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‘Rosie,’ Ferdi said, ‘I have to tell you, I think it won’t be healthy to be a Took outside of the Tookland in days to come.’
‘I don’t take your meaning,’ Rosemary said. ‘You’re not trying to separate me from my family, I hope? That might have been something old Lalia might’ve tried – she might have tried to annul our handfasting, Hally’s and mine, that I might marry her son,’ and she closed her eyes and shuddered, taken back in her mind to that desperate time, when Mistress Lalia of the Tooks had manoeuvred her into a corner, and she’d thought there was no way out, until some daring hobbits had risked much to plot her escape and rescue. ‘Had I not been able to disappear, beyond her reach, with the help of the Master and the Hall...’
‘No,’ Ferdi said, squeezing her hand.
‘I’m not a Took anyhow,’ Rosemary said, opening her eyes and hardening her tone. ‘Last I heard, I was put out of the family, and my name stricken from the Book.’
‘’Twould be better if it were never known that you’d ever been a Took,’ Ferdi said, and Rosemary could not help a gasp of hurt at this evidence of cold-heartedness on the part of the Tooks. ‘Nay, lass, I don’t mean it the way you take it.’
‘How do you mean it, then?’ Hally said, rising to his wife’s defence, his look grown unfriendly. Ferdi might be taller than himself, and perhaps stronger even – though Hally boasted firm muscles from his occupation of woodcutting and hauling – but there was no call to come to their door between dusk and middle night and insult his wife!
‘I mean, that if Lotho were brought word of Tooks living outside of the Tookland, he could make life very unpleasant, or use you to hurt someone working against him…’ and at the Bolgers’ befuddled look, he added, ‘use you… against me.’
‘You’re working against Lotho?’ Hally said slowly.
‘Am, and will be in future,’ Ferdi said, looking intently from face to face. ‘I intend…’ He stopped and began again, ‘Thain Paladin intends to keep Men out of the Tookland.’
‘Out of the Tookland?’
‘Out of the Tookland completely,’ Ferdi confirmed. ‘He’s drawn a border on the map, and we intend to keep it.’
‘What about the Shire?’ Hally said.
‘The Shire’s a lost cause,’ Ferdi replied, after a pause. ‘Paladin did what he could, when Lotho first started bringing his Men in, and as Lotho bought up more land, and as Men came in greater numbers, he tried to warn the Shirefolk. He warned Mayor Will, he warned the Master of Buckland, he warned the Boffins and Bolgers and all the other family heads, but they wouldn't listen to him, for he'd only been Thain for two or three years. Had it been old Ferumbras, perhaps... Ah, well. Lotho's money talked louder, I suppose, and his insinuations about Tookish ambitions... when he was the one with ambitions... Paladin didn’t have the power outside of the Tookland, to deny Lotho and others not of the Tooks, the purchase of unTookish land and holdings, but he could and did control inside the borders of the Tookish homeland.’
‘Tookish land for the Tooks,’ Rosemary murmured, her tone bitter.
‘Aye, but it’s all that’s saved us here and now,’ Ferdi said. ‘And we mean to keep Tookish land for the Tooks, and not let our land be overrun by Men, nor bought by the likes of Lotho and anyone else who wants to cut down trees without reason, and send smoke into the skies and filth into the streams, as I’ve seen is happening elsewhere.’
‘You’ve seen?’ Hally challenged.
Ferdi nodded. ‘I, and others,’ he said. ‘We’ve been travelling, going from place to place, and gathering information from outside the Tookland. But it’s getting harder,’ he added. ‘Shirefolk are beginning to look on Tooks and Tooklanders with suspicion, I’ve no doubt because of Lotho’s slandering ways, and a few Tooks caught outside of Tookland by Lotho’s Men have been mistreated, and released again, so that they might bring warning to the Thain, soften him up, make him fearful and more likely to give in to Lotho’s importuning.’
