Mainly Concerning a Hobbit – Part One

Mainly Concerning a Hobbit – Part 1

Mustard Colewort had always said that there wasn’t much Tookish blood in the family, but that what there was must all have wound up in Brassica. Whether it was said in exasperation or with fondness was entirely dependent on whether or not Brassica had done something splendidly brave, like climbing to the top of the windmill on the edge of Oatbarton to retrieve the neighbours’ hapless cat, or–not-that-it-had-been-on-purpose-or-even-her-fault-really–something as foolhardy as setting the thatched roof of the Barley Water Inn ablaze with an poorly aimed and dubiously acquired firework.

It was the latter offense that had Brassica stood before her father alongside her little brother Dill, staring shamefully at her toes, while her mother wrung her hands and tutted. The afternoon air hung heavy with the smell of smoke and sodden thatch, the Oatbarton Fire Brigade having done their duty admirably. No one had been hurt, and it wasn’t as though there had been a lot of damage…not an awful lot, really, and anyway it was only thatch and easy enough to replace.

The townsfolk who had gathered to gape at the fire had hung around to gossip, and to see old Musty Colewort taking a strip off his unruly daughter (“Honestly, youngsters these days, this poor town’s going to the dogs”), and the freckles that sprinkled Brassica’s nose and cheeks had been swallowed by a bright crimson blush. There had been a good deal of shouting initially, and a good deal of condemnation of the Tookishness of the whole situation. Brassica had been dressed down thoroughly about irresponsibility, (“Poor Musty, rethatching that roof will take at least a week, and this the busy season, too”) recklessness, (“…and her so near her coming of age, too, you’d never think it from a Colewort” and “Ah, but she’s got that red hair, you know what they say about red-headed hobbits…”) and general un-hobbitly behavior. Now Mustard seemed to be waiting for her to respond to his tirade.

Well,” Brassica finally mustered the boldness to say, stealing a glance up at her father’s beet red face, “it’ll be good for business anyway, when word gets down to Brockenborings that there was a fire at the Barley Water. By the time they hear about it down in Hobbiton, they’ll be saying the place has burned to the ground, and you know how they love to gawk down south. Why, we’ll have hobbits up from Michel Delving to see the ruin of the poor old place!”

There was some guffawing and a few muffled chuckles from the hobbits who had yet to disperse, but Musty only ground his teeth and folded his arms. Then he declared that Brassica would be spending the summer with her cousins, helping with whatever odd jobs were presented by her uncle’s glass-blowing trade. And so it was that she found herself trudging up the road in the fading afternoon light, with a stout walking stick in hand, and a heavy leather rucksack bouncing on her back, stuffed half with clothing, and half with food. Her brother trailed along forlornly behind her, glancing back every now and again and sighing.

It was Dill she really felt sorry for, because while Brassica could concede that perhaps she’d done something that might merit a bit of discipline, Dill had merely been in the wrong place at the wrong time, tagging along after her as he always did. And now he was doomed to a summer of hauling pounds upon pounds of sand from the blazing white dunes along the Brandywine, just as she was.

Well,” she said, trying to be cheerful as she peered up the road. “We should get to Uncle Hob’s in time for a late supper, anyway, and Aunt Polly cooks at least as well as Ma does.”

It’s near dark out, and it’ll be darker yet when we get there,” Dill responded sullenly, “and Uncle Hob always makes us go to bed when it gets dark.”

He won’t this time,” Brassica said confidently. “He doesn’t know we got in trouble yet, and Da’s letter won’t get to him until tomorrow when the postman rides through. It’d be cruel to send us to bed without supper, even if we’d burned the the whole town down.”

Dill kicked at a pebble and sent it bouncing along the dirt road up towards Dwaling. “What do you mean ‘we’? This is all your fault. I only wanted to watch and I told you that you’d get in trouble. I wish you’d never bought that stupid firework,” he grumbled. “It wasn’t even a proper wizard one, not like the ones from Mad Baggins’ birthday party, nowhere near.”

He’s not mad,” Brassica protested, bristling. Mr. Bilbo Baggins happened to be a hero of hers, even though she’d only met him two or three times, and most of the tales she’d heard of his adventures had been second or third hand, and told with a fair helping of scorn. “He’s…well, he’s a bit odd, I’ll give you, but he’s better than most other old codgers. He’s not dull. He makes maps and he writes books and he knows elvish.”

Sensing his edge, Dill snorted and went on, “He’s completely barmy, a daft old loon. It’s probably not even elvish he knows, probably just some gibberish he made up. It’s not like you know the difference.”

Brassica’s face flushed and she stopped in her tracks and hefted her walking stick threateningly. “You shut your mouth, Dillweed Colewort!”

Come make me!” And with a shout over his shoulder, Dill shot off down the road, his feet pounding on the hard packed dirt and the cloak his mother had insisted he wear flying in the breeze behind him. Brassica gave chase promptly, glad to take her brother’s mind off of their troubles. It was growing dark out–though they’d set out in the late afternoon, they had dawdled on the road and stopped for dinner not an hour after they’d set out. But it was a nice night, with the moon was bright and full in the sky, and the stars were beginning to shimmer overhead. Brassica managed to forget the summer of backbreaking labour that waited in her not-too-distant future and think only of the hiding she was going to give her brother when she caught up to him.

