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The Prisoner and The Hobbit  by Dreamflower

Introduction

Over the last few years, Pandëmonium and I have struck up the sort of friendship often found between fanwriters who admire one another's work.  She likes my hobbits, especially my OC Trotter, and my version of Bilbo. I admire her skillful handling of a very difficult character: Sauron.

She's written many stories featuring him, giving him a backstory and motivations and even a few admirable qualities without ever once trying to whitewash or excuse his evil actions-- and in fact, it sometimes makes his evil actions even more chilling.  Her work can be found here at The Silmarillion Writers Guild Archive.


So I was both flattered and intrigued when she asked me to co-write a story with her.  Her Sauron managed to create a "fail-safe" that would preserve his fëa in the event the One Ring was destroyed, a small mithril ring.  It came into the keeping of Gandalf after the War of the Ring, and Gandalf/Olórin presented it to the Valar for judgement when he returned across the Sea.

The Valar decided to re-embody Sauron and imprison him, and asked Gandalf/Olórin to take charge of his rehabilitation.  The story that follows is a result of that decision and Tookish curiosity.

I consider this somewhat AU to my own personal "universe", but I have incorporated bits and pieces from it anyway into the story;  Pandëmonium has done the same from her end. 

I hope that you will all enjoy this very unconventional sort of story.

Thanks!

Dreamflower

Foreword

There are very few nooks and crannies of Tolkien fan fiction that I haven't explored during the four years since I discovered the milieu.  I'd also like to think I am an expansive reader, enjoying stories from diverse genres that range from gen fic to adult-rated slash, but I have been known to quip that whilst exploring those works that focus on the denizens of the Shire, I often feel like Sauron at a hobbit picnic.

Dreamflower is one of my very favorite writers of hobbits.  I love her interpretations of the Shire folk, and her vision of Bilbo especially enchants me.  Mr. Bilbo Baggins has also captured the attention of my Dark Muse, who, like his earlier incarnation as Tevildo, is as curious as a cat.  I have often wondered what a conversation between these two monumental characters would be like. 

Knowing that Dreamflower captures Bilbo's voice so well, I cast some shiny bait her way.  I was delighted that she took it, for treading in the Pandë!verse is not an altogether comfortable exercise.  This epistolary is the result. 

~~ pandemonium_213, 28 August 2011       

I was quite flattered when pandëmonium_213 asked me if Bilbo was interested in corresponding with her Dark Muse, and the Bilbo in my head went out at once to wait for the post.  Gandalf is quite pleased with this arrangement...

 Dreamflower

(This chapter written solely by pandemonium_213) 

Incarceration

The prisoner awoke, rubbed his face, and yawned.  Dim light seeping around the microscopic cracks of the door confirmed that it was morning, although he instinctually knew this.  It had not taken long after the Lord of Mandos had poured him back into his human form to become attuned to cycles of sleep and waking, of dark and light, even if the latter was artificial.

He lay on the bed, his thoughts still fuzzy from sleep, a sleep that had been surprisingly restful and free of nightmares.  He felt the familiar throb on his left forefinger, a finger that no longer existed.  Just phantom pain, but he rubbed the stump with his right hand anyway.  He sat up.  The mattress of the bed crackled when he moved.  He rose and went over to the steel privy in the corner of the sparse room and relieved himself, then washed his hands in the sink, also of steel.  He lifted the cotton chiton from its hook on the wall and pulled the garment over his head and shoulders.

He returned to the bed and lay back down. Then he was still, listening.  There.  The steps of the guard were accompanied by a lighter footfall.  A woman's tread.  He never saw her, but he knew she must be one of the kitchen staff.  Whereas the guard reeked of iron, like all of the guards of Mandos did, the woman's scent was that of baked bread with cinnamon: a warm, comforting fragrance, as inherent to her being as the scent of lightning was to his own.  He wondered to whom she belonged.  Certainly not Námo.  Her scent is all wrong for that.  Yavanna maybe.  Yavanna probably.  But how had this woman ended up here of all places?  Had she volunteered?  Or was her service here penance of some sort?

The ceiling overhead brightened to diffuse white light, coming from nowhere and everywhere at once.  The prisoner wondered how the builders of the prison had achieved this and what manner of power gave rise to the light.  Then he thought about how he would approach such craft...if he could.  He often performed such mental exercises to keep his mind active. 

The lower third of the heavy door that enclosed the cell shimmered, and in the implacably smooth surface, the outline of a small hatch formed.  The hatch opened, and in slid the tray with his breakfast.  It hovered, waiting for him.  He rose once more from the bed, picked up the tray and said, "Thank you" to the door.  Neither the guard nor the kitchen servant responded.  They never did.  But he said "thank you" all the same, because despite everything, he was grateful.  Grateful to be alive and in a real body, a very familiar one, too.  Grateful that the Guardians had shown mercy and had not flung him into the horror that was the Void.

He placed the tray down on the simple wooden table and smoothed his thin chiton beneath his rear end before he sat on the simple wooden chair.  This morning, he had a breakfast of two fried eggs, thick slices of toasted bread with strawberry jam, a glass of orange juice and steaming black coffee.  First, he closed his eyes and sipped the orange juice.  Immediately he was taken back to the warm southlands of Harad, once under his dominion, where orange, lemon and lime trees grew, laden with fruit.  He tasted the burning sun in the juice.  Then he tucked into the rest of his breakfast, letting flavors and textures transport him beyond the walls of his prison cell, to fat hens in their coop clucking and fussing when he reached under their feathery bellies to gather warm eggs, ignoring indignant squawks and pecks, to fields of wheat that waved golden in the wind, to ripe strawberries in the gardens outside the city walls where he taught the most talented of his students their first lessons in manipulating materials.  He poured coffee into the plain white cup on its plain white saucer.  He smiled grimly after he sipped the hot liquid.  Black and bitter, just like the latter days of my rule.

He finished his breakfast, neatly wiped his lips with the paper napkin and folded it into a tidy square.  Then he stacked the dish and cup in an orderly way on the tray and set it in front of the door.  Silently, the hatch reappeared and the tray slid away.  The scent of cinnamon and bread disappeared, but that of iron remained.  He went to the sink and brushed his teeth with the toothbrush, made of a substance like ivory, but. . . not.  He scrubbed them with care, checking to ensure that his teeth were smooth by running his tongue against their surface.  He had no mirror in the cell, but when he drew his lips back, he used the reflection in the steel sink to examine his teeth as best he could and see that he had cleaned his mouth thoroughly.  He picked up the brush by the sink and ran its bristles through his hair, counting the strokes.  He wrapped a band around the dark locks to keep them clear of his face.  Thus he observed those rituals that he could control and ensured some semblance of order.

Then he returned to the table and picked up the reading tablet that Olórin had given to him.  He pressed its face, and words appeared, exactly where he had left off reading the exceedingly strange tome last night.  The tablet was another marvel.  Aulë had certainly been productive during the long years that he, his wayward ward and student, had been away wreaking havoc in Middle-earth.

He resumed his exploration of the political philosophies of a mortal Man who may or may not have been, or who would be, part of this world, his own world.  The prisoner really could not be sure.  He was well aware of the peculiar currents of Time that the Guardians manipulated.  It had taken him a few days to pick up the language of the author, but then he was gifted with the ability to understand the nuances of speech, and had even created a language himself.  He read two other histories in which this writer had figured and understood the background that had led to a war that encompassed the world, a war during which one of his own descendants created a weapon of unimaginable power. 

He swiped his finger across the tablet and a page turned.  He supposed Olórin was giving these books to him as object lessons.  In certain ways, he found he could relate to the writer, but in other ways not at all.  The author of the book had systematically put millions of people to death, all because of their race or creed.  What a despicable waste of resources, he had thought.  Many of those people had been brilliant artists, scientists and financiers.  Many had been fiercely nationalistic, too, and had fought for the writer's own land in an earlier, bloody war.  He should have used them, not destroyed them.  He would have conquered and made his empire with them.  Idiot.  Still, he flipped the pages and read with fascination.

His reading was interrupted when the scent of iron wafted into the cell.

"It's time."  The guard's voice was muffled.

For a moment, the prisoner's heart leapt, wondering if he had a visitor, but his excitement sank as quickly as it appeared.  It can't be Finrod.  He was here just recently and has returned to Valmar.  Then he remembered.  Today he would meet with Olórin for counseling, as the latter called it.  He placed the tablet back on the table, rose, and went to stand before the door. 

Bright light appeared around the outline of the door, and it swung open.  The shackles around his ankles flared and tightened.  Ouch!  Another innovation of Aulë's, I suppose.  The guard and one of his fellows, yet another grey, solemn Fay who smelled of iron, waited on the other side.  The prisoner stepped forward and extended his arms.  Another set of shackles blazed and set themselves around his wrists.

He shambled along the featureless corridor, the guards on either side of him and the shackles hampering his stride.  The corridor took many twists, never with sensible right angles, but instead followed a sinuous path, almost organic.  It was confusing.  Probably meant to be so.  Not that he'd think of escape.  For one thing, he knew he could not Change.  The Guardians had done something to ensure he could not shift his form.  For another, where would he go?  They would find him swiftly, he knew that, and the punishment would be severe.  He shuddered when he imagined the howls of Makar and Meássë's bloodthirsty hounds in hot pursuit. And finally, he had a reason to be here, a slim hope that had drawn him back to Aman to beg for mercy and to offer penance, to set pride aside, at least for a time.  It was a hope that kept him living from day to day.  It may have been that hope, when the Valar perceived it, had saved him from execution, too.

The corridor twisted again, and the guards stopped.   Another door formed in the wall and opened, revealing a large room paneled with dark wood.  A fire crackled cheerfully in the hearth, and long legs in grey trousers, ending in black boots, stretched out from a brown leather chair that faced the fire.  The legs bent, and the man in the chair rose.  The prisoner smelled the fragrances of empathy and mercy, scents he remembered from an almost forgotten past by the shores of a dying sea.

He must be as fond of that form as I am of this one, the prisoner thought when he looked into the man's dark eyes under silver brows.  Olórin had trimmed his hair since he had returned to Aman, but retained the luxuriant white beard. The wizard smiled, and the corners of his eyes crinkled, but the strong white teeth and firm skin belied the illusion of an aging mortal. 

Per the routine, one of the guards removed the shackles around his wrists, and he responded by thanking the guard, who said nothing in response, just stank of iron and imprisonment. 

"You may leave us," Olórin said curtly.  The Fays left, but their iron odor remained.  The prisoner knew they were just on the other side of the door, ready at a moment's notice.  "Please, Mairon, be seated."

"I asked you not to call me that," the prisoner said as he settled into the upholstered chair opposite Olórin's.  He looked around the room.  It was different than last time, when the room had been all white and steel with upholstered chairs the color of blood.  Today, the dark, almost black, wood reminded him acutely of his old office in the Barad-dûr.  Must be a worm-eaten heap of rubble by now.

"My apologies.  Sauron then.  It's just that I remember when..."

"I know what you remember.  I am in no way admirable in this state.  Let's leave it at that."  Because I will never tell you my real name.  I never told Melkor. Why should I tell you?

"As you wish.  So, how are you feeling today?"  Olórin leaned back in his chair and began to stuff pipeweed into his pipe.

That was the cue for Sauron to bare his feelings, which, of course, he did in a most judicious and guarded way.  Both he and Olórin knew that he buried his deepest thoughts away from the scrutiny of others, but to extract them would take coercion, and painful coercion at that. 

Don't I know it!  He had applied the fine art of coercion over the ages and took pride in his ability to gain information from his enemies.  But he had been on the receiving end more than once, too, most recently when the Guardians ripped into his very being to discern the sincerity of his repentance as they stripped him naked in the Máhaxanar.  After that, they had left him alone and quaking, shortly thereafter to be hauled off to the Halls of Mandos where he had been entrapped in an exotic substance - at once crystalline and liquid - while a body had been made for him. 

Olórin's guidance came later.  Sauron coolly examined the man, now puffing on his pipe, who sat across from him.  His counselor could be insufferable at times, but all in all, Sauron didn't mind him all that much.  Truth be told, he welcomed the wizard's company.  It broke up the monotony of his days.  He also enjoyed provoking Olórin to the point where his counselor would drop that kindly demeanor and snap impatiently.  Sauron enjoyed a good fight with the old wizard, and he quickly perceived that Olórin was not adverse to it either.  That twinkle in the old Istar's eyes gave him away every time. 

It could be worse, he reminded himself, remembering Eönwë's expression after the trial in the Ring of Doom.  Smug, self-righteous prick.

Olórin asked him about Mein Kampf, the book on the tablet that he was reading, and he forthrightly told him his opinion of the author's views.  His counselor maintained a cool and neutral expression, such that Sauron could not tell whether he disapproved or was pleased.  Then Olórin asked once again, as he always did, about the Time Before, a distant history that he and the wizard shared from their youth, but Sauron still could not and would not speak of it.

