Page 1 of 2
DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 11:47 am
DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
(a Lord of the Rings Tale, with apologies - I just couldn't help myself)
Dark here. Why so dark? What's that sound? Running. Noise is getting louder. Running. Running from what? There's a wall. The cries are nearer. Oh, no...
Diamond awoke with a scream. She was in her own bed. The curtains swayed gently with the morning breeze that wafted in, a scent of strawberries from a nearby patch resting cozily in its arms. She sat up, sweat beading her brow, panting.
She closed her eyes, letting the fresh new day wash over and melt the nightmare from her mind. She arose from her lavender scented bed, turning back its handmade-comforter and walked to the waiting ewer. Her bare feet padded softly on the floor - feet that had never worn nor needed shoes - for Diamond was a hobbit.
Cold water slapping her face, she looked into the glass above the basin. Her face was pale, but her brown eyes gazed back at her with a calm and steady air. She pulled her long curly hair back from her face as she moved about the room, her nightdress gently brushing the tiles. Taller then most, her Fallowhide heritage was evident in her leaf-shaped ears, and winsome figure. Born the last child and only girl, her parents had named her Diamond, for they had longed for a daughter, and she was the treasure of their old age. Like the gem, she had a diamond’s sparkle, and something too of its grit - a quality she would sorely need in the days to come.
She stopped at her sill and looked out onto the cobbled road. The sun was just beginning to rise, and there were snatches of birdsong. It’d been three weeks since Pippin left, going off with Frodo. She thought back to the day when she’d first the noted the change in her free-spirited sweetheart. There was a hint of anxiety in his laughing eyes, and every once in a while his face would take on the look of grim determination. But she knew him well; being Pippin, he couldn't keep a secret for long. She remembered the morning when her patience finally paid off.
They had left together for elevenses at The Green Dragon. Walking along the road to Bywater Pip was quiet, even thoughtful. Diamond cast him a sidelong glance. His expression seemed drawn and tired. She was just about to comment on the foliage when he wondered aloud if he’d ever see the countryside again. It wasn’t only the comment that alarmed her; it was his tone of voice. She grabbed his hands, and forced him to face her.
“Pip, what is wrong? Please, please tell me!”
“Why, nothing’s wrong, nothing, love.” His words rang hollow in Diamond’s ears. He tried to avoid her gaze, but she’d cupped his face between her hands.
“You have not been yourself. Something is paining you, I can see it. Pippin, I love you. I love you. Did you really think you could hide trouble from me? Tell me, please!”
The worried brow before him was more than he could bear. He knew that he had to tell her - indeed, he had been longing to - and his mind was decided. He’d loved her from day one, and he knew in his heart that Diamond could be trusted.
“Alright, I will. But not here.”
They hurried as slowly as they could to avoid notice back to her home. There he told her the truth, beginning with where they’d first met at Bilbo's birthday party seventeen years earlier. What he told her froze her blood; a lump came into her throat.
He said that a danger to the world had been awakened, that Mordor was rising and war was brewing. Bilbo’s ring, now Frodo’s, was responsible and that the wizard Gandalf had said to take it to the Elves in Rivendell. Ghostly riders in black had been seen, and there was a ruse of having Frodo move away from Hobbiton to throw them off his trail. Merry and he were to travel with him, and Sam Gamgee was coming as well. What he’d gathered was that Rivendell may not be the answer, that they may have to go farther field but to where, he did not know. He had tried to prepare her for this, and not being able to lie to her, he could not invent a reason for the trip. By the time he’d finished, both of them had tears in their eyes and they fell into each other’s arms. For a long while they stood, holding onto each other as if life itself depended on it.
“Of course, Pip, you have to go. Poor Frodo!”
“You can’t tell a soul about this, Diamond. Not a soul...”
“I know - I see - when will you leave?”
“Just as soon as we can get Frodo moved to Crickhollow.”
He stepped back slightly, his arms still about her.
“I won’t be able to get word to you. I don’t know...” - he’d nearly said if - “when we’ll get back.”
She nodded, smiling through her tears. He wiped them away with his fingers. They embraced again, him kissing her cheek and leaning his own upon it as if to seal it in.
“That’s my girl! Now, then!" He grinned. "Are you hungry?”
“I’m fair starving! I’ve missed second breakfast, but if we hurry, we can still make the buffet at the Dragon.”
He laughed. “Do you REALLY think there'll be anything left?”
They’d burst out laughing, and arm in arm, stepped out into the day. A warm and sunny day it was. Just like today...
Only three weeks ago, she mused. Already it seemed a lifetime.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 6:25 pm
The days were moving on, and it was now more than a month since the journey to Rivendell had begun. Diamond sighed. Well, she thought, this work isn’t going to get done by just standing about. Starting with the bedrooms, she dusted and swept her way to the front hall and on out into the kitchen, humming as she worked.
Of course, it was no accident that she ended up there. This was the way she always cleaned house - beginning farthest from and ending nearest to the apple tart and tea. Lately her appetite had fallen off, and she found herself having to work at getting meals in. She sat down, dolefully eyeing the sweet.
“Pippin would be so upset. It won’t do to have him come home and find me a mere slip of a girl.” She took one large bite and was just setting it down when there was a knock at the door. She took a quick swallow from the teacup.
“Diamond, Diamond - are you there?” It was a familiar voice, a voice stricken.
“Coming, Rosie - just a tick!” Normally, Rose Cotton would have been calling as she let herself in, but rumors of ruffians and vagabonds literally flooded the Shire these days. People who never used to lock their doors were now double locked & bolted in, even during the day. She threw open the door, and found not only Rosie, but Estella Bolger as well.
With her green eyes and flaming red hair, Rose Cotton had a smile that could & did lighten many a heart. Some people said that when Rosie was behind the bar at the Dragon, just looking at her drowned their woes. Her beau, Samwise, had set out with Merry and Pip as Frodo’s servant and companion. Like Diamond, Rosie was anxious about this journey, but unlike Pip, Sam had kept mum.
Sweet Estella was in love with Frodo. The first time she saw him he was holding onto Bilbo's hand as they left the ferry from Buckland. Much the elder, he had always been kind to her. At one point it seemed as though he was interested in more than friendship with the coy, pretty maiden. Many times he had come with Sam to the Cotton Farm, and the four of them would go walking in the nearby wood - Sam and Rosie ahead, Estella and Frodo trailing behind. Nearly Frodo’s height, her dark hair matched his strand for strand, her hazel eyes a perfect foil for his. But after Bilbo's disappearance, he stopped visiting - choosing instead to spend more and more time either shut up in Bag End or to wander alone down the well-trodden paths of Hobbiton. He was still kind, but there was a detachment - a faraway look would come into his soulful eyes, and his words would trail off in mid-sentence. It wasn’t long before she became discouraged, and no longer looked forward to his company. But, as he showed no interest in anyone else, she still had hope that he would one day turn to her.
Since this mysterious journey into the unknown had taken over their lives, the three young women turned to each other for support. They met several times a week for tea and conversation, often bringing along the needlework that they all did to help feed their families. Diamond had expected to see them later in the day. Now they stood in her hall, shawls covering their heads, their faces pale and distraught. She quickly seated them in the breakfast nook, taking their hands in each one of hers as she knelt down before them.
“O my dears, what is it?”
Estella began. “O Diamond, you must hear...” She looked to Rose but she had lost what was left of her composure and was quietly sobbing. Diamond silently reached for their wraps, folding them over her arms.
“Rose and I have just learned that some terrible strangers have come to Hobbiton looking for Frodo. They wore black all over, and rode black horses. They had voices like hissing snakes!”
Diamond faltered. “When was this?”
“Weeks ago.” Rose said, wiping her eyes. Her handkerchief was nearly twisted into shreds by her nervous fingers.
Diamond stood up. “Wait, let me put the kettle on. Here, Rose, come to the basin and let me freshen you up. Estella, would you put these - handing her the shawls - on my bed...oh, and fetch some fresh kerchiefs? You’ll find them in the back linen cupboard.”
Giving her and the others something to do helped to calm and soothe. Fetching some sweet cakes and strawberries, she laid out the tea things. Rosie sat down, holding a cool cloth to her face and brow as Estella came back with the linen. She offered a soft, snowy cloth to Rose who took it gratefully. Diamond joined them at the table.
