50. The Deliverer
"Are you SURE we're going in the right direction?" Gandalf asked for the fourth or fifth time as he sat down to rest on a tree stump, laying the bag he carried at his feet. It was just after dawn, and it had been raining much of the previous night. "I say we stop and ask where in blazes we are."
Radagast nodded his agreement. "I know you said the star would guide the way, Saruman," he said, "but I've got to wonder if that's the...well, the right star. It's possible, is it not, that Sauron may have sent one of his minions to..."
"I'm reasonably certain I would recognize a minion of Sauron if I saw one," Saruman said a trifle testily.
"But we're headed toward hobbit country," Gandalf protested. "I'm absolutely certain of it."
"I've had naught but water to drink," Radagast said, "but I can swear I heard that star giggle last night."
Saruman gave a snort. "The Star-Kindler knows what she's doing," he remonstrated. "And one thing she would NOT do is send a giggling star to show us the way to the one who is to deliver us from Sauron's evil."
Radagast sat on the ground beside Gandalf, and took something from the bag he too carried. It was a dove, wrought from fine gold.
"I rather wish I'd brought something less heavy to gift our Deliverer," he sighed.
"I suppose you could tie it over his cradle to amuse him," Saruman said, "and devoutly hope the string doesn't break. Really, is that all you could find among your effects to bring him?"
"Well, at least I didn't bring embalming fluid," Radagast retorted, nodding to the costly-looking flask Saruman held. "Of all the things to bring to an infant! Aren't you afraid he might drink it?"
"What else can I do with it?" Saruman said defensively. "It's no use to me, being immortal as I am. I might just as well re-gift it. And it's most valuable, you know. I'll instruct the parents to keep it out of his reach until he's old enough to know better, of course."
"Well, I'm sure MY gift is at least somewhat practical," Gandalf said, peering into his sack of fragrant lumps. "It could mask the odor of diapers. I just wish I had a nicer-looking container to hold it."
"It's the thought that counts," Radagast said kindly.
"Well, let's find a place to put up for the day," Saruman said. "Wish we could afford one of those nice inns. I'm rather tired of sleeping on the ground, especially in this beastly wet weather. I detest the autumn."
"We're not likely to get much sleep in one anyway," Gandalf pointed out. "Not in the daytime."
The three Wizards finally found an abandoned shed in a valley and put up in that, covering themselves with the thick blankets they had brought. Saruman, who was used to much nicer quarters, grumbled considerably, but finally dropped off to sleep. When night fell, they awoke and took a small repast, then resumed their journey. The weather was much clearer, the night air cool and crisp.
The Star twinkled in the dusky sky far above. It was an uncommonly large and beautiful one, and seemed to have a personality all its own, even on wet or cold nights. Sometimes the three Travelers could detect a faint music coming from it, sweet and poignant and yet somehow joyous, and when they felt weary and frustrated from their long journey, it had a soothing effect.
"I wonder if it can be the Star-Kindler herself," Radagast said softly, at one point.
"There's something remotely familiar about it," Gandalf said, "but I can't put my finger on it. I wish my memory were better."
"I'm beginning to wonder about it myself," Saruman admitted. "It seems we are headed toward hobbit country. Perhaps someone IS having a joke with us. And I, for one, do not find it terribly amusing."
"Well, one never knows," Gandalf said clearing his throat. "Sometimes heroes are found in the unlikeliest places."
"But a hobbit, of all things?" Saruman said. "To overthrow Sauron? I would sooner trust a troll."
"A hobbit was very instrumental in the demise of Smaug," Gandalf reminded him.
"Look," Radagast said pointing, "the Star has stopped. It's hovering over yonder."
"So it has," Gandalf said. "Why, this is near where Bilbo Baggins lives, I do declare!"
Saruman scowled a little, but said nothing. They tramped in the star's direction for over two hours, saying little, yet their hearts grew lighter. The star seemed to glow more brilliantly than ever, and the music grew more audible and more joyous. At times it shed a light almost like day-glow over the hills and valleys, in which sheep could be glimpsed, watched over by a shepherd or two sitting beside small fires and nibbling at bits of food.
"I wonder," Radagast spoke up at last, "when this Deliverer will overthrow Sauron? I hope we do not have to wait long."
"If it's to be a hobbit after all, don't hold your breath," Saruman said. "From what I've heard, it's all of thirty-three years before they reach full maturity--isn't that right, Gandalf."
Gandalf nodded. "Somehow I think he will want some watching over," he said, "and...well, something tells me the Watcher might well be...well, one of us."
"I'll be glad to do it," Radagast said. "I've naught better to do. I dare say there's many a thing I could teach him."
"Such as birdcalls?" Saruman sniffed. "I am certain I could teach him far more useful things, versed as I am in the magical arts."
"We could take turns, I'm sure," Gandalf said. "All of us have things we could impart to him."
"Well, I hope we haven't been sent out on a fool's errand," Saruman said after a while. "I'm starting to feel slightly ridiculous, in very truth. A full year we've been on this journey, and if it turns out to be a wild-goose chase, I'm likely to...do something very nasty."
They went on for another hour, and then Radagast said, "Look! It's dipping lower and lower!"
"By all the Valar," Gandalf said in wonder. "It's hovering over that smial over yonder!"
