They’d been introduced into Arda quietly and without fanfare. No one knew precisely when or where they first awoke in Middle Earth, for they didn’t tell the story of their awakening even among themselves. They were a small folk living in the valley of the Anduin, rarely noticed by their larger neighbors, for in those days they were watchful and wary of strangers.
They knew of the Valar and Maiar, and told among themselves the stories of Ilúvatar they heard from their larger neighbors. They watched from the eaves of the woods and the margins of marshes, curious about the world in which they found themselves, but (perhaps all too appropriately) fearful of what particularly those of the race of Men might seek to visit upon them. Their homes were dug into hillsides, banks, and ridges; and although they often lived in barely discernible colonies alongside Men’s villages and from hiding listened to their talk around firesides and spilling from their feasthalls, they seldom showed themselves to them, preferring to observe and listen from cover unless they became very familiar with their larger neighbors through trade or as a result of accidental meetings leading to unexpectedly pleasant outcomes.
Over time the Harfoots became familiar with the Dwarves who delved their halls under the mountains among whose foothills they lived, and from them learned how to make tools, and how to work leather and wood, clay and stone, and the metals most likely for use in cultivation, simple tools, and knives. They began trading with the Dwarves, exchanging the food they gathered and grew for items of precious metals and more finely made tools than they tended to create for themselves. The Harfoots were shortest in stature of the three clans, usually had thick crops of curly hair of various shades of brown, and eyes ranging from hazel to darkest chestnut. They were the most numerous of their kind, and most suspicious of perceived changes in their environment. But they were also the most enduring, and could be doggedly persistent and stubborn at seeing finished whatever project had been begun.
The Stoors, who lived along the banks of the Anduin and its tributaries, were fascinated with water. They crafted boats, fished, and studied the ways of the creatures that lived in the same environment. They became more familiar with the Men who lived alongside them than did the other two clans, trading the fish they caught and the small goods they created of pottery, wood, bone, and stone for the leather they used to construct their small, round crafts and their leather pouches and baskets they used for carrying their catches and gathered foodstuffs, and for the metal tools they needed but couldn’t create for themselves. From watching the activities in Men’s villages they learned how to tool leather, how to construct looms and weave cloth, and how to twist fibers into sturdy and highly useful threads, yarns, cords, and ropes of various weights, items found much in demand by the clans of Men who followed their horse herds through their territories. They were more likely, at least in the days when they dwelt along the Anduin, to have darker, straighter hair, and less likely to cut it short about their heads in the case of their menfolk. These were often resistant to change of any sort, and would debate for days before agreeing to send out parties to seek out stands of cattails and flocks of ducks when their own territories had been over-harvested.
The Fallohides were the feyest of the three clans, tending to be taller and more slender than their Harfoot and Stoor kinsmen, their skins fairest and their hair lightest in color--dark golds, auburn, and ashen, usually, with an occasional true gold; although from time to time would be born among them one with extraordinarily fair skin combined with extraordinarily dark hair and eyes of brilliant blue, keen grey, or vibrant green, a combination prone to draw attention and admiration from those who met them. They were the most restless of their kind, and were more likely to prefer hunting with bow and spear rather than to keep domesticated animals. They ranged the furthest north of their people, and also the furthest east and, at times, south as well. They loved wild places and stands of trees, and drew the attention of the Elves, whose ranges tended to overlap their own.
Whether it was due to Elvish influence or even possible interbreeding was unclear; but it was among the Fallohides that there tended to be seen examples of those born with gifts of foresight, land-sense, and extraordinary empathy. Certainly their crafts were most likely of their kind to be artistically finished and decorated, of a marvelous delicacy of workmanship. They learned languages with facility, were inordinately curious even for their kind, were the first to embrace writing and the collection of written work and the keeping of records. They were the most adventurous and prone to sojourning amongst the other clans; and the coming of a Fallohide was greeted with mixed feelings by the settlements of Stoors and Harfoots, what with their greater awareness of the outer world, their greater restlessness, and the new ideas, associations, and skills they would bring with them. Yet it was from those with the strongest Fallohide blood that they would choose their leaders, for such had keener appreciation for changes in the world and how to react appropriately to them.
