No one had ever called her prim.
That was partly from her gait, always going just that little bit too fast like a duck waddling to catch up to something, and partly from the way she acted. It could have been a nickname or a value to live by for a fine society lady like Primula Brandybuck Baggins, but she was far from living up to her name, which was all she could think of as she tumbled down the Brandywine River in a most unladylike fashion.
The boat was so far back that she lost track of it after a single breath, the churning waters of the sudden storm pushing her into weeds and rocks and something that moved in a creepy way that made her want to recoil, but she couldn’t draw her hand back, she was holding him, or at least she hoped she was….
Whatever sat in her hand felt far too light to be Drogo’s hand, but she hoped he was floating, so the water was taking off some of the weight. When she tried to look back for him, her eyes could only see water, splashing and foaming and drawing her down so fast that she cursed herself for ever wanting adventure, and now that she had known even the slightest taste she yearned to be back in her safe little hole, cooking supper at this hour of the morning for lack of anything better to do.
The thought of wanting to be safe made her laugh, but even opening her mouth the tiniest bit made her choke on the salty water, gagging and gasping and squinting her eyes because it hurt there too, and she didn’t know what to cry about first but she did know that fine ladies were not supposed to cry, and the thought only made more water prickle at her eyelids to join the rest as it surrounded her and pulled her away from the boat, which was already (in Drogo’s opinion) too far from anything she had ever known.
She had no idea how long she was under the water, or how long she was over, the rain beating down on her head. She didn’t even realize when the storm stopped until her knees brushed against more rock, and so did her hands and then she was up on the ground, coughing and heaving as what felt like the entire river poured out of her mouth and nose. It tasted like fish gone bad for years, and the smell was almost revolting enough to put her off fish for the rest of her life, if she was even still alive. Then again, how could she go without the creaminess of a fish done well, just like her mother had done it on those lovely afternoons when they were elbow-deep in flour right before the fish hit the oil?
When she was finally able to draw a halfway decent breath, even if it tasted now like limp algae, Primula noticed that it was not morning anymore, or if it was, then the clouds obscured the sky so much that she could have believed it was a starless night. She could see only what was right nearby – trees of all kinds, some mushrooms growing in the ground and little bugs making their way to their homes, and about a stone’s throw away, a fire built atop some thick logs underneath a tree with large, droopy leaves.
She hadn’t realized how frozen she was until she saw the fire; all the warmth of her clothes was turned to weight from how they hung low on her, sticking to her skin in some places and out in others, pouring water like little waterfalls from each white sleeve. They looked more like sheets than sleeves, she found as she plucked at them, noticing the water filling in the little holes of the lacy pattern. And her hand, oh, her left hand was not holding Drogo’s hand but rather the little box he had made for their son’s lunch, dripping and disheveled but still somehow sealed, although its craftsman… like Primula, he never knew how to swim more than a few feet.
Confused beyond words, overwhelmed at the very idea of her survival, she turned to the fire, suddenly noticing a human sitting there. Not one of the merchants who occasionally brought their wares to sell to hobbits, and with a lurch in her stomach she wondered exactly how far she had gone before hitting those stones and somehow finding her way out of the water. Heavens, was she out near Bree?
“Did you pull me out?” she asked the human, who was watching her rather intently. Then she looked at him a little closer and decided the ears poking out of his dark hair were too pointy to belong to a human… but elves were only for adventurers and children’s tales, right? Why would there be an elf so close to the bounds of the Shire? True, they were close to where the river met her family’s home of Brandy Hall because of a visit to her relatives, but why was there an elf here? Where was she?
The elf shook his head slightly, his words taking a longer time than she would have thought for a people she had heard were so smart. “No,” he said simply, “I did not.” He poked at the fire with a new stick as Primula considered his words and his accent, nothing like she had ever heard before.
Well, this is what you always wanted, she told herself sternly, trying to conjure her sister Asphodel in one of her moods. You’ve made your dish, now eat it, no matter how bitter it tastes. She looked up at the elf, who looked surprisingly dry considering the storm. Or extra dry compared to Primula, who wondered if she was wetter than the average fish.
“How did I get out, then? Are you sure?” she asked, trying to find her way to her feet, using the lunchbox to brace herself.
“I am quite sure,” he said.
“How?” Primula asked as she made her way over, walking slowly to not slip on the wet leaves. They got drier as she made her way over to the fire, shivering as she walked, but the water pouring down from her hair (the curls her mother made her were long gone, she knew) and her outfit (she had spotted at least three places needing mending even just kneeling there) were soaking the dry leaves.
The elf made no verbal response, instead holding up the hand he had used to poke at the fire. When he held it out, it looked… well, weird. There was a scar in the middle almost like someone had tried to draw a circle but they were horrid at drawing, and the fingers didn’t quite stretch out all the way. She was too small for a hobbit, or at least her entire family thought so, but still, there was no way someone with hands like that could have pulled her out.
She sidled closer, settling down next to him with an awkward thump as she wet and flattened the leaves underneath her. The fire felt so good that she sat there for several moments without trying to speak to the elf again, drawn to the warmth and comfort it provided. It was just like the one she used in the kitchens of Brandy Hall, small enough for a child to learn from and then to teach to her own children. It was about time she started teaching her boy to cook.
“Do you know where we are?” she asked hesitantly after a few minutes, still picking at her clothes and running her fingers through the soaked locks that were a tumble of curls before she left home.
“In the wilds,” he answered simply, and Primula waited for him to say more, but eventually sighed.
“Anywhere near Bree? Do you know where Bree is? I could get a ride there back home, even if I haven’t any money now. I’m sure they’ll have heard of the Master of Brandy Hall, and when they hear he’s my brother…” The perfect plans began to fall apart as soon as she realized what would be waiting for her back home. A family terrified of the storm, wondering what in the world possessed her to go out in it, asking a hundred questions about where was her husband and shooting her glances even if she tried to mourn properly. No one would believe it was anything but her own fault, she was the adventurer, after all….
“We are not particularly near Bree,” the stranger replied, and Primula was just about to get lost in a whirlwind of wondering how to get home and what to do from here when a sudden, small rumbling broke her out of her thoughts.
“You’re hungry,” she said, wondering why in the world he was out here alone. Was he one of those rangers? She thought they were only humans… then again, it was something to latch onto, something to make her think of anything but the cold and the water and the loss. Her mother had not raised an imbecile. She knew how to fix hunger.
“I am fine,” he said, but when faced with a hobbit on a mission, he had little resistance.
If only they could see me now, Primula thought as she reached down for the lunchbox, the one she had prepared for her son with a fresh fish from their expedition. She was going to ask him if it tasted better than the fish at home, and pray that he said yes, which would give her little mission some validity. But now there was nothing that could do that, now that it had led to a death and probably the capsizing of that nice boat lent to them by the funny fellow with the green suspenders, and not even serving up food like her family always wanted would be able to get her out of this.
