One evening in the early spring (late March by our reckoning) in the year 2430 of the Third Age, the halls of the Burrow Stremliee were in a stir. The grandson of Grandmother had been born and all were in the midst of preparing to celebrate, fetching food and drink and presents for the new baby Stremliee. ‘Cheeky fellow,’ said the holbits (for that is what they called themselves), ‘arriving early and catching us all unreadiess.’
Mother and father were taking some well-deserved rest while Grandmother Bieldra Stremliee watched the newborn as he slept. Bieldra contemplated her newest grandson asleep in a small woven basket. She could see that he had fine hands and feet and the tuft of brown hair on his head, Bieldra knew, would be wavy. He was a Stremliee after all. They were nothing like those twisty-haired commoners west of the Mountains, Bieldra thought.
Bieldra listened to the party preparation occurring outside and marveled that the noise did not wake the infant. ‘My silly children would make merry if kittenses were born so don’t think yourself so special little one,’ she said.
As if he heard her, the baby woke up, quietly gazing at Bieldra with large, extraordinarily pale blue eyes. The room was dim, but all the light was captured in his eyes so that to Bieldra they seemed to glow. This was the first time she had seen him awake. She was surprised, no easy feat. In all her 71 years she had never seen such eyes and it worried her. Proper Stremliees had brown eyes, sometimes green if they were especially troublesome. Never blue and never quite so light. ‘It must be from his father’s side,’ Bieldra thought to herself, ‘the Bognetts can be queer holbits.’
The door opened and shut. Héa, Bieldra’s youngest and the baby’s mother entered the room. She stood next to her mother and looked down at the infant who was watching their faces with avid interest.
‘He gots pretty eyes doesn’t he Grandmother?’ Héa said.
‘Hmmph.’ Héa ignored her mother. “We’ve thought of a name for him. Sméagol, after great uncle Sméagol.”
Bieldra nodded in approval. Her uncle had been a good and peaceful holbit, wonderfully ordinary. Perhaps young Sméagol would take after him, she hoped, for those eyes would certainly cause him trouble.
‘I know it’s your birthday Sméagol, but even birthday boys have to wash up before breakfast,’ Héa said to the seemingly empty garden. Only the cabbages were large enough to hide behind, but her son was an excellent hider.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw movement among the onions. ‘Alrighty then Sméagol. I suppose we won’t be going into the forest today,’ Héa said turning back to the den, ‘only holbitses who have break-fast can go into the forest.’
Sméagol tumbled out of the onions. ‘What’s for break-fast mumsies?’
‘Nothing if you don’t wash up.’
After a hearty break-fast of fried fish, toast, potatoes (‘Ma do I has to eat them?’) and strawberries, Héa and Sméagol headed to the western edge of the Murky Wood. Sméagol loved the stories about the Great Greenwood, Murky Wood of days past, and very much wanted to see the elves that lived within. Héa told him that they were not likely to see elves and that they would not be going into the forest at all for it was much too dangerous. But the edges were safe enough and Sméagol dearly wanted to see it.
The Sun was high in the sky when Sméagol got his first glimpse of the forest. Héa gripped his hand tight before he could run for it. The woods stretched north and south as far as they could see and much farther than that. Héa, though she loved the stories of the Greenwood as much as her son, shuddered at the thought of getting lost in such a great forest.
Héa made picnic a few yards from the edge of the forest and watched her son as he played among the roots of the trees. Sméagol hardly looked up at the branches and leaves over his head, so delighted was he with what was near the ground. ‘Just like his father,’ Héa said to herself.
Héa must have blinked too long because Sméagol was not in sight. She dashed to where she had last seen him, ‘Sméagol! Sméagol my love where are you?’ she called trying to keep the panic from her voice. Héa took a hesitant step into the forest and then another, ‘Sméagol?’ she called softly as she made her way into the forest.
‘Yes mumsies?’ Sméagol appeared suddenly to her right.
Once they were out of the forest, Héa was exceptionally cross with him like many mothers are when they have been extremely frightened. ‘Wait ‘til your father, no, Grandmother hears about this!’ she said pulling him by the ear. Sméagol tried to explain that he had heard a noise and needed to investigate. He thought it might be an elf. But Héa was too relieved to care that her son had instead seen a spider. Even if it was the size of a dog.
Delfan Stremliee, formerly Bognett, waited by the river for his son Sméagol. He was turning out to be a rebellious young tween and it reminded Delfan happily of his own youth. Delfan was a produce trader, taking the holbits’ extra crops to places where it was wanted up and down the Great River. He often brought back things made by the Big Men, and sometimes even things made by elves and dwarves. For Sméagol’s birthday, he had brought back a small stone, mined and shaped by the dwarves. It was an iridescent blue and shaped like a fish scale. Maybe not the greatest gift for a tween holbit, but Delfan hoped he would like it.
That morning Delfan and Sméagol had set out to catch some fish for his birthday lunch. They had waded into the river and with their hands caught more than enough (both of them disliked using a fishing line). Sméagol continued to swim in the river, catching fish and letting them go. He wouldn’t come out of the water Sméagol declared, it was his birthday and he could do what he wanted. Delfan knew that really Sméagol wanted to avoid lunch with Grandmother. He didn’t blame him. His mother-in-law often did get herself worked up about Sméagol. Something about Sméagol’s eyes she always said.
Delfan heard soft steps behind him and turned around. ‘Hello Déagol! Come to say happy birthday?’
Déagol laughed as he approached stopping by the river’s edge. ‘Yes! And to ‘get him out of the waters,’’ he said in mock seriousness. ‘And Héa wants your help with the fishes,’ he added.
Delfan thanked Déagol and started to head back to the Burrow. He heard Déagol call out to Sméagol and Sméagol call back. Then he heard splashing and laughter. Delfan hurried home. He needed to tell Héa it was probably going to be a late lunch.
”Ribbit!” Sméagol said back to the frog. The frog jumped away unimpressed.
He was in Gladden Fields with his very best friend Déagol. Plus, it was his 33rd birthday. In conclusion, Sméagol thought, he was having a good birthday. He trampled along the banks of the River, dug around, and looked under the lily pads while Déagol fished in the boat. It was good to be away from the Stremliee Burrow, he felt. Sméagol loved his large and extensive family, but thought most of them were rather stupid or boring. Not his parents of course. And Déagol was the best holbit he knew. But sometimes he wondered what it would be like to keep going down the River or to cross the Mountains
Sméagol looked towards the boat and saw that Déagol had been dragged under the water. He took a step towards the river, worry flooding his mind, when Déagol emerged from the water. His right fist was clenched as he swam to shore. Sméagol’s large eyes narrowed in on the fist and he hid behind a tree without thinking why. From his hiding place he watched as Déagol washed the mud off the object in his hand and saw it was a golden ring. It was beautiful.
Sméagol crept behind Déagol and looked over his shoulder.
“Give us that Déagol, my love,” said Sméagol.
“Why?” said Déagol backing away.
“Because it’s my birthday, my love, and I wants it.”