The leaves crunched under the horse's steps. September had come and was on its way out, leaving a bitter sting in the air and colorful leaves on trees. The Shire looked – if it was possible – even more beautiful in the fall.
Khamul looked the simple traveler in dangerous times with a dark green cloak, leather armor over chainmail, and knee-high boots. Her sword would not get a second glance unless you knew your swords very well. After all, this one had been made a thousand years ago. Or perhaps it was more. Khamul couldn't remember when she'd gotten this one.
It was, however, unusual to see a Haradrim, and a woman at that, riding through the Shire. Halflings came out of their houses, sometimes with their entire families, and stared, watching until she passed by.
Not wanting to seem like she was looking for anything, or indeed on any important business, Khamul rode through the Shire at a leisurely pace, stopping at inns at night though she could have easily rode through the night and the next day as well.
"My good man!" she called out, spotting a Halfling raking his lawn.
"Yes, sir?" he asked, glancing up. "Oh, begging your pardon, ma'am."
"I'm looking for Hobbiton. Is it much further?"
"Oh, just over the next few hills, ma'am. Very close."
"Will I be there by nightfall?"
"Easily, ma'am. And if you're looking for a place to stay, then The Green Dragon's the best place around. Fine ale, fine food, and a fine bed. Best inn in Hobbiton."
"Thank you." Morion had hypothesized that the Halfling lived in Hobbiton. Where better to get information about him than from a local inn?
The party was in full swing when Khamul arrived. It was a nice place, she conceded, though the doorway was a bit low.
"Don't get many Big Folk in these parts," the bartender said as Khamul walked in. "What'll you have?"
"Ale," Khamul said. She glanced over at a ring of Halflings clapping their hands as two of their number did a dance on the table.
"We get a bit wild now and then," the bartender said, sliding her a glass.
"So I see."
"You mustn't think we aren't respectable. We are. Work hard, then party hard, that's what I always say."
"A wise proverb."
The bartender grinned. "So what brings a lady like you all the way up here?"
"I've heard of the splendor of the Shire and wanted to see it for myself."
"Fair enough, fair enough. What do you think?"
"It's very beautiful. Especially in September with the leaves turning."
"You're too kind."
"I was curious though, perhaps you can answer a question of mine."
"Of course, of course."
"I've always wanted to meet a famous Halfling," Khamul said. "There's a legend in my land that a Halfling around here once slew a dragon. Is that true? Does he still live?"
The bartender's expression soured. "You'd be talking about Bilbo Baggins," he said. "He went off on an adventure, right enough. A dragon got killed, and he came back with treasure enough to buy the Shire, Hobbiton and all."
"You don't seem to care for him."
"He's…well, he's…he's un-Hobbitlike. Going off on adventures, imagine what his dear parents would say!" The bartender shook his head. "Not normal behavior for a Hobbit, going off on adventures. He was just fine, too, until that meddling wizard came around."
"Who is that?"
"Gandalf the Grey. Bilbo was a good, quiet Hobbit, and then Gandalf put all these ideas of adventures into his head."
"What a shame."
The bartender nodded. "He was a good Hobbit, Bilbo was. He's gone strange in the head now. And he's so old!"
"What is the typical lifespan of a Halfling?"
"Oh, eighty or ninety, I suppose. We get up to a hundred now and then. The Old Took was one hundred and thirty when he died. Bilbo's seventy-eight, but still going strong."
"Impressive," Khamul said. "And he isn't frail or weak?"
"No, no, on the contrary he still goes out for a ride now and then. He's more fit than most Hobbits you see. And he doesn't look nearly a hundred either. More like fifty, I'd say. Remarkably preserved. They say," The bartender leaned close, "the wizard cast a spell on him."
"Do they indeed?"
"They do. And I have it on the best authority he can turn himself invisible."
"Oh yes. You can see his shadow in the window, then a Sackville-Baggins knocks on the door and he vanishes! Just vanishes! Doesn't duck or run away, but vanishes! Remarkable, isn't it?"
"Oh, very remarkable. Very remarkable indeed."
Another customer came to the counter and the bartender hurried to fill his order. Khamul, meanwhile, slipped out of The Green Dragon and started down the road. The only thing she was missing was where this Baggins lived.
It was growing dark, the sun being no more than a red sliver on the horizon. All around Khamul were little hills with round wooden things on them. Paths, dirt or stepping-stones, led up to them, with flower-filled gardens surrounding them. They looked like houses, but how was that possible? A hollowed-out hill? What sort of madman would live in something like that?
As Khamul watched, a staggering Halfling opened the round door and stumbled inside. She caught only a fleeting glimpse of the inside of the dwelling. It looked remarkably comfortable, though small for a full-grown human. There were candles on finely polished tables, elegant rugs, and comfortable chairs.
Then the door shut, and Khamul was once again looking at the plain door in the side of a hill.
She kept riding until such a crowd of Halflings was gathered around her that she couldn't move.
"What's going on?" she snapped at the nearest one, a fat, half-drunk looking fellow with a mug full of ale.
"We're celebrating!" he bellowed, then belched loudly.
"I can see that. What are you celebrating?"
"The birthday of good old Frodo Baggins!"
"Is he the mayor here or something?"
The Halfling gave her an odd look. "I'm the mayor here."