I can’t lose, I never have, she tried to convince herself as she made a first attempt at the latch, only to fail. And I’ll make him a new fish, even nicer than this, she thought as she pried open the lid, only to see the mess inside. Everything was still there, but the fish was flopped onto the eggs, and the tomatoes slid over onto the bread, and the dandelion greens were positively soaked with juice from the beans…
Still, the elf looked down at the food like he hadn’t eaten in a while, and Primula picked up the fish limply, staring at it as if it alone was responsible for everything that had happened.
“Did you make this?” the stranger asked, and Primula nodded. “It looks quite good – like my mother’s cooking, in fact.”
Primula almost spat back that she hoped his mother could cook better than this mess of ingredients, but she kept her mouth shut.
“I was going to give it to my son,” she eventually admitted. “I do hope he’s safe. I hope he didn’t go out in the rain like a little fool.” Yes, he was twelve, and able to take care of himself, but he was still a child, and the last thing she needed was for him to have endangered himself thanks to listening to one of her stories of tree people and other such nonsense.
“Children will go out in the rain,” the elf said calmly, and Primula wondered if he spoke of himself or his own son. He didn’t look old enough to be a father, but what did she know? Maybe he had his children young. “I find they are happier after having had their adventure.”
“Perhaps it is better to stay inside,” Primula said… well, primly, just like her sister Asphodel would have said if she was around. Not that they had seen each other in years, of course, but there were some memories too deep to erase.
She longed to say more then, as if this man was the cause for her whole problem. To be fair, it was tales of him and his folk (and a whole bunch of other strange creatures) that had set Primula in her ways, drawing her away from the fine society life she was born to. It’s all your fault, she wanted to tell him, even though she knew that was wrong because she didn’t even know his name. We’re not like your people, chasing every sunbeam on every blade of grass, she wanted to say, but would that make her an elf then, thanks to all of her strange childhood desires?
In the end, she said nothing. Who was she to talk? She was stuck at this man’s fire, keeping warm thanks to his generosity. She would have to summon whatever of the perfect genteel hobbit lady had ever existed in her to find a way back home. And the first rule of being a hobbit lady was to provide food no matter what.
“Would you like some? I can make some new food for my son when I get back,” she said, taking a slice of the bread from the box and shaking it out. The slices in the middle weren’t quite as bad, but they were still soggy and squishy from all the ingredients, and she didn’t even have a proper pat of butter to offer the elf as he nodded and reached out a hand, taking only what she offered with enough proper manners that he would please her mother.
Her mother who would be ashamed to have a daughter of hers make such bread… it would be worth a talking-to about what had gone wrong, followed by working through it together and figuring out how to make it right. It was what Primula was trying to do with her own son, even though a Baggins boy had less business being in the kitchen. Still, her hands remembered the motions just like her mother had promised back when it was hard for her, when her knuckles rolled the wrong way and the seeds splattered on the floor.
“It’s part of being a hobbit,” she had explained. “You’ll know it like you know to breathe.” But Primula, just out of the water, wondered if she even knew how to do that right anymore.
“We mustn’t let the air in, Primula darling,” said Mirabella Took, resting one hand on the rolling pin as she used the other to grab the ball of dough out of her youngest daughter’s hand. “The air will make it spoil.”
“But how could air spoil anything? We need air to breathe,” the lass answered, watching as her mother’s deft fingers pounded the dough until there was nothing in there but what was supposed to be. Her fingers smoothed out all the faults, making everything just right before she turned around with a smile.
“It’s the way things are,” was Mirabella’s simple explanation before she folded the dough and began to split it into parts, handing a small string of it to Primula. “Now take this and make it into a long rope like a snake. Roll your hands like this – no, your fingers need to be straight out, don’t bend them or you’ll get the dough under your nails – and just do an easy roll, forward and back.”
Primula watched as her mother rolled forward and back, but her own hands were too small and the dough was too thick and gooey, and even though she tried to do what her mother said it kept getting under her nails, and then she had to keep stopping to pick it out even though her mother was already weaving some of the finished strands together, and then she had to clean underneath and she didn’t have anything to do it with but her tongue….
“Get your tongue out from there,” her mother said, and Primula quickly placed both hands flat on the table, reaching for the bread. “Go rinse your hands and then you can come back and work with this.” She ran off to the well, looking for her siblings before coming in. She thought she might have seen Asphodel down the hill with some of the children old enough to go to school, but she couldn’t be sure. Lots of hobbit girls had dresses like that, even some of the girls Primula’s age. She had begged for one, but was told she needed to learn how to make it herself just like her sisters had.
By the time she got back inside, her mother stood by the bigger piece of dough, weaving what looked like a flower crown out of it, but with bread instead of flowers. Primula wiped her hands on her apron and when she put them on her own bit of dough again, she noticed that it was smoother than when she left, and more like the snake her mother had wanted. Had she helped?
If she had, she said nothing of it at all, simply continuing on her project and offering Primula more feedback. She started by copying her mother’s movements exactly, but then she wondered if there was something she could do to make her super extra proud, and she started to make a shape of her own.
“What did you do, dear?” Mirabella asked her daughter once her own bread was in the oven. The girl stood proudly over a lumpy log of bread with thinner sticks coming out of it, topped by uneven clumps.
“It’s a tree person from your stories,” Primula beamed. “See, here’s the trunk,” she pointed to the part that she hadn’t changed much from what her mother had made, “and then there’s some branches and leaves.”
Mirabella looked like she wanted to say something, but instead she scooped up the little bread tree and put it on a baking tray. It went into the littlest oven, the one just Primula’s height where she could watch it starting to rise.
“You really liked that story, didn’t you?” Mirabella said.
“Of course,” Primula replied. She wouldn’t quite admit that she had personally checked every tree by Brandy Hall, asking a question and waiting politely for an answer, before admitting that there were no living tree people on her family’s property. It hadn’t deterred her, though – whenever her mother told her favorite bedtime story she thought of where the tree people might like to go, and she tried to match that with the areas around the Shire that her siblings frequented. Did they go to school? Maybe that was why people spent so much time there, because she knew trees would take a very long time to talk.
The tree loaf was part of supper that night. Primula kept a close watch as other dishes surrounded it, her mother’s pretty round loaf and the fish from the river and the brightest, freshest vegetables, and everyone was in a hurry to get their hands on the tastiest things. It was one of her father’s dinners, after all, known for a groaning table and many people around it, including her six older siblings: Rorimac, the eldest, back from his studies; Amaranth, the pretty one and everyone knew it, even though Primula did somewhat look like her; then her other brothers Saradas and Dodinas and Dinodas, her youngest brother named as if her father had run out of names. Even Asphodel was there, seven years older and only interested in growing up fast.
Last to arrive was her father, the great Broadbelt Brandybuck himself, settling down at leisure before observing the odd-looking loaf of bread. “What is that one?” he asked, not quite ready to reach out for it.
“Ask your daughter,” Mirabella said, and just from her mother’s glance, Primula knew she wasn’t supposed to say anything about tree people at all. Her siblings would just laugh, but her father was a whole different story. He had to be fancy, and he had no time at all for tree people.
“I made it,” said Primula quietly, hoping to impress her father by serving him some of her loaf. She leaned over the table to try to grab the knife, only to knock over the little cup of tea her mother made special for her, extra sweet.
