On Wings Of Courage - A Tale of Bywater, by Ainariel

The moonlight cast eerie shadows on the walls of Drogo Hornblower's cell in the Lockholes. He sat, quietly, trying to make as little noise as possible. The time had come; he would not stay a moment longer. Long hours before now he had spent planning, with every ounce of his brain bent on escape. They didn't feed him right, they didn't treat him properly, and he was in unbearable solitude. He had to leave. And now was the time. He would not stay like an animal caught in a trap.

As he waited for the right moment to execute his plan, he thought about he had come to such a desperate moment in his life. Truth be told, it was his own fault, really. Drogo Hornblower had always been a quiet, respectable hobbit by all tales. He was a silversmith and would do anything for anybody. Anybody, that is, except "them". "They" were the ruffians: almost beast-like Men with no more respect for the hobbits of the Shire than if they were mice. They came barging in on Drogo's place of work one afternoon, demanding an order of new silver plates be made for their "Boss". Drogo declared valiantly that he wasn't going to take their orders, that he wouldn't have anything to do with them, and that their "Boss" could starve for all he cared. It was probably the most out-spoken words that ever flew from Drogo's mouth, and he had paid for them with long hours in what was now called "Lockholes". He was in a cell by himself and received only one meal a day. Even non-hobbit beings would be tormented under such conditions, but for hobbits, death would be better than days with only one meal.

Drogo raised his head and looked toward the tiny window in the door of his cell. The candlelight of the guards flickered a moment, then was snuffed out. Drogo waited a few moments, listening intently for the sound of snoring. Long minutes passed when he finally heard what he waited for: a whistling, almost nauseating snore from his guard. He stood on his feet, raising himself onto the tips of his toes. He grasped the ledge of his window, pulling himself up. He found a crack in the sill that he had inspected in the light of that morning. With a silent groan, Drogo put his massive( well, massive by hobbit standards) arms to work, yanking at the crack in the sill. Within minutes, he had pulled the window out of its place.

He pulled himself up onto the sill and slipped out into the cool night air.

I cannot linger here, Drogo thought to himself, although he dearly wanted to just lie back under the stars and gaze at their brilliance. Never had he felt such a love for the outdoors until now. But he couldn't stay outside the Lockholes, or he'd be discovered. He needed to go back now, back to Hobbiton.

******

Drogo felt tears sting his eyes as he looked around at the torn town of Hobbiton. He had travelled all night, only to return to a barren city. Nearly everyone had hidden in their homes or had been taken to the Lockholes.

"How can they do this to us?" he wondered, aloud.

"Terrible, isn't it?"

Drogo turned to see who addressed him, but the sight nearly put him in tears again.

"Mungo Bracegirdle!" Drogo rushed to his friend, embracing him, "I thought you were dead!"

Mungo laughed, jovially.

"Did you, now? Then, you don't know that half the town thinks that you've died?" Mungo asked. Drogo shook his head, finding himself laughing.

"Aye, Drogo, when everyone saw the way they dragged you off, you hollering and the lot, we pretty much figured that they went out and killed you," Mungo continued, "None of us thought they'd let you live with the trouble you gave them."

"Is that so? I had forgotten how troublesome I had been," Drogo admitted, "But what about you? I thought they took you away a long time ago."

"Let me say this, Drogo, old chap, I don't care how many people think we Bracegirdle's are blockheads, for I took the liberty of freeing myself," Mungo openly declared. Drogo shushed him, rapidly.

"You are a blockhead, Mungo," Drogo told him, "They may hear you if you keep on talking so loud."

"They know I'm about," Mungo said, "Take a good look at the hat, Drogo, I'm a Shirriff now."

Drogo was riveted to where he stood. Not Mungo Bracegirdle! Mungo was stupid, but how could he be a traitor?! Was that how he escaped: by way of becoming a Shirriff under "them" to save his own skin?! Drogo was filled with a passionate rage against his friend, and collared him right there in the street.