Their conversation dwindled to silence, but it was not an uncomfortable one. Sauron might have even called it "companionable," but he could not imagine rekindling the long lost friendship with his counselor.  Besides, Olórin had to remain detached in order to help him, or at least that was what his counselor claimed.  Sauron suspected that Olórin did not want him to get under his skin, and thus maintained emotional distance.

Probably wise. He thinks I'm still dangerous. He might not be wrong about that.

The wizard rose and stepped to the big roll-top desk.  He pulled open a drawer and plucked out a sheaf of ivory paper and a handful of pens and handed them to Sauron.  He ran his hands over the paper and fingered the pens.

"What's this for?  My memoirs?"

"In a sense.  He said 'Yes.'"

Sauron could not hide his surprise nor stop the smile that formed on his lips.  "He did?" 

The subject of a correspondence had come up some weeks ago (at least he thought it had been weeks) at the end of the conversation with the aging mortal visitor.  That had been difficult, but less so than the confrontation with the other mortal, the kinsman of the old one.  Sauron had offered his apology to the younger of the two mortals, which immediately was thrown back in his face.  Understandable.  The small mortal had suffered tremendously and so he unleashed a torrent of pain, as scathing and biting as a balrog's whip, upon Sauron, the Great Enemy, the Dark Lord, now reduced to the lowly status of a prisoner and reluctant repentant.

Yes, I deserved that, he had said to the small one, but in the end, he had been unable to restrain his pride.  He sharply reminded the little fellow that the Ring, after all, was his and his alone and what did he think would happen if he kept such an object of Power in his possession?  You may as well have asked a kitten to bear a bloody Silmaril!  He winced at the memory of his outburst.  No, that had not gone well at all. 

But the second conversation with the older mortal - hobbit, yes, they like to be called hobbits - had been different.  Awkward and painful to be sure, but oddly enough, shared passions came forth:  a keen interest in languages for one, and whisky and pipeweed, as the hobbit called these things, for another.  Olórin had called for whisky and cigars, although the wizard stuck to his customary pipe.

Their conversation ended all too soon, for it was not in the hobbits' best interests to remain long in the Halls of Mandos, where their already short lives would be subsumed all that much faster in the rarified atmosphere of the Blessed Lands.  The prisoner had offered to continue the conversation by letter, that is, if the old hobbit would be willing.  His visitor said he would think on it.

 The wizard nodded.  "He wishes to correspond with you.  I think it's best if you write first."

Sauron looked up at Olórin.  "I agree."  He clutched the paper and pens to his chest like a maiden would clutch the first bouquet of flowers given to her by a swain.

The guards returned and so did the shackles that bound the prisoner's wrists. 

"I will see you next week, Mai. . .Sauron."  Olórin handed the paper and pens to the Fay who was not securing his wrists.  "Have a care with these,"  And in fact, the guard was careful with the paper and pens, even if the other grey, iron-scented man was not so gentle with him during the circuitous journey back to his cell. 

The door shut silently.  After Sauron heard whoosh of the seal, he sat on the simple wooden chair at the simple wooden table.  He laid one piece of paper down and a second one on top so that he would not puncture the precious paper on the uneven wood.  He picked up the pen and clicked it a few times, admiring its mechanism.  Clever, very clever.  He pressed the nib against the paper, enjoying the sensation of the pen in his fingers and the smooth paper against the side of his right hand, and he started to write with his distinctive cursive script:

Dear Master Baggins...


Chapter End Notes:

In the Pandë!verse, with its humanistic view of both the Good Guys and the Bad Guys, Gandalf's prophecy (outlined in The Return of the King,  Chapter 9, "The Last Debate") of Sauron's demise, should the Ring be destroyed, comes to fruition.  At least in part.  My version of Sauron is nothing if not a dogged survivor, and during the initial crafting of the Rings, he created a potential failsafe if things went awry with his powerful but imperfect technology.  As a consequence, he winds up reincarnated (by the Valar, who in the Pandë!verse can be by turns compassionate, obdurate or indifferent), but incarcerated in the Halls of Mandos. 

Then Elrond mentioned something quite curious in a chapter of one of my recent stories (Chapter 6 of A Rose By Any Other Name on the SWG):  Bilbo and Sauron met one another, and a difficult conversation between the two fellows had a surprising outcome.

Makar and "his fierce sister" Meássë, as depicted in The History of Middle-earth Vol. I, The Book of Lost Tales I, are the Valarin equivalent of a brother-sister god and goddess of war.

Sauron's recollection of the shores of a dying sea refers to Light Over the Mountain.

Finally, Tolkien's notes on the root √PHAN in Parma Eldalamberon 17, in which he described incorporeal Maiar as being detectable by their scents, inspired me to incorporate odor and the sense of smell as being highly important to the Fays a.k.a. Maiar.    

 

 Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.

  On Language

He lifted the pen after he wrote the salutation and stared at the table for a while, focusing his thoughts.

What to write? There's much I want to know about Master Bilbo Baggins. It is nothing short of remarkable that he relinquished my Ring as he claims. But that is a delicate subject for a first letter. Let me think...

So he did. He set the pen to paper again, and let the words flow:

{Dear Master Baggins,

First, I must thank you for your willingness to carry on our conversation by means of correspondence. I realize this cannot be easy for you, given the great affection you have for your cousin and how the whole affair of my Ring affected him. I would ask you to give him my regards, but I sincerely doubt that he would welcome such. So I am all the more honored that despite everything, you wish to communicate with me.

Where to begin? I know you must have many questions for me, as I do for you. I also acknowledge that when we first conversed, my answer of "Because I could!" to your question of "Why?" was rather tart. By the same token, you strike me as a worldly sort of fellow, more so than many of the provincials who inhabit Eriador, so you must realize how obvious it was that you proffered a grossly oversimplified question to which I gave a grossly oversimplified answer. But let us put that behind us. For now, I will only say that power and the need to control played into my motives, and that I was not the first nor will I be the last to exert such over many people. Perhaps we might discuss these great matters at a later time.

So in this first letter, please allow me to address a marginally less weighty subject and a common passion: language. I believe we only scratched the surface when we spoke, and I perceive you have a very keen interest in the subject as I do.

By way of background, I showed a talent for acquiring language in my youth (and yes, I experienced youth; a bit different than yours, I daresay, but likely with some overlap, as strange as that may seem). All told, I am fluent in fifteen major tongues and sixty-five dialects of those languages spoken in Middle-earth, including the various flavors of Sindarin, primitive Elvish (an earlier form of Qenya, which is an earlier form of Quenya), Westron, early Adunaic, and, well, if you care to name any of the tongues of the West, most likely I can read, write, speak and comprehend it. Quite a number of the Eastern languages, too. More recently, I have learned to read two tongues of the World As It Shall Be - English and French - and am currently adding German to the mix.

I love the study of language, so much so that I invented my own, as you probably know. Now your friend Olórin ('Gandalf' as you call him) and his Elvish allies deem my language harsh and foul. Sheer prejudice, I say! Of course, when the Black Speech is uttered by orcs, I concede that it does indeed sound unpleasant, but then the orcish vocal apparatus is not as evolved as that of contemporary Man or Elf...or Hobbit! (Must not overlook your folk! I did before, much to my peril.) I could carry on about orcs and Melkor's (and later, my own) scientific approach to their breeding, but one can only do so much with the orcish template. I would guess you have learned that the orcs are a debased race originating from primitive Elves. That would be wrong. But that is another subject entirely.

At any rate, when spoken by a True Speaker, such as myself, the Black Speech has its own beauty. It is to Quenya, for example, as the beauty of the desert is to the beauty of lush rolling hills and lakes. The beauty of language is a matter of perception. We all believe our mother tongue is the most lovely (I know I do), but others may not agree.

Take the principal tongue from Kitai, or Cathay as you name it, a great empire far to the East. It is a fascinating language, very foreign to those of us who speak the Western tongues. Vowels rise, vowels descend, intonation remains flat, and thus, the meaning of words changes. To a Westerner's ears, the tongue sounds uncouth, but when spoken by, say, an Elvish loremaster of the East, the language is beautiful as any you have heard.

The Black Speech is the same. If we should meet again (however unlikely that may be), I would demonstrate it for your enjoyment, but I think Lord Námo would cut my tongue out before I could complete one sentence. Ha! I jest. A dark joke, to be certain, but as you come to know me better, you'll find that I have a dark sense of humor.

I spent many years developing my language. It was a form of play, initially, and then became an obsession. I challenged myself by coming up with a tongue that would be distinctly different than any of the Elvish languages of the West. Quite a few of the words are derived from Valarin, which, of course, I also speak fluently. I would send you a complete corpus of my invented language if I could, but I expect that is forbidden. But I think a general explanation of the Black Speech's syntax and rules of grammar may be of interest to you, so I will provide that under separate cover so that you may peruse the document, which will hopefully be passed on to you unadulterated, at your leisure.

Gandalf will tell you that the Black Speech is a language of Power. That is true, but only when one with Power speaks it. Otherwise, it has just as much power as any language spoken, no more, no less, for words are power. A sage of Bharat once said: "Whatever words we utter should be chosen with care, for people will hear them and be influenced by them for good or evil." Thus, when any of us speak, we wield power over others. Ultimately, it is the ability to speak that sets us apart as human, and yes, I count myself among your kind now.

Do feel free to ask me whatever you wish. I will, however, decline to answer a question, should I feel it is too personal, or if it treads on subjects that are forbidden, for there are some things that we - the Ainur - may not discuss with the Children of Ilúvatar. The Valar hoard information in the best interests of humankind, or so they claim. It may be they are partially right, as loath I am to admit it.

So let me ask you about your interest in languages. How did that begin for you? I am also interested in your fondness for poetry. I quite like that one you recited for me: "The Road Goes Ever On." I think of it when I am allowed to take my exercise. Have you written other verses?

Also, you remarked that the whisky we sampled was as good as that from Bree and that the cigars equaled the pipeweed of Southfarthing. If you do not mind, I would like to hear more of these places. After all, I can do no damage now. I am as harmless as an old toothless cat! By the way, did I tell you that I like cats?

I hope this finds you well, and that you are enjoying your afternoon naps in Elrond's gardens as well as those in his library.}

He sat back back in the rigid chair to read the letter over again and had to laugh at himself. The god-king of the Barad-dûr writes a chatty letter to a hobbit. How the mighty have fallen!However, he couldn't help but appreciate the irony, and he had to admit the very act of writing had been a pleasant diversion. He leaned over to sign the letter but hesitated, the pen poised above the paper.

How should I sign this? "Sincerely yours." Will he doubt I am sincere? No matter. It's standard courtesy. It will do. And my name. How to handle that?

He bit the end of the pen for a moment, then he grinned and set pen to paper again, signing with a flourish:

{Sincerely yours,

D.L. Sauron}

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

Bilbo looked at Gandalf, and then at the letter in his hand. "He really did mean it."

"Of course he did. And I believed that you meant it when you said you would do this, or else I should never have mentioned it to him."

"What could he have to say to me?"

Gandalf chuckled. "Open it, my friend, and find out. Come, sit out with me on the terrace, and we'll have a pipe while you read it."

"Dear Master Baggins,

First, I must thank you for your willingness to carry on our conversation by means of correspondence. I realize this cannot be easy for you, given the great affection you have for your cousin and how the whole affair of my Ring affected him. I would ask you to give him my regards, but I sincerely doubt that he would welcome such. So I am all the more honored that despite everything, you wish to communicate with me..."

Bilbo read all the way to the end, and gave a hoot of surprised laughter when he got to the signature. "D. L. Sauron", indeed.

"I have a feeling that this will not be as easy as I thought it would be," he said, looking up at Gandalf.

"Of course not, Bilbo. But I have no doubt that one who managed to come out relatively unscathed from a conversation with a Dragon can manage it."

It was after almost three days of mulling the letter over when he finally sat down to his desk and picked up a quill. He might have postponed it for another day or so, but hobbit manners were too ingrained in him for that. His cousin Dora would be surprised at how much he was still governed by the traditions he grew up with in the Shire, even after all this time among the Elves.

He dipped the pen. And then stopped dead. "Dear". Was Sauron "dear" to him at all? Yet it was the conventional greeting; it did not mean what it said. After all, how many missives had he penned to Lobelia and to Lotho that had begun with "Dear"?

He paused again. "Dear...who?" Well, if he was to be governed by his Shirish upbringing, he might as well go all the way. Doubtless if his correspondent was not offended, he might be amused.

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

I was somewhat surprised that you asked to correspond with me at all, and even more surprised that you wrote to me so swiftly when I acquiesced. Be assured that I discussed this with Frodo. I would not undertake this at all if he objected, nor would I do so behind his back.

While he says that he has not forgiven you, it is more because he does not believe that such forgiveness is his to offer, than because he still holds any grudge. My cousin has a very distinct sense of honour; he believes that your offenses were against a wider world and not directed at him in particular. Therefore, it is not his place to forgive you. In fact, he told me it would be akin to an ant offering forgiveness to the person who stepped on its ant mound-rather beside the point.

As for myself, I found upon our meeting that my own rather substantial animosity was eaten up by curiousity-my Tookish heritage at work, I am sure. You seemed quite different from what I had imagined in every way. Ah well, that is, perhaps also a topic for another time. For now, I shall be content to turn to the topic with which you chose to open our correspondence, Language.