“It’s all right,” Mirabella said, taking one rag from the kitchen and handing another to Primula. The little girl scrubbed at the tablecloth, listening forlornly as the conversation began to move around her and the food flowed by, but no one was tearing her bread into bits to eat it like they did with her mother’s. It just sat there like a decoration, like no one had even realized it was food.
Sure, some of the leaves were a little lumpy, and one had a big seed sticking right out of it that had burnt and curled over in the oven, but it was still her bread, and it was still pretty like she knew the tree people would be, if only she could find them.
She stayed behind to help her mother clean up, and she kept staring over at her little loaf until Mirabella plucked it off the table (leaving some of the leaves behind) and set it down on a cutting board. “See how the branches are hard and break when you cut them? These wouldn’t be tasty to eat,” she said, cutting them away. When she cut through them, they did seem like branches, all splintery.
Primula was about to ask if she had done anything right before her mother spoke again. “But the middle’s nice and sweet just like you,” she said, taking a big bite and mmmm-ing like it was the best bread she ever had.
“Are the tree people really real?” Primula asked as she bit into her project, a little hard but not bad.
“I don’t know, what do you think?” Mirabella asked, only to receive a vigorous nod from the child whose mouth was full. “I think they may be too, but they don’t live here by Brandy Hall.”
“Maybe one day I’ll go out and find them,” Primula enthused, spraying crumbs out of her mouth.
“Good little girls don’t talk while eating,” Mirabella said, her tone changing entirely. “And there aren’t any in the Shire either, where you’ll go once you’ve got a nice husband.” Primula took that as a cue to scamper off with the rest of the trunk, eating it as she looked out her window, wondering if there was a whole wide world of tree people out there that she was never ever going to get to know.
“Your mother told you of the Onodrim?” the elf asked Primula, eating just as neatly as if he had an invitation to the finest hobbit-hole in town.
“The… you know of the tree people? Have you ever met them?”
“No living man has,” he replied, gratefully taking another slice of the bread. In the years since, she had learned why the tree bread had failed – too little dough on the leaves and branches, too much in the trunk, but she still hadn’t figured out why it was so bad to believe in stories. Some said it was her mother’s Tookishness coming out in her, as if it was a bad thing to be part of the family which her sister Amaranth married into with much fanfare.
“Not even someone like you?”
“Not even me, I am afraid,” he said, biting into the bread. Primula was proud that there was still a little crunch, still enough to make just a few crumbs. Maybe not everything was ruined, after all.
“They might still be out there,” she mused, the little girl still inside of her dreaming, wondering how the elf would react.
As things turned out, it was not a scold or anything like that. Instead, he let out a bark of a laugh. “You remind me of the one who helped Durin’s folk reconquer Erebor,” he said. “Always getting into things, if I have heard right.”
Even in the midst of everything that had happened, Primula couldn’t help but smile.
Primula was twenty-one when a rather respectable hobbit from a rather respectable family suddenly threw all caution to the wind and left his comfortable hobbit-hole for a great adventure.
Everyone spoke of it in town, no one quite sure what to make of it. The Bagginses were well-respected, of course – they didn’t have a great hall like Brandy Hall, but Bag End was nothing to scoff at, and there were many who found themselves in open-mouthed shock at the audacity of Bilbo Baggins.
For Primula, it started as awe. Leaving was something that had never occurred to her, at least not in practicality – her oldest sister Amaranth was married, Asphodel was dating a respectable Burrows boy who never dreamed of leaving home, and she was surely not far behind, twenty-one and in what her mother said was the prime of her looks. But it took forever to get her hair into neat curls that would fall over her shoulders just right, and for what? She wondered it often as she collected the eggs, musing aloud to the chickens of the adventures she dreamed Bilbo was having.
Why would she want to impress some hobbit lad here when she could dream of him, going off with a sword and a shield like all the warriors in her tales and doing things hobbits only dreamed of? The hero of her family was the Old Took, after all, and all he did was get old, something that seemed to happen to Primula all the time whether she liked it or not. Somehow she had grown too old for her childish games, and instead of humoring her dreams as the whims of a child, there were plenty who said that her mother’s Tookishness had come out in her. Not in the way of Asphodel’s dark hair and buxom figure, but of her family’s strange penchant for otherness.
Well, Primula couldn’t help her hair, but the figure was her own fault, she supposed. Her parents were always so confused when she missed a meal or even two thanks to her wanderings, and even if she returned with a basket full of eggs and the chickens happy in their coop, she still faced the looks. They never seemed to cease, even when she did her best to do what everyone expected of her. Even if she always seemed to get something wrong. One time in a rage she told her mother that she might be strange, but not as strange as Bilbo Baggins who had left and not come back.
She had apologized to the Bilbo of her dreams the next morning, feeling guilty as the chickens pecked at their food around her, oblivious.
But then the next day, the coop was not the quiet haven she had come to expect. People’s words flew ahead of them as they traveled the roads, not speaking the local gossip that bored her so, but instead, there was one thing everyone needed to say.
He was back.
She didn’t believe it at first. No one left, and if they did, they certainly didn’t come back. What sort of life would he be able to have here, among hobbits who would expect him to live by their rules rather than the thrilling rules of the road she spent the past – how was it a year already? – imagining? It was inconceivable that he was coming back because he wanted to be normal, because normal hobbits never left in the first place. She just needed to listen to what they said, find out exactly what it meant.
Everyone was so torn, it seemed, between disgust and admiration (mostly for the gold he seemingly brought back in such amounts that no one had ever seen before). Apparently he had even interrupted the auction at Bag End that some of her family members were attending, buying back everything that was his and still having enough to be the wealthiest hobbit in living memory.
“You know, he would actually be a good catch for you now,” Asphodel said when she returned empty-handed from the auction, her mouth running as fast as the yolks of her eggs across her plate as she described everything about his dramatic return, and something small inside of Primula began to hope.
She was a little too young to be married, true, and Bilbo was a good deal older than her, but she might be able to convince him that she was the one not because of her father’s wealth, but because she would live on tales of his adventures, breathing them in every day until they were the very air she needed to survive. And she would learn to be a good wife for him, cooking just like her mother did, always being there and being agreeable to anything he could possibly want….
The idea ran wild through her mind even though it was Asphodel who was courting now, or rather, being courted by a certain Rufus Burrows who was quite the proper gentleman, even if he sometimes had a little trouble with planning things in advance. His arrival would set the household into a tizzy, and Primula would have plenty of time to escape to the coop. She would run fast at first, of course, but then she would take it slow, imagining each footfall was a step down the aisle with him at the end.
When she returned from one of these expeditions on a sunny day in late spring, basket laden with fresh eggs, she was faced by a frantic Mirabella and furious Asphodel, both telling her that didn’t she know they were having the estimable Mr. Baggins over for supper as his travels brought him this way?
Primula froze, nearly dropping the basket but managing to clutch onto it tightly with both hands. Asphodel noticed, of course, wiping her hands on her apron and walking back into the house as Primula scurried behind, trying to explain. It was admiration, she tried to say, and she wanted to hear about his adventures.
