Written for the October LOTR Community Challenge. Beta by RiverOtter.
“You hear all kinds of stories, you travel outside the Shire,” Dedoro Bracegirdle commented to the Hobbit from the Westfarthing who’d joined his train of wagons headed south toward the Gap of Rohan. “All kinds of strange things, they tell out here. Stories of trees that can change their place, and even talk and have eyes; stories of trolls that are supposed to turn to stone if sunlight touches them; goblins to make the one old Bandobras slew look small; and then others, of some land far to the west, one where mortals can’t come, where only those who can’t die can go.
“There’s even a tale told of a Hobbit of the Shire--the Dwarves--oh, yes, there are some Dwarves about still, though you don’t see them much. Anyway, the Dwarves tell that tale. If you can believe it, a Hobbit of the Shire is supposed to have accompanied their longfathers outside, all the way across the Misty Mountains! He traveled with them across the Great River, the way they tell it, to a lonely mountain with none others anywhere about it, and fought and killed a dragon. Can you imagine such a thing? They all refer to him as ‘the Esteemed Burglar’ even! They’ll go on about him for hours if you let them. Seem to think the world of him, this mysterious ‘Esteemed Burglar.’
“And then there’s the even more mysterious Lord Iorhael. Almost everyone goes all solemn and teary-eyed when they speak of him. They claim he was a Hobbit of the Shire, too, and if you tell them you’re from the Shire they’ll almost fall all over themselves to give you things----
“What kind of things? Oh, well; things such as a room for the night for free in their inns, or a meal. In Rohan the women weave straw charms--they’ll come out and press them on us by the basket-load just because we’re Holbytlan the same as he was supposed to have been. We all accept them--they sell well in the Shire for the Free Fair, don’t you know. I’ve had weavers give me kerchiefs and leatherworkers give me bags; herbalists have presented me with some herbs you can’t get anywhere in Eriador and that the healers will pay dear for.
“Gondor? No. No, I’ve never been there--just to Rohan and back. There’s no question that Buckland has developed ties there, and they all seem to know all about Buckland’s Magnificent Master. Sometimes I’ll have special cargo to bring to the King there--last time it was a fine barrel of the best brandy from east of the Brandywine! And the ponies that I was asked to lead back--oh, there’s no ponies as fine as those from Rohan. The Rohan folk--they prize horses and ponies, and they breed the best! Hated to give them up once we got to the Shire, but the King from the horse folk had sent a specially sealed letter with me, and I couldn’t take the chance that the Master would realize perhaps one of the ponies sent had gone willful-missing, you see. Not, of course, that I wasn’t paid well to bring them back to the Shire. But that one black pony with the white star on its brow--I would have loved to have such a steed! I understand that one was intended for the Thain himself. Now, I don’t covet the Thain’s position, mind, but I definitely can imagine myself riding that pony. Of course the Thain must look wonderful riding it, especially when he’s wearing his black tabard. Although that’s much bigger, I understand, than it was when he came back to the Shire. He looks more a proper Hobbit now, my father says, than he did when he came back so long ago. I don’t really remember, though--I was just a little lad, after all.
“Of course, things aren’t the same now as they were then, of course. The King hadn’t given us the Western Marches yet. I barely remember seeing Mayor Samwise then, back when he was still the gardener at Bag End, before he became the Master of the Hill. My father was most upset about that, that a mere gardener should become Master of the Hill. But then he always said that Frodo Baggins didn’t have proper Hobbit sense. Not, of course, that the Shire was ever served ill since Samwise Gamgee became Master of the Hill and then the Mayor. Oh, no--he’s been good for the Shire--everyone agrees on that. And far more practical, my mother always said, than Frodo Baggins ever was. Had his head in the clouds, that one did, dreaming about things outside the Shire, following after his mad old uncle, that Bilbo Baggins. Did you know that Bilbo Baggins left the Shire, back when he was fifty? Can you imagine, leaving the Shire in those days? And such stories as he’d tell--dragons and talking spiders! Who could believe such tales?