She was closing in on Dill, and could almost reach out to snatch his cloak and yank him to the ground, when he veered to the right and into the woods off of the path. Gamely, though she had a flicker of unease about the thought of leaving the road, Brassica plunged into the trees after him. Beneath the thick canopy of leaves it was much darker than it was on the road, but Brassica caught a glimpse of Dill’s furry heels as he squirmed under a fallen log. Brassica, not quite as skinny as her brother, had to jump up and scramble over, and make an ungainly landing in the brush before she could resume her pursuit, darting in between the trees and shouting with laughter as they went deeper and deeper into the wood.

Given that a hobbit’s pace of choice rarely exceeds a leisurely stroll, though they can rally surprising speed when pressed, the spontaneous chase was over as promptly as it had begun. Dill stumbled to a trot and then a walk, and then stopped in the middle of a thicket, panting for breath and massaging a stitch in his side. “Uncle!” he gasped, as Brassica caught up and doubled over beside him, similarly winded.

When she’d caught her breath, she whacked him solidly on the rump with her walking stick and waved it at him warningly. “That’ll teach you.”

I still think he’s a mad old–” Dill stopped suddenly, looking past Brassica with a curious expression on his face, “–who in the world is…”

Brassica realized abruptly that darkness in the forest was deeper than she’d thought, and a chill shivered through her. For some reason, a small, soft feeling of foreboding had formed in the pit of her stomach, and as she turned slowly to see what Dill was peering at in the half light of the early evening, it hardened into a knot of dread.

In the brush behind them, not more than ten yards distant, was a goblin. Brassica had never actually seen a goblin, they were practically unheard of in the Shire. But she knew–and it was partially from Mr. Bilbo’s stories–that this was unquestionably a goblin, stooped and ugly, with bat-like ears and bulging eyes, knobby hands clutching a crude spear. It hadn’t yet spotted them, but Brassica was sure it would be drawn to them like a moth to a flame at the first sudden movement or noise.

…like the cry that burst unbidden from Dill’s lips as he realized what he was staring at. A step ahead of her brother, Brassica dropped her walking stick, grasped his hand and yanked him along behind her as there was a hoarse shriek from the goblin. Mentally cursing the foolishness of leaving the road, Brassica ran as fast as she could, clasping Dill’s fingers tightly, and trying to avoid tangling her feet in the underbrush. The woods were not thick here, not like Bindbole Wood to the southwest, but the trees still choked the little bit of light that would have helped Brassica get her bearings.

The goblin howled behind them as it charged through the brush, not caring about the noise it made. Dill was whimpering in terror as he stumbled along behind her. Heart in her throat and sweat from her palms making her grip on her brother’s hand threaten to slip, Brassica kept her head down and kept running, trying to figure out when they’d break from the cover of the woods, and where they would be when they did. She didn’t know how to get rid of the goblin–as far as she knew, they only thing they didn’t like was daylight, and the dawn was hours away. Grimly, she decided that they would jump into the Brandywine river if they could; she’d never heard of a goblin swimming…but then, she’d never heard that they couldn’t either.

In spite of their fear, the hobbits had the advantage of surefootedness over the goblin, who crashed and tripped along with screeches and curses behind them, and had actually gained a fair lead when they reached the edge of the wood and broke like rabbits from cover across the grassy meadow on the edge of the river. However, another problem presented itself and Brassica skidded to a halt in the thick grass with a cry of dismay. They’d left the forest further to the north than she’d thought, and the downward slope of the hill before them fell sharply into the bluffs above the banks of the Brandywine. Though not a sheer drop, the ridge still sloped steeply and the fall was at least thirty feet.

Dill was still sobbing and gasping for breath, and Brassica still clutched his hand tightly. Only moments had passed, but as they goblin came crashing from the trees behind them, still shrieking horribly and waving his spear, Brassica realized whatever distance they’d gained on him was rapidly shrinking, and her decision was made for her. Grabbing Dill firmly by the shoulders, she propelled him to the bluff edge, knocked him onto his rump, and gave him a shove down the embankment. With a surprised yelp and a rattling of loose dirt and gravel accompanying him, he half-slid, half-tumbled down into the darkness.

Brassica waited as many seconds as she could afford for him to get clear, then followed, leaping off the cliff edge and skidding down the bluff, managing to keep her feet and crouch she slid, dragging her hands behind her to keep her balance. She lost her footing as the ground beneath her leveled out, and she toppled to her hands and knees on the embankment at the foot of the ridge, the Brandywine glistening in the moonlight before her. She was bruised and disoriented, her palms were scraped, and her lungs and heart felt like they wanted to explode out of her chest. And from behind her there was a blood chilling howl, and another small avalanche of pebbles and dirt as the goblin mimicked their descent down the bluff.

Frantically, fumbling in the grass for a rock or a stick or anything to defend herself with, Brassica’s fingers closed on something strange and cold, gleaming faintly blue in the darkness. In a panic as she heard the hissing intake of breath behind her, Brassica grasped the strange object and twisted around, thrusting it before her at the advancing goblin, her eyes tightly closed and wishing in what she thought might be her last few moments that she’d never bought that stupid firework.


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