They accepted for themselves the name of Holbytla or “Hole Builders”--a name bestowed upon them by the horse folk, although they changed it to Hobbitals and eventually Hobbits. And it appeared they would remain dwelling east of the Mountains of Mist forever until the Third Age of Middle Earth reached the end of its first millennia, when the droughts and fires hit.
The Great River ran, after all, east of the Mountains of Mist, in the rainshadow of that range. The lands west of the Anduin, lying between the river and the mountains, tended to be dry in comparison to those east of it and much dryer than those lands west of the mountains, and less likely to experience rain. Every year there would be fires in the summer; but in the drought years the fires were more frequent, and covered more land before they finally burned out.
After the second summer, the Fallohides began visiting the settlements of Stoors and Harfoots, urging them to look elsewhere to settle. Advised by the wandering tribes of Elves of the northern Anduin basin, the Fallohides sought out the northern passes through the Mountains and began scouting for new lands to claim.
In what had been Rhudaur still remained settlements of the Dúnedain, mostly in the region of the Angle; and even many descended from those who had accounted themselves of Arthedain had come there. There were still several villages to the north as well, and the King’s city of Annúminas remained, as well as the great fortress of Fornost. Cardolan, however, was no more, its lands abandoned, although the Hobbits didn’t come that far.
But the Hobbits found lands appropriate for their own needs, and soon were sending back agents most closely related to those remaining among the Harfoots and Stoors to advise them that they would do well to come west of the mountains to a land better suited to their needs and less prone to wildfires.
A tremendous wildfire struck the east flanks of the Mountains of Mist that year, one that killed thousands of Men and Hobbits and the game, timber, and fields on which they depended. The wandering tribes of Elves went either west over the mountains, east into the land of Eryn Lasgalen where Thranduil ruled, or south toward the fabled Golden Wood. Men mostly crossed over the River while Hobbits sought the passes over the mountains. Only the Stoors, who were the least in number and dwelt along the banks of rivers and streams, lingered east of the Mountains for long; and many who crossed into Eriador returned in time to the eastern lands, seeking out again their homelands along the banks of the Anduin, many finding both arable land and good fishing in the region of the Gladden Fields.
It was a party of Stoors that scouts of Imladris first found coming over the spine of the Misty Mountains into Eriador, a large party comprised of many women and children as well as men of their people. It was late in the season to seek to make a crossing, and a heavy rain falling west of the mountains on the plains, forests, and settlements of Eriador came down as snow in the heights of the passes. The strange creatures drew the attention of Elrond’s scouts, as unprepared as they were for the conditions they faced crossing over the Mountains to lands strange to them, their small stature, and their wary ways which quickly turned to hearty thanksgiving for the aid given them by the Elves.
Elrohir brought the five who appeared to be leading the party into Imladris to acquaint his father with these newcomers to Eriador, and Elrond was amazed. Their language was that of the folk of the Anduin, although one of the womenfolk and the younger Perian who accompanied her spoke comprehensible Sindarin.
“How is it you speak an Elven tongue?” he asked her.
“He who was my husband and father of my son here was a Fallohide from north and east of us,” she told him. “Forodor, so he was named. When I was young he came to us alongside his father, who was a great explorer and traveler, even for one of their clan. When first we saw Forodor, all the young women of our people found their eyes delighting in the sight of him, for he was tall and remarkably comely. But in the end it was I that caught his own eye, and in time he asked to remain with our clan and to take me to wife.
“But he was restless of heart, although he curbed it for my sake, and in time also for the sake of our children. Our firstborn was a daughter, and she inherited the wandering spirit from her father. In time, when a trader from the mountains, one of Harfoot breeding, came to our village to trade stone work for our leather goods, she went back with him as his wife. We have heard no news of her in three years, since a great fire destroyed much of the forests cloaking the flanks of the mountains in the region where her husband’s people lived. And we are told the Dwarves with whom they primarily traded lost some to the fires, and then more to attacks by the evil creatures who dwell under the mountains--the yrch folk.”
