After travelling through the wilderness for three months, the land began to grow greener and more lush, the rushing rivers became little creeks and brooks that clucked and flowed through the green pastures. Wind swept pines and thorny shrubs became weeping willows, oaks and birch trees swaying gently in the breeze and whispering to the wind. Cliffs turned to soft hills and gorges to valleys. Small settlements of hobbit holes were spread between fields of summer barley, corn and wheat and their gardens were overflowing with sweet-scented flowers and vegetables, making bees and butterflies buzz lazily about in their quest to sample the nectar.
"So this is the Shire?" Lori asked Gandalf. "It's so… Cozy… What are we doing here again?"
"We're going to Hobbiton to join a company bound for great adventure. Now what did you say that last town was, again?" Gandalf sat on his tall horse with a map spread out before him, trying to find the way through the winding pathways and gardens to his destination.
"Woodhall, and before then Stock. Right after we crossed the Stock Brook, I believe. How is it that a wizard who has wandered the earth for… However long you have - doesn't know his way around?" She tilted her head slightly to the side in wonder.
"I have never been in this particular part of the Shire before, and therefore have no memory of the road. Even the greatest cannot remember that which they have never learned, now can they?" He looked pointedly at her.
"How would I know? I'm not one of them, after all," she shrugged with a cheeky smile. "But in theory, I guess you have a point. Also, in theory, we should be approaching the Green Hill Country, and after that a crossroad that should lead us north to Hobbitton and your Bagshot Row."
"Ah! Now I see it!" The old wizard exclaimed as he turned the map upside down, making it look as if he was a complete fool. He didn't deceive Lori, though.
"Was this some kind of test, old one? Or is age truly catching up to you at last?" She teased.
"It is good that you can retain so much information by simply studying, my dear. But sometimes the world does not quite look like what you would have expected from your books and maps and you would do well to remember this. Let's just leave it at that." He packed up the map and pulled out his pipe. When he rummaged through his tobacco pouch, however, it came up empty, much to the wizard's chagrin. Lori knew better than to pester him when that happened and held her tongue for a good mile before her squirming finally got to Gandalf.
He sighed and turned to her, "Out with it, girl, before it eats you from the inside!"
"Well, you promised to tell me the full reason for going to Hobbiton before we got there, and it's coming up pretty soon, so I thought…" She looked at him hopefully, making doe eyes at him. "And I know that some sort of adventure is to take place, but surely you know more than that it is just a random quest, or you wouldn't have come here all the way from Minas Tirith to join it?"
Gandalf smirked under his beard and finally put his pipe away. "Remember when you were reading about the dragon Smaug and the Lonely Mountain?"
Lori's brows shot up in surprise, "I do, yes…"
"How far did you get with it?"
"Not very; King Thror ruled under the mountain and had found the Arkenstone, the heart of the mountain, to be his crowning jewel as a sign from the gods that his rule was blessed…"
"Yes, yes. Well by then the dragon sickness had already taken hold of him and corrupted his mind. He could think of little else but gold and riches and so his son, Thrain, had taken up many of his royal duties unofficially. Thrain's son, Thorin watched as his grandfather's madness grew and his love of gold overshadowed all else. He aided Thrain in governing their people, Durin's people, in the absence of their king and so Thorin became loved by many and respected by all."
They rode into the shade of the trees of Green Hills, and the relief was immediate. Lori had yet to get used to wearing leather armor in the summer. She took a swig of water and sighed as she listened on.
"The treasure grew and grew until one day Thror's madness became the downfall of every dwarf in Erebor, for the Dragon Smaug had gotten wind of the vast amounts of gold. When he struck, the city of Dale which the dwarves traded with was obliterated and none survived. The elf king, Thranduil, who had paid his respects to Thror, or rather his wealth, stood on the hills and observed as Smaug entered and destroyed the great, sacred halls of the mountain. Even when called to help by Thorin, he did nothing. In the end, only a fraction of the dwarves had survived and became homeless vagabonds. It was a steep fall from their former glory and a hard, unforgiving life among men." He paused and looked to see if Lori was listening and found her deep in thought.
