A Curious Meeting

The elves rode out from the Hall into the lands east, where the woods opened into a broad field and smoke arose above the oak trees, and coming to a halt, they gazed upon thatched roofs and neat, well-tended gardens with orderly fences. They had reached the bounds of the village of the small folk and were reluctant to come closer. Just as they were about to turn their horses and ride away, a voice cried out,

“Oh, my!”

They turned around to see one of the villagers gaping up at them.

“It is that halfling again,” Parnard said to the others, and seeing Estarfin dismount, did the same, eyeing the hedges warily. “No archers about? Any hiding there? Do not hide yourselves, come out, and let me take a look at you!” he cried out in Westron.

“The Starfin! I am honoured, sir,” said Tolbold to Estarfin, and turned back to Parnard. “Yer'll find none, Master Elf. It’s just meself. Oh! I am so glad ter see yer! Yer cake was delicious, Lady. I gave a little ter Henepa.” 

“Do not be wary, Tolbold. You know we are all friends,” said Danel. 

“Is he afraid of us?” said Parnard. He did not think the hobbit was at all afraid of him. 

The hobbit answered: “No, I am not Lord, now I see yer in daylight, I am amazed. Yer all so…beautiful!” he blurted out. Parnard laughed and Estarfin frowned. “But what are you doing here,” the hobbit asked them, “no trouble in elven lands, I hope?”

“These are elven lands,” Parnard said imperiously, gesturing broadly with his hand. 

“Oh, yes,” said Tolbold, “most kind of yer ter allow us ter stay.” He bowed his head and grinned.

“There is space enough, I think,” said Estarfin.

“Indeed, there is space for all of us, but with land disputes, there is always a difference of opinion,” observed Parnard. 

“If I can take a little of yer time?” piped up Tolbold. 

Parnard knew Westron, of course, enough to converse in trade with other races, whenever necessary, which was not often, and convey basic messages, but he was not fluent in the language by any means, and the hobbit was, like many of his folk, excitable and prone to quickly speak in speech full of curious turns of phrase. So when Tolbold said, If I can take a little of yer time, Parnard thought he said, If I can take a little of yer wine? How bold and impolite! thought he, and clamping a hand firmly on his wineskin, raised his eyebrows in surprise at the hobbit’s audacity. However, before he could compose a suitable retort to put the sassy hobbit back in his place, Tolbold continued talking:

“It be like this. There be the Tighfield Bounders,” and pointed at himself.

“And what exactly does a Bounder do?” said Parnard, his curiosity getting the better of his annoyance.

“We patrol the bounds of the village, Lord, and find what is missing. Mostly sheep, no washing or food these days, though -”

“Wardens of the land?” 

“That’s it, Lord! And if there be trouble, which used ter be rare, we sort it. But now there also be Lotho’s bounders. Them works fer this hobbit above himself. Says all post has ter go through him.”

“All posts must go through him,” repeated Parnard to himself, then he turned to Estarfin. “What does he mean by that?” he said, lapsing back into Sindarin. Estarfin only shrugged. 

“Says all boundary stone have ter be moved ter cut Yondershire from Hithershire. The Bounds. Them be marked by stone walls.”

“Someone has taken your stone?” asked Estarfin, and watched the hobbit scurry off to pat a nearby wall. “Perhaps the stone is precious to them,” he said to Danel and Parnard.

“But folk move some of ‘em at night,” said Tolbold.

“Who would want to do that!” Parnard exclaimed. The idea of doing hard labour during a time of star-gazing and merriment (or at any other time) was a strange and unwelcome concept.

“So that we be not connected ter t’other Shire,” continued Tolbold. “And we can’t get post from t’other Shire. We put ‘em there ourselves. And now we have a third set of Bounders. Them be the Chief’s Bounders.”

Parnard, having difficulty keeping up with the hobbit’s chatter, told him, “But you have all sorts of trees here. Now, I do not condone wanton sawing down of trees, but they are needed at times for things: shelter, and posts, and so on -”

The hobbit disregarded this non sequitur in his eagerness to explain himself, and kept on talking at a rapid clip. “And none of us know who this Chief be,” he concluded. Then, suddenly excusing himself, he drew a large red apple out from a pocket and began to devour it with hasty bites. “Time fer Second Breakfast if I’m ter keep me wits.”

