Chapter One: The Shire’s Need
The year of 1147 had been one of the finest years in the history of the Shire, and the autumn harvest was plentiful. Everything was peaceful and quiet, as hobbits prefer. The Thain of the Shire, Ferumbras II was fair and just, well liked and very friendly with the people – he was often seen riding his tall grey pony around the countryside, visiting small villages and towns.
The Annual Harvest Festival in Quarry was livelier than ever this year, and it was talk of the entire Shire months before it even came. Preparations were being made, booths built, goods readied, quilts and new clothes sewn. The Quarry-folk also had a special reason for being so excited: this was the first year that the Harvest Festival had been held in their small North-Farthing town. It was normally held in the much larger Tooksank, Buckland or Hobbiton.
The morning of the Festival found a young hobbit leaning against a tree, a piece of straw sticking out of the corner of his mouth. He was definitely of pure Fallohide blood: pale skin, a slender build, and luminous, pale green eyes, which sometimes seemed to change to an azure blue in certain light. His thick, curling hair was a light mahogany brown, as were the slight sprinkling of freckles across his nose.
At the moment, this young hobbit seemed to be waiting – impatiently – for someone in particular. He sighed, raising his eyes to the heavens, and sank down into the grass, leaning his head back against the bole of the tree. He muttered something under his breath, and began idly picking little blades of grass.
Finally, the sound of singing could be heard, and the hobbit raised his head. Coming up the dirt road towards him was another hobbit, also a Fallohide, judging by the slim figure. The hobbit was singing in a loud, merry voice, apparently unaware of the awaiting one sitting beneath the tree, and took his time approaching.
As he neared, he stopped singing abruptly, and called out, “Hoy! Milo!” The hobbit waiting impatiently beneath the tree stood up, taking the straw from his mouth and tossing it to the ground. “Hullo, Kali,” he said in a good-natured but slightly annoyed voice. “‘Tis about time you’ve decided to join me.”
The hobbit, Kali (short for his more commonly used full name of Kalimac*) reached the tree and grinned. He was also fair of skin (though not as pale as the first hobbit), with a head of wild, dark golden curls and deep brown eyes. When he smiled, he showed the two dimples in his cheeks. It was clear with one look at his face that he was naturally good-natured and even a bit mischievous.
“Have you been waiting here all morning, Milo?” Kalimac asked, leaning casually against the tree.
“Yes,” Milo answered, still attempting to look annoyed, but visibly having trouble containing a smile. “I’ve been up since dawn, but I expect that you’ve only just gotten out of bed, you good for nothing sluggard.” He meant this in jest, and the other knew it. Kalimac playfully cuffed him on the shoulder. “Come now,” he teased. “You expect me to believe that you’ve been up since dawn? I’m not so easy to fool, cousin.”
Milo sighed and shook his head, his annoyed frown giving way into an amused grin. “I have some errands to run before the Festival,” he said, smoothly changing the subject. “And I was planning on riding, if you’d like to come?”
Kalimac nodded, eager for any opportunity to ride. “Certainly! Are you going to enter the race?”
Milo blew a stray brown curl from his eyes. “Of course,” he said. “I met up with Griffo yesterday. He was bragging about his new pony, come from Bree, he said, which he thinks is going to win the race.” He shook his head again, as though finding it truly sad that Griffo Proudfoot, the town annoyance (a downright bully to those younger than him), would seriously think that his new pony could win the Festival Race that was to take place that afternoon. “My Briony could beat his fat old `Prancer’ any day.”
Kalimac nodded in full and hearty agreement. Neither of them much liked Griffo, and he was often the victim of their infamous practical jokes (as they were just as often the victim of his teasing). “So could Shilling,” Kalimac was quick to say about his beloved pony. “Perhaps he should give his pony a new name, like `Plodder?'”
“Or `Turtle?'” Milo suggested.
“Or…” Kalimac thought a moment. “I know! `Fatty Lumpkin!'”
Both lads laughed heartily at the sheer ridiculousness of the name, and as they continued talking, they walked down the road, arms across each other’s shoulders. They stayed on the wide dirt road until it forked into two smaller ones. They took the left-hand path, leading further into the forest.
