeks when the King’s Men come with the wagons?”
Blado sighed. “I’ll go with you, then. Can’t speak for all our folk, but those who agree to come--we’ll be ready.”
And when the wagons came, two thirds of the village of Sackers were prepared to load their goods and two thirds of their harvest into the supplied conveyances as well as their own; and the rest were preparing to weather it out till spring and then head east, back over the mountains to the homelands of their ancestors.
Marcho and Blanco, sons of Snowdrop and the Fallohide Snowdrop had married, and grandsons of Holtgard the Took, watched as more refugees entered Bree. Many of these were from the southlands, folk who had come north ahead of the forces of the Dunlendings, folk with no knowledge of living with Hobbits.
“This is impossible,” Blanco said, shaking his head. “How are we to deal with trying to live alongside these?”
The east gate of Bree village opened, and through it came a detachment of sixteen soldiers escorting another line of wagons and what appeared to be seventy more Hobbits, fathers carrying children, mothers leading others, older lads and lasses pushing barrows and pulling carts, occasionally leading cattle or swine, and a few wealthier ones driving their own wagons pulled by teams of draft ponies or oxen.
The Men arriving from the south looked at the Hobbits from the east and goggled.
Mero Bagger came to stand behind the two younger Hobbits. “The Breelands can’t absorb all of us,” he sighed.
Marcho stood up and turned to his older kinsman. “It’s time for a new migration--one only of Hobbits this time,” he said. “I’m for going north to Fornost to see the King. I think it’s past time we Hobbits demanded a land of our own, one we don’t have to share with Men.”
“Blado would only say we were definitely the Took’s grandsons, leaving the security we have now to look for empty places for ourselves,” Blanco pointed out.
“Well, if Granfer was a fool, then he was a wise enough one to follow Bilbio here and protect his own as he always did. Now let’s find out just how wise or foolish we might be.”
Followed by Mero, the two brothers approached one of the captains of those who’d escorted the Hobbits in through the gates. “Captain,” Blanco called out, “if we were to go north to Fornost would we find the King?”
“You will if you reach there within the next two weeks,” the Man answered. “But why would you wish to find the King?”
“We have a boon we wish to have of him.”
The Man shrugged. “He’s always had a soft spot for you Hobbits,” he commented. “I doubt he’d turn you down if it’s within his ability to grant you whatever you might wish for. But it’s a long way by foot. How many of you would be making the trip?”
Blanco looked at Marcho, who shrugged, and then both looked back at the soldier. “The two of us, unless,” he said turning to Mero, “you’d wish to go with us.”
Mero looked from one to the other, then shook his head. “If you’re going to beg lands from the King for our folk, then I’ll need to stay here to convince those who haven’t been able to take lands of our own as yet that we’ll all have a chance if you’re successful.”
The brothers nodded, then turned decidedly back to the Man. “Just two, for now,” Marcho told him.
“Well, I’m headed north to Fornost myself tomorrow to make my report, and will be taking four Men with me. We could have you ride with us, if you’re willing.”
The two brothers took identical deep breaths, looked again at one another, then turned and let the breaths go, nodding. “Yes, we’ll be ready,” Marcho said.
Argeleb looked at the two Hobbits who stood before him, saw the trust they gave him. “Let me think on this overnight,” he said. “I’ll have my seneschal give you
rooms for the night, and I’ll give you my answer in the morning, if that is acceptable to you.”
“Very acceptable, my Lord King,” Blanco said.
“Very well,” the King said, starting to turn away, but a cut off question from the other brother caught his attention. “You had something further to ask?”
Marcho flushed somewhat. “It’s just the story we were told some time ago. Did our uncle Bilbio really ride before you on your horse?”
“You are related to Bilbio of the Baggers?” the Man asked, surprised.
“Yes. He and our grandfather told us of it when we were bairns, you see, and Mero was telling us as we left we looked just like his father did, riding before the King’s son as they returned to the village from Dorlath.”