“Not that Frodo Baggins couldn’t tell a tale, though. No, he could do that. I remember, as a little lad, sitting behind the ale tent at the Free Fair, listening to Frodo Baggins telling his tales of Elves, and the King being crowned, and him marrying his Queen on Midsummer Day. Frodo Baggins saw it, you know--the King’s wedding. That must have been a beautiful thing to see.” Dedoro’s voice had now become soft, introspective. The Hobbit from the Westfarthing saw the momentary longing on his face. “I could almost see it, I swear,” he continued, “the King with a crown of leaves on his head, all in black and silver, his face shining in joy as his bride came to him, her hair loose about her shoulders, her eyes filled with the light of stars....” He went silent for a time, the vision of that day apparently shining in his memory as he’d imagined it then. At last he added, “Yes, I could almost see it, just as he described it.”
He suddenly shook his head, becoming more brisk and businesslike. “I saw the King, once, when Elanor Gamgee was fifteen and the King came to the Brandywine Bridge. I didn’t see him up close, of course, although I could see Mayor Samwise introducing his family to him. The Queen--she was even more beautiful than I’d imagined as a lad. I’d never dreamed that Men could be so tall as her and the King, though. So tall! And treating Mayor Sam as if he were a close friend! Who would have thought of such a thing! And he gave Mayor Sam that gem, the one that sparkled like a star! And there were the Thain and the Master, too, laughing as if it were the most natural thing in the world, to share jests with the King of the West!
“I’ve not seen him since, though, not our Lord King Elessar. Not that Big Folk would think to enter the Shire, of course. I’m glad the King decided on that law. I mean, if you didn’t live through the Time of Troubles, you can’t begin to imagine what it was like! Lotho’s Big Men and that Sharkey--they had everyone terrified, going about and stealing, and doing unspeakable things! I remember being sent with my sister and Cousin Lavinia and her children to the bolthole on our side of Hardbottle, and us cowering in there it seemed as if for days, hiding from the Big Men, until Uncle Bedlo came to tell us it was safe to go home again. They’d been in our place--took my mother’s promise bracelet and my father’s opal shirt studs he’d bought from Dwarves who’d come one year to the Free Fair in Michel Delving. I remember when we got them back--a package came in the Quick Post, from the Mayor’s office in Michel Delving, with a letter from the deputy Mayor, saying he believed that these had been ours. I don’t know where they’d found them, but I know I’ll always be glad Frodo Baggins saw them returned to my parents. My mother was so happy she was weeping, and my father was shaking his head as if he couldn’t believe he was seeing them back again!
“But then that Frodo Baggins decided he wasn’t going to run for Mayor, in spite of all who’d planned to vote for him. Cousin Bedlo was hurt--he’d been going about amongst the Bracegirdles, doing his best to convince us all that Frodo Baggins was the best Hobbit for the job; and then he refused to run after all. Insisted we all vote for Will Whitfoot, he did. My dad--he was downright insulted, and said he wasn’t going to vote for any Hobbit who didn’t think the Shire was worth working for! When Frodo Baggins left with the Elves my father wasn’t the least surprised. Question is, where did they go, Frodo Baggins and all those Elves he left with? And why didn’t he ever come back?
“It’s unnatural,” he muttered, “how he and old Mad Bilbo thought more of Elves than they did of their own kind.”
He dug through a bag he wore slung over his shoulder. “Would you like some dried fruit? I’ll admit I’m feeling a bit peckish, although not enough to stop and eat a proper meal. Here--here’s a dried apricot. This is a fruit, I’m told, from the south kingdom. Perhaps you’ve not had it before. I don’t particularly like them when they’re fresh--I’ve had them offered to me in Rohan--but they taste fine when dried like this. They tell me that the mysterious Lord Iorhael liked dried apricots to eat while he was riding, so the folk of Rohan are convinced all Hobbits will like them fine and make certain we are well supplied with them when we leave their lands. And dried these keep well. Oh, and here are some nutmeats as well. These are called almonds--they are imported, I’m told, from south Gondor. Lord Iorhael is supposed to have liked them as well. I know that at times we bring back shipments of them for Bag End, the Great Smial, and Brandy Hall--apparently the Thain, the Master, and the Mayor all like them well enough. And at the last Free Fair I attended the Mayor had an almond cake, and if it wasn’t among the best things I’ve tasted in a long time! There’s a biscuit of sorts they make at Meduseld, the King’s house in Edoras in Rohan, that is full of almond meats, finely sliced. It is so good! Such a delicate flavor! I wonder if Lord Iorhael ate them as well?