“It’s okay to like him, but don’t lie, Primula,” Asphodel said. “Who would want to hear about all that time with those strange dwarves, off in lands where they haven’t even heard of second breakfast?”
Well maybe if they haven’t heard of it, they wouldn’t mind if I was late for it, Primula thought before hurrying back to her room, trying to find the most beautiful dress she made and frantically tugging her fingers through her curls. If the other girls were like that, not interested in him for his adventures, then perhaps she really did have a chance to catch his eye.
Bilbo Baggins arrived shortly before supper, looking entirely like an ordinary hobbit with brown hair on his head and feet. Somehow Primula hadn’t expected him to look like a normal hobbit, although she did notice with pleasure that he did not have a large belly like her father or even like some of her brothers. Even Dinodas was starting to look like her father in size and he was only four years older than Primula herself.
“It’s so lovely to meet you,” chirped Asphodel, who was clearly not showing the feelings she had talked about before in the kitchens about why they were allowing strange hobbits into their home. “And this is my sister Primula,” she said next, bringing him over and Primula could only hope he didn’t notice the wiggling in her fingers and toes.
“Good afternoon,” she said in what she hoped was a prim and proper way, but she supposed there was no changing the smile on her face into a more ladylike one.
“I’ll go check on supper,” she said, leaving Primula with a pat on her shoulder. She smiled even wider, wondering about her sister’s sudden kindness until it occurred to her that maybe Asphodel was pushing Bilbo at her to draw his attention away from herself.
Even so, she would take any opportunity she got, and rather than hanging on his arm and simpering at him like she was sure Asphodel would have done if she was interested, Primula asked him about the dwarves.
He looked a little taken aback, but when he answered there was a smile on his face, and she wondered if she had made a good impression after all.
He talked to her most during dinner, a pleasant surprise from the chaos that generally reigned at Broadbelt’s table. Primula asked him what felt like a thousand questions, loving the looks on her family’s faces when they didn’t seem to know whether to be impressed or aghast at how he answered every single one.
“I will ask him for you,” said her father as he caught her on the way to the door, where she was to escort Bilbo out after his meal. He still had some old friend to meet, apparently, someone traveling near enough to Buckland to justify leaving Bag End. She left him with a smile, hoping he would kiss her, but instead he behaved like quite the gentlehobbit, bowing pleasantly over her hand before setting off on the road and leaving her with quite a good deal more hope than she had felt in such a very long time.
It was a shock, then, when her father called her into his study, getting her hopes up before dashing them entirely. Bilbo Baggins was apparently not interested in a courtship with her after all.
She stomped off to the chickens that day in a rage, but she was crying before she even reached the coop. She sank to her knees in the straw, wondering if it had been her ugliness or if she had asked too many questions or what she could have possibly done wrong to drive him away. Even though she was quite bored picking the good eggs that day, she decided then and there that she would imagine no more adventures. This life would have to be enough.
She tried to force it to be enough until she received a strange letter postmarked from Bag End. She nearly tore it up without even opening it, but her pride had to move aside in the face of her curiosity. What could Bilbo Baggins still have to say to her?
The letter surprised her in both its tone and intention. It was an apology, followed by something about if he had met her first… well, he spoke candidly enough (albeit hoping she would share the letter with no one) that there was someone else, someone he found on his journey, and even though they could not be together for whatever reason (Primula only got more curious, but how was she supposed to ask such a thing?), he was still working on his feelings for that great jewel of his life. It was a romantic notion, but one that must have been rather sad for him. Her anger began to dissipate as she read his words, kind and apologetic, and when he said she could have been the one for him, if only he was normal enough to marry who his family thought he should.
At the bottom there was an invitation for a reply, and by the time she returned from the coop that day, Primula already knew what to say when she reached for her quill. There was no harm in making a new friend, after all.
“Did he tell you more of his adventures?” the elf asked when Primula handed him what was left of the egg. She wished she had more; she could probably even whip up something halfway decent on the fire the elf had built.
“He certainly did,” Primula said. “It’s so fascinating to hear all about the dwarves and the elves and the wizard, although even he must seem commonplace to you.” She blushed slightly.
“More common where I am from,” the elf said wistfully, “but it has been many centuries since I last set eyes upon a wizard, as you called him, or even my own people.”
“You live alone? Are you on an adventure?” Primula asked, then blurted out a quick apology once she saw the look on his face.
“Not exactly,” he said, “but I do roam the wilds, and I have traveled more than most on this earth.”
From the way the elf had arranged himself next to the fire, his limbs jackknifed to save warmth, and the despondent look on his face, Primula knew she had to resist asking many questions at all. “I hope it’s not too hard being alone out here,” she eventually mused.
“I am used to it, and after all, it is not like I could go back.”
“Why?” This, she had to ask. Had he committed some kind of crime? If she was sharing a fire with a criminal, she might need to get out of there very quickly. Then again, he seemed so quiet and calm… plus, with his hands, what sort of crimes could he even do?
“I suppose it is because I am a special case,” said the elf after some thought, but he didn’t seem eager to say anything more at all. His might not be a fun adventure at all. Maybe it was more like a burden, like how she felt before she finally started to get her life together in the manner of most hobbits.
“Still, though, it’s nice to meet you…” said Primula, who began to feel guilty that she had prompted this. It occurred to her when she spoke that she didn’t even know the elf’s name. “What’s your name?”
The elf muttered to himself in a language Primula didn’t understand before eventually spitting out a name: “Maglor.”
“Well I’ve never heard of you,” Primula said, but then realized how that might make him feel. She was completely unprepared for a little smile to work its way across his face.
“And I have never heard of you, Primula Brandybuck, but I am very impressed by the kindness of hobbits.”
“Primula Brandybuck Baggins, thank you very much,” Primula said with a smile.
“Baggins? So you married him in the end?”
“Not quite,” Primula said as she began to sift through the remnants of the lunchbox again, smiling wistfully when her fingers came away wet with butter.
Once Asphodel had done the respectable thing and married Rufus Burrows, then given birth to little Milo and a pack of daughters with curly black hair, it fell to Primula to be the next – and last - unmarried daughter of Brandy Hall. Which apparently meant learning how to spread butter properly.
“Not too much, you’ll look like a glutton,” Asphodel said with her permanent sneer on her face. It looked like her littlest girl was starting to get it too; it would almost be enough to make Primula laugh if it was not another of her important days with a new potential husband.
“I thought you wanted me to eat more,” she said, trying to mimic the movement Asphodel pantomimed. The pat of butter rolled under her knife, the little blade suddenly so small when she concentrated on it like this.
“Yes, but like a daughter of our father, not like someone with no connections,” Asphodel said. “It’s a big day for you, after all. I certainly didn’t eat like that when I was trying to get Rufus to like me.”
“I don’t remember Amaranth having to do this before she got married,” Primula said, and she could read the response in her sister’s face.
