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The Forgotten Hobbit

By

 

Happy Hobbit

 

This story never would have been told in the early days. Girls seldom became heroes in adventures long ago. Lost in the past, her existence has continued as a secret. Untold among the legends of the One Ring, the account of a small girl child, lucky enough to always remain unnoticed. Despite this, her tale needs telling too. The one of how she played a part in the greatest adventure ever known.

Flight from the Shire

Even by Hobbit standards, Estella Hardbottle had been considered small. She stood but two feet in height and Hobbit portliness in her had made for rounded, feminine curves. But her bright brown eyes, set in a jolly face and crowned with a mass of curly cinnamon hair, caught the attention of those who met her. Her family, while well-established farmers who held a place of respect in the Shire, never owned a great deal of wealth. Despite their previous closeness, she could not confide in her younger sister, Buttercup, although she desperately desired to share her secret.
 

She wrapped her blue cloak about, and then set off down the road towards the Shires boundaries. Five hours earlier she had begun feeling restless as the babe moved within her and she knew the time had come to leave. Fleeing a deep shame, Estella had borne the secret as long as she could. For Estella had no husband, a condition unknown in the Shire. If Buttercup had not begun teasing her, not unkindly, but persistently, about her increasing girth, Estella might have put off her decision. However, Estella knew her appetite did not explain how large she had grown and soon she would no longer be able to hide her pregnancy.

 

So, she determined she would seek out the babe's father, far away from the Shire and all she had ever known. As she trudged along, her thoughts dwelled on what she had left behind. How she wished she could return to her happy home. To be free from care, a normal Hobbit child, not yet out of her tweens, that awkward age before adulthood. Only the belief that the childs father would take her and the babe in kept her going. For what father would not want his own child? That alone kept a Hobbits natural fear of leaving home from consuming her.

 

She hitched her pack into a more comfortable position and thought with regret of the things she had left behind besides her family and home. No treasures from her childhood, but only food for several days, her best cream-colored dress, and a few clean underclothes had gone into the sack. Enough, she hoped, to last her the trip to Orthanc, the place she hoped to find her child's father. At least there she might inquire about his location, even if he no longer lived there.

 

Not far from her home, two of her sister's friends hailed her. Merry and Pippin, ever ready to join in a prank, ran over and asked where she headed. Her heart pumped and her face grew hot as she struggled to find a reason they would believe.

 

"I want to see the Old Forest," she told them. "To see if it's as scary as Buttercup says it is," she added.

 

To her delight, the two young Hobbits seemed to believe her. Then, to her horror, they offered to show her the way and go with her, in case she became too frightened. She couldn't tell them she didn't want them along without arousing their curiosity. Reluctantly, she accepted the offer. 

On the Road to the Ferry

All the way along the road toward Buckleberry ferry her two companions had chatted and sung. Estella remained quiet and thought, desperately trying to figure out a way to shake off her unwanted companions. She didn't want to seem rude, or worse yet, mysterious, but nothing came to her.

 

After about an hour and following several renditions of 'The road goes ever one and on,' a favourite walking song Bilbo Baggins himself had written, the two lads decided they should all stop for a bite to eat. They never missed an opportunity for a good meal and talk about their friend Frodos uncle. Her heart sank at the pronouncement of the meal, for she had packed barely enough to last her a five-day, not wanting to take more than her family could afford. To share it with the two scamps for the frivolous romp they considered it dismayed her.

 

As they searched for an appropriate place to eat, Estella spied a fine crop of mushrooms growing in a dell just off the road. Mushrooms remain the one thing Hobbits enjoy eating above all else and she rejoiced in finding them. The lads set up the food while she carefully moved down the dells slope. She felt terribly ungainly as she bent over to pick the delicacies and place them into a fold of her dress hem.

 

Rejoining Merry and Pippin, the three enjoyed a very pleasant meal.

 

They had brown bread, cheese, and a handful of ripe tomatoes from Merrys stash, while Pippin contributed a freshly baked apple pie and ale, and Estella offered her newly picked mushrooms.

 

The food made her terribly thirsty and while Hobbit women seldom drank it, she gladly accepted a small glass of ale. Merry made a small fire, cooking the tomatoes and mushrooms and topping them with melted cheese, than adding a large hunk of crusty bread. In usual Hobbit fashion, the three of them tucked into the fine feast, concentrating solely on dining, without conversation. Once they finished, the two lads took out their pipes and began to fill them with pipeweed. Estella would have remarked on their being to young to smoke, but after considering her own state of affairs, kept quiet on the subject.

 

She began to worry again as she had planned on being away from the Shire by nightfall. It dismayed her that she had only come less than three hours from her home. Standing, she looked down at the prone Hobbit males stretched out below her.

 

"Tired?" she teased. "Poor things. Surely you wont admit this wee lasss staminas better than two fine Hobbit lads?"

 

That did it for Merry and Pippin scrambled to their feet, knocking out their pipes and hastily stowing them away in their pockets and hefting their packs.

 

"No stamina!" Pippin rejoined and set off, Merry following closely. "We'll show you."

 

From then on Estella found herself hard pressed to keep up with her swift-footed companions. Her taunt had made them determined to show just how much stamina they possessed. No way would they let a mere girl beat them. In the beginning, Estella had no trouble keeping up, but the lads had upped the pace and soon out-strode Estella's short legs. All too quickly evening began drawing in, the air cool and pleasant. A little breeze stirred the green leaves adorning the trees on either side of the narrow road. When Estella finally caught up with Merry and Pippin, the grass began to take its nighttime hue. She came upon them lying on their backs on a little knoll, just off the beaten track. They already had a good fire going, a pot hanging over it, the mouth-watering smell of stewing rabbit emanating from it. Pippin grinned and called her over.

 

"Come on, slowcoach," he teased. "We saved some for the poor tired old girl."

 

"Um, what was that about stamina?" Merry mused, his eyes twinkling as he looked over at Pippin's happy face.

 

Estella flopped down beside them. Leaving home, fighting back her fear of the unknown, and keeping her secret had taken their toll and drained her usual energy. Her head sought the relative softness of her pack, and before the others could say another word, she fell asleep. Even the foods aroma couldnt keep her awake.

