Bilbo Baggins’ bequest labels

Hebe Stanton (Secretary 2014-15) and your humble Editor here present to you a translation of some long-lost Middle-Earth manuscript fragments.

Researches in the Bodleian Library have recently unearthed previously undocumented examples of Bilbo Baggins’ famously passive-aggressive gift labels dating from the time of his Eleventy-First Birthday Party (1401 Shire-reckoning). Despite our imperfect command of the Westron tongue, we have here attempted to present English renderings of some of the more facetious examples.

To TARQUIN, in the hope that his life is improved. – on a hatstand

 To MELODY GOODENOUGH, for the amusement of her parents.  – on a mouth organ

 To ELPHANORA BRANDYBUCK, for the nourishment of her greatest friends. – on a marrowbone1

1 Elphanora was inordinately fond of her dogs

 For PRISCILLA BRACEGIRDLE, in the hopes that it is edifying. – on a copy of Toby Tobold the Third’s On Wooing

 To TERENCE SADDLEBOTTOM, in recognition of ten years of impeccable service. – on a leather satchel and three pouches of Old Toby2

2 Terence Saddlebottom was Hobbiton’s most diligent postal worker; the sound of his whistling at 7:15 am sharp had woken the tenants of Bagshot Row for well over a decade.

 To FARMER MAGGOT of THE MARISH, in recompense for many fine dinners. – on a bundle of dried mushrooms

 To MARIGOLD TOOK, for its instructive qualities. – on a small golden pocket-watch.

 For HANNA GREENHAND, to fill empty spaces. – on an assortment of small and usually worthless articles3

3 Hanna Greenhand was one of the primary collectors of mathoms in the Shire; her home was unusually cluttered even by hobbit standards, making visits perilous for the unsuspecting guest.

  To PENELOPE, for her comfort – on a pair of earmuffs and a assortment of embroidered shawls, gloves and scarves.

 To FOLCO OAKSEED, for his collection – on a pouch of old coins4

4 Folco was notoriously tight-fisted.

 

It takes more than soil to mend the Shire

Morgan Feldman presents us with the last of the Anniversary issue’s three lovely Shire stories.

Sunsets were a sight to see in the Shire, especially in winter when the hills gleamed golden in the fading light. The streets grew quiet: not silent, for birds still chirped as they settled into their nests and field mice still scurried from hedge to hedge, but a hush stilled the world enough that a lone wanderer could indulge in some peaceful thinking quite uninterrupted. Or so Frodo Baggins thought to himself as he climbed the earthen stairs to the Cottons’ small burrow.

The steps were bathed in shadow, but he had walked them enough to know where to set his feet. It was not long before he arrived at the door and turned the pale knob.

The door didn’t budge. He tried once more before remembering the Cottons had taken to locking their door these days. With Saruman’s damage still being repaired and several Ruffians still unaccounted for, fear and tension was high in the Shire: too high, for Frodo’s comfort. It wasn’t natural for hobbits to be so on edge, so suspicious, and it pained him to see them so. If the former tranquility were ever to be restored to the Shire, they would have to put this fear and hostility behind them.

“Mr. Baggins!” came a shout from behind. Frodo turned to see Shiriff Robin Smallburrow running up the path, gasping for breath.

“Hullo, Robin!” He greeted the Shiriff with a tired frown. In the short time since Frodo had been appointed Deputy Mayor, he and Robin had spent a great many hours together, mostly when they ran into problems with a Sheriff overstepping his boundaries. When Robin came to him unexpected, the news was always bad. “What’s the matter?”

“Sorry to bother you so late and all, but there’s been some trouble at the Ivy Bush after you left. Hyacinth Bracegirdle is refusing to serve Ted Sandyman, you see, since he did her family nothing but ill when he was working for Lotho—or Sharkey, as it were.”

Frodo’s frown deepened. Every time things seemed to be mending, some feud tore them up again. He was beginning to think the work would never be finished. With a wistful glance towards a window that revealed the Cottons’ cosy sitting room, he let out a small sigh and turned his back to their door. Rest would have to wait: there was work to be done.

Frodo followed Robin down a winding road to the ivy-covered arch of the Ivy Bush Inn. Out front, a few wooden tables were scattered between old barrels sprouting flowers. Smoke bellowed from the chimney and footsteps clamoured within. It was difficult to believe that, mere weeks ago, the same building had been deserted save for scampering rats and fluttering insects. Now it was as loud and lively as Frodo remembered from his youth, though the usual laughter and cheer was replaced with vile shouts and belligerent hollers that pierced the night with wrath.