Compared to you, or to any of the Ainur or of the Firstborn in general, I am no linguist. Westron is my native tongue, that Common Speech which unites the Western parts of Ennor. I've come to understand that it is a mongrel tongue at best, but it's what I grew up with and which still comes most naturally to my own tongue in times of excitement or stress.

The truth is, I never gave other languages a thought until I was well-grown. Until, in fact, my first Journey to the Outside, as we Shirelings often call the world outside our Bounds. As an educated gentlehobbit I was well aware that other tongues existed, but I had never had firsthand experience of one. The Dwarves never spoke a word of Khuzdul in my presence, and so it was not until I arrived in Rivendell and was confronted by a party of singing Elves that I had any notion of what another language would sound like.

My mind did its pitiful best to make sense of the seemingly incomprehensible gibberish I heard. Perhaps it would amuse you to know that later I wrote down what I thought I heard, a bit of doggerel that has become rather famous in its own right. I believe that the Elves of Imladris were rather embarrassed to discover that many thought it was what they were actually singing:

O! What are you doing,
And where are you going?
Your ponies need shoeing!
The River is flowing!
O! Tra-la-la-lally
Here down in the valley!

O! What are you seeking,
And where are you making?
The faggots are reeking!
The bannocks are baking!
O! Tril-lil-lil-lolly
The valley is jolly
Ha ha!

O! Where are you going,
With beards all a-wagging?
No knowing, no knowing
What brings Mister Baggins,
And Balin and Dwalin
Down into the valley
In June
Ha ha!

O! Will you be staying,
Or will you be flying?
Your ponies are straying!
The daylight is dying!
To fly would be folly,
To stay would be jolly!
And listen and hark
Till the end of the dark
To our tune.
Ha ha!

I've since been told that while the exact words are not right, I somehow seemed to capture the general sense of things: it was a rather mocking song of welcome to the Valley, at any rate!

I am afraid that for most of my Adventure that is how I coped with the other tongues I heard. I wrote a similarly ridiculous bit of verse to account for what the Orcs were chanting after they captured me and my companions beneath the Misty Mountains. This may have been the language called Black Speech, or perhaps it was not. It was very guttural and harsh and seemed to be filled with onomatopoeia, I must say.

It was not until I was trapped within the Halls of the Elvenking Thranduil that I had a chance to listen to an Elven language spoken on a regular basis. It was Sindarin, and it was beautiful, but it was incomprehensible. I managed, out of sheer dire necessity, to learn a pitiful few words such as "water", "bread", "privy" and "door". But my true fascination with tongues dates from that period.

On my return from the Lonely Mountain, Gandalf and I spent some weeks in the home of Master Elrond, and learning of my wish to know something of the languages of the Elves, he made available to me a small book which was used to teach Sindarin to some of the children of the Dúnadain who fostered in Rivendell from time to time. He was generous enough to gift me with not only that book, but a few others, simple primers used with young readers.

When I had taught myself as much as I could from them, he sent me other books that I could copy and return to him. However, I had no one with whom to speak, so my accent was atrocious (and to my mind, remains so to this day)! I also was able to dabble a bit with Quenyan (yes, yes, I know! Make an objection to me about my use of that term, and perhaps I will tell you why I use it in a letter written in Westron. Or perhaps you will guess why.) At any rate, most of what I did was learn to read and write, rather than speak. I still feel that what appeals to me most about the Elven language is the beauty of the Tengwar. My hand is not so lovely, as you can tell by these rather spidery ramblings. Frodo, on the other hand, has as fine a hand as many an Elf; but then, he is an artist.

It was not until I found my home among the Elves upon my retirement from the Shire that I found time to indulge my fascination with various languages. I was able to improve my speaking of Sindarin in particular, and learned what I could of such tongues of Men as Adûnaic. Now that I am here, I hope to be able to learn more about the roots of language, and to find the connexions between words in various tongues.

You asked about my writing. I am given to much versifying, most of it doggerel. I love more the sounds of words than the sense of them. I once had the temerity to write a song of Eärendil in the House of Elrond, merely because a phrase got stuck in my head, and the rhythm of it reminded me of a rather fanciful bit of nonsense I'd written years before as an experiment in rhyme:

There was a merry passenger,
a messenger. a mariner:
he built a gilded gondola
to wander in and had in her
a load of yellow oranges
and porridge for his provender;
he perfumed her with marjoram,
and cardamom and lavender.

and so forth...

I am afraid that you will find this terribly nonsensical.

I was surprised that you asked of the Shire and of Bree. For some reason, I suppose I thought you would know all about these places already. I passed through Bree briefly during my journeying, and did not spend much time there. I am sure that Gandalf could tell you more; he spent a good deal of time there, much of it in waiting on our friend Aragorn.

But as I could have much to say on the Shire, I may leave it for another letter-although I have not lived there for many years, I still carry it in my heart, and once I get started on it, it is hard to get me to stop.

As for what I would ask, I find myself wondering about that "Why?" again. Not really in the vague general way that I was thinking when first I asked, but more specifically: Why rings? What made you think that they were a good idea? But I do not know if you would care to answer that this early in our correspondence.

My other questions are many, and have to do with all the long history of Middle-earth, and the Over-heaven and the Sundering Seas -as I said, I am part Took, and our curiousity is legendary among our own people. Gandalf thinks me dreadfully presumptuous, and seldom answers more than half of what I ask.

I hope that you are not finding your confinement too onerous, and that you will find amusement in this long and rambling bit of nonsense.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}

What cheek! Bilbo thought. His lips twitched in a smile; Pippin would be proud of him.

He carefully sanded the letter, and put it aside for the moment. He'd fold and seal it later, and give it to Gandalf for delivery. He hoped that his correspondent would at the very least find it interesting.

 

 Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.


Of Rings 

Sauron managed to snatch the letter away before he sprayed coffee all over it with a sputter of laughter.

"Tra-la-la-lally!  Oh, that is rich!"  He laughed again.  "And the Elves had the nerve to tell Master Baggins that he had heard it incorrectly?  Typical Elvish obfuscation!"

His counselor cleared his throat meaningfully, but Sauron ignored him and continued to read the rest of the letter, memorizing every word.   A Fay, who had taken the guise of a short, fat Man with a florid face, refilled the stoneware mugs with steaming hot coffee and then faded into the shadows of the homely tavern, leaving Sauron and Olórin alone and sitting across from one another at a rustic old table.

"'Mister Sauron.'  I don't believe anyone has ever addressed me as such before.  It's charming."  He folded the letter and slid it across the rough oak toward his counselor.

"You may keep it."  

"Truly?"

"Of course.  You'll need it for your reply."

"What?  Do you think I will not remember every word of this?  I may be stripped of my power, but I am no dotard."

"Oh, for pity's sake, don't overreact!  Just keep the letter."

"Sorry."  He unfolded the letter and read the second paragraph again, taking a puff from his cigar.   His forehead tensed as he furrowed his brows, and he felt the first twinge of a headache.

"What's bothering you?"  Olórin's voice was gentle.

He truly wishes to know what's troubling me.  May as well cast a few crumbs his way.  "This.  What he says about his kinsman's reason for not offering forgiveness.  Not that I expected it.  I don't expect anyone to forgive me, and least of all him, that is to say..." It was difficult for him to even utter the name.  "Frodo Baggins.  I would expect him to hold a grudge.  I know I would!"

"He is not you."

"Quite an astute observation, Olórin.  Do you have any more jewels of knowledge on hand?"  In ages past, the sarcasm that inflected his response would have peeled paint from walls, but Olórin's expression was benign, if unreadable, and the tavern's plaster walls remained impervious.  Sauron smoothed his tone and continued:  "According to Baggins, his cousin believes that forgiving me 'would be akin to an ant offering forgiveness to the person who stepped on its ant mound-rather beside the point.'  Given his rather — ah — vehement reaction when he confronted me, I would not have guessed this was his feeling."

Olórin took a puff on his pipe, and sent three interlocking smoke rings aloft into the beams that crossed the ceiling above.  "It may be that vehement reaction, as you call it, was a form of catharsis for him and made him consider the impact of your actions on the Wide World as a whole, not just at a personal level."

Sauron resisted the urge to crumple the letter in his hand.  "I can't bloody well tell the entire world I am sorry, now can I?  It seems making amends to individuals amounts to an exercise in futility."

"I do not think saying 'I am sorry' — and saying it sincerely — is futile at all."

"Yet the hobbit raises the point that atonement is impossible for me.  You know my beliefs."

"Much the same as mine."  And that was true.  Olórin might differ from him in that the old wizard had faith in a higher power, whereas he was a hardened skeptic, yet both honored the ancient rites of atonement.

Sauron raised his left hand, the hand with the missing forefinger and touched his remaining fingers one by one.  "I have repented and confessed, or at least I am in the process of repenting and confessing."  Two fingers. "I am being punished, and I have experienced death of my body."  Another finger and his thumb.  "But restitution is the tricky part.  Death was easier to accomplish than that.  I cannot rebuild the cities and towns I destroyed nor can I replant the forests and fields I burned.  I cannot give life to those who died in the wars I fomented or those I killed with my own hands.  I may as well try to make my missing finger reappear!"

Olórin put the pipe to his lips and drew on it.  Embers glowed in its bowl, reminding Sauron of a miniature version of Orodruin.  The wizard released the smoke, which took the form of a bird, perhaps a raptor, before he replied:  

"Others who remain in Middle-earth offer restitution on your behalf, even if some of them are unaware of it.  Besides, I think your desire to write to Bilbo is a form of recompense for the ills you caused."

"This correspondence is a mere drop in the sea then.  Frodo Baggins would say that the Big Person is now writing to the ant."

"The ant analogy obviously troubles you.  Why?"

"Because he is right.  At the height of my empire, the thousands who served me were little more than a hive, especially the orcs.   Among Men, well, in their case, I paid attention to certain individuals, but if entire villages of men, women and children were wiped out upon my orders, it was a means to an end.  Crushing ant mounds, in other words.   I remained detached to human cost.  I am very good at that, Olórin.  Detachment.  I learned it well at the feet of Melkor.  Maybe even before."

"Do you want to talk about that?  When your sense of detachment first started?"

"Not really.  I cannot remember."  I do not wish to remember.  "But you apparently want to hear more about my finely honed sense of detachment.  Shall I tell you about how I felt when I made the first sacrifice with my own hands in the temple of Armenelos?"   He held up both hands and imagined them dripping with blood.  Human blood.   The image must have touched Olórin, who flinched, but recovered his kindly demeanor.

"Yes, tell me about that."

And so Sauron began the account of the day when he slit the throat of a helpless young man.

 

~*~

 

When he returned to his cell, he was exhausted.  The recount of the sacrifice had taken more out of him than he would have expected.   He placed Bilbo's letter on the table and threw himself down on the bed to fall into a sleep haunted by dreams.  He found himself falling into a darkness that was complete, a darkness that consumed all light:  the unyielding embrace of Ungweliantë that reached out to him with horrid legs that would cast him into the Void.

He awoke with a start, his chiton damp with sweat and his heart pounding.   He lay still and calmed his body through sheer force of will, but his thoughts continued to race.   He rose and went to the sink to fill a cup of water.   After taking a long drink, he eyed the folded letter beside the neat pile of paper with the pen laid across it.  

He felt so uncertain.   How long would the Valar allow him to exist if he could not atone for his transgressions?  If he did not express regret for everything he had done?  And to be honest, he did not regret some things.  He wished he had someone to talk to, anyone, even small talk, to distract himself from his fear, but the guards were of no use.  His counselor was not at his beck and call either.   So he sat in the chair at the table and did the next best thing: he picked up the pen and started to write.

{Dear Mr. Baggins,

Thank you for the timely response, and also for enlightening me as to your preferred form of address, which I have used here, but "Esq."?  What kind of an esquire are you, might I ask?   

Your long and rambling bit of nonsense, as you call it (although I do not) proved to be a bright spot in a grey stream of time in which one day is much like the other, broken only by my visits with Olórin.  In that context, I might say that my confinement is onerous, but I will not.   I am treated very well, all things considered.   It could be worse, much, much worse.    My prisoners in the dungeons in the Dark Tower and Dol Guldur found their quarters to be less comfortable, shall we say.   The dungeons of Angband and Thangorodrim do not bear discussion.  Yet not all of the gaols in the Barad-dûr were horrific.  Accommodations depended on the prisoner.  Some cells offered considerable creature comforts; others were probably not much different than those in the Halls of the Woodland Pretender where you learned rudimentary Sindarin.  But the worst dungeons, well, I do not think a gentlehobbit, late of the Shire, need know of such things.

In my cell, I have a table and chair, a sink and a privy, and a bed, although not a very comfortable one.   I just awoke from a long nap, provoked by an intense conversation with Olórin.  The provocation was the account of your kinsman's reason for not forgiving me.   Stepping on ant mounds indeed.  Yet I cannot imagine that I did not hurt him at a deeply personal level, even if I only became truly aware of  "the ant" when he claimed my Ring at the brink of the Sammath Naur.   Those passages of your letter sparked a deep discussion with Olórin, who felt we made progress, although toward what I do not know. 