“Your husband spoke Sindarin, then?” he asked.
She paused, then nodded. “Yes, for it is much spoken among his people, who dwelt near the forests where wandering tribes of Elves once spent a part of each year--or so he has told us. But they dwell there no longer, his kinsmen who came to us have told us; the tribe with whom his family dealt the most left their old lands, and crossed west over the mountains, seeking what they called the Havens of Mithlond and passage West, for they foresaw that changes for evil approach, and they would not linger here in the Mortal Lands to see their children suffer under the influence of the Shadow as it seeks to rise once more.”
“And what has become of your husband?”
“He died two se’nnights past. There was a great slide of rock and earth, and he ran forward to save the families most directly in its path. Six he pushed to safety, but he was caught in the fall, and carried down the mountainside with those who could not make it out of the way. We found his body three days after, a girlchild sheltered in his arms, the child still clinging to life. Your people took her from us and sent her ahead of us. Is she still living, do you know?”
He smiled at her. “Oh, yes, indeed she is. She recovered most swiftly for a mortal child, although the bones of her right arm are not yet fully knit where they were broken. They were most properly splinted, I must say.”
She nodded again, looking down. “My son did that, for he was taught how to do that by his father, who had much knowledge of leechcraft and the use of herbs for healing and cooking.” She sighed. “My younger daughter I also have lost in this journey, although it is likely she would have died in any case. She was married also, and pregnant for a third time. The first child did not live; the second, a son, lives but is not well accepted by his father’s family, for he much favors he who was my husband, and Ortholo’s parents and brethren dislike the Fallohides intensely. It is likely that, had they seen Forodor before Ortholo saw Titiana and became enamored of her, he would never have offered suit to her. But they joined our settlement while Forodor was gone, having accompanied Diamentë and her husband back to his village in the mountains. When he found out Forodor was of the Fallohides, Ortholo swore he was cheated. He was less warm to my daughter after that, but still she quickened three times for him.
“Titiana came to her time early in the journey, and neither she nor the child survived. Ortholo is bitter and would blame Forodor for that loss also, had Forodor not fought for her life with all within him and been all but prostrate with grief when she did not survive.”
“What is your son’s name?”
“Bilbiolo. He is a most curious one, you will find.”
And so he proved; but he showed himself a leader among the party with whom he’d come over the mountains as they found empty lands to settle along the Mitheithel south of the Last Bridge, even then a landmark. Yet he proved restless still, often leaving the settlement to visit in Imladris where he learned to read and write Sindarin and sought to learn as much as he could of the history of this new land.
Gandalf had stopped atop a ridge, looking West, admiring a most striking sunset and feeling somewhat homesick.
“A most beautiful setting of Anor into the West, is it not?” came the greeting in accented Sindarin.
When the voice spoke he was so taken by surprise he almost lost his balance as he turned swiftly, staff held at the ready, to find his unexpected companion was barely half his own height, a small creature, shaped much like a Man, but with bare feet well covered with short, curly hair, ears gently leaf-shaped, the hair on top of his head a cap of loose brown curls, a satchel and blanket roll slung over one shoulder and a quiver and bow over the other, a skinning knife at his belt, his green eyes intent on the view.
Gandalf knew what it was he saw. For much of the Second and early Third Ages of Middle Earth he had, as the Maia Olórin, visited the mortal lands from time to time, usually appearing to its inhabitants only as a glimpse of particular brightness or, on occasion, as a stranger of their kind, come to accept their hospitality for a brief period and to leave them with sage advice or the inspiration to take up an enterprise not seriously considered previously, but one that in the end served them well. And so it was that he had met the Holbytla of the Anduin basin, with a visit to a farming community in the eastern roots to the Mountains of Mist, a stay in one of the large smials along the tributaries to the Anduin, or a chance encounter in the forests through which the headwaters of the Great River ran.
