Author's note:

A fox passing through the wood on business of his own stopped several minutes and sniffed. "Hobbits!" he thought. "Well, what next? I have heard of strange doings in this land, but I have seldom heard of a hobbit sleeping out of doors under a tree. Three of them! There's something mighty queer behind this." He was quite right, but he never found out any more about it. (Fellowship of the Ring, Chapter 3: Three is Company)

The two very dear friends of mine, who are big LotR fans too, have once told me they adore this little detail in the book, and that this fox is among their favourite characters. Well, as I was thinking what to write about in my next story, suddenly I remembered this paragraph, out of the blue. And then I thought: "After all, why not? Why wouldn't a young inquisitive fox actually try to find out what's behind this?"

Val and Arien, I hope you'll like it... this one is dedicated to you. I love you. :kisswub:

Special thanx to my dear friends Lidia and Fili, for their help in translation and beta. :hug:

-x-x-x-

A fox was coming home to his lair from night walking when he saw something unusual in the bushes. Three hobbits! He sniffed them, confused. Very unusual, he thought. What could impel three hobbits to spend the night so far away from their homes? He didn't find it unusual that hobbits travelled from Hobbiton to Buckland, for they often did that, but these ones travelled on foot and secretly, it seemed.

His Mum and Dad named him Tommy. He was still young, cubbed only this spring. He was the most curious among his six brothers and sisters. His curiosity led him out of the lair to walk and explore around even when he was still small, and especially later when he gained some independence. And he often met with trouble: he once fell into a deep hole and his Mum hardly pulled him out. Another time he barely escaped from an angry beaver at the last moment, for while he was playing around, he knocked down a carefully arranged pile of wood, prepared for building the beaver's house. Yet, during his wanderings, he met many animals and found many friends. Among them were other foxes, birds, and little wolves, even a fawn and a few rabbits.

Now Tommy watched the sleeping hobbits and became more and more curious as to why they travelled so secretly, off the road. Unable to come up with an explanation, he turned and went back to his lair where he excitedly told his family about what he saw, but they did not seem to be impressed or even interested. A little disappointed, he soon went to sleep.

After a few days passed Tommy had almost forgotten about the hobbits. In his wood there were enough other interesting things and events that occupied his attention. But one day while he was out, he met a family of lynxes. He didn't know them, but he greeted them politely.

"Good day", he said.

"Good day to you, too", they answered.

"Is this the first time that you are in this forest?", asked Tommy. "I have never seen you before. Are you on a journey?"

Mum and Dad Lynx looked at each other for a moment, and then she started to talk: "Actually, we are moving out. We lived in the east, in Buckland. But during the last few days strange things started happening there. Some weird men appeared. They rode big black armoured horses. They were also clad in black, had big swords, and were wrapped in long black cloaks. You could not see their faces, because they were hooded. There were several of them. We saw only one, from afar. But even so, we have never felt such horror and evil." Tommy saw fear in the eyes of their children, and he also shuddered while he listened. "Everybody ran away from them in fear. We hope there are no such Riders in this forest?"

"No, there are none", answered Tommy. "At least I have never seen or heard about one, and I know many animals. But where did they come from, and why?"

"We do not know", answered Daddy Lynx. "We have only heard rumours that these riders were looking for some hobbits, especially after one named Baggins."

Soon they saluted. The lynxes continued their journey, and Tommy wandered a little bit more. He was bemused and worried. He hoped no evil riders would come to his forest. Then he remembered three hobbits he had seen a few days ago. There was no way he could know for sure, but he had a strange feeling that the mysterious hobbits and evil Riders were somehow connected. He went to one of the lairs in his part of the forest and told everything to a favourite old aunt. She was very interested, and in the end she told him to be very careful if there were dangerous riders around.