 

Merry gave her a concerned look, fearing their prank had worn her out. He gently covered her with his cloak, and then returned to his seat beside Pippin. The two drew out their pipes once again and began smoking them.

 

"Perhaps we shouldn't have pressed her so hard," Merry remarked.

 

Pippin shrugged and smiled. "She lay down the challenge."

 

"I know, but she's only a little Hobbit," continued Merry, glancing over at Estella. "We did say we'd look after her."

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

When she awoke, the lads had already been up and busy. Merry warmed the stew's remains, whilst Pippin had gone to fetch water from the rill running alongside the road, only a few short strides away.

 

"Morning, Esta!" Merry greeted her with the nickname he and Pippin had come up with during the night. "I thought you might like the rabbit you missed out on last night. It's pretty tasty."

 

Estella yawned and stretched, then sat up to receive the plate Merry offered. He sat beside, watching thoughtfully as she ate.

 

"Esta," he began, "why are you leaving the Shire?"

 

Poor Estella nearly choked as she looked between Merry and Pippin, who had just returned with the water. She wanted so to tell them and enlist their help, but she knew they would try persuading her to return home. She couldn't lie to a direct question. What could she say?

 

"I... I'm not," she began. One look at their faces told her they already know or at least suspected part of the truth. "I can't tell you. Not yet, anyhow."

 

"It's a secret, then." Merry's bright eyes searched her worried face. "All right. But soon you must tell us, if you want it to stay that way."

 

If Estella's plight hadn't been so dire, she would have realised Merry had spoken thusly only out of concern. However, because of her fears, she felt his words portended something dark and threatening. Her thoughts grew more troubled as she considered just how she would shake off her two guards, for she had come to consider them that way.

 

"We can still go to the forest, can't we?" Pippin asked. "We're not far from the ferry and I looked forward to spending the night in the forest. You do still want to see it, don't you?" He looked at her pleadingly.

 

"Yes, I still want to go there, but to stay the night... I'm not sure that I do," she replied.

 

"You're not afraid of a few silly trees, are you?" Pippin laid down the challenge.

 

Merry's cold stare beat on Pippin's back at his words. Estella noted Merry's glare at his friend, but in true Hobbit fashion she could not reject the challenge.

 

"Of course not!" she responded.

 

With a sigh, Merry tried to argue for them to turn back home. Estella feared he would attempt to get her to unburden her troubles to them, aware his Hobbit sense probably told him the further from the Shire they got, the more desperate she would become and the harder for her to tell her secret. Still, she couldn't back out from the challenge Pippin had laid on them. She shook her head and insisted they travel on. Merry finally gave up with a shrug. They began collecting their things, then put out their fire, and set off again for the ferry.

 

Estella found the morning pleasant, and since they had decided to journey together, the other two slowed their pace to allow her to keep up easily. With time, they began chatting comfortably, happily recalling stories heard, mostly from Bilbo, whilst curled before their cozy Hobbit home fire, of adventures and places from folk tales. Time passed quickly and midmorning found them stopping for second breakfast near the Buckleberry ferry.

 

Estella stared out at the dark water. She had seen small rivers before, but to her, the Brandywine looked large and daunting. She reached a hand down into the water, finding the shallows warm. Despite its surging power, her fear lessened. Both Merry and Pippin had used the old ferry many times. They found it a convenient shortcut from their homes in Tuckborough and Buckland, on the far side of the Brandywine River.

 

They helped her board the raft, which in essence made up the ferry. Rather old, but well made, the raft used poles to cross the river and a strong cable stretched between the two banks to guide it. For the most part, Estella kept her eyes shut, choosing not to look at the water swirling around them. She recalled that Frodos parents had been believed drowned in this very river. Of course, she could still hear and smell the water. Later, she would recall this and smile, wishing a swift return to its flowing waters. However, at the moment she felt overjoyed to reach the far bank safely.

Many Paths

From the bank the road climbed gently. The warming sun stood well overhead and the Hobbits thoughts turned once more to food. Pippin looked into the bag he carried.

 

"There's not much left," he muttered.

 

"Mine's not much better," answered Merry, glumly.

 

"I have a pie we can share," Estella offered, feeling more than a little guilty at failing to share her food with them yet.

 

They settled by the roadside, eager to ease their growing hunger. To be honest, the small pie did little to fill them up, though the lads did their best to seem grateful. In fact, Merry's expression told Estella he could have finished the whole thing himself. Fresh water, they had in abundance, as the Shire's lands and rivers remained naturally pure and fertile. Once finished, they walked for another hour or so, happening upon a small apple orchard at the outskirts of the forest. Each one of them took a small ripe apple hanging there as dessert. This lifted their spirits as they journeyed to the wood's edge.

 

Merry took an old important-looking key from his pocket, and then led them along the hedge surrounding the forest. At last they reached an opening, which delved into the ground. He took them down this to the end, where a large impressively wrought iron gate of some antiquity barred their way. Carved into its face, the likenesses of great trees could be seen and high at the top, words none of them could read. Merry put the key in the lock and turned it with some difficulty. Both he and Pippin put their weight against the heavy door and strained against it. Finally, it groaned and began to open. Thus, the three Hobbits entered the Old Forest. As they moved forward, Estella had the first inklings of a plan.

 

"Um... Do you know where we might get something to eat?" she asked them.

 

"Of course," Merry answered. "So, you're going back then? This old wood too scary for you, eh?"

 

"Nnno... No, I don't want to go back straight away, but we will need supplies, won't we?" Estella looked between the two friends.

 

"Right enough," Pippin agreed.

 

"Okay, then. Here's what to do. I shall go to Bamfurlong to see a friend of mine, old Farmer Maggot. He'll be kind enough to spare some food for three hungry Hobbits," Merry offered. "I'll be back in a couple of days."

 

"I think it had better be two Hobbits needing food," Estella suggested.

 

"Oh... Yes... Two very hungry hobbits then," replied Merry.

