TALES FROM THE RED BOOK II: THE FELL WINTER
It was winter. Outside Fairbairn Towers the snow was falling thick and fast, laying down a gentle white carpet on the green hills. Inside, the hall was hung with fresh-smelling garlands of holly and mistletoe, and the rooms were filled with the appetising smell of baking and roasting.
In the warm and cosy sitting room Samwise Fairbairn sat with his four children and his wife Jasmine. They had just finished a raucous game of pick-up-sticks, which Hamfast had won with great delight, and now Daffodil, the eldest, was helping her mother wind wool whilst the others were clamouring for a story from their father. Samwise let himself be jumped upon by his littlest son Rolo before agreeing, with more eagerness than he showed to his children.
He put Rolo down and stood up to get the large red book which was a family heirloom. It had first been the property of the famous hobbit Bilbo Baggins, who had kept a record of his adventures with dwarves, dragons and gold in the Third Age; and Bilbo had passed it on to his heir Frodo the Nine-Fingered, who in turn had given it to his faithful servant, friend and inheritor Samwise Gamgee before leaving Middle-earth for the West - but that, of course, was just a myth upheld by the Fairbairns. Most inhabitants of the Shire believed firmly that Bilbo and Frodo had disappeared again, as was their wont, and gone away to die in some far-off land. Now the Fairbairns, descendants of Samwise Gamgees eldest and fairest daughter Elanor, kept the huge volume safe and passed on its contents to their children. The young hobbits loved the many and varied tales contained within the covers, from the riddle-game Bilbo played with the slimy Gollum, to the description of the battle fought by Gandalf the wizard with the Balrog in Moria, or the pomp of the crowning of King Elessar. They had heard them all before and never tired of asking for repeats.
Now Samwise opened the book, fingering the yellowing parchment gently.
"I thought wed have some history today," he said. "As its coming up to Yule, what do you say to the tale of the Fell Winter?"
"Yes please!" yelled Hamfast, jumping up and down enthusiastically.
"Its scary," murmured Marigold, cuddling up to her fathers legs.
"If youre scared, Mari, dont listen," said their mother. "Dont frighten them, Sam," she added.
"Its not scary!" laughed Samwise. "Are we all happy?" He riffled through the pages and found the place where the story of the Fell Winter began.
"The snow began early that year. The first flakes fell from the sky in late Halimath, just after Bilbo Bagginss twenty-first birthday, and by the end of Winterfilth the grass and fields were ankle-deep. The young hobbits loved the snow, and every day spent all afternoon playing snow-fights and building snow-hobbits. But the farmers cursed the early winter, as their harvests rotted in the velvety blanket and the animals froze to death in the fields.
The big families began laying in provisions. The Tooks and Brandybucks gathered the clans together in their holes, and in Hobbiton, the larger holes such as Bag End -"
"Ive been there!" shouted Hamfast, waving his hand in the air.
"So have we all," Samwise said, his finger on the page. "But no interruptions, Hammy, remember?" He coughed and carried on. "The larger holes such as Bag End were used as communal shelters for the old and the young. And the snow kept falling. Now the Bywater Pool was frozen over and everyone made skates and went skating in the evenings. It got colder and colder and soon the weather was too bad for skating. The hobbits closed their windows and piled on the firewood. Yule was quiet and the hobbits sat indoors and watched the paths block up and the eaves of their holes become heavy with the white snow.
Still the winter would have been manageable had it not been for the ultimate disaster, particularly from the prospect of the Brandybucks. They had always believed strongly that they were protected from the fears that were in the outside world (things like the Big People, and Elves, and general unknown but undoubtedly present dangers) by the presence of the deep and fast-flowing Brandywine on the edge of their borders. Nothing had ever crossed the Brandywine without leave, and the Brandybucks believed nothing ever would. They were wrong."
Daffodil shivered deliciously, winding green wool assiduously. She knew the story, of course, but it never failed to excite her. She watched her father as he turned the page with care.
"One night, just after Yule, young Adalgrim Took, who had been visiting his aunt Mirabella in Brandy Hall with messages and provisions from the Smials, went outside to see if the snow looked like letting up. He was anxious to get home to his family. He wandered a few metres, walking along the pathway of shallower snow kept clean by the Brandybucks, staring up at the sky, when he heard a noise. It sounded like an animal. Adalgrim swallowed and turned to go back inside the warmth of the Hall, glancing around him as he did so. He could see nothing.
He was five metres from the door when it happened. Adalgrim was knocked over from behind by something large, wet, and furry, which snarled and grunted as he sought for a grip on his winter clothes. Adalgrim screamed -"
Hamfast, his eyes wide, obligingly did the sound effect for the benefit of his family, and screamed loudly. Jasmine winced, but smiled as she did so.
"- and called for help. He fought with the thing on top of him, thrashing his legs and arms. Soon, alerted by his cries, several Brandybucks came out of the Hall armed with sticks and clubs, and together they fought the animal off and hurried Adalgrim back inside to see to his wounds. He had been bitten in several places, and as the Brandybucks bandaged the injuries they discussed what could have attacked Adalgrim. The victim himself maintained that the creature was a large wolf.
"Probably a werewolf," he whispered, eyes wide. "Come to haunt the Shire."
"Werewolves dont exist," his aunt Mirabella said firmly. "Do be sensible, Addy."
"All right, then, it was a wolf," Adalgrim said. "A big one. White. Wasnt it?" he asked his rescuers. They nodded.
"Aye," Orgulas Brandybuck, his aunts brother-in-law, agreed. "A gurt bigun, too. And Id lay a bet that it isnt alone. Where theres one therell be another."