But back to the bulk of your letter.   You must forewarn me of such humor as the tra-la-la-lally song!   Fortunately, I was able to snatch the paper aside before I sprayed coffee all over your spidery script, which is legible enough, so you needn't be self-conscious of it.   Your account of the Elves' song was tremendously funny and caused me to laugh as I have not for a very long time.   You are not so far off in your translation as you might be led to believe. 

To my mind, doggerels are just as important as epic verse.   They are replete through the world of Men, and really throughout all peoples.  The children of Ost-in-Edhil sang many charming little ditties.  Often, these bits of nonsense actually helped them learn their numbers and letters.   The sample of your verses about Eärendil is a little gem.   I must say, you do have cheek, Mr. Baggins, to offer a long lay about the Mariner in the House of Elrond.

Pedant I may be, but I make no objection to the use of the word "Quenyan."  However, Fëanor might, that is, if he haunts these halls as I do.   You are far too modest when it comes to the study of language, Mr. Baggins.  Do you know I have read your translation of "The Shibboleth of Fëanor?"  Olórin gave it to me, and I have it on my reading tablet.  It may be that your spoken Quenya is atrocious, as you claim, but your translation is excellent.  Do not deny it!   As for my own linguistic talents, or any of the Ainur for that matter, bear in mind that in addition to our innate ability, we have a very, very long time during which to acquire language.

Captured by orcs in the Misty Mountains?  Do tell!  Well, only if it is not altogether unpleasant for you to recall this part of your Adventure, which I know of only in the broadest of brush strokes through Olórin, and from overhearing bits and pieces elsewhere.  Based on your description, I expect the goblins were speaking their own dialect rather than the Black Speech.  And don't you agree that onomatopoeia is a most excellent word?

You express surprise that I do not know much about the Shire or Bree.  I know only what my spies and servants told me, and that, I deem, was woefully inadequate.   The running of a large empire meant that many details were overlooked, much to my chagrin and annoyance, and ultimately to my downfall.  I also had my limitations.  I was not all-powerful even at my greatest, but I was good - very good - at creating the illusion of such power.  As for Bree, Olórin recreated a tavern called "The Prancing Pony," where we discussed ants and atonement over black coffee and pipeweed, but he advises that I must rely upon you to tell me of the Shire, if you're willing.

So.  "Why Rings?" you ask.  Because they are more fitting receptacles of power than, say, a magic purse.  Do you know that I invented such a thing on a lark?  I thought talking coin purses might dissuade theft.  Given the nature of my less savory minions, the purses did not achieve their purpose, but the trolls took a shine to them for whatever reason.  But I am being glib, and I expect you want a serious answer concerning this serious subject. 

First, I would ask you to look at a ring, your own (if you have any) or another's.   You will see a form that symbolizes the eternal, a circle with no beginning or end.  That is what the Elves of Eregion wanted:  a means of preserving what they cherished in Middle-earth, to halt or slow its natural cycles of birth, death and decay.   They were attached to Middle-earth, just as attached as you and your kind, but unlike you, they experience the passage of time in very different manner.  It is difficult for a mortal to comprehend, but this is the closest analogy I can think of:  from a child's perspective, the passage of time is slow, and a sun-year may feel like half-a-yén.  But, when that child ages and becomes an adult, the passage of time feels swifter and swifter.  Now imagine how that would be for a human being who has lived for two thousand years or longer.   Witnessing the passage of time becomes almost unbearable for such people.  Yet the Elves were meant to be part of Middle-earth, which by its very nature undergoes cycles of birth and death.  It is, if you think about it, a cruel fate for such a person.

Many of the Elves of Eregion were those who had refused the summons to return to the Blessed Lands after the War of Wrath.  As much as they claimed their reason for staying was their love of Middle-earth, they also did not wish to forfeit their high status among the peoples of the mortal lands.   Thus, they wished to create a mirror of Aman in Middle-earth by slowing or even stopping the natural cycles of change, to preserve it as their own pleasaunce. 

Initially, my aims marched alongside theirs, at least in part:  to heal and rebuild Middle-earth after the damage inflicted upon it by the War.  I had, as you may know from your study of history, repented of my deeds, but I could not face suing for pardon at that time.  My repentance was not altogether insincere.  Yet, as they say in the Southlands, a leopard cannot change his spots, and the bonds that Melkor had set upon me were powerful.  

It has been said that I hated the Eldar.  That is an odd contention, considering that I assumed the form of a man of their kind, which is the form you have seen with your own eyes.   That guise allowed me to effectively insinuate myself into their midst and to be accepted as one of their own.   It also resulted in what is without a doubt my best creation.  No, I did not hate the Eldar.  Rather, I harbored great bitterness toward them, but more than that, I feared the Noldor, whom you name the Deep Elves.  And that, Mr. Baggins, is part of the answer behind "Why Rings?"   I wished to know the Elves' motivations before they knew themselves, to be able to control them and thus harness their intellectual might to my own ends.   The Rings of Power, and ultimately, the One Ring, were my means to accomplish this.

All the Rings of Power shared fundamental properties, thanks to the curwë that Celebrimbor and I applied to them.   I believe you may be familiar with the Quenya word curwë.  It means application of skill or invention.  It is equivalent to a word I recently learned in my studies:  techne.   The study of that is called technology.  So the technology I applied, and taught to Celebrimbor and our apprentices, allows the device - the ring in this case - to tap into the very mind of whoever bore it.  That is a greatly oversimplified explanation, for the details delve into the unseen workings of the brain itself.  I will just say that although every human brain has features in common with others', the individual mind has its own signature and patterns, and these constantly change.  The Rings adapted to that and "tuned in," if you will, to the particular strengths and weaknesses of the bearer.

Originally, the Rings were intended for the Elves to wield, yet at the same time, they were specialized in certain respects so that their bearers would be able to assist and understand other races, namely mortal Men and Dwarves.   Or that's what I told the elvish smiths. 

The reality was that I desired to create a web of minds across the races of Elves, Men and Dwarves, all of whom I could perceive and thus control.  But the web needed a spider that could sense the tiniest movement at the far corners of the web.  That spider was the One Ring.  The more I worked on the Rings of Power with my elvish colleagues, the more I understood what I would need to do to craft the One and allow it to control the other Rings, and that this aspect of ringcraft would entail great risk to myself:  I would literally need to graft a significant part of my own power into the object for it to work effectively.   It was a risk I was willing to take so that I could attain more complete control through focused awareness of the Eldar and the other races.

It might seem foolish to strip myself of inherent power and let it settle into a little gold ring, an object that could be destroyed, but because of the technology  — and an imperfect technology at that — I had no other choice.   I had to take the risk because I so desired clear knowledge of what the Eldar were thinking as well as perception of the minds of Men and Dwarves.  For nothing was more important to me than power and control, Mr. Baggins.  I was even willing to forswear love in order to gain the power that the Ring would afford me.  When I beheld my Ring, hot from the fires of its creation and blistering my skin, I knew that I could not bring myself to destroy it, and I was unable to conceive that anyone else could, that is, until the moment your kinsman stood before the abyss.  

Some loremasters contended that the One was an all-powerful device.   It was not.  As with all the Rings of Power, the One enhanced the native capabilities of its bearer.   In the possession of Galadriel, or even your friend Aragorn, it would have been problematic to say the least, but had Olórin or Curumo (known to you as Saruman) taken it, I might as well have packed my bags and handed over the keys of the Barad-dûr to one or the other.   Naturally, the Ring was most attuned to my own talents, but it exerted distinctive effects on each of those who bore it.   It enhanced the bad along with the good, however, and it invariably tempted those who wished to grasp for power.   And I will tell you this, Mr. Baggins:  great power carries the peril of corruption, regardless of the One Ring.   The Ring just exacerbated any underlying darkness in a person and turned it to its purposes, and some people have strong demons lurking below the surface.

Any mortal bearing a Ring of Power was also in danger of untoward effects from the technology inherent to the Rings, a technology that, as I have said, taps into the very workings of the brain.   I might compare the effects of the Rings of Power to that of fumellar, the poppies from which tinctures are derived that relieve pain and induce dreams.   In some, potions of fumellar can induce deep cravings for more and more of the drug.  Yet others can resist this craving.  The addictive effect applies to all wielders of the Rings, even the Elves, but the latter are more resistant to this than mortals are.   Yet you seemed to possess a noteworthy resistance, Mr. Baggins.   

Which leads me to those, other than myself, who bore the One.  Granted, the sample size is small, so a complete study is impossible, but remarkably, the majority of bearers have been of your race.   I must say that hobbits are a resilient folk!  I imagine you know that not long after he emerged from his haunts in the Misty Mountains, Gollum was captured and brought to Mordor where I questioned him myself and finally got an inkling about the race of hobbits and a distant land named The Shire.   I was astounded that after five hundred sun-years of bearing my Ring that he had not turned into a wraith.   That it corrupted him is less astounding:  here was a person whose difficulties had formed long before he encountered my Ring.

The sole bearer among the race of Men, namely, Isildur, had problems, too, but these were of a different kind than those of Gollum.  That Isildur quickly came to understand the nature of the One and his own peril does not surprise me.  I knew much more about Isildur than I did (or do) of hobbits, for I made him and his family the objects of intense scrutiny while I was in Númenor.  Isildur was a flawed man, just as any human.  He was sometimes brash (stealing a fruit of Nimloth and building Minas Ithil hard against the borders of Mordor were, if you'll forgive the vulgarity, ballsy tactics), but he could also be noble and rational.   You and your kinsman though.  As I have said, I had known nothing of hobbits.  What you did was nothing short of astounding.    So I have to wonder:  what is it about you that allowed you to spurn the Ring's call?   I have heard only bits and pieces of your grand Adventure, but from what I am given to understand, you put my Ring to good (by that I mean constructive) use.

Do you know that other magic rings, as you might name them, were made in the forges of Ost-in-Edhil?   The smiths called these "practice rings."  We made many of them, perhaps fifty all told.  I wonder what became of them?  Some were silly things; others had deeper meaning.   I owe my very existence here in Lord Námo's accommodations to a ring I crafted: a gift for someone dear to me.

That's enough about Rings for this letter, I think.  I hope you do not find my discourse on them to be boring.  Please feel free to ask more questions about them, if you are still interested, and I will answer to the best of my ability.  As to your questions concerning the long history of Middle-earth and the Over-heaven and the Sundering Seas, do ask!  I will try to answer those as well, although my views on history might be a bit colored, and like Olórin, I may be restricted in some things that I can tell you.  But I love knowledge, and I have delved deeply for it (and have paid dearly for it, too) so perhaps I can satisfy your Tookish curiosity.    Which leads me to ask:  what is it about the legendary Took clan that causes them to be so inquisitive?

I hope this letter finds you well and comfortable.

Sincerely yours,

D.L. Sauron}

 

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

 

Bilbo placed Sauron's letter to the right of his paper, where he could easily refer to it, and took out his penknife.  He carefully cut a new quill.  He found the process one that allowed him to calm his mind and gather his thoughts.  He'd never really enjoyed writing with a pen of glass or metal, as Frodo did.  He much preferred one he'd cut himself, just as his father had taught him...

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

I suppose I am no longer an "Esquire" of any sort; yet long years of signing myself that way have made it a habit when writing letters to any save close family members.  When I dwelt in my home, Bag End, in Hobbiton of the Shire, I was the Master of the Hill and the Head of the Baggins clan.  I was considered the "Squire", and was responsible for the well-being of my neighbours and tenants.  I long ago gave up that position when I left the Shire behind for the final time; yet I never gave up signing my name that way!  I suppose it shows the hold of an early and ingrained habit.

I find myself pleased to hear that Frodo's analogy was one that provided material for conversation between you and Gandalf.  You have known him far longer than I can even begin to imagine, but you knew him as Olórin, not as Gandalf.  Gandalf is a very good person to confide in, and I hope that the years of enmity that had to exist when his task was to bring about your downfall will not colour too much your discussions now.  

Frodo himself felt somewhat sheepish after his brief outburst of anger during your conversation, feeling that he should not have lost his temper.  Personally, I felt that it was good for him to do so.  My cousin has always been one who preferred to keep his darker feelings to himself, whether they be grief or anger or sorrow.  He has never been loth to share joy or love, but those joys have most often been the joys of others.  I put it down to his having been orphaned so young.

I know that he was deeply wounded at Mount Doom, I know that he was already perilously scarred before I ever saw him again in Rivendell after he fled the Shire and was wounded by one of the Ringwraiths.  I still harbour a good deal of anger over that when I allow myself to dwell upon it.  }

In fact, Bilbo thought, he was beginning to feel anger right now.  He drew a deep breath.  He had determined to carry on this correspondence to help Gandalf and perhaps to help Frodo as well.  So long as he could think of Sauron as simply someone who had interesting things to say, he could continue.  But right at the moment his mind was filling up with the memory of his dear lad as pale as the sheets of the overlarge bed, caught between possible death or something worse. He blinked away the tears as he recalled his grief at Frodo's arrival in Rivendell, his shock at seeing the terrified and exhausted faces of Sam, Merry and Pippin, his terror that Frodo would die, his guilt at realising it had been his legacy of the Ring that had brought Frodo into such dire straits...

