Chapter One, A Grey Night, Section 7
by Stephen N. Barnes, Jr.
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Early in the morning, in the quiet hour before sunrise, light wisps of smoke were rising slowly over a valley east of the Finterwood. The wisps arose from a small chimney protruding from one hill in the midst of several hillocks, and dissipated silently in the dawn sky. The air was still, as if waiting to surprise the sun at daybreak.
A broad path wound through this land, over woods and through dells, out of Hobbiton in the east until it joined the South Bree Road further south. Halfway between, it encountered these hills. They were indeed hobbit homes. Several other chimneys were extending from the tops of the other hills, as the light of the slowly waking sun just glazed their tops. Smoke came from only one of the hill chimneys. The smoke drifted across the hilltops, and with it wafted a faint smell of pancakes and eggs. It seemed someone was preparing an uncommonly early breakfast.
This particular hobbit home had a nice fence and gate, with a welcoming path leading to a round front door. Flowers dotted the path and manicured ivy grew around the doorframe. The door opened into a small foyer, which smelled faintly of apples and turned earth a cozy scent that reminded visitors of the brief moment of change from summer sun to autumn air. The foyer, though plain, was well furnished, and widened into a broad hallway down the middle of the hill. Several doors opened off the hall into bedrooms, two dens, and, of course, the kitchen.
The smell of pancakes, bacon and eggs grew stronger down the hallway, and thoroughly permeated the charming kitchen. A fire snapped in a fireplace against one wall. A full kettle rested above the fire, with a pan and utensils beside. Above the fireplace hung a mantle, with various odds and ends atop it. On the opposite side of the kitchen, a door opened to a well-stocked pantry. In the center of the room sat a square table with four chairs.
A hobbit was leaning back in one of the kitchen chairs and sighing with satisfaction. "Ah, me." He patted his round stomach. "Nothings better than a fine stack of cakes in the morning! Cakes and bacon in the morning will ready a hobbit for a proper walk, as they say. But now to get this cleaned up." He stretched slowly, then lifted his mug and plate from the table.
He was rather rotund; even portly, as hobbits go. He had light brown hair on his head and feet, and was dressed superbly in bright blue. He stood up from the table and moved toward the sink with his mug and plate. While standing up, he glanced at a clock on the mantle. His cheerful countenance sank. "Oh my," he exclaimed. "Times gotten away from me." He shook his head. "Confusticate and be bothered! What was he thinking, scheduling a meeting so soon after breakfast?"
He bustled about the kitchen, frantically pushing plates and silverware into the sink. Finally, he grabbed his cloak and hat and made his way to the front door. Right at the doorstep, he stopped and snapped his fingers. "I almost forgot!" He turned and ducked into a bedroom, and emerged with a small backpack and a package wrapped in bright red and blue paper. "I mustnt be late for the party this year," he muttered.
Dropping the present into his pack, he stepped outside the door into the cool morning air. The sun was just peeking over the hills, and birds were beginning their daybreak songs. On the horizon, grey clouds were shifting in the billowing wind. The hobbit glanced right and left into the road, shivered, then pulled his cloak tighter about him and set off.
He headed southward on the road. Along the way, he passed several other houses, some carved into the side of small hills, others standing with bright colored doors and even brighter flower gardens surrounded by picket fences. This small hobbit village was merely a collection of houses on the path to South Bree. It was called Brookton by its citizens, who named it in honor of the creek which ran along the right side of the road through the entire village. It seemed a good name for the small and quiet hobbit community.
The hobbit passed only one other hobbit, an old farmer named Topper, hurrying down the path. Farmer Topper was well known for his crankiness, and did not take much to conversing with the other hobbits in Brookton. It was too early for long conversation anyway, but even cranky hobbits have an affable streak, and so the bright blue hobbit nodded and bowed, and exchanged a requisite, "A fine morning it is today!" Old Topper squinted his eyes and stopped a moment, then bowed low as well.
"Fine it is not, Ill reckon," he said curtly. "But a gid mornin Ill wish ya, whatever befall," he huffed. "Im off to the fields." With a wink, he started down the path again.
"Well, have a fine day, nonetheless," answered the hobbit cheerfully.
After a brisk walk, he came to the Brookton gate. The creek beside the road widened here, and turned leftward under the road. Years ago, the villagers had built a stone bridge which spread over the creek. Two small stone towers stood on either side. An old iron gate opened outward, and broken stone walls extended a short ways east and west from the stone towers. A rather crude looking guardhouse stood next to one of the towers. From the look of things, the gate had not been closed in many years.
The hobbit looked up at the guardhouse, then walked over the bridge. As he approached the gate, a voice called. "Delegard Bolger, greetings and an early good morning to you! Youre looking mighty blue today!" Laughter came from the guardhouse. "Got a party to go to?"
Del looked down at what he was wearing, which consisted of a bright blue jacket and breeches, with a matching bright blue cap. "Well, youre right, Sandy," he said. "And I do have a party to get to. My paps seventieth, in South Bree, if you want to know the truth."
A hobbit appeared out of the guardhouse and leaned against the wall. He wore a mail shirt and a green cap with a feather stuck in the band. He cocked his head. "That so? Well, I dont remember getting no invitation. But I get lots, and Mary hides em from me sometimes. So just go along then. Drink a draught at The Crumpet for me. And tell your pap happy seventieth!"
Del smiled. "Sure thing, Sandy. Thank you."
Sandy waved him on as he walked through the gate. "Oh, I almost forgot to tell you," said Sandy. "Be careful on the road there, Del. Ive heard tell from Nab over in Lettleton that theres some mean-looking Big Folk round. Riders from the north country it seems. Theyre looking for a thief or murderer or something, or so the rumor goes. They seem mighty dangerous, or so he says. You know Nab, so it could be nothin. But watch yourself, and take care." Sandy saluted him.
Del nodded and moved beyond the gate. He pulled his cap down and adjusted his pack and cloak. "Thief or murderer," he wondered. "I wish the north men well, but I dont want nary a part of that."
Copyright 2001, Stephen N. Barnes, Jr. All Rights Reserved