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Shire: Fourteen



They woke with the rise of the sun to a clear and warm morning, the remains of their campfire now blackened ash. Kitten believed that they stood a better chance of finding a helpful hobbit to borrow from the library on their behalf if they separated, and so the traveler gathered up his rucksack and set off in the opposite direction of the one she chose for herself.

He had no clear idea of how to go about befriending a strange halfling. Simply walking up to one and asking for a favour would not work and sitting in a pub plying one with drink until they were agreeable was impossible as he carried no coin. Most of the ones he had met on the road took a wide berth around him as they crossed paths, and due to his shabby appearance none would trust him enough to let him earn a favour.

So, he wandered a long while and considered his options. What type of person would be most open to speaking with him, let alone helping him? Someone innocent, he decided. Someone who knew not darkness in the world and thus no fear, for whom a stranger would be a curiosity rather than a risk.

Children. He had never had any of his own, though he had wanted them at one time. But everything was a novelty to a small child, was it not? He lifted his head and scanned the area he found himself in, seeing Waymeet just ahead. He nearly smiled; Waymeet was a junction for travelers, and families oft traveled this time of year to visit friends and relations.

Waymeet was bustling – people milling around farmers' stalls, news of other places shared back and forth, chickens shooed out of the way of passing carts. The traveler left the main road and perched himself on a stack of crates beside a dwarven merchant wagon, watching the crowds. It was not long before he heard the telltale giggling and screaming of a few children behind him, playing on a hilltop. He adjusted his rucksack and turned to follow the sounds.

The children noticed him about halfway up the hill, stopping in their tracks and gaping openly at the scraggy man in frayed black clothing approaching them. He was several paces from them before he had the thought that he should greet them, and fewer still before he actually did. The traveler halted suddenly, and raised his arm to wave...

… and in unison, the children screamed in their tiny, high-pitched voices and ran back down the other side of the hill. Moments later, their parents were pushing their way forcibly through the crowds towards the base of the hill in response. The traveler spun around and ran, not stopping until he found cover in a nearby farmland whose crops had grown high enough for him to disappear in.

 



 

He stayed crouched in the tall rows of wheat until the sun was directly overhead of him, brooding and occasionally having a smoke.

His thoughts wound round his head about the blasted hobbits and their blasted books and back to... Kitten. She would remain an oddity to him evermore, he knew, but something about the woman made him do strange things on her behalf. He could not sort out what it was that swayed him so, though he suspected it was partly a passing similarity to someone who came before in his life. He shrugged it off and decided he should move again while there was daylight yet.

The traveler formed no further strategies to find a Shire resident to befriend and simply followed the road back to Tuckborough. He thought about what he would say to Kitten, how to tell her he had failed – that he had known he would fail, in fact, so it was a fool's errand she'd sent him on to begin with. She would probably flash him those big, sad, hurt-animal eyes, and she would ask him what was wrong. Because she always asked him what was wrong. He never answered her.

 


 

He had been lost in his own head when he nearly bumped right into the most rotund hobbit he had ever laid eyes on, carrying a large stack of leatherbound books in his fleshy arms. The spectacled old fellow gave him the most unhobbitlike glare and grumphed, then took a wide berth around him. The traveler stood a while, watching the hobbit toddle down the lane with his hefty haul before turning down a smaller walkway where he knew a line of residences stood. And then he sprinted after him, keeping his distance this time so as not to unnecessarily frighten him. The fat hobbit stopped at the door of a sizable home lined with multiple windows, then transferred his books to one arm while he fished his key from his trouser pockets. He squeezed his girth through the doorframe and shut the rounded door behind him.

The traveler strode up to the door and knocked lightly, making sure he could be easily seen from the nearest window. Seconds later, the curtain of that window was pulled back and an eye peered out at him. The curtain dropped and the traveler looked to the door, waiting for the homeowner to open it. But the door never moved. He turned back to the window and saw that a beefy hand was now holding a sheet of paper with capitalized words hastily scrawled, “NO THANK YOU. GOOD DAY!”

Though he was used to being told to shove off, the traveler had a purpose and so he knocked again, this time with more insistence. Movement from the window flashed once again, and another note appeared, “GO AWAY!”