Amiably chatting and teasing, they strolled leisurely through the forest until they came to a small, fenced pasture at the edge of the trees. There, about half a dozen ponies were grazing contentedly in the warm autumn sun.
Milo and Kalimac hopped up to sit on the split log fence, and Milo, putting two fingers in his mouth, gave a long, shrill whistle. One of the ponies, a dark strawberry roan, lifted its head and gave an answering whinny.
“Come over here, Briony!” Milo called. The pony hesitated a moment, and then trotted over to the fence, head-butting her master so hard that he nearly fell off the fence.
Milo laughed and patted Briony’s neck. “You want an apple, girl?” He reached into the pocket of his breeches and pulled out a whole red apple. Briony’s ears pricked up and she pawed the ground with one front hoof, her liquid brown eyes pleading. “Now, now,” Milo said, pretending to be stern. “No begging. Stop it.”
Briony obediently stopped her pawing and stood still. “Very good,” Milo said with a smile, and held out his hand with the apple. Briony eagerly took the entire thing into her mouth and trotted a short distance away with it to eat.
“Uh-oh,” Kalimac said, tapping Milo’s shoulder. “I hope you brought enough apples for the whole herd.” Looking up, Milo saw the rest of the ponies, watching Briony eating, begin heading towards them. “Uh-oh,” Milo echoed Kalimac’s earlier gasp. “Did you bring anything for Shilling?” Shilling was Kalimac’s black and white pinto, who had broken into a canter and was heading directly towards them.
Kalimac dug around in his breeches pocket and pulled out a carrot. “It’s not enough for the whole herd,” he pointed out frantically. “I know that,” Milo replied. “Break it into little pieces and throw them!”
The herd was alarmingly close to the fence now, and Briony was being chased around the pasture by a few of them after her apple. Kalimac quickly broke off a small piece of the carrot and tossed it as far as he could. Two of the ponies went after it, and the two that had been following Briony stopped and headed towards the fence.
Kalimac broke off another piece and tossed it. Another pony went after it. There were only two left, but he wanted to save the largest piece for Shilling. He broke off another small bit of the carrot and threw it, and then held out the rest of the carrot for Shilling, who hadn’t even glanced at the tossed pieces.
While Shilling munched happily on what was left of the carrot, Kalimac slid off the fence, onto the pony’s back, pulling Milo with him. With Kalimac holding onto Shilling’s mane, and Milo’s arms tightly wrapped around Kalimac’s waist, they trotted through the pasture towards Briony, who was still eating her apple under the shade of a large tree.
Upon reaching her, Milo slid off Shilling’s back and walked cautiously over to Briony, not wanting to startle her. She continued to eat contentedly, paying him no heed except to turn her ear slightly in his direction. Milo patted her shoulder and she turned to look at him, licking her lips, trying to get every bit of the sweetness that the apple had left.
Milo carefully swung up onto her back, and gently urged her into a walk back towards Shilling and Kalimac. “She spooks easily,” he explained to his cousin as they began trotting through the pasture. Kalimac smirked and patted Shilling’s neck. “Not old Shilling here,” he bragged. “Nothing scares him.” Both of them laughed, knowing what a large exaggeration that was – Shilling had been known to shy at his own shadow.
Reaching the far side of the pasture where the gate was, Milo slid off Briony’s back and opened it, making sure Kalimac and Shilling went out first. Then, he got back up on Briony, keeping a firm grip on her mane, and shut the gate, looking up to see the rest of the herd heading towards them. “Sorry!” he called to them with a laugh, turning Briony around. “Not today!” Then, he urged Briony into a quick trot to catch up to Kalimac and Shilling.
By the time Milo and Kalimac had finished the errands, played a prank on Milo’s older sister, Miriel, raided a local farmer’s crops, and stopped to have several meals in between, the Festival had begun and the race was not far away.
The two lads rode into the marketplace where the Festival was located, still bareback, but each with a halter and reins. The crowd was thickly packed, so they stayed on the outskirts, able to see over the heads of the spectators from their high vantagepoints.
“Has the race started yet?” Milo asked the taller Kalimac, who got up on his knees to look.
