As soon as you get this, make haste to the High Pass, join Lord Glafmir, and find Masters Hornblower and Haymitch. Get to Lossarnach, as quick as you can, and wait there until we arrive. Remain combat-ready at all times, and take counsel with Marshal Renholm. Memorize this, and then destroy it. ;;;;; Amrothos D.A.


For what was definitely not the first and would probably not be the last time in his heretofore uneventful life, Stevo wondered what exactly it was that he had gotten himself into.

Until a year ago, life had been relatively peaceful. And Stevo Hornblower, son of Aldo and Tori Hornblower, descendant of Old Toby Hornblower and purveyor of fine pipe-weed, had been quite content to have it remain that way. All that there was to do was to see to the (doing rather quite well) family business of pipe-weed production- which was doing rather well, to be sure- and, when not attending to this, sitting at home and enjoying life with his lovely wife, Poppywild, nee Thistledown, also of the Southfarthing, (and a descendant of the first cultivators and purveyors of Longbotttom Leaf; it was regarded as a rather ingenious match, business-wise.)

Life, in short, was good. (But not better than his wife's cooking, of course.)

And then along came the letter from Cousin Bilbo.

Cousin Bilbo, with whom Stevo had always been on good terms, (As well as being distantly related, they had always been very good friends), had asked- very politely, as always- if Stevo would be so kind as to oblige Bilbo by providing a few barrels of his best pipe-weed (a few wagons-full, in actual fact) for use at a party which Bilbo would shortly be hosting in order to celebrate his reaching the rather respectable age of eleventy-one years old. Stevo had been more than happy to oblige- after all, an invitation to the party HAD come along with the order.

And what a party it had been. It seemed that Bilbo had invited the whole of the Shire- or, at least, he had invited about three quarters of the Shire, and the rest of them had just turned up anyway. It was no matter, though, because Bilbo had enough food and drink, it seemed, to feed everyone from each of the Four Farthings at least twice over.

And, to top it all off, Bilbo had fireworks. And not the cheap stuff you got by wrangling with Lobelia, oh no. Real, genuine, created-by-a-wizard-and-therefore-absolutely-completely-delightful fireworks. Set off and maintained by the creator himself, one Gandalf the Grey, who Stevo had always looked upon with amazement and something approaching admiration, all while pointedly ignoring the whispers from those around him about how associating with wizards and dwarves and anyone from outside of the Shire made one queer in the eyes of his fellow hobbits. And, since Bilbo had actually gone off on an adventure with a group of dwarves and said wizard for long enough that people thought him dead, he must certainly have been the queerest hobbit of all.

(Of course, being inherently polite beings, the one thing that never came up in relation to Bilbo being queer was the fact that he had not aged since returning from said adventure, despite the fact that he was most definitely getting older.)

Generally, Stevo made a point of ignoring all that sort of talk. He wouldn't be able to give you a reason if you asked him- or maybe he wasn't willing; after all, being cousins, Stevo and Bilbo did share that "odd" streak that came from their mutually shared Took ancestry. (Odd, that is, to other hobbits, not to them.) And so it was that Stevo had blissfully ignored all gossip and contented himself with enjoying the party.

And then Bilbo had taken to the stage, begun a speech, and suddenly disappeared.

That had been the turning point. It wasn't Stevo's meeting with Frodo the next day, it wasn't the pipe-weed delivery to Bree some months later, or the chance meeting with Gandalf at the Pony, or his suddenly agreeing to open the section of road along his pipe weed lands for use by a certain Bree-farmer- it was Bilbo's snap disappearance that had set these events in motion.

And so it was that-if he were any other hobbit, unrelated to Bilbo Baggins- that Stevo found it likely that Bilbo could be said to be the one to blame for his current predicament- carefully navigating a winding, somewhat narrow path through the White Mountains, along with several ponies, assorted supplies, and that previously mentioned human farmer, one Hungeth of Bree, respected farmer, supply-man, and provisioner.

"If we're lucky, we'll make it there by nightfall," said farmer commented, gazing at the sky above them. "Hopefully, the rain will hold off until then."

Stevo snorted. "We should be so lucky. Every time we manage to avoid something bad, something else takes its place."

Without looking back, Hungeth rolled his eyes and let out a huff of exasperation. "One would think that you would be a little less fearful by this point." Stevo was about to shoot back with a reply when suddenly, as if to reinforce Stevo's point, they heard a low rumbling from somewhere up above.

"What was that?" the hobbit squeaked in alarm. They stopped, eyes searching cautiously for the source of the noise.

"Please tell me you remembered your weapons this time," Hungeth hissed, eyes darting warily about before falling sharply on Stevo, who nodded in response.

"Strapped to the one in the back," he whispered, bobbing his head in the direction of the final pony in the caravan.

"Well, go get them, then!" Hungeth snapped, his hand on the pommel of his own sword. Stevo started to make his make his way backwards towards the pony, eyes still searching for any possible threats.

"D'you hear anything else?" Stevo squeaked in alarm, hands working frantically to untie the bundle which contained his sword. Hungeth shook his head, turning to look behind them, the hobbit mirroring his action.

"At your service, my dear masters."

Their reactions were almost instantaneous upon hearing the deep, gravelly voice; spinning around, both man and hobbit wrapped their hands securely around the hilts of their swords and drew them from their scabbards, ready for an ambush.

"really, gentlemen, I am very hurt. One would think that you ought to recognize my voice by this point."

Both exasperated and relieved, Hungeth withdrew his sword and re-sheathed it in its scabbard. "And your family's," he replied correctly, giving a short bow. "We may, however, be excused in this instance, I believe, as you do not generally sneak up on us like that." He turned to look at his companion. "You alright?"

"Fine," Stevo replied shortly, putting his weapon away as well.

"Come now, Master Hornblower." Finally, the source of the voice- one rather portly and full-bearded dwarf- slipped from his perch from high up the side of the pass and moved down to join the little caravan. "Have you ever run into serious danger in this pass, apart from the occasional animal? This pass is well-protected."

"But still threatened," Hungeth replied on behalf of his friend. He grabbed the bridle of the first pony in their caravan, and they once again began to move slowly forward.