The traveler folded his hands together in front of him in a pleading gesture and the hand disappeared, the curtain fallen closed. He knocked again urgently and immediately two meaty hands appeared at the window, one waving a small letter opener menacingly and the other bearing a new note that read, “BEGONE OR MEET YOUR DEMISE!”

Rolling his eyes and accepting defeat, the traveler turned on his heels and strode away, aimlessly.

 



 

The sky blackened and the town was illuminated by torchlight as the traveler leaned against a thin tree lining the lane from Hobbiton to Tuckborough. He had chosen to prolong his time away from Kitten, not wishing to face her and explain his day. She would never accept a simple answer and he would never give her a detailed account.

He heard whistling coming up the road and in the gloom saw a halfing making for Tuckborough at that hour. He watched the silhouette become a female in a dress, carrying a heavy basket. She was nearly upon him when he coughed loudly to catch her attention, startling her so that the hand grasping the basket flew back and an object fell out and rolled along the road. She stopped the apple with her foot, reaching down to retrieve it before eyeing the darkly cloaked man on the grass.

He had seen her before, he realized. In Bree. They both paused under some awning for shade, as he recalled, he smoking and she selling apples to passersby. Though there had not been much conversation, he remembered that they traded – an apple for a smoke. Perhaps she would entertain another trade now.

 



 

The young hobbitess looked at him cautiously and immediately told him that he had better not try any funny stuff, because her father was a Bounder and she was meeting him nearby. He rose his empty hands in mock surrender, then assured her he meant her no harm and wished to know her family name.

Honeyfoot, of Scary, said she. He asked her to repeat the place name, not sure if he had heard it correctly. She verified that he had.

Did her family own land? he asked next. She nodded proudly and said that yes, their land had been in the family for generations.

He moved no closer to her but pulled his rucksack in front of him and opened its ties, telling her that they traded once in Bree and that he would like to make another trade. She did not appear to remember him which could be expected he supposed, but she seemed open to hearing his proposal.

 


 

He explained that the library held books of old lore that he wished to borrow, and offered her his remaining stash of pipe-weed in exchange. She shook her head saying she had plenty of access to pipe-weed within the Shire. What did he need the books for?

His shoulders sagged and he replied that his companion must read them. A worried look appeared on her face as she said that the books in the library were priceless and she would be in quite a lot of trouble should something happen to them. He assured her that he would keep them safe. Was there nothing he could trade her for her help?

She asked him what else he offered. He had little that a snug well-fed halfling of the Shire would want, but he extended his entire opened rucksack to her to peruse. Seconds later, she asked him what the shiny thing was.

His face reflected surprise and slowly he reached a calloused hand into the bag to grasp the item she noticed. Gently he withdrew -->a crudely woven reed twine with a white crystal<-- that glinted in the stars light. He cupped the item for a moment as if he debated offering it, but it was only slight pause. It was the most valuable thing he had, would that buy her aid?

Her eyes flashed greedily at the crystal bird, but then she shook her head again. She was young and if the books went missing her father would be responsible. What could he do to prove that the books would be cared for?

She watched the bird sway on its cord admiringly and asked if he planned on selling it. No, he said, he had no use for money and was only keeping it until he knew the right person to give it to. She seemed to ponder his words quietly; finally she agreed to help him and if the books made it safely back he could retrieve the crystal bird from her in Scary.

The traveler could not believe his good fortune. His face broke into a brilliant smile though the hobbitess could not see it from the black depths of his hood.

 


 

Walking by her side up the hill to the Great Smials, he commented that she looked young to be out on the dark roads alone at that hour. Twenty-three she claimed her age was, which to her kind was not yet considered grown. She was older than his companion said he, and she asked if he was their caretaker. No, he replied, and no one should want him to be.

They arrived at the library and the hobbitess told him to wait while she signed out the books. He slipped next to some hedges as she disappeared inside the green door. Shortly she reappeared and crossed the entryway to where he stood. As she handed the precious tomes over to him, she asked about his companion.

 



 

She was a tall one like him, he affirmed in answer to her question. She traveled with him from Bree. The young halfling smirked and inquired if she were his ladyfriend. The traveler said that she was a lady and a friend, that was all. The hobbitess did not look convinced and maintained a mischievous grin.

They exchanged names and the halfling told him the books must be returned in four days. Once they were safely back to the library, he could come find her to pick up his crystal. He thanked Dandelily profusely and they parted ways.