 

He took Pippin aside, whispering quietly to him. Estella couldn't hear their words, but she guessed Merry had instructed him to keep a close eye on her. Pippin nodded vigorously, then Merry clapped him on the back and turned to leave. Estella stood and moved to Merry's side. She stood on tiptoe, reached up, and kissed him on the cheek.

 

"Thank you," she said. In her heart she added, I'm sorry. For she had decided she must go on alone now.

 

He didn't look as if he liked leaving her with Pippin, but he needed to get some food and surely even Pippin could follow his instructions.

 

"Watch her like a hawk, my lad. If ever she had a chance to slip off unseen, it'll be whilst I'm gone. Don't leave her alone. Understand?" he whispered, but this time Estella heard him.

 

He looked uneasy, but he still hitched his bag over his shoulder and strode off toward Farmer Maggot's place. Estella got the impression he believed she couldnt outrun Pippin on her short legs. She watched him leave, and then returned to sit beside Pippin, staring at him intently. He gradually became aware of her study and shifted uncomfortably.

 

"What's wrong?" he asked hesitantly.

 

"You look all hot and bothered," Estella answered. "Come. Take off that shirt and lie here on your tummy."

 

She patted the grass before her. Pippin considered her request a bit, then shrugged and did as she bid. Estella knelt astride his thighs and began rubbing his shoulders.

 

"This will ease all that tension out," she whispered gently. "My dad loves having a massage when he gets in tired from work."

 

Slowly, she worked her hands across his shoulders and down his back, smoothing and stretching out the tension. Pippin began to relax and between the warm evening and the day's walking, his snores soon accompanied her gentle rubbing. As she had planned, he had fallen fast asleep. She carefully rose and gave him a kiss.

 

"I'm really sorry, Pip," she told him. "I hope Merry won"t be too hard on you." She picked up her bag, stepped onto the path, and vanished into the forest.

 

Estella already knew she could not outrun Pippin, so she planned to hide her trail. Being so small had its advantages as she could go where taller folk could not. In the Old Forest, she could tuck herself under the lowest branches without needing to crawl. Like all Hobbits, she made very little sound and the trail she left would daunt even the most skilled tracker. For at this point, not only her size, but also the need to deliberately conceal her trail worked to her benefit.

 

Later in the evening, she paused, listening for sounds of pursuit. By now Pippin would have awoken, found her gone, and begun looking for her. The Old Forest lay silent. No bird song, no small rustle of woodland animals came to her ears. It seemed as if the whole wood held its breath. Now that she had stopped, the whole feel of the wood had changed. She told herself that the darkness had unnerved her, but she did not relax.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Pippin had awoken two hours before, cursing himself for letting Estella trick him into relaxing into sleep. For a while he called her name as he searched, thinking perhaps she had gotten lost. Eventually, he realised she had left him deliberately and he began running frantically along the woodland path. He scoured the tracks edges for where she must have left it, but whether the Old Forest's malice or her cunning had caused it, he could find nothing. The Old Forest's hostility beat at him and at last he returned to the place they had rested. Miserable, he knew Merry would have him for it when he admitted hed failed at the task set him. Night drew in and the unhappy Hobbit fell into a restless sleep.

 

In Hobbiton, the Hardbottle family shared his wretched state. They had become desperate to hear news of their missing daughter. When she did not return home, they had visited all her known friends without success. The following day they searched all the lanes and fields, enlisting all their own friends as they went. Soon her absence became general knowledge and the town mayor, Mr. Will Whitefoot instructed the Hobbiton sheriffs to investigate her disappearance. When even they returned empty-handed, the family began to despair. For her to be gone so long seemed unlike Estella. Only once before had she failed to return as expected. Eight months before she had been out overnight, without an explanation offered, but she had come back the next morning. Despite days of questions about it, which she refused to answer, they had put aside the incident and life had returned to normal. This seemed very different for two whole days had passed and no one had any idea of her whereabouts.

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

Merry settled by the roadside on his way to Bamfurlong and also had a restless night. Though he could not know of Estellas departure from Pippin to travel through the Old Forest alone, his heart told of something not right. Morning found him up and off to Farmer Maggot's, for even if Estella had become lost in the forest, he and Pippin would need food as they hunted for her. He hurried back to the ferry, taking it across the Brandywine once again, then running as fast as he could to the farm. Despite this, noon approached when he reached the Maggot farm. Out in a nearby field, Farmer Maggot worked as a hot and bothered Merry frantically banged on his door, calling his name.

 

"'Ere lad, have a care there. That's a new door you're trying to knock down," scolded the flustered farmer. 'What's up, young Meriadoc?"

 

"I need your help," panted Merry. "Pippin an' me are out on an adventure and we've run out of food."

 

"Well, now," Farm Maggot answered with a grin. "Now I can understand the panic. We can't have young Hobbits going hungry, can we?"

 

"We are very hungry," exclaimed Merry, looking pleadingly at the farmer.

 

"Well, now... Come on into the farmhouse. Let's see what we can rustle up then." Farmer Maggot led the way. He opened the cottage's door and the delicious aroma of fresh baked bread greeted Merry.

 

"Cor!" exclaimed Merry. "Can we have some of that?" He pointed to one of the large loaves sitting on the table, cooling.

 

The farmer nodded and reached for a wicker basket. He placed the loaf in it, and then went to the pantry to add a fine cured ham, some apples, and a good-sized pat of butter. He looked around at Merry's happy face with a chuckle and included a large apple cake freshly purchased that morning.

 

"Now," he said as he turned back to Merry. "Do you think this will satisfy two hungry Hobbits?"

 

"I'd say there's enough for three," Merry replied with wide smile, then added quickly. "If they weren't so very hungry."

 

"Well, then we'd better add a bottle of ale, just to make certain." The old farmer was more than generous, but Merry and Pippin had been good friends and between friends, kindness flowed as deep as the Brandywine.

 

"Will you stay for a bite with me?" asked the happy farmer, eager to have the company of a young Hobbit. But the impatient look on Merry's face told Farmer Maggot the youngster wished to leave. "Perhaps you shouldn't. I expect Pippin's desperately waiting for you."

