Barclay fell down.
This was the usual activity for Barclay. In fact, the delicate balance of Middle-Earth may well be upset if this did not happen on a regular basis. He had spent a good part of these nine long years of his life either grazing his knees, scraping his toes, or working on a rather impressive collection of bumps on the head.
The reason for this current misfortune was his elder sister, Daisy. They were playing a fun little game of chase around the statue of Bandobras Took that stood on the edge of the Greenfields in Brockenborings, when Barclay had snagged his toe on a tree root and landed flat on his face.
“Oh Barclay,” said his sister, standing over him with her hands on her hips, trying very much to look grown-up, “You are such a clumsy oaf! I've never known a hobbit like it.”
As Barclay began to pick himself up, he heard Daisy shout from behind, “Last one to dip their feet is a bag of mouldy tomatoes.” This was quickly followed by the sound of padding footsteps getting rapidly quieter and quieter. 'Dipping the Feet' was a game they often played. They would go down to the small pond in the marketplace and dunk their feet into the water to scare the frogs and make them swim away. More than once Barclay had ended up sharing the water with them.
By the time Barclay had composed himself, his sister was long gone. He could see her just crossing the path near the pond, so he launched himself at full speed over the nearby wall, clipping his knee and somersaulting onto the grass below. But Barclay was not a quitter. He pulled himself upright and hobbled awkwardly towards his goal.
As he approached the pond, he has the feeling that something was wrong. A small group of grown-up hobbits were gathered around Daisy, who seemed to look upset. He recognised one as Mrs Harfoot, a friend of his mother. She trotted up to Barclay and knelt down, putting her hands on his shoulders. “Listen to me boy,” she said solemnly, “There's something I have to tell you.”
But Daisy rushed towards him, tears now streaming down her face. She pushed poor Mrs Harfoot aside and grabbed Barclay, hugging him closely.
“It's Daddy,” she sobbed, “Something's happened to Daddy.”
* * *
It was thirteen years since their father had drowned. They lived with their mother in Overhill now, after moving from nearby Brockenborings a few years before. Barclay had the notion that there was some sort of bother about it, but wasn't quite sure what it was. His mother had said it was just time to move on.
They spent most of their time playing around in the outskirts of the wood, but they were currently taking a break from the fun and resting on one of the fallen tree trunks that would soon be chopped up and sold to woodworkers all around the Shire. Barclay was oblivious to these details of trade and commerce – he was happy to lie on his back and stare at the clouds.
“What do you think of this?” said his sister, holding up a daisy-chain she had been working on. Barclay flicked his eyes down to give it a glance and replied, “It's vewwy nice. What is it made of?”
“Daisies you silly thing!” she said, “Just like me.”
“Fancy that,” he said, sitting up, “You are tewwibly clever, you should make weal necklaces with wubies and sapphires.”
“Where would I get rubies? I'm not a queen you know, and I'm pretty sure you're not a king, for only they can afford such extravagant jewels.” She glanced at her creation for a second and had a thought. “Shall I make you one?”
“I don't think daisies would suit me weally,” he said, “but I do like buttercups.”
Daisy carefully lifted the flower-necklace over her head and onto her shoulders. “Buttercups it is then, let's go and find some.”
They jumped off the log, Barclay stumbling slightly but remarkably remaining upright, and ran up the gentle slope away from Overhill. There would be more buttercups in the Greenfields, but that was quite a long walk and their mother had forbidden them from crossing the bridge alone, for fear that she might lose someone else to the water.
Daisy was the first to find some. “Over here,” she shouted and Barclay came running.
“Will that be enough?” he asked, looking down at the small, sad patch of flowers that he had just run through.
“Barclay! You just trampled them. Why don't you look where you're going?”
“I'm sowwy,” he said, “I'm sure we can find another patch awound here somewhere. We could go look over the wall, there's always a lot of them gwowing over there.”
“But we can't go over the wall,” said Daisy, “I heard there is a big nest of spiders up there, and all sorts of other creatures, maybe even goblins. Mrs Pickle said that a visiting hobbit from Tuckborough went up there and never came back.”