He gave a shudder, and pushed the quill and paper away.  Perhaps tomorrow he would be able to finish it.

It was two more days before he could face the page again. He had promised Gandalf, after all.  He took up the pen, and hoped that the gap of time would not be too noticeable.

He glanced at Sauron's letter and decided which part of it to address next.  Ah yes, that song!  He was pleased his correspondent had found it amusing.

{Ah, well! Enough of that.  Dwelling on unpleasant things is simply not the hobbit way.

I am glad if my account of the Elves' greeting song amused you.  I do know now that I did not miss it by much.  But I think that may be the nature of Elven languages when sung by Elves, at least upon most mortals.  I know that when I came to dwell in Rivendell, I had much more difficulty understanding spoken Sindarin than I did that which I heard sung in the Hall of Fire.  I found it much easier at first to translate song or verse than I did ordinary conversation!

As for your compliments to my translation of "The Shibboleth of Fëanor", I find myself blushing.  I flattered myself that it was not too badly done, but it is very nice to hear an expert opinion on the subject.  A writer (or translator) is not often the best judge of his own work.}

He glanced at the letter once again.

[Captured by orcs in the Misty Mountains?  Do tell!  Well, only if it is not altogether unpleasant for you to recall this part of your Adventure, which I know of only in the broadest of brush strokes through Olórin, and from overhearing bits and pieces elsewhere.  Based on your description, I expect the goblins were speaking their own dialect rather than the Black Speech.  And don't you agree that onomatopoeia is a most excellent word?]

 

He chuckled, and began to write.

{I suspect that Gandalf has not told you many of the details so that I will actually have something to write to you about.  Please give him my thanks!

Thirteen Dwarves, a Wizard and a Hobbit sought shelter from a storm in a small cave in the Misty Mountains.  It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, does it not?  I slept restlessly and lightly, plagued by strange dreams-only to wake from one and find that it was true: our ponies were disappearing into a hitherto unsuspected crack in the cave wall.  I gave out with a yell, and the next thing I knew, the goblins (which is what I knew Orcs as at the time) were upon us.  Good old Gandalf got several of them with his magic-but there was too much confusion, and soon we were being force-marched down the tunnels, goblins to the front of us and to the back.  The chant they were making sounded dreadful to me, and most ominous, so I tried to distract my mind by imagining what they were saying.  This is what I came up with:

Clap! Snap! the black crack!
Grip, grab! Pinch, nab!
And down to Goblin-town
You go, my lad!

Clash, crash! Crush, smash!  
Hammer and tongs! Knocker and gongs!
Pound, pound, far underground!
Ho, ho! my lad!

Swish, smack! Whip crack!
Batter and beat! Yammer and bleat!
Work, work! Nor dare to shirk,
While Goblins quaff, and Goblins laugh,
Round and round far underground
Below, my lad!

Onomatopoeia is indeed a most excellent word, and this occupation kept me from simply swooning in terror.

We were taken far down into a deep cavern positively swarming with the Orcs, and there, waiting for us, was their king or chief or whatever they might call him.  He actually spoke the Common Tongue, and angrily accused us of being spies!

Things might have gone very badly for us all indeed, but somehow the creatures had missed capturing Gandalf.  He showed up in the nick of time to rescue us all.  Gandalf does a wonderful imitation of being grumpy and not very interested in some things-but in a pinch, he is most definitely a warrior!  He laid about him with his blazing sword and terrorized our captors!  He soon was leading us out of there!

Unfortunately, I was separated from my companions, and it was during that time that I first encountered "the least of Rings" (Ha!) and Gollum.}

Bilbo stopped once more.  They now approached what had, after the fact, become the most terrifying part of his Adventure.  It had not always been so.  But as the years passed, his nightmares of trolls and goblins and Smaug had gradually faded to rarities, while his nightmares of Gollum had grown worse and worse.  To understand now what had happened still made him shudder.  Perhaps after tea, he could write more.

But teatime came and went.  It was not until after supper that he picked up his quill once more.  And he decided that he did not need to write of Gollum yet.

{I believe I will save that for another time.  Suffice it to say, I got out and was reunited with my friends.}

He once more glanced at the other letter...

["You express surprise that I do not know much about the Shire or Bree.  I know only what my spies and servants told me, and that, I deem, was woefully inadequate.   The running of a large empire meant that many details were overlooked, much to my chagrin and annoyance, and ultimately to my downfall.  I also had my limitations.  I was not all-powerful even at my greatest, but I was good - very good - at creating the illusion of such power.  As for Bree, Olórin recreated a tavern called "The Prancing Pony," where we discussed ants and atonement over black coffee and pipeweed, but he advises that I must rely upon you to tell me of the Shire, if you're willing."]

{Oh, "The Prancing Pony"!  I spent the night there on my first journey-on the way there and on the way back again, and also on my second journey after I retired from the Shire!  A most excellent inn, with marvelous beer.  My first night there, a wedding was being held, and I rather over-indulged, and had most peculiar dreams afterwards.

On to the question of Rings-I am glad that you agreed to answer it for me, rather than simply think me impertinent.  I hope to understand better how it affected my cousin and others who were exposed to it.

I've heard the Elves, especially the Lady Galadriel, speak of this effect of time before, but never have I heard any of them attempt to explain it.

You say " But, when that child ages and becomes an adult, the passage of time feels swifter and swifter."  Believe it or not, I can understand that.  While I am mortal, I come from an unusually long-lived line, for hobbits.  For that reason, I scarcely noticed the Ring's effect on my aging (or should I say, lack of aging) as I attributed it to that.  My grandfather Gerontius, in fact, was known as "the Old Took", and lived to the ripe old age of one-hundred-thirty-a record age for hobbits and achieved without any benefit of magic.  He was a close friend of Gandalf, who could probably tell you many stories of the Old Took.  Grandfather was actually exactly one-hundred years older than I was.  I remember once when I was a young fry asking him what it felt like to be so old. I have never forgotten his answer.

"My lad," he said, "think about it for a moment.  When a baby is one-year-old, one year is one-hundred percent of his life.  By the time he is two, one year is only half of his life.  You are thirteen now, and so one year is only one-thirteenth of your life.  By the time I was one-hundred, and a year was only one-percent of my life, the question ceased to have any meaning.  At my age, time flies by very quickly indeed."

I suppose that is one indication I should have had of the effect the Ring was having on me.  For as I approached the age of one-hundred, time seemed to me to drag by even more slowly.  I remember telling Gandalf I was feeling all "stretched" and "like butter spread over too much bread".

It seems quite strange to me that you should fear the Elves!  I suppose I have become accustomed to thinking that there was nothing you feared.  And yet I do not know why I should think that-Gandalf said there were things you feared.  But I suppose that I thought those would be things beyond my mortal comprehension.

Yet given that, it seems logical that you would wish to know what they were thinking.  (Though it seems it would be an uncomfortable thing to do.  I am sure that knowing someone else's thoughts could be most disconcerting!)

I am familiar with the term "curwë".  I am not familiar with the word "techne".  I see that I shall have to ask Gandalf about that!  Another language to discover, if he will allow me to do so!

You said: "The Rings adapted to that and "tuned in," if you will, to the particular strengths and weaknesses of the bearer."

And I begin to see.  You attuned the Three, Seven and Nine to what you perceived as the strengths and weaknesses of Elves, Dwarves and Men-in general.  And, of course, not knowing about us, you left Hobbits quite out of your calculations.}

Bilbo paused; he could not help a tiny vindictive smile.  Perhaps not kind to rub it in.  But he would anyway.

["The addictive effect applies to all wielders of the Rings, even the Elves, but the latter are more resistant to this than mortals are.   Yet you seemed to possess a noteworthy resistance, Mr. Baggins."]  

 

Well, that certainly explained a lot as regarded Frodo, and probably himself towards the end there...

{You say my resistance was noteworthy, yet now that I see how you planned the things to work, I begin to understand my own resistance, as well as that of other hobbits.

You see, generally speaking, hobbits as a whole have an aversion to wielding any more power than is absolutely necessary to live with one another.  Sadly there are, of course, exceptions.  Yet the exceptions are notable.  My cousin Lotho was one such, as was his father Otho, and so was old Lalia, the widow of Thain Fortinbras II.  (Family pride and greed are also rare but occasional failings of hobbits.  The former is more common than the latter, but I would say that both of those were what motivated Lotho's mother Lobelia, rather than seeking power.)  But as to hobbits' aversion to power, it shows itself in the way the Shire works.  A Family Head holds power over his (or her, in the case of widows) family, but that power is for the most part tempered by familial affection.  The Thain, of course, is the nominal Head of the Shire, but such power as he wields is used only rarely in emergencies.  The truth of the matter is that most of the Thains have dreaded their eventual assumption of that position, and that those who know them often pity them the duty they must assume.  Their dislike of the job usually does not prevent them from doing it well, but it does mean that we hobbits are unused to tyrants.

The same goes for most Family Heads.  I seldom liked it when as Family Head of the Bagginses, I had to intervene in a situation or tell someone what to do.  But I did enjoy keeping family records, and presiding over weddings and Naming Days and so forth, so that was a bit of compensation for the more onerous duties.

That is, in general, the attitude of the vast majority of hobbits.  As I said, a few may be prone to pride or greed; more common failings among hobbits are a tendency to rather smugly assume the Shire is all there is to the world and that their own bit of it is the best part, accompanied by a love of gossip.  Some might also say we are far too fond of food, drink and pipeweed.  Personally I do not consider that a flaw.  But I do not think even my cousin Lotho's ambitions extended beyond the Shire itself, and you'd not find a hobbit with the desire to rule the world!

You might find amusing a conversation I had with my younger cousins Merry and Pippin and with Samwise when they returned to Rivendell after all was over.  The subject was the King, whom they all still called Strider (with his permission, I must add) and they were all feeling very sorry for him having to do all, as Samwise put it, that "king stuff".  However, they did agree that marriage to the Lady Arwen was probably adequate compensation for the awful job!

You say I spurned the Ring's call.  To be honest, I do not actually remember that it called to me.  I do recall that I felt uncomfortable with the idea of anyone else knowing of it, and that I wanted to feel it was "mine" by other rights than that of merely "finding" it.  I am normally a rather honest hobbit, and it disturbed me when I kept it secret from the Dwarves and Gandalf, that when I finally did admit to having it, I told a lie about how it came to me and said it was a gift.

But for the other, it simply seemed a very useful and lucky trinket.  I mostly thought of it that way, as my "good luck piece", rather like some hobbits I know who keep a special penny for good luck.  Only this actually helped to make my luck by allowing me to become invisible when necessary.  Hiding comes naturally to hobbits-you could say it is one of our strengths!  And so something that helped me to hide seemed good to me.  It enabled me to escape the goblin caves, to free my friends from those dreadful large spiders, to survive the captivity in the Elvenking's halls, and to converse with a dragon without much more personal consequence than singed heels.

I was, to be blunt, in a situation very perilous for one of my kind.  Hobbits are by nature peaceful and timid, although when danger threatens those we love, we find our courage from somewhere.  But I needed all the help I could get to survive until I came home.

I confess that at home, I occasionally made use of the thing for more frivolous purposes, such as to hide from unwelcome visitors.  And I had no idea that it was extending my life or preserving my health.  Save for the cold I had while still on my Adventure, I was never sick or ill another day unless I left the Ring behind!  (And I wonder about that particular cold?  I had already found the Ring by then.)

Sometimes it annoyed me; I sometimes felt it was trying to whisper at me.  Since I had no idea of its true nature, I thought that was absurd and that I was imagining things!  I would find myself worrying about it or thinking about it too much to suit me and so I would put it away for a while.  One Yule, I was becoming irritated by it, and decided to put it behind me for a few days.  I locked it up in Bag End and left it there while Frodo and I took our annual Yule visit to Buckland.  On the way there, I suffered a dreadful cold, and was laid up with it for several days!  It was not until many years later, after Frodo's experiences, that I began to wonder about that!

[Do you know that other magic rings, as you might name them, were made in the forges of Ost-in-Edhil?   The smiths called these "practice rings."  We made many of them, perhaps fifty all told.  I wonder what became of them?  Some were silly things; others had deeper meaning.   I owe my very existence here in Lord Námo's accommodations to a ring I crafted: a gift for someone dear to me.]

I recall Frodo saying something of the sort in Rivendell.  He had heard that from Gandalf.  I believe Gandalf hoped right up to the last that the one I had passed on to Frodo was one of that sort.

I do not find your discourse on Rings to be boring; I should not have asked if I did not wish to know.  I hope that knowledge will help me to understand more of what my cousin endured, and why his experience with the thing was so much worse than my own.

