Mainly Concerning a Hobbit – Part 6
After leaving his sister on the banks of the Brandywine, Dill had run through the dark of the night, darting from shadow to shadow, imagining goblin cries on every breath of wind. He arrived outside his Uncle’s house panting, and feeling as though his lungs were on fire. Only briefly regretting the lateness of the hour and the fact that he’d be waking everyone up, he grasped the handle of the bell outside the door and rang until his hand was numb. The hobbits who emerged intent on giving him a sound telling-off were quickly enlightened as to the nature of the situation, and formed a search party, made up of his Uncle Hob, a gaggle of cousins, and the two or three apprentices who’d come up to learn the glass-blowing trade. With Dill at the head, they’d tromped off into the gray half-light of the late watches, brandishing torches and stout cudgels, and grumbling about it was just like Brassica to drag them all into such a foolish escapade, and especially Tookish that she’d do it when any sensible hobbit ought to be in bed.
As such, there was no small amount of bad feeling when the wayward Brassica met them, striding up the road at the head of her own party of three big people, carrying some queer silver blade and a rusty javelin. Even though the night had been the most dreadful and upsetting of his whole life, the tiny Tookish part of Dill found itself bitterly disappointed that he’d missed out on the opportunity to rescue his sister, who appeared to have her own rescue quite well in hand.
Back in Dwaling, the late-rising hobbits who had remained in a bustle of confusion and incomplete understanding of where exactly everyone else had gone, had responded to the crisis the only way they really knew how; by finding all the food they could and preparing it exquisitely. Honeyed porridge bubbled on fires, eggs boiled merrily in kettles, and bacon and oat cakes waited warm on the hob as everybody fretted terribly about whether there was going to be enough hot cider. The return of the search party with the addition of Brassica and three of the big folk only served to exacerbate concerns that there might not be enough to eat, and the guests were hastily seated at a long trestle table, and presented with every morsel of food that had been mustered.
Brassica’s peculiar companions handled the sudden feast as best as they could–the woman seemed at least passing familiar with the general customs of hobbits, jovially joining in their conversations and jokes, and quickly being accepted as “all right as far as big folk go”. The blonde, serious elfess was impeccably graceful to her diminutive hosts, and as nothing impresses a hobbit quite as well as good manners and general civility, the entire elvish race was deemed worthy of approval by the hobbits of Dwaling (even though her dark haired companion laughed rather louder and more often than might have been considered acceptable in polite company, his plain amazement at the spread that had been provided was regarded as a good enough excuse.)
As for Brassica, once a mug of hot cider had found its way to her hand and she’d stacked her plate high with what she concerned a breakfast well-earned, she meandered through the press of townspeople around the table, and plopped herself onto the bench beside her brother, who seemed rather quiet amidst what had turned into a proper party. Without a word, Brassica set her plate and mug on the table, fiddled with her belt, and then ceremoniously handed her brother the silver blade.
If Dillweed Colbert harbored any resentment towards his elder sister after the sum total of the firework incident–which, however you tallied it, amounted to the biggest adventure he was ever like to have, having led with a dreadful fire, followed by a thrilling chase, then a moonlight rescue, and a daring dash over Bullroarer’s Sward for help, any of which would have totaled quite nicely to an adventure all on its own–it evaporated when Brassica handed him her new sword. It had been something chilling on the riverbank, slick with goblin blood, but now it was a thing of wonder. The only hobbit that Dill could even think of who’d ever had a sword was old Mad Baggins–and he was so strange as to hardly even count as a hobbit, really.
When a hobbit’s hand went for steel, it was the steel of a plow or a trusted old hoe. These things were real and solid, with a comfortable weight and a familiar purpose. The elven blade, slender as a reed and light as a feather, was like nothing Dill could even have imagined. He knew somehow that it was impossibly old, ancient by hobbit standards, but at the same time as keen as the day it was forged. It was beautiful, gleaming in the morning sun, yet the thought crept into his mind that a blade such as this had only one purpose. For all its elegance, it had been forged for war, and suddenly it seemed terrible to behold. He shivered involuntarily as he passed it back to Brassica.
Her plate had already been cleared and her eyes were far away as she slid back from the table, slipping her sword into her belt as though it belonged there and hopping off the bench. Dill found himself watching as she walked down the length of the table, passing behind the townsfolk who had clustered around the breakfast feast, talking and laughing, telling and retelling the story of Brassica’s Adventure, already heavily embellished for the journey south. Brassica seemed not to hear it. She moved with purpose, approaching the silver-haired woman from behind and tugging on the hem of her jerkin. When the woman turned and leaned over to hear what Brassica had to whisper in her ear, the smile on her face faded slightly, and her expression grew wary, then plainly calculating. As she sat back up and excused herself from the table, her smile was back, and pleasantly neutral, but Dill felt a sick anxiety rising in his stomach.
