Written for the LOTR Community "Lion and Lamb" challenge. Beta by RiverOtter.
“Sir? If you would come with me? This way, please.”
She was taller than most women he’d seen, and her attitude lingered somewhere between courteously indifferent and impatient.
He slipped from his seat and padded softly after her, warily staying back from the sharp heels to her odd shoes. He’d seen a good deal of Men’s footwear, long ago during the stay in Minas Tirith, but these looked as if they could easily prove lethal! And with the toe as pointed as the heels….
How is it she does not turn her ankle? he found himself wondering.
“And your name, Mister…?” she asked as she led him down a narrow hallway.
“Baggins. Frodo Baggins.” He found himself having to step more quickly to keep up with her, and realized that he was rapidly becoming winded. Apparently the long years spent in Valinor had left him ill equipped to keep pace with those as much taller than he as she was, although he’d come in time to the ability to walk fairly easily at Aragorn’s side. Of course, as he thought on that time, he had to admit that by that time Aragorn himself had learned to shorten his stride some so as to better accommodate the Hobbits. “And your name?” he managed to ask.
She turned her head slightly to answer, “Amanda Phelps, Director of Human Resources for the Council on Special Populations.”
He stopped, and realizing he’d done so, she stopped, too, turning an inquiring eye on him. “Mr. Baggins?”
“I’m sorry, Mistress Phelps, but I thought I was meeting with someone who would be able to perhaps offer me employment.”
“That is my job, sir.”
“But I thought that the word human applied toward Men.”
She appeared puzzled. “Well, it applies equally toward men, women, and even transexuals, Mr. Baggins. It applies toward all people, after all. You do qualify as a member of the classification people, do you not?” Her tone tended toward the sardonic, he thought.
“Well, of course, I am a member of my own people,” he answered with as much dignity as he could muster.
Again there was that look of puzzlement as if she didn’t quite understand his meaning, and then she shook herself and resumed leading him down the hallway, commenting, “We are almost to my office.”
The hallway was tall and narrow—and straight—very straight lines. Oh, so common a feature in the buildings of Men, he realized. Although the hallways in the Citadel had been somehow easier to traverse as many were of stone and thus tended to feel natural, and others were much wider than this, usually with windows on one side or doorways at the ends, windows and doors that were usually thrown open to allow fresh air as well as light to enter. Here there were no windows to be seen, just tall doors on each side, most pulled decidedly shut, and with a most uncomfortably pulsing and somehow unnatural strip of glowing material overhead that threw almost shadowless light on the unnaturally white walls and harsh carpeting that covered the floor.
She stopped before the sixth door on the left and opened it, pausing to allow him to enter the room first. At least there were windows on the far side of the room, although there were no curtains hung to filter the light should the Sun shine directly in. A large desk stood to the right, and behind it were tall shelves rising from just above the floor to the high ceiling, and he was delighted to see that the shelves were filled mostly with books.
What appeared to his eyes to be a kitchen dresser stood against the wall between the room and the hallway he’d just traversed, and on it stood a number of what appeared to be drinking mugs and a caraffe. Between the windows on the far side of the room sat a long sofa that appeared to be covered with dark green leather. On either side of the dresser hung pictures and framed documents of various sorts, while a colorful map hung on the wall between the windows, behind the sofa. On the opposite end of the room from the desk sat a table, on which lay stacks of documents, from what he could see. The wall on that side sported a number of pictures with mottos of various sorts that appeared to have been printed onto rather shiny paper and then affixed in some manner directly to the plaster.
There were a number of chairs, two before the desk and a high-backed one behind it, and others here and there against the walls and about the table. All of them, of course, looked to be equally uncomfortably high for Hobbits, and he sighed as he examined them. She had closed the door behind herself, and as she crossed to take her seat behind the desk she indicated the two seats before it. “Won’t you make yourself comfortable?” she asked.
He looked up at her ruefully. “I can sit in the chair, yes,” he advised her, “but will not be particularly comfortable with my legs dangling as I sit. Have you such a thing as a footstool about?”
She appeared surprised, but looked about and then leaned down, straightening again to display an odd, round stool with a step on one side, which she brought about the desk to set before one of the chairs. “I’m sorry—hadn’t thought you should need such a thing.”
He shrugged. “I am considered tall for my people, but am still quite short compared to Men.” He quickly had himself seated in the chair with his feet propped on the top of the stool. As he’d feared, he could barely see over the top of the desk. However, it was the best he was likely to do at the moment.
She was rummaging in a drawer, and quickly produced a sheet of paper. “Shall we fill out an application for employment, then?” she asked with a bright tone that made it plain that no answer would be required. “Now then—your name?”
“As I said, Frodo Baggins.”
“And you were born when?”
“September twenty-second, thirteen sixty-eight, Shire Reckoning.”