It was almost as if she’d said it outright: Primula didn’t have Amaranth’s looks, even though they both had the same reddish-copper hair. Primula didn’t have Amaranth’s delicate face and soft features, nor did she have her eldest sister’s quietness. Nor did she have Asphodel’s own confidence that had apparently helped so much in securing a husband. All she had was her imagination, which was never anything but a problem.
“It never hurts to try to impress,” Asphodel said, then grinned. “And he’s a Baggins,” she added with a flourish of her tea towel.
“Don’t tease,” Primula mumbled, trying once again to scrape the butter in a ladylike way. Then again, her friendship with Bilbo might help here, even if his letters were sometimes sporadic and he hardly ever visited. Maybe it was Bilbo who told Drogo that she was looking for someone, and in that case, she really would need to try to impress. She had heard that not all of his relatives were accepting of his adventures, after all, and what if he had sent one of those over to her?
Then again, why would he? They were friends, even if they didn’t speak much. His stories still brought her great joy even though his letters were yet another peculiarity, first that she was corresponding with a hobbit who she was not courting, and of course, Bilbo Baggins himself was always a matter of controversy.
Asphodel didn’t let her stay in the kitchen until Drogo’s arrival. She sent her off with a sharp word about fixing her hair and her dress, and Primula put on the same dress she had once worn to try to impress Bilbo, now with a couple of patches but she doubted that would matter. What man cared for those things anyway?
She was the one to open the door to Drogo Baggins, who had dark hair like her mother, thin lips and a bit of a belly. He didn’t look too different from Primula’s brothers was her first impression, but she couldn’t let that get in the way. Not when he was, as Asphodel said, a Baggins. A member of a family who, now that they had a strange resident of Bag End, might be more tolerant of peculiarities like Primula. If he wasn’t one of Bilbo’s judgmental relatives, of course….
He didn’t seem to be, at least not at this dinner. He was polite and both of her parents seemed to like him, and he was even okay with the chaos considering several of her siblings and their children were home, scattering food and mud throughout the house.
He kissed her on the hand when he left, a little more than Bilbo did, and the meeting with her father went entirely differently – this time, he had a positive answer for her, that Drogo wanted to get to know her better. Not an immediate proposal, which was nice (even though surely some ladies would have preferred it), but an indication of interest, and he was enough of a normal boy that her family seemed very pleased when she indicated her interest as well.
Courtship let her see more of the world, giving her a reason to cross the Brandywine and go to the Shire proper, seeing all the markets and spending time in them before and after she saw Drogo. She also met his cow, an amenable animal named Belle, and Drogo put his hands over hers and taught her how to pull the udders and draw sweet milk that would soon turn to cheese to serve at her father’s table and butter that Drogo didn’t seem to care how she spread at all.
Months began to pass in their nice routine, and even though Primula liked that things weren’t going too fast, she also knew that it was just one more thing for people to whisper about. She and Drogo even chanced upon Asphodel and her husband in the Shire markets one day, her sister speaking viciously as a crying child latched onto her leg.
“I mean, I think she’s deluding herself,” Asphodel said, and Primula dragged Drogo behind a fruit stand, breathing in the fresh scents as she listened. “He’s not proposing for a reason. She’s always been an odd egg, but I don’t think even our father’s money will be enough to get her married,” she said to a friend, someone Primula had never even met. “I wonder if he’s trying to convince himself that the money is enough for a wife like her, but I don’t think he will. It’s not worth the trouble.”
Primula froze, part of her wanting to step out and confront her sister with Drogo in tow, the other part wanting to run all the way back to Brandy Hall in shame. She looked at Drogo instead, and he looked like he was about to say something before the merchant at the fruit stand inquired after Drogo’s cow, who had fallen ill.
“I think she needs some medicine,” he said slowly, watching Asphodel out of the corner of his eye until she left and the time for confrontation was gone. Primula took off running then, not listening to anything that anyone said, not caring if Asphodel or anyone else saw her. She fled in pain and terror, knowing that Asphodel was right, that there was no way someone so nice and ordinary would want anything to do with her.
It was a fortnight before she saw Drogo again. She wondered then if the cow was just an excuse, if she was never going to see Drogo Baggins again, if her sister had been right all along and she would never marry anyone at all.
She was thus utterly surprised on a stormy morning to see a hobbit making his way up to the front of Brandy Hall, running as fast as he could on the soaked stones, slipping but still moving forward.
“Is that Drogo?” her mother asked, and Primula dashed out the door without a moment’s hesitation, even though her mother called after her only for the sound to quickly become lost under the booming of the clouds.
The hobbit looked up when he saw her, and she grabbed his hand and ran over to the well, finding a tree that didn’t shelter them entirely but was enough for the moment. It was Drogo, she realized, and she was standing very close to him, close enough to hear his heart thumping through his shirt. Half of her wanted to scream and berate him, but the other half needed the warmth of someone who might be here just for her.
“You’re soaked, Drogo, and – are those flowers?” Primula exclaimed as she looked down at Drogo’s hands, where a handful of waterlogged yellow flowers sagged.
“Primroses, like your name,” he said. “I didn’t realize it would rain like this, I’m sorry, I lost half the petals along the way,” he lamely presented her with the soaked stems and limp flowers. She held onto them weakly, knowing that a squeeze would likely kill them altogether.
“But what are you doing here? I thought your cow was ill?” There was a second question there, and surely he knew it, but she was not quite brave enough to ask why he had come after he had overheard Asphodel’s remarks.
“She’s doing better,” he said, “and I missed you and wanted to ask you a question.”
“About cows? I don’t know much about them, you know the chickens were always more of my responsibility… I mean I met Belle, she seems nice, but I don’t know how to help her with anything except the milking.”
“I didn’t come here for my cow,” Drogo said, wiping his soaked hair out of his eyes. “I was coming here to ask if you would do me the great honor of becoming my wife.”
She knew it was supposed to be the happiest moment in her life, and yet a thousand things ran through Primula’s mind in an instant, culminating in her blurting out, “Are you sure?”
“I’m the one who asked you,” he said, fussing around in his pocket until he produced a ring. “Why would I have asked you if I didn’t want to marry you?”
Because you want an “in” with a wealthy family, Primula remembered her sister’s words. Or because no other girl will have you, or any of a thousand reasons that have nothing to do with me.
“You heard Asphodel,” Primula said, trying to be brave.
“I love you, Primula Brandybuck,” he said when he noticed tears prickling at her eyelids. “I haven’t been coming here all these months for your father or anyone else. It’s just you.”
“But I’m strange,” Primula sniffled. “I daydream and sometimes I burn the food, or just forget to eat it altogether…”
“I can’t say I will join you there, but I can make sure you always have a place to dream about and a place to come home to,” Drogo replied, and Primula wondered if he’d practiced that response even as she launched herself forward into his arms. He was warm and held her tightly as she shuddered against him, crying onto his wet suspenders.
“Don’t think about what Asphodel said,” he whispered. “Just listen to me here and now. I wouldn’t marry you if this wasn’t something I wanted a great deal. I want to build a home with you where we daydream and eat whenever we feel like it and have children who do the same.”
I want my children to be normal, Primula almost said. But then she thought that it wouldn’t be nearly as much fun. Not to mention if strangeness was nurtured, who knew what might happen?
