ESCAPE THE DARKNESS

By JULES

Authors Quick Note – This story explores the idea about what might have happened if Strider had come to the Shire to forewarn Bilbo Baggins about the Ring Wraiths that would soon come hunting for the One Ring.  Commences a few days before Bilbo's Birthday party and before Gandalf returns to the shire as well.      

Strider had vows to protect Bilbo when the Ring Wraiths are sent by the Dark Lord but he is unaware that the legacy of who is to carry the Ring to be destroyed falls upon a totally different Baggins hobbit. 

In this story the corn fields in the shire are a little further away and I have added

a lot extra between then and when the hobbit's arrive at the Prancing Pony in Bree.

Hoping to add a few funny, light hearted moments in this one in between the

serious stuff.  Got an hysterical idea for Strider, Merry and Pippin in the corn fields much later.  

All mention of herbs or treatments used in this story or others come about

from a little research I did into some and what their effects were.  Some

of them have been around since Egyptian times so I have no problem using in this time frame but still am not sure if they would have been grown near Rivendell. Just have to suspend reality for a time and humour me on this one.

Disclaimer -  I do not own any of the characters I write about.   I write about those created by J.J.R. Tolkien and marvel at such a storytellers ability to enthral us all.   There are occasional quotes from the movie in this story, just to keep the continuity going strong and to add just at the appropriate time.

the story begins:

The Ranger paused on top of the ridge he had just climbed.  Down below he was to discover a very curious series of buildings and roadways.  

So this was the place known as the SHIRE Strider said to himself.  

He had often heard stories and legends about the hobbits that were supposed to live in this small community.   Curiosity was tugging at the edges of his long coat and urged him to go down and take a closer look around.

The Ranger drew his long, thick cloak around his shoulders more tightly as cold

night air blew against his neck.   He tucked one arm into the warm folds as he

walked, but his other hand remanded within reaching distance of his sword. 

He had no knowledge of what danger may already be lurking within the small village.  He had learned a very long time ago to keep his guard up against those who served the Dark Lord Sauron.

Strider reminded himself also that the hour was particularly late and nobody would appreciate an unexpected visitor.   But the news that he carried could ill afford to wait no longer and he needed to talk to Bilbo Baggins without delay.

Once the Ranger had managed to make his way into the Shire village without being detected, the next problem he faced was finding the dwelling house of Bilbo Baggins.  Although he knew the aging hobbit lived here, Strider had no clues as to which house it might be.

Strider decided he would use what limited information he had come to learn about Bilbo and deduce from there which dwelling might indeed suit that particular hobbit.

Because of the late hour, most hobbits were safely tucked in their beds asleep.  The Ranger's footsteps along the well-laden roads of the Shire were soft enough not to disturb anybody in the houses that he had already passed.

After what seemed like only a brief walk, Ranger now noticed that the roadway he was travelling on began to have a steep incline.   He proceeded to walk up this hill as none of the dwellings he had seen so far seemed to fit Bilbo Baggins.

Once he was at the top, he noticed a slightly larger hobbit dwelling, nestled off the roadway a little.   From where he was standing, the Ranger noted that the occupant of this dwelling would be able to see out over the rest of the Shire but be far enough removed from the noise and chaos to enjoy a peaceful, uninterrupted existence.

As Strider made his way closer to the hobbit dwelling, he noted that the house wasn't just a little larger than those he had already surveyed further down in the valley. This house was larger than any other hobbit abode he had come to know of.

Standing in front of the gateway that led to this house, Strider could see two signs that indicated that this was indeed Bilbo Baggin's home.  The first was a large bold sign on the front wall of the house that read BAG END. 

The second was a much smaller sign, hand written and attached to the gate itself as the Ranger went to step inside the yard.   It read:  NO VISITORS, from what Strider knew of Bilbo, the elderly hobbit was particularly fond of his own company and often shunned the rest of the world to be left alone with his books and journals.

Strider approached the front door to the house and knocked twice as loud as he

dared.  He didn't know if Bilbo would be asleep or as his desk writing well into

the morning hours and he often was known to do.

inside the house:

Bilbo had actually retired to his bed only about an hour before he heard what

sounded like someone knocking at the front door.   At first he was minded to

just roll over and go back to sleep.

After a few more poundings on the door, it became quite clear that whoever

the late hour visitor was, they were not going to simply go away if he ignored

them.