"Oh, well, congratulations. Who's this Frodo fellow then?"
"Only the finest deputy mayor any Hobbit could hope for!" He laughed, then the laughter died and he looked intently at Khamul. "You mean you've never heard of Frodo Baggins? Good old Frodo? Good old Nine-Fingered Frodo?"
"Did it get bitten off?" Khamul asked caustically, wishing this old codger would get out of her way.
"Ah! You do know the story! That's good, or else I'd be sorely disappointed! I was hoping our friends in the south knew the tale!"
"You're about as close to war with the south as you've ever been in your existence. I seriously doubt anyone down there considers you a friend."
"Elessar's made some great friends there."
"Who's Elessar? One of your drunk friends?" The name sounded elvish to Khamul, but Halflings didn't live all that far from the elves.
The Halfling laughed uproariously. "Did you hear her?" he asked his friends. "'Who's Elessar?' she said!"
The other Halflings shrieked with laughter. "Good one, Sam!" they congratulated, slapping the Halfling on the back.
"You're the funniest one of the Big Folk I've met in all my days," Sam said. "Come down from that horse and have a drink."
"Wait…Frodo Baggins, did you say?" Khamul asked. Baggins… Might this Frodo fellow be related to Bilbo?
"That's the one. I was his gardener once. Don't need to tell you about that though, ha, ha! I'm sure you've heard the story about 'eavesdropping' and all that! Ha, ha!"
The other Halflings laughed all the louder. "Tell it again, Sam!" one yelled.
"Oh, yes, tell it again!" another begged.
"Maybe later," Sam said. "Come on, friend. We've got room for one more."
"Is Frodo related to Bilbo Baggins by any chance?" Khamul asked.
Sam laughed so hard he fell over.
"I'll take that as a yes," Khamul said. "Do all your folk get this drunk when they throw a party? And where's this Frodo anyway? I'd like to meet him."
Sam grew sober at once. "You didn't hear?" he asked quietly.
"Is he dead?"
"He went…" Sam gestured to the western horizon.
"I see he died. Sorry about that. It sounds like you were close."
"We were together at the end of all things," Sam whispered, a misty look coming into his eyes. "I remember the fire…the rocks…the horrible roar…and his finger, poor Mr. Frodo's finger…"
"Sounds like you had a bit of bad luck. Shame, that."
Sam was studying her. "You really don't know, do you?" he said.
"Mr. Frodo. Elessar. You don't know about any of them."
"I don't know what you're talking about, so it can't be very important at all."
"Who're you talking to, Sam?" another, slightly younger, Halfling dashed over. "Hello, madam, name's Peregrin, though my friends call me Pippin."
"Why don't you just keep your Halfling legends to yourself," Khamul snapped, ignoring the young Halfling. "Don't assume that other folk know them."
"She doesn't know who Elessar is," Sam hissed to Pippin.
"'Course she does. She's from Harad."
"What does that have to do with anything?" Khamul demanded. "There is nothing going on in Harad!"
"What's going on?" yet another Halfling asked, walking over. "What's up, Pip?"
"She doesn't know who Elessar is, Merry," Sam said.
"I don't care about your stupid Halflings!" Khamul shouted.
"She must know who Theoden was though," Merry said.
"I don't know and I don't care!"
"What about Faramir?" Pippin asked. "He's a good fellow!"
"And Eowyn?" Merry asked. "Best woman in the world, I'd say!" A female Halfling heard this and gave Merry a very sour look.
"Tell you what," Sam said. "If you wouldn't mind, we've got a couple of Big Folk living nearby. Why don't you come with us and they'll explain things to you?"
"I don't need things explained to me!" Khamul shrieked. "You're mad! You're all mad! With your Frodos and your Elessars and your Faramirs! I don't care, do you hear me? I don't care!"
Khamul suddenly realized she was shouting to an empty street.
Glancing around frantically, Khamul saw no Halflings. There were no streamers tossed over the trees. There was no free-flowing ale. There were no lanterns hanging from boughs. The street was empty and dark. The trees were hidden in shadow. The only light came from the windows of a nearby hill.
Feeling dazed and confused, Khamul rode toward the light. Was that a dream? she wondered. Was it all some sort of weird hallucination?
"Are you the fellow who was shouting?"
Khamul glanced around and saw a stout Halfling standing near the gate to the hill with the lights. "Yes," she said. "I suppose that was me."
"I would appreciate it if you kept it down. We're having a bit of a celebration."
Khamul laughed weakly. "For who?"
"My newborn cousin."
"Look a bit old to have a newborn cousin."
"Ah, he's removed a few times…I don't really know. Anyway, keep it down. Little Frodo needs to get his sleep."
"Little Frodo," Khamul said. She laughed again. "Little Nine-Fingered Frodo."
"Never mind, never mind. It was a dream…a mad, mad dream."
Bilbo Baggins shook his head and returned to his cozy hill where the party was dying down and little Frodo Baggins was settling down to sleep in his mother's arms.
"I think I must be going mad," Khamul decided. All thoughts of Bilbo and the Ring had flown out of her head. She rode like a madwoman out of the Shire, not caring who heard her at this hour of the night.
"I'll just get back to Minas Morgul," she muttered. "Just get back there…Sauron'll know what to do."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.