Robin grimaced. “What did I tell you? There’s trouble, alright.”

Frodo merely nodded and quickened his steps. Inside, the air warmed significantly. A long wooden bar stretched across the left wall. Behind it stood a young maiden he recognized as Hyacinth Bracegirdle (though it had been some years since they’d last met, and in that time she had nearly doubled in both height and width). She was leaning forward with her fist on the bar and a scowl on her face. Across from her Ted Sandyman stood, red-faced and vengeful, amidst a pile of overturned stools.
A crowd was gathered around them, scattered in several large misshapen clumps. The elders were muttering to themselves while the younger hobbits were shouting over one another, desperate to be heard.

“Come on, it’s just a drink!” someone shouted. “Let him have it!”

“Don’t you dare!” cried another. “He’s caused enough trouble, he ought to know better than to show his face ‘round here!”
A series of ‘aye’s and applause broke through the crowd. Miss Hyacinth Bracegirdle gave a smug smile and threw her rag down against the counter. But Ted Sandyman wasn’t about to give in that easily. He snatched it up and squeezed it between his fist. “Now listen here, you no good pig—”

“That’s enough, Sandyman.” Robin Smallburrow stepped forward and snatched the fuming hobbit’s arm.

“Take your hand off me, Cock-robin! If I don’t get served, you don’t either. How many people did you take to the Lockholes, eh? Don’t I remember you helping escort Lobelia? And what about that Grubb lad you kicked out in the street? Didn’t you steal his wines?”

“Under your orders, Sandyman!” Robin clenched his fist and raised it to strike, but Frodo stepped forward and gave a firm shake of his head. Robin let his hand fall to his side, scowling.

The others, having noticed Frodo’s presence, turned to him at once, their words tumbling over one another in a jumble. Some, it seemed, were happy to provide him with a full account of the confrontation compete with their own personal commentary, while others demanded to know just what he proposed to do about such “an awful fuss.”

The result was an ambush of words even the most attentive hobbit would buckle beneath. Frodo raised his hands up in a sign of surrender though he pressed forward through the crowd. Hobbits parted on either side of him, their shouts quieting to whispers until he could distinguish one from another.

“He’ll teach Sandyman a lesson alright,” someone muttered on his right, just as someone on his left remarked it was a shame Merry Brandybuck hadn’t come. Ignoring the comment, Frodo stepped further into the circle that had now cleared around the bar.

Sandyman’s face twisted into a look of anger and disgust. “Come to gloat have you? Tell me I told you so? Well, save your words, Baggins. I was just leaving.”

Frodo stepped between him and the exit. “I can’t say that it wouldn’t please me, Sandyman, to never see you again. But as Deputy Mayor I have an obligation to all Shire folk, including you. If you truly wish to stay, you have every right to remain in the Shire, as long as you follow the law. Last I heard, you were guilty of no more than perhaps a few crude words at my friends’ expense—” Here the crowd interrupted with wild objections.

Frodo waited patiently for them to die down while Sandyman seized the moment. “Guilty?” he spat. “It’s you whose guilty, lad! You and your odd friends who disappear when the going gets tough and ride back just in time to save the day. Where were you really, I wonder? How can we be sure this all wasn’t really some cockeyed plan of yours to take over the Shire?”

“Now hold it right there, Sandyman!” Mr. Cotton forced his way to the front of the circle, red-faced and livid. “You’re got no right going around making such outrageous accusations! There ain’t a soul in here who doubts Master Baggins’ loyalty, and just as few that trusts yours. Mr. Frodo here has done nothing but help, and you—you’ve done nothing but stir up trouble!”

The crowd was quick to agree with Mr. Cotton. Sandyman heard their cheers and taunts, and saw well that the vast majority’s allegiance lay with the Deputy Mayor and his friends. “Fine, take his side!” he cried. “You’ll see soon enough, when you lose your jobs and homes, and are left to fend for yourselves in the streets! See how well you survive without Sharkey looking after you!” He leaned over the bar and spat at Hyacinth’s feet.

A collective gasp ran through the room. Robin stepped up and reached for Sandyman’s shoulder. “Alright, Sandyman. You’ve had your fun! Say goodbye to the Ivy Bush—this is the last time you’ll be seeing her.”

