Disclaimer: All the characters appearing in The Hobbit and Lord of the Rings are copyrighted by Warner Brothers and the J.R.R. Tolkien estate. No infringement of these copyrights intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. I write this fanfiction only for love of the The Hobbit and not for profit.

"I'll be all right," I assured Gandalf who urged me to drink more of the camomile tea to soothe my stomach and my raw nerves. I blinked in disbelief, embarrassed that I had fainted in front of fourteen guests and had had fallen prey to a child's nightmare. I don't know how I made it to my favorite armchair, but I had a faint memory of Thorin and Gandalf gently placing me there. "Just -just let me sit quietly for a moment."

Oh, how I wished my inner Took were dominant over the Baggins side of me. I heard a couple of the Dwarves murmuring in the other room that the Wild was no place for a female and a hobbit to boot. As soon as my stomach settled, I intended to give them a piece of my mind. But, that had to wait. My stomach churned again and I brought my tea cup to my lips, hoping that my shaking hands wouldn't drop it.

"You've been sitting quietly for far too long," Gandalf's stern admonishment only reminded me the truth of that fact. "Tell me, Bella, when did doilies and your great-grandmother's dining table become so important to you?"

"I grew up," I admitted. "I thought I would continue in my father's business as a tutor and cartographer and that it wasn't good for business that I ran about like a heathen. I thought that if I harnessed my rebellious side, that I might find a good husband and have children. But, alas, it wasn't meant to be."

"I remember a young Hobbit who was always running off in search of Elves in the woods," Gandalf said, readjusting his robes before sitting down beside me. "You would stay out late, coming home after dark, trailing mud and twigs and fireflies. A young Hobbit would have liked nothing better than to find out what was beyond the borders of the Shire."

"At one time, y-yes, I would have," I stammered, quietly cursing the old wizard for knowing me far too well. "But, after Papa and mama passed, the business fell to me and I accepted that my world was now books and maps. I can hardly feed myself if I let neglect my responsibilities."

"The world is not in your books and maps," Gandalf took another puff of his pipe, nodding toward the blue stained glass window crafted by my Granny Took as a wedding present to my parents. "It's out there."

"I can't just go running off into the blue," I said, half-vexed that the wizard was chiding me like a small child. I was a Hobbit of independent means and he had no right to judge me for taking care of myself. "I am a Baggins of Bag-end. I am not a reckless, irresponsible vagabond like many of my cousins. I am wiser than that."

"You are also a Took," he reminded me.

"Yes, Gandalf, thank you for stating the obvious," I sniped. "You and half the Shire never let me forget that one unchangeable fact. I am not a slave to my lineage. I decide my fate and make my choices. I stand by them and I have done well for myself, by myself and Melkor take those who look down their noses at me for it."

"Nor should you be ashamed of your lineage, young lady!" Gandalf pointed the slender end of his pipe at me, about ready to embark on another lecture. "Did you know that your great-great-great-great Uncle Bullroarer Took was so he could ride a real horse?"

"Yes, yes!" I said, vexed by his continuing lecture. "I've heard the tale many a time."

"Well, indeed he could, young lady," Gandalf puffed on his pipe, the pleasantly sweet smell of Old Toby filling up the small alcove where I sat. "In the battle of Green Fields, he charged the Goblin ranks. He sung his club so hard that it separated the Goblin King's head from his body so well and it sailed three hundred feet until it went straight down a rabbit hole. The battle was one in one fell swoop, one might say and the game of golf was invented at the same time."

"Oh," I said, now it explained why it was my family's favorite pastime."

"Hmm," Gandalf gave me a satisfied nod. I sat in my armchair, my comfortable and lonely armchair. I couldn't remember the last time I had sat by the hearth and had a good chat.

"Gandalf, I think you spun a very entertaining tall tale," I scoffed, sipping my tea and reaching for my pipe. I stuffed it with a little bit of sweet clover leaf and held my pipe toward Gandalf. "If you would please be so kind Master Wizard."

