Chapter 2: Summer 1343

Chapter 2: A Summer Hike 1343

Day 1: After months of planning, six chums gathered in The Three Pigs tavern to sort out final details for their hiking holiday. Mungo was especially pleased to present a good map of North Farthing copied from the town archives. As they all had slightly different priorities in mind their final route took considerable time to thrash out but eventually everybody was satisfied. Just as the lunchtime rush finished the first ladies arrived with their rucksacks and high expectations – Primula Dibbs and her artistic younger sister Poppy. Marigold Clayhanger bounced in a little later and was pleased to see both Tobold and Halfred there to greet her. They all waited for Rowan and Bella but after some while a postie appeared instead with a written note for Mungo; ‘Gone ahead by pony and trap with Falco – see you at Bulgerden on Mid-Year? Rowan.’ This rather made a mess of Plan A as there was insufficient time to go to Gogglegard first and then onto Bulgerden in time for Midsummer. They hastily re-planned the journey in reverse and politely sent letters out with a change of dates to the various relatives that were expecting them. By this time the afternoon was wearing on but Mungo had the brilliant idea of spending the first night camping by Kings Worthy’s mill pond to get some camping practice and find out if they had forgotten anything vital. It turned out that only two of them had brought tents – for a party of nine. There ensued a hasty afternoon shopping session in town for more tents and cook gear, then extra provisions for evening meals and breakfast.;

Day 2: After a warming and hearty breakfast the companions confidently set off with Mungo and his map as the main guide. When it quickly became clear that they were heading down the wrong road entirely the more experienced Gorboduc insisted on taking over and soon had them back on the correct track. They set a gentle pace out of consideration for the ladies and enjoyed a thoroughly pleasant ramble on a fine, fair morning with the smell of new-mown hay and the sound of skylarks in the air. Around about time for elevensies a couple of the party spotted an unusual field gate halfway up the hill to their right. Although the wall and five-bar gate looked normal, the remains of an arch protruded from the gate stones on either side. They decided to take a closer look and clambered up to inspect the broken arch and fallen stones. Strange, angular runes were carved on many of these. While the scholars turned stones over and made sketches in their notebooks, Isenbold went off hunting and the others settled down for some refreshing iced tea and generous seed cake. Isenbold soon came back with a brace of coneys which was the signal to pack up and head back down to the road.

By luncheon the sun had become uncomfortably hot and everyone was relieved to get to the turn off for Nikkerwick and headed down to a little stone bridge under the willow trees and follow along the river burbling over its stone bed. After a short distance they came into sight of an oxbow lake; along one side was a low, rambling smial with many platforms projecting out over the water. On the other side were several turf-roofed chalets with families fishing and hobbitlings running about or splashing in the shallows. They approached the great round door of the main building and rang the bell which was answered very informally by Uncle Larkin. He welcomed them in and promised to show them the fishing kit before trotting off to fetch the housekeeper, Mrs Mossfoot. She showed them to their comfortable visitor chalets and left them to settle in. Isenbold set off to find the main kitchen and present them with the coneys and a round of cheese in thanks, which immediately won him an invitation to the private family dinner. Halfred and Marigold wandered off amongst the withys to try and find anywhere which might corresponding to Grandad Otto’s treasure maps. And Mungo dithered about going back to the main smial to meet Lily. Goboduc, Primula and Poppy took pity on him and came with.;

Back at the house Mungo enthusiastically introduced himself and his friends to Mistress Lavender Baxter before enquiring after her daughter Lily, at which point he discovered that Lily was away. She had been invited to spend Mid-Year at Long Cleeve with the Tooks and Nortooks and was thus absent. Recovering quickly he instead asked to meet with Grandfather Hugo, custodian of a rather fine library, so Mistress Lavender bustled off to find him. While they waited Gorboduc and Primula politely enquired whether Mungo had ever declared his affection for his intended, he had to admit that he had not. Grandfather Hugo arrived and led them through to the splendid library away from the lake on the north facing side of the smial. Mungo presented the letter from his sponsor, Dame Jowett, which Grandfather Hugo read carefully before kindly signing him in and permitting Mungo access provided that things were put back in place. Mungo delved in, forgetting all about his companions. Mistress Lavender led them off for a tour of the house which was very comfortably appointed and full of curiosities and possibly even foreign items. Mungo quickly found two sections of the library better maintained than the others; one was the definitive collection of fishing lore, and a smaller section on Shire history. Grandfather explained that it was Lily’s area of interest.