She stopped, and looked at him suspiciously. “Thirteen sixty-eight? But that was almost seven hundred years ago!”
He shrugged. “I suspect it is merely a difference in calendars, Mistress Phelps. We folk of the Shire have always kept to our own calendar, and I’ve found that other than the Shire itself and the Breelands it doesn’t exactly match that of other peoples.”
“Have you any idea as to what year you might have been born according to our calendar, then?” she asked.
“I’m rather sorry, but no.”
“Then how old are you?”
“I was fifty-three when I left Middle Earth to go to Valinor. I find I’ve not aged particularly since then, so I must suppose that that age will do for me.”
A muscle twitched in her cheek as she apparently made the calculations in her head. “Nineteen fifty-eight, then,” she said at last, and wrote the number down on her paper. She met his eyes again, asking, “Birthplace?”
“Number Five, Bagshot Row, Hobbiton, Westfarthing, the Shire. That’s in Eriador, by the way.”
She gave him a long look before writing anything. “Eriador, eh? I see.” She considered what she’d just written, and at last continued, “Mother’s maiden name?”
“I beg your pardon?”
“Your mother’s last name before she married your father.”
“Oh. Well, you see, she was a Brandybuck—Primula Brandybuck. From Brandy Hall in Buckland.” He restrained himself from going further, knowing from experience that other peoples found Hobbit obsession with family ties to be unfathomable.
Without comment she wrote that down. “Social Security Number?”
Again he said, “I beg your pardon?”
She examined what she could see of him for a time, and at last asked, “I take it that you are not a citizen of the United States, then?”
“Oh, no. I consider myself a loyal subject of the King, you see.”
“The King? But from your speech I’d thought you were from Britain originally.”
“Britain? And where is that?”
Her expression was incredulous. “And just where have you been in the last thousand years or so?” she demanded, her tone decidedly sarcastic.
“I told you—I’ve been in Valinor.”
“And how did you come to the United States?”
“I’m afraid I simply cannot tell you that. It was suggested by Gandalf I might do some good for a number of people should I return to Middle Earth and find employment assisting people who are not precisely like other people, and so it was arranged.”
“Have you a green card?”
He reached into the pocket of his waistcoat and produced the stiff, slick card Gandalf had last given him. “Is this what you are asking after?” he inquired as he set it atop the desktop.
She reached across the desk to take the card and examined it, her expression shifting from suspicious to confused, and finally to wonderment. She reached to one side and pulled before her on the desktop a flat, silvery casket of some kind, from which two odd black cords ran to the left. She opened the lid, and her fingers danced rapidly across whatever filled the casket—some kind of set of squares, from the little he could see of it. Her fingers would move, and she would stare within the lid; then she would examine the card again, she would tap again on the squares, and again she would stare inside the lid. At last she shook her head as if she weren’t certain what it was she was considering, and slid the still opened casket to one side. Inside the lid appeared to be a picture of some kind from what he could see—a picture that appeared to glow mysteriously. She took the card again into her hand and examined it carefully, front and back; and finally held it out to him, almost as if she were rather glad to be shut of it, if he’d not missed his guess.
“It appears to be in order,” she said, although her tone of voice indicated that she wasn’t completely certain her statement was true. “By the way, rather than a Social Security number you will need to use this identification number that appears here,” and she tapped a particular line.
“I see,” he said. “Thank you.” Then he asked, “Is there something unusual about the card?”
She merely gave a wry smile and a shrug to her shoulders. “It doesn’t matter, I suppose. But the use of the letters SR after your birthdate is—well, I’ve never seen that on a green card before, is all.”
He smiled reassuringly at her. “I see,” he said, slipping the thing back into his pocket.
She pulled the paper back in front of her. “Address?”
He’d worked with Gandalf to memorize this. “Barton House, 2213 West Market.”
For the first time she gave a true smile. “Ah, the Barton House—an excellent place. And what is your apartment number?”
She appeared dismayed. “They put you in one of the basement apartments?”
“As the house is built on a hill and my entrance is at the back with a door flush with the ground on that side, I find it quite comfortable. Much better than the rooms they’d first thought to give me, up at the top of the house.”
Her eyebrows rose as if with surprise. “But the views from the top floor are exquisite!”
He shrugged, explaining, “I assure you that I much prefer to be comfortably on the lowest floor and with solid earth outside two walls. Makes me feel as if I were living in a proper hole again, you see.”
She blinked as if trying to figure out what that meant, but apparently decided to forge ahead. “Your phone number?”
“Gandalf tried to explain this. I don’t have one as yet. I understand someone is to come tomorrow to bring me one and show me how to use it.”
“You’ve never used a telephone before?”
“We didn’t have them when I was young, and never needed them on the island.”
