As Halflings go, Halp Grimbo is fairly typical. He is of average build, lives in an average home, and loves his average wife. The only thing he truly excels at is farming. If it came from a seed, Halp could grow it, and grow it better than anyone else. His carrots are always firm, his ears of corn are always sweet and his potatoes are always the biggest. Because of this, his produce is constantly in demand no matter where he goes. In fact, his love for growing wonderful produce is what got him into a particularly nasty adventure, one that Halp was very lucky to survive.
It was a dreary day in Rindol Field and Halp was anxiously awaiting the rain that would allow him to finally plant his special tomato plants. They could only be planted after the first rainstorm of a new moon in order to get that extraordinary sweet taste for which they were so well-known. Halp found himself nervously fidgeting throughout the afternoon. Jensa, his wife, always the more sensible of the couple, finally suggested that he find himself something to occupy his time as his fretting was not about to bring the rain. Halp settled into his favorite chair along with an old leather-bound book called "Heroes of the Beranid: A Study of the Folk Champions". Opening the book to the passage about Barret Barleygrove and his defense of Willowroot, Halp lost himself in the account of the only Halfling knight the world has known.
With the heat of the fire filling the cottage, Halp found himself dozing off more than actually reading. The gentle nodding of his head turned to a deep sleep that lasted for several hours. Halp awoke from his nap and noticed that the day had ended quite a while ago and the rain had long since come and gone.
This will never do! I must get these tomato plants in the ground tonight or I will miss the entire season, thought Halp. He quickly pulled on an overcoat to ward off the night chill, lit a small lantern, and proceeded outside. Picking up the tomato plants from his shed, Halp placed them into his wheelbarrow along with his favorite gardening trowel and with a determined grunt, lifted the wheelbarrow and pushed it down the small well-worn path towards the garden.
As he passed his patch, he suddenly noticed there were several carrot tops strewn across the path. Lowering the wheelbarrow and raising his lantern, Halp discovered newly churned soil that was now completely devoid of any carrots. As he swung the light to the other side of the path, Halp saw tracks marking a trail decorated with half eaten beets. Kneeling down into the soft, moist soil, he brought the lantern closer to the tracks. These were clearly not gopher marks. Halp had had his share of those in the past and knew the pattern well. They were also not rabbit, nor digger, nor any other rodent he knew. These tracks were much larger and were missing the telltale paw marks. As he considered the tracks, Halp then saw that they continued on into the cabbage.
Halp crawled along following the imprints. Horrified, he discovered that all his cabbage, his precious cabbage reserved for his special cabbage soup, was gone. Not a shred of it remained. How could this be? What could eat an entire patch of cabbage in only a few hours? Poking his finger into one of the inch-deep prints left by the invader, Halp surmised he was dealing with a creature much larger than any rodent he had ever seen. In fact, it appeared to be heavier than most young Halflings he knew. Bigger, heavier, no matter what it was, he decided that this would be the last day it fed itself on the labors of Halp Grimbo.
Halp stood up, holding the lantern in one hand while gripping his trusty gardening trowel in the other, and followed the tracks of the intruder. Reaching the edge of his tilled field, he peered ahead at the tracks that continued into the small thicket surrounding his farm. Pushing aside the branches, Halp made his way through the underbrush. Casting the light of the lantern about, he soon spotted the path of his quarry. The tracks led into a rather large opening that had been dug out beneath a rock.
"Aha!" Halp exclaimed aloud. "I have found your hiding place! I want my vegetables!"
Now Halp was not one to be brave in most situations. However, threatening his garden ranked right up with harming his loved ones. Steeling himself and gripping his trowel tighter, Halp knelt and directed the light of the lantern towards the hole. Loose dirt surrounded the hole, much of it dry despite the recent rain. A single cabbage leaf poked out of the excavation debris next to the entrance of the hole. This hole was no shallow indentation under the rock. It appeared to be more like a tunnel, but a tunnel to where?
Halp's light only illuminated the first foot or so into the tunnel. He decided to get closer to better investigate the opening and to set his lantern inside. Lying down on his stomach, Halp reached into the hole with his gardening trowel and, with much trepidation, began to poke and prod further into the tunnel. Meeting no resistance with his trowel, Halp wriggled nearer on his stomach extending his arm into the hole. Every new prod with the trowel met empty air confirming Halp's suspicions that this was no small alcove under a rock. He pulled his arm back outside of the hole, let go of his trowel, and grabbed the lantern, pushing it inside.
With his arm still halfway inside the tunnel, he heard a noise. It was not a sound he could place. It didn't belong to any creature he had heard before. From that moment on, however, the noise became one that Halp would never forget.
Although Halp was not sure whether to call it a clattering or a chittering, the sound did make him realize just what a precarious position he was in. Lying on his stomach -- one arm halfway in a hole; his only means of defense, the gardening trowel, lying out of reach -- was definitely not a position he preferred to be in after hearing a noise that had no business coming from a dark hole in the middle of a field on a dreary night.
Halp thought it wise to let go of the lantern and remove his arm from the hole just in case. As his arm cleared the entrance, he heard the noise again. This time, it was even louder and was moving towards him. More than that, whatever was making it was moving quite quickly. Halp was able to get to his knees just as he heard the clang of his crashing lantern from inside the hole. Under the uneven light from the lantern, now lying on its side, Halp could see eerie shadows within the hole. Then suddenly, all he could see was a dark blot filling the entrance and blocking most of the light.
The dark shape moved rapidly, its body shining slightly as it stopped right in front of Halp. Scrambling for his trowel while trying to quickly crawl away from the hole, Halp got his first real view of his adversary. Two antennas protruded from the top of a bulbous head. At the base of the head were two very large mandibles clicking and clattering against each other and extending behind were two body sections supported by six rather sturdy looking legs. The creature, clearly an ant, albeit an uncommonly large one, stood motionless except for the swaying of its antennas as they searched the air.