"Do you remember the tale of the battle of Azanulbizar?"
"I think so… It's the one where the dwarves drove back the orcs from Moria, isn't it?" Lori asked.
"Yes. And the one where Thorin Oakenshield earned his name as well as the leadership of his people. Where he cut the arm off the pale orc who beheaded Thror and defended himself with an oaken branch."
"I remember… But what does this all have to do with our journey halfway across Middle Earth?"
"Don't interrupt me!" Gandalf snapped, but then in a more patient tone continued, "these things are related, I assure you… Did you also know that dwarves generally are a superstitious and stubborn bunch?"
"No I did not… Gandalf! Get to the point, already!"
Finally the wizard conceded; "We are about to hopefully embark on the adventure that will be the next chapter in the life of Thorin Oakenshield and the line of Durin, if only we can get him to recruit the fourteenth member of their company here, in the Shire. You see, they believe firmly in omens and luck, and they think they have been shown the time to return to their home under the Lonely Mountain. But they will not go with a company of merely thirteen dwarves, as this will surely see them to failure in the end."
"What poppycock! What good will dragging along a peace loving hobbit do? Surely you don't mean to rob one of these little farmers or merchants from their home? Gandalf!"
Gandalf hrmf'ed in his beard, "I happen to know of one Bilbo Baggins who would benefit greatly from just such an adventure. He is not quite like other hobbits, there is an inquisitive mind under his curls and a wanderlust in his feet that needs to be challenged if he is to grow fully."
"So he is another misfit, like myself that you just happened to find the right fate for?" She looked at him, quite displeased. "Whatever happened to finding your own path in life like you told me I should?"
"Now don't be harsh, Lori. I'm not choosing his path, I'm merely putting one before him that he may or may not choose to follow. After all, he cannot choose his own fate if never presented with any choices, agreed?"
Lori deflated a bit and considered the wizard's logic. "I suppose so. But I doubt that the dwarves will have him. I mean, what use is he to them?"
"We'll see. I think that having him in the company will have many benefits, indeed."
"And this trip to the Shire has nothing to do with your personal stores of Old Toby running out, I suppose?"
"Absolutely not. But now that we are here, I might as well stock up, don't you think?"
"I think you smoke too much." She said pointedly.
"Hmm… Perhaps." Gandalf shrugged it off and they continued in amicable silence until they reached a T-shaped crossroad and turned north. From there on it was a short ride to Hobbiton where they stabled their horses at Tolman Cotton's inn and went by foot up to Bagshot Row through the little paths and gardens that lay between the rolling hills and hobbit holes.
Every single hobbit who saw them stopped what they were doing and stared suspiciously at Gandalf. When they saw Lori following him their suspicion turned to shock at seeing a woman of their own size following the wandering wizard, dressed as she was in leather and silk, and armed to the teeth with throwing knives and sai. When greeted with good morning, though, they all seemed to remember their innate politeness for a moment and greeted back, though still in bewilderment as to what these strange creatures were doing in their neck of the woods.
Lori and Gandalf finally reached a hobbit hole with a green door, in front of which sat a distinguished looking gentlehobbit blowing smoke rings and enjoying the mid-morning sun.
Gandalf coaxed the smoke into a moth and made it dash into the hobbit's face, making him splutter for a moment before discovering that he was being watched.
He looked momentarily confused and uncomfortable until he decided that politeness was the best way to go. "Good morning," he said.
"What do you mean?" Gandalf asked with mirth. "Do you mean to wish me a good morning, or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning? Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?"
Lori rolled her eyes behind the wizard's back at his antics. The poor hobbit didn't know that he was being poked fun at it seemed.
"All of them at once, I suppose," he replied to Gandalf's disappointment. But really, what did he expect from this polite little fellow?
At the wizards continued scrutiny the hobbit squirmed and finally asked, "Can I help you?"