“Half a minute.” Kalimac shaded his eyes and looked around, trying to spot other racers. At last, he spied the large green field, hidden by hobbit holes and tall banners, where the race was to take place. “Ah, there’s the track,” he said excitedly, glancing down at Milo. “And…there’s your parents, Milo. They’re talking with my parents over by a pie booth, and…” He gasped and nearly lost his balance. “Good Heavens! Is that Willow offering them some pie?” Miss Willow Gamgee was a very cheerful, good-natured (not to mention quite beautiful) hobbit lass who had won more than a few lads’ hearts, Kalimac Brownlock’s not the least.
Milo threw up his hands in exasperation. “Kali!” he exclaimed. “I don’t care about Willow! Has the race started yet?”
Kalimac got down to the proper position on Shilling’s back and gave Milo a wide grin. “Do you know something, cousin? You worry too much. Of course the race hasn’t started! Don’t you think I would have told you that?”
Milo raised one eyebrow and smirked. “Quite honestly, no.”
Kalimac laughed. “That’s harsh, Milo!” The two turned their ponies away from the crowds and made their way around the marketplace, to the pasture where the race would be held.
“Well, if it isn’t Milo Digwell and Kalimac Brandybuck,” sneered Griffo Proudfoot. “I thought you two had finally gotten some sense knocked into you and realized that your scrawny old nags don’t stand a chance against my Prancer.” The grey pony he sat – or to be more correct, slumped – on snorted indifferently and lowered its head to grab a mouthful of grass.
Milo smirked and reined in Briony beside Prancer. “Are you sure your little fatty here can make it through the whole race without eating?”
Griffo angrily jerked his pony’s head up and glared at Milo. “We’ll just see who’s laughing when I’m in the winner’s circle accepting my blue ribbon.”
“Yes, we shall see…”
Just then, the whistle was blown, signaling the racers to get to the starting line. Briony pranced and snorted, impatient to be off, until the gentle, soothing whisperings of Milo calmed her down. Shilling was also jumpy, and no amount of soothing from Kali would calm him – until he was snuck a bit of carrot that Kali had taken from the farmer’s field earlier that day.
“Ready!” the announcer shouted over the whinnies and snorts of the ponies, and the spectators. “Get set!” Milo tensed on Briony’s back, leaning forward in anticipation. “G–” The announcer was cut off as the sound of rapid hoof beats was heard, coming swiftly nearer.
Everyone looked up to see a rider on a wiry pony, its black coat flecked with foam, galloping toward them as though the whips of Sauron were behind them. The crowd parted to make room, and reaching the platform where the announcer stood, he reined in his pony to a rearing halt.
“A message,” the rider gasped breathlessly. “A message from the Thain!” There was a murmur of surprise through the crowd. “Orcs…orcs are attacking the s-southern borders of the Shire…” Now there was a collective gasp, and the messenger took a moment to catch his breath. “The Thain asks that every able-bodied man come to aid – we need reinforcements, desperately.” Having delivered his message, the rider promptly slumped forward in the saddle and would have fallen off, if it hadn’t been for the dozens of hobbit hands reaching out to catch him.
As they carried the messenger to the nearest Inn and led his pony to be stabled, a white-faced Milo turned to Kalimac, to see that his cousin was just as pale. “Orcs?” Milo whispered. “Attacking the Shire?”
News of the messenger traveled quickly through Quarry, and needless to say, most of the Festivalgoers dispersed. Milo and Kalimac each returned home after returning their ponies to the pasture. Milo felt numb and dazed, still trying to digest the fact that Orcs were invading the Shire. If they were not stopped in the southern regions, what would stop them from coming up north, destroying everything – and everyone – in their path? He, like all hobbits, had heard the terrible stories of Orcs, but he had never imagined that any could ever invade the Shire.
After changing out of his best clothes and into his normal blue-grey shirt, russet-brown trousers and matching weskit, he headed into the study, where his family normally met for meetings or discussions.
There, he found his tearful mother, Merylla and two older sisters, Mimosa and Miriel, together on the sofa, his father, Moro, sitting in the armchair, smoking his pipe and staring into space, and his tweenage brother, Mithro, sitting by the hearth, whittling a piece of wood.
All looked up as he entered and sat down in the armchair across from his father’s. There was an uncomfortable silence, until his father at last cleared his throat and spoke.