Argeleb smiled. “Yes, a brave Hobbit if there ever was one, Bilbio of the Baggers; and I remember Mero as well, how winded he was for he’d just returned to say the raiders were on their way back with reinforcements. We had so little time to prepare.” He examined the two of them. “Your folk all acquitted themselves well that day, as they had the preceding one. I wish to grant your request, but must think on what lands will suit you best. As I said, I will give you your full answer in the morning. Go now with Dunald here, and he will see rooms prepared for you and a repast for your refreshing.”
Argeleb accepted their bows, and left to mount the stairs to the tower and the door onto the walls. He would rather not be here in Fornost, for he had no love of stone walls and towers, after all; but Annúminas would be too vulnerable to attack if he were to dwell there at the moment. The constant battles with forces sent from north and south as well had set so much of Arnor again in turmoil, and he wished to see the lands under his governance at peace again for at least a generation or two.
He emerged onto the walls and began walking the circuit of them, eventually coming where he could look southwards. That was where he truly wished to go, truth be told--south to their sister nation of Gondor, to seek perhaps a new understanding between the North and South Kingdoms, perhaps make an alliance with Telemnar. It was said Telemnar had two daughters and two sons. Perhaps one of those daughters would find herself attracted to Arvegil, and a bit of the division between the heirs of Isildur and Anárion might be erased.
He wished Gandalf were here, but the Grey Wizard had been gone for some years. Who knew when he might return to the Northlands again?
Before he’d left the last time, just after Argeleb accepted the Sceptre and donned the Elendilmir for the first time as King of Arnor, Wizard and new King had stood here on these walls. The winds of sunset had blown over them, blowing Gandalf’s hair and beard into even more tangles. The Wizard had left his great hat below in the rooms that were ever his on his visits, and the light of the setting Sun had shone brightly on him, turning his silver-grey locks into a fiery halo about his head.
“I’ve been thinking of the lands there west of the Baranduin, my Lord, and thinking what might be best to do with them.”
“What of them, Gandalf?” Argeleb had responded.
“They are yours, are they not, through inheritance as well as administration, particularly as with Endorgil’s death Mirucar left no other heirs beside his sister, who was married to Celebrindor, is it not true?”
“Well, yes, I must suppose so.”
“Yet none of your ancestors has given thought to seeing them settled once more.”
“No, we haven’t, for Celebrindor foresaw they were to be set aside for a special purpose. However, we have no idea what that special purpose was intended to be.”
Gandalf had nodded. “I see,” he said. “I’d always wondered. They are a gentle land, rich for farming, filled with hills and valleys, ridges and the floodplains of the Baranduin. Very little is left to indicate these were the heart of the farmlands for Cardolan. A people might find peace there, and the ability to flourish, if given the chance. A people that would be faithful, if in its own odd way, to your descendants.
“Tell me, Argeleb,” he continued as if changing the subject, “what you think of Hobbits.”
“Hobbits?” Argeleb answered, bemused by the question. “What are Hobbits?”
“You don’t know?” Gandalf asked. “Oh, dear me. Well, I’m certain you are aware that there live amongst your folk a people that is quite small and prefers to live in quiet places....”
“You mean the Periain or Periannath? I’d have thought them but an old story if I hadn’t come upon them many years back when I served as my father’s primary captain.”
“You’ve met Periain?”
“Yes, in the ruins of Dorlath. One of their folk, Bilbio of the Baggers, had come to seek help against raiders come to steal his village’s harvest.”
At the name the Wizard’s face had softened, although his attention was obviously caught the more. “Bilbio,” he said quietly, “Bilbio of the Baggers.” He smiled. “And what has become of the village of the Makers of Bags and its people?”
Argeleb sighed. “We had to empty it and send them west to the Breelands. Angmar and those Dunlendings from southern Rhudaur were invading that region, and were stealing all the crops our folk had harvested and burning all the villages. All of the Periain we could convince to leave the region were sent to the Breelands, and many dug their homes there into Bree Hill and work alongside the Men of the village. And we look to have many more working the land thereabouts--already they awaken it to farming again, and their harvests have been rich.”
“Indeed?” The Wizard chewed at his lip briefly, then smiled again. “The lands there, west of the Baranduin--they could support a good number of Hobbits, don’t you think?”