"That remains to be seen," was the somewhat ominous answer. "I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure…"
The hobbit gaped at him before composing himself enough to muster a little indignation. "An adventure?... Now I don't imagine anyone west of Bree would have much interest in adventures." He claimed with some pride. It would seem that adventures were not something to partake in if you were a respectable Shire hobbit. At least not in his opinion. "Nasty, disturbing, uncomfortable things. Make you late for dinner!"
He was busily emptying his mailbox and edging away from Gandalf while sucking on his now extinguished pipe. Quickly leafing through the considerable stack of mail he backed up towards his front door and bade Gandalf another good morning as a parting salute.
However the wizard wasn't quite done and proceeded to bring up the hobbit's past, making him remember carefree days as an adventurous youngster under his loving mother's encouragement. Apparently, Bilbo Baggins was quite the wild child once but seemed to have thoroughly outgrown such tendencies in conformity to his community. Expectable, Lori thought, if one was to be accepted by those around him. But she couldn't help but to think of Gandalf's words on choice. Bilbo had never really had a choice, had he? If they as strangers were considered with suspicion and shock, what would a young lad with frowned upon behavior and imagination have to endure? She could only imagine.
In the end, all they got for it was a door slammed in the face followed by the sound of bolts and locks being clamped in place. They must have really spooked him.
"Well that didn't go so well, do you think?" Lori snarked.
"Give him some time," Gandalf scratched a dwarfish rune on the door.
"What does that say?" Lori asked as she had never seen the sign before. Gandalf had always refused to teach her the secret language of the dwarves, khuzdûl, saying that if she was to be inaugurated into their secrets it should be the dwarves themselves who did it.
"Oh, nothing of great importance, just a marker for some friends…"
Lori scowled at him in vain. "Fine, keep your secrets, wizard! Where do we go now?"
"I'm going to see a merchant about some tobacco, but why don't you look around? Meet some new people? We'll meet here tonight at seven when the rest have arrived."
"But you heard master Baggins! He's not at all interested, and if we come back tonight he won't be inclined to open his door to us. Then what?"
"One thing at a time, my dear. I'm certain that Bilbo Baggins would not turn out a guest who was polite and travel weary, he was raised quite well that boy."
"If you say so, Gandalf. If you say so…" Lori looked at him with doubt written all over her, but she was not inclined to argue further. She was off to the market to see what goods were for sale and if she could find a shady spot to relax for the afternoon with her notebook.
"See you tonight then!" She waved at him as she trotted down from the door at Bag End.
After having browsed through the market and bought a few trinkets for her hair she had a lovely lunch at the inn where absolutely nothing was missing, and with a full belly she found a shady spot by the creek where she undid her leathers and sat down to re-braid her hair. A glass pearl with deep blue hues was woven into one of her braids, and a silver ring of about an inch's length sheathed another. She didn't often braid her hair but it was only practical when travelling where water and soap were in sparse supply. Usually her braids needed tending to after a few days, something her mother had always chided her for. Never mind that Lori's hair was a fair bit sleeker and livelier than your average dwarf's. It seemed to have a will of its own and that will was not to be trapped in tight braids. A dwarf's hair was their pride and status symbol and it was important to keep it neat and in style, even or especially if you didn't have a beard.
Her mother had had a silky soft, wavy blond beard that had flowed to her collarbone and was collected there in a silver clasp adorned with the symbol of her clan. Lori had never thought to take the clasp when her mother passed away as she didn't want anything to do with a clan that had scorned her grandmother and her mother for relating to her human grandfather. Besides, what would she do with a beard clasp when she had no beard? She doubted any dwarves would look favorably on a hybrid like her, wearing one of their cultural items in any other way than what it was intended for.
After freshening up by the creek and taking care of her hair, she started to clean and polish her armor. Sweat and leather were not always the best of friends and the salt left blotches and dried the material. First her vambraces were cleaned and rubbed in oil, then her pauldrons and her cuirass which was more of a leather petticoat, really. And finally her knee high boots as well as all of her weapon straps were tended to.