“Yes,” she said into his shoulder, “yes, yes, yes,” she repeated, each word driving what Asphodel said from her mind. She had a future of her own now, a place to go where she wouldn’t be the littlest girl in a chain. She could finally take charge of her life and do it with someone accepting and loving and kind by her side.
It wasn’t like Asphodel described her own proposal, sitting on a bench in the sun with her friends surrounding her, accepting a bouquet of perfectly dry flowers. And technically it wasn’t even the real proposal, since Drogo did the proper thing the next day and asked her father for her hand in Brandy Hall over elevenses. But in Primula’s mind, her proposal was always that moment in the rain, her hair soaked into limp strands with nobody caring at all.
“He’s dead,” Primula cried over the mushy cheese, her fingers trembling just like they had on that knife so long ago. “He’s not coming back.”
The elf, even though he was supposed to be from a people who never experienced grief, almost looked like he understood. “No, he is not,” he said solemnly, then looked at Primula again.
She supposed it was nice that he wasn’t blabbering on – she had heard elves were the type to treat everything like a moral and impose their opinions on others – but she had to admit it helped to not have to hear some parable of loss that was supposed to make her feel better. None of that was real; the lunchbox in her hands was, and the hobbit who created it for their beautiful son was somewhere out there in the river. She wondered if anyone would even find him, if he would get a proper burial by the windmill he loved so much, or if he was doomed to her idea of a good fate, wandering around forever.
“What am I supposed to do?” she moaned as details of their life flooded her mind. How was she supposed to fix their garden after the storm without him to help her put up the posts? And what about the crops that were likely dead, and who knew if the house was still standing, and even if it was, there was probably water coming in from the ceiling and she had no idea at all how to fix that…
“There is no one way to answer that question,” Maglor said. “I have been trying to answer it for centuries.”
“Centuries? My folk don’t have that long,” Primula replied, sniffling as she tried to stop the tears.
Maglor paused for several long moments broken only by the spattering of the rain and Primula’s quiet sobs. “From what I hear, you do not seem weak to me,” he said. “I think you can go through this and come out the other end.”
“It’s not just me,” she said blearily, somewhat registering the compliment but not entirely able to deal with it. “My son is only twelve, how is he supposed to carry on without a father?” All he would have was her, and she was… she had stuck to Drogo’s words from years ago. Sheltered under the safety of his normalcy, she was protected from the whispers and gossip that plagued hobbit society. Even now they talked about her, about why she only had one child, as if it was a choice.
“Children can adapt,” Maglor said solemnly. “Not all is lost.”
It certainly felt lost as she sat under the tree with an elf who she barely knew, who was not hugging her and telling her that he loved her, and her tears of sadness now melded with the rain instead of long-ago tears of joy.
“Tell me about him,” the elf said, perhaps trying to distract her, because she couldn’t possibly be sad like that when she thought of her little boy. She was proud of him from the moment he was born, of course, even with his daydreaming, or perhaps especially because of it. He lived for her stories, and she realized as she absentmindedly chewed on a tomato slice from his lunchbox that she lived to tell them.
“His name is Frodo,” she began. “Frodo Baggins.”
“I think I’m pregnant,” Primula said only a few months after the midsummer wedding where it seemed like their whole house was filled with flowers. “I think that’s what this means, at least,” she pointed down. She was finally eating like a proper hobbit lass, if the empty plates were any indication.
“What did you eat? All the beans – and what are these?” He picked up a handful of greens before biting into one. “They’re so bitter!”
“I wanted them,” Primula said, and it was really that she needed them, just like she needed Drogo’s arms around her, spinning her around, and the big smile on his face that made her feel like she had done everything right just like she was supposed to.
She had the growing belly too, which made her look like the other hobbit lasses her age, not just in the pregnancy but in that she was actually eating more, remembering her mealtimes and spending more time with Drogo, and everything seemed to make sense to everyone except for the dandelion greens that she always seemed to have with her – but weird cravings were part of pregnancy, and for once, something strange she did was normal.
The first pains came in the morning of September 22nd, Bilbo’s birthday of all things, and came as a series of tightenings in her back that made it impossible to stand, that made Drogo run down the road from their little house near Brandy Hall to summon her family and the midwife. Thankfully the midwife was actually there – the baby was early, of course, and then her house turned into a flurry of activity as she concentrated only on herself and the baby inside of her.
Asphodel wasn’t there – she was at the wedding, of course, because Primula couldn’t make drama like that – but in her time she only wanted those she trusted, and that meant her old mother and her sister Amaranth, a Took for many years, and her eldest daughter Poppy, and the midwife who informed Primula that her pains being in the back made the labor worse and also uncommon, and she could have laughed if not for the way she could hardly even draw a breath.
In the end she had Amaranth on one side and her mother on the other, and the baby came after what felt like an eternity but was apparently only one very long day, and then he was on her chest and crying so loud, looking just like her father, and she wept for old Broadbelt’s death five years before until she saw that he had some of Drogo’s features too, like his bright blue eyes, and by the time she welcomed him, that was the story she told.
He was called Frodo, mimicking the pattern of his father’s name, and the memory of the long labor made her all the more determined to raise him, especially when the years went by and no more babies came along. Amaranth had six, and Asphodel seven, but Primula had just the one, cherished boy to inherit not Brandy Hall or anything fancy like that, but her stories, her imagination and her dreams.
It was a mixture of pride and defensiveness when she noticed he did strange things, like always having his nose in a book from the moment he could read, or playing pranks on the farmers, or not wanting to pet dogs, or snacking on dandelion greens in a clear sign of her weirdness both during and before her pregnancy affecting him.
She tried so hard, she really did, to make him normal as he grew, to teach him what he would need to know about being a proper Baggins, but at the same time she loved showing him how to dance like an elf would, or telling him story after story about the trees at Brandy Hall that she named all those years ago, even though they weren’t alive.
It was fine for the first few years, but then he got older. He was twelve now, a nice age where he still listened to her but was starting to go off on his own adventures, alarming many people with the ease at which he ran off like a little boy still.
Some said it was what happened to a child without siblings – without responsibility, how were they supposed to learn? Others whispered behind their hands that it was the Baggins thing coming out in him, the same strangeness that Bilbo had, which made Primula smile. And then there was the mother, of course, Broadbelt’s young and odd daughter who seemed to still be odd even within the context of marriage, feeding the boy dandelion greens and tainting his mind with tales of adventures, letting him see Bilbo and come to know his family’s black sheep as a friend.
In the end, it all boiled down to what Primula knew all along: the boy was hers. Her strength and will, to be sure, as he shrugged off any complaints without second thought, but also her strangeness. She had tainted her boy, and there was nothing she could do about it.
“I had sons once,” the elf murmured when Primula finished speaking, carefully picking apart some of the soggy dandelion greens.
“You had sons? Where are they now?” Primula asked before internally berating herself for being too nosy.
“One died many years ago,” he said in far too even a tone, and Primula’s breath caught in her throat. “The other lives in the vale of Imladris – Rivendell, as you probably know it.”