“Wait.” Frodo’s words caused the Sheriff to frown, but he didn’t let go of Sandyman though Frodo continued, “I’m sorry you lost your mill, but you know as well as I that it was doing more damage than good. But you’re a strong hobbit, so it seems. If it’s work and a roof you want, there’s still work to be done and hobbits willing to shelter those who need it. The Cottons could use some assistance fixing Bagshot Row, if you’d like. I’ll see you’re paid as well as the others.”

Mr. Cotton gaped at Frodo. He seemed about to protest, then turned to Sandyman to access the scoundrel’s reaction. Sandyman’s eyes narrowed, alight with a blaze as he tried to find the fault in Frodo’s words. The last thing he wanted was to give into someone like Frodo, but he would be a fool not to take him up on such an offer. If indeed, the offer was genuine.

Frodo turned to Hyacinth with a polite smile. “What happened this past year was Sharkey’s fault,” he said, keeping his eyes on hers though he raised his voice so the crowd could hear. “Sharkey and his dreadful men. But they are gone now, and let us see that the last of our ill-will went with them.”

“They’re not all gone!” An old hobbit scoffed, pointing at Sandyman. “Not yet.”

Frodo turned to face the crowd, but otherwise ignored the interjection. A collective “hush” trickled through the crowd and it soon became so silent, Frodo could hear his words echo in the arched ceiling. “A war has been fought here. Never before have we faced something like this. I’d be lying if I told you I knew how to recover. But, I think, if we ever wish to see the Shire returned to what it once was, we have to stop fighting. Leave your grudges behind. Make amends where you can, and tolerance where that fails. Only then will the war truly be over.”

The hobbits shifted uncomfortably, fearing Frodo had picked up his uncle’s habit of making long speeches. They looked at one another, toying with the hope of hearing something magnificent and the fear of getting stuck listening to an hour of poetry. As such, they were both pleased and annoyed to see Frodo turn back to the bar where he met Hyacinth’s eyes with a smile and said, as merrily as if it were a night of celebration, “Three drinks, Hyacinth, if you would be so kind. One for me and my friends—” here he gestured to Sandyman and Mr. Cotton, “—so that we may drink to the end of this rift and cheer to the start of setting things right.”

Whether from guilt at her rash actions or the fact that every eye was on her, Hyacinth blushed. She stifled her embarrassment by sweeping her hair behind her shoulders and getting to work. Before long, she had three wooden mugs brimming with dark ale on the counter before her. Frodo handed the first to Sandyman. The hobbit scowled, clearly showing his disdain, but even he knew when to give in.

The second went to Mr. Cotton, who didn’t look the least bit pleased. He had never much cared for Sandyman, but after the cruel things the hobbit had done and said in previous months, he had begun to despise him. Nevertheless, if Sandyman was giving in, he certainly wasn’t going to be the one to protest. He raised the mug in a symbol of cheer and clashed it against Sandyman’s. They clashed so hard, Frodo feared the mugs would break, but they remained firm as the hobbits pulled them apart and drank from them.

Frodo gave them each a curt nod of approval. So there was hope for Sandyman yet. It pleased him to see so. He then ordered a round of ale for all present (to which he received such monumental shouts of gratitude, he wondered why he hadn’t thought of trying this in the first place). Within minutes, the rift seemed to mend. Sandyman was gathered amidst a group of loud and rather boisterous hobbits speaking of the “glory of the odd Bagginses’” which began with Bilbo’s remarkable party for his 111th birthday and continued here and there to all sorts of outlandish events, some of which were exaggerated or mistakenly accredited to Bilbo while others, Frodo concluded, were entirely fictional (such as Bilbo having attempted to hatch a dragon’s egg). Mr. Cotton returned to his friends in the corner having a quite chat and a peaceful smoke.

For nearly an hour, Frodo stood at the end of the bar, accepting various words of gratitude with the occasional nod or smile. Though he was the topic of much conversation, he hardly said a word himself, other than brief pleasantries and vague responses to prying questions. When he had stayed what seemed an appropriate amount of time, he set his drink on the counter, unfinished, and slipped outside.

The sun had gone. The moon lay hidden behind a cloud, but the sky was speckled with stars that lit his path in silver rays between patches of flickering lanterns. Frodo turned the corner and the clinks of mugs and reels of laughter faded beneath his footsteps.

