Tolbold had spent the night in the cellar of ‘The Bent Elbow’, with Henepa’s permission, of course. It was an odd situation, and he didn’t like it one bit. He liked his own bed, with his own blankets in his own house. But he figured if he didn’t know if or where Guy Appleby was sleeping, he didn’t deserve comfort.
The floor of the cellar was hard and cold. He had wrapped his cloak about him, and Henepa had brought down three cushions and a blanket. It could have been worse. At least he had convinced Sarno to go home and get a good night’s sleep, ‘cause he didn't know what would face him tomorrow, which was now today.
He knew he needed to get moving. And thankfully for him his stomach was growling with hunger, so he wouldn’t just fall asleep again.
He didn’t rightly know how matters had come to this? To have one of his three trusted Bounders kidnapped, it was unthinkable. And them had taken Guy right from under his friend's noses. Not that Guy was easy to ignore since he had started dressing all in black and had got himself a black pony…Gilastar he had named him after the dark elf’s horse. Hah, as if anyone would mistake Guy for that tall elf who they had once thought was a demon? But someone else had thought Guy a demon of sorts. Problem was, neither Tolbold, Sarno or old Tollu knew who. It could be one or more of Lotho’s bounders, right enough. Or it could be the ‘Old Man’s’…the Chief’s bounders. It could be Men from Bree, or even goblins. He just didn’t know.
Then there came the sound of movement from above. Someone walking across the wooden floor to the stone tiled kitchen?
‘Henepa’, he thought. She was worried too. ‘I know Guy just wanted everyone ter think he would help ‘em, and defend ‘em an all, but we did him no favours, encouraging him's nonsense. All we needed was our regular Guy, out on patrol.”
Tolbold snorted a little at that memory. Hadn’t he tried to dissuade Guy from the start? ‘Yer don’t need to be some Elf-Hobbit, Guy. We does things our way an them does ‘em their way. Not that I do not appreciate them’s help, but we can’t fight off enemies like them can.”
And Guy had shrugged.
And when Henepa said she thought him looked good in black, well that was it sealed. No way was Guy going ter act like a run-of-the-mill Hobbit.
Tolbold sat up and shrugged. If yer can’t beat ‘em, yer may as well join ‘em, he thought. But more to the point, if Henepa was up already there may be the chance of a pre breakfast snack. He certainly needed something to fortify him for the day ahead. So he pulled on his jacket and took up his cloak to attach properly with the pin brooch. Then he rolled up the blanket and piled it on the cushions all tidy like. He stretched his arms and touched his toes a few times and took up his wooden club. All seemed in working order, then he made for the stairs...
...and he was greeted by the smell of toasting bread, the soft whistle of a boiling kettle, and the sound of eggs frying in a pan.
Henepa turned round. She was wrapped up snugg in a thick, green velvet dressing gown.
“Oh, me heart! Yer startled me there, Tolbold. I thought after last night an yer important meetin’ yer would sleep through to breakfast?” She carefully splashed the eggs with some oil, then moved to place the toast on a plate. The eggs looked almost done.
“Can yer make us a nice cup o’ tea. Tolbold. We can share pre-breakfast, an I make some more after.”
He nodded. If he wasn’t so stressed he would have paid Henepa a compliment. She was looking as fresh as a spring mornin' with her hair all tied up in bits o linen ter help keep the curls in.
“About that meeting, “ he began, as he put the cups out to be warmed. “Yer can’t say anything ter anyone apart from me an Sarno, Henepa. Lives may depend on it. Folk in general can’t know them Elves are helpin’ us again.”
Henepa placed the plates on the table, lay the toast, two pieces each, on them, then scooped two nicely fried eggs up on each. She laid the butter dish open and set out knives and forks.
“Now yer should now better than ter take me fer a gossip. Tolbold Tattersfield. I listen ter everyone else's tales, but don’t pass ‘em on, or no one would tell me anything.” She stood back to admire her work, then placed balled fists on her hips and glared. “I may not be a Bounder like me Pa was, but I knows some things. Elf talk ain’t fer all an sundry. We don’t want ter panic folk. We don’t want them bad folk finding out about them elves neither!