Outside Edgar and Tobold set about storytelling and singing to the hobbitlings and quickly gathered a crowd of devoted followers. A chance meeting between this crowd and the pirate ship hunters happily turned the entire swarm into a pirate crew of treasure seekers splashing about in the shallows and amongst the willows. Lily’s little sister Pearl Baxter was among them getting extremely muddy. Tobold, professional carpenter, set about building the best and sturdiest kiddie-sized pirate ship ever to sail on this pond. Cousin Edgar, never one to do an honest day’s work if he could get Tobold to do it, found a shady willow to settle against and strummed a series of work shanties to encourage things along. The hammering might have been why the fish were biting much less than usual, but fortunately most of the nearby fishers were taking a relaxed approach on this hot, sunny afternoon. For dinner almost everyone gathered around the cookfires on the eastern side of the lake where the day’s trout catch was shared and turned into vast quantities of pink fish and chips for those present. A smaller, private dinner was made for the Baxter family in the smial, partly so they could eat something other than fish occasionally.

Day 3: Mungo delved back into Nikkerwick library and was not seen for most of the day. In Lily’s absence he instead cultivated a useful friendship with Grandfather Hugo, not thrashing him too badly at chess and respecting the elderly gent’s occasional nap. In between he left a complex trail of notes and riddles for Lily to find amongst her favourite books. Gorboduc took Primula and Poppy northwards up into the high crags for a memorable picnic. Fortunately they were both fit, healthy lasses because the climb was very long and steep but the reward at the top was a magnificent view of the dales all around. Poppy regretted that she hadn’t brought her paints along. Their return down the mountain was swifter and equally memorable when the hikers disturbed a large cloud of butterflies that had been feeding in the wildflowers. Masses of colourful butterflies swirled all around. The ladies were delighted at the spectacle but Gorboduc was a little spooked. There was something about the way the swirls were moving which wasn’t entirely natural. He urged them quickly on and away from that hillside.;

Isenbold was loaned the best of fishing gear by Larkin and settled down to fish on the lake shore. There he made the acquaintance of taciturn Ogilia Swiftfoot and the even less talkative Alyssa Diggle who were clearly competitive fishing. Ogilia and Isenbold nonetheless bonded over a shared bucket of worms and together landed a substantial bulk of the evening supper. With Edgar and Halfred’s help Tobold’s play pirate ship was launched and anchored firmly into the shallows so that enthusiastic hobbitlings could not get it out into deeper sections. A full-on pirate adventure was reenacted by the kids throughout the afternoon, loudly encouraged by the adult ‘treasure hunters’. Marigold was both delighted and appalled at this turn of events; clearly their hunt wasn’t secret anymore but, on the other hand, who was going to take it seriously? The group reunited at supper and swopped tales while Poppy painted the sunset over Nikkerwick lake.

Day 4: Before setting out, his friends insisted that Mungo leave a letter for Lily and encouraged him to state his feeling for her straightforwardly. They enthusiastically helped to write the letter. After second breakfast Gorboduc finally herded them out and they headed off cross-country towards Furze Ford. A few hours later the village came into view and they splashed across the river to the welcome hostelry of Roebuck Tavern. Here they settled in for elevenses and a well-earned pint of light, quaffable beer perfect for thirst quenching. Isenbold chatted to the barman while taking an order for cheese and learned the ‘Giants Armpit’ cave was up the hills nearby and might have a leprechaun to riddle with. Halfred pointed out that such creatures were known for having treasure. They persuaded the ladies to head up to the hills and scout about for such a cave. Unfortunately a couple of hours exploring in the summer heat failed to discover anything resembling a cave so eventually they called a halt to the endeavour and trudged back downhill to the road. They came into the village of Wooperton at the end of the afternoon and entered the Tinker Inn just in time for tea. The strong beer was good too.

