From End to Beginning
The tiny village in the dell had been settled by Stalkers, Trotters, Tripstones, Bagtrots, Sheavers and Haytrots nearly two hundred years earlier.
The hamlet, a pleasant collection of small stone houses with bright round doors and two or three hobbit holes, also with shiny doors and prim shutters, was surrounded by large, shady oak trees with a merry crick that flowed into the Brandywine River. There was only one tavern, which stood mostly in the middle of things and not far off from the village green where market day was held, and next to that, on the banks of the merry crick, was the Finston Mill, which was most convenient for thirsty farmers while they waited to pick up their freshly ground sacks of meal.
The present Squire of the hamlet of Standelf in Buckland, Hamish Stalker, had been a large halfling even for his line of remarkably lean and sinewy hobbits. To say a hobbit is lean and strong would be confusing to anyone not from those parts who happened to look at a member of the Stalker clan, but to those who have lived in the districts from Clammy to Deephallow or any of the other hamlets and crossroads of Buckland and the Shire it would make perfect sense. Compared to a man or an elf for that matter, even a member of the Stalker family was short, large footed and tending to stout, but compared to another hobbit- well that was quite another matter.
The Stalkers had some queer relations in their family tree far enough back that no one could give them a proper name, but it was rumored that there might have been elves hidden in the branches of their family nooning tree. It (the subject being elves) was rarely uttered in polite company and then only in whispers behind a lace gloved hand. These whispers were usually accompanied by titters and giggles of the young misses of Standelf when one of the swains of the Stalker tribe was swaggering down the lane with a hay rake or a mattock over his shoulder and his duly noted iron hard arms protruding from rolled up sleeves.
When one of the Stalker lads sidled up to the bar at the Hammer and Tongs Inn, the other hobbit gentlemen seemed small and nervous and they politely tugged their forelock and hummed a happy good day to the descendent of the great hero- Drago Stalker.
Jago Stalker, Squire Hamish's son was most often the specimen of hobbithood who elicited cautious respect from his neighbors, but his brothers, Timol, Dugal and Japard also made heads bob and skirts to curtsey. But, great lads that they are- they are but a weak copy of their Great Great Grandsire Drago, or of his gaffer- “The Bullroarer”.
Hamish had all of his sons helping to set up tables and chairs in the long hall and a great log was brought in on Jago’s shoulders for the fire. Pitchers of ale and cider and decanters of wine stood on the sideboard or in the center of the table, which was crowded with hams, roasts, saddles of mutton, chops and other delectable fare. It was New Year’s Day in the Shire and Squire Hamish was expecting company to help celebrate another good year.
But we need to go back to those early days of the Stalker clan in order to get to the beginning of this tale and thence back again to the end- at the beginning as it were.
Begatting A Stalker
The Stalkers were bethought of as sideways relations of the Tooks, who themselves came from the shady lanes of Tuckborough in the West Farthing. Some even dare to say the Stalkers were born of Bandobras Took, the old Bullroarer himself, but that they were sired on the wrong side of the sheets.
Bandobras was among the most famous of hobbits on account of his ferocious courage, stalwart frame and skill with both the trollwood club and a double bitted felling axe. It bears mentioning that he always went about with a great pointy, single edged cleaver that was more short sword than dirk stuck in his wide, tooled leather belt.
It was fashionable for married hobbit men of the Stoorish line in those days to sport great strips of whiskers down each cheek nearly to their upper lip and Bandobras' mutton chops were a deep red like his hair, and in the winter he would let them shake hands on his chin which made him seem exotically dwarvish. Before all this though he was often just known as the "Youngest Took" and he was of a romantic nature as are most of the young folk.
Some say he became enamored of an elvish lass he met in the woods while out hunting with his hounds one winter day when he was no more than six and twenty. The murky story goes that he fell instantly and madly in deep love with the maiden and she with him, and that they trysted in the woods for many months. After a year of this secret love she bore him a son, but told him that he must take the child as it was forbidden for any of her race to bear a child without the bans had been posted at Rivendell and she feared the child's future would be a poor one if she did not hide him away. Elves can be an imperious folk with regard to mere mortals such as men, dwarves and hobbits or those who are not pure blooded.
"Youngest Took or just "Young" as he was also sometimes hailed, was not yet heroic. He was also called these names to distinguish him from his father the Thain (sometimes confusingly called "Old Took"). His older brother was always just called “The Heir”. Young Took spirited the child away to his parents’ home and told his mother he had found the swaddler abandoned in the woods mewling and hungry.
Well you can imagine the uproar if you have any notion of the propriety of hobbits. To say their lace is straight and well pressed is more than an understatement. Oh to be sure they enjoy their frolics which are always accompanied by ale, but concerning parentage and social vulgarities they are a stiff necked bunch except the Tooks, who are roughhewn and in spite of their social prominence, some said, "backwardish and independent".
Missus Topazia Took (The Youngers mother and wife of the Thain ),however, was instantly enchanted with the babe and to make everything respectable-- told all and sundry that it was the child of a distant relation from Archet on the edge of the Chetwood in Breeland who had taken sick and passed not long after the little one was born. She said the boy's family were “Stalkers” who had migrated over The Water, out to Breeland years out of memory and were the last of a watered down line of her distant relations.
Young Took's gaffer (Thain Isumbras III previously noted as "Old Took" and not to be confused with Gerontius Took who also bore that moniker in a later generation) raised the babe up as his foster son and Bandobras cast himself in the part of the favorite uncle. The Old Took at first muttered and grumbled about an extra mouth to feed. He had a tendency to measure value by cucumbers, onions, eggs and bacon and other such tasty provender. This is a hobbitish trait in general and no one in the Shire would have thought him less wise for weighing the wisdom of taking in a hungry and growing foundling.
Old Took was the Thain of the Shire. Thain was a title of the hereditary leader of the Shire and was rarely used as a common name and only as a title on special holidays, market faire days and the even more rare-- muster of the guard. Hobbits are a stubborn and independent race little given to bowing and scraping, though they possess excellent manners.
The Thain settled land disputes once a quarter, oversaw the swearing in of the new mayor of Michael Delving every seven years and other such nonsense, but most of the time his robe and cap of office hung in his closet and he saw to his servants, his abundant flocks, his orchards and his rich fields. His favorite official job however, was the rating and stamping of the years brews and vintages, appropriately called Stamp Day. This was an annual affair held at Michael Delving every autumn and required the obligatory judging and tasting of many casks. Wines and brews were rated as fair, fair to middling, middling and excellent, followed by the year of the putting up. So that a barrel might read "F2M S.R.1214" or "EX S.R. 1327". His personal favorite was a wine of deep crimson, labeled excellent and put up in the South Farthing in 1298.
Topazia called the foundling bairn, Drago Stalker Took for a time, but as he grew and he seemed a bit over large as well as gifted with a rare smile and a beautiful voice for song, some began to point out politely that he was tall for a hobbit and roguish too it seemed to them. He laughed merrily and winked at all of the pretty lasses and was quickish to feel a slight or see an insult. He certainly seemed rather Tookish, but they whispered, there was something else that was odd about the laddy buck that no one could quite put their finger on. They chalked it up to his unknown, extinct Stalker folk.