There had been a time when Frodo enjoyed walking at night, when he had looked upon the shadowed trees with awe and the moonlit fields with delight. But all the trees in sight were felled with nothing but stumps or rotting wood and the fields were dry and limp. As he stared out at the darkened lands, he saw nothing more than a wavering scene that he could neither feel nor give meaning to, as distant as clouds in the sky.

A light rose behind Frodo, startling him from his thoughts. He turned and scuttered back, relaxing only when he saw Mr. Cotton.

“Sorry, Mr. Frodo, didn’t mean to startle you.” Mr. Cotton held up his lantern. “I didn’t see you there in the dark. What are you doing walking about without a light? It’s not safe, I tell you. Not safe at all. Then again, nothing seems to scare you warriors these days.”

“Except light.” Frodo smiled tiredly. “And if any of us is a warrior, it’s you. I saw the fighting you did here last month, and I must say you make a far greater opponent than I do.”

Mr. Cotton fidgeted at the compliment, trying hard to hide his smile. “Well, all I can say is, those Ruffians sure better not show their face around here or they’ll have the both of us to reckon with.”

Frodo pulled his eyes from the battlefield as Mr. Cotton clapped him on the back and led the way home. Perhaps, he thought, as the breeze picked up and pried the final clinging leaves from their branches, there was hope for the Shire after all.

Undertowers

Hebe Stanton (Secretary 2014-15) gives us the second of the Anniversary issue’s lovely Shire-based stories.

A long time ago in the noontime of the world – for the morning had passed, and the Ages were wearing on – there lived a famous family of hobbits in the shadow of ancient towers. They were not like other hobbits, who rarely do anything more gossip-worthy than steal the occasional mushroom from a farmer’s fields; for one thing, they were archivists and librarians, and studied languages long-lost to this green earth; for another, they lived within far sight of the Sea, which was thought to make them strange and dreamy and altogether unfit for good wholesome Shire life. Though their work, and their general existence, was admitted to be necessary for the balance of things, and they were routinely praised from afar, the earthier inhabitants of the Shire were, secretly, thankful that the Fairbairns of the Towers rarely descended from their green hills.

Be that as it may, the Fairbairns were quite content in their labyrinthine dwellings amid the immemorial Elven-towers. Occasionally young and excitable hobbits from the Four Farthings were sent to live with the family for a time, so that they might satisfy their taste for adventure safely, as it were, and lose their longing for the wide blue yonder in ancient tales of the Great Danger and even ancienter tales of times when Elves and Ents and other strange creatures could still be seen walking the wide lands. As a matter of fact this hardly ever worked; more often than not the young hobbits would come back older and dreamier, more remote from their fellows, and always vaguely dissatisfied with the everyday realities of life in the Shire; but they no longer showed any inclination to travel beyond its borders, which was good enough for their beleaguered parents.

Such a child, in any case, was Elfreda Goodbody of the Southfarthing. Owing to the influence of a rather Tookish grandmother who claimed to have met the King in the South as a very young child – a piece of nonsense, of course, but very memorable for an impressionable six-year-old like Elfreda – she had grown into a rather vague tweenager, much given to drifting about the Shire-fields in an attractively waifish way, wandering at twilight in pale dresses through the gentle woods in search (so she claimed) of Elves, or reading old picture-books in sunny glades (as she liked to call them). Quite apart from being unnatural in the generally hale and hearty Goodbodies, this behaviour was beginning to attract veritable hordes of hobbit-boys who would pop up at odd moments, hoping to catch sight of her unguarded. It was deemed advisable to send Elfreda to Undertowers before anything untoward happened.

Elfreda, surprisingly, was not as elated by this as one might expect. In actual fact she had quite enjoyed being trailed by what she liked to think of as her entourage of admirers, and was not at all pleased at the prospect of being sent to an isolated outpost of the Shire where there would be no hope of Adventure, or, failing that, an untoward encounter with the handsomest of the hobbit-boys. But, as so often happens in these cases, her feelings were not consulted, and she found herself being shipped off in the month of April, just when the Shire was at its fairest, to the high and white Elven-towers in the West.

