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Chapter 2. Home Again, Home Again, Jiggety-Jig
'The wrong idea?' Ferdi said.
'They might think we're in the business of selling pigs!' Farmer Oatley said. 'Too many folk come round, askin', and pretty soon there's no ham left in our own pantry!'
'Why not raise extra pigs?' Ferdi said, thinking the question reasonable, but from the look the farmer gave him you'd think he'd insulted the hobbit, and that deeply.
'I'm a farmer of oats,' the farmer said. 'Oatley's the name, oats was good enough for the likes of my father and his before him, and oats is good enough for me!' He jabbed at his breast with a stiff thumb, winced, and rubbed at the spot. 'Surely, we have a few pigs, as does any good farmer, for they keep things cleaned up and eat what's left--you won't find us having to burn our refuse and foul the air! No, pigs take care of it, and fatten themselves while they're at it. Fine animals, pigs. Serve us in their living, and after!'
'Then...' Ferdi said, feeling his way.
Farmer Oatley leaned forward, shaking a stern finger at the Thain's special assistant. 'It's only right to keep a pig or three on the farm, to take care of the refuse, and I thank them for the ham and bacon they give us to take us through the winter, but I find pigs far too fine to raise them a-purpose, just for the eatin'!'
Ferdi choked a little at calling pigs "fine", but the farmer wasn't finished.
'Fine creatures,' he repeated. 'Fine, and more sense in 'em than some hobbits I know. But the boars grow dangerous as they reach their majority, or I'd just keep a few as pets and trash collectors, I would!'
'The Thain is very glad for the ham and bacon,' Ferdi said hastily.
'And I'm glad to give him what we can spare,' Farmer Oatley said. 'He pays a fair price for my oats, and I must say the coin's welcome. We'll search out a ham or two for him, whenever he wishes it, so long as I don't short my own little ones in the doing.'
Ferdi had to admit, it wasn't all that often the steward sent him to the North Farthing for ham or bacon. Once or twice a year, perhaps. Sometimes he rode to the South Farthing for the best wine. Sometimes he rode to the Woody End, to the cottage of a woodcutter known for his ability to find the finest mushrooms. Pippin knew full well how those around him, especially Diamond his wife and Reginard, steward of Tookland, sifted his words. He didn't want to take advantage of his position--he'd been too well trained for that, before he assumed the office of Thain.
Pippin knew full well, all right, the conspiracy that swirled around him to give him what he wanted, him who could not have what he truly wanted, ever again, no matter what the healers said about progress and getting better and little by little. Since the coach had fallen, and him under it, they'd watched him slipping away, slowly, ever so slowly, for he fought with all the courage he'd brought back from the Southlands, but little by little in truth.
And if Ferdi must ride through the night to bring him ham for his Firstday breakfast, well, it was too small a price to pay for Diamond's smile, for Pippin's surprise and delight.
He only wished that Farmer Oatley would raise a pig or three a-purpose for the Thain, and let Ferdi or even some other Took haul it away in a waggon, as if he'd come a-purpose to fetch the meat, and not as if Ferdi took away a ham or two on accident, or afterthought on the good farmer's part, as a sort of parting gift.
But no. Ferdi had to ride to the farm in the North Farthing, famed for its honey-cured bacon and hams (though none were for sale, it was said, and only to be had as gifts or at a neighbour's wedding breakfast), as if he were negotiating the purchase of a waggonload of next year's oats. The ham was a parting gift, sent to the Thain in thanks for his custom.
After a filling tea, Ferdi saddled his pony, wrinkling his nose as he added the saddlebags with their load of strong cheese. Though it was well wrapped in layers of paper, he suspected he'd have to discard those particular bags, unless Old Tom the stablemaster knew of a way to get the odour out, once the cheese went to the kitchens.
The pony tossed his head in irritation as the hams, also well-wrapped and tied, were hung in front of the saddle, cramping Ferdi's knees, and the large packet containing a generous slab of bacon tied over the back of the saddle, secured to the strap that held the saddlebags with their noisome load. It would not make for comfortable riding, all that bulk surrounding him, Ferdi thought, and patted the pony's neck as he swung into the saddle.
The fine ears were pinned back, and he could feel the pony's back hump under him. 'Steady, Star,' he said, 'It's only myself.'
The pony's head craned round, dark eye regarding him with a deep look. Yourself, and how many other hobbits? it seemed to say.
Ferdi laughed. 'The sooner we're home, the sooner you can be rid of your burdens,' he said.
Starfire shook his head, snorting as if in agreement.
Ferdi raised his hand to the farmer and his family, standing in the light that spilled from the open doorway. 'Good night!' he called. 'Glad Yule!'
'Good night!' they chorused in return, and the farmer's wife added, 'Safe journey!'
Trust a wife to think of such a thing, but Ferdi only called 'Good night!' once more, smiled at the fare-thee-wells that rose about him, and turned the pony's face away from the gleaming light.
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