Story - The Day the Badgers Sang
Post date: Mar 16, 2011 11:19:10 AM
Story by Tibba Stoutfoot Artwork by Amorey Sweetrose and Delonix Litefoot A sunday in Overhill is a fairly quiet affair. Children run around playing hide and seek among the trees, their parents enjoying a leisurely walk or a bit of a chat with their neighbors. Old gammers and gaffers sit contentedly on the front porch and enjoy a pipe, and even the cats leave the mice alone and stretch out lazily under the rays of the sun peeking in between the trees. It is as uneventful a day as you can imagine. So when one sunday some strange hobbits arrived in Overhill, curious eyes followed them on their way to the village centre. When another party of hobbits arrived shortly after, eyebrows were raised. And when even more hobbits came, tongues began to waggle. From a distance, the village folk observed the strange gathering of a great number of hobbits from all parts of the Shire around their well. But the distance soon was closed when the newcomers smiled and waved, and instruments were produced, and ale was passed around. Family members and friends were recognized and welcomed, and so the time passed swiftly with music and the telling of tales and stories from home as more hobbits came. Finally, a lass in a yellow cape stepped forward and called for attention, and gradually all the chatter faded. It was Miss Lina Willowwood, and she stepped up to explain for all that were assembled the purpose of this day's gathering: A search for the Singing Badgers of Old Jethro.
Now, for those of you dear readers who are not familiar with the tale of Old Jethro the hobbit and the singing badgers, Miss Lina has kindly retold the story for the Bramblebury Gazette, and you can read the tale in full in this issue. Many treated this story as an old wife's tale, a little humourous story to entertain the children, and nothing more. But the members of the Grand Order of the Lost Mathom thought there might be a grain of truth in it, and so some of them set out to see if they could find any traces of the badgers mentioned in the tale. Long they searched, and a great many times they could be seen trekking through Bindbole wood, but finally, their persistence paid off: At a remote place in the woods, close to the top of a hill, they found a large and dark cave. A cave with numerous badger tracks in front of it!
It must have come as a great joy to all involved to find these tracks. There was but one thing to mar the joy: It was still far too cold for badgers to come out of their sett. So the brave explorers returned home, the location of the cave kept a secret among themselves, to wait for the coming of spring. And as the days grew longer, and the first buds could be seen on the trees, they gathered all their friends around them and told them the story of Old Jethro, and about finding the cave, and set a date for a meeting in Overhill, in the hope that on that day they would finally solve the mystery of the singing badgers.
And so it came to pass that one warm and sunny sunday a large host of hobbits started out from Overhill and headed into the hills. There were all kinds of hobbits among the crowd: Young lads, eager for adventure and trying to outdo each other with their antics to impress the lasses, walked next to elderly folk who thought it a jolly good idea to take a hike through the woods on such a nice day. Scholarly inclined hobbits stepped lively around the fallen branches and stones, a light in their eyes at the prospect of uncovering the truth about an old folk tale. Minstrels from all corners of the Shire came along, singing and humming to themselves and each other as they walked, already imagining the magical tunes of the badgers. And among all these walked the hobbits who had simply happened to meet the group as they passed them by, and had been swept along with the merry crowd. Indeed, it was a very mixed group that entered the forest that day, and as you can imagine, progress through the woods was slow. Branches caught in clothes that were made for dancing, not hiking, the odd bear stood in surprise as the hobbits bore down on it, and had to be scared off. The countryside was steadily rising, as the cave lay far up in the hills. Soon, the hobbits were all thirsty and sweaty, with brambles sticking from their clothes and hair, and the first complaints were being muttered. By the time they were halfway up the hill, the complaints had grown louder and had been taken up by many in the group. Questions about the remaining distance to the cave arose, and first voices talking about going back could be heard. So certainly everyone in the group was glad when Miss Lina finally called a halt for a brief rest on a bit of level ground that was clear of trees. Tiredly, the hobbits dropped their packs to the ground, to collapse next to them on the soft grass. But as they felt the sun on their faces, and stretched out their toes, and smelt the food being unpacked by the more sturdy (or younger) members of the party, their spirits returned, and they all brought out their pies and ale and passed them around. With the food, their humour arose anew, and when they had eaten their fill and rested a bit more, they eagerly jumped up again, ready to tackle the remainder of the road. But as it happened, they did not have to go much further: Soon, large rocks could be seen between the trees, and before long, the party stood in front of the entrance to a large cave. The stony opening was cast in shadows, and not much could be seen beyond the first few feet. Cool air came from the recesses of the cave and caressed the sweaty faces of the hobbits standing in front of it. And as had been promised to them, on the ground before the entrance they could see numerous tracks. But no badger could be seen, and no voices raised in song could be heard. Doubt befell the group, and they shuffled their feet and looked at each other uncertainly, not knowing what to do now that they had reached their goal. But just as talk about going back was growing loud again, Miss Rowana stepped up and swiftly picked some hobbits to form a search party and accompany her into the cave. Miss Lina, Miss Yola, Miss Maryelle, Miss Akelay and Master Simbo were the chosen ones, and with many a 'good luck!' and 'be careful!' and 'shout when you are in danger!' and 'no, don't shout in a cave!', they were seen off by their friends, who were secretly feeling glad to be left behind in the sun and warm air. For even if hobbits like holes and feel quite at home in a cave, this particular one looked dark and forbidding, and it made them uneasy and shiver.