“I'm sure that anything living there is quite fwiendly. As long as we don't make a fuss or be wude to them then they shan't get upset with us. Come on, let's go.”
“Hang on a minute, “ Daisy said, grabbing his arm, “You're not going in there without protection. Just stay here, I'll be back shortly.” She ran off down the slope to the south calling to him “Don't go anywhere.”
When she got back, Barclay was sitting on a large stone, sucking one of his fingers.
“What happened to you?” Daisy asked, tossing the armful of baking trays and pots onto the ground in front of her with a clatter.
“Oh nothing. I was picking up wocks and I cut my finger.”
“Well, that's just like you,” she said, “Here, grab hold of this string and help me out.”
A little time and a lot of fumbling later, they had managed to tie several trays to Barclay's front and back, and Daisy finished the makeshift armour by unceremoniously shoving a large cooking pot onto his head. She took a few steps back to admire her work.
“There. You look the proper hero, just like in the stories.”
Barclay smiled broadly. He rather liked being compared to a hero, which was something that did not happen very often. He struck a heroic pose, the banging of metal echoing loudly between the trees.”Fair lady,” he proclaimed, “I shall bwave the evil woods and defeat the nasty monsters to bwing back the flowers you desire.”
“The flowers you desire you mean,” she giggled.
“A wawwior has no need of flowers, however I shall...”
Daisy look at him puzzled as his words trailed off into silence. She heard a noise behind her and turned to see the two Blackwater boys coming towards them. “Barclay, let's go.”
“But your flowers...”
“Never mind that. You know how mean those boys are to you.”
But the boys had reached them and stood there, grinning in a particularly unfriendly manner.
“What have we here?” one of them said. “It looks like little Daisy and
her stupid brother. Why are you covered in pots and pans, you dumb plum pudding?”
“Don't call him that!” Daisy shouted at them, “He isn't dumb!”
“Dumb pudding, plum pudding, dumb pudding Barclay,” they sang, dancing around him in a circle. Barclay stared at his feet. “I'm a hewo,” he mumbled.
“What's that?” one of the boys said, “A hero? Hah!” He bit his thumb at Barclay, “You can't even say the word you dumb pudding!”
The other boy had stopped dancing and was crouching down nearby, picking at the ground. “I hope that armour can stop arrows, hero,” he said as he stood up with a handful of stones.
The first stone missed, but the second and third hit Barclay with a loud 'pang'. The other boy decided this was great sport and soon Barclay was being bombarded from both directions. But he just stood there, staring downwards as the missiles clattered against him.
Suddenly, Daisy jumped at one of the boys, knocking him to the ground with unexpected strength. She planted her knee square in his chest and they struggled as he tried to kick himself free. Daisy was grabbing handfuls of dust and dirt from the ground and throwing them in him face as he battered her hands away as best he could. One of the handfuls she picked up had a sharp stone in it, and as she threw it, the stone split the boy's lip and blood started to pour from his mouth. It was that moment that the other boy gave her a swift kick that threw her off onto the ground. He helped his friend up and they ran off, cursing her as they went.
Daisy remained on the ground for a few minutes, getting her breath back and trembling from the ordeal. She looked over to Barclay, who was sitting quietly nearby. As she rose and walked towards him, she could see his eyes were full of tears. She sat down by his side in silence.
“Am I really dumb?” he mumbled.
Daisy looked at him sharply. “Of course you're not, don't listen to those nasty boys.” She removed the pot from his head and hugged him, and there they sat until evening drew in.
They returned to Overhill, walking hand in hand. Barclay was still wearing the cooking trays, but had his pot-helmet in his other hand. Daisy had dusted off her dress, showing little sign of the previous struggle, except perhaps a cold look in her eyes. When they reached their home, their mother was standing outside the large round door.
“In. Now.” she said, and the young hobbits obeyed. She slammed the door as she followed them in and stood there, coldly surveying the sight before her, and paying particular attention to her cooking gear, now dirty and dented, hanging from her son.