‘Have you been mistreated?’ Rosemary wanted to know, covering Ferdi’s hand with her free one so that she held his hand between both of hers.
Ferdi smiled, and it was not a nice smile. ‘They’d have to catch me, first,’ he said. ‘I have a fast pony, and I’m not very trusting these days.’
Rosemary drew a deep breath, thinking over her brother’s news.
‘And so, Rosie,’ Ferdi said, ‘’twould be better for your sake if no one remembered you’d ever been a Took, at least for the duration of the emergency.’
‘Duration?’ Hally said, his brow wrinkled in puzzlement. ‘I don’t take your meaning.’
‘So long as Lotho controls the part of the Shire outside of the Tookland,’ Ferdi said. ‘Either that, or you move your family within the borders, to keep them safe. Rosie was a Took, after all, and her children would be considered Tooks by the old laws.’ The Tookish laws of inheritance allowed for children of a Tookish mother to inherit Tookish land, if they took on her surname rather than, or in addition to, their unTookish father’s.
‘But I’m not a Took,’ Rosie said. ‘I’m disowned. Cast out of the family.’
‘And you never were a Took, that’s the important thing, Rosie, so long as you and your children remain outside the Tookland. If someone says something, or asks, you were never a Took. Our mother was a Bolger, and so a Bolger you should be.’
‘A Bolger I am, in point of fact,’ Rosemary said.
But Hally was still thinking about Ferdi’s earlier words. ‘For the duration of the emergency,’ he said. ‘You mean you see an end to it?’ He shook his head. ‘I think you’re dreaming. It’s only got worse since Frodo Baggins and the heir to Buckland disappeared.’
‘And Pippin,’ Rosemary said. ‘Don’t forget him. Son of the Thain.’ For someone who wasn’t a Took (any more), and had disavowed any interest in the Tooks, she was still the one to name the Tookish loss at the beginning of this whole miserable business.
Hally made an impatient gesture. ‘And another – who was he – a gardener, was it? I don’t recall exactly, but there were four who went into the Old Forest, or so they say, and never came out again.’
Ferdi dismissed the anonymous fourth, who’d been unknown to him in any event. ‘It’ll get worse before it gets better,’ he said, ‘if it ever does get better. Come what may, the first step to bettering things is to keep the Tookland free and unencumbered. If we can resist Lotho and his louts, perhaps some day we’ll be able to grow strong enough to throw them out again.’
Hally shook his head. ‘It’s a long bowshot, and one over water into the bargain, I should think.’ In archery terms – and Hally was a master archer, getting meat for himself and his family, as he must, by his skill – it would be a difficult, if not impossible, target to hit.
Ferdi slammed a fist, albeit quietly, onto the table. ‘But we have got to try!’ he said. ‘We simply cannot roll over, lie down and die, like a drowning sheep in a flood.’
‘So why are you here,’ Rosemary said, eyeing her brother narrowly. ‘Not just to warn us, I think. Not just to invite us to remove to the Tookland. You don’t have a pardon with you, do you? Are the Tooks offering to own me once more?’ She spoke harshly, perhaps to belie the hopeless hope that still glowed deep within.
‘Not exactly,’ Ferdi said.
Now it was Hally’s turn to scrutinise his brother in love. ‘Not exactly,’ he said. ‘You know that Rosie cannot return without an invitation, or she risks banishment from the Shire proper, and not just the Tookland.’
‘Would you harry us all the way to Bree, brother?’ Rosemary said, pulling her hands away from Ferdi’s; and she could not prevent the tears springing to her eyes.
‘No!’ Ferdi said, speaking rather louder than he had been, and then he mastered himself and lowered his voice once more. ‘No, dearest. I would not be a part of such a thing.’
‘Then, what?’ Hally said, reaching over to take and squeeze Rosemary’s hand. I am here for you, beloved. I’ll throw him out, brother to you though he may be, into the dark and cold, whether there be rogue Men wandering the Wood, or no. Just say the word.
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