The search party passed out of view after only a few steps, and although at first the hobbits remaining outside could still hear their voices as they went deeper into the cavern, these too faded, until finally only the wind could be heard in the trees. The hobbits stood still, all eyes directed at the cave, waiting for a sign from their friends. But as time passed, and all remained silent, they grew worried, shifting restlessly from foot to foot, wondering what they were to do if the party did not return. Bears were mentioned, and a local lad passing a casual remark about the recent sighting of goblins in the woods found himself surrounded by slightly horrified looking hobbits who had not even thought about goblins up to that point. Some of the more daring among the group proposed to form a search party to go and rescue the search party, which caused quite a stir, and a lively discussion ensued. Just as the debate started to focus on the question of who was going to rescue the second party should they not return, a noise from the cave captured everyones attention. As one, the hobbits turned to look back at the entrance, where in the dim light shadowy movements could be discerned. In the hope that their friends were coming back from their, albeit unsuccessful, search, they all pressed forward, only to stop in their tracks as, suddenly, unfamiliar shapes sprang up from the ground. And lo and behold! A group of very large badgers stood in the dim light of the cave's entrance.
For a long moment, both groups stood frozen. The badgers blinked in the light of the sun, looking surprised to find hobbits at their doorstep and eyeing their unbidden guests warily. Their noses twitched uncertainly, and the odd hiss and snarl could be heard from them as they tried to discern whether they were facing friend or foe. Odd whispering sounds passed back and forth between them, as if they were talking among themselves in a language of their own. The hobbits, in turn, gazed in amazement at the strange sight before them. Six badgers in a row, all standing on their hind legs, seeming to talk to each other. Neither group dared to move first. But then, after more whispering, one of the badgers, a gentle looking beast whose white fur had a slight yellowish hue, dropped on all fours and dashed back into the cave. When it reappeared a few seconds later, it carried a bulky object in its paws, and as it stepped back into the light, the hobbits could see that it cradled a harp. As if that were their cue, the others dashed back as well and in a moment reappeared carrying other instruments. There was a lute, and a flute. One carried a drum, and one a clarinet. And one, a well-fed looking male, even held a large theorbo in his paws. The hobbits still stood motionless during all of this, not daring to move lest they startle these strange creatures and cause them to flee. And then the badgers started to play, and the sounds that came from their instruments were surprisingly rich in tone, and as beautiful as you can imagine. With the first chords, the tune brought images of green trees and of long grass swaying gently in the wind to the minds of the hobbits, and of flowers, and of soft summer rain. And then the badger playing the harp started to sing, and whether by some strange magic or because the badger truely could speak, the hobbits could understand all that was said, and the words gave shape to all the images the tune had invoked and even more, and put everyone that heard them under a spell. But not a malign spell, oh no! No, it opened their minds to the wind and the grass and the trees, and let them feel the sun as if for the first time, and a great peace settled on them while they stood entranced and listened. And when the last chord, the last word of the song, was carried away by the breeze, they shook themselves as if from a dream, and looked at the badgers in wonder. Then the badgers played another tune, equal in beauty to the first, and another. The hobbits started to relax and to move, and to unpack their bags to offer the badgers some food. The badgers in turn, who at first had still looked wary even while playing their beautiful songs, seemed to gradually lose their fear of the strangers, and came forward to sniff at the berry pies that were cautiously proffered to them. To the disappointment of the hobbits, though, they snarled at the pies, and threw them to the ground and ignored them. Other food was unpacked and presented, and soon pretty much everyone had some delicacy in their hands, holding it out to the badgers for inspection. But it seemed that only berries interested them, and so the hobbits put down what berries they had brought in front of the badgers, and proceeded to do away with the other food themselves. Thus, the ice was broken, and with food in everyone's stomachs, the badgers continued to play tune by tune, and sing as well, while the hobbits danced merrily in front of them and cheered loudly when one of the badgers, the rotund one, joined them in their dance. Those familiar with Jethro's tunes recognized many of them in the songs the badgers played, and they were struck with awe as they witnessed them unfold their full beauty under the badgers' masterful paws. And so the time passed swiftly, and the shadows grew longer, and still the badgers played, and the hobbits danced. But when the afternoon grew late, a badger started yawning, and then another, and soon the whole lot of them were yawning and looking back at their cave with longing. One more tune they played, a gentle farewell to their newfound friends, and while the hobbits were still clapping and cheering, with a quick twitch of the tail, first one and then the other badgers turned around and disappeared back into the cave.