"They must have come over the river. The Brandywine must have frozen," said Gorbadoc, the Master of Brandy Hall. "What does everyone suggest? Raising the Shire?"
"The Tooks will want to help," asserted Adalgrim. "We have enough weapons stashed away in the Smials for all of us and half of you too. Blow the Horn-Call, uncle. Alert everyone. We can fight them off. And we should go and break the ice on the river, make sure that no more can come across."
"I agree with that," said Mirabella, gathering up the things she had used to tend to Adalgrim. "We want no more children being hurt. Give the call, dear. Raise the Shire.""
Samwise turned another page, glancing around at his children. Daffodil had stopped pretending to wind wool and was listening with her whole attention. Even Jasmine was putting more than half her mind to the story. Samwise looked back at the book and continued.
"So Gorbadoc Brandybuck went to his study and carefully, reverently, lifted down the horn from the wall where it had hung from time out of mind, waiting for the Brandybucks need. Then he gathered together a group of stout hobbits, armed with sticks and bows, and went out into the cold.
The hobbits had wrapped up warmly but still their noses tingled with the chill, and their feet, wrapped up against custom, felt strangely numb. Gorbadoc climbed the hill above Brandy Hall, raised the horn to his lips, and blew.
Awake! Awake! Fear, Fire Foes! Awake! Fire, Foes! Awake!
The Horn-Call of Buckland rang out through the still, frosty air. It carried for miles in the silence of the snows, and hobbits in their warm holes sat up, opened windows and doors, dressed warmly and clutching home-made weapons, set out for Brandy Hall. All evening they came, in twos and threes at first, and later in larger groups. Mirabella gave them mulled wine and cake and they waited, dozing fitfully in corners all over the Hall. By six in the morning it seemed that nobody else would arrive. Most of Buckland had come, and several hobbits from the area around, and a few others. Gorbadoc gathered them all together in the Great Hall and began to explain, when there was a knock on the door.
Gorbadoc sent Adalgrim to answer it, and five minutes later he came back, proudly leading a large group of twenty or so Tooks headed by the Thain himself, old Isengrim. Isengrim was accompanied by several of his brothers, nephews and a few nieces. The Tooks settled themselves down at the side of the Hall. Gorbadoc began to speak. He explained the situation, and Adalgrim, not without a certain degree of pride, displayed his wounds for the assembly to see. The Tooks bristled with anger. Gorbadoc divided the hobbits into groups of ten, giving them each a patch of land to patrol, and the army set out.
They were out all day. Many people reported sightings of the wolves, and two were shot and killed and transported triumphantly back to Brandy Hall. But of the large pack that was inevitably out there, not a sign was seen. The ice on the river was broken to prevent any more animals crossing. Hobbits left at home were told to barricade their doors.
The second day of hunting brought success. Gorbadocs troupe of Brandybucks and Tooks, moving silently in hobbit-fashion through the snow, suddenly came across a large group of wolves, perhaps twenty, lying sated on the ground. Beside them lay the carcass of a fat pony which they had stolen from some stable or other. The snow was stained pink with its blood."
Marigold made a face.
"Thats disgusting," she said, as she always did. Hamfast stuck his tongue out at her.
"Lovely and red!" he said. She turned away from him.
"Carry on, Dad."
"The Tooks and Brandybucks drew their weapons. They formed a circle around the pack of wolves, noiselessly moving down-wind, and then, on Gorbadocs order, they attacked.
The battle was fast and furious. Adalgrim, trying to redeem his efforts from the previous night, dealt his blows hard and accurately and he felled three wolves quite quickly with stout hits at the head. Around him the other hobbits were doing as well, the wolves having only their teeth and their size to fend off their enemies. The hobbits, now that they were not surprised, had sticks and staves, knives and feet, and they used them well. Despite this, three Brandybucks and two Tooks fell under the wolves attack and when at last the battle ended, over fifteen corpses lay upon the snow. The other wolves had fled and were later to die in the freezing water of the Brandywine. The hobbits triumphantly cut off some skins and two heads, one for Brandy Hall and one for the Smials, and sorrowfully carried their fallen comrades home to the Hall for burial.
On arrival at Brandy Hall, Mirabella Brandybuck was awaiting them with mulled wine and bandages, and a crowd of young hobbits and wives cheered as they tramped in. Mirabella ordered their clothes to be taken away and washed instantly, and the hobbits sat down in the great hall to tell their story to the stay-at-homes, the fire warming their frozen toes.
The dead hobbits were buried the next day with pomp and honour. The wolves heads were stuffed and hung upon the walls. All the hobbits who had fought the battles got fur hats and trimmings for their coats. And the story of the Fell Winter and the fight with the white wolf pack has continued to be passed down in hobbit history, until this day."
Samwise shut the book.
"Not too scared? Good. Now, I promised you a story and you got one. You promised me youd all go to bed. Scarper!"
Hamfast jumped up.
"Race you, Mari!"
She squealed, and ran after him along the hallway. Jasmine picked up little Rolo and followed her children. Daffodil lingered in the warm sitting room.
"Did that really happen, Dad?"
"Yes, my love, it did. Come on, I meant bed for you as well. Ill let you choose the next story."
"Promise. Now, bed!"
Daffodil bent over and gave her father a kiss on the cheek.
Samwise watched her go, and then stood up to put the book away. He touched its red cover gently, as if to bid the great heirloom goodnight also, and then went away to find his family. Outside the closed curtains, the snow kept on falling. It was to be a beautiful winter.