 

"Oh, yes," agreed Merry, glad not to have to explain further.

 

With a final wave to Farm Maggot, Merry set off towards the Old Forest. Looking over his shoulder he called a last thanks, then hurried down the path. Things had gone better than planned or expected with Farmer Maggot's generosity. Merry felt certain with the help of a good meal they would find out Estella's secret. Then they could help her return home to tell her parents what troubled her. Without stopping, Merry felt compelled to rush back to where he had left his friends. That something that had troubled him still did, but he couldn't decide on what exactly that might be.

 

Pippin, on the other hand, knew exactly the trouble. He had fallen asleep and allowed Estella to leave unseen. All his searching had been in vain for he had turned up no sign of Estella anywhere. It seemed almost as if the Forest had hidden her trail. Deeply worried, he sat huddled on the grass beneath the Old Forest trees and waited anxiously for Merry's return. Very late that evening, he heard his friend's unmistakable voice and hurried toward the gate to wait for him.

 

Merry guessed as soon as he saw Pippin. "Where's Esta?" he demanded.

 

"I'm sorry. I've really made a muddle of it." Pippin's face filled with sadness and shame.

 

Merry drew a breath, then seeing his friend so upset, he sat him down. "Very well," he said gently. "Begin at the beginning."

 

Gradually, the entire story came out, punctuated frequently with "I'm sorry" and "I should have guessed." When Pippin had finished, Merry sat silent for a moment. Then he got up and moved to the edge of the trees, slowly searching the verge and path. He found no trace of Esta, and he returned to Pippin with a sigh.

 

"Never mind, Pip," he said softly. "We must decide what to do now." Then he sat down and became lost in thought again.

 

Pippin watched him for a while, and then overcome with weariness, he fell into a troubled sleep. Finally, Merry came to a decision. He looked over at his friend with a shake of his head, then lay down beside him and soon dropped off to sleep as well.

A Friend in Deed

 

Estella spent a very uncomfortable night in the forest, unable to sleep except in tiny snatches. Tired, sore, and aching, her heart felt heavy and her stomach hurt. She peeped out between the bushs leaves where she hid and saw the small track of some woodland creature. Perhaps a fox or badger had passed there during the night. Intently, she listened, but only the sound of the wind through the trees reached her ears.

 

Withdrawing back into the bush, she undid her bag and peered in. She had just selected what to eat when the pain in her tummy struck again. Not a constant pain, it seemed to throb, reaching a crescendo, and then dying away. I must have eaten something bad, she mused. Tears threatened, but she still felt determined not to turn back. He said he was going to Orthanc, so that's where I'm going. Even if I do have a stomachache.

 

She pulled out a small canteen of water and took a few small sips, stowing it beneath her cloak when she finished. Pulling the cloak closer, she set off down the little track she had spotted earlier. The trail did not lead onto the main path through the Old Forest, but it did follow in the same general direction. It lead downwards, although Estella could not see where it would take her. She felt her progress slow and she painfully tried to put more distance between her and her friends she had left behind. They would be searching for her, but she could not return yet.

 

After about two hours of toiling down the path, Estella happened upon a small rill. It bubbled happily amongst its pebbly course as it sped down the valley towards the river. The ground grew boggy, though with her lightness of foot, it did not trouble Estella. However, she found it hard to continue as she struggled on between bouts of pain, trying to hold back her tears. She felt more desperate now. Lost and alone, she didn't have the strength to go back. So she kept on the downward track, hoping beyond hope that either the pain would stop or she would find help. At this point, she did not care whether she went on to Orthanc or returned home.

 

A little while later, Estella reached a flatter place where the trees withdrew and the sky opened up to allow the gentle sun to shine down on the little Hobbit. The rill had joined a larger river and sturdy willow and tall reeds lined the path. She felt she could go no further and sank to the ground. In pain and afraid, she softly began to weep. The hours passed and still the pains did not stop. If anything, they grew more intense and frequent. The hours passed, but Estellas condition prevented her from moving on. As she lay there in dismay, she began hearing the strangest sounds from a little way off. As they drew nearer she recognized singing.

 

She raised her head a little. "Help me," she called weakly. Then, she managed to gather her strength. "Please, I think I'm dying," she cried out.

 

The sound of hurrying feet moved toward her and Estella could see a blurred outline of yellow and blue. At first, she thought it might be Merry and Pippin, but when she wiped her eyes she saw instead a tall Man standing before her. Estella had heard of Men, the big people. Indeed, she knew some lived in Bree, a small village near the Shire, and coexisted with Hobbits quite happily.

 

 

"Please... Help me," she whispered.

 

"Let old Tom Bombadil take a look a look at you." The stranger spoke with a deep, kindly voice. He knelt beside her, felt her stomach gently, then smiled. "Looks like your baby's on the way."

 

Estella just looked at him and began to cry again.

 

"There now." Toms voice remained calm, though he seemed surprised to find her so distraught. "Don't be afraid. Old Tom and his wife will help you." He gently lifted her and cradling her in his arms, strode off towards his home. It seemed to Estella that in no time he had laid her in a soft bed and Goldberry, Tom's wife, busied herself preparing for the baby's arrival. Tom held Estella's hand, talking lightly and singing gently to calm the frightened Hobbit woman child.

 

It did not take Estella long to deliver her child. Hobbits give birth easily and Estella proved no exception to this. Once she relaxed, the whole process took twenty minutes and saw the babe born on the 22nd day of September, 3001 (2401 in Shire reckoning). Tom scooped up the newborn, took her to the window, then lifted her up so the first rays of moonlight fell upon her. After a moment, he gently handed her to Goldberry, who bathed the child with sweet scented water, dried her, and laid her on Estella's stomach.

 

"You have a precious daughter," Tom told her, beaming down at Estella. She smiled weakly, nodded, and then slipped into a deep, peaceful sleep.

 

When she awoke, late morning sunlight streamed through the window. Goldberry sat beside her and noticed her stirring. She called to Tom, who came in bearing a tray laden with a sumptuous meal. Estella sat up and reached for the tray when she suddenly remembered.