Well Topazia loved Drago like her own son. He often came into her kitchen singing deeply, kissed her upon the cheek and danced off with the pie she had just set out on the window to cool. She chided him to mind his manners and not to be so awful loud. He guffawed at this and made a strong man muscle with his arm and winked and shouted over his shoulder as he bounded out the door.
"Never you mind my manners mum! I'll make ye proud of yer Drago and one day I'll make all the Stalkers sleeping beneath their stones in Breeland proud of your boy too!"
"Bring back that pie you young rascal! Your capers will be the death of me!" Topazia shook her head and smiled to herself and began peeling more apples to replace the kidnapped pie.
As he grew, she required him to gradually drop the 'Took' from his name and she made up some wild tales of his make-believe family for him so that he would have a history both for himself and to share with others. Drago loved his foster parents and clung to the "memory" of his "real" mother as the most beautiful hobbit lady in Archet and of his father as a handsome lad who raised the fleetest ponies between Waymoot and the Midgewater.
It didn’t occur to Topazia that he might someday travel to Archet and find that there were no Stalkers and that no one there had memory of such folk. Hobbits are homebodies as a rule and so it just didn’t follow that he might go walking and seek out some memory of his folk, nor had it also ever occurred to her to question Bandobras about the babe’s parentage. Likewise it never popped into her head that Drago might grow curious. Hobbit manners do not allow prying and they add, “Curious mischief has caused much grief”.
As he grew into young hobbithood, "Old Took"- The Thain, began to enjoy the useful strength of his foster son and, Bandobras was also fairly impressed with his secret son's prodigious size and strength. Of course he silently prided himself that the lad took after him in this way. Bandobras himself was half a head taller than all of the hobbits of the Tuckborough settlement, but by his twentieth birthday Drago stood a full head taller than everyone except his “uncle”. Had he stood benext a full grown man he'd have come nearly to the shoulder and with his strength and girth he was a match for most of them if he was feeling slighted or he was in high blood.
For a time Drago's size had caused him some consternation with the other children often deriding him as a giant and poking fun at him, but as time passed and they all grew older, the boys had mostly learned from experience not to rile him and the lasses all looked at him with infatuated eyes. Drago had learned to be a magnanimous victor in all the races he won and all the wrestling matches too. Sometimes he grappled against two or even three different opponents at once. He threw them left and right out of the circle, but shook hands all around when the dust had settled. His greatest love was hard work, all the while singing away in the fields, and it was accepted far and wide that he could mow down more hay or corn in a day than any three other farmer boys in Buckland and the Shire.
Tempering of Steel
Drago grew restless as the years passed. He could not say why nor what it was he longed for but he often found himself wistfully watching the westward setting of the sun and wondering what it was that lay beyond the far horizon. One midsummer night, after the great golden orb had sunk below the edge of the earth he waited until the stars came out and then he unrolled a long piece of sacking tucked beneath his arm to reveal a short sword of blackened steel which was shaped like a long narrow leaf and which was hafted in antler with a small round brass guard that came down and formed a cup over his knuckles. He had made the sword in his spare time and had even managed to stamp a few ancient elvish runes into the glowing metal during its forging. He was not altogether sure why he had made the sword nor why he felt inclined to practice with it in the moonlit glade as the stars glittered overhead.
He at first felt foolish thrusting and parrying with invisible enemies and if any respectable hobbits had come upon him thus engaged, well he likely would have become the topic of much gossip and none of it kind. Hobbits are neither piratical nor adventurous by nature and are suspicious of those who exhibit warlike qualities. Violence upsets the digestion and is generally bad for trade and trade is one of the only things that hobbits like better than second breakfast.
The sparring made him feel he was completing something, but he was not at all clear what that was. That urge was as sharp as his appetite after a morning of hard work, but a half dozen poached hens eggs and toast with currant jam would not satisfy it.
He did not know that as the weeks of summer had passed gently and the corn ripened, he had been secretly observed as he lunged and slashed.
The watcher was taller than he, but not by any great margin. She was small and lithe for her own race. Her lustrous black hair swept down her back nearly to the ground and her long sleeved gown was of some material that seemed made of sun dappled forest shadows and star light. Her eyes were the most azure blue and her skin was of a soft cream color and her high cheekbones were tinged with rose and she seemed both regal and beautiful.
For all of her queenly appearance she was no more royalty than was any other elvish lady, which is to say at some very distant time all elves have royal blood and all can claim some noble birth right, but only a very few sit in or near The High Seat. Her name was Calithil and it was she and none other who had claimed the affections of Bandobras in the woods over a score of years earlier.
She had watched her son for many years from a distance- always remaining unseen and never risking discovery but now she saw that he had completed his physical growth and clearly had some notions that were purely unhobbitish.
Without writing a complete genealogy of her line of the ancient folk it must be said that they were given to occasional bouts of impulsiveness which lead them into waywardness every other generation or so and she was the next in a long line of those rebellious individuals to either go off on explorations or to fall into queerish romantic relationships with folk other than elves. One might say that for an elf she was rather "Tookish" or perhaps Bandobras was rather elvish…
Her great grand aunt Addasser had eloped with a man when she fell madly in love with him while on an embassy from Rivendell to Arnor. The two had disappeared for many years only to reappear out of nowhere with a tribe of remarkably beautiful and adventurous half-elf children. Then of course Calithil’s own father, Angren, had ventured to Loth Lorien and from thence he had vanished over the horizon when she was a child and he had not returned for many long years. When he did return he gave her the pearl set in mithril, which she wore around her neck this very evening. He had explained to her it came from the far eastern ocean where he had tarried for a time listening to the waves and the cry of the gulls. Elves are forever entranced by the oceans and lesser waterways.
Calithil had loved her son, as her mother Curuwen and her father had loved her and her brother Taendir, though she had never spoken to Drago and had held him for but for only a few hours. In the lilting and magical tongue of her own people she had secretly bestowed upon him an elvish name.
Drago stopped lunging for a minute and with his chest heaving and his sword at his side he watched as the form of a woman stepped from the shadows of a giant elm but a few strides away. He was not frightened as he saw that she held no weapon in her hand. He immediately recognized her as an elf and though the hobbits have little enough to do with elves (excepting apparently when they fall in love with them) they are fond of tales of the eldar race and hold them in the highest regard.
Calithil did not speak but held her hand in front of her as though signaling him to remain calm. She approached to within a few feet and put her hand on his sword hand and gently took the blade from him. He yielded it without fear to the lady who he thought looked very important. She stepped back smoothly without a noise and then gracefully whirled through a series of parries and thrusts like a dancer and when she had ended her exhibition she held out the sword to him and signed that it was his turn. Of course his moves were jerky and stumbling compared to hers. Hours passed and by the time the moon had nearly gone down his steps began to seem more fluid and he could switch hands with his blade and pass it behind his back to his other hand and bring it up to the guard position without dropping it and cutting off his own hairy toes.
At last the stars began to wink out and the morning sun honored its daily promise to brighten the fields and groves of the Shire. Calithil slipped on silent feet between the boles of the trees and casting back a soft smile over her shoulder she vanished as elves are wont to do without a warning or a by your leave.