"Is that why you greeted me in the open, Mungo Bracegirdle?!" he demanded, in a harsh whisper, "Are you a traitor as well as a fool?!"

"Easy, Drogo! I'd never turn you in and you know it!" Mungo whispered back, prying his friend's fists of his freshly-pressed collar, "I greeted you in the open so they would think that you were here freely and not as an escaped prisoner!"

"I'm sorry, then, but who do you think you are?!" Drogo eased up a little, but his fury was still hot, "Why did you join them, Mungo? I thought you at least had sense to know right from wrong."

"I know it's wrong," Mungo admitted, "but, lor, Drogo, they don't let you eat or drink or see anybody. I was going to die in there! Die! I had to think of some ruse to get out."

"So, your ruse was to join them?" Drogo asked, indignant.

"Yes--no! No! That's not it at all!" Mungo corrected himself, rapidly, "I'm a traitor for good! I'm the lousiest Shirriff the Shire will ever see! I just wear the hat so I can live!"

"But you're still a traitor," Drogo concluded.

"What would you have me do?" Mungo demanded, "Die a coward or live a traitor? Either way, I'm in shame. I don't know how long you've been away, but welcome to the world we live in now, Drogo. There's nothing any of us can do; they're bigger and smarter than us." He looked side-ways a few times before continuing, "Farmer Cotton has been harboring those in danger. If you seek help, go to him. They plan on raising a rebellion soon."

"And where will you go?" Drogo asked.

"I'll stick to my duties," Mungo said, "Unlike you, I enjoy life and wish to live."

"Enjoy what, Mungo? What's there to enjoy when we are oppressed by ruffians?" Drogo asked the ultimate question, "I like life as well, but I'm not going to live in a world like this. I will not accept this threadbare, war-torn town as my own. I want Hobbiton back, and, by gum, I'll get it back. Will you come with me?"

"I don't have what you have, Drogo," Mungo said, "I'm an acceptor, not a rebel."

"You're a coward," Drogo mumbled. Mungo looked hurt, but said nothing. He tipped his hat and made ready to leave, but Drogo stopped him.

"Come with me, Mungo," he said, "You don't have to be a rebel to want freedom. You don't have to be a traitor and a coward to enjoy life. Let's go together, in the same way we followed each other around as children." Mungo turned, apprehensively.

"I don't know, Drogo," he said, "I don't have wings of courage."

"We can go up to Farmer Cotton's now," Drogo said, "Take off that silly red feather and we'll go and join our people." Mungo's response came as a look. A moment later, the townsquare was barren once again, only with a subtle tribute to the two hobbits' wings of courage: a small, red feather from a Shirriff hat, lying abandoned in the dirt.
******
"I doubt anyone will be able to stop us if we could just get the town out of their holes," Farmer Cotton told Mungo and Drogo late that evening. They sat in the parlor of his hobbit-hole, sipping tea and discussing the ruffians.

"They came in like a bad storm and got everyone all bewildered," Cotton continued, "they didn't know what hit them."

"Has anyone ever thought about going down to Crickhallow and trying to find either Frodo Baggins or Merry Brandybuck?" Drogo suggested, "Frodo would know about these things and Merry's the type of thinker everybody needs."

"Merry-who? Frodo-which? The lads are never around anymore!" Cotton declared, "Nor is Sam Gamgee or Pippin Took! Nobody anywhere has seen them for at least a year. I don't want to raise suspicions, but I'd think that they had gone and gotten themselves killed. Especially since those Riders came around last year and scared everyone to death. Who knows, they may have taken all four of those boys."

"Sam Gamgee would never allow any ruffian or Rider to take him away from his Gaffer," Rosie spoke up, "or his Shire. He'll come back, just you wait."