“Bilbo told me of Rivendell,” Primula said quietly, not knowing how to even begin to speak of the dead son. Even just thinking of it filled her heart with dread. “He said the elves there were kind.”
“Not to me,” Maglor said quickly, then sighed. “I know what you are thinking, but I cannot go to Imladris. I had to let my sons go for their own good.”
“For their own good?” Primula said, astonished that such a thing even existed. How could it be for their own good if they were away from their father, from the one who loved them and took care of them? She thought suddenly of Frodo back at home, hopefully waiting inside, but probably looking out the window to see when his parents would be back. His father had left him now, but not by his own choice.
And now she would be coming back… a scary idea burst into her mind that frightened her to even think of it, but for whatever reason it was there and it stayed, making her crumple the greens in her palm.
It wasn’t a given that she had to go back.
It was an assumption she had made, true. The Shire was her only home, and that little swath of land between Brandy Hall and Bag End was all she ever knew – and wanted to escape from. And now she was out in the wilds, out with a real elf, and after all that had happened she knew that this would be more than enough of an adventure for her.
But then she thought of Drogo slipping under the water. She had seen him disappear, even if she hadn’t said anything, and she had tried to pull him back, but it was her fault, it was all her fault… how was she supposed to go back and face her family like this? How was she supposed to face her son after she had killed his father, even though it was an accident?
No one would believe her. No one did now. And no one would look at her son the same way. He wouldn’t even have the ground he had now, which Drogo had reminded her all too painfully was not enough.
“How did you know?” she asked. “How did you know it was right to give up your children rather than stay with them?”
The elf was quiet for several long moments and Primula wondered if she’d gone too far.
“When they were better off without me than with me,” he eventually said, that simple thought making Primula shudder as she thought of what Drogo had said to her, why he was dead, the truth she had not been strong enough to tackle….
“Do you really think it’ll taste better to him coming from this far down?” Drogo asked, approaching the boat slowly. “The water by Brandy Hall seemed to make fish good enough for him so far.”
“I want to try it,” Primula said, but what she didn’t say was that Asphodel was visiting, and for the first time in years she had approached Drogo in the hope of some sort of reconciliation. It had surprised him, but he acquiesced, leaving Primula with a suddenly strong need to get out of there.
“I understand,” Drogo said quietly, and Primula truly hoped he did. It was nearly fourteen years since they were married, and she hoped it hadn’t all been too much for him, especially this new development. He’d had to learn what it was to be thought of as weird, and sometimes when she looked up at the ceiling in bed she wondered if it was too much.
The boat was borrowed from some fisherman up the lane, and they left when the sky was slightly cloudy, but they were fluffy and white and how was she supposed to know anything was going to happen?
Nevertheless, the fishing rods went in, and she and Drogo talked politely of the weather, of his work, of the new book she had given Frodo that he had promptly taken with him into a thicket to read.
“He takes after you,” Drogo said.
“He looks like you,” Primula replied. “He’s got your face exactly, and your hair.”
“He has your spirit,” Drogo said back, hesitating as he thought he felt a tug on the line.
“Is that a problem?”
“No,” he hastily replied, but then he spoke up again. “It’s just that he will need to go to school with the other lads and learn how to manage his household one day. Don’t you think it’s past time?”
“I’ve been teaching him out of my father’s books,” Primula said. It was a familiar argument, but Drogo had never asked so directly.
“I know, but… you know how it was for you,” he said softly. “You know how hard it was, even with your family and your connections, and Frodo doesn’t have any of that. He has his name, of course, but he doesn’t have a big family to rely on.”
“Which is not my fault,” Primula said. “I’ve tried so hard.” True, she had been too afraid to try to have another child right after Frodo was born, the memory of the pain still fresh in her mind, but she had tried to soften her recollection of the pain later and had done everything she could, only to end up looking strange yet again for having only one child. Only one precious child who she cherished, and now he had to leave….
“You did, but he can’t be a little boy forever. He needs to start growing up.” Drogo plucked a fish from the end of his line, handing it over.
Primula was afraid of change. She would lose her boy to the fine society people who he would meet, and she would have no children to come after, no little girls to show how to make her mother’s bread, no little boys with thumbs in their mouths to follow her as she picked tomatoes. All she would have was her memories and her imagination that she now knew she could never indulge.
“I know it’s hard for you, but we need to do this,” Drogo said. “He needs to learn to be a proper lad.”
“What if he doesn’t?” Primula begged. “What if he can be like us? You and I are happy, we don’t need to be a big impressive family. We can just love each other and be happy.”
“Have you been happy all these years, knowing how others looked at you?” Drogo asked, and Primula sniffed.
“It’s not the same,” she said.
“It will be,” he said. “He will be like us and that won’t be a good thing. He must break free and I understand that it’s hard, but he needs to start going to tutors and meeting more friends. He needs to, or he’ll be….”
“Strange like me,” Primula replied. “Like Bilbo.”
And that old resentment, the old idea of the one who had once introduced them but had also come between them, darkened Drogo’s eyes. “You’ve always wanted adventure like your beloved Bilbo, but look where it’s gotten you, Primula – ostracized, unable to help your child have a good life. Why are you so strange, Primula? Why can’t this life be enough for you?”
Primula took several steps back, bracing herself against the side of the boat after dropping the fish in the lunchbox for her boy. The look on her face must have said everything, because Drogo’s face softened and he came over, reaching out for her.
“I’m sorry,” Drogo said, and he wrapped his arms around her, but Primula, in her anger, broke free of his embrace, not sure if the water on her face was tears or drops from the darkening clouds, and then it all happened too fast. Drogo fell back against the side of the boat, tipping it over, and Primula rushed forward, reaching out in panic as her feet slid on the wet boat, and she grabbed on as tightly as she could to whatever she could hold, leaning over and praying that her hand had found Drogo’s and that they would resurface and it would be enough, but the storm only grew, along with her panic, and she was swept along, digging her hand into whatever she held so tightly as water filled her nose and her mouth and carried her away….
“It was enough,” Primula sobbed as the fish roasted on the fire, staring up at her with its dead eye, imploring her to do anything to keep the truth hidden. No one could know what had happened on the boat that day but she was such an open book and the others were so good at getting her to talk, and she knew as well as anything that the questions would never stop.
She would never have the freedom to raise her son in the way he deserved to be raised, a carefree hobbit lad with nothing on his mind except for his next meal and his friends. She had seen what happened to Bilbo, where the thought of him returning from an adventure was enough to alienate him entirely. She loved him too much to go, but then again, she loved him too much to stay and doom him to a fate where he was the son of the crazy widow who had survived something impossible after pushing her husband in. He would be better off without that. Without her.
And yet, how was she supposed to leave him? All she had ever wanted was an adventure, but this certainly didn’t seem like a way to take one, leaving everything behind and having the others assume that she was dead (and perhaps even where she belonged) at the altogether-too-young age of sixty.
