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As soon as the children were awake (and after clearing away all of the dishes and food to the pantry, and smoothing the cloth on the table, she had only an hour to lie down before they began to stir), Rosemary began a concerted effort at a new sort of child training, though every bone in her body ached with weariness, and her eyes felt gritty from lack of sleep. She looked forward to the after-noontide naptime, even more than usual, but determined to take herself through the morning “as usual” by strength of will if naught else. She felt a sense of urgency, to prepare her little family for the trials ahead, sooner than later if Ferdi were to be believed.
Hally reluctantly went out into the Wood, axe in hand, because that is what he always did on this day of the week. He would meet Gundy there, and together they would work to fell their usual number of trees, though what Hally would do without his brother’s aid in future days, Rosemary didn’t want to imagine. Mending day, it was, and if Rosemary nodded over her mending, well, at least it didn’t show too much. She was tired all the time, lately, anyhow, with the time of her confinement approaching. Perhaps she could manage to birth the babe before they’d estranged all their friends, relations, and acquaintances…
Now sitting and stitching, with the children playing quietly at her feet with toys Hally had carved for them, she sighed deeply.
‘What is it, Mama?’ Robin said, looking up in concern. ‘Is it the babe?’
‘No, dove,’ she said, smiling on him, her eldest son, and prone to take charge of the smial when Hally was in the Wood, showing his mother care and concern, and trying to lighten her load as much as a small lad might. ‘No, but Mama’s feeling a little sad this day, thinking…’
‘Thinking what?’ little Parsley said, putting down the carven goat that had been “grazing” on the rug near the hearthstones, where Rosemary’s rocking chair held pride of place.
‘Thinking of the Men your Papa has seen passing through the Wood,’ she said. ‘Men aren’t usual in the Shire, as you know…’
The older children nodded, and little Lavvy blew a bubble and crowed. Rosemary drew a steadying breath and continued. ‘They must be far from home, to have come so far,’ she said bravely, with a little quiver in her voice, and if that quiver was for her children’s safety, or if it was because she felt sorry for the Men, well, her children would not know. They responded to the quiver by hitching forward, a little closer, and Parsley’s young face took on a look of concern.
‘Poor, sad Men,’ she lisped. ‘To be so far from home, and their mothers.’
Rosemary seized on this with a glad lifting of her heart, though she kept the wistful look on her face. The children were responding, just as she’d hoped. ‘Poor, sad Men,’ she agreed. ‘I wonder what we could do to help them to feel better, and not to miss their mothers so?’
‘We could bake biscuits and cakes for them,’ Parsley said, brightening. She loved to help her mother with the baking.
‘Papa could carve them whistles and what-nots!’ Robin said, nodding wisely.
‘Such good ideas!’ Rosemary said, well pleased. ‘Why, I think we’ll begin, next baking day, by baking some extra, that we have some for the Men who pass by our door.’
‘What a good idea,’ little Parsley echoed, clapping her hands in delight.
It would take some time to put the entirety of the plan in place, and Rosemary and Hally would use the time well in the coming days, continuing to fill the children’s heads with stories of Men who had travelled “so far from home and mother” and who could use a little cheer. From the look of the Men he saw in the Wood, Hally was certain the children would not need much convincing that the Men needed help and friends, treats and greetings – they looked as if they did not feel welcome… as they weren’t. There was a great deal of grumbling on the part of the folk of the Marish, Stock, and the Woody End, about “Lotho’s great Men”, though the people didn’t know the half of it, and it would defeat the whole purpose of the plan to enlighten them.
The Thain had tried, after all, Rosemary and Hally reminded themselves. They remembered a meeting held in Stock, some weeks earlier, before the turning of the year, when Thain Paladin himself had called the local Shirefolk to the meeting hall, “not a Muster but a meeting” to beg folk not to sell to Lotho, nor to have dealings with his Men, only to be met with indifference and a room that held only a few hobbits. ‘Might better have been a Muster,’ Hally muttered in recollection, and Rosemary nodded sadly.