"That's so, Rose, but he was best-friends with that Mr. Frodo," Drogo said, "If Frodo followed Bilbo, Sam would follow Frodo. The same goes with Mr. Merry and Mr. Pippin. They were always together, those four." Rosie stood to her feet, a little perturbed and shaken. She set her jaw and pinched her lips together.

"My Sam will come back," she said, stubbornly, "You'll see." She spun around on her heels. Drogo looked at Mungo once she had gone.

"Stubborn lass, isn't she?" he said, "I only wish we had more hobbit-men as stubborn as she is."

"I'll agree," Mungo said, "We could probably win this battle if there were."
******
Drogo Hornblower and Mungo Bracegirdle stayed at Farmer Cotton's house that night, then set out in the morning, learning the where-abouts of the several groups of ruffians. Taking everyone by surprise, Frodo Baggins, Sam Gamgee, Merry Brandybuck, and Pippin Took showed up that day and met with Farmer Cotton. None can pen the joy that beamed from Rosie's face upon seeing the return of her Sam, but joy can be short-lived while a town is on the brink of war.

That night, a riot broke out in the streets; the hobbits against the ruffian oppressors. While there were no hobbit deaths in this riot, the battle to come would claim many.

The next day dawned like any other, with a few exceptions. Up from the woods of Tuckborough, Pippin Took brought with him at least a hundred, strong, fighting Tooks, ready to deal ruthlessly with the ruffians. Everyone was outfitted for battle, with bows and arrows, and a few with swords. Drogo and Mungo were two of these precious few with steel blades. Then, they waited, hiding at Bywater.

Merry Brandybuck had laid the trap. When the ruffians arrived, several hobbits would push in giant wagons to block their escape. Then, they would pounce on their oppressors, ending their rule and gaining back their Shire. It was quite simple, and it would work.

"Are you frightened?" Drogo asked Mungo, while they waited. Mungo looked at him, shrugging a little.

"One should be," he said, "It's not like there are no chances of getting killed. But I suppose it's a sacrifice for the greater good."

"May your wings of courage carry you through this, Mungo," Drogo told him, "I think you have truly found something worth living for."

"I'm just doing my duty, Drogo," Mungo said, "One can't always expect to find something worth living for in battle. But somebody's got to do this; might as well be me."

Then they heard a voice from below. It was Merry.

"Well, you have walked into a trap," he said, addressing the ruffians, "Your fellows from Hobbiton did the same, and one is dead and the rest are prisoners. Lay down your weapons! Then go back twenty paces and sit down. And who try to break out will be shot."

Very few took his orders. They charged the wagons, and took fatal aims at many hobbits.

Following the call of duty,Drogo found himself thinking, I suppose now's the time to take back what's mine.

Simultaneously, Drogo and Mungo lept from the trees, putting to use their family weapons. Drogo slashed right and left, defending himself. Then he came face-to-face with his foe.

He was a tall, squint-eyed man, with brawny arms and a thick neck. Drogo felt his own muscles tense as he looked the Man in the eye. He could almost hear what the Man was thinking:

Stupid, worthless Halfling! Dare to stand in my way! I'll show you where you belong!

"I think you'll find our ground a comfortable place to be," Drogo told him, "at least I hope you will, because that's inevitably where you'll end up."

"I'll make you comfortable, alright," the Man spat, "so comfortable, you'll never feel pain again. You want to know why? You'll be dead, that's why!" He slashed at Drogo's head, only to find that Drogo had dodged the blow, and made a series of painful cuts on his legs. The Man howled in pain, and turned his anger back to Drogo.

Drogo backed away, speedily. The Man was a little more indimidating than he was comfortable with. His eyes darted around, looking for Mungo. Where had he gone? He prayed silently that he hadn't died yet. Drogo at least wanted to apologize to him for calling him a coward two days ago.

Drogo looked up, trembling at the sight of the Man. He'll kill me for sure! he thought, and he knew he would, too. Mercy wasn't in their blood. First he would chop of his arms, then his legs, watch him suffer awhile, then take Drogo's head...