Concern for someone other than himself quickly entered his mind as he thought

about his young nephew Frodo who was asleep in his bedroom down the hall.

Bilbo whispered to himself as he quickly gathered his robe and vowed  to stop the incessant knocking at the door before Frodo was awoken.

"I am coming, I am coming," Bilbo said in as loud a voice as he dared.   He looked briefly in the direction of  Frodo's room, but noted it still to be dark.  No noises could be heard from where he stood and so thankfully he could assume that the younger hobbit had slept through undisturbed.

"What the hell is it at this hour?" Bilbo said in an angry voice as he undid the locks and opened the door a small crack.  He almost stumbled backward in his surprise at the face that greeted him.

"I must say you are a cranky little hobbit aren't you when you are so rudely awoken," Strider said with a grin.

Bilbo composed himself only just enough to realise what sort of rumours would be spread around the village if a big person was spotted in the Shire in the middle of the night.

"Quickly come in before someone sees you," Bilbo gestured to the Ranger.   Strider did as the hobbit bid and walked inside the house, carefully noting to duck his head as he entered.

Bilbo took the liberty of looking outside in the dark, trying to spot if anybody had seen the Ranger arrive or heard the knocking at the door.  He sighed in relief when he couldn't hear anything but the cold wind outside.

"This way please," Bilbo now said, leading Strider out of the front room and into the kitchen.  "You would be wanting something hot to drink I imagine," he commented, and went about putting a pot of water on to boil before the Ranger had even had a chance to reply.

"I must apologize deeply for the late hour of my calling Bilbo," Strider said as

he gazed around at the home.  From outside, nobody would ever dream of what

sights and aromas would be waiting on the inside.   The kitchen was richly scented with many herbs from earthen ware jars that were resting upon a shelf near the fireplace.

The rooms were quite larger that Strider had expected too.  Though small for

a big person in many ways, he had no doubt that the same space could be seen as comfortable and open to a hobbit of Bilbo's size.

"Please take a seat Aragorn," Bilbo stated.   He was facing the wrong way to see

the look on the Ranger's face when he uttered the man's other name out loud.  Strider did not correct the old hobbit on this occasion.   He would have to speak to Bilbo about not using that name around these parts.

"You must be weary after your journey," Bilbo now said, trying to ease the obvious tension that saturated the room.  "I would offer you the spare room in my humble home for as long as you intend staying," he added.

"Thank you, and I will take up your offer, for tonight anyway," Strider replied in gratitude.  He knew that they must soon be leaving this place.  Although there was no set time about when the dark forces might descend.   The Ranger knew that it wouldn't be too far into the near future that the hobbit would be farewelling the Shire.

Bilbo now turned around from the fireplace and handed the Ranger a cup of piping hot tea.  Deep down inside he knew that Strider would not have ventured upon chance into his village on such a night.

He knew that there was a yearning for him to seek the solitude of other places for the remainder of his days.   If Strider was here than the secret he had kept in the pocket of his coat for the past 60 years was about to be revealed once again.

Bilbo fumbled a little with his cup and saucer, finding it hard to conceal the nervousness that was multiplying by the minute.  "Let us move into the living room where we will be more comfortable."

Strider gave no indication to the hobbit that he sensed all was not well with Bilbo. The Ranger suspected that he knew the true reason for his presence tonight but refrained from speaking about such matters for the time being.

"Sit here Ranger," Bilbo said as he straightened the cushions on the large chair.

He didn't usually have furniture that would hold a big person's weight.  He hoped it would be sufficient for the time being anyhow.

Although Strider did notice that the chair was a little cramping on his sides, he didn't voice any complaint.  He had been travelling for many days on barely enough food and water rations to keep anybody going.  Any respite was welcome with open arms. He could scarcely remember what it would feel like later on tonight to sleep in a bed. The ground amongst the trees had been his pillow for the past three nights in a row.

Bilbo Baggins now took up in his own favourite comfortable chair, pulling it close so as to keep their voices subdued and low during conversations. 

At first, there was no conversation between the two at all.  The fire crackled and

burned, giving light and warmth, but the room felt incredibly oppressive and dark at the moment to Bilbo as he played with the ring in his pocket.