 

"My baby?"

 

"She's right here beside you." Goldberry pointed to a tiny wooden crib beside Estella's bed. Within it, the tiniest of Hobbit babies slept peacefully.

 

"She's beautiful," Tom commented.

 

Estella looked at the newborn child. She had a mass of dark, curly hair, a podgy face, and deep, night blue eyes. Truly, the child appeared as pretty a Hobbit child as any mother could want. However, one small difference remained. Upon her brow she bore a star-like mark so pale as to be called white. Not a scar, but a birthmark, such a thing no Hobbit child displayed, yet Estella found her the most beautiful of Hobbit children. As the baby lay quietly, Estella turned her thoughts to the breakfast tray. Accepting it from Tom, she began to eat.

 

After waiting for her to quell some of her hunger, Tom began questioning his guest. He knew she had travelled alone through the Forest, so he surmised she had not merely become lost. His questions remained gentle and subtle, so even though Estella told him very little, he learned a great deal more than she intended.

 

He went outside, leaving Estella to feed her baby, and stood awhile in deep thought. It seemed obvious to him that Estella was still very young and that she had just borne her first child. It also seemed obvious neither of the two young Hobbits who had entered the Forest with her had fathered the babe. From what he had gleaned, he felt certain she sought the father, most likely of another race than her. What then should he do? She would not agree to return home, becoming adamant when he had suggested such to her. He felt he must aid her in her search for the child's father, yet this posed a difficulty, for it lead her farther from her home and family. Still, if he did not help her, she would surely continue on alone and possibly into terrible danger. He decided he must assist the little Hobbit mum along her way, but not just yet. He would try to persuade her to stay a bit and perhaps she just might have a change of heart. Or perhaps those who sought her might come to his knowledge and he could arrange for them to 'find' their missing kinswoman. He pulled himself from his thoughts and returned inside. He looked down at the little bundle in Estella's arms.

 

"What name have you given this little one?"

 

"It is not decided yet," Goldberry answered, who had obviously asked the same question.

 

"I want the father to name her," Estella replied, blushing. "For now we can call her Babe."

 

After that pronouncement, Tom Bombadil persuaded Estella and Babe to stay with him and his wife, Goldberry for a bit. Under their care, Babe flourished and Estella regained her strength.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

When Merry awoke, he found Pippin already busy. He had packed up all their supplies and prepared a cold breakfast.

 

"Well, Pip, we're going home," he told his friend in a strained voice. "We can do no more here. It's best if we return home and tell what we know to Estella's family."

 

"We're just going to leave Esta?" Pippin seemed almost in tears.

 

"It's better to have the whole Shire looking," answered Merry. He laid a hand on Pip's shoulder. "Don't worry, Pip, my lad. Esta's a lot stronger than we gave her credit for."

 

Both Hobbits returned home with heavy hearts. They knew, of course, of Bilbo's great birthday party on the 22nd of September and that all Hobbits in the Shire would come, whether or not they had been invited. With this in mind, they headed to the party field to meet up with their own families, calm their own parents' fears, and then to the Hardbottles' to explain what they knew of Estella's disappearance.

 

With the party in full swing, they found it hard to explain amongst all the laughter and fun. However, when Bilbo made his farewell speech and then vanished, the Hobbits' stunned silence made it easier for Merry and Pippin to be heard. Their fears of being blamed for leading Estella astray proved unfounded, as the Hardbottles' knew their daughter well enough to realize she had left the two lads deliberately.

 

Why she had gone off and planned to leave the Shire remained a mystery and didn't stop them continuing their search. With so many Hobbits gathered together, the details soon became known and the whole Shire turned out to look for the missing Estella.

 

They searched in groups, each with a sheriff. Pippin, Merry, Frodo, and his friend, Sam, searched with Tom and Lily Hardbottle, Estella's parents. They hunted for her the longest, but in the end, their efforts turned up nothing. Estella remained lost and they could do no more. Of course, they had gone into the Old Forest, but with its forbidding aura, they failed to look far from the path. Even if they had done so, they most likely would not have found any trace. They reckoned she had left the Forest, and thought most likely she had been lost to the Brandywine River.

 

Into Peril

 

Four months passed since Estella had given birth to her daughter. Four months spent with Tom Bombadil and his wife, Goldberry. Happy months spent with her baby, learning the joys of motherhood. But now the need to find her child's father began to press on her mind. Goldberry first noticed Estella's withdrawal from her usual chirpy self. Gently, she questioned Estella about what troubled her, hoping the Hobbit had decided to return home. However, when she discovered Estella's thoughts, she found it difficult not to agree with her.

 

By then, late January had arrived and winter had wrapped itself around the West. Because of this, Tom managed to persuade Estella to wait for warmer weather as many long miles stretched between the Old Forest and the Gap of Rohan, where Isenguard and the Tower of Orthanc lay. Estella agreed to remain, but the desire to move on grew daily until she felt more than ready to leave when April heralded a new spring.

 

Estella's decision to leave left Tom with a problem. He did not wish to leave Goldberry alone, yet it worried him that Estella and her baby would travel alone if he did not accompany them. He contemplated his choices and in the end lent her every aid he could but his presence. He gave her a small goat and cart with a considerable load of food and supplies and a padded basket for Babe. Though he had considered giving her a pony, he realised such a small Hobbit would most likely have trouble handling such a beast. The goat, on the other hand, would prove easy to lead and required much less grass. In addition to this, she would also give fresh milk to the pair.

 

Goldberry and Estella had not been idle through the winter months. They had fashioned many clothes for the baby, which they added to the cart. Finally, with great sadness, Tom and Goldberry said a fond farewell to the Hobbits who had arrived so unexpectedly the previous autumn. Many a day would pass when they would wonder how Estella and Babe fared.

