Meril grinned to herself as the last load of the first full issue of the paper to be printed since she woke up left Common Tater Headquarters. It was a good day, but it was also bitter sweet. She pushed away from her desk and wandered through the polished, but mostly empty caves until she came to the empty room that had been the paper’s library. One lone bookcase remained, a replica of one once owned by Bilbo Baggins that had been rescued from Hugo Bracegirdle’ s estate, who’s habit of borrowing books and never returning them had finally got him thrown in the lock-holes. (Apparently he “borrowed” a ledger from Sharkey’s men and got caught on his way back from the drop, but at least the resistance had a more detailed account of everything that had thus far been stolen from the Shire.)
Meril hesitated a moment considering the bookcase and the fate of its owner, then activated the hidden mechanism that she and her brother Drakoe had devised, and slipped into the hidden maze of tunnels that led down into Ranhoth headquarters. A few minutes later she emerged in Ranhoth’s quite full library from behind Hugo’s real bookcase which was kept empty in honor of his bibliophilic tendencies.
Meri stretched and then archived a copy of the new paper before stopping in front of the wall facing the entrance to the library and tried to hold back her tears. So many in the lockholes, more simply missing, and her heart always near broke at the list of confirmed lost. Scapegoat had been a Gaffer when the troubles started, and it seemed that things had happened during her enchanted sleep that had aged him further. Kae was gone, her son Cugine missing. Drakoe had gone to help mumsy with the rope yard while da helped move supplies under his old alias Mook the crook. Sila couldn’t bare to stay at HQ because of how quiet it had become, and Meril couldn’t blame her.
Morale and moods were subdued, there were far, far too many names on that wall. There was one in particular that hurt her the most, she perhaps a bitly unwarrantedly carried the guilt for it in her heart and it brought a great sense of personal loss that kept her going. Luth Proudfoot. The day Sharkey’s spell had hit her they were supposed to patrol together. He was dead because she got herself caught. Tears burned in her eyes and she clenched her fists. He had been her best friend, and the best foot groomer in the entirety of the Shire. Now all that was left of one of the finest hobbits she ever knew was his name on a wall and her memories of him.
The cry of a hunting horn echoing through the halls brought her to herself and she burst to Action, zig zagging through the mine shafts until she found Scruffy and looked to him expectantly.
“Ferny and Rocco were seen fording The Water and headed this way an hour ago with a large band and blood hounds” he said softly.
Meril nodded quickly and shot off into the un-excavated section of the tunnels until she ran into the tarnished shirriff.
“Ferny is coming, he’s probably after me but go make sure Saldo and the rest of Fatty’s guys are ready if my plan doesn’t work…”
The ex-shirriff raised an eyebrow. “Plan?, what’s the plan?”
“Not now Hrastan! Just go!”
Meril turned on a dime and launched herself back up the tunnel the way she came then into the barracks and grabbed her kit, then into the graffiti littered cave where they were keeping the weapons they managed to smuggle away from Sharkey and grabbed a man sized main-gauche that had served her well in the past as a rapier then rushed out just as quick, pausing only long enough to catch her breath and write a quick note for the bounders and everyone who was out ranging.
Once the note was safely attached to the board she grabbed a torch off the wall and a bottle of moon shine and rocketed back through the library and tunnels to CT HQ. Once she was back in what had been her library, she gave the place one last mournful look over, then doused the trick bookcase with alcohol and torched it, sealing the passage until such a time it was safe to return.
A blink and a half later she emerged into daylight from the main entrance of HQ, high up on an overlook reachable only by a hidden trail. She pulled a spy glass from her kit and scanned the river. They were heading west. Damn. It was time to act before Fatty Bolger’s cell got caught. Meril took a breath and fished a parcel out of her pack and unwrapped it and glanced at her special order of elven made enchantments and fished the note her contact had included.
Here are the items we discussed. They are attuned to the stone in your ring. Good luck!
Meri grinned and folded the note then pulled a small megaphone out of the box and hanging it around her neck and then, after finding the group of thugs again with her spyglass, she grabbed a vial of eagle sight potion from the box and took a sip.
“Gotcha.” She said once her eyes adjusted to the new view before touching the canary yellow diamond in her ring to the megaphone then putting it to her lips she coughed once, the sound reverberating through the hills.
“Hey Bill! Inquiring minds must know… how IS your foot feeling? I bet it just BURNS.”
Meril watched the mauraders carefully as Ferny raised a hand and the band and their horses halted and they began looking around for where the sound had come from. Then she grinned as she made out the form of Ted Sandyman in the group. Perfect.
“Speaking of things that burn… I heard the most awful rumor the other day that your wife’s death wasn’t an accident. Maybe you should ask THEODORE about it.”
Meril suppressed a laugh as Ferny’s eyesbrows arched in suprise and his glance fell to Sandyman.
“Oooh Ted, by the way, I have been dying to ask… how’s the Mill yard looking these days?, I got a most interesting piece of mail the other day post marked from BAG END signed ROCCO that requested any unwanted junk be dropped off at YOUR place. I went ahead and published it since that was obviously the intent.”
Meril’s grin grew larger as the son of Sandyman slowly flushed up in rage and began glaring at Rocco. Time to seal it.