Strider finally broke the uneasy silence by speaking to the hobbit about the current and past events in Rivendell.  He knew that the old fool would relax slightly upon hearing the tales of the place he longed to visit.  

They spoke of Elrond and the elves that were living there and things that had happened since Bilbo's last visit.  But that visit was so very long ago and Bilbo's soul felt very tormented and heavy for fear of not seeing such a wonderful place again.

All the time they spoke, they were unaware of a few small steps that approach them from behind…………………………..

When Strider had first knocked on the door, Frodo had been sound asleep.   The consistent pounding though had done what Bilbo feared and awoke the younger

hobbit.   He opened his eyes at first, trying to listen to the sound.   When he heard the sound a second and third time, he sat up fully in bed, trying to listen. 

Frodo had just been about to get up himself when he heard the cranky mutterings of his dear old uncle coming out of his room.   He heard his uncle then demand to know who was at the door at such a time.

From there on in until now, Frodo had only heard whispered voices and somebody walking about.  He knew some of the footsteps belonged to Bilbo, but there was a second distinct and heavier footsteps upon the wooden floor.

The young hobbit was worried that his uncle might have been in danger from the late night visitor.  He didn't quite know if he would be able to defend himself and uncle Bilbo, but Frodo had enough courage in him to try if it became necessary.

The young hobbit told himself that it was time that he found out for himself who

had entered his home.    He tiptoed out of his room and long the short corridor

towards the kitchen.  He paused though as the voices seemed to be coming from

a different room of the house now:  the living room.

Frodo moved as close as he dared, not wanting to intrude on the conversations

between his uncle Bilbo and the stranger.  He could make out the stranger from

where he was standing and almost gasped out aloud in surprise when he noted

how big this man seemed to be.

Frodo had been told long ago about the race of man.  He had even been fortunate enough a few years back to see some humans from a distance.  But up this close, there size was certainly a site to behold.   The man was sitting down but even then he was a good deal taller than anybody else Frodo had seen.

His features were hidden somewhat by the darkness of the living room.  Only when the fire crackled brightest could Frodo just make out the dark shape of his eyes that seemed to look right back at him.  His voice was much deeper too, though not harsh sounding as one would expect for somebody so big.

"You have many things to tell me Ranger, I can see them in your eyes," Bilbo now stated, knowing that he and the stranger could no longer talk idleness with evil was certainly growing by the day.

"You know you have to leave this place, and soon Bilbo Baggins," Strider said

plainly.

"Yes I know, I have already made preparations for such a journey, but there are

a lot more to make," Bilbo said, not realising that somebody else had heard these words.

Frodo threw himself back against a wall where he couldn't be seen as he listened to his uncle's words.  His heart was beating inside his small chest like it was ready to explode.   His eyes were as wide as saucers and held a stricken look as they began welling up with unshed tears at the thought that his beloved uncle was going to leave him alone.

The young hobbit had still not made his presence known to Bilbo and Strider.  With fresh hot tears running down his face and a heavy heart that tore him up inside, he sought the sanctuary of his bedroom.   He flung himself onto the bed and continued to shed the tears into his pillow but nobody else heard his sorrow.   

After ten minutes, Frodo had finally cried himself to sleep.  He had tried to think of a reason why his uncle was leaving the Shire.  He had lived in the Shire a very long time and up until this night had not suggested at leaving at any stage.

Somewhere amidst his dreams, Frodo promised himself that he would not let his

uncle leave without him knowing about it.  He would watch closely for any signs that Bilbo displayed.  If uncle Bilbo was going anywhere, Frodo would be going too.

It was well into the wee hours of the morning before Bilbo and Strider finished their conversation by the fireplace.  They still had much to talk about but would wait until their bodies were a little more rested to speak further about such matters.

the next morning:

The day had started early for Samwise Gamgee and his Gaffer.   The two had wanted to get Master Bilbo's garden ready for the big celebration that was fast approaching.

The next day would be a busy day of preparing the feast that would be needed and therefore there would be little time for gardening pleasures.  Hamfast Gamgee also wanted to make sure that Bilbo would have the freshest produce from the vegetable patch for the dishes that he needed to prepare.

Gaffer had told his son that he needed to head back to their shed and gather a few more tools that he required for the days work.  Sam nodded in acknowledgement and told his father that he would be diligently tending to the smaller flower beds around the house.   More particularly, directly under the kitchen window Sam said secretly to himself.