The journey was long and, mostly, uneventful, though rain on the second day meant a long and dull day spent before the fire at the Red Dragon in Tuckborough. But soon enough the Goodbody pony-trap was winding up the long road in the twilight of evening to Undertowers. It was an unprepossessing place, for the most part, built in the old style into the hills; the only outward sign of its existence were a multitude of round windows looking out onto the road, which spiralled on up into the foothills until it was lost in the shadows of sunset. The front door – round and green, in memory, apparently, of its founder’s home at Hobbiton in the Westfarthing – lay in a place where the road cut a ledge into the side of the largest of the hills: at that time of evening the shadow of ancient Elostirion lay upon it. The hobbit-servant who had travelled with Elfreda (and was to return to the Southfarthing the next day) rang the bell, and the green door was opened – after a few minutes – by an old, old hobbit whose hair was quite as white as milk.
He beamed: “Elfreda, I presume? Welcome to Undertowers! My name is,” (here he appeared to think for a moment) “Adalgrim Fairbairn, although hardly anyone calls me that any more. I, and all the Fairbairns, are, of course, at your service!”

Elfreda curtsied coldly. “And my family at yours,” she said, because it was what was expected of her.

“Come in, do,” said Adalgrim, motioning to the pair at the door. “The nights are cold here, and it does not do to let the night-shadows wander in.”

Elfreda followed, not without a look back over the Westmarch to the Shire proper, where lights were kindling in the valleys like stars. A shadow seemed to pass across her mind then, and she wondered if she would ever return to the quiet lands of the Southfarthing.

* * *

It would not be inaccurate to describe Undertowers as labyrinthine. Almost a small town in itself, its tunnels and passageways extended right through two or three of the tallest hills of the Westmarch, though the central chambers were reserved for the libraries and archives for which the Fairbairns were famed. The living quarters were all close to the surface, where windows looking out over the Shire or into the West could comfortably illuminate them. In true hobbit tradition, the number of pantries and kitchens was very large – food to stock them was bought in daily from the lower lands – and meals were frequent, large and raucous. The Fairbairn clan was extensive, and its numbers were boosted by numerous visitors from the Shire proper. It was easy enough for Elfreda to settle into a tolerable routine, though she remained aloof from hobbits of her own age. She did, however, spend much of her day in the library-passages deep beneath the surface, mostly at first because there was nothing better to do. But there was a strange peace to be found in wandering with a safety lantern through caverns lined with oaken shelves where the dust motes swirled and the spiders scuttled (these, it was said, were growing ever larger in these late days – although why the days were late was never specified by the fairhaired scholars who had studied deepest in the archives). Occasionally she would come across other browsers, lanterns bobbing in the silent dark as they pored over fading shelfmarks or sat in forgotten corners, immersed. But mostly the tunnel system was vast enough that she remained alone.

She liked to gather six or seven volumes at once and carry them out to the lighter upper levels to read; on finer days she would venture out on to the hills, to find quiet haunts in which to study. At first her fare was little more original than the picture-books she had read at home in the Southfarthing; but as the days passed into weeks she found herself reading myths, legends, fairytales, histories of the long-vanished Third Age; of faraway cursed lakes where gold and jewels had lain untouched for centuries; of forgotten Elf-realms between the Mountains and the Sea (she murmured their fair, alien names under her breath to herself: Lothlorien, Imladris, Eregion, Ithilien), of lands lost under wave, of great cities of white stone and unnamed horrors in the East. The world seemed impossibly vast in those books where wonder still dwelt in the corners of the earth, and it never occurred to her that wonder lingered yet in her own Shire, where vast libraries lay beneath green hills shadowed by towers made in times long-forgotten by a race that had perished utterly from this Middle-earth.

It was not long before Elfreda’s time was spent wholly among the legends of other times. She sought out treatises on Elf-magic, bestiaries written in old Osgiliath; she found rare copies of the Quenta Silmarillion, and devoured the tales of the Silmarils, marvelling at ancient oaths and noble loves and terrible slaughters, impossibly high and distant. She traced through vague shadows on the borders of old stories the mythology of the Ainur, and would spend hours imagining the Song at the beginning of time, the great and cataclysmic moment when the World came into being. She had fallen to the perilous spell of Undertowers, and there were none now left in Middle-earth who could rescue her.

* * *

It was in a time of high summer, when the orchards of the Shire were swelling with fruit and the hills of the Westmarch basked in long days of sun (though it was never hot, for a constant Western breeze blew in from the Sea), that Elfreda decided to climb Elostirion, the tower that Gil-galad built for Elendil in the long ago. She had discussed the plan with Adalgrim, who had over the months become a sort of confidante (for they were both lonely souls); he had opposed it superstitiously, saying that it was sacrilegious, dangerous, foolish. Who knew what old and twisted magics lay there still? But Elfreda was determined; she very much doubted that any Elf-magic could be dangerous, at least not in the way that Adalgrim hinted, and she wished very much to see the Sea of which she had read so much, which, it was said, could be seen on a fair day from the top of the tower. As far as she knew, no Fairbairn had climbed the tower which overshadowed their home for at least a hundred years.