The weeks passed and she never spoke a word, but now and again touched his brow much the same as Topazia and she showed him how elves sharpened their blades and one night as autumn approached on frosty airs and crisp leaves, she brought forth a wonderfully tooled leather scabbard and baldric embossed with runes and wrapped in silver wire that wove cunning designs. It was a perfect fit for his blade and with the thick wide strap over his shoulder he felt invincible, which is of course quite foolish but entirely forgivable in one who is untested in battle. Calithil went back into the shadows and Drago thought she had vanished as usual, but she reemerged and with both hands she held out a small round shield, bigger than a buckler but not so large that he could entirely hide behind it. It too was covered in rich brown leather and banded in some silver metal and on its front was the form of a tree crafted in the same. The shield had a narrow strap so that it could be born upon his back when not in use and she helped him hang it there and kissed his brow and smiled at him. At long last she spoke in the tongue of her people. Drago did not speak elvish but her tone was kind and full of love. He was quite certain that his teacher was taking her leave of him.
"I named you Thangurion- the true heart. I will always love you my boy but I must away and I will not come again. Your foster mother has raised you well and there is much I could wish for you and but little I can do now. It is in my heart that you should never have to fight but if you do I have faith that you will be able to defend yourself and those you love." She touched his chest and spoke his elvish name and then touched her own and spoke her name. She faded back into the trees and Drago stood watching her knowing that she had just intoned something important and he tried to memorize some of the words he could remember but they were fading fast like the sun at setting.
From farther back in the gloaming grove he heard her mellifluous voice again speaking her magical language.
"Fare well my true hearted son. Someday perhaps we shall meet again far over the sea. You will forever be in my heart".
All of the weeks they had practiced in the moonlight and he had not known her name till now and now he missed her and he sensed she had said her last goodbye in her mysterious tongue. He wondered why she had called him Thangurion, but he thought it sounded impressive and determined to someday tell uncle Bando all of what had passed, but for now he was content to keep his secret about the mysterious elvish lady- Calithil.
Bandobras was now well-nigh 50 and just barely reaching the beginning of his prime while “The Old Took" was getting on in years as he was nearly 91. Topazia too was getting long in the tooth and her step had slowed during the past winter and though her mind was as sharp as a nail there was no missing the fact that Bandobras’ older brother, Ferumbas (The Heir) would soon have to bear the mantle of Thain. Bando had given some thought to all of this and the fact that when his brother took over the title he would also become the master of their father's home- 'Great Smials', the sprawling manorial delving at Tuckborough.
Bando had put aside a fair bit of coin from his own flocks and investments over the years. He had purchased entire standing crops of pipeweed in the south farthing and after cutting had then created his own special blends which had become quite popular throughout the Shire and which were gaining wide acceptance as far out as Buckland. The most popular was a shag called "Longtow". He bethought himself of getting a home and perhaps settling down. In fairness to his brother, he considered it best if both he and Drago moved away some distance so the new Thain could establish himself firmly as the head of the Took clan.
Bandobras had wandered a good deal in searching for the better fields of pipeweed and had driven flocks of sheep and cattle all over the Shire to auction and faire and so he had a good notion of what was where and which districts had the finest vineyards and which the best drained fields. Drago too had accompanied his "uncle" on some of these profitable trips and showed signs of making an excellent drover and cattle broker.
The Shire was the most peaceable region in the old north kingdom and it been many years since any hobbit had borne arms against an enemy other than squirrels raiding nut groves or rabbits in the garden, but Bando and Drago had always gone armed on their business trips as it was just 'good business' to be prepared to guard an investment.
Rare tales were told out of Buckland, which found their way into the taverns of the Shire, of strange goings on beyond the High Hay, and the Sackvilles up the North Farthing told stories of ravenous wolves, which in the worst of winters would snap up a stray sheep and carry it away. Of course these were hearthside tales for frightening wee hobbits, said Bando, but it never hurt to be prepared.
"Better to carry and not carve- than need to cut and not carry", as the old saying goes.
In The Darkness-
Well, while Drago had been practicing with his sword in the moonlight, other less savory folk were also going about their business, which because it is a dark and fell trade, is best discussed in the sunshine on a spring day when the lark is in the meadow.
I should hope that now you have at least lit a taper, but better that you should wait until you can sit upon your own porch with a pot of coffee and a plate of toast, for here it is, as best it can be remembered at this distant time.
Far from the Shire- to the east, in the Misty Mountains, the Goblins, or Orcs as some fashion them, were on the march. Goblins are a detestable lot who prefer the darkest and dirtiest holes and caves. They are a race of artificers, mechanics, pick purses, stranglers, hightobys and backstabbers. Once they have cleared a cave of its present occupants, usually by means foul and murderous, they set about rearranging it to suit their own barbaric styles.
As a rule Goblins are dwarf sized, that is to say a head taller than the average hobbit, sallow skinned to almost gray green, sharp toothed, lank haired (when they have any at all) and muscular, but stooped and of bad posture. This comes from running about in caves and holes all the while bent over.
Well as I started to say they were on the march westward, in a great host headed deep into the labyrinth of valleys and towering mountains in the Misty Range.
It needs explaining how the orcs came to be in the Misty Mountains in the first place and where they were going in the second place.
Long eons before this campaign, when the moon and the sun were still young, Durin, the father of the dwarves, had discovered a most wonderful cave in a valley in the Misty mountains which he named- Dimrill Dale, and that cave produced a silver metal that was stronger than steel, lighter than a feather and which never tarnished, but had the gleam of pure silver- Mithril. Durin named the shafts and halls of their minings- Khazad-dum which is dwarvish for "dwarf diggings".
In later years it had earned the ominous name of- Moria. But in those dim early years, Durin's children delved deep and hollowed out vast chambers beneath the mountain in their search for rich veins of the mithril ore, which their finest smiths transformed into wondrous arts. In the diggings they had also discovered many precious stones and these they cached away for later or traded with elves and men, but word slowly slipped out of the beautiful caverns and magnificent halls and tattle crept into ears that one hopes won’t hear of such things.
As they tunneled deeper and deeper for mithril, the dwarves encountered ancient tunnels and natural passages that bored down deep into the heart of stone. It was a grim day and one unforetold that saw the death of Durin and later of his son Nain.
The miners had just broken through a rock face that hinted at great promise of yielding a magnificent vein of ore, but when the rock broke under their hammers their beards stood straight out and their hearts were filled with terror. Fear gripped them down to their iron shod feet. The first three in the work party stood rooted, unable to shut their eyes against the gaze of two fiery orbs that stared out through the crack they had opened. The ground shook beneath their feet and a mighty whip snaked out of the crevice and wrapped around them and dragged them back into the recess. The other handful of dwarves in their party turned and fled the terror they had awakened even as the cloven rock face it stared from, shivered and collapsed, exposing a vast black chamber. The Balrog had risen.
Well it would take many pages to tell the tale of Durin's battle with the ancient evil and of his subsequent death and how his son Nain was killed a year later to the very day and of how the Balrog became known as “Durin's Bane” and finally how it slaughtered countless dwarves. Suffice to say that the dwarves fled their halls after a long and valiant defense of their homeland. They learned too late and only after many battles that they possessed no weapons which could make a mark upon the Balrog.
Durin's Bane became the sole master of Khazad-dum for a time- before once again it resumed its shallow slumber in the deeps of stone.
It was some time after this that the Goblins came into Moria and made it their home and did those things to it which made them comfortable, but at which we would turn up our noses for good reason.