But this wasn’t an adventure, at least not in the traditional sense. She was not going off for her own sake, indulging in her own passions. It was all for Frodo, whose face she conjured in her mind, imagining him as the man she would never see. She knew he would be sad and quiet at first, perhaps for a long time, but she remembered Amaranth at her side when she gave birth and knew he would have some Took cousins to play with, if he got over their being girls, and he would have Rorimac at Brandy Hall to teach him what he needed to know, and of course Drogo’s relatives, and maybe even Milo Burrows if Asphodel truly had a change of heart… he would have so much more of a family than if he had her, and the thought broke her heart again as she tried to summon her resolve.
Primula stayed quiet for a very long time, watching the embers in the fire pop. Then she turned to the elf when her sniffles finally petered out.
“Are there really tree people?” Primula asked, red-rimmed eyes brimming with determination. It was her last hope, and she tried to cling onto her childhood dreams. She might not even make it – there were some who came out of the water and died the next day – but if she was going to do this, she was going to go all the way, not even chancing a farewell glance.
“Yes,” said Maglor, who could say nothing else in the face of the painful, all-too-familiar determination.
“I will find them,” she said, determinedly turning her head away from where she came. “I will go and find them.”
“Some say they live to the east in the Old Forest, or Fangorn to the south,” Maglor said.
“Thank you,” she turned to him. “For telling me about your boys… I hope Frodo will be better off for it. I hope he will learn to be strong.”
“If he has your strength, he will,” Maglor replied, and Primula tried to smile.
“I hope you find the Onodrim,” said Maglor as he watched the hobbit slowly walk away. She looked like he had when Maedhros had dragged him away from the site where they left Elrond and Elros, but still her feet moved forward, alone but powerful.
If she has this strength, he thought, I can only imagine what her son will do.
He chanced a trip to a local inn after the war ended. There were so many questions still in his mind that needed answering, and the rumors he heard as he crept alongside the roads at night would not suffice.
Maglor knew there was a special spot in the Void reserved for Sauron, the one who (he was entirely sure, given the Maia’s reputation) had tortured his brother long ago. A certain peace began to settle into his heart – not forgetting the past, but the frayed threads beginning to pull together, some part of him understanding that even the tiniest of his vengeance was complete.
The Prancing Pony buzzed with activity, enough that he was able to slip in almost unseen, finding his way to a small round table at the back. It took the barmaid several minutes to notice him, and in the meantime, he listened to what he could, soaking in every detail.
It was hobbits in the end, not warriors of Imladris or Lothlorien who had lived for millennia, not dwarves or even the men who claimed the new age was theirs. Rather, it was a hobbit, a member of a race many considered simple. He would have even said it at one time, not understanding that they were anything different from small men.
The chatter at the bar was filled with rumors about the journey, how a little hobbit might have found himself so far away from home and made his way to the very heart of Mordor. Then followed the questions of “why,” for both him and his companions who apparently included an elf, a dwarf, and men. Maglor hadn’t heard that part.
One voice was louder than many of the others. “Do you know he told my husband his name was Underhill?” said a plump woman by the bar, collecting some ales before passing them around. “He was right here under our very noses and we had no idea, not a whit!”
A bearded man mumbled something, only for the woman to shove his ale at him and put a hand on her hip. “What was that?”
“I said your husband wouldn’t notice if the King himself was sitting under his nose,” the man repeated, only slightly louder.
“Watch your mouth,” the woman said, shaking her head, but the little smile on her face made Maglor believe there was some truth in the man’s words.
One of the ales was apparently for him, although it looked like he still needed to wait for the rest of his meal. He watched as the woman made her way around to the tables, embellishing the story at each go-around until she was practically speaking the hobbit’s words herself. Well, hobbits’, apparently, since there were four who came to the Pony that night, led by the dark-haired one who had given the woman a false name, much to her chagrin.
“I mean, did he think we were the Enemy?” she asked a table of three men, all of whom shook their heads.
“Don’t know how they could mistake a peach like you for evil,” said the one on the left in a sultry tone, only to receive a swat from a rag she plucked from her hip.
“I’m old enough to be your mother,” she replied before stalking off to the kitchens, leaving Maglor wondering whether or not to laugh. It reminded him of times long ago, when members of his grandfather’s council in Tirion had said one thing and meant another, their faces or eyes the only clue to their true intentions.
He was too many years out of practice with such niceties to do anything but cut to the chase when the woman returned with his meal, a meat pie of sorts that he had not been able to cook in a long time. The fork and knife she slid along the table wrapped in an off-white napkin were thick enough that he would be able to grasp them.
“I heard you speaking of the hobbit – the hobbits, rather – who brought the One Ring to Mordor,” he began.
“Yes,” she replied. “They were here, and I must say I’m rather proud they ate my own cooking before going off and saving Middle-Earth.” A big smile broke across her lined face.
“You mentioned the name Underhill,” Maglor continued, wondering if his lack of manners were about to get him kicked out of the bar. Then again, the environment was far from formal, considering the squeaking of a fiddle in the corner and the loud, raucous chatter of the nearby patrons.
“Yes, but it was a fake name,” she nodded. “I didn’t find out his real name until recently. I suppose it’s important to keep a secret for a mission like that, but I was a little miffed. It’s not like I’m telling secrets from this lot all day.” She motioned to the bar behind her, where many drunks undoubtedly spilled their life stories and deepest secrets.
“The Enemy is not to be underestimated,” Maglor said, hesitantly reaching out a gloved hand to take the fork and knife. “But now that he is gone, we may speak more openly. I am curious, would you mind sharing his real name?”
The woman looked around nervously, the smile sliding off her face for a moment. “I suppose it can’t do any harm, although I don’t know you… then again, from your ears you’re an elf, and no one ever heard of elves doing anything unsavory…” Maglor, who had picked up the ale and was taking a hesitant sip, nearly coughed up the thick brew.
“Yes, that’s right, I’m sure it’s common knowledge by now – his real surname is Baggins.”
“Baggins?” Maglor asked, putting everything down and looking into her eyes. He saw no deceit there, only curiosity of what compelled him to ask.
“What, do you know him?”
“I know the family a bit,” he said somewhat honestly. He never heard of what had happened to Primula after she washed up right next to his campfire, and occasionally he had imagined it like the beginnings of a noble story, a lone seeker of the future trying to make her way in the world. Sometimes he wondered if she had ever seen the Onodrim.
“It’s not Bilbo, if that’s what you’re wondering. I suppose one grand adventure was enough for him,” she said. “It was his nephew, though, and I heard he raised him, so he must have taught him some things. His name is Frodo.”
Maglor froze to think of the boy he had heard of as a sweet-tempered child facing against the greatest foe of Middle-Earth of his time, but allowed himself a rare smile at the thought that it was this boy, it was her boy, who had won the day.
No doubt the woman thought Maglor was strange as he stared into his meat pie, thinking of the food he shared with Primula that day, so few years ago in his own lifespan, and yet enough for her small son to grow up and earn his glory. He wondered if she was still alive, if somewhere, an elderly hobbit was sitting under the shade of the newly awakened Onodrim with tears of pride brimming in her eyes at what her boy had done, at the way his mix of strangeness and strength had saved the world.