Sam wanted to be able to see when his master Frodo was awake.  From the window he would be able to hear the young hobbit once he entered the kitchen for breakfast.  He took a forked hand trowel and whilst supporting himself on his hand and knees, began loosing the soil around the flowers.    The household inside was still quiet and he wasn't of a mind to wake any of the occupants before they were ready to rise on their own.

Sam was unaware of the midnight visitor to Bag End.

Strider had slept a few hours, but now sat in a corner of the kitchen that was perhaps a little darker than the rest of the room.  Weariness had allowed him to sleep initially, but after that, his body had begun to feel particularly cramped from the smallness of the bed.  His feet had reached well over the edge and it had taken almost three hobbit size blankets to cover his toes.

He had managed to boil himself a cup of tea and sat silently whilst he sipped the

hot liquid, pondering what the day would ensue for himself and Bilbo Baggins.

Bilbo was still sleeping soundly after he and the Ranger had bid each other goodnight. It was doubtful that the old hobbit would stir for another hour or more yet. 

On the other hand, Frodo Baggins, of whom Strider had no knowledge so far, was just beginning to awake from his sleep.  Frodo reached up and rubbed at his eyes that seemed a little puffy and red this morning.   The young hobbit had very little memory of any of the events that had unfolded the night before.  He had temporarily forgotten all about any stranger arriving in the dead of night or any of Bilbo's talk of leaving the Shire.

Frodo got out of his bed and washed his face in a bowl of water, trying to rid himself of a strange heaviness that he seemed to carry with him this morning.  He dressed as he would have any other day and headed out to the kitchen for a cup of tea.

Frodo walked into the kitchen, but from where he stood beside the stove, the Ranger's presence was still cloaked in shadows.  He went about his tasks, unaware that he was being curiously watched from behind.

Strider had been startled by the sudden appearance of a young hobbit in

Bag End that morning.   He didn't know who the he was, but his attention

seemed to be drawn to the lad for a reason that he couldn't explain.

Bilbo had not mentioned that he shared his accommodations with anybody

when they had spoken a few hours ago.  Perhaps the lad was just a helper

or assistant of some kind to the old hobbit.   Bilbo was getting on in age

and maybe this lad just helped out with some of the household chores that were necessary.

Samwise had a smile on his face as he recognized the sounds of his master in the kitchen.   He watched from the window but had yet to greet Frodo, completely forgetting about the flowers for a few minutes.  He had no idea of the chaos and confusion that was about to be commenced.

Frodo by now had boiled the water sufficiently for his tea.  He was of a mind to

cook some breakfast too, but chose to wait a little longer for food.  Tea was

something he had enjoyed for a very long time, warming him when he felt

cold and leaving a feeling of comfort and contentment inside.

Frodo reached into one of the earthenware jars that was beside the stove and now sprinkled a few dried, crushed leaves into the water, standing back and allowing them to infuse.   The aroma was both stimulating and welcoming to the senses first thing in the morning.

Strider had now decided that it best to let the young hobbit know of his presence.  He was quite unprepared for the reaction he would extract from Frodo.

Frodo now held his freshly made cup of tea in a saucer and was gently carrying

both to the small table in the centre of the room when a voice came out of nowhere.

"Hello there young hobbit," Strider now greeted Frodo, keeping his voice gentle

so as not to startle the little one.   Unfortunately though the damage had already

been done.

"Ahhhh," Frodo exclaimed in fright at the voice.  He stumbled back, spilling the

hot scalding tea over his hand.  The cup and saucer fell to the floor and smashed

into a number of larger pieces and small shards.  

"Sorry little one I did not mean to scare you so," Strider said as he rose from the

chair he sat on and attempted to approach the hobbit.  He had seen the lad grimace at the pain the hot water had caused.

But Frodo's fright only escalated exponentially as he realised that the stranger

in the room was a big person.   The man's height was threatening, making Frodo

back away as far as he could, but alas his escape was abruptly halted by the wall

behind him.

"Help," Frodo said, barely above a whisper due to the absence of his voice.

He now made an effort to shield himself underneath the table.  Maybe the lower

vantage point would benefit him from the stranger being able to reach him.