A glance passed between the woman and the elfess, and then she too made her excuses. Dill didn’t bother, scrambling off his bench as the tall huntress touched the other elf’s arm and murmured something in Elvish. This other elf could no more hide his emotions than he could hide the peaked tips of his ears, his face expressing first surprise, and then delight. He too arose from the table, bowed solemnly to the table of carousing hobbits, and then turned to follow his companions away down the path that led to the hitching post, where assorted ponies and even a couple of horses grazed.
Dill followed, the muscles in his legs already aching in protest after his long run the night before, and he crept along slowly and silently as the three companions followed Brassica down the path.
“Are you certain about this?” the huntress was asking, as they reached the hitching post.
“More importantly, will we have a mob of angry hobbits after us when you’re missed?” Llythne questioned. “I’ve never stolen a hobbit before.”
“You’re not stealing one now,” Brassica responded firmly. “And no, I’m not sure at all, but I know I won’t do it if I think about it too hard.” A loud burst of laughter sounded from the breakfasting hobbits, and for a moment, Brassica’s serious expression wavered into wistfulness, then hardened again. “But that’s why.”
The male elf had gathered the reins of two tall, lithe horses, a bay and a gold-coloured sorrel, murmuring to them in Elvish and stroking the nose of one. He handed the reins of the bay off to Beldrieth, and then swung lightly into the saddle of the sorrel. He declared something in Elvish, with his characteristic passion, then gestured for the huntress to translate.
Beldrieth obliged, “He says the wideness of the world is waiting, and he would be honoured if you would ride with him. He then goes on at length about the many things we will see on the journey, but if it pleases you, I will leave those things unsaid, so as not to diminish the wonder of the wideness of the world.” Patting her own mount on the neck, Beldrieth smiled faintly. “I would tell you that he gets less formal as he grows used to you, but I don’t believe it will be the case. He’s very fond of pretty words.”
“He can talk to me however he wants, but you make sure he knows I’m not a sack of potatoes to be hoisted around,” Brassica answered, eyeing Celebarad and edging away from the horse before she could be lifted upward into the saddle.
At this the huntress and the thief-woman laughed, but Dill could stand it no longer. “You’re not a sack of potatoes and you’re not going anywhere!” His voice shrilled slightly as he scrambled from where he’d hidden himself behind the large oak tree, as near as he’d dared. “You’re not, Brassica, you’re not!”
The three big folk turned towards him, startled by his sudden appearance, and Dill flushed beneath their gazes, but stood his ground defiantly. Brassica had not turned immediately, she had reached up, straining on tiptoe, to pat the sorrel’s flank.
“Dill,” Brassica sighed at her brother, not angry, or even exasperated as she turned towards him. “Dilly, you were supposed to stay at the feast. I can’t make you understand.”
“What’s to understand!” Dill shouted back. “You’re crazy! You’re crazy like everyone says, with your red hair and your fireworks and your goblin sword! But you think that just because you’re crazy, you can be like Mad Old Baggins! Well, you can’t! You’re not a Baggins and you’re not a Took, you’re not even a Brandybuck, and them just a little bit queer! You’re a Colewort, and we’re not supposed to be mad!”
“How would you know how we’re supposed to be?” Brassica shot back, flaring slightly. “Nobody talks about the Coleworts! Bah! Old Mister Bilbo, and Bullroarer Took, talk about them is that they were mad, not like hobbits ought to be, not like everybody else is. But it’s still talk! And it’s still stories, old stories, wonderful stories! Bullroarer, he was hundreds of years back, but you hang around any tavern in the Shire in the late hours of the evening and soon enough it’ll be his story they tell! Mister Baggins too, you think your children’s children won’t grow up on the stories of Bilbo the Burglar?”
Dill was taken aback by his sister’s sudden fierceness. He’d always known she had it in her, but he’d never seen it like this. He fumbled for words to answer her with, but she wouldn’t be interrupted.
“Did you hear them, Dilly, hear them at the table? Not a day’s gone by! Not even a full night, and already they have a story for me! Brassica the Bold, Brassica Goblinbane!” She pointed a finger at the tall dark elf, astride his horse. Clearly Celebarad had no idea what was being talked about, only that it was an impassioned speech, the making of which he fully approved. “Brassica, who saved an elf prince! I don’t even know if elves have princes, and I don’t know if he even is one, or if he even really needed saving! They’re joking, they think they’re only making fun of me. If the big folk hadn’t been along, they’d think I made it all up! But all stories start that way, half-laughed-at and half-believed.” Her small hands clenched into fists and one thumped the pommel of the sword at her waist. “Not Brassica the Troublemaker. Not Brassica with the red hair, such a sore trial to her poor old Da. Not Brassica who gets her little brother into trouble and doesn’t know how to get him out again. Those don’t have to be my only stories, Dilly.”
“But you can’t go,” Dill whimpered, defeated by his sister’s furor. “You can’t, you just can’t, why would you want to leave the Shire? And me and Ma and Da? And the Barley Water Inn, even if you tried to set it on fire?”