The three of them sat in silence, the reverie finally broken by the kettle’s whistle. Diamond quickly filled the pot and as the tea steeped, she eyed Rose expectantly.
“A stranger.” said Rosie. “A stranger rode to the farm and said he was looking for Baggins. Now, you know my dad, if he doesn’t like the look of some people - and he didn't like the look of this rider. He said he didn’t know nothin’ about anybody by that name, and that the fellow should clear off if he didn't want to meet the dogs.”
“What happened then?”
“The rider just sort of hissed, and rode away. But he gave my dad a real fright.”
Diamond was nearly beside herself. "Why didn’t you tell me about this right away?”
“We are!” said Estella. “Rosie overheard her dad talking about it to the Gaffer just this morning. She told me. Here we are.”
Diamond shivered. Estella and Rose looked at each other. Estella spoke up.
“What is it? Is there something that you know?”
Diamond recovered quickly. She started filling the cups, concentrating hard not to spill a drop.
“No. Nothing. I'm just as worried as both of you, that's all.” She didn't realize until now how difficult it would be to keep this secret. But she steeled herself. She would prove Pippin’s faith in her was well-founded, though she’d had her momentary doubts. She sat back down and reached out for her friends. They clasped each other hands so that they formed a ring around the small table.
“It’s important that nothing said here goes beyond these walls, right?” Estella and Rose nodded. “Whatever happens, we need to be strong. I say let’s continue to meet as we are, but keep our eyes and ears open. Here alone is a safe place and no other. Agreed?”
Over the next few hours they spoke little. Eating the little cakes with cream & berries and sipping the honeyed tea, the comfort flowed from one to the other and they even began to sing. Diamond had a fine voice and as hers lifted above the others, they fell silent. She knew many ballads, mostly learned at her mother's knee. Her favorite was “Mintgill's Heart”, a song about an Elvish prince and his love for a hobbit lass.
Diamond’s voice filled with passion and longing as she sang. Estella and Rosie listened, feeling as though their hearts would break.
“Lilthrien was of Eleven-kin,
As fair as the Shire sun.
Beneath the stars, he traveled far.
His heart belonged to none, to none,
His heart belonged to none."
“Then one fine day, he came away
And rested near the water.
There betide the waterside
Stood a pretty Halfling daughter - betide, betide
The waterside - a pretty Halfling daughter."
“Mintgill knew that he was true
And freely gave her heart.
But Hobbitland and Elvish clan
Demanded that they part, they part,
Demanded that they part."
“They'd gone from here and wandered near
Where dwarves and men did roam.
A love so strong bore them along
As they sought some welcome home, some home,
They sought some welcome home."
“But mortal stayed the Hobbit maid
Whilst Elfling lingers on.
The day she died, Lilthrien cried.
His sweet helpmeet was gone, was gone,
His sweet helpmeet was gone."
“He carried her in princely fur
To the tempest ocean shore.
And there walked he into the sea
Until they were no more, no more,
Until they were no more.”
“From the glass-clear sheen of the Shire stream
To the briny, blue-green deep,
As they had met, he repaid the debt
To the love he'd always keep, he'd keep,
To the love he'd always keep."
A sad song, but Diamond loved it. Who would not wish to be so loved and cherished? Indeed, we all should be so lucky.
It was Rose who noted how late it had become, and fetched the wraps from the bedroom. The three friends- now cheered and refreshed - said their goodbyes. Diamond joined them. Walking them to the edge of the path, she stood watching until they were out of sight.
Turning back, she looked up at the sky. It was barely sunset and the first stars were just beginning to come out. A quick breeze caught her, and she hugged herself tightly. Her thoughts went to Pippin and the others. She blew a kiss to the wind, beseeching that it take it to her love...
...Far away, Pippin lay upon the ground, looking up at that same sky. He had just awakened from a fearsome dream, a dream where he and Merry were made captives of the Uruk-Hai. His back ached, his wrists and ankles felt tight. Trying to sit up, he found his hands and feet bound. Merry, too, was bound and lay senseless beside him. A dirty rag, blood-stained, covered his brow. Pip struggled, earning him a snarl and a threat; he forced himself to stillness. He thought of Diamond, wondering - and not for the first time - if he’d ever see her again.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Thu Sep 30, 2010 10:55 pm
Great stuff, Shireling. Nice bit of suspense going on there -- my kind of thing -- I love a bit of angst.
Would you like to post it in the Story Archive, archive
If you sign up now, I'll validate you straight away, and you can post it there when you're ready. Withywindle has already added some stuff, and I'd like to see more people's work up there. The story archive is actually linked as "Stories" on the top main menu.
The advantage is, you can have reviews for every chapter with the chapter.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Tue Oct 26, 2010 12:55 am
Monday was Market Day in Bywater, and Diamond had a long, busy day ahead of her.
The weather had been very pleasant for quite awhile - actually it was unusually so. The days were warm and sunny, and when it rained, it was the gentle soaking-kind, pitter-pattering through the wee hours of the night. It had rained again last night, and the soothing sound lullabied Diamond to sleep. The nightmares from the early weeks of Pippin’s leaving, had faded from her mind. All of her dreams were of the good times, and now she only felt sad upon waking.
She dressed quickly, putting on her favorite blue dress with the white gored sleeves, lacing the embroidered bodice with her nimble fingers. Her hair she’d brushed back behind her ears, fixing it with pearled combs and leaving the waist-length locks to flow down her back. She looked in the mirror. Something was missing. Ah, she remembered. Going to her oak bureau, she opened its tiny middle drawer and reached within. Inside was a silver heart-shaped charm, dangling from a leather thong. Diamond stood before the mirror, fastening the silver clasps, and softly touching the heart as it rested in the hollow of her throat. The front was plain, but the back was engraved with love, Pippin. He had given it to her last Yule, and she seldom wore it because it seemed too fine for everyday. But today... “Why not?”
She tossed her shawl about her shoulders. Picking up her needlework basket, she stepped outside. She locked and bolted the round red door of her hole, as if it were an ordeal to be endured, and started down the path to Bywater. The air was crisp. Fall had come early and many of the leaves had already fallen. They made a pleasant crunching sound as she walked. As late in the year as it was, many of the last summer flowers were still in bloom. Bachelor buttons, black-eyed susans and tiger lilies still stood along the way, the cattails standing at attention in the little creeks that eventually made their way into the Brandywine.
Diamond turned off the path onto the paved road that led to her mother's house. Her father had died two years ago, and her mum needed her help. All of Diamond's brothers had moved away to Bree and beyond to live near the families of their wives, and while they made a point of visiting their mother on May Day, they never came around for Yule. Once a week she would stop by to take her mother to market, and it was something she keenly enjoyed doing. Old age agreed with her mother, who became only more witty and vivacious with the years, and the men of Bywater were all at their best when Daisy breezed into town - much to the annoyance of the womenfolk.
Her family home was a thatched cottage built by Diamond’s great grandfather. Most hobbits prefer living underground, but where the soil lacked clay and there were no large trees with their massive roots to hold up the ceiling, a cottage was the next best thing. Compared to most, it was rather large and had its own dining room. While the windows were round, the door was square, and made so that the top above the knob could swing open. It was open now, and Diamond could hear her mother singing as she came up the walk. The garden was going to sleep for the winter. The pumpkins were ripe, the corn shucks stood in neat bundles, but the dwarf mums in window boxes were the only flowers still blooming.
Diamond leaned into the kitchen. “Hullo, Mum!”
“Gemmy, Gemmy love, come in, come in!” Her mother appeared, coming down the hall that leads to the bedrooms. Gemmy was Daisy's pet name for her daughter, and the only one that could use it - even Pippin didn't dare. Diamond let herself in and gave her mother a quick hug and a peck. Daisy wore an apron over her violet dress, her white hair swept up attractively to show off her still-shapely ears. The hair on her feet was white as well and beautifully accented her high arched feet and slender toes.
“Are you ready to go, Mum?”
“I will be just as soon as I have a bite.” Her mother started bustling around the kitchen. “Have you eaten?”
Diamond had to think for a minute. “Uh.....no.”