She took with her a knapsack of easily-stored food, for she was a hobbit first and foremost. She left from a back door of Undertowers, a little higher up the hill than the famous green door, which opened out onto the white road winding into the unexplored passes and valleys of Emyn Beraid, the Tower Hills. But that was not her way; for the road went West, dwindling as it did so into a path used only for long rambles, until it vanished utterly into the forgotten places of the earth. Instead, she took a track that led off almost straight up the hill upon which Elostirion stood. The way was steep, and occasionally there were flights of steps cut into rock as she climbed; but soon enough Elfreda had reached the summit of the hill, and she stood in the shadow of Elostirion as the sun began to wester.

If I told you that Elfreda felt no fear as she squeezed through the half-open stone door of the tower I would be lying. Her heart was pounding, though she did not, like Adalgrim, fear hidden traps or dark monsters. She feared only emptiness: that she would climb the tower and find, after all, nothing but dust and cobwebs and the whispering West wind. That, for her, would be the ultimate terror: the knowing that the Elves and their works had indeed passed utterly from the earth.

And yet she climbed. Within the tower was only a single staircase, spiralling ever upwards, hugging the walls. To Elfreda (who, you must remember, was less than four feet tall) the climb seemed endless; even more so because the steps had been made for Elven-legs, and were far too high for her hobbit-legs to reach comfortably. She had to stop often, to sit in an alcove or a windowsill and eat a little seedcake or drink a little water. But she never stopped for long; the silence in the tower unnerved her, and the curving staircase seemed to extend into infinity below and ahead. Not even the wind outside could be heard, though there was no glass in the windows spaced at intervals along the staircase. And still she climbed through infinite white.

It seemed many hours later (though in reality the sun was still quite high in the Western sky) when Elfreda noticed the light streaming from above beginning to brighten, until all at once she emerged from the endless staircase into the large chamber of white stone at the top of the tower. Here, at least, the windows were glassed, framed by five elegant arches of stone through which light almost brighter than was bearable streamed unceasingly. In the centre of this glaringly bright, aggressively silent room stood an empty pedestal carved in the likeness of a white tree with stars amid its leaves. Elfreda knew that once this pedestal must have held the lost Seeing-Stone of the North, and the knowledge filled her with a strange fright and awe. But then she looked through the windows.

The world upon which the windows of Elostirion looked was not the world that she knew. East she gazed, out to the Shire which she knew so well, and saw nothing but forest and rolling downs. South she looked, and the Tower Hills rolled before her. There was no sign of Undertowers and the villages of the Westmarch, but it seemed to her that shimmering figures moved in the passes between the hills, and parties of travellers moved along frequented roads. North she turned, and – glory upon glory! – a city rose shimmering in the afternoon light, beyond the wide and calm Gulf of Lhun, a city of towers and ships and ever-circling gulls, a city that had been ruined for long years before Elfreda’s birth. She looked, in fact, upon the Grey Havens, Mithlond of old, and it lived again through the far-seeing glass of Elostirion. Ships moved through the ancient Gulf, riven by unimaginable tumults in the War of the Valar, and horses moved on the roads around the city, and spires of smoke rose turning in the sunlight of the Elder Days. And in the far West, when finally Elfreda turned her eyes from the elven-city, she saw upon the horizon of the vast and heaving Sea a white sail journeying East into the wonder and sadness of this Middle-earth.

* * *

It is a sad fact that Elfreda never was seen again at Undertowers, and no Goodbody ever knew where she had gone, or why. But it is said among the Fairbairns (who nevertheless say a good many things whose truth is doubtful) that at the setting of the sun upon the day she left a star burned upon Elostirion’s tip, and a sound as of unearthly song, achingly sad and fair, was heard through all the Westmarch.

Spring comes to the Shire

Morgan Feldman kicks off the fiction content with the first of the three Shire stories that are in the 25th Anniversary issue:

As the first flush of spring graced the rolling hills of the Shire, four hobbits could be seen making their way down the slopes of Hobbiton. Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took rode ahead in mail-shirts that gleamed silver and caught numerous eyes. They sang songs of merriment between bouts of laughter. Behind them rode their cousin, Frodo Baggins, whose thinning frame was hidden beneath a long grey cloak. He smiled at his neighbours as he passed, but his eyes looked distant, his gaze far away. Last came Samwise Gamgee, in simple hobbit clothes, humming a tune his gaffer had taught him long before he knew of elves or Rings or anything that lay beyond the borders of the Shire.