Now don’t imagine for a moment that the orcs didn’t fear the Balrog also. The wiser orc sorcerers advised the king to take an offering down into the tunnels and leave it for the terror that dwelt there. So late every autumn as the last leaves were falling and winter was preparing its assault upon the mountains and valleys, the Goblins left a sacrifice, one of their own hatchlings, bound up in the dark to await its doom. It was in this way that a truce was had and also how the Orcs of Moria came to worship the ancient evil that slept in darkness.
The lustre and beauty of Khazad-dum became hidden in darkness and malevolence and thus began the dread history of "Moria". Oh, the dwarves would never forget the greatness of Khazad-dum, but ages would pass before we even come to the time of our story to say nothing of all of the stories that come in between then and now.
Of all of the goblin captains in that time, there was one who was especially nasty and conniving and by then the halls of Moria had become quite full of his kind. He decided to set out upon settling his own Goblin colony.
Gulfimbol (sometimes mistakenly spelled Golfimbul) took a battalion of his wretched kind, loyal only to him, and set out into the north west of the Misty mountains and searched out a new hold where he would rule his brigands band and he hoped build his own kingdom in time. This was not a popular decision with his King-- Mazug, but after many sharp words and at least one eye gouging scuffle it was decided that Gulfimbol could take his warriors and found a new outpost (that was how the king phrased it). “Far away”, he added with stony emphasis. Gulfimbol was far more ambitious than fat, old, one eyed Mazug.
He relocated to an especially disgusting and inhospitable collection of small, damp caves which became his headquarters as he plotted a campaign into hitherto uncharted territories, which he hoped to conquer. He sent spies out far and wide and began planning his rise to power. His petty stronghold was situated in an unremarkable little mountain he dubbed mount Gram after his sire.
He dwelt in the darkness there for no few years making friends with the wolves in those districts from which he began his own kennels and bred up a fearsome race of gigantic, ravenous beasts. It was this hideous pack that would begin the race of Gundabad Wargs.
With his wargish cavalry, Gulfimbol harried the mountains and scoured every crag and mountain for many leagues about and there wasn't a single innocent creature that escaped them. The bubbling stew pots of the fortified caves of mount Gram were never full enough for the ravenous orcs and wargs however, and it became self-evident to Gulfimbol that his wicked folk would need to find new sources for rations and loot.
It was in those years that his spies began to hiss tales of a green land to the west that was nearly defenseless, full of fat cattle, fatter purses and a chubby toothsome sort of people who his spies reported were ripe for the plucking.
From The North Down
It wasn’t the sort of land, according to descriptions, that Gulfimbol wanted to live in, it being too low, sunny and soft, but he thought, the vittles would be useful and the inhabitants (who would be especially useful as both provender and labor) would be a nice addition to his possessions. In time he would come back into the mines at the head of his own legions and challenge Mazug for the iron crown of Moria, but first he would have to march on the place called- “Shire”.
Bandobras had found himself a very handsome burrow up in Longcleeve in the North Farthing. It was far from his pipeweed crops in the south, but the orchards were among the best and he had decided he was going take a run at putting up his own cider. His favorite evenings were spent there on his porch in the gloaming with a glass of cider and a glowing pipe full of “Longtow”.
Most farmers squeezed their own apples and were not in the way of paying good coin for common drink- Bando had found a secret method (now long forgotten) by which to “fortify” his pressings and had shared samples with friends in the tavern trade. All of his travels to hither and yon and back around again to thither, had made him fast bench mates with no few inn keepers.
His plan was to send Drago into the South Farthing with fattened cattle for auction, whereupon the lad would check in on their “backy” crops whilst he himself toured the Shire in a cart with a barrel of “Roaring Bull” cider, letting all and sundry have a nip to wet their whistle. If things went according to plan, he expected orders would begin to pour in.
He had thought up the name one day while he looked over the fence into a farmers pasture as he assessed the weight and value of a few head of cattle. There in the middle of Mungo Harfoot’s field a young bullock and a tough old bull had squared off and the old bull bellowed out a challenge and this made Bando to think of how his cider could make a fellow feel rather uppish too if he over indulged and that is how Roaring Bull cider was born!
Many have thought over the years that Bando had earned his now famous appellation for his ferocious demeanor in battle and have forgotten that superb libation and also that Bandobras Took was one of the Shire’s most successful traders for years before he wielded club and sword.
Indeed it was his “take no prisoners and never look backward” philosophy of trade that made him such a courageous war captain.
In his own day many stories abounded of his quick mind for sums and knowing a good deal when he saw one. That is how he amassed a small fortune which to this day enriches Stalkers and Tooks.
Well you can see now, how the name Bullroarer was made- last to first, but now I am getting the cart before the ox and we will come back to that later.
The old north kingdom was gone by this time and there was no watch set upon the borders of the Shire so that though there had been peace for many years, an oliphaunt could have strolled in and eaten its fill of carrots and cabbages before anyone was the wiser. Gulfimbol did not ride in on oliphaunts, but his army, a score of scores, emerged from the fog of the North Downs as the moon was setting and without a sound.
He sent his spies lurking into the Shire and when they signaled the “all clear” he led the first wave of warg cavalry loping over the low dike and into the hay fields and apple orchards north of the Long Road which lay between Greenfields to the east and Longcleeve to the west.
The ‘cavalry’ carried wicked spears to spit their enemies upon and Gulfimbol sent part of these galloping in both directions down the road to stop any travelers from spreading the word of his invasion. It would upset his plans mightily if terrified itinerant hobbit tin smiths or shepherds or such went streaking about yelling their fool heads off about goblin armies invading the Shire.
He ordered his galloper to ride back to his second in command and issue the order for the rest of his cohort to cross the dike and form up on his tattered standard, which bore the likeness of the Balrog and was surmounted on its pike head by a withered hand.
First over the simple barricade were a hundred wolf riders. Next came his archers, all two hundred of them with their great black bows and arrows and behind them came a hundred armored swordsmen on foot. They arrayed themselves around the standard with nary a noise other than a muffled oath and a grunt or two.
“Well my fellows it’s a long road we’ve tramped and much sunlight we’ve endured with tightened belts and no good draught to drink, but tonight we’ll sup well on fresh meat and notch our swords with the days count of Halfling heads!”
They set up a muffled stamping of feet and nodding of heads and his lieutenants gave a “Here, here!” and one bold archer piped up, “We’re with ye Captain! Let’s grind the buggers fine and roast the young un’s my belly is plumb empty!”
Gulfimbol glared at them all with a baleful eye and his hand on his sword hilts. “Silence! We will grind them as the Sergeant said, but first we must disarm them and herd them into pens to sort the pliable ones from the trouble makers. We march on their town to the east while I leave a company to block the road and any attempt they make at defense. Any druak-huy among you who does not have blood on his blade by nightfall will join me for dinner…”
Good to his word, he left a score of riders on the road in hiding, amongst the trees, to capture any one walking east from Longcleeve while he took the main body and began his march upon Greenfields.
Night was mostly gone, and the sun nearly up as they advanced and Gulfimbol knew better than to ask his troops to fight under a bright warm autumn sky such as promised to break that day, but he could not hide his four hundred in the fields and woods until dark- the chances of discovery were too great and surprise was his fickle ally and not to be wasted.