Daisy was aghast. “No! Well, you must have something right now.”
“Oh, Mum, don’t trouble yourself. I can always get a bite at the Dragon, or the inn.”
“It’s no trouble, and I’ve already fixed myself a light snack. Not another word! Now, come in and sit down.”
Diamond knew better than to argue. Her mother drew open the curtain that lead to the dining room. Waving her hand toward the table, she invited her to sit down. Diamond's expression was so comical that Daisy couldn't help laughing.
“I can’t abide what they serve at the Dragon. You may think it’s alright, but there’s not enough ale in the Shire to kill the taste. There’s no hurry. We have plenty of time, and we can talk a bit.”
Diamond chuckled and fell to. There was a small fire in the fireplace box, a pan of sausages sizzling above it. The ancient clock upon the mantel softly chimed the hour. The table was covered with a cloth that Diamond herself had sewn. There was a huge mushroom omelet with grilled tomatoes, a small wheel of ripe cheese, crisp bacon, sausages, griddle cakes, berry tart, toast, butter and honey. There was tea, milk and a jug of Roger's Ale to wash it all down. It may have seemed like food enough for several but no one can eat like hobbits. Between the two of them, the 'little snack' was fast becoming a memory. Daisy poured the Roger's for herself while Diamond sipped her tea.
“So, you’ve heard from Peregrin?”
“No, Mum, I haven’t.” She chose her words carefully. “He said that he might not be able to send word to me. I’m not worried. He’s in good company, and can take care of himself.” She changed the subject. “So, what news about?”
“Well, I did see Estella yesterday, looking like a lost puppy." The remark was tart. “Is she still pining after Mr. Frodo?”
Diamond hesitated. “Well, she's missed him since he moved to Crickhollow. It’s no secret that she’s fond of him.”
“Fond of him?” Daisy sniffed. “I dare say she is. Why a woman would chase after that man is beyond me. If anyone asks, I’d say he was much too old for her. Mr. Frodo pays about as much attention to her as she does to young Brandybuck. It’s pitiful.”
“You don’t mean Merry? Meriadoc Brandybuck? Since when is he interested in Estella?”
“From last May Day at least. I’ve got eyes. She's grown quite comely, as all the lads have noticed. Mr. Merry was watching her every move.” Daisy shook her head.
“Merry’s not shy - I can vouch for that.”
“Maybe not, but where the heart's concerned he’s like a hare in a clearing.”
“I don’t think Estella knows about Merry. I’m sure she doesn’t.”
“Be that as it may, with him gone, I don’t see the point in telling her.”
Daisy drained the rest of her ale. They heard chiming, and Diamond looked up at the mantle clock
“We’d best be going, Mum. I'll help with the washing up.”
“No, there's not much here. Leave it and if you still want to when we come back, you can help me then.”
Flinging off her apron, Daisy grabbed up her best lace shawl and basket. Following her daughter outside, she locked the door and tested it, top and bottom. An unfamiliar act, carried out in a clumsy fashion and wasn't lost on Diamond.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Wed Oct 27, 2010 12:01 am
The long ripping crack startled her out her trance. Holding her breath, Diamond peered through the window. A large limb was sitting on the ground, the tree it had once graced forlornly beside it. The sour sulfur air breathed through the crazed windows and chinked mortar of her once cozy hole. The oak had been dying ever since the Chief’s henchmen took their axes to it, and it wasn’t the only one. There were many other hacked and burned trees. Homes were broken into, brigands robbing folks in broad daylight and not one shirrif to stop it. Thankfully, these things rarely happened now. Most everything worth stealing was already filched.
For a mid-summer’s eve the weather was damp and chilly. The dark outside was one vast shadow, made more so by the new moon. She hadn't been to sleep that night. Candles were rationed and it was against the law to build fires, rather unnecessary since the fuel to make them had been confiscated. Daisy had been living with her since the local riffraff recommended- with threats of physical violence - that she make the cottage available to the Chief. One of the few valuables that she’d managed to smuggle out was the old mantle clock. It was long gone - traded for the moldy sausage and darkened potatoes they'd been making do with. Her little silver pendant, Pippin’s gift, was well-hidden. Nobody was going to get that.
Numbly she sat, thinking that it must be about 2 o'clock. At least in the dark she didn't have to look at the dirt, the curtains soiled by greasy hands, the broken crocks and ruined furnishings. She was tired of the filth, of not being able to get really clean. Her torn, soiled comforter no longer kept her warm, but she was lucky to still have it. Thank goodness the winter had been relatively mild. She had cut her curly, abundant hair short, which upset Daisy terribly. Unable to wash and care for it as she was accustomed, she took shears and cut it level with her earlobes. She cried as she did it, but that was the last time.
“Why would I think about that trip now?” she thought. “That trip to Bywater...late October- November...when was it?” Her stomach rumbled its discontent.
“Ah, I remember, the last real meal”- Daisy’s little snack worthy of hobbit hospitality. It was to be the last time she had tasted mushrooms... and tomatoes...and had a really good cup of tea. Oh, they have had meals - of varying quality and quantity since, none worthy of remembrance.
And that was the turning point. From that day, things starting changing. It was the first market day that anyone could remember that there were no mushrooms to be had. The produce was fair quality, and the bakery stale. There was plenty of milk, butter and cheese but not to the cold fresh standards set by the majority of hobbits. Most necessary household items were as usual, since the local women made them themselves, and while the pipe weed and beer seemed at good as ever, the prices were prohibitive.
Another foul blast pounded the cracked glass and an involuntary shiver danced down her spine. She got up and shuffled painfully across the floor. The leathery tough soles of her feet had several cuts, and her heels were bruised. The Shire's newest residents thought nothing of scattering their refuse profusely over the paths and walkways. Initially the hobbits cleared it away without comment, but with the invasion of more and more outsiders, it became too much to keep up with.
She was glad her mother was with her. Diamond could hear her softly snoring in the next room, glad of her company and grateful that at least she could sleep. But she sorely missed her friends. They had been able to get together fairly regularly since that cautionary visit in February. It was the 26, or maybe the 27th or 8th, the day Diamond was to learn of the Black Rider's visit. Then Rosie thought the event recent, at the time maybe weeks old. But since she learned that the Rider was in Hobbiton before Frodo could leave Bag End - the day before. It had been a very narrow escape, and that knowledge left the three of them - especially little Estella - trembling like abandoned fawns. She shivered from the memory as well as the dank morning.
Diamond closed her eyes and leaned back in the tattered wing chair. She pulled the comforter up to her chin, and tucking her feet under her thin nightdress, tried to get in a little sleep...
“...Gem...Gemmy...Gemmy, wake up!” Daisy was tapping her daughter's cheek. She was wrapped in old flannel, a dingy knit shawl over her head. In that light, Diamond thought how old her mother looked in spite of her bright eyes and cheery voice.
“What time is it?" Her neck was cricked, and her back felt as though it'd been jumped on by trolls. She pressed her fists into the small of her back as she got up. It gave little relief.
“Oh, I wish we still had that clock! It’s after noon, at least. ” Her mother looked on sympathetically, and started massaging the back of Diamond’s neck and shoulders. She practically purred. “Oh, Mum, don’t stop. It feels so good.”
“If only someone had stolen that death trap of a chair!” They both started to giggle. Daisy gave a few more squeezes, and then patted her daughter's back. “There, how’s that?”
“Mmmm, much better, thank you.” She folded the comforter lengthwise, and draped it over the chair. It looked like it was going to be a beautiful day, but indoors a storm might have been through. Diamond put the one dress - a red plaid with puffed sleeves and notable for its stain-hiding ability - over her nightgown and went to fetch a pail from the rain barrel. She came back, pail in hand and rinsed her face with cupped hands because there was no soap. She wet her comb in the water, and ran it through her cropped hair. Now she was actually glad that her mirror had been stolen.
“I went out this morning and did manage to get us a loaf and a little cheese. Farmer Maggot was kind enough give me these apples, and ale. I tried to refuse but he wouldn't hear of it - besides he says, Daisy, Roger’s jest don't agree wi’ me....But, you love Roger’s, I said. Why would you be refusing?”
