"There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something (or so Thorin said to the young dwarves). You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after."
The Hobbit, page 58.
Evangeline Took came from a long line of adventurers. Her father and his father before him had both ventured out of the Shire, fighting alongside men and elves alike. For small, simple creatures (as hobbits are), they were marked as queer by the other Shirefolk, but no one could deny the bravery of the Took clan. The stories and treasures they brought home with them were enough to stun the whole of the Shire, even though they tried to keep them as whispers between friends in taverns, and their swords and shields stayed quietly locked away within their holes. Even so, gossip spread faster than the summer breeze in Westfarthing, and Evangeline's parents were always given a heavy eye by the rest of the more respectable folk of Hobbiton who lived nearby.
Her grandfather had gone on many adventures, and his son Fellin was eager to continue on in his footsteps. He had married within the Shire, a gentle hobbit named Marigold who was not interested in adventuring but who had fallen hopelessly in love with him. He had already begun his exploring and questing by the time Evie was born, and, by way of necessity, her mother had become a healer. Marigold taught her daughter all the tricks of her trade – how to bandage a wound, what herbs to mix to create the best and most potent salves and cures… Evie learned fast, and was given much practice by way of her father often returning to the Shire in sharp need of medical attention. She vividly remembered listening to his incredible stories – staying up late at night, sitting eagerly by the firelight all bundled up in a special woven blanket from Gondor he had received as a present… He would lean back in is arm chair, nursing whichever bone he had broken on his latest adventure, and his deep, rumbling voice would fill the small hobbit hole. Her mother would tut disapprovingly in the doorframe, but Evie noticed she always stayed and listened to the whole tale before going to get more bandages or attend to dinner.
Evangeline cherished every object her father returned with as a gift for his wide eyed daughter. Her treasures, she called them, even though they were often mismatched objects or things he picked up along the path of his journeys. A stone from the Great River, a pressed flower from the edges of the Greenwood, a carved wooden horse from Rohan… She kept them in a small box, a reminder of all her father had accomplished and a promise for the future. Her favorite treasure, one he had given her when she turned seventeen, was not from one of Fellin's expeditions, but one of his father's. It was a very special necklace – Grandfather Took had gotten it for his wife in the city of Dale, nestled in the mountainside right next to the Lonely Mountain and the Dwarf Kingdom of Erebor. It was a silver necklace with a small opal charm, made by the dwarves who lived in the mountain. Evie was fascinated by the idea; by the dwarves who lived in holes in the ground just as hobbits did, yet seemed so foreign and alien to Shire nature. Their love of gold, their large, cold tunnels absent all the comforts of hobbit holes… She didn't quite understand the descriptions her father shared with her, as much as he tried to explain the glittering halls and the mountains full of gems. It was all too immense for a Shireling to comprehend. He promised he would take her with him some day on an adventure of her own, although her mother refused to hear of anything of that nature.
The necklace was particularly important because of its significance to the Took family. It had come with a letter, addressed from Grandfather Took to his lovely wife, Piper, lamenting their extended parting and promising he would return home as soon as he could. He described the city of Dale and its colorful, flourishing markets, his short time within the halls of Erebor, paying homage to the great King Thrór and his awe at the immense caverns they had built into the mountain, at their riches and the brilliant Arkenstone situated above the king's throne. He had gotten her an opal as an ode to that magnificent gem, for it was impossible to try and explain the radiance of its color in any other way. The King Under the Mountain was a sight to behold, he wrote, I shall never forget my time here and the things I have seen. Of all the tales I have heard of the dwarves and their treasures, for ill or grand, Erebor is beyond my every imagining.
Fellin had been out having his own adventures when his mother had received the letter. He fortuitously returned home a few days after she received a second letter, a companion to the first. Erebor has been taken by the dragon Smaug. The dwarves have abandoned it, and the city of Dale has been lost…
Her grandfather had not survived the desolation of Smaug. Of those who had been exploring with him, only one kept his life, and he promised that nothing could have escaped the inferno. The wrath of the dragon had turned stone to dust and closed a legendary page in dwarven history all in one terrifying afternoon. Dale was just a memory, haunted by the screams of women and children who made futile attempts to escape the violent flames and the cold talons of the dragon as it claimed their homes for its unappeasable, unanswerable rage. The men were all but destroyed, yet the dwarves fought on. They defended their mountain home, as impossible a task as it was to undertake or even conceive of. The mighty dwarves shed blood and sweat and flesh attempting to secure their fortress, but no walls could hold out against the might of a fire drake. All was lost, and what remained of Durin's Folk became drifters, bound to wander Middle Earth in search of work where they could find it, and a new home where they could make it. Led by the great king Thrór, now made low by hardship, the dwarves of Erebor were condemned to a life of vagrancy and the monumental task of rebuilding their lost kingdom.