“Then how did you speak with those who didn’t live nearby?”
He shrugged. “I became practiced in osanwë.” And in response to her blank expression, he continued, “Gandalf suggested I describe that as a means of wireless communication.”
Her face cleared. “Oh, HAM radio!” Nodding, she continued, “We’ll fill that in later, then, after your phone is installed. Now—highest level of education?”
“I beg your pardon?”
He felt surprised. “I was indeed offered the highest level of education available both at home in the Shire and in Valinor—whatever I wished to study, someone would be dispatched to see to it I had all information currently available on the subject at my disposal.”
“Did you attend public school?”
“I took lessons from my parents and uncle when I was a young child, and among the children of Brandy Hall when I was older, then private lessons again when I was a tween.” She was again looking confused, so he clarified, “That is, I continued with my studies under my uncle again when I was in my twenties, and continued to do so until I was in my early thirties.”
“And what did you study?”
“World history and literature and languages for the most part, although I’ve always had a minor passion for both natural history and art, so he allowed me to indulge myself in them.”
“Your uncle was a professor?”
He felt uncertain. “He was highly noted as a scholar,” he answered tentatively. As she appeared satisfied, he found himself giving a soft sigh of relief.
She muttered, "Home schooled," as she wrote down whatever it was she was noting. Then she looked at him expectantly once more. “Your last employer?”
“Will Whitfoot as the Mayor of the Shire.”
She appeared pleased. “Then you have experience in administration?”
“Well, as Family Head for the Bagginses and Master of the Hill for nineteen years, and as Deputy Mayor for the Shire for most of one—yes, I have experience in administration.”
She smiled as she wrote this down. “Very good—we always can do with those who have on-the-job experience in administration. And what were your duties as Deputy Mayor?”
“I think the most important things I did in the eyes of most of the citizens of the Shire were reducing the Shiriffs in number back to twelve and in officiating at banquets.” Again she looked confused, so he hurried on, “But I also helped reorganize the manner in which official documents are filed, heard some disputes that Family or Village Heads didn’t wish to deal with as they felt doing so might be seen as a conflict of interest, started investigations into how it was that Lotho Sackville-Baggins managed to grab onto as much power as he wielded throughout the Shire in the year I was gone, and how he and his lawyers managed to trick so many into signing illegal contracts and thus losing their property to him. I also helped set up the reparations fund left by Lotho’s mother to compensate those he’d cheated and stolen from, and the committee to investigate claims forwarded for reparation. I also helped examine contracts forwarded to the Mayor’s office during the time Mayor Whitfoot was wrongfully imprisoned by Lotho’s folk to make certain that they were proper according to our laws and customs. And,” he added, “I officiated at weddings.”
“So, you were the equivalent of a Justice of the Peace?”
“So Gandalf assures me. Of course, I’m not qualified to do so here, as I’m not fully aware of the laws and customs of this land.”
“So you are trained also in law?”
“Well, Cousin Bard insisted that our time working together clearing up the shambles left in the Mayor’s office as a result of Will’s imprisonment was an education under pressure in the law, and old Berni certainly offered me a place as one of his students and apprentices in the law, had I been willing to accept it.”
She appeared quite pleased with this. “And did you have any other employment?”
“Well, while I was still under age I did an apprenticeship under my Uncle in bookbinding and as a copyist….”
She raised an eyebrow. “Copyist?” she interrupted.
“Well, yes. I would handwrite invitations, copy out documents for lawyers and many of the Family and Village Heads, write out certificates, print out books, see official letters properly written and formatted—that sort of thing.”
She again indicated satisfaction. “Very good. Were you employed by this Shire of yours, or were you self-employed?”
“I was only employed by the Shire when I served as Deputy Mayor.”
She nodded as she noted this down. “Have you any experience with business besides your clerking enterprise?”
“Well, I administered the portion of the Baggins family assets with which we provide for those who can call upon family ties for assistance due to death of a spouse, parent, or child, or through loss of employment or natural disasters such as crop failure, the drying up of a well, and so on. My uncle also taught me how to invest wisely, so I helped others start small businesses and sometimes helped shore them up until the businesses became self-supporting; and we held a goodly number of farm shares, which helped to provide us with produce we could not grow ourselves or purchase locally. Of course, I helped keep records while my uncle remained with me, and kept them for myself after he left.”
“And did you have any other employers?”
He felt a bit uncertain. “Does working for the King count?” he asked.
She appeared startled. “You worked for the King?”
“Well, yes, during the months after his coronation while we remained with him. Not that we were there all that long—just a matter of a few months, I fear. But he had me assist Prince Faramir in researching precedents for proposed changes in the law to better benefit those who’d been crippled in the war or who had lost husbands, sons, and fathers to the Enemy.”