“I assume you’ve heard about the message from the Thain?” His deep green eyes held deep pain and sorrow, but also a stoic determination to bear it.
Milo nodded mutely, looking down at his hands, lying in his lap.
“All able-bodied men to come defend the southern borders…” His father murmured, more to himself than anyone else. The glow from the hearth lit up his clear-cut features and grey-flecked black hair.
Milo sighed and dared to look up. “I suppose that would mean that you…and I must go?” he half-asked, half-stated hesitantly. His mother let out a quiet, choked sob and buried her face in Miriel’s shoulder. Tears streamed silently down Mimosa’s cheeks, and his Mithro’s whittling faltered for a moment.
Milo’s father sighed, not taking his eyes from the snapping fire of the hearth. “So it would seem,” he said heavily. “We are to leave tomorrow, at first light.” Milo’s mouth fell open slightly in shock – tomorrow!? He’d thought that he’d have at least one last day to spend with his family before leaving…perhaps never to return…
Mithro’s angry voice interrupted his melancholy thoughts. “Why am I not able to go? I am not afraid!”
“Because you’re still a tween–” Miriel began, but Mithro cut her off. “But so is Milo! He won’t be of-age for another month!”
“And you won’t be of-age for another six years,” their father argued firmly. “You must stay here, Mithro. Your mother and sisters need you.” Mithro began to protest, and his father added, “If we do not drive those Orcs out within a month, I’ll send for you, and you may come and help.”
Mithro’s fiery blue eyes, so like his mother’s, were questioning. “Promise?”
Meanwhile, in Tuckborough…
Ferumbras Took, Thain of the Shire, paced anxiously back and forth in his large study, a frown of worry on his face. His younger brother, Bandobras, stood behind his desk, watching as the Thain paced. At last, he sighed. “Ferumbras,” he said. “Stop for a moment, please! You’re making me dizzy.”
“I can’t help it,” the Thain replied. “Where are they? We must have reinforcements by the end of this week or our armies will be destroyed!”
“That is why I am here. Captain Grenthorne has sent me another message.”
Ferumbras stopped his pacing and hurried over to the desk, placing his hands upon it and leaning forward to stare into his brother’s sea-grey eyes. “You have a message? When did you receive it? Why did you not tell me? Does father know?”
Bandobras allowed himself a small smile. “I received it only an hour ago, but you would not give me the chance to tell you – you were too occupied with your pacing and worrying. And yes, father knows about it, and he sent me to tell you.”
“Well? What is it?”
Bandobras’ smile disappeared and he ran a hand through his sandy curls. “It is not good news, I fear, brother,” he said. “But do not worry, I have come up with a solution to it that father agrees upon.”
Ferumbras nodded and braced himself for the news. “Tell me.”
“Captain Burrow and many soldiers fell near Sarn Ford just two days ago.”
Ferumbras closed his eyes for a moment, and put a hand to his suddenly aching head. Bandobras reached out and put a comforting hand on his brother’s shoulder.
“How many fell altogether?” Ferumbras asked heavily.
Bandobras sighed. “Over 100, at last report.”
There was a long moment of heavy silence as Bandobras’ words sunk in. Then, the Thain spoke again, in an anguished, sorrow-filled voice.
“And what is your solution to this latest setback?”
“When the reinforcements come, I shall take Captain Burrow’s place and lead them into battle.”
Ferumbras looked up incredulously. “Surely you can’t be serious, brother?” he half-asked, half-pleaded. “How could father give his consent?” Without waiting for a reply, he continued, his voice rising in pained anger. “Well, I am the Thain and I shall NOT allow it! You will NOT go into battle, brother. Not while I draw breath.” Suddenly, his voice cracked and he buried his face in his hands, his shoulders shaking slightly with silent grief.
Bandobras, tears in his own eyes, walked around the desk and pulled his brother into a gentle embrace, wishing above all else that gentle, placid Ferumbras could be spared the strain and trials of being Thain.
The two brothers stood so for they knew not how long, each taking comfort in the other’s presence, until finally, Ferumbras raised his head, wiping the remnants of tears from his face.
“I am sorry. If father believes that you should go…” he sighed sorrowfully. “Then who am I to disagree?” He squared his shoulders and looked his brother in the eye. “Very well, Captain Bandobras. You shall go with the reinforcements.”