You have invited me to indulge my curiousity, so I will begin with this question, which Gandalf has never really answered to my satisfaction:  what was it like to live in the time of the Two Trees?  Much of what I have read in the Quenta Silmarillion is couched in very high and beautiful language, filled with metaphors.  Nothing is really said of what simply living day by day was like during that time.  I wonder how different it was from the daily life of the Shire, or any other place in Ennor.}

Bilbo looked at his correspondent's last question.  "Tookish curiosity".  He had only just learned a few things about his heritage.  He had not yet completely absorbed all that it meant.  Did he really want to mention the Took "fairy wife" to this particular correspondent?  Perhaps.  Perhaps not.

But not today, at any rate.

He'd written enough, he thought.  And he had some things to think about.  Hobbits.  His own particular family pride was feeling quite gratified right about now.  Mr. Sauron could wait for a few more answers.

{I see how lengthy this letter has become already!  I hope you will forgive me if I wait until our next exchange to tell you the legends of the Tooks!  And perhaps I will tell you more of the Shire, for in spite of the beauty of the Blessed Isle, my heart still hearkens back to my own native land.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}

 


Chapter End Notes:

From Dreamflower:

There are references in Bilbo's letter to three of my stories: A Merry Old Inn, which describes his first stay there on his Adventure. The second one is a Yule story, In From the Cold, which tells of that journey to Buckland and his resulting illness. And the third is in the last part of the letter, and is a veiled reference to my WIP, Ancestress.

From Pandë:

Sauron's account of the first human sacrifice in the temple of Armenelos is narrated in Downfallen.  The Dark Lord's discourse on the Elves of Eregion and their motivations is derived from Tolkien's thoughts on the subject as written to Milton Waldman, Letter 131, in The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, ed. Humphrey Carpenter.

Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.

 The Years of the Trees/Riddles in the Dark

Sauron slowed to a jog and then a walk, resting his hands on his hips as he caught his breath. His heart pounded in the cradle of his chest but gradually returned to its steady beat. He wiped the sweat from his brow. How good it was to take exercise outside!

Until today, Lord Námo's guards had escorted him daily to a featureless hall where he might run about while they kept him under their vigilant watch. There were no others there although Sauron sometimes caught a lingering odor of a human body - elvish - which caused him to wonder if there were other prisoners who used the sparse chamber to stretch their legs. The hard floor jarred his knees and hips when he attempted to run, so more often than not, he walked. Round and round he went with little structure to his thoughts although since his exchange of letters with Mr. Baggins, snippets of song often popped into his head while he strode about the hall. Clap! Snap! The black crack! Grip, grab! Pinch, nab! That orc song quoted by Mr. Baggins in his last letter was a catchy one. Sauron also contented himself with push-ups and sit-ups in his cell. To be housed in a healthy body again was something he appreciated deeply, and he did not wish to become soft.

Today, when he was escorted from his cell to take his exercise, the guards had taken a turn down an unknown corridor where a door slid open silently. Sunlight dazzled him; he blinked like an owl at noontide until his eyes adjusted. Sauron looked around the enclosure, surrounded by high smooth walls, carpeted with thick grass, and open to the impossibly blue vault of the cloudless sky. He started walking but quickly broke out into a run. He reveled in the feel of his heart and lungs at work, the contractions and release of muscles in his legs, and the springy texture of the grass beneath his bare feet. It was as close to the sensation of freedom as he might experience. He thought he might run forever, but it had been a long while since he had exerted himself so strenuously. He had then ended the run. He could always resume tomorrow.

Something to look forward to, he thought. He was not altogether sure what had prompted to Doomsman to allow him the privilege of stepping out into fresh air, but he was not about to question it. He stopped and tilted his head back, closing his eyes and allowing the sun to wash his face. He dug his toes into the grass and inhaled the scent of green growth, his own sweat and the wisps of iron that rose from the guards.

The guards. He did not need to hear them speak to know that it was time for him to return to the prison. Theirs were unspoken commands that embedded themselves in his mind and his sense of smell both. He lowered his head and opened his eyes. He walked toward them, but glanced over the walls of the enclosure to see the tops of pine trees waving gently in the breeze. Their needles almost sparkled in the sun, and the grass within the enclosure nearly glowed. They were the very embodiment of green, just as the sky was the embodiment of blue.

Another perfect day in Aman. He pulled in one more deep breath of the rarified air and let it out slowly. I wonder, though, do the hobbits notice the difference in the sun's light here? How colors are so much more intense than those of Middle-earth? I suppose they attribute it to the 'magic' of the West. How would they feel if they knew the particulars?

He dashed the thought. He probably would not be allowed to elaborate to Mr. Baggins why the sun's light here was subtly different than that which bathed Middle-earth, and really, did he want to destroy any cherished notions the old hobbit and his kinsman held? No, that would not do. What would be the point?

One of the guards handed him a small urn of cool water, which he gulped, thirsty from his exertions. They escorted him to the showers where he stripped off the soaked chiton and dropped it in a heap on a bench. He padded across the tiled floor to the wall where a line of spigots and showerheads were embedded. The presence of multiple showers, maybe a dozen all told, puzzled him.

Does Námo plan to imprison others? Or are other prisoners already here, separated from me? On the other hand, maybe this is all an illusion. He turned the spigots to release a torrent from the showerhead and stuck his hand into its chilly drops. Feels real enough.

Once the water was tepid, he stepped under the blissful deluge, washing his hair first and then soaping himself off. After drying with a rough towel, he found, as he always did after he bathed, a clean chiton folded and waiting. He picked it up and let it slide over his shoulders.

He drank more water once he returned to his cell and lay down on his bed. He still felt flushed from his run, but it was a satisfying feeling. In fact, he had not felt this good in a very long while. He turned over on his side, debating on whether to take a nap or read. Maybe both. He reached for the reading tablet on the nearby table, but his eye caught the two letters lying folded by the stack of paper and the cup of pens.

Ah. I have left Mr. Baggins in the lurch for far too long.

He sat up and went to the chair, scooting it forward as he sat down and settled into it comfortably. The woman who brought him his food had recently added a simple blue cushion for the hard chair. As always, Sauron thanked her, and as always, she said nothing in return. He wondered if she even wished to do so.

Before he picked up Mr. Baggins' letter and a piece of blank paper, he unfolded the other letter he had received only two days ago, a letter that had snapped him out of an extended black spell during which he had slept badly in the throes of nightmares, full of the tormented screams of his victims, and always ending when he felt himself falling into a darkness that would swallow him whole.

Then the letter he held in his hand arrived, and he had read it through cleansing tears as its words reminded him that he had not always been so cruel and that there was at least one person in this world who had never ceased loving him. Then today, he felt the sun on his face again. Those two things made it easier to pick up the pen and write to the old hobbit.

{Dear Mr. Baggins,

I hope you can forgive this abysmally long delay in my reply to your letter. I will plead only the excuse of feeling quite ill for these past weeks. It seemed nothing lifted the heaviness from my heart, and I simply could not bring myself to write or even study. But the dreary clouds have blown away, thanks to two recent developments.

The first is that Lord Námo has allowed me the privilege of taking my exercise out-of-doors. It is a plain enclosure, but it has grass and I can breathe clean fresh air rather than the seemingly artificial stuff piped into my cell. I had a good run today. How long, I do not know, but judging by time and what I recall of my accustomed pace when I possessed a body much like (if not identical to) the one I am housed in now, I'd say I ran close to a league and a half. No doubt I will be sore on the morrow, but it's a worthy ache to dwell in a healthy body again.

As I ran out under the sun, I thought about your question: what was it like to live during the Time of the Two Trees, a time when the sun was hidden from us? Given the expanse of time between that reality and when the Quenta Silmarillion was written, I am not surprised that the descriptions you read were marvelous and poetic. I also can well understand why Olórin might have been circumspect when you asked him to elaborate about that time, especially if you had asked him back in Middle-earth. Likely, there was much that had been obscured in his memories once he arrived in Eriador. Those memories he retained, he would not have told you in specifics for fear of disrupting your more simple lives. But now that you're here, you will not be returning to tell tales to those who dwell in Middle-earth, so I see no harm in answering you.

The Years of the Trees began not long after the Spring of Arda ended with the great war between Melkor and the Valar. It was thought that Melkor had gone to ground beneath Utumno, and all was silent in that cold desolation. Nonetheless, the Valar were cautious. They raised the Pelori as a wall and as a further means of protection, Varda crafted great Domes to cover the land. She set simulacrums of the natural stars high up in the Domes, but more powerful sources of light were needed for life to continue and thrive beneath them. Hence, Yavanna's extravagances: the Two Trees that combined the botanical and astronomical, and truly, these were magnificent works of art and science both.

The descriptions you no doubt have read of the Trees are reasonably accurate, that is, there were equal cycles of light from Laurelin and Telperion each and mingling of the gold and silver during the transition. Strange and beautiful that was, but honestly, I will take dawn and dusk any old day. But the Valar are Artists, and we, the Maiar, followed their lead.

So day-to-day life. In certain ways, it was quite extraordinary, especially when I think of some of the inventions I helped my first master (that would be Aulë) craft and later, those created on my own. I spent a great deal of my time in Aulë's workshops and laboratories where I was counted as the most talented among his retinue. I loved to delve into the deeper workings of materials: of stone, of gems, of minerals. Very deep indeed. I wished to understand the substance of our adopted world (that would be Ennor) and beyond, that of Eä itself. The Valar know much of such things, but they do not reveal all to even the Maiar, their argument being that we should discover knowledge for ourselves with their guidance.

Although I devoted much of my time to my work, I found enjoyment in other pastimes, some ordinary. For example, I liked to fish, and Aman afforded many places to do so: lakes, rivers, pond, streams and the seaside. Every kind of fish imaginable swims in the waters of Aman, for the Valar are collectors. The Blessed Lands harbored (and still harbor) all those birds and beasts with which you are familiar and many of which you are not. I also understand that Lord Oromë has been inclined to experiment and thus has come up with some interesting hybrids for his own amusement.

At any rate, during the mingling of the Lights, I fished for salmon and bass in freshwater and for bluefish in saltwater, but my favorite has always been the wily trout. Some of my best memories are those of the times I fished for trout in the cold mountain streams here in Aman and later, in the foothills of Eregion. I don't suppose I will go fishing again.

What else? When not working and studying, I ate, drank, slept, bathed, read for pleasure and sought the company of friends. I expect Olórin's life was similar, and this is probably not so terribly different from life in the Shire, at least in the most basic ways. Just as I do now, I enjoyed good food and drink, especially wine, breads and grains of many types, strawberries, oranges and peaches, cheeses, roasted game like quail or venison, a rare chunk of beef and, well, I could go on. Obviously, I will not condemn hobbits' appreciation of food and drink! But I appreciated simple things, too. For example, cool water after a hard day's work tasted as good as the delicious wines from the vineyards of Yavanna. I might have taken my daily meals, which I shared with my colleagues in the workshops, for granted (I do not any longer) but the feasts were always cause for enjoyment.

I think the Valar envied the Maiar our ability to partake so freely in feasts and other pleasures of the senses. The Valar might take a bite or a sip here and there, but they risked becoming locked into physical form by doing so. We Maiar were (and are) able to indulge because the assumption of corporeal form is more natural for us than it is for the Guardians, who have been removed from their original form for aeons (another Greek word I learned; suffice it to say it means a very, very long time). Thus we enjoyed our hröar more completely than the Valar did theirs, and in fact, that is why the Great Ones brought us along with them to Arda, so that we might act as a bridge between them and the Eruhini. Indeed, the majority of us Fays readily assumed the forms of Man or Elf, although some favored the forms of other creatures like eagles, bears, spiders, and even trees!

Wolves, too. I suppose I needn't bring that subject up with Mr. Baggins just yet. He continued to write, the words flowing across the page.

Others of my people worked according to their houses. For example, the servants of Yavanna were often farmers, bakers, herders, brewers and vintners. Servants of Oromë hunted yet tended the wild beasts. Ulmo's people lived by and in the sea. Some were fishermen, but others had stranger occupations below the waters. Others lived more lofty lives, like those who served Varda and Manwë. The folk of Námo? They tended the many confused and frightened fëar who found themselves torn from their bodies but who had the courage to answer a vague but compelling summons. For in those times, the Elves had no knowledge of Aman. Námo called to them all the same.

Although I worked hard in Aulë's forges and had the muscles to show for it (vain of me, I know), I also liked to take exercise that calmed my mind, most often in the form of hikes. If I found myself on the coast for an errand on behalf of my master, I would swim.

There were a great many musical performances, recitations of poetry and theatre, and I availed myself of some performances. However, my interests were more focused on the sciences, so my attendance at these was infrequent.

I lived by myself in a comfortable apartment within the Halls of Aulë. There I studied and read. I also visited friends, most of whom were also part of Aulë's train, for we understood one another best. We worked hard and played hard, too. We men sometimes sang bawdy songs although we toned these down considerably out of respect for the few women who worked in the forges on occasion.