Long the hobbits stood at the entrance and looked into the darkness and talked about the wonder they had just witnessed. Many felt as if it had all been a dream. But as the sun crept towards the horizon, and dusk started to settle in, they came back to themselves and looked around, and only now realized that they were far up on a hill, with the shadows already growing long, in front of a cave from which now no sounds could be heard. For the first time since the appearance of the badgers they began to wonder what had happened to their friends in the cave. Had the badgers attacked them? Had they been captured by goblins living in the farther recesses of the cave? Fear for their friends began to settle in, and the idea of another search party was taken up again. But while they were still debating the best way to enter the cave, they heard voices calling from the darkness, and before long, Miss Rowana and the other reappeared at the entrance, looking slightly ruffled but none the worse for wear. They were immediately beset upon by their friends, and peppered with questions about their long stay in the cave. Cries of 'Where were you?' and 'Did you see the badgers?' and 'You missed it!' mingled as every hobbit started talking at once. Laughingly, the members of the search party raised their hands to ward off all the questions, and explained that they had searched all of the cave, but to no avail, and had simply got lost in it. So when the excited hobbits told them about their encounter with the badgers, and about the marvellous tunes these had sung and played, they laughed even more and pointed at the remainders of the pies and berries on the ground and said 'It looks like you had a picnic.' and 'Stop pulling our legs!' No amount of earnest assurances that there had indeed been badgers, and that their songs had been the most enchanting tunes anyone had ever heard, could sway the returned hobbits to believe the tale. So the reunited party all shouldered their bags again and started on the long walk back down the hill and through the woods, chatting merrily about the badgers --or their obvious non-existence-- until they were all safely back in Overhill. By that time it was night, and they were all tired, both from the walk and from the excitement. So they bid their farewells to each other, and some retired to near-by burrows of family and friends, while a few took the road back to Hobbiton, and others the road to Brockenborings and to the Plough and Stars. As they walked, their minds were filled with the music of the badgers, and again they felt the awe of having witnessed a sight none had seen before. Looking up to the stars shining brightly, it seemed to them that from afar there came the sound of music and singing. They smiled.
Deciding who went in and who waited outside proved to be a crucial decision..
Some information about the artists:
Miss Tibba Stoutfoot is a hard working businesslass, who runs a farm in Bartunnel with the aid of her nieces. She is a gifted writer, but very modest about it. Next to her farm work and writing she finds time to play music, either alone after workhours or performing in a band with fellow Brambleburians. More about Miss Stoutfoot in her own words, can be found here.
When Delonix Litefoot was a child a pack of goblins came and took her parents away, while her two sisters had been saved by a fellowship of traders. She lived alone in Brandywood, along the ruins there for a long time and spent most of her days fishing, cooking and drawing. When she was older she started to trade for things that she couldn't get on her own. She has met her sisters last Yule, and now they have burrows next to each other in Henbury. All, exept the first, illustrations are from the hand of Miss Delonix.
Her parents named her Amorey Lullabella Wildstrawberry Sweetrose which is really nice...but a bit of a mouth-full. For obvious reasons she is more commonly known as Amorey Sweetrose. Her father encouraged her since a very early age to learn to read and write, paint and play musical instruments. Inspired by her mother's love for songs and poems and great passion for books with illustrations she decided to follow the path of the Minstrel and Scholar. Miss Amorey recently settled down in a lovely burrow in Brightdown. Miss Amorey made the topmost illustration on this page.