Over on the other side of the village square was the famous clootie well. Curious, Tobold wandered over to take a look but could not see anything obviously wrong with it. Edgar knew something of its reputation as a wishing well of sweet water. He enquired about the well from the innkeeper, Theo Boulderhill, who informed him that it had become fouled; “There be a monster livin’ down there now. Ye cannot use it. The monster is demanding tribute and threatening us with dire things. We’ve told the Bounders and they had look but nothing happened. They laughed at us.” Isenbold decided to make a thorough investigation since this was uncomfortably close to his smial and he had ambitions to become a Bounder. He poked and prodded and sent down a bucket and found absolutely nothing wrong with either the well or the water within. It could only be a practical joke. The group hiked on into the evening but they were lagging after such a long day. Gorbo rallied them with a marching song and eventually the lights of Mugglewort Place were seen just as the sun went down. Isenbold’s family welcomed them all inside. Mugglewort was a beautiful smial set into the side of a hill with blue and purple crystals running through the walls of the rooms. Under lamplight everything sparkled and glistened. After supper, Mungo took Gorboduc aside to thank him for his help with the letter and to apologise sincerely for the incident with Primrose Nortook all those years ago.;

Day 5: The guests had a lovely morning sleeping in until second breakfast but for the Hackenbottoms there was milk to be collected and cheeses to be made. Later they decided to rummage through the archives and dig through the other collection of parchments from Grandpa Otto because Isenbold was sure here was a matching map to Halfred’s somewhere in there. Sure enough, eventually they found one just like it and superimposed the two. They got an M and a P: Mugglewort and Pitterfield. Adjusting the scale to the hiking map they discovered an ‘X’ at a location just next to Bindbale woods. They gave the maps to Halfred with instructions to take them all to Marigold and to sit with her in the sunlight until *she* had solved the puzzles for him. He happily trotted off to do this. Poppy and Primula, meanwhile, had been touring the smial with Isenbold’s parents; Bertram and Viola Hackenbottom. Poppy was particularly taken with the lovely crystals and enthusiastically asked to mine them to make some jewellery – she was a bit abashed at their emphatic refusal.

Halfred and Marigold returned with the maps looking very pleased with themselves, and Edgar asked if they’d tried the old heat trick. They had not. After some careful experimenting with the oven both maps revealed brown writing on the back. On Halfred’s Map:

I walked through a field of wheat
Found there something good to eat
It was white and had no bone
In 30 days it walked alone.

On Isenbold’s Map:

A box without hinges, key, or lid,
Yet golden treasure inside is hid.

Marigold was not impressed; “we’re hunting eggs?

After lunch a small sightseeing ramble seemed in order. Isenbold decided to take them out for a picnic at the Dolmen: a bunch sticking up old stones with another big stone balanced on top, covered in lots of runes. He borrowed some parasols to provide shade for the ladies, for which they were very grateful. Edgar, Tobold, and Halfred also decided to accompany them. After an hour’s ramble they reached the cluster of stones which resembled a giant’s table. They poked around and examined the stones which were all covered in strange, flowing engraved script. Tobold volunteered to be lifted onto the upper stone, scraping his hands and leaving a little blood on the top runes. It had nice views but the location was remote. Pondering his old lore rhymes Edgar recalled that it was a Dire Dolman with an ominous reputation. Both Hackenbottoms remembered Grandpa Otto asserting that it was an oath stone: he warned that one must be very careful what you say on or in it because if you broke that promise you would be cursed. The expedition ambled back for teatime.

Day 6: The party set out for a full day of hiking cross-country to Bulgerden smial, riddling and speculating as they went along. After four hours they got to a bubbling spring which was the main headwater of Uiske Beck. They stopped for a picnic and a drink of its clear water. The second leg of the day was cooled by an easterly breeze so they hiked all the way up to teatime when they came around a ridge and dropped down into a beautiful little mossy dell with a waterfall cascading into it through the sunlight. Viewed from the right place it filled the air with a rainbow mist. Poppy instantly halted for a quick sketch, Mungo improvised some poetry, and the Arkwrights bickered about the proper key for a particular appropriate melody. It was a memorable teatime although provisions threatened to run low. As the evening drew on they eventually left the dell and descended down the valley towards Bulgerden. They found the smial in a complete uproar.