Diamond stood beside the table surveying the dry brown loaf and the little cheese. The palm-sized chunk was greasy and cracked, yellow laced with a blue-green mold foreign to its manufacture. The good news was though the apples were wrinkled, they were without blemish, and the drink was unopened. The antique dining set had been replaced with a utility tray for a table, and instead of the hardwood chairs, a pair of rickety stools. She sat down on the nearest one.
Daisy shrugged her thin shoulders and took the other. “It’s the times we’re living in. Folks saying take when they mean give....and you saying stay, when you really mean go.”
The two of them sat silent, dully eyeing the meager repast. Slowly Diamond began to cry, shaking her head. Daisy sighed.
“I can’t take this anymore. How in the world did we get here? If anybody had said six months ago that this is what we’d come to...” she sighed again.
“What choice do we have, do any of us have?” Diamond wiped away her tears. She stood up and walked over to her market basket, a grim set to her jaw.
“What are you doing?” The question was rhetorical. Daisy knew perfectly well what she was doing, but thought if her daughter could hear, she’d think better of it. Diamond stood before her, basket over her arm, furiously knotting a scarf beneath her chin.
“I’m going out. I’m going out and I’m going to find something decent to eat, and I’m not coming back until I do. And, Mum...” She wrapped her arms around her mother's feather-frail body, and spoke softly in her ear.
“When I said stay, I meant it.”
She kissed her mother's velvety cheek, and walking out the beaten door, closed it firmly behind her.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Wed Oct 27, 2010 11:45 am
Picking her way carefully down the walk to the street, Diamond set out for the Cotton Farm. The last she knew, Estella had moved in with Rosie's family. The Bolgers could breathe easier knowing that their daughter was safe and she was a welcome pair of helping hands during Mrs. Cotton's recovery from a broken wrist. It’d been several weeks since she’d seen either of them, but conditions being what they were it wouldn't take long to catch each other up.
She folded her arms under the basket handle as she walked, checking out the surroundings with a cautious and sorrowful eye. The neighborhood was a ghost town. Where the air should have been filled with the hustle and bustle of life teeming in every small corner of By-Bywater, it was quiet as if a giant blanket was smothering out the very vitality of the place. One accounting for that was the flight of most of the women and all of the children to the out-laying regions around Bree, though she'd heard that the hobbits there fared little better in spite of their long standing ties with the community of men. Rumor - just rumor, mind - was that some of them were captured and sent to Isengard to serve as food for the Uruk-hai of Saruman. A shudder ran though to her very bones and her heart was sinking in her breast. Even if this ruinous war is won and this terrible occupation ends, how can things ever go back to the way they were?
She rarely thought of Pip these days. Rumors, again, were that they - Frodo and Samwise, Merry and Pippin - were dead. Her eyes filled. They had to be, they must have failed - that was the only thing that made sense. Unknowingly, she began to smile, the tears falling- thinking of Pippin - his eyes, his laughter, how he easily he could make her blush. And his lips - placing two of her fingers on her own, trying to relive his last kiss...
“Ha-ha-ha, ahh - are we lonely, miss?”
The harsh voice sledged its way into her daydream. She froze in her tracks, a newly-sighted doe vainly seeking concealment.
It was a man. Diamond had seen a few in her time, but none like this. He was taller than any she had ever seen, and broader than the door of the Ivy Bush. His clothes were fouled with grease and mud, and his breath rancid. He lumbered toward her, a toothless lear in the mare's nest of beard.
“I sa’d, are ya lonely? Ya looks mighty lost. Well, I’m lost too, darlin’...” She matched him step for step, taking one back with each of his toward her. She turned to run, and he leaned forward - catching her easily around the waist and lifting her up off the ground.
The basket tumbled from her grasp. Diamond screamed, kicking and digging in her nails but he only laughed. Sitting down, he crushed her to his side with one arm, a grimy hand deadening her cries. With the other he fumbled in his trouser pocket, pulling out a length of twine.
“Ah, give me a chance, darlin’. You lil shire gals is mighty sweet, but I don’t like kitty claws.”
Still holding her fast, he shifted so that her back was toward him. His moves were swift and deliberate as through long practice. Looping the coarse cord about one wrist, he yanked it back across the other and deftly tied her hands behind her.
Shocked by the rough handling and sickened by the stench, Diamond was near fainting. Taking his hand from her mouth, he laid her on the ground, reaching for her dress. With a sudden burst of strength, she kicked, striking him under the nose and knocking him backwards. Stunned for the moment he sat there, blood streaming from his lower lip. Screaming, she tried struggling to her feet, but her tied hands kept her off balance and she fell. He caught her, striking her across the face. She screamed again, and was dealt another blow. This time she saw stars and collapsed, closing her eyes to the spinning sky above. Her captor bent over her, his mouth bleeding.
“You’ll pay for tha’, missy! You’ll wish ya’ died afore I’m....”
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Sat Oct 30, 2010 1:20 am
He never finished the sentence. There was a whoosh, then a loud sickening smack. Diamond opened her eyes. Her assailant had the most astonished look on his face. As she watched, he leaned away from her and fell onto his face, a axe buried in the back of his skull.
Two hooded figures in cloaks of greenish-grey rushed to her side. One placed a boot-shod foot on the man's shoulder and tugged free the axe, while the other slit Diamond's bonds and raised to her feet.
“Come,” said the one at her side. The voice had a distinctly feminine quality to it. Diamond ran with the stranger to a nearby shed, while the other ran behind. As they ran, she noticed the stranger's feet, bare with curly hair above.
Inside, there hung a small lantern as they entered. The booted one came in last, bolting the door. On the farside of the room, Diamond noticed another figure, dressed as the others, the feet like those of her immediate companion. She found her voice, raspy and weak from screaming.
“Who are you?”
The three threw back their hoods. In the dim flicker, she saw her saviors for the first time. Two Halflings, but not the third. The stranger smiled at Diamond's awed expression and bowed.
“Perhaps I should answer first,” said the booted-one. The voice was warm and tenor. “My name is Thora, daughter of Dwalin.”
She was only slightly taller than the others, and heavy of build. Her dark brown hair gleamed in its long braid and her black eyes had a droll, playful light. Her brows were clean and well-arched, her mouth ripe and full. Her chin was downy, and that same down graced her cheeks. She wore a corselet of bronze over a woven cream shirt, leather breeches, wrist bands also of leather with gold ornaments and a leather cap. Her axe, its blade made clean and bright, rested in a sling attached to her broad belt and her boots were black, high-laced to the thighs. Thus Diamond saw what few could claim, a dwarf woman.
“I,” said one of the hobbits, “am Robin Took. And this is my twin, Wren.” Wren gave Diamond a shy smile and nodded. “We are your cousins, and daughters of Adelard.”
They were definitely Tookish in appearance, with fair-hair, hazel-eyes and the delicate features that reminded her of Pip. They were dressed as youths; their hair cut short. Robin wore a dagger on her hip; Wren’s was kept on her arm. Both sheaths bore beautiful designs incorporating the letter T.
The shed was filled with hay bales, some broken open and scattered over the cold slate flooring. A large tarpaulin had been spread out over it, some packs and bedrolls rested in one corner. But inspite of the rescue, Diamond was wary.
“How do you know me?”
“There’s plenty of time for questions,” said Thora. “I think now you’d much rather eat.”
“Oh, yes I would, but my mother...”
“She’s safe. You can rest your mind about her,” said Robin. “First the food, then the answers as best we can.”
There wasn't much variety, just some apples, dried venison and cram. Water was the only beverage, but it was the first potable water Diamond had had for quite a while. She'd never eaten dried venison before and found it salty, but not for long. She ate more of the cram than of anything else, and her new friends limited what they offered her, but she quickly became sated and leaned contentedly against the hay.
“Now, tell me.”
“Word was coming in from around the Green Hills concerning Isengard,” said Robin. “Word of large brutes, upright and armed, that traveled in packs. A body, ravaged by beasts, was found. Its head was removed carried back to the Thain...”
“Yes. And from then the offer was made for sanctuary in the Great Smials to any who requested it.”
“Why didn’t we hear of it?” asked Diamond. “This is all news to me.”
Thora broke in. “Be patient. You will.”