We were not above twitting one another. Take Curumo for example. Bear in mind, he had his good qualities, but he could be a braggart. One day, I applied a thin film of grease to the handle of his smith's hammer. As he was striking hot steel on the anvil, and going on and on as to how this plate would fit into the remarkable machine he planned to construct, the hammer slipped out of his hand. The thing went flying, and nearly pinged Aulë, who had just stepped into the forge. Curumo found himself sweeping metal filings off the floor for a week.

How we smiths would argue about our latest ideas! Make no mistake, despite our camaraderie, we competed against one another and rivalries often broke out. Aulë frowned upon such behavior, but being as preoccupied as he was with his own projects, he was more often than not oblivious to the friction among a few of us. Perhaps salons in Lórien's realm where Olórin dwelt were more genteel. Perhaps Aulë should have paid closer attention to those of us who served him.

I say that because despite efforts to shield Aman from Melkor, he nonetheless had knowledge of what transpired beneath the Domes in the light of the Trees, thanks in no small part to me. When Varda raised the Domes, I was still counted among Aulë's people, but secretly, my foot was already half out the door and set over the threshold of Thangorodrim.

It was difficult to negotiate the borderlands between Aulë and Melkor's domains and my loyalties to each, but Melkor's influence was more powerful than I can possibly describe to you. As a result, I became increasingly adept at deception and hiding my true purposes, but as one gets better and better at deceiving others, so one becomes better at deceiving oneself. Eventually, my situation became untenable, and I had to make my final choice. So I cut my ties with Aulë, not without a great deal of pain, and fled Aman to cast my lot with Melkor. Thus, I was not in Aman when the first Elves arrived so I cannot speak to any questions you might have about the Eldar's lives in the sheltering arms of the Valar.

I hope that answers at least some of your question as I interpreted it. Now on to your letter.}

Sauron unfolded the letter and scanned the spidery script. He likes to write with a quill. How very old-fashioned and charming. He read the opening paragraphs of the letter.

[Frodo himself felt somewhat sheepish after his brief outburst of anger during your conversation, feeling that he should not have lost his temper. Personally, I felt that it was good for him to do so. My cousin has always been one who preferred to keep his darker feelings to himself, whether they be grief or anger or sorrow. He has never been loth to share joy or love, but those joys have most often been the joys of others. I put it down to his having been orphaned so young.]

Orphaned? I wonder what happened to his parents? He winced when a dark memory threatened to surface. Frodo Baggins has more in common with me than he realizes. But that is my story, not for him to know. How could he possibly understand? He pressed his lips together and continued to write.

{With regard to your kinsman, perhaps it was healthy for him to release his feelings if he otherwise tends to bottle them up. No need for him to feel sheepish. On the deep hurt, yes, I know what happened to him at Weathertop, for those were my very orders to the Witchking: to strike with the Morgul knife. At the time, I knew that a Halfling bore the One, but I did not know just who it was. So the Nazgul were to try to gain a sense of which one carried the Ring (not so difficult since the Ring drew them) and to strike a hobbit - any hobbit - but clearly the Ringbearer drew their attention. I'm afraid Frodo's injury is not one I can ever hope to heal by telling him I am sorry for all that happened.}

[I suspect that Gandalf has not told you many of the details so that I will actually have something to write to you about. Please give him my thanks!]

Sauron felt a smile creep across his face. He could almost hear Bilbo when he read the words. It was true that Olórin had not related most details of the great adventure, but Sauron had heard snippets of the tale from Bilbo himself, unbeknownst to the old hobbit. During the voyage from Mithlond to Avallonë, he could not help but overhear conversations while still imprisoned in the mithril ring that Olórin wore on the finger next to the one that bore Narya. Then there was the earlier occasion in Imladris when he awoke and heard an old voice telling two little boys a tale about riding a barrel on a river. He swallowed the knot of sorrow that caught in his throat when he thought of those children. No doubt Mr. Baggins would think him a spy if he told him such things. In any case, he had not heard the tale in full so best to encourage the old hobbit.

{Although it was no doubt a frightening experience for you, 'Thirteen Dwarves, a Wizard and a Hobbit sought shelter from a storm in a small cave in the Misty Mountains' sounds less like the introduction to a joke than an intriguing tale which you made good on. The goblin song (if one can call it a song) is now stuck in my head! I am not at all surprised that the goblins used the Common Tongue. There are many tribes and just as many dialects amongst the orcs of the Misty Mountains, so they use Westron to communicate with one another. Try as I might, I could not get the wretches to adopt the Black Speech.

I can well imagine that Olórin was quite formidable there in the goblins' cave, wielding Glamdring and all. He has that kind of contradiction: grumpy and generous, gentle and ferocious. But then I had my contradictions, too, among them great power but fear and doubt. I am more human that you might guess. But tell me, what of your encounter with Gollum and that least of Rings?}

'Least of Rings.' Sauron had to chuckle at Baggins' cheek in turning his own words back on him, but the smile disappeared abruptly when he thought of Gollum. What a wretched creature, the lowest sort of murderer.

He had heard rumor that Gollum preyed on the flesh of other humans, a practice that repulsed him, even during those years of the Third Age when he, as the Necromancer, had been obliged to follow a grisly diet to maintain his far-from-perfect corporeal form. Yes, the orcs, too, consumed human flesh, but it was an engrained part of their beliefs, more ritualistic than a dietary staple: by eating their enemies, especially the heart and the brain, the orcs believed they became stronger. He had not been able to stamp the practice out, but then again, he admitted to himself, he had not tried terribly hard to do so, for the orcish consumption of human flesh proved useful in that it added to the fear that they engendered. Gollum's hunger was plainly a baser kind. Sauron shook his head. He doubted that Bilbo's encounter was pleasant in the least. He next read Bilbo's description of the Ring's effects on him.

[I suppose that is one indication I should have had of the effect the Ring was having on me. For as I approached the age of one-hundred, time seemed to me to drag by even more slowly. I remember telling Gandalf I was feeling all "stretched" and "like butter spread over too much bread".]

{However prosaic, that is as an accurate description of the effects of the Rings of Power on mortals as I have heard. Your Grandfather Gerontius must have been a very wise hobbit. Through your letter, I have come to understand hobbits a great deal more. Your description of the governance of the Shire as well as the nature of Hobbits as a race were most enlightening and serve to explain the effects of the Ring on you.

As for the Ring's detrimental effects, I do believe you are an uncommonly honest person, Mr. Baggins, but all of us lie to some degree. Usually, these are the "little white lies" that allow us to smooth the bumpier passages of life. The Ring, just as it allowed you to disappear in a pinch, as you might say, and gave you good health, also brought to the fore the less savory parts of your personality.

'A good luck piece.' How fortunate for you that you were naïve to the Ring's true nature! Also how fortunate for you that Hobbits factored so late in my calculations.

I wanted to ask you this: didn't a gardener of some sort bear the Ring if briefly? Olórin mentioned him during our conversations while he bore me here to the Blessed Lands. Speaking of Ringbearers, I must say that when I first saw your kinsman Frodo after I had been reincarnated, I was taken aback to find his face confirmed as that of the Ringbearer. For a long time, I had thought it was another hobbit, that young fellow who looked into the palantir, who had the Ring. What was his name? Begins with a 'P', I think. Foolish lad, but surprisingly tough of mind. My images of you hobbits were rather fuzzy after the destruction of the Ring. Before I was handed over to Olórin, the one who bore the mithril ring in which I resided shielded you from me, so I could never quite get a grasp of who was who, save for you in Imladris since you were the only hobbit residing there.

On Olórin, yes, I understand he means well, and I do not hold his actions against him. He was doing what he thought was right, just as I was convinced mine was the right strategy (and to be frank, Mr. Baggins, I do not think all of my motives were wrong). We were enemies, no doubt about that, so you can imagine his surprise when the little mithril ring that contained my spirit — my true, fundamental spirit — was set in his palm not long after the destruction of the One. He showed just as much mercy then as he did far, far back in our long history. I will never forget the kindness he showed to my little sister and me in the distant past, and apparently, he has not forgotten who I was, and at least to some degree, still am.

That brings me to the second development that has lifted my spirits so: I received a letter from my sister recently. I had seen her at the day of my judgment in the Maháxanar, because she was there to support me, but we were not allowed to speak. Nevertheless, I felt her presence acutely. She never stopped believing in me, and that I could be saved. She and Olórin, along with Aulë, Nienna and Ulmo, were my advocates on that fateful day.

When I say she is my sister, I do not mean that figuratively as the Valar do when they use the words 'brother' and 'sister. ' She is my sibling by blood. She serves both Aulë and Yavanna, a very tricky position, but one she has handled with aplomb. She is brilliant, and she is also balanced, practical, and earthy. She typically takes the form of an elf-woman with blue-grey eyes and brown hair of a color that reminds one of polished bronze. She arches her left eyebrow just like I do, a characteristic we inherited from our father. She goes by the name of Mairëa, and on her, it fits perfectly. I don't know if her business ever takes her to Tol Eressëa, but if so, perhaps you will meet her. If you do not mind, I would like to mention our correspondence to her and recommend you as a worthy person.

Well, then, I expect this is enough for now. I hope this letter finds you well, and I hope to hear more about the Shire and the famous Took clan in your next missive.

Sincerely,

D.L. Sauron}

He waited for a few moments to ensure the ink was dry before he folded the letter, and then tucked it inside an envelope. He didn't bother to seal it, for he knew that Lord Námo himself checked the content of his letters before they were sent. He placed the envelope beside the letter from Mairëa. Yes, it had been a good day.

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

Bilbo had begun to wonder if he was going to hear from his correspondent again. Had he offended him, with his mild gloating over how hobbits had defeated him? Or perhaps his punishment had taken a harsher turn and he would no longer be allowed to correspond? But no, he was certain that Gandalf would have told him if that were the case. At least, he thought Gandalf would tell him. It was somewhat disturbing to learn that there might be things that Gandalf and others were actually forbidden to tell him and Frodo.

Considering how upset Frodo had been at first about the secrecy surrounding Adamanta and the history of hobbits, he was beginning to wonder. Yet he could not find it in him to doubt the goodness or wisdom of those who had been so kind to him and especially to Frodo by granting them this home and a chance to heal. Certainly anyone familiar with the history of the First Age did not believe the Valar or their servants were flawless, but as misguided as some of their decisions had been in the past, he never doubted that they intended only good for the world in their stewardship. Ah, well! He would either hear from his correspondent or he would not. But he might put the question to Gandalf the next time he saw him.

As it turned out, he did not need to. The very next day after he had thought of it, Gandalf turned up with a reply to his letter.

As Gandalf sat nearby, Bilbo began to read. He paused. "He was ill? I would not have thought such was possible for a being like him."

Gandalf had taken out his pipe, and spent a moment or two in the ritual of lighting it. He took a puff and said, "Not an illness in the way that you think of it, but he has taken on a hröa and it is very affected by the fëa within. But he was certainly subject to a weight of darkness, cold and pain for a while. I daresay it was something very much like what Frodo suffered on the anniversaries of his woundings."

Bilbo found himself almost feeling sorry for Sauron, and was not sure he liked the feeling. Though he said nothing, he could tell from the expression on Gandalf's face that he knew what he was thinking.

"You do not have to continue this if it is too difficult, Bilbo."

Bilbo shook his head. "You know that I will."

Gandalf chuckled. "You are nothing if not a stubborn Baggins," he said wryly. "I have never known you or Frodo to turn back from a course of action once you have undertaken it. But I thought it only fair to remind you that you have a choice if you wish to take it."

Bilbo continued reading, enjoying the descriptions of life during the times of the Trees, chuckling in surprise at the account of the prank on Saruman, and raising his eyebrows at the confession that Sauron had the Goblin Song stuck in his head. Would it be too cruel to introduce him to "One Hundred Apple Pies"? Probably. Bilbo thought that his correspondent's account of his life and activities sounded in some ways almost prosaic and bucolic-much like, in fact, life in the Shire.

Now that was not a notion he had ever thought of before!

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

I am pleased that you now feel well enough to take up our correspondence again. I had begun to think I might have offended you in some way with my last letter. It is good to know that you are no longer ill-it had not occurred to me that illness was possible for one of your people.

It is also good to know that you have the chance to go outdoors into the fresh air and sunshine. To hobbits, the idea of locking someone away like that is utterly repulsive, although we do understand how in certain cases it might be necessary among the Big Folk. My people have always either allowed families to deal with trouble-makers, or in the case of the seriously incorrigible, made use of banishment. Until Saruman (whom you call Curumo, and the Shirefolk learned to call "Sharkey") came to the Shire, the hobbits there never even had the facilities to lock anyone up.

I am, however, amazed at your description of running a league-and-a-half for sheer pleasure! Among hobbits, physical exertion beyond what is necessary for day-to-day living, is a pleasure reserved for tweens and children, and not something indulged in by adults. (There is a single exception to this, but it is far too complicated to go into right now. It is a thing hobbits call "golf". I shall perhaps save that for another letter.) Even my own occasional rambles about the Shire were looked upon as a dubious eccentricity- if I absolutely must travel about, why did I not ride a pony or hire a trap?