His assault must begin at dawn when the hobbits were still yawning and pulling on their weskits and petticoats and cracking eggs and boiling coffee for first breakfast. If he could cut down a few and cow the others, he could leave them under a light but vicious guard while he set about riding to the west and subduing the next town. In the end his plan was to conquer the North and drive his throng of dispirited prisoners in a weeping and woebegone mob in advance of his column. He would sow such fear with fire and sword that they would put up no resistance, and the Shire would be his for the plundering. Goblins are quite good at plotting and woebegoning and other such nastiness.
Greenfields was a pleasantish little hamlet with a bakers dozen of stone cottages and nearly the same number of burrows and less than two hundred residents all told with both the old and the young counted.
Folk who lived in the North Farthing were a bit more suspicious than those elsewhere in the Shire, from the simple fact that wolves did sneak in now and again when it was very cold and once in a very great while someone would come back from the dike with a very strange tale of hooded riders seen dimly through the mist. Most of the stouter hobbits kept a billing hook or a knife close by the door or hanging over the hearth.
Once a year- usually on spring cleaning day (which always came weeks after real spring cleaning), after the picnic, the men and larger lads would muster with their pole arms and sharp belt knives on the green in front of the tavern and form a line and then a column and then their “Captain” would give them an encouraging speech and they would all “huzzah” loudly and break ranks to eat meat pies, casseroles and pastry. The whole of their training took less time than it does to tell about it.
They were a tiny company of hearty souls and if everyone showed up they were not more than thirty- all stalwart but some clumsy. Old Botho Sackville their commander wore a cow’s horn bugle over his shoulder and his neighbor’s boy carried their little standard, which marched at the head of column in the midsummer parade. Botho had standing orders that if ever he blew his horn- night or day they were to fall out on the green and form on the “colors” as he called their pretty flag. They were to fill their pockets with eatables and to be sure to bring a canteen and a warm hat if the weather was cool.
Gulfimbol’s advance squadron knocked down fences in their path and murdered any livestock that came within reach. More than one of the orc mounted wargs arrived on the outskirts of Greenfields with chicken feathers stuck to their slavering muzzles.
It was none other than Botho himself who gave the alarm. He was buttering his bread and pottering about in his slippers so’s not to awaken mother Sackville who was sleeping in, on account of she had suffered a sour stomach the night before- when he happened to look out the kitchen window just as the mist was lifting and saw on the far side of his potato beds a company of goblin archers forming their lines.
He dropped his toast plate with a clatter and was pounding out the front door with his old sword, grabbed from its peg by the door, in one hand and his horn in the other. As soon as his toes touched the green- a fair sprint from his own cottage- he put the horn to his lips and let out a squawk. He shook out the spiders nest and cobwebs and blew again and this time a mighty blast echoed off of the surrounding buildings and doors popped open, he let forth another long blast and then at the top of his lungs he yelled “Fear, Fire- Foemen!! To arms!! To arms!!” Two of the lads who lived closest by were shrugging into their coats and stumbling to the green.
“To arms! Fear, Fire, Foes!!” He blew his horn again and by this time the boy was there with the “Colors” and four of the lads had taken up their positions and others were racing in from every direction. In less than five minutes he had nearly all of his men gathered in a single rank.
He had told the early arrivers to hold their questions until he had everyone in hand and he had called another boy to him- one who was too young to fight.
“Now Jemi I want you to run as fast as ever you have out to Corny’s farm. When you get there you tell him to mount up and ride like the wind for Longcleeve and tell them- “The Captain says the Shire is invaded by Goblins and he has seen them with his own eyes”, and also tell em what as, “Sackville’s Company will hold as long as we can”. Have you got all of that?” He had the boy repeat it back and sent him scurrying as fast as his furry toes would scamper.
It is commonly accepted that Goblins are simple minded for the most part, except some of their leaders who are crafty and cunning. Often they get a notion in their ugly heads and you’d sooner make the mountains step out of your path than get an orc to pay attention and tend his business. This is just what happened.
Gulfimbol had most of his men in hand, but his pickets got too far out in front and became distracted in the early light by a litter of succulent little pigs that ran away in every direction squealing out alarms. Surprise was slipping away as he rode to the front to make sense of the confusion.
Meanwhile some of the lads in the main body had become bored and hungry and were gathering wood to start a cook fire for their stew pots. This all slowed his advance on the village by a few minutes and if that had not happened it is unlikely I would be telling you any tales about hobbits at all, as the day would have turned out much different and with it many other deeds would also have been changed- but here we are.
As Jemi sped off into the dawn, Botho turned to his men.
“We have near to no time my lads. You heard what I told the boy. I saw goblin archers at the back of my potato patch myself and if we don’t stop them I dare say it will be a grim day for all.”
Nearly all of the other residents of the village were standing on their steps or coming across the grass to hear what he had to say.
“We don’t know how many they are but we can guess what they intend. It has been many ages since our folk did battle with the likes of they.” He turned to face the crowds. “You must all go home and lock your doors and fill pails with water to fight fires and make some bandages as we will need them ere the sunsets.” He looked back at his men. They fidgeted and seemed deeply worried to downright terrified. “Well men as I have no other notion what to do we shall march for my potatoes. We fight this morning for our wee hobbits, hearth and the Shire!”
The first skirmish as you can imagine is appropriately called Sackville’s Stand. The sun was just free of the treetops when Botho led the men around the rear of his house to face the black archers-
Gulfimbol heard the horn blasts even as he brought order to his pickets and waved his main body forward. The pickets shambled south around a pond and crossed a thick thorny hedge and found a company of archers standing silently in the Sackville potato field. The archers were the ones that Botho had seen and they had veered off by accident and had decided to hold their position which is how they came to be spied by him. As Gulfimbol was cursing the sergeant of the archers for giving up the surprise, he saw Sackville’s Company come around the corner of the barn and form up with the hen house to their backs.
Well Gulfimbol snorted in derision I can tell you, at the tiny company of little pikemen arrayed before him, and he decided to send his own bodyguard of warg riders to drive them from the field. He was confident that the little halflings would break and run before the wargs were even halfway across the field.
It is safe to say that nearly every lad in Sackville’s Company including old Botho himself was quaking in fear but they put a good face on it and as the wargs surged forward Captain Botho ordered the colors to the rear and quickly commanded his men to form into two ranks and the front rank to kneel and both ranks to “Present Pikes!”
The boys in front grounded their pole butts and the sturdies in the second rank thrust their weapons out over the heads of the kneeling front rank. The wargs, when they reached the bristling hedge were stabbed in their noses and eyes and one even was spitted in the chest and threw his rider to the ground and all of them whirled about and raced back across the potatoes.
Bob Nackerton stooped down and with his knife slew the dazed orc who had been thrown by his mount. The hobbits didn’t cheer, and Botho could tell he would face much greater odds in mere minutes if he didn’t act quickly. Ten of his men carried yew bows and bulging quivers upon their backs and these he ordered into a rank even as he sent the bulk of his little army back around the barn to form up in the middle of the road and contest the path into the village in hopes of giving the innocent families a chance to hide and bar their doors or flee. His archers drew their bows and let fly upon his order and they pricked two of Gulfimbol’s archers and then they too turned and fled but not before the black archers loosed a torrent of arrows on them and two hobbits were seen to fall with huge shafts piercing them.
The goblins were enraged. This was not possible. These were frightened little people, who picked berries and hoed vegetable gardens- not warriors. Gulfimbol’s folk nashed their teeth and banged their swords against their shields and charged forward without an order- intent on exacting revenge.
