1. Seeing Red

Note to readers: This is the full story of Berilac and the bull, only mentioned in "At the End of His Rope" Chapter 35 (Out of Rope), also to be found on fanfiction.net

***

Seeing Red

It was a beautiful spring day, perfect for fishing or frog-hunting or tree- climbing or following a path to adventure, or even just lying upon the grass to watch the clouds sail to lands unknown. The hobbit lads and lasses of Brandy Hall were doing all these things, and more. All but two.

Doderas sighed as he picked up another enormous pair of bloomers from the basket of damp laundry and began to peg them onto the line. It didn't help that Elberic was glaring at him... when he looked at him at all.

'Shut your mouth!' he finally said in exasperation.

'I didn't say anything,' Elberic grumped.

'You didn't have to, you *looked* it,' Doderas said.

'Hah!' Elberic ejaculated, hanging another large apron, then went on muttering. 'That's the last time I listen to you... Fun! you said. Easy as apple tart! you said. Nobody will know! you said.'

Doderas shrugged. 'So how was I to know the cook had tied a bell to the sultana crock?' He picked up an apron from his own basket. Some mischievous impulse took over. Tying the voluminous garment around him (it wrapped around three times), he snatched up another pair of capacious bloomers and draped them over his head like one of the hats the cooks wore to keep hair from the food.

'Now, lads!' he said in a high nasal tone. 'How many times must I tell you to keep out of the sultanas! You know I cannot make the Master's favourite apple tart without them!'

In spite of his disgust at their situation, Elberic dissolved into laughter. Grabbing up his own pair of bloomers, he said, 'Now if you have so much energy, you can just do all the cooks' washing this fine day!'

Doderas howled. 'O Elberic,' he gasped. 'You do Auntie Nasty even better than I ever could...' his voice trailed off at the look on his cousin's face. Slowly he turned, to see the Hall Steward standing behind him.

'Doderas?' Berilac said mildly. 'Is it that you do not have enough tasks to do this day, that I must assign more work to you?'

Doderas hastily doffed the bloomers and began frantically to peg them to the line. 'No, Sir,' he said, 'No, I was just checking to see if they were dry but I see they're not, so...'

The steward nodded, saying, 'Then you'd better take care to properly do the work you've been given. If Aunt Nasturtium thinks you've been abusing her... laundry... she'll make you wash it all over again.' He waited until he received nods from both lads, then managed to turn away before his twitching lips could betray a smile.

Doderas silently removed the apron and pegged it to the line. He sighed. There were still basketfuls waiting, and more washing to be done. At this rate they'd be finished sometime around sunset... and if Auntie Nasty lived up to her name she'd have them do all the ironing on the morrow.

At a scream behind him he jerked around. A sick feeling hit him as he saw one of the Hall's youngest in the pen where the Hall's prize bull was kept. The bull had noticed the intruder and was pawing the ground, head down. As he watched, frozen with horror, he saw the steward vault the fence, catching up the toddler just as the bull charged.

Without stopping to think, he snatched up a pair of sizeable bloomers and began to run for the pen; he could hear Elberic pounding behind him.

Berilac threw the toddler from him; the lad cleared the fence, landing hard on the ground beyond, to be scooped up screaming by two sobbing hobbit lasses. Doderas saw the bull catch the steward, throwing him up on his horns, then pounding him into the ground. Doderas yelled and waved the bloomers, distracting the huge creature. He ran to one side of the pen, Elberic to the other, and climbed to the top of the fence, waving and yelling. The bull forgot the steward for the moment as Doderas jumped into the pen yelling wildly, the bloomers a bright flag over his head. He saw the bull paw the ground, kept up his dance until the beast charged, then vaulted the fence at the last moment.

The bull crashed against the sturdy railings, and Doderas saw Elberic at the other end of the pen, climbing over, waving his own set of generous, brightly coloured bloomers over his head. 'Hi-yi-yi-yi-yi!' he cried. The bull charged him.

The moment the beast's attention was distracted, Doderas was in the pen again, running to the steward. With strength he did not know he possessed, he grabbed the steward's shirt and dragged him to the edge. He heard the crash as the bull hit the rails at the other end, Elberic still screaming like a maniac.

Doderas felt rather than saw the bull turn, pawing the ground, ready to charge him again. He felt the thunder of hoofs as the bull began his run. Then somehow, he'd reached the rails and was dragging the limp body of the steward underneath the bottom rail, to safety.

***

'The steward wants to see you,' the Mistress of Buckland said softly.

There had been anxious hours of waiting, when the healers did not know if the steward would survive his injuries, or not. The lads asked to be included amongst those who sat the bedside watches, talking encouragingly to the unresponsive hobbit, singing softly, running errands for the healers. They were among the first to hear when the healers declared the steward too stubborn to die, at least, this day.

The lads were sent off, then, to finish pegging out the wash, but when they were finished, the Mistress had come out to find them, before they could tiptoe away for a little fishing ere the afternoon was completely spent.

Doderas' heart sank at her sober face. Either she had more work for them to do, which would be bad enough, or the steward had taken a bad turn, which was worse. But no, instead she brought a message from the steward.

'Yes'm,' he said, and with the quickest bow he could manage, he was off to the Hall at a run, Elberic close behind.

They clattered to a stop in the corridor, a stern aunt outside the door glaring with finger to her lips. They tiptoed into the room. The Hall's healer rose from beside the bed, patting the steward's unbroken arm, practically the only unbandaged part of his body. 'The lads are here, Berilac,' he murmured.

Turning to Doderas and Elberic, he said softly, 'Only a minute, mind.'

'Yes, Sir,' they nodded together, then crept to the bedside.

'Do... Doderas?' the steward whispered.

'I'm here, Sir,' the lad said, taking the uninjured hand in his own. 'Elberic's here as well.'

'That was quite the brave deed,' Berilac said. He spoke with difficulty, and the lads had to lean close to hear him.

'Thank you, Sir,' Doderas mumbled.

'What's that?' Berilac said.

Doderas strove to say it louder, and clear enough that he wouldn't have to repeat it. 'Thank you, Sir.'

'Saved my life...' Berilac went on. He closed his eyes, and Doderas gently put his hand down. The lads began to steal from the room when the steward spoke again.

'But really, Doderas...' he said, and the lads turned to see him looking at them sharply. 'Did you have to... Auntie Nasty's bloomers...?!'