“Well, this seems just like old times!” Pippin said, finishing a song and reaching into his pocket for an apple. “The four of us off on an adventure!”

“Indeed.” Frodo said. “But I’ve had quite enough of adventures, I think.”

“Of the bad kind, I agree.” Merry gave his elder cousin an encouraging smile. “Have hope that there are only good ones from here! Pippin and I shall return for Sam’s wedding in May, and you shall have to find some excuse to come visit us in the summer! It’ll be your turn to get married next, dear Frodo, as you’re the oldest. Do you think you could find someone by next spring?”

Pippin hurried to swallow a mouthful of apple to add, “Really, Merry, I know our cousin is capable of exceptional deeds, but I think that task is quite beyond him!”

Frodo laughed, but didn’t reply. While Pippin’s jests were familiar, they had taken on a new tone. Once stemming from naiveté, they now seemed to veil worry, as if they were part of an act to please Frodo. Pippin had learned to control his tongue, and while Frodo admired his wit, he did not need it at his expense.

He turned his gaze to where the road led them around a slope to where the Battle of Bywater had taken place several months ago. His gaze grew distant and his face taut as he thought of all the hobbits and men who had fallen there. The others followed his gaze and fell silent as well.

After a while, Pippin shifted uncomfortably in his seat. “We ought to build a memorial here. A garden or something. To remember folk by, but also to make it less gloomy. It used to be beautiful here, remember Merry? Wasn’t this where we stopped to pick blackberries on the way to one of Bilbo’s birthday’s all those years ago?”

Merry nodded, lost in thought. To Frodo, he looked older, calmer, like a river after a great storm.

“There aren’t any blackberries now.” Sam frowned and scratched his head. “Nor any berries that I can see. But we’ll plant some as a start. I sprinkled a bit of that elven dust up on that hill there so hopefully something good will come of it.”

“It certainly will,” Merry said. “To think, we’ll have elven trees here in the Shire! Just wait until next spring—after this mess is fixed up, the land will be more splendid than ever.”

“I sure do hope so, Master Merry,” Sam muttered.

Frodo nodded his agreement and rode forward in silence. It was strange to think that this time, a year ago, he had been farther from home than ever before, that he had given up hope of ever returning. And yet here he was, with his friends at his side, riding as if nothing had changed.

But it had. The land had been mauled, broken and drained. Homes had been destroyed, rivers ruined. Worst of all, blood had been spilt in the Shire. That, Frodo believed, would take far longer to mend than Saruman’s scourging of the land.
“Well, Sam,” Pippin’s voice broke Frodo from his thoughts. “This is where we part ways.”

Frodo looked up and saw his pony leading him to where the four farthing stone shot up from a patch of wildflowers between perpendicular paths.

“Right,” said Sam. His face took on a look of determination as he pulled a small box from his pocket. “There’s something I want to do first.”

The others sat in their saddles, waiting patiently as they watched their friend trudge through the dirt path to the base of the stone. Merry and Pippin rubbed their arms, whistling fragments of old walking tunes. Frodo pulled his cloak tighter around him
A cool wind was rising, rocking the branches in great waves. Frodo kept his eyes on Sam, noticing one more how little his dear friend seemed to have changed. Standing there at the foot of the stone in a loose vest and faded trousers, Sam seemed such an ordinary hobbit, it was hard to imagine he had ever left the Shire. Yet he had. He had faced more pain and torment than any soul should ever have to face, done more for middle-earth than any hero of ancient songs or tale, and yet here he was standing in the centre of the Shire as if he had never left. Frodo could not help but marvel at the thought.

It seemed a long while Sam stood there, staring at the box, before he dumped the contents into his hand and cast them into the air, causing a shower of grey dust to scatter in the breeze.

Merry and Pippin cheered and Frodo clapped alongside them. Sam gave a sharp nod as if affirming something to himself before turning back to the others.

Frodo could not help but smile. Merry was right, the Shire would heal and flourish. Flowers would sprout from the barren fields and vines would cover felled trees and scarred trenches. It would be different, but just as beautiful. And his friends would be there to appreciate it.