Tolbold could have hugged her for understanding. But he set the teapot down to stand a few minutes, and set out the cups and saucers and strainer. He moved the smaller milk jug and the sugar onto the table.
“Henepa, yer be as good as any Bounder I knows, and better than most.” He felt a sudden surge of pride in her. When he thought about it, she was right. She listened to everyone. But he hardly ever heard her tell tales. “Ladies first,” he said, gesturing to the chair nearest her.
She bobbed a curtsy, chuckled, and sat. He was about to sit as well when there was a soft tap on the delivery door at the side.
“Do yer get deliveries this early?” Tolbold asked. He found his hand had moved to take up his club, laying beside him on the chair.
Henepa shook her head. She leant over and grabbed the handle of the frying pan.
Another soft tap at the door. This time a croaky voice accompanied it. “Henepa, Henepa, let me in.”
The two Hobbits glanced at each other.
“Guy?” they both said at the same time.
There was a rush for the door. Henepa fumbled with the keys in her pocket, and the bolts at the top and bottom, then the door swung open and in tumbled Guy.
He sat up, grinned, and brandished a long, ornate, wicked looking dagger.
“You never guess what happened ter me.”
“No. We never will. Give us a clue Guy, and come get a drink. Yer sound like yer been shoutin’ fer hours.”
Grinning still, Guy nodded as he got to his feet. He was filthy dirty and covered in mud.
“Them had me with a bag on me head, then in a cage wi no supper…and then first light..whoosh whoosh an he killed em all. And then the other two and a third were there an I killed several as more came and whoosh…them all dead too. And then he give me this..” Guy held up the knife and kissed it. “Me own elvish knife, an no mistake. Look, just look!” He waved the blade a little close to the others and they backed off.
“An' very nice too, Guy. Just sit down will yer, and tell us slowly. An why the secrecy? Henepa had already poured tea into a third cup. And was pushing her own pre-breakfast under Guy’s nose.
“I will rattle up some more food,” Tolbold said as he went to the kitchen. "First things first. Are yer hurt at all Guy?”
Guy sat on Tolbold’s vacated chair and shook his head. He grabbed at the tea.
“No, not really. No proper food fer days, and cramped in a small cage, and a few belts from the men. I think them planned ter hold me hostage or somethin?”
He nodded his thanks to Henepa and took up an eating knife as he set into the eggs on toast. The elven dagger lay on the table before him. He could hardly take his eyes off it.
“Yer said *he* gave yer that,” she nodded at the dagger. “It’s made by an elf, so ‘*he*’ would be Estarfin?”
Guy nodded but was too busy filling up on missed food to comment.
Seeing Henepa swaying on her seat, an her eyes goin' all dreamy,Tolbold spoke up. “Now don’t go faintin’ on us, Henepa. I knows them elves are beautiful an all that, but we have a situation on our hands.”
Henepa sat still and flashed a glance at Tolbold. “An what harm am I doing? Can’t a body think about another now?”
Finishing Henepa’s pre-breakfast, Guy reached for the cup of tea again. “You don’t stand a chance, Henepa. Him’s over four foot taller than you. And him lives forever. And she is still with him, the Lady with red curls. And the High Lord Parnard.”
Rolling her eyes at Guy, Henepa said “Give me strength. You silly Hobbit, I am not after him! I just like hearin’ nice stories of him lookin after her an things. It be romantic, an I think we be missin a lot of that here. Besides, I got me eye on someone.”
Both Tolbold and Guy looked started, looked at Henepa, and looked at each other.
“Yer eyes..” said Tolbold……” on someone?” said Guy.
“An why should that surprise yer? I am almost 45 now. I may want ter settle down. But first I wants ter sort out what’s going on with Guy here.”
The lads looked momentarily ashamed. Both finished off their tea.
“From the beginnin’ Guy. Where did yer disappear to?” Tolbold asked.