“Keep them!” Parnard cried out in Sindarin. “I think he might have already lost them.”

“I think this Chief, or that Lotho are tellin’ their Bounders to alter what proper Bounders do. And now, ter top it all, someone has gone an’ kidnapped Guy.”

“And why would they want to do that?” Parnard asked, wondering what a Lotho was.

“Him be so impressed by yer, Lord," the hobbit replied, addressing Estarfin now,  "that he dress up in black and buys a black pony."

“To what end?” asked Estarfin.

“Ter help others!”

“And what did he do to help? Did he slay a score of Men?” 

“It be all him can do ter slay a sausage,” Tolbold said. The jest made Parnard burst out into loud peals of laughter.

"Laughing aside, Lord, him most serious in wantin’ ter help. And Henepa encouraged him. So he got inter nosin’ about. Guy goes and investigates the missing post, and then yesterday…gone! Not at breakfast, not at Second Breakfast. Not at Elevenses. No meals. No Guy.”

“That is unusual for you, is it not?” asked Estarfin. "You are fond of food.”

“And drink,” added Parnard. Then he said in Sindarin, “That is why they are so fat. It is a wonder their stomachs do not explode.”

“But I told Guy him be silly, thinking him can do what yer do, Lord,” said Tolbold, and bowed deeply before Estarfin. “And him go get himself kidnapped! He been missing an entire day. No, a whole day-and-a-half!” 

“So he is gone, and missed his meals, yet is a regular one for his feed, whilst there are troublemakers moving posts and stones in the night,” Parnard surmised, wondering what it all could mean. He looked towards the elder of his two elvish companions (and therefore the wisest, according to Wood-Elf logic) and said, “Estarfin friend, what do you make of this?”

“It is a strange tale, though he seems to believe it,” he answered.

“I be but one Bounder,” pleaded Tolbold. “I never had five hiding in that bush -”

“You never had five hiding in that bush?” Parnard repeated slowly. “That means! - you were not telling the truth!” He gasped. The hobbit had lied to him! 

Tolbold blushed crimson. “But I need be resourceful with what I have,” and bowed deeply. “I be sorry, sir.” 

“I came to parley,* and you were untruthful!”  cried Parnard. Always, when he least expected it, mortals would tell him an untruth! He had let his guard down, that was the problem, because he underestimated the small folk. It would not happen again. He stood there glaring down at the hobbit with his arms crossed, drumming his fingers as he considered what to do to him.

“He insulted you?” Estarfin asked him in Sindarin.

“Nay,” Parnard replied after a few moments, "he is but a timid and fearful hobbit, and was made sore afraid. Well, well,” he said to Tolbold in the common tongue, “I suppose we must have frightened you.”

“Yer took me by surprise, an' no mistake!” cried Tolbold. “But what I be tryin’ ter say is somethin’ be mightily wrong here. So, yer good people, take a care.”

“Or…?” asked Parnard, narrowing his eyes. Was this a threat?

“Them may try an’ hurt yer.”

“Who?” demanded Parnard, looking suspiciously at every bush and stone. 

“There are more Men nearby?” Estarfin asked Tolbold. 

“No, not now. Yer got rid of them all. This be bad…hobbits, misguided hobbits.”

“‘Wickedness does not have a place in their heart,’ eh?” Parnard said to Estarfin in Sindarin, quoting what Estarfin had told him only a short while ago. Estarfin looked disappointed but said nothing.

“Why not round up your Bounders and go find your friend?” said Parnard to Tolbold. “Where are they now?”

“At the tavern, havin’ Second Breakfast. Yer want ter come? Yer cause a stir right enough!”

“Do we wish to go into their public-house,” Parnard muttered out of the corner of his mouth to Estarfin. 

“I have never seen inside one,” he said.

