Halbarad Makes a Sale

A knock sounded at Mistress Cyclamen Sandheaver's kitchen door. "Who's there?" she called.

"I have mushrooms to sell."

"Quickfoot? Just a moment! Tib, go and open the door for Mr. Quickfoot."

"Thank you," said Quickfoot gravely to the hobbit-lad who had let him in. He was holding a load in his cloak in front of him, and he parted his hands somewhat to show the mushrooms. Both grandmother and grandson were staring at them. "Field mushrooms, boletes, and chanterelles, all picked this morning."

Mistress Cyclamen leaned over them. "I've never smelt better. Shall we say ten copper pennies?"

"Done."

"Tib, run and get ten pennies from my room."

"Yes, Gammer."

"He's a good boy, and a great help when it's his day to stay with me, for my hands are old and rheumatic," said Cyclamen. "And he's growing like a weed. He's taller than I am already."

Tib came back in. "I'll be taller yet. I want to be tall for a hobbit like Quickfoot is tall for a man."

"That's Mr. Quickfoot, you saucy boy. Though I don't doubt he has a better name." She looked at Quickfoot with her eyebrows raised.

"Quickfoot will do well. So everyone in the Bree-land calls me. If I have another name elsewhere, well, that's my business."

"As you like." She paused. "Tib has the right of it that you're a head taller than the Men here, like that rogue Strider, and I think you favour him somewhat. Are you kin?"

"So we are, Mistress; we Rangers are all kin, and I'm his cousin-german, but he is no rogue. He's far above the rest of us Rangers in every way—but the height of his head, since we spoke of height." He smiled.

"My poor husband's father was like that, and a good hobbit who none had a word against, but though I say it to my shame, I never liked to be with him, for I always knew how much better than me he was, and I knew he knew it."

"Did you think I meant such a thing about Strider, Mistress? Not at all…" He seemed to consider. "No, not at all, he leads us to be better than we are. But maybe he wouldn't like my talking about him thus."

"Then you may put the mushrooms into the basket on the table. I'll have all my children and grandchildren in for dinner tonight, and 'tis well you've brought a plenty, for when my son-in-law Andy and me see mushrooms, the others have much to do to get any." As Quickfoot turned to spill his merchandise into the basket, Mistress Cyclamen said, "Why, your breeches are cut! And is that blood?"

"Aye, Mistress, but naught to worry about."

"Nonsense! Don't you tell me what to worry about. I'll mend your hurt and your breeches before you leave this hole. Tib, fetch the big-folk chair from the parlor. Can you do it yourself?"

"Course I can, Gammer." He went quickly off.

"What happened to your poor leg?"

Quickfoot hesitated. "A robber did that."

"Save us! Near Bree?"

"No, far to the east. I know of no robbers nearby."

"Well, all the better, but you were cut some time ago, and nothing to poultice it since? Tib, just leave the chair there and catch your breath."

"I'm not out of breath!"

"Indeed. Sittee down, Quickfoot, and can you slide your breeches leg up over the cut? Help me up, Tib," she continued.

"How many was there?" Tib asked over his shoulder as he gave his plump grandmother both his hands. "Did they have swords or bows? Did you kill them?"

"Hush, child!" she exclaimed.

"I killed the one who did this, Master Tib," said Quickfoot, dodging the question of number.

"With what? You don't have a sword."

"I don't bring my sword through your gates; it might disturb the peace. It lies where I can find it and no other is like to."

"When I'm older I want a sword to take into the woods, and if I see a robber or a goblin, I'll kill him!"

Quickfoot glanced at him suspiciously at the word "goblin", but neither the boy nor the old lady seemed to attach any significance to it.

"You'll do nothing of the kind! And for the last time, stop pestering me and Mr. Quickfoot! Don't you see he's hurt and I'm trying to help him?" She peered at the wound, which was at the height of her chin as she stood. "My stars, what a gash! I'll just put some water on the fire to take the chill off, and I know I've yarrow leaves somewhere. Soldier's woundwort, 'tis called, and will work as well on a man who has met with a robber, I'll warrant." As she bustled about heavily but speedily, Quickfoot seemed to find rest and comfort in the chair, as if he had been walking and on guard for a long time.

"Here's a nice clean clout that I'll wash your cut with," said Cyclamen.

"Gentle are— Your hands are gentle, Mistress, for all they're old."

"Aye, many's the time I've done this for my children, always getting into scrapes, and the lasses as bad as the lads. And now my grandchildren…. Here's another clean clout to bind it up with yarrow and vervain, and it should heal good as new."

"I thank you, Mistress, and now I must go."

"Not till I've mended your breeches! You haven't a second pair, have you? I thought not. I can mend them while you wear them. Tib, fetch me my needle and thread, brown if you can find it." She daubed at the bloodstains with warm water till they were hardly to be seen, then sewed the tear neatly, talking all the while.

"Thank you indeed," said Quickfoot, "and now it's truly time I took my leave."

"Thank you kindly for the mushrooms, and I'll not delay you longer. Good afternoon, Quickfoot."

Once he had left and Mistress Cyclamen had sat down again, she said to her grandson, "It does a body good to help poor folk once in a way, though he may never return the favour, and who knows when he'll be back. Now he'll have a roof over his head and good food and beer for a few nights at the Prancing Pony, and his leg will be healed, and his breeches will keep the wind out. Wonderful stuff, yarrow and vervain both, and don't you forget that. And don't you forget to be thankful that you have a decent, safe home in Staddle, so you can live to be old like your gammer, and not have to tramp about and get cut with a sword like Mr. Quickfoot, for all he's an honest man and respectful. Though I don't much like the business about another name."

"Why do you think he won't tell his other name, Gammer?"

"I don't know, and I've no doubt it's better that way. There's no need for us to meddle with the Rangers, save in the way of fair business, or when we can give them a bit of help…. I'll start on the mushrooms now. Poor chap, with no other way to work for his living."