Bandobras smiled sadly, tears still shining in his eyes. “Do not fear, brother,” he said gently. “I will return soon enough. As soon as we have driven these foul orcs from our home, I will return. You’ll see.”
Ferumbras nodded, and the two pulled out of the embrace. Bandobras headed for the door. “Farewell,” he said, before shutting the door behind him.
Ferumbras stood, listening to his brother’s soft footsteps slowly, heavily getting further away down the hall, until they disappeared altogether.
Back in Quarry, the next morning…
“Father, please! You should not go!” Miriel Digwell pleaded with her father for the final time. “You are needed here!”
Moro sighed and kissed the top of his eldest daughter’s head. “I am sorry, Miriel,” he said softly. “But I am needed even more down south, to protect the borders of the Shire.” He smiled slightly. “Don’t fret. Milo and I shall be back before you know it.”
Miriel allowed her tears to flow freely down her cheeks as she tightly embraced her father. “Good-by, Father,” she whispered. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Moro returned quietly, then walked out of the front door to say farewell to his wife.
Milo awkwardly approached his oldest sister. She sniffed and looked up, managing a small smile as she wrapped her arms around her brother, hugging him close. “Take good care of Father,” she said. “And take care of yourself as well, Milo.” She pulled out of the embrace and held him at arm’s length. “I love you,” she whispered.
Milo was concentrating too hard on not breaking down and sobbing in front of his sister to reply, but he nodded and kissed her on the cheek. “Good-by,” he finally managed, before quickly turning away and going outside with his father.
After a long, tearful farewell to his mother, younger sister and brother, Milo finally adjusted the straps of his pack and followed his father down the dirt lane, forcing himself not to look back.
The two did not speak until they reached the Brownlocks’ home, where they met Kalimac just coming out of the front gate. His normally cheerful, smiling face was pale and tear-streaked, and he could only manage a weak grin when he joined Milo and his father.
“Hullo, Milo, Mr. Digwell,” he said quietly. Milo put his arm over his friend’s shoulders, showing him that he understood his sorrow. Kalimac’s father had fallen from a hayloft several years ago, and badly crippled his leg, therefore making it impossible for him to go into battle. There were no brothers to accompany his son, and so Kalimac would have been alone if not for Milo and his father.
Trying to keep their spirits up, the three travelers kept up conversation about anything and everything, until they reached the town square, where a large group of hobbits had gathered to join the Militia; from lads barely out of their tweens, to grey-headed fathers nearing the three-quarter mark.**
The messenger from the Thain, having recovered from his exhaustion yesterday and given a fresh pony, stood watching as the new soldiers continued arriving. It was well over two hours before everyone who was able had come and joined the Militia, and another hour more as the messenger went through the crowd and dismissed the oldest recruits.
“If you are a father,” he said loudly, calling for everyone’s attention. “With a family at home, you are free to go. There must be some able men to stay here in case there is an attack from the North.”
Milo looked up at his father. “Did you hear that?” he whispered. “You can go back home!” Moro watched as quite a few older hobbits left, and then looked down at Milo, placing his hands on his son’s slim shoulders.
“Milo,” he said quietly. “I need you to tell me honestly. Would you be all right if I stayed here and took care of the family?”
Milo stared at his father for a moment, then lowered his eyes as he thought. “Yes,” he said at last. “I would be all right, apart from missing you of course. And I think you should go. Mother and the girls need you.”
Moro blinked back tears and quickly embraced his son, as the messenger called, “Last chance for those of you who wish to stay!”
“Thank you, son,” Moro whispered hoarsely. “I’m proud of you. Take care of yourself, and come home soon.”
“I will,” Milo said, swallowing hard. With a final pat and quick farewell to Kalimac, Moro Digwell left and joined the long line of other fathers returning to their families.
To Be Continued in Chapter Two: The Militia, coming soon!
* Kalimac is the early word, meaning `jolly, or merry,’ that Meriadoc is derived from. By the time of the War of the Rings, the word itself had no meaning, but at this time in the Shire, `Kalimac’ is used instead of `Meriadoc’ to mean `Merry.’
** The `three-quarter mark’ is what hobbits called 75.