The next day she sent for him. When he visited her, Tommy saw his aunt was very excited. "You know, I remembered something. The surname Baggins sounded familiar to me when you mentioned it, but I couldn't remember at once where or when I have heard it. Now I remember", she said. "This is a story I heard from my grandma, and she heard it from her great-grandfathers. It is very old, it was told through many generations, and is almost forgotten now. The most famous hobbit in Hobbiton was a Baggins. Many years ago, he went on a great journey and it was said he had returned with a great treasure. I wanted to tell you that, I assumed you'd be interested."

Tommy thanked her. Everything became more mysterious, and he even more inquisitive. So, a hobbit returned from a far part of the world with treasure, and many years later mysterious evil Riders come looking for a hobbit with the same surname. His heir, perhaps?, wondered the young fox. And who are these Riders, that they cause so much fear? His curiousity could not be restrained any more. He smiled cunningly and decided to find out what was going on.

During the next few days he went on long tours to Hobbiton. His parents worried but he told them everything would be fine. Anyway, I'm almost grown up now, he thought. He went around hobbit's houses and holes, eavesdropping their discussions through windows. Two weeks later, he finally found the right clue. He heard a conversation that revealed that a hobbit named Baggins and two of his friends had gone eastward, to Buckland; soon, nothing was heard about them any more. In Hobbiton, Tommy made friends with a cat. She told him that one night, almost a month ago, a horrible black Rider had come to Hobbiton and asked questions about a Baggins. So, evil Riders came even this far, he thought, feeling a little frightened.

Now he was sure he had seen the very hobbits that had left Hobbiton and that one of them was a Baggins, as well as that the riders had been looking for them. He wanted to know why, and what happened next, and if the Riders had caught them. Unfortunately, Buckland was too far away for him to go there. But he remembered what he could to instead. The next day he asked one of his friends, a crow named Wendy, to fly to Buckland and ask around for any news. Wendy loved her small curious friend, and she hadn't visited Buckland for a while, so she gladly flew away on a small journey. When she returned a few days later, Tommy visited her again.

"I was in Buckland", she told him. "Everything is all right now, but some hobbits are still frightened. Some time ago, five big black Riders attacked Crickhollow, a small village in Buckland. They were looking for hobbits. However, it appears that the four hobbits the riders hunted managed to escape east. No one has seen them since, and no one knows why the Riders were after them. But, the rumours say that they were the Nazgul, the most dangerous servants of the mightiest dark lord Sauron, and that they came from the distant land of Mordor."

Those names didn't mean anything to Tommy, so Wendy told him a little bit more about it. She was old and wise and knew a lot about the history of Middle-Earth. The tales of Sauron and his evil deeds made Tommy shudder in fear. He didn't want some evil lord conquer and destroy Middle-Earth and everything that was good and beautiful.

Soon the winter came. No matter how he tried, Tommy couldn't find out anything else. There was no more news about the four hobbits who went eastward. Now, in winter time, Tommy went out less than before, but during his rare walks he managed to get some new information, still, mostly from birds. Yet, it was all bad. Rumours about war coming in distant lands; of people running away from the south, escaping from the war, and dwarves from Ered Luin sending much armour to their relatives far on the east, for they were in danger of Sauron. Young fox felt something important was happening.

When spring arrived, flowers blossomed and the forest became green again, and Tommy was happy. Again, he could take long walks and enjoy it, and he spent much time with his many friends. But, the joy was very short. Some birds that arrived from distant lands told them that in the east and south a big war was in progress, and none could tell how it would end. The armies of the dark lord were huge and it seemed he'd destroy both men and elves.

Beside that bad news, other bad things were happening. Some strange men from the south began to settle in the Shire. Their behaviour was haughty and sometimes cruel. Tommy heard they imprisoned many hobbits, and took houses and land from many others. They also cut down many trees. It was whispered they served some evil leader named Sharkey. Young fox was sad, for this men destroyed nature, his forest and many others, and forest were the home for him and many other animals. Many animals ran away and moved to the west, to the forests in Tower Hills. Old Wendy was among the first. Before she flew away, she visited Tommy and they had a long talk. His family remained in their old home, but he felt much lonlier now, for many of his friends had gone away.