"Ah," he nodded knowingly. A small yellow flame appeared at the end of his index finger and he lightly touched it to the pipe-weed. After a few good puffs, Gandalf and I were blowing smoke rings as we had many years ago when I was a younger and more carefree Hobbit. "At your service, Mistress Baggins."

"Thank-you, kind Sir," I nodded my head in thanks. "Still, I always thought you preferred croquet."

"Well," he cleared his throat. "All good stories need a little embellishment. You'll have a tale or three of your own to tell when you return."

"Who says I'm going?" I quipped. Oh, curse you, Bashful Belladonna Baggins! My Good Sense overrode my desire for a little more that just my life in the Shire. Still, that nagging sense of wanderlust woke up in that moment, shaking of the dust after several years of a good long sleep. "Still, if I did go, Gandalf, can you promise that I will come back?"

He stared at me for a few seconds, blinking a few times before letting forth a slow sigh. "No adventure is without its element of risk, Bella. No, I can't promise, and if you return, you will not be the same."

I weighed the allure of adventure and a tale to tell against all that I had in the Shire: a profitable tutoring business, steady customers who needed maps and other documents updated, a comfortable hobbit-hole and a stability that I had worked diligently to build. My Tookish heart screamed at me, but I instead listened to my Baggins brain. "That's what I thought. Sorry, Gandalf, I can't sign this."

"You may never have another chance of adventure."

I rose from my chair to retire for the evening. "You've got the wrong Hobbit."

##########

I finished smoking my pipe, considering all that Gandalf had said. I thought myself wise to listen to the more rational side of my nature, rather than giving in to the reckless impulses of my youth. I heard a low, melodic resonance reverberating off the rounded the walls of my hobbit-hole. Haunting and mournful in its sound, I couldn't help help but be enraptured by the deep voice leading what was akin to a magical chant.

Far over the misty mountains cold,

To dungeons deep and caverns old

We must away 'Ere break of day. . .

to find our long-forgotten gold.

I was thankful for my cozy little home, my warm hearth and the simple things such a stocked pantry and a good pinch of pipe-weed, but the soulful rumbling coming from the Dwarves told me how their hearts broke as they sang each word. Every note they sang swelled with the longing to return to a home which was no longer theirs, but taken from them. As I sat there, listening to the dirge of how their home was lost to them, my inner Took no longer screamed, but whispered. My Baggins mind told me to count my blessings that I was not an unfortunate soul such as those vagabond Dwarves. I had been blessed with good fortune and they had lost theirs.

I had never lost a home, but I had lost Mama and Papa. No amount of longing wold bring them to me. I had never known the love of a husband or children, nor was I likely to as long as I chose to make my life in the Shire. I had made peace with losing what I knew I would never have. Yet, these Dwarves had a chance to return to their lonely mountain and regain their lost home. This was much more than a mere adventure; it was a calling. The Valar spoke to me in their reverent tune, causing me to remember the song when I had been but a small child. I knew, in that moment, that this wasn't chance or fate, but the Universe trying to bring about a right for those who needed justice. Within the span of five minutes, thirteen Dwarves changed my mind with one song.

One Dwarf especially, the one who had the deepest voice and the most broken heart of all, inspired my change of heart. Thorin Oakenshield's sadness and passion spoke to my Tookish side, my Baggins mind and my empty heart. Perhaps, a small pinch of Hobbit luck might work a little magic and help this motley lot reclaim their lost homeland. In the end, I'd get a tale or two to tell and several good memories to carry me through the years ahead. I refused to live my life with regret. Better to have lived and lost, than to have never to have lived or loved at all. I may not have love, but I refused to grow old before my time. I would live my life and go on an adventure!

Books and maps be damned, I thought. If I can be of service, then service I shall be. First thing tomorrow morning, I promised myself, I would sign the contract and be off with them. I just needed to make sure I rose early enough to pack a bag. I made a mental note to myself , remember to pack extra handkerchiefs.