“What? Hobbits in the heart of what had been Cardolan?”
“Why not? They are excellent farmers, and would make of it an idyllic country, don’t you think? And you must remember that Cardolan is no more. Perhaps it is time for a different stewardship to come to it. From the Baranduin west to the far downs, from the northern moors to the marshes of the south....”
And so the day had come that a land was asked of him by Periannath--by Hobbits; and he found himself fully inclined to indeed give them that land. Yes, give them the land indeed, just as Gandalf had suggested so many years ago.
Well, why not?
He went down into the Citadel and called for his archivist and his scribe, his Steward and legal advisor, and for much of the night they worked at seeing the agreement written.
In the morning after enjoying a wonderful breakfast served them in their rooms, Blanco and Marcho were called to meet with the King in the Council room. There on a table sat a map and a scrolled document, now open. “We have found appropriate lands for you,” the King said without preamble, “and not far from your current dwellings. Once this was the primary farmland for all of Arnor; but since the division of the Kingdom much has changed. It has lain empty for a long time, but I would see it peopled again with those who would care for it.”
“And what is our part of the bargain?”
The King smiled. “At the moment the scribes and copyists are readying more copies of the charter we prepared overnight, but all is set down here in this scroll. Your people keep the roads and the great bridge over the Baranduin in repair, you assist our Men and Messengers when they must ride the Road west toward Lindon and Mithlond or south toward the Sarn Ford, you acknowledge the sovereignty of the King, and you send archers to support our troops if a general muster of the armies of the North Kingdom is called. In return that land is yours to settle and farm as you please, and you may govern yourselves again as you please as long as your laws do not conflict with those of Arnor. When you have sufficient excess to trade abroad, our agents will be pleased to purchase foodstuffs and other goods from you for the benefit of the entire realm.”
The Charter was written first in Sindarin and then in Westron, and Blanco found himself going over the text with the aid of the lawyer, questioning how and why it was written as it was. In the end, after going over the terms and agreeing to two minor changes the two brothers indicated they would accept it.
Two more copies were brought in, and the scribes were quickly set to amend them in keeping with the original. The two Hobbits stood, trembling slightly with anticipation, as they finally saw the two copies set down by the one they’d already read. They could find no differences between the three scrolls, and finally all prepared to sign.
Argeleb’s scribe, who was unaccustomed to having to work all night and so long into the following day as was happening now, found himself yawning as he brought out the quill with which the document was to be signed, and accidentally knocked over the bottle of ink--fortunately onto the floor and not onto the prepared documents.
“Never mind,” the King indicated. “Just set something over the spill to blot it up and fetch another bottle of ink.”
The scribe hurried out and came back with a new bottle and set it before the King. Argeleb the Second uncapped it and took up the quill pen and dipped it into the ink and scrawled his signature across the paper. The new ink proved to be red. He sighed, then noted that the eyes of the two Periain were wide with surprise, and that they were very impressed. He shrugged. If the two signing for the Hobbits were happy with the signatures being written in red ink, who was he to question it? Let them have their signatures in red ink, and he would know that the empty lands that had once been the heartland of Cardolan were well cared for. He handed the pen to the taller of the two brothers, and Blanco signed his name, then Marcho.
The seneschal signed it next, and the Steward, his scribe and his assistant, then Arvegil as the one who next would have to see the terms met, the lawyer and finally his the clerk who would see the King’s copies filed in the archives here and in Annúminas.
“Seven witnesses to the signing,” Marcho noted, and his brother nodded. With that they stood as tall as they could and stepped back, bowing to Argeleb and his son. “We will care well for this land, our Lord King,” he said. “We will care very well for it, and we do not think you will ever regret having granted it to us. Thank you.”
“Indeed, we thank you,” Blanco repeated. “To have a land that is proper only to our own kind is something we have never known. But we will ever care for it--of that you may be certain. Now we will go to prepare for our return to Bree.” And accompanied again by Dunald they returned to their quarters to gather the few belongings they’d brought with them for the trip back south, and the King ordered food sufficient for the journey be readied for them.
That he had just prepared a legacy that would work to the good for all of Middle Earth he never realized during his lifetime.