"So it is," Saruman said. "So. Are we going into a hobbit-burrow? A pretty sight we'll be trying to squeeze into one of those, to be sure!"
"There's nothing to it," Gandalf said cheerfully. "I've done it before, you know. And likely they'll have very nice things to eat. Come, let's go."
Now the three Wizards were walking down a road, and the lantern Saruman held seemed unnecessary, although it must have been close to midnight. The Star was indeed hovering over a burrow surrounded by a small fence and several trees and many flowers, nicely kept. This was where the Deliverer had been born?
Saruman raised the lantern as they reached the front gate. "'Baggins'," he read on the small sign attached to the gatepost. "Well, what do you know. It's one of your beloved Bagginses, or I'm a bloody balrog."
"Wonderful!" Gandalf said in obvious delight. Radagast glanced down at his brown robe, at Gandalf's grey one, and Saruman's, which, while white, had accumulated considerable grime from their travels.
"A pity we're not more presentable," he sighed. "We should have gotten ourselves cleaned up a bit. But I did not expect to reach our destination this soon."
"We'll do, I suppose," Gandalf said. "Ah, to think we're here at last! Ha, the Star seems to be laughing at us. Yet I'm certain this is the place."
Saruman shook his head. "Well, you may lead the way, Gandalf. I'm feeling sillier by the moment. I tell you what, I'll wait outside the door, and if this is indeed the place, call me in."
"Very well," Gandalf said, and he strode up the little path that led to the very round door. Lights shown through the round windows, and an air of joy seemed to pervade the little burrow. Then a baby's cry was heard from within. Smiling hugely, Gandalf sprang forward and knocked at the door.
"Who is it?" a small voice called out from within.
"'Tis a friend of Bilbo Baggins," Gandalf said. "We've come to see the new arrival."
The door opened a crack, and a little old hobbitess peered through.
"Oh my!" she exclaimed in considerable alarm at the three huge figures without.
"Don't be afraid," Gandalf reassured her. "We've gifts for the child. We have heard he is to be the Deliverer..."
He paused as it occurred to him that this little creature had no idea what he was talking about.
She tried to slam the door, then a voice called to her, saying, "Who is it, Mistress Lightfoot?"
"'Tis some giants, I declare, Mister Baggins," her voice croaked. "They say they know Mister Bilbo. There's three of 'em, big as trees, with all manner of hair comin' out a' their faces, and bushes in their hands. They'll beat the daylight out of us, sure's I'm borned! What'll we do?"
A face peered out a window then, holding a candle, then laughter was heard.
"Why, if it isn't Gandalf the Grey!" said the voice. "Let him in, Mistress Lightfoot. Here, allow me..."
And the door opened, and a male hobbit stood there, considerably younger than Mistress Lightfoot, who stood by trembling, seizing an umbrella from the stand by the door and holding it out in front of herself like a weapon.
"Drogo Baggins, at your service, gentlemen," the hobbit said with a most friendly smile. "Won't you come in...and these are your friends, or...?"
"This is Radagast, and here is Saruman...my fellow Wizards," Gandalf said. "My friends, this is Bilbo's cousin Drogo Baggins. I'm delighted to have met you at last. And how are your lovely wife and child?"
"Doing well," Drogo beamed. "But...how did you know of them?"
"Well, that's a story for later, I'm sure," Gandalf said. "We've brought gifts...not much, I'm sure, but they were all we could come up with. We live rather simply, you know. May we see the little one?"
"This way," Drogo said. "Come...and watch for the rafters."
The Wizards followed the little fellow, glancing about in wonder. Mistress Lightfoot set the umbrella back in the stand as Radagast gave her a smile of most engaging and disarming sweetness. Saruman held up the hem of his robe gingerly, as though expecting a mouse to climb up onto it, although the floor looked spanking clean.
"Here we are," Drogo said, as they came to a door that stood partially opened into a room lit with many candles. Gandalf followed into the room where a young and very lovely hobbitess sat up in bed, holding the little one in her arms and looking in surprised wonder at the three visitors, who entered almost timidly. There was a sweet and tender radiance all about her as she smiled at them, and Gandalf and Radagast could scarcely help but absorb it as they stood looking down at the incredibly tiny babe.
Saruman hung back a bit, looking confused and a trifle disgruntled. He glanced at Drogo, who did not seem to notice. The hobbit went to his wife's bedside and sat down beside her, looking down at his newborn son.
Radagast was about to say, He's a mighty cute little fellow, isn't he, but thought better of it.
No one spoke of the Deliverer. It didn't seem the right time or place.
And no one noticed the bright figure hovering at the window, peering in and beaming as she looked at the face of the infant over the mother's shoulder.
I suppose my work here is done, she thought as Mistress Lightfoot crept into the room behind Saruman. At least, for the time being. Yet I suppose I could go and give those shepherds a thing or two to talk about. I dare say they are wondering already about the "Star"....
And yet it was fully an hour before Petal made her way toward the pasture where the shepherds huddled about their small fires swapping tall tales, and ragging each other about how they must have swigged a bit too much from their bottles. And she made a most grand appearance, showing her wings in all their glory, and gave them plenty to talk about, indeed....
And when the smallest one asked if he might play on his drum for the infant, she smiled, saying, I don't see why not.