Halp was likewise nearly frozen in place. He had managed to grab his trowel but, at this moment, was unsure what protection that would afford him. While Halp had found his intruder, he was quickly coming to the conclusion that his hunt had been a bad idea. Choosing retreat as his best course of action, he rose to his feet and slowly began to back away from the burrow and its inhabitant, the ant.
His heel came down on a fist-sized rock which immediately slipped out from under his foot. Halp began to fall backwards; his arms instinctively flailing about as he unsuccessfully tried to regain his balance. Halp hit the ground hard, landing on his back and barely keeping his head from hitting the earth. Dazed, he struggled to look around.
Glancing towards his feet, he saw the shiny body of the ant propelling itself towards him, mandibles clacking. Halp felt his pant leg being pinned to the ground while the front two legs of the ant perched upon Halp's prodigious stomach and its clicking pincers waved right about his nose. He felt one of the antennas brushing through his hair. The clattering of the ant's mandibles was the only sound he could hear, aside from his own pounding heart.
Halp raised his arm realizing he still held, quite firmly, the gardening trowel. Quickly, he brought the trowel up jabbing it into the ant's side. The trowel's triangular head bit into the ant. The pressure lessened on Halp's midsection as the ant reared up on its back four legs. The front two appendages waved wildly in the air as the ant's head swung back and forth searching for the source of the attack. Emboldened, Halp attacked again. This time, he aimed for the insect's head. His second swing of the trowel scored a small gash. Halp attacked again slicing through a pincher.
The ant's jaws grabbed hold of his wrist and squeezed until Halp dropped the trowel. Halp could feel blood trickling from his wrist and down his arm. Abandoning the frantic search for the trowel with his free hand, Halp instead slammed his palm into the eye of the ant. He felt the front two legs of the ant dropping onto his chest as his arm, still held by the ant, was pulled to and fro. Halp's left hand flew up again grabbing hold of one of the ant's antennas. Getting a firm grasp, Halp pulled it while throwing himself in the same direction. Halp and the ant rolled over and over and finally stopped with Halp's head now directly under the open jaws of the ant.
The ant's mandibles opened wide and inched closer to his face. Halp knew this was the end. He would no longer tend his garden nor enjoy the feel of a nice fire while sitting in his favorite chair. Most of all, he would miss his wife, Jensa, who was always there for him, who always was tidying up after him, and was always putting his favorite pruning knife back into the coat of his overcoat so he would have it. Could it be? he thought.
Reaching into his overcoat, he felt the familiar handle of his knife. Gripping the knife in his hand and pulling it out of his pocket as fast as he could, Halp stuck it directly into one of the eyes of the ant. The result was immediate. The ant thrashed about, abandoning its attempts to attack. He scrambled away from the ant, releasing his hold on it, and searched for his trowel.
Seeing a dull glint to his right, he reached out and felt the handle of his gardening tool. Raising the implement, Halp struck the ant several times with the triangular point. Noticing the ant was no longer thrashing about, he halted his assault, wiped his brow, and slumped forward to catch his breath. Pushing himself to his feet, he surveyed the immediate area. The air was silent. He could see no other ants.
Halp struggled back through the underbrush and walked through his emptied cabbage patch to the path. He quickly removed the tomato plants from the wheelbarrow, gently setting them aside until he could get them planted. He then pushed the wheelbarrow back through the patch and into the thicket. A few steps later, he bent over and picked up the body of the ant, lugging it into the bed of the wheelbarrow. With a grunt, Halp began to navigate back through the thicket and the field and back up the path towards his shed.
Reaching the shed, Halp slumped down with his back resting against the door. He began to shake all over from the shock. Bleeding, exhausted, he closed his eyes and, after a time, the shivering stopped as he fell asleep.
Halp awoke as early morning sunlight reached his face. Rubbing his eyes, he looked to his wheelbarrow and its contents, assuring himself that the night's battle was not a dream. There in front of him was the dead ant with its severely damaged eye, the gash across the side of its head and the various trowel wounds along the length of its body.
Rising from the ground, Halp stretched and thought about what to do next. He knew where he was going! Down his path and onto the main road through Rindol Field, Halp pushed the wheelbarrow, heading to the town hall. As he passed by his neighbors' cottages, he noticed the occasional curtain being pulled aside. Some of the younger Halflings, already out at play in the early morning, followed Halp along the road. He passed Dustin and Perby Pipeleaf and a few fellow farmers. They too glanced his way, murmuring among themselves as they noticed his cargo.
As Halp reached the doors of the town hall, he let go of the wheelbarrow, turned towards those following him, waved good morning to them, and then stood patiently amidst the growing commotion. Mayor Dorbin ventured outside to see what was causing such a fuss. After seeing the grisly remains of the ant in the wheelbarrow, Mayor Dorbin asked Halp what had happened.
And that is when Halp began his tale. He told of how he found his garden destroyed. He went on to share the discovery of the tracks leading to the burrow, and his battle with the ant. Not many in Rindol Field that day went without hearing the story as Halp stood at the Town Hall and told it as long as he had listeners. The folk were abuzz with the size of the ant. They also congratulated Halp for his bravery and some even compared him to Barret Barleygrove.
Towards the late afternoon, and the sixth or so retelling of his story, a small voice chimed in from the back of the crowd.
"If there's one ant, shouldn't there be others?" commented little Perry Tasslethimble. "I have seen lots of small ants and well… ants never travel alone."The conversations from the crowd suddenly ended. In the ensuing quiet, from somewhere, perhaps even from a distant field, a chitterchattering could be heard.