Robin continued. “Word was sent throughout the Shire, and told mainly to families. Most who came were those with child, and mothers with babes. They’ve settled in and all are thriving. But that may be why you weren’t aware. Lotho Sackville-Baggins claimed authority that was not his, and from Bag End sent men to enforce his rule. The Thain refused to be cowed, and withdrew even deeper into the Smials.”
“All us Tooks did!” It was the first time Wren had spoken. She blushed and looked down. Robin gave her sister a loving smile.
“The holes of the Green Hills are deep and hard to search. Ruffians who trespassed were hunted down, and three of them were killed for prowling and robbery. When they found they could not attack us, they besieged Tookland. All are prevented from entering or leaving.”
“That is, ”nodded Thora with a wink, “those who don't know which holes lead to tunnels, and which tunnels lead to the outside.” Diamond shook her head.
“But I still don't understand why you came here.” Wren answered.
“Pippin said that if he was not heard from by May Day, that you were to be found and brought to Tuckborough – which was easier said than done! The wilds are fair teeming with all manner of men, and the Thain thought to wait until the danger lessened. It only grew the more, so it was decided that a party should be sent abroad to fetch you. None of the men could be spared, so we asked to go.”
“Actually, we begged.” said Robin. “We were used to hiking about the Hills, and both of us knew swordplay.”
Diamond grinned. “Is that what Took maidens are being taught these days?”
“No.” said Wren. “It’s just...well...girl stuff is boring! We taught ourselves, and our father said that if we were going to insist on handling arms, then we needed to be shown the proper way.” She plucked out her dagger, tossed it into the air and caught it neatly in its sheath.
“Show off.” muttered Robin.
Diamond turned to Thora. “And how does a dwarf lass become part of this?”
Thora had been looking through cracks in the shed. The sun had gone down some time ago and the stars were bold, but no moon had risen. She put a finger to her lips and slowly opened the door just wide enough to look out. Satisfied, she closed and bolted it fast.
“My tale will needs be told another time. We should leave for our camp to the north. There you can bathe and have your feet seen to. You’ll have to walk a bit further, but the camp is not far and well hidden. We will be able to stay a few days longer for your mother's sake as well. Tonight you shall sleep in peace secure.”
They'd packed up and started, when Diamond stopped in her tracks.
“Wait! I need to go home! There’s something I can’t leave behind!”
“It wouldn’t be a hand-made quilt, would it?” said Robin dryly.
“Yes! Yes, it would! I can’t leave without it!”
Wren chuckled. “Your mother said that you’d be wanting it. She’s keeping for you, and you’ll see her all the sooner IF we can leave NOW.”
Sheepishly, Diamond grinned. Taking Thora’s strong arm for support, she set out with her newfound kin, this tiny warrior band.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Tue Nov 16, 2010 12:49 am
The walk to the camp was grueling for Diamond. It was only a quarter of an hour from where they began, but seemed much longer. Thora insisted on supporting her the entire way, even offering to carry her at one point. By the time they arrived, her feet were badly swollen.
They walked single file between two boulders into a clearing. Diamond had never noticed the camp fire until then, since the boulders were part of a circle of large stones. And in spite of the stars, she never noticed the trees that ringed the outside, only now seeing them in the flickering flames. Thora had declared it well-hidden, and she did not exaggerate.
As Diamond entered, two figures arose, each with an ax at the ready; dwarf men, dressed in like fashion. Upon seeing Thora, they greeted her warmly and invited the others to sit by the fire. The hair upon their heads was dark brown as hers, but their beards were tinged with auburn.
Her mother rushed to her side. And in the shelter of those arms, Diamond burst into tears. Daisy looked to the hobbits; Wren pointed to the fading streaks on Diamond's wrists.
“She had a run-in with one of the big folk,” said the twin softly. Daisy's eyes grew wide, and as she gripped her daughter tight, glanced all around her. “But there's no need to fear. Our Thora saw to that...”
When Diamond looked up, she saw the others sitting around the fire, their compassionate faces lit by the glow. Only then did she notice her mother's dark blue shift and the long tunic over it. A leather belt girded her waist, her white hair shorn like the Tooks. She helped Diamond to her feet, a mischievous smile on her face.
“I have a surprise for you.”
The camp had a secret, and the mother led the daughter by the hand to a woven grass screen. On the other side, Diamond saw a pool, dug tub-deep in the earth and lined with smooth stones. A short tarpaulin was over them and a rocky lip allowed a hot spring to spill in, cooling as it fell. Diamond clasped her hands at the sight. Daisy began to undo her dress, but the girl ripped through the threadbare cloth and tore the skirt to the hem. Her nightdress and scarf were flung to the ground, and Diamond eased into the water.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Tue Nov 16, 2010 2:00 pm
Their time in the camp was the most comfortable the Shire hobits had had in many months.
Though it was late in the season for it, Thora did manage to find a dry patch of kingsfoil to dose the water and bathe Diamond’s feet. In a day, the cuts were healing well and she could walk without any pain at all. Between her cousins, there was sufficient clothing to more than make up for the ruined dress and they trimmed up her hair to match theirs.
Thora’s brothers, Barin and Floin, hunted and dressed what game they could catch, while Daisy and Diamond prepared it for table. Most hobbits are accustomed to getting their meat neatly packaged from the butcher, so it was quite an education. When it came to the night watch, only the dwarves and Tooks stood vigil, which was much to Daisy’s relief.
In the morning of the seventh day, Diamond woke early but stayed, drowsy beside her mother in their mossy blanket nest. The fire was small, more embers than flame and its faint crackle was about to drift her off again when she heard a soft rustle. It was Thora, stepping lightly from behind the grass screen. Her dark damp hair fell over her shoulders and down her back; she'd wound a large cloth wound around herself so that she was only bare above the bosom and below the knees. Unaware she was seen, the dwarf gathered her hair to one side and began combing, her wrist bands glistening. And what the hobbit saw then horrified her.
Thora's shoulders, from nape to blades, were thick with ropey scars. Asps of angry purple and red writhed down her back, disappearing beneath the cloth. It was plain they had healed long ago and Thora finished off with a long braid, fastening the end with a leather thong. She dressed quickly, and in minutes, the wounds were hidden once more. The halfling watched as Thora pick up her axe, listening with eyes closed as the dwarf maid's footsteps led away from the fire. Diamond stayed still, feigning sleep. She already had such respect and admiration for the young woman that she didn’t think it could possibly grow. But it had. She opened her eyes as much as she dared and watched as the lass laced up her boots. She closed them again.
Why was she out here? And, besides her brothers, where were the rest? Who had beaten her? She wanted so much to know the dwarves' story, but worried how to ask them. Did Wren and Robin know? If they did, would they confide in her? She shuddered then. What might have happened if her rescuers had not arrived? Could she have survived? If she did, would she be sorry or glad? And what of Pippin, if he lives, would he still love her? She was no longer herself; even without the assault, she was changed. Would he still want her? She opened her eyes. The dwarf was gone.
Suddenly the quilt came to mind, the ruined homemade rag Daisy was sure to bring along. Diamond slipped from her mother's side, creeping to the tree from where the quilt hung. It was badly soiled at this point, and in desperate need of mending. Taking one corner, she ran her fingers along the edge. A narrow string met her fingertips and she plucked until it came undone. The seam opened and a slender black thong fell into her palm, the silver charm wrapped in its coils.
Cupping it close, she crept back. And settling down in the cozy warmth, the hobbit held it to her heart and was soon fast asleep.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Sat Nov 20, 2010 4:17 pm
On the tenth day, all agreed it was time to move. What intelligence had been gathered on forays was scanty – no note of Orc, but the signs of men were everywhere.
They packed up, clearing away all ash and refuse. Diamond took down the laundered quilt from where it had been hung to dry, and rolled it into a neat bundle. She'd washed it in the spring tub, using the only soap available. To her delight, it retained its vibrant colors and not a stain remained. Between the two of them, Daisy and she wrung it gently between them, and then hung it on the screen. There it added a homey touch that all seemed to enjoy. Now it would stay hidden until it could receive a mending. Pip’s pendant stayed about Diamond's neck, the heart charm resting once more in the hollow of her throat. She made a pact with herself, that the next to undo its clasp would be he and no other.