 

For the most part, Estella travelled close to the Greenway road, which led in a Southeasterly direction, and in those days had become little used. With the shadow growing in Mordor, most common folks preferred to stay at home or if they did venture out, often went no further than the nearest town. A lonely journey she undertook, yet Estella remained content to be on her way. Although memories of the Shire and her family troubled her, she stayed determined to reach Orthanc. Little can be told of this first portion of their journey. Estella walked and occasionally Babe toddled beside her. The days remained mostly fair, the nights bright and starlit, and to Estella, the world's troubles seemed far away.

 

As they approached the last days of August, this seeming peace would soon change as the neared the Greyflood River. When Estella drew near the old bridge spanning the Greyflood River, early evening had fallen. The river flowed angrily, days of endless rain in the mountains swelling it. Estella grew nervous about crossing it. She stood, hesitating, and then summoned her courage and began across. Before she could set foot on it, a group of three Orcs assailed her from behind. They had been fleeing Rivendell Elves that had tracked them along the Misty Mountains' flanks. The way West had been blocked, so they had turned East, straight into Estella's path.

 

Estella, not understanding their nature, smiled sweetly in hope that despite their grotesque appearance they might not harm her. As they made a grab for her, she realised her error, snatched Babe from her basket and fled their claws. She dashed away from the little cart. Only one Orc pursued her, the others falling upon the goat and cart. Soon the air behind her filled with snarling as they fought over the spoils.

 

Meanwhile, Estella ran for her and Babe's lives. Fleet as she might be, the Orc would soon catch her unless she found a place to hide or someone to protect her. A group of rocky outcrops appeared, a number of caves among them. She dived into the smallest, crawling as far back into it as she could, and clutching Babe close in the darkness.

 

Trembling, she lay waiting until the sound of deep rasping breath came to her from outside the cave. Fear gripped her as it sought her scent, but she refused to give in. She would fight if necessary. Still the snuffling outside continued and she began to relax. An overpowering smell, rather like wet dog, made her realise she had sought refuge in some sort of den. The occupant's scent, rank and menacing, must have hidden her own. The Orc had lost her trail and was zigzagged between different caves. Estella allowed herself to breathe and think. Outside, the sounds of ripping and tearing grew louder, and the Orc searching for her turned and loped away toward his companions.

 

The Orc had also heard the ripping and suspected his two companions had decided to dine without him. The goat provided such a small morsel that if he didn't hurry he would get none. The thing he had sought before would be only a bare mouthful and it had vanished. The goat seemed a better option. He hurried to plunge into the fray, stretching his sinewy arm out to grab the smallest Orc, who held the goats hindquarters. Tearing with his knife-like fangs, the larger Orc wrenched off the smaller ones left arm. The smaller one lay whimpering at the larger one's feet until he received a swift kick in the head and whined no more. Its still body became a second meal for the large Orc. When the two remaining Orcs had finished eating, they began smashing and tearing the remains of the little cart and its contents. Finally bored, they turned East and set off towards Mordor.

 

The scout Elf who had been sent to ensure the Orcs continued on their way Southeastward watched from a distance. He had seen the melee and though Elves did not meddle in the affairs of mortal folks, he could not help but be dismayed at the loss of life. Drawing nearer, he could make out from the tattered clothes lying scattered about that no Mans cart had been smashed. Sadness filled him as he saw the small garments that must have belonged to a child and the smaller ones that perhaps had adorned a toy. He slowly began searching, starting at the clearest tracks before the bridge, and fought back the thought she had most likely provided the Orcs with an easy meal. Lindir, as his kind called him, felt his heart become more troubled as he discovered not one, but two sets of tracks. He crouched, peering at them closely. One walked steadily while the other, smaller set skipped about and finally disappeared, obviously lifted into the cart. As he prepared to rise and cross the bridge again, a small movement caught his eye and he remained still, his cloak drawn around him, blending with the surroundings.

 

Estella crept from the cave and looked in dismay at the wreckage about her. With no fresh clothing to change into from the filthy ones she and Babe wore, she decided they should wash in the Greyflood. She first undressed Babe and lowered her into the water, gently washing her precious child clean. Once finished, she prepared to bathe herself. She glanced toward Babe, who ran happily in the warm autumn sun filling the glade. Babe waved at someone, but when Estella sheltered her eyes she saw no one. Estella smiled, thinking Babe must have an imaginary friend, and sank into the water.

 

Lindir smiled as well, his heart filled with joy at the sight of the little one frolicking in the sunshine. Long ago memories of his own childhood, running through green fields, played in his mind. Finding these little people here surprised him. He knew of Hobbits, but had never seen any personally and had not truly studied much about them. If he had, he would have been concerned that only a mother and child travelled so far from others of their kind. Still, the loss of their belongings to Orcs troubled him. His natural protective instincts prodded him to provide them with an unseen escort.

 

Estella and Babe continued on their journey through winter and into spring with their guardian of whom Estella remained unaware. Babe would wave to him occasionally when her eyes picked him out, watching among the trees. Usually Lindir would follow on higher ground as this afforded him a better view of what lay ahead. He also relied on the sun to keep him hidden from the little woman's eyes. The child though... Her eyesight seemed much keener and even his Elvish cloak, spun from materials that reflected the colours of his surroundings, did not hide him from her gaze.

 

Some evenings, Lindir would creep closer to listen to the stories the little woman would tell her child, Babe, before she fell asleep. At times, the woman would sing and his heart would lighten as he recalled the songs his mother sang to him. One night, when the woman had surrendered to sleep, Babe awoke and crept silently over to where Lindir lay, deep in thought. She reached out and gently touched his face. Startled, he leapt to his feet, alarming the child and causing her to shriek and flee back to her mother. Estella, waking from a deep sleep, thought a bad dream had frightened Babe, so she held her and quieted her sobs. In the shadows, Lindir regained his compose and regretted his reaction, for he longed to learn more of these little people. From the stories he heard the woman tell, they possessed a love of the earth and of music and words such as only his own people knew. He shook his head, knowing the right time had not yet come to approach, but hoping a chance would come when he could speak to them and gain more knowledge about them.