“I would see what is to be seen,” said Parnard, thinking of the contents of the casks and barrels stored within. Then another thought occurred to him which made him give pause. “Peradventure they will slay your friend to warn your folk to not keep company with Elves: it may not go well with you once we leave, if you are seen with us.” To better illustrate this point, Parnard made a swift slitting motion across his throat.

“Maybe yer right,” said Tolbold.

“Of course I am right,” said Parnard.

“But some villages have seen a few men from Bree with them. Them’s the ones that misguided we hobbits,” said Tolbold. 

“Are they under orders?” asked Parnard.

“Some are. Some are lured by promise of food,” said Tolbold.

“Foolish, fat, and greedy hobbits!” 

“There be a lot o’ truth ter that, Lord.”

“I do not wish to take up sword against halflings, no matter how misguided they are,” Estarfin murmured in Sindarin. 

“I do not either,” agreed Parnard. “It would be unworthy.”

“Most of our folk could be lured down the wrong path by a piece o’ bacon,” Tolbold said. “But the more I think of it, the more I believe there is Mannish ill behind it. Or worse, even. I don’t know, this Chief…” Tolbold shrugged.

“A word, Tolbold, in private,” Parnard said, firmly steering him away from the other two elves. “You have fallen in his estimation,” he told him, nodding back towards Estarfin. “Once a reputation is so lowered, it is hard for it to, ah, regain its footing.”

“Yer have me apologies,” said the abashed hobbit. “I hope I can impress himself somehow."

Parnard lowered his head and appeared to remain for a short space in deep thought. “A calf, Tolbold,” he said.

“A calf, Lord? Yer mean I give him a baby cow?”

“Not for him. It is for me."

“Oh. Then yer will forgive me for lying?”

Parnard smiled mysteriously. 

“Yer only had ter say anyway. Half the village will give yer a beast after what yer did to help us.” 

“Then I shall have it. But how shall you make amends with Estarfin? Well, that is another issue entire,” Parnard said, his eyes dark, and enjoyed watching Tolbold fret and bite his fingernails, laughing in his heart all the while. “But I shall tell him you are very sorry for your misdeeds, and that you are not to be harmed.” Then he smiled benevolently down on the hobbit, considering the score even and the matter of the hobbit's lie settled. 

“I can see him be very honourable. Henepa would never forgive me if she thought I upset him,” Tolbold said, and suddenly was more relaxed. 

“As for your missing friend: You must be wary, Tolbold. There is something about this place that does not overly love Elves, it would seem.” 

“T’is not my folk, sir! Lotho Sackville-Baggins loathes all that is good and true!”

“Lotho Sackville-Baggins,” repeated Parnard with slow uncertainty. “I do not like the sound of it at all. Once these were our lands, the hunting grounds of my people, long before the Sea rushed in. We dwelt here, long, long ago: that is why the land is so fair now.”

“T’is a very fair land. We do try an’ look after it. Though we can’t do as well as your folk.” 

“We must all do as well as we can in our own ways: there is no shame in that," said Parnard. Then he had an idea. “Have you no scent dogs to track your friend? Fetch a hound, and take up some clothing of your friend: a stocking, for instance.”

Tolbold shook his head. “We have no hounds in this village, and we not wear anything on our feet, Lord Parnard,” said Tolbold, holding up a hairy foot and wiggling his toes. 

Parnard gazed upon the hobbit’s bare curly feet, his eyes widening. “Oh,” was all he managed to say; all this time he thought Tolbold was wearing shaggy fur shoes.

“I will ask Sarno - him’s brother.”

The Wood-Elf nodded. “If we had some idea of the direction whence your friend was taken, even if the hound loses his trail, we would help you, Tolbold. Go now. Return to your village. Say nothing to anyone. Bring me that garment of your missing friend. I shall be waiting here. Now be swift!” he urged, and watched the hobbit scamper off as quick as a dart. 


*: ‘Parley’ is not the proper term for the earlier impromptu meeting that Parnard and Danel had with the hobbit, but as Parnard was so flabbergasted at the hobbit lying to him, his tenuous grasp of the Westron language temporarily slipped.