"HELP !!!!!!!" Frodo said again, a little louder this time as he got down on his

hand and knees and scurried across the broken cup and saucer to the safety

he sought under the table.   He was only briefly aware of a stinging sensation

to a few places on his knees.  His scalded hand was protectively tucked against

his chest, the burn already making the young hobbit hold back tears of pain.

Strider was now trying to bend over and talk soothingly to the young hobbit

that seemed hurt and very afraid of him.   Somehow things had not gone as he

had planned and he blamed himself for the young one's pain and fright.  He

had to make amends quickly.

Bilbo had yet to hear his nephew's cries for help, only stirring slightly at the

shout that Frodo uttered.   The old hobbit's sleep had not been quite disturbed

yet.

Samwise had heard his master's plea for help and gave no hesitation in trying

to scramble through the slightly open window to come to Frodo's aid. 

"Stay back, stay back," Frodo said in alarm as he tried to curl in on himself as

the outstretched hand of the stranger came closer and closer to him.

"I am not here to hurt you little one," Strider said in a soft voice, seeing the lad

obvious distress.  He finally managed to grasp a hold on the young hobbit's

shirt sleeve and tried in vain to pull him out from underneath the table so he

could see how badly hurt he was.

"NO, LET ME GO" Frodo cried as he reached up with his hands and tried

to pry loose the grip on his clothes.

By now Sam was fully in the room and ready to help his master from the assailant.  The sandy-haired hobbit swallowed slightly as he looked at Frodo's attacker and noted that he was a big person.  The man was very tall.  Much taller than anybody Sam had ever encountered.

But Sam soon swallowed his fear as he heard his master's cry to leave him alone.  Big person or not, this man was not going to hurt Frodo.

Strider was still slightly bend over as he held the frightened and trembling Frodo out in front of him, still trying to assess his injuries.  He was not prepared for the sharp sting of pain that resulted as Sam's trusty forked trowel was now dug into his backside.

"OW," Strider said as he whirled around to see what had struck him.   When

he looked behind, he was not able to immediately see the reason for his pain.

Sam's small, stocky body was shadowed by his own large frame.

The sting had made him loosen his grip on Frodo's shirt, but as he turned back

to look at the young hobbit, he noted the paleness of the little one's face.  He could see the boy was swaying slightly on his feet and didn't look too well at all.

Strider now went to readjust the hold he had on the young hobbit to prevent him

falling to the floor, but his actions only seemed to make things worse.  His hands had made a more of a pushing motion towards Frodo rather than preventing him from fainting.

Frodo felt the slight push, but with his unsteady stance, was more than he could handle and he now fell back towards the floor with a audible groan.  The groan

was quickly replaced by a yelp of pain as he had tried to stop the fall and used

his injured hand to support his weight.   The hand was now throbbing from the

effort and fresh tears of pain welled up in Frodo's eyes.

Sam's anger had grown as he watched the stranger push his master over onto

the floor.  The man had already scared the young hobbit and had tried to bring

harm on him.  Sam was not about to let the man's actions go unanswered.

Once again he thrust his garden trowel towards Strider's backside, this time

with a little more strength behind it.

"OW", Strider repeated, a hand quickly rubbing slightly at the pained area

as he felt another assault on his body.  This time his hand snaked up and

caught a hold of the collar of the responsible party.

By now Bilbo had heard the various cries of pains and shouts coming from

the kitchen.   When he came running in he was greeted with an unbelievable

scene before him.

Frodo was still laying on his back on the floor, clasping his injured hand up

and under his shirt, trying hard not to let his tears fall.

Strider was standing in front of his nephew and struggling in the Ranger's

grip, threatening trying to swipe at the man with his garden tool was Samwise

Gamgee.  The little hobbit's face was red from anger as he demanded that

the big person let him go.   Strider was careful enough to hold Sam just out

far enough to prevent anything else happening.

"Good morning Strider," Bilbo said in an amused tone of voice.  "I see you

already have everything under control," he added, much to the displeasure

of the Ranger.  

Bilbo now bend down to Frodo and started talking soothingly to his nephew as he assessed the damage.

TO BE CONTINUED……………..

This story might take a few different courses – hopefully a lot people will be

able to follow easily enough.  The plot might be come a little more complicated

once it gets going.

Going to crawl back to one of my more familiar fandoms for a little while before updating this one to see how people like it.

Enjoy and please let me know what you think.  Any suggestions are welcome

and I will try and include where I can but cannot promise.

JULES