Belladonna ran out to greet them for once relieved and pleased to see Mungo, which was their first clue of something amiss. The Wilberforces appeared to be preparing for a really big party, not just the usual Mid-Year feast. Bella pulled them aside and alerted them to an important omission from Rowan’s last note: Falco and Rowan actually eloped last weekend instead of meeting everyone at the pub. They went to the town hall clerk and registered their marriage without any agreements from their families or announcements or anything except their two witnesses (Bella was one). Tomorrow’s party will be the Wilberforces attempting to put a brave face on what is a fair old scandal, even though it was Rowan’s idea. Bella was very glad that Mungo had now arrived and could give Rowan away at the ‘wedding’ tomorrow or throw a fit or whatever would take attention off her. Poppy and Primula looked a bit shocked. Marigold seemed sympathetic. When Mungo eventually stopped laughing Bella led him in to meet Falco’s family. He played it cool.

Mid-Year: After a busy morning putting up marquees, festooning everything with flowers, setting out a mountain of food and greeting guests, the extended Wilberforce family, friends and neighbours gathered to witness the (renewal of) vows in the presence of just Mungo and Bella from the bride’s family. Everything went remarkably well through the brief ceremony, the prolonged feasting, right up to the toasts and speeches. As the senior representative of the Noakes family Mungo stood up and delivered a stunning a speech; polite, courteous, and packed with fabulously insulting turns of phrase. Those members of the audience sober and witty enough to pay attention found it very quotable and were entirely too pleased to explain phrases to their less alert dining companions. People actually took notes and it became briefly famous as the topic of many a letter.

Falco and Rowan decided to make an afternoon departure for their honeymoon at Michel Delving, leaving the crowd of guests to deal with both fallout and leftovers. Edgar kept the dances going when the local musicians flagged, and Belladonna brought Marigold, Primula and Poppy up to date with all the gossip. As the festivities wound down the Wilberforces kindly found a room for the ladies overnight but the rest of the hiking hobbits were left to camp outside. Relations were… chilly.

Day 8: The following morning everyone agreed that Mungo needed to get back home before the letters started to arrive, so he encouraged everyone to an earlyish start after second breakfast. Belladonna joined them on the return hike as it was really the only respectable option open to her, and Edgar was pleased to renew their friendship. The road back to Kings Worthy was uneventful, with the most difficult choice being to briefly call into Nikkerwick to drop off a note and ascertain that Lily had not yet returned. Their arrival at Kings Worthy was a welcome stop for most of the party who cleaned up and enjoyed a good meal at Marigold’s family tavern The Old Harp. It was much more stressful for Mungo and Bella who need to go home and explain what had happened to their very upset mum and a family whose wedding preparations have been ruined. Somehow it became Mungo’s duty to give an accurate and factual account of the second wedding, allowing Bella to slip back to her friends at the tavern. She accepted Edgar’s invitation to join them on the second part of their tour ‘while everything settles down’. Marigold opted to stay at home and reserve her remaining holidays for whenever the treasure map expedition will take place.

Isenbold headed to the storeroom to pick up the stock of cheese and cider picnic baskets to sell for the summer, an enterprise that he’d forgotten about the first week. Unfortunately there was very little stock remaining to sell; Cousin Halfred had already used most of it to curry favour with the Clayhangers and negotiate Marigold’s holiday with her dad. And very popular they had been too – Master Holdfast is very pleased with his profits and Halfred’s prospects. It was clear that Halfred owes everyone rather a lot of time and effort all round. The companions enjoy a comfortable overnight stay at the tavern.

Day 9: Gorboduc, who had been extremely patient so far, herded everyone out quickly the next morning. They had to make an early start on the northern road since it would take all of that long summer day to get to Gogglegard. They followed the Wan Burn upstream as it wound its way from the village of Darrowby. There they stopped for a break at the Barley Mow Inn for a disappointing and rather oily beer. Mungo decided to pay him a veiled insult disguised as a compliment, but it was lost on the fellow. They decided against a meal and pushed on up the right hand fork of the road, and right again at another fork, before pausing for an al fresco luncheon. By this time they were deep into the hills and well away from any stream so Edgar and Halfred scouted around for any water source. On a nearby slope, under a mound of overgrown hawthorn and ivy, Halfred heard trickling water and pushed through to find the broken remains of an ancient shrine of some sort. He could see a fragment of statue with elven feet and a tiny spring pouring out of a broken green bowl. There was just enough to quench their thirst in the summer heat.