In spite of her words and her fierceness, there was heartbreak in Brassica’s eyes. “I don’t know, Dill. If you’d asked me yesterday, I’d have said there was no place like home, no reason to wonder about the world. But…goblins in the Shire! That I have to wonder about. Something got woken up inside me, something big and angry, when I saw them cutting down our trees, when I thought of them creeping south towards our farms and our little old village. Maybe we’ll need another Bullroarer.” She turned away and held a hand up towards the mounted elf, who reached down to grasp her arm. Jumping to help him pull her upward, she caught the edge of the saddle with her foot and scrambled into her seat. “But if it’s going to be me, I’m not ready yet.”
Hot tears tumbled down Dill’s cheeks, and not for the first time he thought of shouting back over his shoulder, calling for more voices to add to his own in telling Brassica how foolish it was to even consider leaving the Shire. But he kept silent. Instead, he forgot his timidity and whirled on the tall blonde elfess, who was methodically checking assorted straps and fittings on her saddle. “You keep her safe!” he commanded. “She’s got it in her fool head that she wants to go, so you make sure she comes back! That’s my sister, and I want her back whole!”
She bowed in response. “I swear by blade and bow that no harm will come to her, if my hand and my heart can prevent it.”
“Aye, so I say also,” the silver-haired woman piped up, thumbs tapping the hilts of her daggers. She smiled wolfishly. “Someone’s going to need to teach your sister to wield that pretty blade. I look forward to having an ally around knee height, to hamstring my enemies and harry their ankles.”
Dill glared up at the male elf, glimmering gold and cerulean in his armor, the very image of glory and adventure. It was another point towards his theory that Big Folk caused nothing but trouble, because surely this elf was to blame for Brassica’s flight of foolishness. A bitter little voice in the back of his head wished that they had never stumbled across him on the riverbank, but he stifled it. Tears glinting in his eyes, he pointed a finger imperiously at the mounted elf. “I hear you like pretty words, well, mine aren’t so pretty, but you listen all the same! You keep my big sister safe, or so help me, I’ll take the hide off you! This is all your fault, you big stupid elf, and I’ll hold you to it if she’s got so much as a scratch on her!”
Dill waited for his statement to be translated, folding his arms and continuing to glare through his tears. He disapproved of the whole business, but he managed to appreciate the force that the blonde elf conveyed on his behalf. When she’d finished, the tall elf slid easily from his saddle, wincing only slightly as he strained the wound in his side. He dropped to one knee and bowed deeply before Dill, and then spoke at length in Elvish.
The other elf had listened to the conversation, and grimaced a bit when he finished. “He’s gone on with many more words than necessary about the sanctity of your charge and how dearly he holds your sister’s safety. Would you have the whole of his litany, or are you quite assured of his conviction on the matter? I would pledge on his behalf that he will protect her with his life.”
“That’s fine,” Dill conceded, already looking up at his sister again, perched awkwardly on the back of the placid mount. He shook his head ruefully, she’d never been on the back of a horse, and had only mounted a pony twice to his knowledge (and neither time had it been a pony that was hers to mount). Already she seemed different from the sister he knew and loved, and he wondered whether he’d even recognize her when she returned. “Well…” he trailed off, “…I suppose this is it. I don’t understand, and you said I wouldn’t, but I wish I did. Maybe then I could imagine myself going with you, instead of just thinking you’re plumb out of your head.”
Brassica’s eyes had begun to tear a bit as well, but she grinned anyway. “I think you’re not wrong about that,” she said, “But I also think maybe it’s not as bad as you think it is.”
“I can’t watch you go,” Dill said bluntly, coming to the realization himself. “I’m going to leave now, because if I have to see you ride off, I’ll just go all to pieces, and run back to the party and tell everyone what a silly fool you’re being. But…be careful. And I love you, even with what everybody calls you. I always liked your stories, no matter what they were.”
“I love you, too. Good-bye, Dill! I’ll come back! I’ll come back with more stories!” Brassica managed, before her brother’s words finally broke her, and she covered her face and began to sob into her hands.
He had crept off back to the party by the time she had rubbed the tears from her eyes, and Llythne and Beldrieth had mounted, sharing the saddle of the bay horse, while Celebarad stood holding the reins of the sorrel, respectfully waiting for Brassica’s sorrow to pass. It was all so silly. She wondered how Mister Bilbo had felt when he’d stood on his doorstep at the beginning of his own adventure, and faced the choice of going forward or back. Remembering the strange feeling deep inside her, the little Tookish voice, she found herself wondering how many hobbits had been on the edge of this same decision, and had chosen to turn for home. For an instant, sniffling loudly as she rubbed her nose on her sleeve, she wavered, wanting to scramble down from the saddle and run back to her brother and the world she knew.
Then, the little Tookish voice piped up helpfully; “The hobbits who turn back,” it said, “are not the hobbits in the stories.”
So, Brassica managed a smile at her new companions, and patted the saddle behind her for Celebarad. “Well, what are you waiting for? Don’t you have the big wide world to show me?”