“Mum...” started Daisy, but was cut off by her mother's raised hand. “To your room,” she said in a low, quiet voice.
Daisy started to turn, but paused a moment. “But Mum, it wasn't him, it was all my idea to-”
Her mother's hand came round in a swift arc and slapped her broadly across the cheek. “I said to your room young lady!” she shouted at the girl. The brief look of fear in Daisy's eyes turned cold again, but she retreated down the hall into her bedroom.
Barclay stood silent. His mother walked slowly around him and her voice growled like a wolf.
“It's always you isn't it, you little brat. If it's not one thing it's the other. How can I hold my head up high when the neighbours know what a stupid son I have?” Her voice gained volume as she continued. “Look at what you've done to my cooking trays. Have you no sense boy? No, you never have had, tumbling your way through life while your mother struggles to put food on the table.” She pulled sharply at the string, sending the trays clattering against the wall. “Look at me!” she shouted. “Have you nothing to say for yourself? I should have dunked you in the river that your father was drownded in!”
She slapped him hard across the face. He remained silent.
“I heard what happened today you little toad. You got in a fight with Will's boys didn't you. Except your sister was the one doing the fighting, at least she has some self respect.”
“But...” ventured Barclay.
“Don't answer me back boy!” his mother screamed, “Why did I ever give birth to you? You're just a useless waste of a hobbit that will never amount to anything!”
Barclay turned and tried to open the front door, but his mother grabbed him roughly and threw him to the floor. “How dare you try to run from me.” she yelled, grabbing the broom from beside the door. “You're going to get what's coming to you.”
Barclay turned away from her as she raised the broom handle. She brought it down twice on his shoulders. The third blow struck him on the head. Blood dripped onto the wooden floor. There was silence for a few moments.
“I am going out,” hissed his mother, “I have a meeting tonight. You had better make sure that my floor is clean when I get back and don't you even think of leaving the house.” She grabbed her coat off the coat rack, pulled the door open and stepped out, closing it quietly behind her.
Barclay heard the slip-slap of feet on the wooden floor. Daisy knelt down beside him, tears flooding down her face. Barclay's eyes were dry.
“What has she done to you?” she said, pulling a handkerchief out of a pocket and dabbing Barclay's matted hair.
“It's...it's my fault,” said Barclay, “If I wasn't so stupid...”
“Don't let her tell you that,” Daisy snapped, “Don't let anyone tell you that.” She tried to wipe away the tears with her sleeve. “Why do you always let her do this to you? Why can't you just stand up for yourself for once in your life Barclay?”
“I guess I'm just not a hewo,” he said, fingering the daisy-chain necklace that still hung around his sister's neck.
* * *
Barclay fell down.
He didn't mind, he was in a good mood, despite the argument he had with his sister the night before. He had been living in Budgeford for several years now, in the same hole as Daisy and her Husband. Daisy was expecting a baby soon, and despite her insistence that he would not be in the way, he still felt it was time to leave. He had finished his schooling now (although his learning problems had meant it took a lot longer than usual) and he was eager. Eager for what, he didn't know. He was beginning to feel a little stifled and had decided to take a trip out to Bree and see if he could get work there. Apparently it was an exciting land of opportunity, something he felt he always lacked.
Picking himself up off the ground, he patted down his armour. Not pots and pans, but real armour, or at least as close to it as the Shire metalsmiths could make. He had gotten used to wearing it now and it had saved him from many a clumsy scrape and bruise over the last few months. Of course, if he were mixing with the wealthy folk in Bree, he would have to get himself something with a little more class.
He scratched his head and tried to remember which direction he was headed. Eventually the sun came out from behind a cloud and he remembered. His sister had told him: Towards the sun in the morning, away from the sun in the afternoon. He remembered that. She was not happy to see him leave, hence the previous night's argument, but he was sure he could cope. He was a big boy now.
Daisy's husband had told him, “Remember Barclay, put your best foot forward.”
Barclay wasn't sure which his best foot was.
He chose the left.