Grandfather Took had played his own role, however unwillingly, in that story, and his son Fellin would never forget it. The tears in his mother's eyes as she wrapped her small hand around the opal on the necklace which had come from that now forsaken place, one of the last gifts of the mountain before it was devastated by Smaug; the sickness she suffered from, weakening her after the news her husband's death… Whether Piper died of plague or of debilitating grief, the Tooks would never know. It spurred Marigold to learn her healing craft with more fervor, and she became well known in the Shire as the hobbit to approach for any injuries. If the gold her husband accrued on his adventures had not been enough to sustain them (it was), then her thriving business as a healer would have secured them nevertheless. It meant that Evangeline grew up in a fine smelling garden full of herbs and other natural remedies and learned much, even as a little girl, about how to heal everything from aches and pains (most of what they saw in the Shire) to missing limbs (a one-time occurrence from a visiting stranger who had heard of Marigold on his travels and had come in search of aid – it was all that was talked of in Westfarthing for a good three years). Evie was proud of her mother and her work, although nothing could compare to her father's adventures. Even so, her grandfather's death loomed over their family, a warning to any Took who left the warmth of his hobbit hole that dangers came in many shapes and sizes – it was not only in the Wildlands or in the midst of battle where one could be taken unawares, but even in the thralls of security.
And so this was how Evangeline Took grew up. The necklace was passed down over time, although her mother never cared for the gem as it served as a constant reminder of the grief which could ever be her own, and the little hobbit was given the precious item at the age of seventeen. She wore it everywhere. It was her amulet of adventure, of the great expanse of Middle Earth, of wild and beautiful things, just as much as it was a reminder of her family's past and the price one had to pay for such boisterous freedom. She thought of the battles her father and his father had fought, of the peoples they had fought with and for… Hobbits were supposed to remain home, to cook and clean and read and do all of the comfortable things reserved for them in this world. They enjoyed their simple lives and never wished for anything more. But there was something nastily curious about the Took line which refused such complacency. Which forced its way out into the great unknown, if not just for the sake of it than for the sake of others – to secure for the rest of Middle Earth the quiet comforts of the Shire.
"Isn't that something everyone deserves? A nice, warm bed to sleep in and a place to call home?"
Her father asked her mother these questions when they thought Evie was asleep. Nineteen and burning to follow him on his next adventure, she was splayed against her bedroom wall, listening around the corner to her parents arguing in the next room. Their whispers filled the entire hobbit hole, even as they tried to keep their dispute as discrete as possible.
"They deserve a home, Mary. It isn't right that we can stay here, safe as anything, while there are people out there risking their lives –"
"And what about your life, Fellin!? What about my life, and your daughter's? You know she's not going to just sit here idly. She'll hate me for this, and for what? So that we can already be a broken family by the time I get a letter just like your mother did?"
Evie couldn't see it, but she was sure of the grimace on her father's face. They rarely spoke of Grandfather Took's passing, but it hung in the air every time they argued about Fellin leaving. Her mother wore it like a mourning shroud at each parting, as though it would always be the last. This time, however, her voice was grating and full of something far past her usual hesitation. This time there was a gravity in her words which made Evie's heart beat loudly in her chest.
"I have to do this, Mary. I have to. It just… It feels like the journey I've always meant to go on. Ever since my father died, we've been involved in this. It's time to finish it."
"I just don't see what business of ours it is where they live! Your father was a casualty of their greed and if you –"
"And if I die…" he paused, swallowing. Evangeline wondered if they were close now… "If I die, then you can say that I died bravely, fighting for something I believed in. And that's the end of it."
His words were so final, so forceful, Evie cringed. Why was this journey so dangerous? What was going on out in Middle Earth that needed him so badly? For the first time in her life, the hobbit was genuinely scared that her father might not come back. That adventuring was too dangerous after all, that they would get a letter just as her grandmother had all those years ago (Evie hadn't been born yet, but she had heard the story time and time again), and that the two of them, her and her mother, would be the only ones left – the panic rose in her chest, painful and raw, making her breath catch in her throat…
No. Whatever this was, she trusted in her father. Fear was something you made up in your head. That's what he had always said – that you could control how you felt and that being brave was just conquering that fear and turning it into courage. And the best sort of courage was to fight for someone else and to help another person in need.
And so that was how, after many more desperate arguments and a distraught, tear-filled goodbye, despite Marigold's will and to the shock of all Westfarthing, Fellin and Evangeline Took arrived at Moria and the Battle of Azanulbizar.