 

They stayed on the old South road, as Estella feared what might lay hidden in the scrubby brush lands lining both sides of it. Still, she had to hunt for food and during these times she would find a dense bush or sward to hide Babe behind. She carried no weapon except a small knife she had recovered from the cart's debris, but she used her stealth and surprising accuracy with a stone with fair success and a modicum of luck. However, if those did not favor her, she would at times find a freshly dead rabbit nearby. Though cautious, she never found the hunter. Estella would carry the gift back to Babe, thanking luck and whatever had caught, but not eaten, the prey. Fortunately, water hardly ever proved a problem with the pure, sweet streams that flowed around the area. Despite the goat and little cart's loss, Estella and Babe made good progress.

 

The weather grew warmer as summer began to make its presence felt with early June's arrival. The green meadows filled with many hued, sweet scented flowers over which bees buzzed happily from blossom to blossom. Babe passed her ninth month in Middle Earth and Estella and she managed to cover between five to eight miles a day. One late morning, Estella looked up and saw the Southern end of the Misty Mountains in the distance. They reached high into the sky and despite how far away they stood from them; she still could not see their tops. Her necked ached from looking up so much and she laughed in delight. She had never seen mountains before in her short life.

 

As they approached the mountains, it became harder to find food. Though she still found an occasional rabbit, often Estella went hungry, giving any food she found to Babe. Thus, when she came across a small hollow, where strawberries grew, she nearly leapt in joy before rushing off to pick the fresh, ripe fruit. She gestured for Babe to join her and together they began gathering the berries, though Babe often squished more between her chubby little fingers before stuffing them in her mouth. Soon both face and hands bore the distinctive red hue. Estella laughed and shook her head, then tore a small portion from her dress hem to carry what she could along with them. Once she felt she had all she could take, she ate some herself, soon joining her daughter in licking the sticky juice from her fingers. The day passed happily, their stomachs filled and the warm air soothing them. That evening Estella decided they would remain in the glade for the night.

 

That evening Lindir also spent his last near them. He had been long away from home and duty and his heart called him back to Rivendell, to patrol the borders of the valley and ensure the place remained free from marauding Orcs. As a last gift to the little people, he caught and left two fine rabbits as well as a full water skin, hoping they would aid the travellers. Babe saw the Elf leaving the gifts, but this time he did not startle her. She came closer as he bent down to lay the rabbits on a rock. Slowly, she held out her hand, touching his face again. Lindir could feel the love in it, and for him, it gave him all the thanks he needed. With a warm smile, he saluted the tiny girl child, then turned and disappeared into the trees.

 

Two more weeks passed before Estella and Babe reached the Gap of Rohan, a natural gateway between Eriador in the West and Rhovanion in the East. The Gap, situated between the Southern most ends of the Misty Mountains and the Northwestern end of the White Mountains, marked the end of nearly two years of travel for the Hobbit woman and her child. At last she could see the end of her journey from the Shire and the fulfillment of her hopes.

A Bitter Blow

 

From here, near the mountains, she could see their tops as they swooped down to dive into the soil at their feet. Estella followed the Northerly slopes, for they lead round to Isenguard, Orthanc's location. Though the mountains dipped to their lowest point, to Estella they still provided a towering wonder as she followed the curving path toward the inner sanctum that housed Orthanc. Along a great avenue of fine old trees, a road ran wide and grand, ending in steps that rose up through the tower doorway. The trees, older than the ancient Tower, had watched the ages turn and now watched the young Hobbit mum and her little daughter approach the forbidding black tower of Orthanc.

 

The place spoke to Estella of a great power, seeming to have grown from the bones of the earth itself. No stonemasons' tool mark lay upon its walls as they rose cold, sheer, and unblemished. It stood tall and proud, daring time or foe to try to lay it low, defying harm of any sort. Estella felt Orthanc's might and trembled at its majesty. As she moved along the final few yards of road, she saw a tall, lean man emerge from the door. His stature and robe bespoke a power rivaling the tower's and Estella froze in awe. He approached, his face cold and stern, in many ways mirroring the tower from which he had come forward. Finally, he stood over her, and as she looked up she caught the cruel, hard stare he laid upon her and Babe. The little one clung to her mother's tattered dress, and then tucked herself behind her and out of sight.

 

The tall man before them, called Saruman, was in truth not a man, but a great and powerful wizard. Not the sort of magician that provides tricks for small children's amusement, but a being of great power and the leader of the White Council. Saruman, a member of the Maiar, had been sent to Middle Earth to guard it against Sauron's evil forces, but as time passed, not all Maiar had stayed true to their purpose.

 

Saruman, while studying the evil ways in order to thwart them had become just such a one. He had begun with a desire to bring order from chaos in Middle Earth, but as he studied he fell into the Ring of power's trap. Sauron's ring, lost in the First Age, had been found and at first Saruman thought he could find it and destroy it. However, over the long years he began to desire the Ring, believing he could master it. Slowly, he began to turn from his good intentions to greed and lust for the power it could give him. At this time, he had not become entirely evil, but his actions concerning the Hobbit woman before him would spell the irrevocable change toward darkness.

 

Eight months before he had gone to the Shire as something had drawn him to that place, one he had never had a desire to visit before. Perhaps only a suspicion or an unguarded whisper had called him, but he had heard that Hobbits might know of the Ring's whereabouts. He sought news of Gollum, the creature who had been a Hobbit once, for he had heard rumors the thing had come in contact with the Ring.

 

Saruman did not know most Shire Hobbits had no knowledge of Gollum. Only two or three at most knew of him, and from that, knowledge of the One Ring. He had noticed the Shire's guards and knew Gandalf the Grey, another Maia and White Council member, had organised such a watch upon the Hobbits. Saruman believed Gandalf desired the Ring for himself and hurried to the Shire, where fate brought Estella into his grasp.

 

Estella had been walking in the meadows near dusk. She had thought to turn towards her home, but Saruman had approached and his tall, lordly, and grand form had overawed her. The Maia had seen his chance to learn all she knew of Gollum and the One Ring through befriending her. With soft voice and kindly manner he persuaded Estella to his side, carefully questioning her. However, Estella knew nothing of Gollum, or Smeagol as he had once been known. Though once of the Hobbit race, his kin had remained on the East side of the Misty Mountains and had not journeyed West to settle in Eriador. Hence, long years had seen the gradual loss of knowledge about the Eastern group of Hobbits. Only a very few, old or well-travelled Shire Hobbits still retained a memory of them or Gollum so that the stories seemed mostly folklore and legends.