Botho’s wife, Carnelia dashed down the front walk carrying the cat and her favorite silver spoons and with Botho’s fiddle tucked under one arm, she leaped over the front fence in a great single bound. This gave rise to a popular rhyme that has been much abused since those desperate times.
Hey diddle, diddle with her cat and his fiddle
Now she almost jumped over the moon…
The brave little band laughed to see such a play
As the old girl ran away with her spoons!
Jemi had done just as he was told and had nearly flown across the three miles to Corny’s farm. He got there just about the time that the orc archers were loosing their arrows at Sackville’s Company in the taters. With his message delivered he caught his breath and being a wise lad ran north toward the Long Road to see if he could spy anything out that might help. Corny’s farm lay off of the beaten path south of the Long Road and the warg cavalry guarding the byway had no way of knowing that a messenger now rode for Longcleeve to give the alarm.
Drago had just returned a few days earlier from buying a small herd of shaggy cattle in the West Farthing and the fat beasts grazed in his “uncles” pastures without a care in the world. Drago was washing up and Bandobras was puttering in the pantry, setting out hot bacon and two kinds of cheese and hardboiled eggs for their breakfast, when farmer Corny rode by like a streak- headed for the village a half mile away and the whole time he was hollering “To arms! To arms! Goblins in Greenfield! To arms!”
Bandobras grabbed his short sword and pulled down his great grandfather’s trollwood club from the mantle and before you could say butter and toast, Drago was right behind him and headed out the door. It is worth mentioning that the Trollwood tree is a variety that is gnarled and vast in height and harder than stone. Trollwood trees dull the blades of saws and it is rarely bothered with at all as it parries an axe blade better than the finest swordsmen. It’s one redeeming quality is its use for fashioning mallets and clubs.
They both went to the byre where Drago fetched his sword and shield which were hidden under the hay in the mow. Bando didn’t see this as he was saddling up his horse which usually pulled his dray wagon with cider barrels. As he was mounting up Drago came around the corner with his shield on his arm and his sword slung at his side.
“Well there’s no time to bicker and I see you’ve already taken it into yer head to come with me. I’ll naught ask where you came by your arms till we’ve sorted out this goblin business, but then you and I shall have a talk my young hobbit.”
He reached down and handed Drago up behind him and they rode pell mell for the village. By the time they got there at least fifty hobbits of a fighting age had assembled with an assortment of arms. More than half of them were armed with bows and knives. In the ages of their grandfathers the hobbits had been noted archers and they still enjoyed a good match now and again and some few used their bows for hunting when time and weather permitted. Longcleeve had not organized their company like Greenfields, but kept a muster roll so as to know who was expected to turn out in case of alarm. It had been agreed ages past that if ever they went to war they would elect one of their number as a Captain. Of course this had never happened until today.
Drago hopped down and Bandobras looked over the company of men milling about as Corny told again the message exactly as Jemi had told him. There was a lot of muttering about Botho Sackville losing his wits and a few exclamations of out and out fear. Old Dan, the acknowledged company clerk- the only official title in the company, was calling off the names of each soldier and they each hallooed as their name was called.
Bando took it all in with a sweep of his eye and with his hand resting on his sword hilt he raised his voice to be heard. There was no time for voting or drawing straws to see who would lead. He had lived in Longcleeve for several years now and was well known to all about and respected as a trader and the second son of the old Thain.
“My fellows it may very well be that Botho Sackville has gone mad, but until we see it with our own eyes we owe it to our friends and kin in Greenfields to come to their aid as requested. If goblins are indeed in the Shire we have no time to waste- so let’s quit this nattering and form up in a column of twos behind my nephew Drago and Ted Windyfoot. Corny as soon as you’ve caught your breath you must ride south and raise the other companies of the farthing and tell them to rally to Greenfields and that they should send couriers to carry word south, east and west.”
Wives and sweethearts and hobbit laddy bucks and lasses waved and wept and some few pressed cakes and bottles of water into the hands of their menfolk as they lined up in morning sun.
“Forward March!” Bandobras drew his sword and pointed it down the road. Someone took up a marching song and soon the whole company was in full voice singing of ancient times.
Huzzah! Huzzah! Our swords are drawn for orcish blood to let
We march! We march! From dawn til dusk we march!
Our ancient foe we’ll drive from forest, field and marsh!
Our swords are drawn with goblin blood to wet! Hey Hey!
Huzzah! Huzzah! We fought our foe and met his blade!
We smashed his lines and in our ranks we crushed his raid!
By our deeds our legends made! We march today hey, hey!
It’s not like the great songs of the Men of the west, but it cheered their hearts and helped to pass the time and there was much more to it. They had gone some miles when Jemi burst out of the weeds and fading flowers at the side of the road waving his arms.
“Wargs Mister Took! Up the road a piece, hiding in the bushes with orcs on their backs!”
“Good job laddy”, said Bando grimly. “You run back to Longcleeve and wait for any troops coming up from Oatbarton or Needlehole and bring em on fast as you can. Take em the back way by Corny’s lane just in case the road is still held by the Orcs.” He turned back to his men, Alright lads we’re going take that path ourselves to avoid these wargs. We cannot waste time nor arrows on such as block the road.” Never truer nor wiser words were spoke in the Shire .
THE BATTLE OF GREENFIELDS
It was a quarter days march between the two towns by road and Bando feared if they couldn’t come sooner he’d find nothing left of Greenfields. The path by way of Corny’s lane shaved the distance by half, but was tiresome as it was over hill and dale and had one creek to ford. Encumbered men don’t fly as quick as barefoot boys with their shirttails flying. Still if he could come up by lunch with winded troops it was better than taking the easy path and finding goblins dancing on the village green.
While all of this warning and hallooing and assembling had been happening, Captain Sackville had blocked the road to the commons and ordered all of the houses evacuated and sent the helpless hobbits to hide in the woods. Gulfimbol had come up from the tater field with his host in disarray and when he spied the little company just out of arrow shot he stopped to organize his troops. This had given the women and children a chance to pelt down the road to the east before they scattered into the countryside.
As Gulfimbol advanced, Botho had his seven remaining archers pick away at the goblins from cover and his men slowly backed down the highway with their face to the enemy. Their hearts grew steely as they watched the wargs ravage their cattle and goblins torched every burrow and house. Gulfimbol had given up on surprise and recognized a resolute enemy when he saw one and made the decision to raze the town in revenge and also to terrify the countryside. He would take one more stab at destroying the little pikemen and if that failed he’d leave a strong detail behind to harass them while he marched west and south burning his way through the Shire. He had a cunning mind for the battlefield and saw how to make sour cherries into sweet jam.
Not all of the hobbits of the Shire live in villages, a good many of them live in the countryside on farms and steadings and are very independent folk. As the morning had gotten on and the smoke grew on the horizon from the burning of Greenfields, a score or more of strong farmers and their sons began trotting toward the village, and some met Bandobras’ relief column and at least half that number ran into the refugees who were cowering in thickets and hedgerows and so they learned what had happened. Since all of them had grabbed both a fire fighting pail and billing hook or sickle when they guessed at trouble, they all arrived at the Greenfield Common with some weapon in hand and they bolstered Botho’s rank so that now he was up to two score even with his casualties. Several goblins lay stone cold on the ground with hobbit arrows in them and Gulfimbol had several times tried to flank the little group and begin an encirclement, but always they pulled back out of range and Botho’s archers kept falling back with him- stubbornly giving ground but still keeping hidden and picking away careful so as not to waste their arrows- shooting only when they were sure of their mark. The stone fences on either side of the road impeded the goblin cavalry but gave the defenders a narrow defile down which the enemy had to attack.
