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Chapter One, A Grey Night, Section 10
by Stephen N. Barnes, Jr.

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"What do you mean?" Lendy asked. "You took the pouch and the dagger, and I agree with Del, you should put them back. These northmen are looking for one thief; we ought not provoke them to search for two!"

Brogund explained, "These men were not the only creatures I saw. When I picked up these items from the roadway, I heard noises in the valley. They sounded to me like the wolves we have heard old Belmark of Hobbiton speak of ... a great howling and screeching in the distance, south of where I found these. I do not know what that could have been, but I only had to hear it once to know that I should leave as fast as possible. As I was running from the road, I felt that the howling was getting closer. I don’t wish to go back."

The other hobbits sat silent for a moment. The wind had shifted and a gust swept underneath the tree.

"This is terrible!" Lendy broke the silence. "And just outside the Shire! Not to mention that you have stolen a journal! This cannot end well." Lendy furrowed his brow.

"No," snapped Del. "And I for one did not wish to know it. The happenings of the Northlanders and the evil in Bænde-hullow have never been of interest to me, and I shan’t start being interested in them! I have a party to attend in South Bree, and I intend to be early for tea and cakes." With that, Del turned away from the crate and stepped decisively toward the gate.

"Stop!" Brogund cleared his throat. "It is too late, I’m afraid," he said. "There is more. I fear the Shire is in grave danger. Danger like none it has seen since the Quelling War. As I said before, I have seen other creatures besides the Northlanders."

Del stopped, but still faced the gate. "Well then, let us have it," he said. "As if evil men and howling wolves aren’t bad enough."

"I ran from the place where I found these, and hid myself behind an old rock wall. The howling was getting closer. When I looked toward the Finterwood," Brogund shook his head, "I saw something strange. I believe," he paused and whispered, "I believe I have seen orcs."

Lendy dropped his pipe, which hit the ground with a thump. Del spun around with a look on his face like he had just tasted sour milk. "Orcs?" they both cried.

"I am afraid so," replied Brogund. "At least, I think so," he continued. "They were distant, and rain was falling at the time."

"Impossible!" snorted Lendy. "Your eyes must have tricked you. There have been no sightings of orcs since the Quelling War, except for Belmark’s crazy ranting, but no one believes him anyway. It must have been the fog."

"No. I’m quite sure I saw them," Brogund quipped. "Great burly dark creatures dressed for battle. They rather loped than walked. I watched them for a few moments before they disappeared into the Finterwood. There must have been ten or so of them."

"This can’t be!" cried Del. "Are you certain?"

"As certain as I am standing here with you, I’m afraid." Brogund puffed on his pipe. The little bit of sunlight which had been streaming through the thicket receded as more clouds moved in from the north. Wind swept through the branches of the tree, and the three hobbits shuddered.

"This is terribly disconcerting, and too shocking for me." said Del finally. "I have half a mind to walk back to my house right now, lock the door, and cook another breakfast. One should not have to start a day with such news, especially when going to a party!"

"And I have half a mind to come with you and share that breakfast," said Lendy. "But what good is hiding at home if orcs are at your door? I wonder what has brought them out of their holes, if that’s where they live."

"I don’t know," said Brogund. "I would never have known there were orcs still in these parts, what with the Quelling War and the history books and all. Something odd is in the works. We certainly need to find out more before we go telling folks this news." Brogund thought for a moment, then clapped his hands. "Del, you are going to South Bree today, perhaps you could visit The Crumpet and see if anyone’s heard anything out of the ordinary."

Del raised his eyebrows. The thought of traveling several miles to South Bree with Northlanders, thieves, murderers, and now orcs present did not sit well with him. Most days he would jump at the chance to visit The Crumpet, a jewel of a pub. But this dire news had unsettled him greatly. Thoughts of fine ale and finer company could not calm him. He cleared his throat. "I am starting to feel sick, yes, a nasty unpleasant throat cold," said Del. "Must have caught it from Loblolly. Their whole family’s been sick, you know. Yes," he lied as he patted his chest, "I must be getting back to my home." He coughed. "I believe I need some hot tea, a few spice cakes, and a long nap."

"Then it’s settled," Lendy interrupted. "I’ll go with you to South Bree and we’ll see what we can find." Lendy also did not like the thought of traveling on the road alone, and partly his curiosity, partly his keen hobbit sense, told him that something queer indeed was afoot.

"But…" said Del.

"Good idea," said Brogund.

"Yes, we should leave soon. And perhaps I could join you at your pap’s party." Lendy said resolutely.

"But…" Del stammered.

Brogund seemed satisfied with this arrangement. "Good. Are you both armed?"

Del feigned another cough and threw a protest look at the others. They were determined. He sighed and shook his head. "I reckon I will have to manage the journey being ill," he mumbled.

Lendy looked at Brogund, shaking his head. "I have no weapon," he said, "and I’m sure Del is in no condition to wield one," he added jokingly.

Brogund smiled. "I came prepared for that." He pulled two short hobbit swords from behind the tree. "Here. Take these. They are of Dwarven make. I found them in my grandfather’s home. They are fine metal, and will offer some protection." Brogund handed them to Del and Lendy, who took them eagerly and wondered at them. They strapped them to their sides.

"I’ll be better at running from them than using this against them," Del moaned.

"Either way, tell no one in South Bree what we have spoken about today. Hobbit or man, for that matter. I think it best that we keep this news quiet." Brogund drew on his pipe.

"What are you going to do?" asked Lendy.

"I’m not certain, thought I do believe it is time for me to pay a visit to Master Belmark Briskfoot. He is the only hobbit to my knowledge that actually learned the histories in the Red Book from a full-blooded Took. And some have said that he walked with Elves before their exodus." Brogund’s eyes lit up at this, and Del and Lendy saw a fire within them that reminded them of his distinguished ancestry.

"Belmark is old, but surely he is not that old!" cried Del. "And he is as strange as he is old, from the things I’ve heard. Do be careful, Brogund."

"I will keep my wits about me. And I will also safekeep these items." Brogund shuffled the objects on the crate back into the pouch, and tucked the dagger and the pouch under his belt. "Return to Brookton by tomorrow evening. We can meet at my house for supper and a meeting. And be cautious," he warned, "we don’t know what is stirring."

Lendy picked up his pipe and turned to Del. "Well, we have a party to get to, Del. And we have no time to spare. The sun is moving up in the sky. I say we adjourn this meeting." Del and Brogund agreed. They opened the covered gate and all three stepped out into the field.

"Goodbye, Brogund! Do watch yourself," said Del.

"You as well. Yours is the longer journey!" Brogund grinned and closed the gate, which blended into the holly hedge. "I will see you tomorrow in Brookton." He turned and began walking north up the path. The wind had picked up, and his cloak blustered in the cross breeze. "So long!" he called, and soon was out of sight.

The two hobbits faced southward. The sky was bright and blue, but their conversation had dampened their spirits considerably. "Well, no use standing and sulking," said Lendy. "Let us away!"

As they walked toward the road, Del sighed. "I don’t like this one bit," he muttered.


Copyright 2001, Stephen N. Barnes, Jr. All Rights Reserved

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