 

Saruman had no idea Hobbits did not value their history and felt convinced Estella lied in her denial of Gollum's whereabouts. In order to persuade her to tell all, he declared his love, saying that to him she appeared more beautiful than the stars above. Estella, young and na´ve, naturally felt flattered at such attentions from a fair and lofty Lord. Any uneasiness that she had she attributed to her unworthiness for such esteem and love. Still, she could not disclose what she did not know and soon Saruman tired of his kind words. One last ploy he used, that of sex, believing in the heat of passion she would reveal all. When this did not occur, he dropped his disguise, stated he found her no better than a rat child, and that he would return to Orthanc. A comment he deeply regretted now as he glared down at the Hobbit woman. He had glimpsed what appeared as a girl child behind her and his face grew grimmer.

 

A Step into Evil

 

Saruman had not considered the possibility his actions in the Shire would result in the birth of his child. Not only did he not consider it, the thought disgusted him, for she not only represented the result of his failed ploy, but a crossbreed, neither Maiar nor Hobbit. The loathing soon turned to hatred and hurried him along his path from wickedness to true evil. For the moment, he needed to think and time to decide on what course to take. Not wishing to frighten her away and allow others to see the result of his mistakes, he softened his countenance and spoke quietly.

 

"My dear child, what has brought you so far from the Shire?" he managed with such concern in his voice Estella never suspected his true feelings.

 

Still, his obvious earlier anger and disapproval had frightened her and she struggled to speak instead of run, as her instincts bade her do. She fought them and finally replied to his question.

 

"I've brought your daughter, to have you name her, if you will," she faltered. "We have travelled many months to get here, through many perils. I hoped you would take us in."

 

"Well, my child, I think it fortunate you have come here at this time," Saruman replied with unexpected warmth and gestured toward the tower for them to enter.

 

The kind tone convinced Estella, building a trust impossible to deny, winning her over, and allowing her the mistaken impression Babe's appearance had softened him. The power of his voice had once again made her ready to trust him.

 

Thus, she willingly entered Orthanc, yet the steep stairs seemed to hinder her as if they knew what lay ahead for her and wanted to dissuade her and turn her back to safety. But Estella struggled gamely on until she and Babe reached the topmost step. From there they approached what seemed a wall, yet when Saruman placed his hand upon it, it yawned open. He stepped aside and allowed Estella and Babe to enter. Once inside, the door slid shut, seemingly made of the very same stone as the tower without visible seam. An almost silent click told Babe it had locked behind them. She followed Saruman down the long, narrow, and dark passage and into a great room. He bid them sit on the cold metal seats provided and Estella could only compare them to the comfy soft cushioned ones at her home. She barely managed to reach the high seat, however Babe could not and plopped down beneath one instead. As Estella waited, she began to hum a small, light ditty she had often sung in the Shire. Her legs swung in time to the tune as she waited for Saruman to speak. He stood with his back to her, and still ensnared in his voices power, she did not register the change in atmosphere. Babe however, noticed it at once and lay trembling in a small heap on the floor.

 

Saruman swung around suddenly, his hand reaching out to grab Estella by the throat. He lifted her in the air until her face came level with his. Now Estella could read the true malice in his mind and heart, but although she struggled, she had no hope of freeing herself from his grip.

 

"So," his powerful voice began, stinging her ears until she winced with pain. A cruel smile played across his lips and then he spoke again. "So, you thought to bring me this half-breed ratling?" His voice thrilled with powerful malice and hate. "You come to claim a name for it. I will give it no name. Nor, my dear, shall you."

 

At this, Estella felt a deep crushing pressure on her throat. She could not breathe and at first thought Saruman would throttle her. When he dropped her from his grasp to the floor, she realised the truth. Gradually, the tightness eased, a bitter, burning sensation replacing it.

 

As she came around she struggled to ask "Why?" but no sound emerged from her mouth. She had lost her voice and would speak no more.

 

Despite this horror, it proved not the last of Saruman's descent into evil. He had yet one more step to take, which he now left them to plan. Estella lay stricken on the floor, watching as he moved toward a small side room. She could not see his actions, though perhaps that would prove better for her.

 

The Maia stood before the large stone obelisk, topped with a round magical stone, one of the Palantir. Through this stone Saruman could see the distant realm of Mordor and communicate with the dark power residing there. One did not speak into the Palantir. Instead, the power of one's mind controlled it. Through the Palantir the Dark Lord Sauron learned of the Hobbits' existence and that these same Hobbits knew of the One Ring's whereabouts.

 

"I have secured for you one of these Hobbits, my Lord. She has refused to tell me of the Ring's whereabouts. I believe you have methods to prise this information from her." He paused as if listening, then responded. "Yes, m'Lord. I will have her ready for your servant." With these exact words, he stepped forever from the light and sealed Estellas fate.

 

He returned to the outer room where the stricken Estella still lay, failing to notice Babe had crawled to her mother and lay hidden beneath her mother's faded blue cloak. Saruman scooped up a large sack from one corner. Then, he bundled Estella and unbeknownst to him, Babe, into it and carried it to the tower's roof.

 

To Estella and Babe the wait within the sack seemed endless. No light entered the heavy material, although Estella strained her eyes until she felt certain she would go blind as well as mute. Only through touch did she know Babe remained with her. Tears ran down her face as she waited for the final blow to fall. Babe lay quietly beside her mother, remaining silent as well, and therefore remained overlooked and undetected. By Estella's reckoning, today marked Babe's second birthday, the 22nd of September. She grieved that her daughter would mostly likely not see another.

 

Nightfall brought a dark shadow to Orthanc, though none would have thought to ask its mission. From the tower, the being took one sack and returned with great speed to Mordor's darkness, to Sauron, the great evil it called Master.

Mordor and Beyond

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