By teatime they managed to reach the village of Cawland and the Pig & Whistle tavern. Fortunately this place looked much cleaner and sold an interesting, slightly smokey ale with a fruity aftertaste. Mungo and Tobold engaged in a riddle contest which Mungo won easily. They even raised a glass to the unknown elven lady of ages past. It was difficult to set out again after what was already a long day’s travel but Gogglegard was just another hour further up the road. They set off to hike the last league and they came at last to Gorboduc’s home just as the lowering sun began to throw a golden light and long shadows. Gogglegard smial was a large, sprawling cluster of stone buildings dominated by a much older, tall tower of unknown age. All the windows were lit up to give a glorious welcome to the tired travellers. The Shelltoes (and their many bounder collie dogs) gave everyone an enthusiastic welcome.

Day 10: This was a quiet day exploring the smial, the surrounding flower meadows and meeting Gorby’s extended family, all of whom lived in the cosily appointed buildings which formed several small courtyards and were all connected up to better shelter against winter weather. Primula worked very hard at trying to remember the names of all his family, while Poppy happily wandered away with her sketchbook to capture the spectacular landscape. Mungo caught up with Bella to encourage the idea of an autumn wedding to placate their mum, a cunning plan which his sister was highly reluctant to sign up to. Happily he was soon distracted by the Gogglegard library which had a respectable section on astronomy.

The rest of the group were spoiled rotten by the Shelltoes who were delighted to have visitors. Madam Mirabella (Gorboduc’s mum) made sure that everyone was fully replenished, and Master Andiwise Shelltoe put on a bit of a show with collie training to amuse them. There appeared to be an awful lot of sturdy siblings and cousins popping in and out to meet them, but his sisters Rosamunda and Carnellia were especially friendly. Grandad Saradas remained rather aloof, probably because of his deafness.

Day 11: The group planned and gathered provisions for a hike right out to the edge of the Dingle Wall, the high escarpment which forms a natural boundary to the Shire. They set off with Gorboduc as local guide but moved cautiously as this was very wild country with unexpected bogs and crags. Despite a slow pace they managed to reach the high shelf of rock while it was still daylight and spent a good hour admiring the sweep of the Brandywine river far below them, the Twilight Tarn that it came from, the ruins and mounds of the old Kings’ city, the pine forests of the crags and the distant blue mountains where dwarves lived. Halfred discovered a sensible fear of heights so he stayed well back. Tobold cautiously and bravely crept to the edge to peer straight down the escarpment and spotted thick cobwebs clinging around its base. It was impossible to get a sense of scale but something about them gave him a deep sense of unease and cast a shadow across his mood. They were not right and haunted his dreams for some nights. The rest of the company happily enjoyed the sights before withdrawing to a more sheltered spot to set up camp. The sunset was spectacular and seemed to set the great tarn aglow with light. As it finally faded away the northern horizon lit up with green and purple strands dancing across the sky. Although the tents were set up everyone decided to sleep under the stars instead and were rewarded, after Midnight, by a display of shooting stars coming from the constellation of the Herdsman.

Day 12: The party made an equally slow, careful trek back to Gogglegard. Isenbold started a courtship of Poppy and in such a wildly romantic setting his suit prospered marvelously. He brought her bunches of wildflowers and she collected unusual and colourful stones and pebbles to show him. Edgar and Tobold bickered about wedding protocol while Bella listened interestedly. Gorboduc and Primula were in their own private world. The companions returned to a hearty feast and the excitement of a new litter of puppies by the hearth. Later that night Gorboduc snuck Primula up to the top of the tower to spend a little more time under the stars. He proposed and she happily accepted, subject to her parents’ consent.

Day 13: Despite their best intentions to be discreet it was obvious to absolutely everyone that Gorboduc and Primula were now a couple. Mistress Mira gathered all the women into the kitchen for a prolonged session producing tisanes, perfumes, ointments and medicines for the winter, during which all the females exchanged a great deal of information. The lads were encouraged outside to help with such mendin’s and fixin’s where extra hands were always welcome. Some moderate teasing, drinking and dunking may also have taken place. At supper plans were made for the return trip and more visits over the autumn. Primula was given her very own puppy from the family kennels which she named Storm.

Day 14: The return trip to Kings Worthy passed without incident and the group dispersed to their own smials. Bella accepted an invitation to visit High Hay Hall for their Harvestide shindig. Gorboduc returned the Dibbs sisters to their home and obtained permission to marry Primula from her father. Plans are underway for a respectable, unrushed Yuletide wedding.