The Tooks had the right of things, she feared.
And speaking of the Tooks… The day after Ferdi’s visit, actually, Rosemary had sat down with the children after the after-noontide nap, when her mind felt at least a little fresher for the rest. She laid aside her mending, to give her full attention to the task, for this would be one of the trickier bits of preparing the children for the battle to come. ‘My loves,’ she said. ‘I have something serious to talk with you about.’
‘Is it why Uncle Ferdi wasn’t here when we wakened?’ Robin said, perceptive as always.
Rosemary caught her breath, remembering that Robin had shown an alarming propensity for knowing the truth when he heard it, and the other way around. She would have to go carefully, indeed, in the coming days, as would Hally. ‘Yes,’ she said. ‘It is.’
She thought for a moment, and went on, choosing her words with care. ‘He came to say goodbye,’ she said.
Parsley laughed. ‘Goodbye! But he didn’t!’ No, he’d left while the children were sleeping, and hadn’t said his farewells.
‘No, he didn’t,’ Rosemary said, and gulped, blinking back tears. At this, the children sobered, and little Buckthorn’s lower lip quivered in sympathy. ‘He… he came to say…’ She took a deep breath. ‘You know I was disowned by my family…’
‘For marrying Papa,’ Robin said, nodding uncertainly. It made no sense to him.
‘And that’s why Uncle Ferdi has come in secret, when he has come to visit,’ Rosemary went on. ‘For if it became known, he’d be disowned as well.’
‘Uh-huh,’ Parsley said, not quite sure, but listening hard.
‘Well, the family’s found out about his visits,’ Rosemary said, and nodded at the children’s gasp. ‘Yes,’ she said, avoiding even the Tookish “Aye” that came more naturally. No more, she told herself. She must wipe out every evidence of her heritage. And it was the truth. Thain Paladin must know of Ferdi’s visits, or Ferdi would not have been able to put forth such a plan.
‘Yes,’ she repeated, ‘and they’ve threatened him, o most dreadfully, that if he comes to see us any more, he’ll be in danger…’
‘They’ll cast him out?’ Robin said in distress, and relieved, Rosemary nodded, for the little lad could not hear a lie in such a thing as a nod or shake of the head, only in the spoken word.
‘I wash my hands of them,’ she said. ‘Their name will no longer be spoken in this house, or by any of us. It will be as if they were never a part of us, or us of them.’ For that is how it must be.
‘Not to say, “T—“,’ Parsley began, and Rosemary rounded on her fiercely.
‘Hush, child!’ she said, and at her tone her little daughter burst into tears. Rosemary felt as if her heart were breaking, but she must go on. She must, for their safety. ‘As… I… said…’ she said, making her voice hard and cold, and that wouldn’t be a lie, for she’d felt the sting of her unjust shunning over the course of many years. Who could have blamed her for not choosing to marry a hobbit many times her age, and her only a tween at the time? Who, indeed? And yet she’d been disowned, and never owned again, due to the stubbornness of the T—of her family. ‘As I said, their name is never to be mentioned, or even thought of, in our home again, or out of it.’
All the little ones were in tears now, even little Lavender, who could have no idea of what they were discussing.
‘They disowned us, and we are going to disown them,’ she said. ‘Do you understand?’ She looked from face to face. ‘We are Bolgers, Bolgers of the Woody End, and only Bolgers.’ She hoped they understood. ‘You are never to mention to anyone that there was ever any other family…’
‘Not even Uncle Ferdi?’ Robin sobbed.
‘Especially not your Uncle!’ Rosemary said. ‘Don’t even think his name in your hearts, my dears, lest you put him in danger!’ And Robin, young as he was, could hear the ring of truth in her voice.
She reached out, then, and gathered her sobbing chicks in her embrace, and they all wept together, loud and long.
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