The company rested, dozing most of the night and then setting out just before dawn. Wren, Robin and Thora led the way, while Barin and Floin covered the rear. Daisy and Diamond walked between.
It was early August. The days were fine and warm with little rain, comfortable for walking. The paths were well trodden, and the dwarves moved confidently down them. They traveled north, but the terrain roughened, so much so that they had to veer east. Taking that route, the Green Hills were a distance of some twenty miles from where they'd started out, some six more than if they had just gone cross country.
It was slow going for the two Shirelings. But Diamond and her mother were determined to do their best to keep up. After all, these five had risked their lives to help them and they were wary of seeming at all ungrateful. For their part, if the warriors had had any complaints, they kept them to themselves.
The morning shadows were short when they came upon the thicket, and decided to stop for a rest. Packets of cram were passed round and washed down with tepid water. When they started off again, Floin spoke of a place that he hoped they'd reach by nightfall. If they could continue without rest, even at this slow pace, he was certain they could make it.
Singing would have made the trek more pleasant but fear discouraged it. Besides, the Shire hobbits needed all the wind they could get just to walk the distance. The country around them was already showing signs of fall. A number of trees were turning, and the grasses were losing their green coat.
Diamond hummed quietly to herself as she went along. From time to time she would find herself watching Thora and wondering. As they went, the lass must have felt eyes upon her and turned to see Diamond's thoughtful gaze. She gave the hobbit a smile, then returned her looks to the trail ahead.
The sun had set when the party arrived at Floin's destination. What game they'd caught enabled them to stretch their other provisions, like the thin strips of venison dried at the main camp. While that didn’t agree with Diamond, she found the cram particularly good and had gathered some apples along the way. A little stream refreshed their water and there was good cover to be had, so they risked a fire. Labors finished, they sat in a circle upon the ground, slowly munching as they gazed at the stars above.
“Beer is what I chiefly miss,” said Barin. “I can’t remember the last time I had one.”
“Nor I,” said Floin. “But what good is beer without a roast to pair it with, and crusty bread to sop the drippings. Now that, brother! That is fine eating!”
Thora's hands flew to her hips. “I do wish you two would stop!” she chided. “It’s bad enough thinking about it let alone hearing someone else bring it up.” But they knew she was only pretending to be annoyed, and three chuckled merrily.
Bedrolls were laid out and the watch was chosen for the night. Floin drew first, and took up station between two trees. Diamond took to her bed, but she was determined not to fall asleep. Waiting until some tale-tell snores, she softly made her move.
She rose up from her blanket, very careful not to waken her mother and tiptoed to the guarding dwarf. She whispered his name, lightly touching him on the shoulder. But he'd dozed off and even Diamond's soft pat roused fast him to his feet.
“Oh, Miss Diamond, it’s you...What’s the matter?”
“Nothing. I only wanted to ask you a question.”
“What about?” She swallowed hard at the sudden lump in her throat and sat down. He joined her.
“I've wanted to tell you how grateful I am for all that you and your siblings have done for us, especially Thora...I...I awakened early one morning and spied her coming from the bath. I saw scars...” As she spoke, Diamond saw Floin’s features change from his usual broad grin to grief.
“I can't help wondering what happened. I would ask her, but...and if you think it's better for me not to know – that Thora would rather no one did – I'd understand. I'll never ask again.”
The dwarf sighed and shook his head. “No, Miss Diamond, I can tell you. I don't think Thorie would mind.” He took a deep breath and let it out slow.
“It was in Moria, at the home of our Uncle Balin. The three of us were there, as well as our many cousins. It was a wonderful time with songs, and tales, and merriment. Great oxen roasting and the drink flowing – oh, it was grand! Two days into our visit, we were attacked. Goblins invaded Moria, killing as they came. We'd fend them off as best we could, until the main hall was our only refuge. As the youngest, Barin and I were ordered to hide – an order we did not wish to obey, but we did as we were told. We found a niche high above the fray.”
“Where was Thora?”
“She was told to stay with us, but the final barriers fell and she could not hide in time. She seized an ax and fought alongside the others. You should have seen her! Like a whirlwind she was! I'd never seen her wield any weapon before and she took to that ax as though born to it. But it was hopeless. They were too many and all our kin were slain...”
“Aye,” He sighed again. “And us...”
“They surrounded her, taking her weapon away. They talked amongst themselves in their ugly speech. One of them said something that made the others roar. The next thing Barin and I knew, they had stripped her and strung her from a beam.” His voice was full of sorrow. “One of them held a whip and he beat my sister, but she saw us. She warned us with a glance I’ll never forget and we stayed put. They beat her until the blood ran, but she never made a sound.”
“Why?” said Diamond, the horror full in her eyes. “Why would they do that?”
“Because they wanted to. Because they could. We dwarves are no strangers to cruelty but never was there such shown as we saw that day. And never such courage as my sister will I ever see again. They left her, hanging by her hands. We cut her down, so sure were we that she was dead. But she lived. We did what we could but we're no healers, and we worried for her, but she'd have none of it. We began our journey home and the Thain’s patrols came upon us. They carried us to the Great Smials, and that now is home.”
Diamond sat dry-eyed and still. She smiled sadly and laid a hand over his. “Thank you for telling me.”
Floin's eyes were full, but he feigned a gruff air. “It’s high time you were asleep, Miss Diamond. I'm about to fetch the second watch. We’ve much travel ahead.”
As she returned to her place, Diamond looked back at him. But he was looking straight ahead, and took no more notice of her.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Sun Nov 21, 2010 8:43 pm
The eastern trail continued and the rocky hills kept pace. The route was more difficult than they had imagined; at one place a bridge was out and they walked far before reaching the narrow cross. Diamond never dreamed that she would love the outdoors beyond her garden wall. The air was fresh and bracing here, and she enjoyed going to sleep under the towering roof of stars.
And while Daisy found the going hard, it must be said that she did have satisfaction of her own. She took it upon herself to find any fruits and herbs that she could, and made preparing the food her responsibility. She had a few things salvaged from home – some bowls and plates, a frying pan, spoons and forks. These were added to the mugs and kettle carried in Barin's pack. The others offered and helped when asked, but Daisy preferred to do it herself.
It was during their stops, that Robin showed Diamond sword play and made a target of the trees for throwing knives. The steel felt odd in her hand, but she had a good eye. Her aim improved with each passing day, but skill with the sword eluded her. Robin pointed out that not everyone could use everything with equal skill. She herself could not handle a bow, though she'd worked very hard to.
“I’m sorry that we don’t have a bow and arrows so that you might try them,” she said. “You may find that is where your skills truly lie.”
“Perhaps when we reach Tuckborough,” said Diamond.
Robin nodded. “Oh yes most definitely! Since my sister and I have taken up arms, other girls that wish to are being taught as well. There will be some for you to vie with. But I wouldn’t give up on the sword just yet. There may be those more skilled at teaching that will serve you better.”
And so the days passed. If Diamond could have seen herself, she would have been amazed at the change. She looked rather fetching with her well-shorn hair, and her figure achieved a leanness thought unnatural in a hobbit. She could walk a great distance without tiring, and there was a cool assurance, a new strength evident in her bearing. While she still wore a maiden’s shift underneath, her outer clothes were the tunic and breeches common to males. A grass-green cloak covered her shoulders and Floin gave her his extra blade, the hilt fitting easily to her hand. She wore its sheath strapped to her calf, and practiced whenever she could.
They were closing the distance to the Smials and left the path to travel over the meads westward. A large hollow with sheltering ledges was where they stopped for the night and Diamond asked if she might be included in the watch. To her surprise, everyone agreed that she should take part if she wished. She was given the second, and when Thora came to wake her, she immediately got up and took her place. It was a chiller night then they’d been having of late and she was glad of it, thinking it easier to stay awake in the cold...
The fire was out and it was quiet for the first hour. There was no moon, and she began to drift in spite of the cold. There came a snap to her right – like a branch broke across a knee. She froze, listening intently. A low pitched warble sounded from the left. Diamond leaned away from her perch, grasping Wren by the foot. But both the Tooks and the dwarves were alerted by one sound or the other, and only Daisy slumbered on. There was no more noise, but the silence around them was like nothing in nature.