“You startled me, my friend,” he said to the Hobbit.
“I am sorry,” the small one answered, “but I have never learned the trick of making much noise as I walk as is common to your kind. If I had that skill, perhaps you would have realized earlier that I was coming to you. I am Bilbiolo son of Forodor of the village of Makers of Bags.”
“Bags?” asked the Wizard.
The Hobbit gave a slight shrug as he indicated the satchel he carried. “So we call these,” he explained. “We obtain hides from the Men of Dorlath in exchange for excess from our crops and our pottery and create these, then trade them back to them for tools and knives. Usually the exchange is seen as fair on both sides, so we have continued it.”
“I’d not realized any of your folk lived here in the western lands, for I’d only seen the Holbytla in the valley of the Anduin.”
The Hobbit gave him a searching look. “You know the name we are known as there along the River, do you? That is unusual, for almost all here refer to us as Periannath.”
Gandalf found himself smiling. “I have wandered through many lands and over many paths. However, I have been most recently far to the south among the Dúnedain of Gondor. What brings your family here to Arnor?”
Bilbiolo shrugged again as he turned westward once more. “It is not only my family, but many of our people. Here is a wide, green land with room for many; but eastward of the mountains it has been dry for many seasons, with many fires. Now and then some of our kind will go back to see if the weather has changed for the better, but although there have been a few years of plenty, still more come westward than return back to the land where our people lived for so long.”
“How long have you dwelt here in Eriador?”
“My party came here twenty years past. Some would desire to return to our old place, but most prefer to stay here, for it is cooler in the summers and warmer in the winters; and although there are years when less rain falls, never have we sat in fear that it would not return as we did there the last few years we lived in our homeland.” He sighed. “The land is rich enough, I must suppose, but not as rich as it was along our river, and we have had to welcome folk of the Harfoots among us as they are the better husbandmen. I rejoice to accept them, but some such as he who was married to my sister resent the other clans of our peoples.”
“How is it you speak Sindarin?”
Bilbiolo smiled. “My a’da came from the north, and was a Fallohide, and spoke often with the Elves who wandered in the same lands as those in which he was born. He spoke it often when alone with my mother and my sisters and myself, and so I grew up speaking it.”
Gandalf was intrigued. “If your father is a Fallohide and your sister’s husband dislikes those of the different clans, how is it he came to marry your sister?”
The Hobbit laughed. “Oh, he did not know for some time, he did not. His own people were forced to leave the valley where they dwelt when the river that watered it dried in the drought. He remained with us and took my younger sister to wife before my father returned from a journey to the Harfoot village my older sister joined when she married.” His face went somewhat stern. “If I could I would bring my sister’s son with me, but Ortholo does not allow him to be with me any more than he must.”
“He sounds a rather unpleasant fellow.”
Bilbiolo made a sour face. “Unpleasant enough, although he does well enough by his family. My sister’s son does not want for anything of any importance, except,” he added in a lower voice, “for freedom to do as his heart would lead him rather than what his father and his father’s family would see him do.” He straightened in the gathering dark and stretched. “Well, lord stranger, I must go if I would return to the village before sunset tomorrow.”
“You would willingly walk abroad through the night?”
The Hobbit’s smile was barely discernible in the twilight that was falling more rapidly now. “Oh, but I’ve always loved walking beneath the stars. Probably I have that love from my father, I must suppose. If you ever have time, come to visit our village on the Mitheithel, not far south of the Last Bridge.
“By the way,” he added, looking up, head slanted, “you did not tell me your name.”
“They call me Gandalf, Gandalf the Wizard.”
“I am pleased to meet you, Gandalf the Wizard, and I pledge the service of myself and my family from this day forward. A pleasant evening to you.” And whistling a plaintive tune Gandalf recognized as having been commonly sung among the horsemen of the upper Anduin valley, Bilbiolo turned and continued on his way back toward the Last Bridge.