Sitting in the shade in her under shirt, pants and bare feet, she began working on her sai. She had skillfully carved and inserted an amethyst into each of them to hold her energy and at every chance she got she attempted to imbue them with power. It was slow going and as of yet she still couldn't feel a thing when she touched the stones afterwards. Not like when she had once touched the crystal in Gandalf's staff! That crystal held the Secret Fire of Arnor and was no trinket to be toyed with. The very thought of the power she had felt made shivers run down her spine on the hot summer day.
But Gandalf had instructed her to keep trying, so try she did. A small light shimmered in the stone under her fingers and she felt some of her energy leave her only to be replaced immediately after she let go. And still there was no resonance from the stone. Maybe she was doing it wrong and the purple gems gave back the energy? Maybe their capacity was so great that the small amounts she gave them felt like nothing? She'd have to consult the wizard for answers later.
There was a rustling and excited whispers in the nearest hedge, and Lori reached for her knives slowly. If someone had seen her imbue the stones, fear might lead them to violence and she didn't wish to be assaulted unarmed.
The rustling stopped abruptly.
"Show yourselves!" She demanded.
More rustling and an agitated whispered argument of "You go!", "No, YOU go!" erupted.
"All of you, come out or I will draw arms." By now she was half convinced that she was not in any danger but decided to better be safe than sorry.
Three hobbit children popped out of the hedge with leaves in their hair and apologetic faces, two boys and a girl.
"We're sorry for spying, miss. We shouldn't have done it." The oldest boy said.
"We didn't mean to, honest!" The younger boy claimed.
With a quivering chin the tiny hobbit girl almost started to cry, "Please don't turn us into frogs, miss. Please!"
Lori released a sigh and sat down on her cloak once more, putting the knives away. With a chuckle she relaxed and looked at the children sideways, "Don't be silly child. I only turn bullies and meanies to frogs. Curious children, however, I invite to hear stories. Come and sit if you like, and I will tell you the story of Isildur and the ring of power."
She gave them a wink when they inched closer and finally crowded together in front of her on the cloak.
By the time the story was finished, her audience of three had turned to ten children of varying ages, each and every one enraptured by the tale.
When tea time arrived and parents started calling for their youngsters, the girl who first feared a life of frogdom took her hand and insisted that she joined her family at her home.
And so Lori spent the afternoon with Young Estella Bolger and her parents Odovacar and Rosamunda. At first the older hobbits were wary of her, but charm and charisma as well as politeness went a long way when swaying their sympathies, she found. She told them of her life and some of the places she had seen, and it seemed like they thought of it as fairy tales from another world, so far removed from their own lives was her story. Not that they didn't believe her, more that it was hard for them to imagine the world outside the Shire.
When dinnertime approached, she took her farewell to great protests and beseeching invitations to stay, but she had a meeting to get to in Bag End on the other side of Hobbiton, and thanked them profusely for their hospitality.
"Come back and see us, won't you Lori?" little Estella pleaded.
Lori mussed her curls and smiled kindly at the girl. "Maybe someday if the fates are kind I will see you again my friend. Until then, be kind to those deserving and obey your parents, alright? We don't want to risk those frog spells."
"I will." She pouted and leaned into her mother's skirt.
"Farewell to you too, Mr. and Mrs. Bolger. And good luck at the fair with your pumpkins, I'm sure they will win great praise."
"Thank you dear. Give our regards to Gandalf as well. Old Bolger here loves his fireworks." Madam Bolger said as she nudged her husband. "Not that he'd admit it, mind you."
"I will. Thank you again for a lovely afternoon." She gave them a final wave and started down the road, "Bye!"
Now which way was the fastest way to get back to Bagshot Row, she wondered and set off to the north of the village, whistling a merry little tune.
Thank you to everyone who read, favourited and reviewed! And especially to my beta, Karen ;)