“By the way, Rocky, buddy, pal! Don’t you think it incredibly convenient that WILLIAM has been cosying up to Lotho since he got kicked out of Bree?, I have it on good authority that he is after YOUR job.”
Rocco quite suddenly kicked his horse and pulled his club off his belt and turned to face Ferny who began talking very quickly to his angry companion, too fast for Meril to read his lips anyway.
“By all means Billy, do try to talk him down, Eru knows you got YOUR whiny ASS handed to you by a scrawny DWARF a few weeks ago. Regardless, I do not expect any of you to take MY word for anything. Check your saddle bags, I left you gifts.”
Meril smirked as Sandyman and Rocco instantly took the bait. Ferny on the other hand had turned his attention back to scanning the hills for some sign of where Meril was since he was smart enough to have figured out that she was watching. It was almost a shame that he’d throw his envelope in the river without even opening it as his had unfiltered truth in it, but the editoress had already arranged for the original to be delivered to his new quarters at the mill later. Rocco’s and Sandyman’s on the other hand were a little more varying in the quality of truth contained. There was truth there, but some of it was hidden in plain sight, some was forged, and some was worded so it seemed the way she made it sound. She expected Sandyman to figure it out later, he was gullible but not entirely stupid. Rocco on the other hand would believe all the correspondence she put before him, the real stuff, and the forged. Meril predicted that it would take about five minutes for the fuse she had just lit to start going off.
Three minutes, fifty-nine seconds later, Ted Sandyman looked up from the letter she had provided and quietly put it away and started studying Rocco intently with menance while he silently began untangling his sling. At four minutes, fifteen seconds; Ferny attempted to hide the fact that he was loading a bolt into his crossbow. At four minutes, fourty five seconds, Rocco ripped the piece of paper he was reading in half and started taking a swing at Ferny even while Sandyman started pelting Rocco’s horse with sharpened rocks.
Go time. Meril walked back to open entrance and grabbed the “staff” her elven contact had sent and touched her ring to it at the same time as she raised the megaphone to her lips one last time. “Boys boys, no need to fight over little old me!” The light gave off a bright flash, Ferny lit his crossbow bolt on fire and shot it directly at where she had been a second ago, directly into the crate of fireworks she had set up behind the potato vines. They immediately went up in a brilliant plume of light doing just as they were intended to, delivering both a message and covering the fact that she destroyed the trick bookcase.
“See ya later breakfast skippers!” She yelled like swearwords in pig-elvish to add to the confusion and then dived off the drop with the elvish kite designed to look like a giant eagle that had been hidden in the staff and started gliding to the south towards Longbottom, where a second set of fireworks went off moments later with an even bigger boom.
When she landed outside Tighfield some time later, Primrose jumped out of the bushes and gave her a hug. “How’d it go?”
“Couldn’t have gone better if I had planned it myself.” Meril grinned cheekily.
“But… Meril! You DID plan it yourself!” Primrose said and poked the editoress gently in the tummy.
“Did I REALLY?” Meril winked. “I can’t say that I know what you’re talking about.”
Primrose sighed then looked over her friend. “So what now then?”
“Draks has the rest of my gear and Ebony at the rope yard. I think I’ll give Sharkey’s lot a run around for a bit if they manage to find me, then…”
Meril somberly looked to the east and then started again softly.
“I have to leave the Shire, Primrose. I don’t just mean take a trip to Bree leave either. I have to go. I’m too visible. I put all of the Resistance at risk. If I hadn’t made this happen now, it would have happened when I wasn’t there, and right now the timing is critical, Roden says there’s a leak.”
Primrose nodded quietly.
“It doesn’t mean I’ll never be back, but its just too dangerous right now. Things need to cool down a bit. The elf that gave me this…” Meril motioned to the glider staff. “She said that there’s some sort of information network working out of Rivendell, and there’s a whole giant world outside the Shire, I think its maybe time I learn about it, and maybe I’ll find out about the truth about Sharkey while I’m at it.”
“It’s not any one’s idea of what they wanted to do when they grew up… but I think that Bilbo, Frodo, Meridoc, Peregrin and my cousin had the right idea. Sometimes getting where you NEED to go involves leaving what’s comfortable and breaking some traditions. I’m bound to get people upset with me along the way, but I tried keeping them happy and it wasn’t working, I’ll settle for them being safe instead. For right now, as far as they’ll be able to tell Ranhoth is in Southfarthing, not East.”
Meril hugged Primrose once more.
“As the elves say: Galo Anor erin râd gîn na lû n’i a-goveninc. May the sun shine on your path until we meet again.”
Meril then quickly turned to her friend and slipped into Tighfield, pausing only once just inside the walls of the rope yard to wipe away a few tears.
Growing up was hard and she’d done more of it in the past year then she had in the thirty-three years before, and as the sun began to set in the west, she found herself looking east as the moon and evening star rose, hope filling her heart once again.
She ran into the Roper Mansion, kissed her mumsy, lifted her brother’s money purse, changed into some more stealthy attire, grabbed her pack, then rocketed into the stables and saddled her pony, then took off at a gallop out of town on a northeast heading, blew a clear crisp note on her hunting horn, and then activating the megaphone one last time she yelled so loud that almost the whole Shire heard…
“UP THE SHIRE BREAKFAST SKIPPERS!”