At chirp from Thora, they all leapt to their feet shouting , “For Moria and the Shire!” And at that moment, a band of men ran into the camp, cursing for they had lost the element of surprise.
The dwarves struck at the legs and two men fell, taking finishing blows to the neck while the hobbits stabbed at any part in reach. One of the enemy went for Daisy, and without thinking, Diamond threw her knife and buried it in his ear. The elder hafling was awake now and she seized her frying pan with both hands, whacking the knees before her. Their owner toppled, and Daisy got him in the face. Diamond ran to retrieve her knife, looking away as she plucked it from the skull. She heard a gasp, and whirled around to see Robin got by the neck. The twin dropped her sword and tried in vain to rip the hands from her throat. Again, Diamond aimed and flung her blade as hard as she could. This time it struck the nape, and man died instantly, falling with his catch and landing on top of her. Just in time Diamond stepped back, and avoided being run into by another as he fled, the dwarf lass hot on his heels.
Suddenly, all was quiet. Barin shouted out the names and each one responded with ‘aye’, with Thora answering some distance away. But there was no reply from Wren. All looked frantically around and shouted her name. Thora returned with her ax blooded and called with the others.
“She’s over here!” yelled Floin, and all ran to the sound of his voice. She was on the ground, pale-faced with blood streaking her brow. Beside her were two of the attackers, one with a dagger to his right eye, the other bloodied on the chest. Robin burst into tears, raising her twin in her arms. Wren opened her eyes.
“What happened?” Her sister couldn’t have been more relieved.
“Are you much hurt?”
Wren touched the wetness to her face, wiping it gone with her hand. The blood wasn’t hers! Nervously she began to giggle, and the giggles turned to laughter from all.
Later, all Robin would have do is take a swipe at her brow and Wren would laugh 'til she cried.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Tue Nov 23, 2010 11:05 pm
None went back to sleep. One by one, seven bodies were dragged out of camp. Whatever smelt of blood was cast aside to deal with in the morning. All the tiny band could do right then was huddle together, back to back, in the chill night air...
The sun rose upon a scene born in hell. On the ground the dead lay ashen and pale. What appeared to be a painted white hand was on the clothes of a few and an 'S' rune marked the helmets. These seemed borrowed – too large for their wearers and of poor make. Belts of rope and braided strips of leather cinched the garments at the waist, but did not improve the fit. The three dwarves left in search of a base, and the Tooks picked through the corpses.
Neither of the Shirelings had the stomach to carry out that time-honored rite, and stuck to saving what they could by cold scrubbing in the stream. But the twins' job didn't take long to finish. To their surprise there were no arms, no coins or other, to take.
“I don't understand this,” said Robin, wiping her bloodied hands clean upon the grass. “They carry nothing.”
Wren nodded, arms folded across her chest. “It's as if they thought they could take us with their bare hands. Well, why not? Look at them...”
“They underestimated us,” murmured Robin. “It was not a fair fight.” Her sister's jaw dropped.
“Not a fair fight?” she snorted. “Listen! I'll take one like this anytime...”
“I don't hear anything...”
“There,” hissed Robin. “Headed this way...Daisy! Diamond! Here, quick!”
The noise closed upon them and the hobbits saw it was a pair of ponies, drawing a cart led by Barin and Floin. Thora sat on the back lip, watching where they'd come.
They were small chestnuts, of the draft breed common to the Shire, with wheat-colored manes and whiskered chins. They looked hale and lively, and as the hobbits approached, Barin announced them gentle and easy. The cart was a two-wheeled affair, loaded with a few barrels and some parcels beneath a tarp. They saw the bundles contained food, but it had been eaten of and what remained was poorly stored and spoiling. The one bit of cheer came from checking the barrels. There were three – man-sized, under-aged and untapped.
“They wouldn't, by chance, be Roger’s?” said Daisy, who shared the dwarves taste in beverages.
“No,” Floin replied sadly. “The runes mark it as a cheap brew, just right for the likes of these. But it's not water, and that alone would make me say 'aye' to it.” Barin bobbed his head in agreement, and all three turned imploringly to Thora.
“What are ya lookin' to me for? You know what we can keep!”
“She's right,” said Robin. “I heard you coming long before you were in sight.”
“But the kegs!” pleaded Barin.
“Aye,” said Floin. “How can we leave them here, so alone, wasted on the road...”
“Oh, for the love of stones!” groused Thora. “You'd think we were hillsidin' tykes to hear you talk!”
“And what will we do about them?”
Diamond stood alone beside the dead, her cheeks wet and wan. In the heat of it, everything she'd been learning came to the fore and she used her arts well. But now the youth and beauty of some of the slain burned her heart and she was grieved for those mothers who would not see their sons again. In battle, there was only fear and excitement; it was daylight that led to remorse. Daisy moved to Diamond's side and put her arms about her.
“I don't see what we can do,” she said softly. “We've no spades, and no where near the stones for a cairn.”
“It's come plain to me,” said Thora, for she was moved as well. “I say, we loose the ponies and let them find their way back...”
She suggested that the bodies be placed close together, arrayed in dignity, and that the cart be broken. And while the dwarves went to work on that, the four hobbits could then gather all manner of tinder, along with the tainted bacon and cheese from the men's stores. Then the kegs'd be opened and poured over all, adding their sodden staves to fuel a pyre.
There was little grumbling, for everyone knew she was right. The pair was unhooked and freed of their bridles. A light tap on the rump sent them on their way, and it was heartening to see them run until they were long out of sight.
The party worked quickly, placing the seven in a tight line, their hands upon their breasts. Then the dwarves saw to the cart, while hobbits went on the gather. They were mindful of the nearby wood, and cleared the ground of whatever might start it to flame; a circle of rocks broadened the border. It took hours to accomplish all this. And by the time the band had called upon whatever gods the men might honor and Barin's flint was struck, the sun was low in the sky.
There was no wind and the fire burned clean into the night, each and all in turn this time, keeping watch, while they sent their enemies to the places they did not know. Whether it was the dryness of the wood, the potency of the drink or both, in the end only ash remained, and by sunrise, that was crushed by dwarvish boots.
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Sat Nov 27, 2010 12:44 pm
The long funeral left them drained, and there was no talk amongst the company. The fire they kept for warmth and cooking kept the kettle hot, and Daisy made deer tea, steeping venison until most of the flavor and all of its toughness was gone. The meat rested easier on her gums, then, and provided everyone with a fortifying drink, besides a bite with their cram.
But it didn't make them wakeful, indeed quite the opposite was true, and no one wanted to move. So watches were given out – Thora taking the first – and the others tumbled back into bed without a peep...
She'd forgotten where she was when she opened her eyes. The cook fire was crackling, and sitting beside it, giving it an unnecessary poke now and again, was Diamond.
“Good morning,” said the hobbit. The dwarf sat up and blinked.
“Oh, bugger! How late is it?”
“Must be past noon.” Thora grabbed her boots and pulled them on.
“Where are Floin and Barin?”
“Off to get us something fresh – I hope – and more wood.”
“Sorry for falling asleep.”
“No, don't be – you must've needed it. I know I did...and them, too,” she said, glancing over at the three hobbits, all in a cuddled heap. “Think I should wake them?”
“I wouldn't,” said Thora Dwalindotter, taking up her ax. She turned again to Diamond.
“This trip has been a real eye-opener for me – and the boys, too, I dare say. You're a stout-hearted lot, even your mother...I'll never see halflings the same. How very glad I am, Diamond, that we've met.”
The hobbit blushed at the praise and the ax maiden set off, her sharp friend on her shoulder...
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Sun Nov 28, 2010 2:25 pm
Chapter Twelve cont.,
By the time the dwarves returned – the three together and chatting merrily – all of the hobbits were wide awake and looking forward to squirrels, perch or coney. But they'd come back empty-handed; they'd found something far better.
With all the shock and chaos of the previous two days, no one had noticed that their camp was atop a slow rise. The other side down was bearded with brush and brambles, deeper and steeper but passable still. Once all were gathered at the summit, Barin could point in the direction of several pearly-green mounds, their round caps veiled in mist. The Smials were in sight.