You can't depend on people to fly for you, Drogo, he heard himself say, If you're going to survive on wings of courage, you'd better learn how to fly on your own.

Drogo never ceased to surprise himself. These weren't normal hobbit thoughts, but they were encouraging. He looked up at the Man again, and something inside him snapped.

He brandished his steel and bared his teeth at the Man. The Man stepped back, a little surprised, and Drogo took up a war-cry:

"FOR THE SHIRE!"

"FOR THE SHIRE!!" echoed many of the hobbits. Drogo charged at the Man, thrusting left and right with furiosity that even the Man could not match. He jumped onto the Man's back, hitting the top of the Man's head with the hilt of his sword. The Man crumpled underneath him, fainting away under the blow. Drogo jumped off, making ready to vanquish his foe, but someone grabbed his wrist. Drogo looked back and his eyes met with Frodo Baggins'.

"Let him live," Frodo said, "Take him away with the other prisoners." Drogo was shocked. He had just nearly won his first real fight, and now this do-good wanted him to let his foe live? This Man had nearly taken his life, he deserved death.

"He deserves it, Mr. Baggins," Drogo argued, "He's nothing but a ruthless ruffian that's destroyed our way of life."

"Indeed, I suppose he does deserve it," Frodo answered, "but there are also many in battle that deserve to live. Can you give that to them?" Drogo shook his head, "Then don't be so ready to deal out death in judgment, for that is not for us to decide. Let him live and go in shame with the other prisoners." He held out his hand, and Drogo looked at what he held: a piece of thick rope. Drogo took it, tied up the Man's hands behind his back, and pulled him away to sit with the other prisoners. He looked back to find Frodo, but he had disappeared. He had no idea Frodo had such a way with words, and he began to wonder what all Frodo had done the past year he had been gone...
******
The battle raged on and Drogo took many more prisoners. Time ticked by and the hobbits continued to fight. In reality, it was probably only fifteen minutes, but it seemed ever so much longer than that.

Drogo finished tying up another prisoner and looked around to find any more. He spotted Mungo about six yards away, fighting with all he had and bleeding from his left arm. Drogo took up his sword and ran to his friend's aid, arriving none too soon. Mungo tripped and fell and would have been dead within seconds if Drogo didn't intervene.

Drogo thrust his steel in the way of what would have been a deadly blow to Mungo. He pushed back the Man gallantly, and brandished his steel, waiting for the Man's comeback.

"I will have your head, you disgusting son of pigs!" the Man cried, advancing. Drogo wasn't intimidated this time.

"Why? Is your head not good enough?" Drogo asked, shining a cunning smile, "I suppose you are in need of a new one, for your's is terribly ugly." The Man growled, advancing again, but Mungo was up again, and the two hobbits had taken the Man prisoner within minutes.

"You didn't have to do that, old chap," Mungo said, turning to Drogo. Drogo smiled.

"I know, but you were wounded," Drogo said, "and sometimes one just needs a friend to help him when he can't fly on his own, eh?" Mungo smiled back.

"You're the greatest, Drogo," Mungo said, "I'll repay you somehow."

"Don't, Mungo, it's--"but then there came an arrow from the enemy lines, flying as fast as an eagle, and hitting Drogo square in the back.

"Drogo!!" Mungo cried, catching his friend as he fell. Drogo rolled his eyes up to meet his friend's face, and he made a stouthearted effort to smile, but it really didn't work. He could feel himself fading fast. The arrow had gone deep, too far for any hope of getting it out. He fought to keep his eyes open, and his breath came short.

"It's all right, old chap," he choked, "I can fly on my own this time..."There was a great white light behind Mungo's head as Drogo felt himself falling, falling, falling...no pain...no grief...he was on wings of courage.

Sometimes, "it must often be so...when things are in danger, some one has to give them up, to lose them, so that others might keep them...." -Frodo

------The End

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