Though he outnumbered the halflings ten to one, Gulfimbol could not make advantage of his numbers. Captain Sackville was no one’s fool and if pushed too hard he had it in mind to climb to the summit of Lodge Top and make a stand.
After an hour or so of this Gulfimbol became frustrated and left a half strength squadron of warg cavalry and a few archers to keep Botho tied up while his troops finished the job of sacking the town and then he set out west on the Long Road. The sun was high in the sky and the hobbits would have said it was time for second breakfast if they had been about their ordinary business.
Orcs do not care for bright sun- being more creatures of the damp and dark. Their march slowed after only a mile or so and it was nearly ten o-clock when their commander, tired of whipping them with the lash, decided to let them fall out at the side of the road and rest in the shade of the bushes for a few minutes. The goblins true to their gluttonous nature devoured all of the meat they had found and some that they had hastily made and they drank deeply from a few casks of ale they had purloined and loaded onto a cart of loot.
It ended up being lunch time by hobbit reckoning before Gulfimbol could get them to give up their cooking and get back to their feet. He decided that he could not march on Longcleeve in the bright of day and arrive with any surprise, so he determined he must find a thicket or woods to lie up in until nightfall and then his men would be at their peak strength again and he could force march and fall upon the town in the darkness when his numbers and the nature of his folk would reign supreme. He left the road, heading to the south and sent out his scouts to find them a good place to lie up.
Well as chance would have it he had left the road just north of Farmer Corny’s place and he was headed straight for Bandobras Tooks left flank. Each of the forces was oblivious to the presence of the other, but Gulfimbol’s scouts noticed Bando’s flank guards first and loped back to their chief growling with the news.
As the smoke column in Greenfields grew so also did the tempers of Sackville’s Company. Botho sent his archers bustling off onto the south side of the road as his column headed back west toward the village. They were still well over a mile from town but they could see the wargs not very far off. As his archers came abreast of the wolf riders they let fly, Botho sent his pikemen into a wild charge shouting their fool heads off. The goblins were taken quite by surprise by the ferocious nature of their opponents and fled down the road through the village. The orc sergeant in charge told himself there was no sense wasting good troops defending a burned out and looted collection of ruins. He never bethought the problems that might arise from having nearly fifty angry hobbits in arms in the rear of their army. It barely needs reminding that orcs are simple minded.
When Botho reached the green he saw the wargs on the far side of town cantering away down the road to the west and the few black archers puffing along trying keep up. He halted his men and had them set to work putting out fires where they could and then they tended wounds and being hobbits took a bite to eat- sharing with each other what they had in their pockets. While they sat thusly more and more farmers from the outlying districts around and about began to trickle in and by the time Sackville’s had finished their meager dinner there were over a hundred hobbit men collected in the village and many of them were carrying yew bows. Botho formed his battalion into two companies- one of archers and the other of pikemen and as he suspected that Longcleeve was the goblins next target he headed his column off westward in a bold pursuit.
Gulfimbol decided to fall on the flank of Longcleeave company’s column with the surprise of a lightening quick charge. From the cover of the forest eaves his archers fired a volley of black arrows and then his wargs and heavy infantry charged through the openings left just for that purpose in the ranks of black archers.
The first volley of arrows had just struck Bandobras troops and many fell when at the same second Drago turned and saw the wave of wolf cavalry crossing the narrow hay field that lay between the woods where the goblins had hid and Corney’s Lane. Those hobbits still on their feet, turned to face the threat and met the charge with courage, but their ranks were broken and nearly half of Bandobras troops were down or in the jaws of a warg. He had counted over thirty swords and pikes before the ambush and as many archers and another half dozen of hobbits mounted on ponies carrying swords. His decimated column fell back across the Lane toward him as he waved his sword in the air. “Rally lads, rally on me!”
Those that could fight their way free ran to his side and the ponymen formed a hasty screen and the few archers knelt and began to pepper the orcs with arrows. Drago fought his way free of the awful tangle and seeing his uncle withdrawing towards Corny’s orchard on a low hill he shouted to the tiny handful of dazed hobbits standing near him and pointed to the hill.
“Rally on the Bullroarer! Rally on the Bullroarer!” He and his four mates ran as fast as feet can carry a hobbit, toward the relative safety of the ponies and archers.
The goblins were not to be thwarted though and were full of themselves from murdering or capturing nearly a third part of the column. They surged across the grassy lane towards the pretty knoll where Bandobras was now making the best use of his few remaining troops. He formed his pikemen in a tiny square and put his ponies and archers in the middle. If chance allowed he would open his ranks to let the ponies out and the archers could still let fly from within. One of the riders he sent galloping cross fields to the south- toward Needlehole with word of the disastrous situation and their location.
The goblins swarmed up the knoll in a disorganized mob, but were met with arrows and retreated to the bottom, whereupon Gulfimbol began issuing orders to surround the hill entirely and gave his archers orders to pick off the hobbits until they panicked and surrendered or broke and ran straight into goblin swords. An hour passed with arrows traded back and forth and orcs jeering and making rude gestures and the hobbits looking dour and stoic.
It was a dark hour indeed and there seemed no chance that relief would arrive in time to save the day. The sun was getting low in the sky by now and only an hour or so of daylight remained. Goblins were dragging brush and cutting trees to set ablaze and light up the night as they prepared to lay siege to the little hill.
It was about this time that the sergeant who had been left to hold down Botho showed up with a grin on his greasy face. Gulfimbol told him to report and the coward stammered out a lie saying he had put the hobbits to the rout and the last he had seen of them they were running away to the east. The orc captain began to grin and saw his plans coming together at last. With one force routed and the other all but destroyed and cornered- he was elated. He imagined a triumphal march into Longcleeve with hobbit heads on poles and a growing treasure train. No need to lay siege now, he would lead the charge himself and be rid of this pesky hobbit force.
Once he got moving again Botho had wasted no time in following the path the wargs had taken and the goblin sergeant had made no effort to conceal his trail as he left the road when he heard the commotion of battle. Captain Sackville had sent out two scout archers ahead of his force to quietly spy out the land and find the goblins and report back. Just as Captain Sackville’s men returned to tell him their news, that the goblins had their backs to the road, Golfimbul had begun his attack upon the hill.
Bandobras had taken a few casualties from the black arrows but was holding fast. He opened his ranks just long enough for the ponies to exit hoping that they might make a feint against the orc flank and then affect an escape. He would hold out as long as possible he told them, to buy time for the companies from the townships below the Long Road.
Botho lead his troops through the woods and into the narrow field. As he placed his archers in the middle of his line with a contingent of pikemen on either flank he saw Bullroarers little square open up and the tiny squadron of ponies ride hard into the goblin right flank. Arrows shot in an arc up and out of the square as the hobbits ranks closed again.
Botho put his horn to his lips and blew a mighty blast that would like to have raised the dead kings on the barrow downs!