They packed quickly, having almost nothing to carry now but their arms, bedrolls and the few bits from Daisy's kitchen. Then the Tooks had Diamond's hand, who had Daisy’s hand, and she reached for Thora’s. Before long they had formed a chain with Barin and Floin in front. The three dwarves hacked away, clearing as much of the thorny wood as possible, while the four hobbits tagged behind on the newly-opened path. The many days spent in the wild had toughened their thick soles all the more, and they moved as easily as their dwarf companions.
It was slow going, for no one wanted either themselves or anyone else to fall. But when they finally reached the bottom, they spied the red-bricked pike to Tuckborough peeking in and out before them. It wound through the trees in flat imitation of the Smials and the pavers were fired in such a cunning way, that they formed an unbroken course. They were cool and smooth to the hobbit feet, and Barin remarked what a shame it was that they couldn’t have kept the pony cart, now that they had a pleasant road ahead.
And that road meant they were now in the borders of Tookland. A glassy little stream, less than a league ahead, curved away from the willows along its shore and seemed ideal for resting. Floin suggested setting up camp and there were no dissents. It was the warmest part of the day and Daisy, Robin and Wren picked out their sleep spots, rolling out and curling up on their blankets for a quick nap. Barin and Floin took their time, leisurely scouting around the area and gathering dry wood for the evening, while Thora found an accommodating log and settled down to whet her ax.
But Diamond, feeling a lightness of heart that she'd not had for weeks, was humming. Slowly she began a graceful dance among the grasses, taking off her cloak and holding it before her as a partner. Thora stopped and watched, happy to see the once frightened young thing blossom into this radiant creature. Diamond finished and Thora applauded, startling her.
Embarrassed, the hobbit laughed and curtsied to the dwarf. Going to Thora's side, Diamond sat down beside her, her face beaming.
“I never thought I could be happy again. I have you to thank for that.”
Thora smiled fondly and Diamond blushed, looking down at her hands. The rope burns were healed. She looked at Thora’s arms. She wore gauntlets on both, each with the gilt-hammering of a stag. Diamond suddenly realized that she had never seen the dwarf without them, not even the morning she spied her leaving the bath and she took a deep breath.
“One morning, when we were still in the ranger camp...I saw you leaving the bath. I saw your back...I asked Floin what happened, and he told me...I hope you’re not angry, with either of us.”
The dwarf said nothing, but seemed more intent then ever on her task.
“I’ve been asking myself if I, too, might have survived what you have. I’ve been asking myself why I’ve been taking my own assault so hard. I know I don’t look it, now, but whenever I’m not busy or just before I fall asleep, I think of it. And whenever I think of Pippin…” She put her hand to her mouth as if stopping the words would stop the reliving it. Thora set down her tools. “Then I think of what happened to you, and I feel so ashamed...”
The dwarf lass knelt before the halfling and took a hand in hers. With the other she lifted the trembling chin, and looked intently into Diamond’s eyes.
“No, don’t compare your suffering to mine. Life is no tournament to decide who the greater victim is. We're not responsible for what was done to us. You were about your business, and I was visiting family.” She got up and sat beside the hobbit, still holding her hand.
“How did you deal with it?” asked Diamond. “What did you do to forget?”
“I can’t forget,” said the bemused Thora. “And I’m not sure I have dealt with it, but I have learned to live around it, as will you with time. I have to take care of my brothers. Our parents were counting on me, and that got me through. I have reminders of that day that will never fade, but it’s not because I keep opening the wounds. I’ve been changed and I’ll never be the same. But…” And here Thora took one tiny hand in each of hers and held them up.
“But what I do to take charge of my life, sweeting, is what will either raise me above it or make me lower than the Orc. There's no doubt which I'd rather have.” She then kissed them and let them go with a parting squeeze. “Your Pip has a good woman, Diamond. If he is half of what you say, then you've nothing to fear and your heart will never lack for love.”
Re: DIAMOND OF LONG CLEEVE
Posted: Sun Nov 28, 2010 11:23 pm
The name of the founder of Tookland is lost to history. Both the Tooks and the Brandybucks were believed to be from the same original stock with two brothers known as Tucca and Bucca of Marish being their progenitors. It is known that Isengrim the Second was responsible for beginning the excavations beneath the Green Hills which came to be known as the Great Smials, and Daisy and Diamond were descendants of the Great Bullroarer, the younger of Isengrim’s two grandsons. It is said that he grew to the height of four foot five inches and could ride a horse. It would be Diamond’s first visit to the family estate; Daisy had not been back since her wedding.
Isengrim was the twenty-second Thain of the Shire and the tenth Took to bear the title. Legend has it that he enjoyed the company of dwarves and it is this association that led to his extraordinary ambitions. The massive network of tunnels is as close as hobbits have ever come to having any such achievement in architecture and is the main home of the Tooks large clan. At its base is the greatest settlement in the Shire called Tuckborough. Of all the families the Tooks are undoubtedly the least hobbit-like (though the “fairy wife” story is not at all believed to be the cause.)
The sun was barely in the sky when the company awoke the next morning. Feeling safe, there had been no watch so everyone had good night's sleep. After a bracing wash in the stream, they packed for what they hoped was the last time and set their sights on the Smials. Now they wished to gain as much distance as possible, having done without supper last night and no breakfast this morning. The road before them descended slightly and it seemed as though they were making the best time ever as a result.
Barin, who was in charge of the calendar, reckoned that it was perhaps the 1st of September, but there was plenty of disagreement. They didn't know that it was September 7th.
The day was turning out crisp and fair. Barin and Floin felt such cheer that they sang:
“We of the lordly manor halls
Are daring bold as we wassail!
And all who see us give the cry,
‘O brave and true we roundly hail!’”
“We shape the gold and shining gems,
We carvers of the flow‘ring stone!
We dearly love our beer and ale,
And toothsome meats ripe off the bone!”
“We mine the ore, we wield the ax
And dig the tunnels vast and deep!
We of the lordly manor halls,
We of the kingly mithril keep!”
Their voices sounded through the trees, and they were just about to begin another verse when a command rang out
“Stand and deliver in the name of the Thain!” They saw no one except the steep stone wall to their left.
“Who makes this demand and by whose order?” bellowed Floin. He was fully engaged and highly annoyed at the interruption.
“The loyal guard of Paladin II, by his decree! You stand in his realm!”
“Delagrim, is that you?”
At that a lithe figure stepped out from behind the rock facade followed by some dozen others who snapped to attention. All wore livery of deep blue shot through with gold thread, the letter “T” emblazoned on their chests and the leggings ending at the ankles. They wore studded bronze caps lined with leather, each carrying a bow and quiver of arrows. While the soles of their feet were bare, a cunning plate covered the top of each foot. These extended nearly to the knees and were held in place by leather straps. Diamond thought the one called Delagrim too slight and fragile-looking to be the owner of such a commanding voice, but would soon see that he had the bearing to go with it. A soaring eagle graced his cap and he was grinning from ear to ear as he ran to the dwarf, extending his hand in welcome.
“You rascal!” said Floin, embracing the youth and slapping him on the back. “You could at least have waited until we finished the song.”
“Oh, that’s what that was?” said Delagrim. “We were rushing to the aid of some poor tormented beasts! Hullo, Thora. Barin, you look well. Well met, Robin! And Wren.” Here his voice became a bit softer, and there was a twinkle in his eye. Wren blushed and smiled back. Daisy winked knowingly at Diamond, who rolled her eyes.
“And who are these ladies I see with you?” Robin came forth and did the introductions.
“This is Lady Daisy of the North-tooks and her daughter, Lady Diamond, late of Hobbiton. They are cousins to the Thain from the Long Cleeve clan and the invited guests of Master Took.”
Delagrim bowed. “You are most welcome, ladies. At your command.”
“We thank you and accept,” said Daisy, speaking for them both.
“And this, as you've heard, is Delagrim,” said Robin, her face as stiff as a poker's. “Sometime Archer, and All-Time Clown.” Delagrim didn't blink.
“And I swear both are true. Now, if you will please accompany me,” said the eagle-topped commander, offering his arm to Daisy. “I will take you to your quarters. There you can refresh yourselves and rest until evening. Tonight, all of you shall dine in the Great Hall. And you, my ladies, shall be hosted by the Thain himself.”