The summer went by and things became worse and worse. Hobbits were enslaved and many imprisoned, forests destroyed. Finally, in September, Tommy's family decided to leave, too. He was sad, but he couldn't do anything to change the events. On the day before they were to go, he went for a walk to say goodbye to the places in the forest he loved the most. While he was walking, sad and wistful, he accidentally got near one of the Shire roads. He heard horse hooves and lowered down, thinking it was the men who now ruled the Shire. But when the riders came closer, he stared in surprise. Hobbits! And not just any, but three of the four were the very hobbits he had seen that night in the forest a year ago, he was sure. He followed them and watched them carefully, but there was no doubt; he recognized them with certainty. It was them, only their clothes was different. Whereas before they looked like any other hobbits, now they were clad and equipped like knights, with shiny robes, beautifully decorated cloaks and real, though small, swords.

The hobbits stopped at nightfall. Tommy remained near for a short while, hidden in bushes, and listened to their conversation. Then he found out they planned to raise a rebellion and chase off the evil men! He felt great joy and hope that the Shire and his forest would be saved. Soon he returned home, although he wanted to hear more, for he knew his family would be very worried about him in these dangerous days.

Instantly he told them everything he heard. His parents were not particularly willing to stay here any longer because they were afraid the hobbits couldn't do much, but in the end they agreed to put off the parting for one day.

Next day, Tommy went out again and approached the forest border, as much as he dared. Luckily, he was on a small slope so he could see a part of the surroundings. He saw several large groups of hobbits capturing two groups of Sharkey's men. Then they all went towards Hobbiton and soon disappeared from his sight.

A young fox stood for a while and thought, but then his curiousity prevailed. Everything seemed quiet moved forward slowly, looking for sheltered pathways; for he was not so reckless as he had been as a child. When he reached Hobbiton, late in the afternoon, there was indeed much to see! Hobbits were cheering and shouting. All those who had been in prison were freed. Sharkey's men were all captured or banished, and Sharkey was killed. The Shire was finally free. Tommy almost jumped for joy.

Little by little, during the next days and weeks, things slowly went back to normal. Nobody destroyed nature any more, and hobbits rebuilt all that was demolished. Tommy's family remained in their old home, and many animals returned.

When Tommy was in Hobbiton on the day hobbits won their battle, he met a nice dog named Bobby and made friends with him. Bobby first thought Tommy came to steal, but Tommy explained that he only wanted to find out what was happening. Now Tommy decided to visit him. He arrived at the hobbit's town cloaked in evening darkness, and went to the small house belonging to his friend. He heard much news and all of it was good: Hobbiton was recovering from the devastation and terror, which was evident, after all. But then Bobby surprised him with something else.

"You know, in the stable in the neighbourhood there is a pony named Bill. He is full of interesting stories, and it is incredible what he's been through; and he knows even more! Would you like to visit him?", asked Bobby.

"Of course", answered Tommy and smiled. It sounded very exciting.

But no matter how interesting Bobby's words sounded, nothing could prepare him for the fantastic and exciting stories told by Bill. He once lived in Bree and had a very evil master, but one day, four hobbits came to Bree and Bill had joined them after they purchased him from his cruel master. He went through many adventures before coming back to Hobbiton with the hobbits. After that night, Tommy came back to Hobbiton on several more evenings, for all that Bill had to tell couldn't be told in one night. The hobbits and their journey to Bree, Bill's meeting them there, a mighty evil Ring, the dark lord Sauron, the great good wizard Gandalf, elves, long journeys through the wilderness... and so much more that hobbits told after they came back to Rivendell from their long and dangerous quest. The four hobbits took part in great battles and did many great deeds, especially Frodo Baggins and his faithful friend Samwise Gamgee, who went all the way to Mordor where the evil ring was finally destroyed and dark lord Sauron defeated forever. Middle Earth could now live in peace.

Tommy smiled happily.

Now, after more than a year, the secret of three hobbits sleeping in the forest was finally revealed.