His archers let fly as his sword came down just a blink after the arrows from the hill struck Gulfimbols front rank. Another flight arced across the space between the rear rank of goblins and the Sackville Company, and goblins were falling left and right, but Gulfimbol was engrossed in what lay in front of him and was oblivious to the threat in his rear.
Bullroarer however, had heard the blast and his heart was filled with courage. The ponies he had sent away had punched through the goblin ranks and rode like madmen for Needlehole a dozen leagues away but they had barely gone a mile when they came upon a column of ponymen riding lathered mounts just arriving on the scene from Needlehole, hoping to make the battle in time to spill goblin blood. The twenty good riders joined the little band from Bullroarers battalion and they raced back towards the sounds of the fight.
Gulfimbol turned when he heard the next horn blast only paces to his rear. He swiveled about and saw the hundred plus grim hobbits thrashing his rear rank. He faced to the front again and his instincts told him he must first conquer the hill and then turn about to face the threat from behind. His warg reached out snatched a wounded hobbit up in its jaws and began to shake him as Drago dashed forward from the square and struck the wolf a fearsome blow across the snout with his sword. The beast dropped the soldier and shied away but Gulfimbol snarled and turned its bleeding head back again and swung his sword with all his might at Drago. The young hobbit took the blow on his shield just as his “teacher” had shown him and deflecting the blade to his left he thrust out with his sword toward the wargs shoulder and sank his blade deep. The creature collapsed as the point pierced its heart and Gulfimbol was thrown to the side but came instantly to his feet.
Botho’s archers loosed volley after volley until all of their arrows were spent and then drew out their hunting knives and plunged in beside their pike and sword wielding cousins. Hobbits are slow to anger but can be most fierce when their blood is up.
Drago leaped across the warg and drove hard against Gulfimbol, but as he slashed his feet became entangled in the dying wargs dangling harness, and he stumbled and dropped to a knee. It was almost over in a blink. Gulfimbol saw the threat and then the opening and knocked Drago’s sword aside with his curvy blade and then kicked the shield wide with his foot. His next stroke was aimed for Drago’s heart when a long dark shadow cast by the fiery setting sun fell across him and he glanced up to see the silhouette of a rider mounted on a horse and in that second a trollwood club completed its arc.
“Stay off my son ye foul filth!” and with that the club came up aside of Gulfimbols head with the deadliest crunch and the orc captain staggered back so hard upon his heels that when he fell he slid part way down the slope before he came to a rest with a permanently stunned expression and he cocked up his toes and never moved again.
“Rally on me lads!” Bullroarer and his men waded into the front rank of orcs swinging their swords and sickles left and right. The flying ponies collided with the goblin right flank again and that was enough for all of the orcs, caught as they were on a sloping field between a hammer and an anvil. A cry went up that Gulfimbol was dead and nearly three hundred remaining goblins found every opening they could and ran like water through a sieve. Drago stood by the Bullroarer’s stirrup and killed no less than a dozen orcs by himself, guarding his commander and savior. He remembered all that Calithil had taught him and even the other brave soldiers of Longcleeve were amazed by his strength and skill and then as darkness came down like a curtain he led a spirited pursuit in the moonlight toward the dike. Reports came back that no more than a short score of goblins crossed the berm and made it out into the dark fog on the downs and disappeared, trailed by a stream of whining, riderless wargs.
Captain Botho Sackville and Bullroarer Took shook hands amid the wreckage and ordered some of the lightly wounded to help their more seriously injured fellows and the bon fires the orcs had planned were lit instead by hobbits to guide the constantly arriving troops coming up from the south. A guard was put on Longcleeve and all of the roads were secured. More hobbits joined in the orc hunt and yet still others were sent to Greenfields to extinguish the last of the smoldering fires and to find shelter for the innocents who had no place to pillow their heads that night. It was a night to celebrate the destruction of the invaders and a night to mourn the fallen and tend the grievously wounded.
Drago thought of what the Bullroarer had said to Gulfimbol as he slew him. He was not sure if Bando meant “his son” in the sense of he felt like Drago was his son or whether there was something else that “Uncle” Took had never told him.
The battle of Greenfields was over and heroes had been made and the tales would grow in the telling- even some that are a bit farfetched. Down to this day everyone remembers Bullroarer Took and his stalwart defense of the orchard and his slaying of Gulfimbol, but Captain Botho Sackville was the first hero of the day and the last, as his fine generalship bought time so that Bullroarer could come upon the field and Botho’s wise maneuvering had saved the lives of all the innocents of Greenfields to say nothing of his timely arrival in the late afternoon and his brave and excellent attack of the orc’s rear.
Then of course in the weeks to come both Jemi and Farmer Corny were also feted for their outstanding contributions as messengers and scouts, but Bullroarers destruction of the goblin captain turned the tide of battle for all and put the enemy to the rout.
Drago too was remembered for his defense of his “uncle” and for his sword arm and quick thinking in the aftermath.
Down to his last days he was remembered as Drago the Brave. Every summer for a hundred years there was a celebration in the rebuilt town of Greenfields to honor the Veterans of the battle and to remember the fallen. Toasts were drunk and speeches made and a small remembrance stone was solemnly placed on the slope leading to Corny’s orchard and Botho’s horn became the emblem of rank for all of the Captains of the Greeenfield Company down through the years.
The mayor at Michael Delving voted a special sword each for both Botho and Bullroarer and they became the most honored hobbits in the Shire for many generations and some the their descendants went on to do great things as well, though Botho may have been a bit disappointed with a certain great, great grandniece who actually married into the Took clan, but her bad manners are no fault of his and he and Bullroarer became the fastest friends and often fished together in the Longcleeve mill water and smoked their pipes and drank cider on Bandobras porch in the evenings.
It was not long after the battle that Bandobras sat Drago down and had a long talk with him about who his mother really was and of course who his father was.
Drago thought deeply for a day or so and considered being angry and hurt that his father had misled him for all of those years, but in the end there was no denying that both of his parents had loved him and done what they could for him, to give him a family and a fine life.
He told his father his own secret about the lessons in the glade when the elvish lady taught him swordsmanship and how he came to own the shield. He wished so much to know his mother more, but he thought it best if he remained Drago Stalker so as not to confound the issue and everyone seemed reasonably pleased with things as they were and the hobbitish qualities in him ran true and like some other, even darker secrets kept in the Shire, it has stayed a secret until now.
Drago lived on with his “uncle” for another few years, but when he turned forty he took his share of the profits from the cider and backy and droving and moved far off to the east and settled a little town in the south of Buckland where he dug out a splendid burrow and fathered many strong Stalker lads including the present day Squire Hamish Stalkers great grandsire, Thaddeus Phinboar Stalker. Drago is always remembered first for his bravery and then as the first Squire of Standelf.
He wandered in the high hay upon occasion and was often seen gazing wistfully to the west and he talked now and again of wanting to go to the seashore. When he passed at the ripe age of 104, his sword, which had always hung in readiness by the door with his shield, was buried at his side and a mysterious lady whose face was hidden in a hooded green cloak was seen leaving a seashell on his grave after everyone had sadly gone home excepting the wizened old sextant.
The Standelf Stalkers never forgot their eminent sire and Hamish Stalker true to form raises a glass on every New Year’s Day—“To the memory of our ancestor Drago The Brave!”
Now we have come back to the beginning…