He noted her smile as she jotted down some more on the paper and turned it over. She examined the back side for a few minutes before asking, “And you said you studied languages, also?”
“And what languages were those?”
“Oh, let’s see. Westron—the Common Tongue, you see.” She gave a brief nod, so he continued, “Sindarin, Quenya, a few other dialects such as that commonly used in Lothlórien, Adúnaic, a surprisingly good amount of Khûzdul, a smattering of Rhohirric and rather less of Haradric….” He allowed his voice to trail off as he saw her becoming increasingly confused once more. “Haradric is the tongue spoken by those who live south of the King’s lands, you see. Where the oliphaunts come from? One of the former black lands?”
Suddenly she appeared to understand. “Then you come from Africa, then?”
He wasn’t certain what this meant. “I was living on the Lonely Isle last.”
She shrugged once more as if she didn’t care for such niceties of distinction. “Doesn’t matter. If you know so many obscure languages I’m certain we can put you to use.”
“Well, both Bilbo and Elrond claim that once you are fluent in two languages it is easier to learn others.”
She nodded as if she agreed completely.
“Now, what kind of public recognition have you received? Any special prizes or awards?”
He gave a sigh. How he hated going through those! “My friend Sam and I were called the Cormacolindor, and were named Lords of all the Free Peoples, and Princes of the West.” She appeared unimpressed. “And I used to win prizes for dancing and my artwork when I was younger.” She appeared more interested. He thought more deeply. “And I once received the prize for best roasted chicken in the competition for tweens at the Free Fair.”
She tossed her head. “Nothing that anyone else would be particularly interested in, I suppose.” She finished making a few last notes, and at last held out her writing stick and the documents to him. “If you’d like to check things out and sign here? I took the liberty of putting in the date already.”
Frodo took the document and turned it toward him. He found that handwriting had changed considerably in the Mortal Lands since he was here last, and he couldn’t make out much of what she’d written. “I must assume that you’ve done it properly,” he hazarded. “And where do I sign this…?” He looked up at her inquiringly.
“Application for employment.”
“Yes, I see.”
“Sign here, on this line, by that X.”
He nodded and turned the writing stick, hoping to see how it worked. “Have you any ink?”
She again appeared confused. “The ink is inside the pen.”
He met her eyes. “This is a pen, then? And the ink is inside it? Ingenious!”
She pointed uncertainly. “That’s the tip that you press against the paper,” she explained.
He realized he’d watched her do this repeatedly, and shook his head at his own thickness. “Of course.” He stood up on the stool and affixed his signature, and started to hand both pen and document back to her, stopping as he realized her own attention was fixed on that gap where his ring finger was missing. He could feel his throat tighten familiarly as he explained, “It was lost due to my own stupidity, a good long time ago, during the war.”
She was shaking her head, and for the first time she appeared to see him as a real person rather than as merely someone whose vital statistics needed to be elicited. “Please forgive me, Mr. Baggins. Many of those with whom we work have lost far more than merely a finger. You need not feel ashamed here.”
They looked at one another, sharing a moment of mutual appreciation. At last she said, “We work with special populations here—people who’ve been displaced by war and genocide, who’ve been tortured or have lost loved ones to torture, whose homes have been wiped out by other people’s bombs, whose children were maimed by carelessly strewn landmines. You may be particularly small compared to most people and may be self-conscious of your missing finger, but I think I agree with this Gandalf of yours who thinks you to be particularly fitted to help those whom we serve. I think we will be particularly honored to have you as part of our organization, and those we help will find you someone with whom they can particularly identify. I fear I’m not best fitted to serve our clients, which is why I’m here in personnel rather than out working as a counselor or advocate.”
She smiled and rose, extending her hand, and after a moment he extended his in return. Her grip was firm and surprisingly warm. “Welcome aboard, Mr. Baggins,” she said.
He pulled his hand free and straightened proudly. “Frodo Baggins of Bag End in the Shire,” he said, bowing as best he could, “at your service and that of your family.”
She nodded. “Now, as you have the phone company coming tomorrow, and they will never commit themselves to a particular time, we’ll look forward to you starting work the following day. If you’ll return here to my office on Thursday, then, at eight o’clock sharp? I’ll introduce you to the rest of the staff, and our CEO will explain your duties and assign you an office and so on.”
At last he was free to go, and as he stepped off the stool he assured her that he could find his own way out of the building. “Years spent in Brandy Hall and visiting in the Great Smial have trained me to find my way through such environments,” he explained as she came round the desk to accompany him to the door. They shook hands once more, and he gave her what he considered his most courtly bow, suitable for Aragorn’s throne room. “Until Thursday, then?” So saying, he left the room and turned back the way they’d come, unaware that she was now staring at his feet as he hurried away, her eyebrows lifting high toward her hairline in shock.