“Although I am not certain if this Lord Iorhael is still alive. They tell such things of him--how he and his esquire together walked all the way into the great Enemy’s lands and defeated him by great sorceries. They are supposed to have slipped by all of the guardians of his lands, you know--Iorhael and his faithful esquire. They speak of them facing a great demon they call Shelob, who was supposed to have taken the shape of an enormous spider, larger than any three or four ponies by the way they tell it. And there were other demons they faced as well--some great beast that dwelt in a lake that reached out with rope-like hands of some sort and sought to draw Lord Iorhael down into the depths, only he was supposed to have been rescued that time by the King himself, but before he was crowned King. And there were a fire demon or two as well--in fact, the Enemy himself is supposed to have been the greatest of fire demons!
“And of course they faced great numbers of goblins, only they speak of them as orcs in Rohan. Once they are supposed to have been captured by orcs, but the faithful esquire was able to make the two of them invisible somehow--they had magic cloaks given them by the Elves of the Golden Wood, I am told, that could make them appear to be trees or boulders, depending on whether they walked in forests or sere lands. So I suppose the esquire is supposed to have covered them both with his cloak so that they could not be seen by the orcs who had captured them. The orcs are supposed to have fallen then into arguments as to which one had allowed them to escape; and while they were fighting the two of them slipped away amongst the stones.
“It is the final battle that they speak of with the most reverence--how the Lord Iorhael faced the fire of the great Enemy and was almost overwhelmed by it, and how he somehow sacrificed his own finger in order to defeat the great, fiery Eye. Only some speak of another creature being there, a dried up thing, like these apricots here--here, have another one. Do take it--I have plenty for myself. The creature? Oh, yes. They call it Gollum, the same as the creature that mad old Bilbo Baggins is supposed to have traded riddles with. In these stories it is this dried up old Gollum who somehow manages to save the Lord Iorhael, but by hurting him first and somehow stealing his finger.
“That’s the way of stories, though, isn’t it? There’s never but one version, you know. As this person tells it it was the Lord Iorhael himself who sacrificed his finger, while that one says it was the Gollum creature who stole it at the last moment and fell into the fire! But the finger had to go into the fire somehow in order for the fiery Eye to be defeated, although how that would defeat a fire demon who takes the form of a fiery Eye I have no idea!
“Well, no one ever said myths had to make sense, I suppose. I’m surprised that Frodo Baggins didn’t tell that tale when he returned to the Shire! I wonder if he ever saw this Lord Iorhael? Those of the Queen’s folk, there in Rohan, who came from Gondor, say he blessed the King’s wedding with his presence--even that he stood by the King as one of his witnesses and that he signed the King’s own wedding contract! Now, that would be quite the boast to make for a Hobbit, that he signed the King’s own wedding contract!
“But I’ve never heard of any Lord Iorhael there within the Shire, of course. And you haven’t either, have you? Well, of course not! That’s why I think he’s but a legend to begin with! Although to the folk of Rohan he seems real enough! And now--wait! I am so sorry, for I don’t believe I caught your name, and if you are to be traveling with us I suppose I should know it. I mean, I don’t wish to be reduced to saying, ‘You, there--the cooks have the supper prepared, if you wish to eat it with us’.”
“My name is Frodo--Frodo Gardner.”
Dedoro Bracegirdle paled a bit. “Oh--oh, I see. Oh, but I am sorry--you were named for Frodo Baggins, weren’t you? And your father is the Mayor! Oh, but I do apologize if it appears I was disrespectful of your father in any way--I mean, he’s a hero to us Hobbits, after all!”
“He was a hero to Frodo Baggins as well,” said Frodo Gardner, rather stiffly. “As was Frodo Baggins to my dad.”
“Well, of course! And adopted by Frodo Baggins as his brother, I understand. Now, that was an unusual move, to adopt a friend and former servant as a brother and thus make him an heir. Not that I blame him, of course! But I don’t think it was ever done by any other Hobbit in the history of the Shire!
“Not, of course, that Frodo Baggins was quite like any other Hobbit in the Shire. Him with his quiet nature. Did you know that somehow, during the time he was gone, he managed to injure his hand? Had only nine fingers when he came back! I saw, the time he was telling of the King’s wedding! Counted them myself! I suppose he injured himself with that sword he carried back with him. I remember hearing him tell one of the Tooks that he’d not proved to be any good with a sword, not like the Master or the Thain did. I know he’s not supposed to have fought the way the others did at the Battle of Bywater. Probably afraid he’d kill himself or one of the other Hobbits who was fighting instead of Sharkey’s ruffians....”