Thank you for indulging my curiousity about the time of the Two Trees. I have long wondered about what things might be like then. The few Elves I have known who were present during that time seem strangely reluctant to speak of it. The Lady Galadriel simply gave me a look that made me feel like an impertinent tween and changed the subject, and Glorfindel (with whom I became quite friendly during my years in Rivendell) seemed even more reluctant to discuss it, feigning not to even hear my question.

["She set simulacrums of the natural stars high up in the Domes, but more powerful sources of light were needed for life to continue and thrive".]

I take it from your use of the word "simulacrum" that the notion that she scattered the actual stars across the sky was no more than a poetic fancy. I have to say, I rather suspected as much. Still, I've no doubt that the reality was beautiful as well. And the Trees must have been amazing-to create something that could do the work of the Sun and the Moon in the absence of their light must have been quite a feat!

You enjoyed fishing? Angling is a popular sport in the Shire-fresh fish for dinner is considered quite a treat! It is more popular in Buckland than in the Shire proper. Buckland is a strip of land on the East side of the Baranduin, which we hobbits call the Brandywine River. (No doubt you will appreciate the pun involved in the linguistic shift to Westron!) Bucklanders are the only hobbits who will go about on the water in boats-most hobbits consider activities such as "boating" and "swimming" to be "unnatural". But Bucklanders are quite at home in boats, and sensibly believe that if one lives alongside a River one should know how to swim in case of accidents.

Frodo's parents were lost in a boating accident when he was the tender age of twelve. Although the accident was unwitnessed, the evidence suggested that his mother (Primula was a Brandybuck, and my own first cousin on my mother's side) struck her head on the side of the boat, and thus was unconscious. His father Drogo, (my second cousin on the Baggins side) could not swim a stroke and so was unable to help either Primula or himself.

At any rate, most hobbits of the Shire are content to do their fishing from the bank of stream, river or pond, and never venture forth on the water's surface.

["Just as I do now, I enjoyed good food and drink, especially wine, breads and grains of many types, strawberries, oranges and peaches, cheeses, roasted game like quail or venison, a rare chunk of beef and, well, I could go on."]

And if you did, you would not bore me in the least! Hobbits can (and often do) rhapsodize about food for hours!

["Indeed, the majority of us Fays readily assumed the forms of Man or Elf, although some favored the forms of other creatures like eagles, bears, spiders, and even trees!"]

I find your use of the term "Fays" for your people quite interesting for a number of reasons. My own people have a number of legends about the "Faery Folk", whom many seem to think also includes the Elves! But all of these stories were thought to be the stuff of moonshine and are considered entertaining but unbelievable by most of the hobbits of the Shire.

It had not occurred to me that the Great Eagles, or Beorn, or even those talking Wolves and Spiders we encountered were actually Maiar! Or were they the descendants of Maiar? I had no idea that such was feasible. This is quite a revelation! I had always been led to believe that Melian was the only Maia to make a union with one of the Children of Ilúvatar. I have recently learned that this is not in fact, true!

I had to laugh about your jest on Saruman! It sounds much like the sorts of japes that hobbit tweens often get up to in the Shire. The tweens are a time of much energy and mischief. Hobbit youth often engage in pranks, or what we call "scrumping"-- minor pilferage of the gardens of our neighbours or the pantries of our kinfolk. It is not considered a crime even by its victims unless the young folk get too bold or too greedy, and thus break the unwritten rules of such activities. (Getting caught at it is considered its own sort of transgression, at least by the participants!) Frodo was once a daring scrumper until he got caught. And perhaps Gandalf might tell you of the occasion my cousins and I attempted to pilfer some of his fireworks! I was not much amused by the consequences then, though I chuckle at it now. But pranks upon one's cousins and siblings are a staple of growing up in the Shire.}

Bilbo glanced at the next section of the letter.

He'd rather skimmed the next part of it, once he saw where it was leading. This was the part he found difficult: remembering exactly who he was dealing with. Being reminded that this affable correspondent had been the premier enemy of the Free Folk for two Ages of the world was jarring.

[With regard to your kinsman, perhaps it was healthy for him to release his feelings if he otherwise tends to bottle them up. No need for him to feel sheepish. On the deep hurt, yes, I know what happened to him at Weathertop, for those were my very orders to the Witchking: to strike with the Morgul knife. At the time, I knew that a Halfling bore the One, but I did not know just who it was. So the Nazgul were to try to gain a sense of which one carried the Ring (not so difficult since the Ring drew them) and to strike a hobbit - any hobbit - but clearly the Ringbearer drew their attention. I'm afraid Frodo's injury is not one I can ever hope to heal by telling him I am sorry for all that happened.]

No, he couldn't. Frodo was healing more and more each day, but Sauron's remorse did not enter into that. And the thought that the Ringwraiths had been ordered to strike at any hobbit gave him cold chills. Frodo had barely survived his own wounding. Had one of the others-Sam, Merry or Pippin-been wounded in his stead, Bilbo thought it would have utterly crushed him. Frodo loved those three like brothers. If one of them had been killed, he was sure Frodo could never have carried on.

And then there was this part:

[Speaking of Ringbearers, I must say that when I first saw your kinsman Frodo after I had been reembodied, I was taken aback to find his face confirmed as that of the Ringbearer. For a long time, I had thought it was another hobbit, that young fellow who looked into the palantir, who had the Ring. What was his name? Begins with a 'P', I think. Foolish lad, but very tough of mind. My images of you hobbits were rather fuzzy after the destruction of the Ring.]

That was disturbing as well. Bilbo was not sure how he felt about the former Dark Lord asking questions about Sam and Pippin.

And truthfully, he did not know a great deal about what had happened to Pippin in that encounter.

He pursed his lips, and then pushed his reply to one side, capping the inkwell. He needed to talk to Frodo and Gandalf before he decided what to write next.

He found Frodo in their small private garden deadheading some roses. Although Sam had always done any gardening at Bag End, that did not mean Frodo was ignorant of the subject. He was familiar with most of the common garden tasks-having lived in Buckland where people were expected to lend a hand at whatever needed doing in spite of social status, he'd done his share of them from time to time. Bilbo suspected that one reason his cousin enjoyed gardening here and now was that such tasks helped him to feel closer to Sam.

"Frodo?"

Frodo looked up and smiled, and joined Bilbo on a stone bench. "Yes, Uncle?"

"What do you know of the time when Pippin looked into the palantír?

Frodo looked surprised. "Good heavens! Why do you ask?" Then his expression changed. "Never mind, I think I know why." He looked briefly thoughtful. "I don't really know a great deal about it. Pippin was very reluctant to speak of it. And so what I do know I got second-hand, from Merry, from Gandalf and from Aragorn. I know that it was a frightening and painful experience for him. Gandalf, I am sure, could tell you more about it than I can. I am quite sure he knew more of what passed with Pippin in that encounter than he told to me. I am sure that he entered Pippin's mind to learn what happened."

"Thank you, Frodo. I do intend to speak to Gandalf as well."

Frodo sat silent for a few minutes, and cast a sidelong look at him. Bilbo could tell there was more he wished to say, so he simply waited.

"Uncle Bilbo, I told you that I don't object to your doing this. Gandalf seems to wish it, and I believe that it must in some way assist him in his task of overseeing his charge. Clearly the Valar believe it necessary to attempt to reform Sauron, and so I agree that if you can be of some help to Gandalf then you should do what you can. But I fear I still do not trust him."

Bilbo shook his head. "I do not especially trust him either. But we have come to an accommodation: I relieve some of his boredom, and he satisfies some of my curiosity. Trust does not really enter into it. Do not worry about me, Frodo."

"Very well, I will try, at any rate." But they exchanged a smile. They both would always worry about one another, and they knew it.

Bilbo chuckled. "By the way, he told me of something in his last letter that might amuse you."

Frodo looked at him. "I can't imagine what, but clearly you can. Since you are clearly dying to do so, tell me then."

Bilbo told him of the prank on Saruman.

Frodo stared in astonishment, and then giggled, then chuckled, and then laughed out loud, shaking his head in disbelief the whole time.

After tea, Bilbo returned to his reply, deciding to skip over the matters of Frodo's wounding and of Pippin and Sam for now.

{Gollum and the Ring. Well, as to the Ring, the truth of the matter is that I simply found it and did not have a clue as to what I had picked up.

After Gandalf rescued us from the goblins, we fled as fast as we could. Unfortunately, a hobbit cannot hope to keep up with a troop of Dwarves on the run! Seeing that I was likely to fall behind, they took it in turns to carry me. We sped through dark caverns with only the faint shimmer of Glamdring and Orcrist to light our way. (Gandalf had the presence of mind to retrieve the latter from the Orcs before we fled.) We knew we were pursued, but even so, some of them were able to sneak up on us. One of them grabbed Dori, who was carrying me at the time.

Needless to say, he dropped me. I fell, hit my head against an inconvenient stone, and was knocked unconscious.

I came to, alone and in the dark. I'd not a clue where the others had got to, nor where any of the goblins were either. I groped about trying to get my bearings, and my hand fell upon something cold and metallic. I absent-mindedly stuck whatever it was in my pocket. For a long while after, I merely sat in the dark.

Then I remembered my own sword. It was not really a sword, but rather a long knife that had come from the same troll's hoard as Glamdring and Orcrist. It was long enough for a hobbit to use as a sword, at any rate. The Orcs had missed finding it because I had worn it inside my breeches. I drew it out, and was surprised to see it shimmer as well. Clearly it was of the same Elven make as the swords. It was faint enough to reassure me that the goblins were around but not very close by. Not knowing what else to do, I decided that all I could do was to go forward.

I had trudged and trudged for what seemed like endless hours, when my foot struck water. I stopped. The faint light of my blade was not enough to show me what sort of water I'd encountered-just that there was a body of water of some sort blocking my way. It didn't seem to be running, so I knew it was no stream, but I couldn't tell if it were a lake or a pond or merely a puddle.

As I was trying to think what to do next, suddenly a most unpleasant voice came hissing out of the darkness: "Bless us and splash us, my preciouss! I guess it's a choice feast, at least a tasty morsel it'd make us, gollum!"

I must've jumped a foot straight up, at least!

I held my little sword out, and asked "Who are you?"

The creature didn't answer, but turned the question back on me. It was quite foolish of me, but hobbits are creatures of habit, and I foolishly introduced myself nearly as I would have at home.

It was clear Gollum didn't like the look of my weapon. He proposed a game of riddles. The idea of it was that if I won, he'd agree to show me the way out, while if he won, he would eat me. Needless to say I didn't care much for the terms of the wager, but riddles were as good a delay as I could think of at the time. I certainly did not trust him to keep his word and as for myself, I had no intention of simply standing there meekly to be devoured.

I will not trouble you with all the riddles. Rest assured I have not forgot a single word of a single one, but it would make this letter far too long. At any rate, at one point I almost stumped him, and at another he nearly stumped me. Finally, as my own store of riddles was beginning to dry up I was nervously putting my hand in my pocket. My fingers felt something hard and round. Without realising I was speaking aloud, I said, "What have I got in my pockets?"

It wasn't my riddle, but he took it for one, and made some wild guesses, none of them right. I didn't even know the right answer myself but I knew his guesses were wrong.

I pressed him to show me the way out, as he had promised. Then he told me he needed to fetch his "birthday present"; that it was needed. I waited as he went off into the water. I did not expect him back, but I waited for a short while on the remote chance he'd keep his word.

Instead, I heard a horrible screech! He'd missed his whatever-it-was, and quickly guessed the right answer too late. I saw him returning, and the look of madness in his eyes was terrifying. I turned and ran for my life, Gollum in pursuit.

As I was running, I had stuck my hand in my pocket, finally wondering what it was I'd found that he wanted so desperately. It slipped onto my finger without my realising it; and then he ran right past me, not seeing me!

I could hear him talking to himself, not in the way most of us do, but as if he were actually two different people. Clearly he thought I already knew the way out and was heading there. I followed him.

Then he began to hesitate. I gathered from his rambling speech that we were nearly there-but he dared not go further, for the area around the exit was packed with Orc guards. He sat down. He sat there blubbering and wailing, in my way! The passage was too narrow for me to go around him, and he blocked my way to freedom!

I confess, I was sorely tempted to slay him. He had meant to do the same to me, after all. But he just sat there weeping, alone and utterly wretched, and all I could do was feel sorry for the pitiful thing. I gathered up all of my nerve and my small rags of courage, backed up a bit, and then took a leap. I leapt right over him and kept on running. He nearly grabbed my feet when I went over, but missed.

The last I heard of him was his screech of dismay and fury: "Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it! We hates it forever!"

His curse followed me as I fled, and I admit that I often heard it in my worst nightmares in the years long after.

I managed to dodge through the goblins guarding the door; the Ring nearly betrayed me, but I found my way out and down. I searched for signs of my companions, wondering if I were the only one who had managed to actually escape. I had nearly made up my mind to go back and see if I could find the Dwarves and Gandalf when I heard their voices, and was able to rejoin them.}

Bilbo stopped writing. He was breathless and had palpitations, as though he had only just then escaped from those darksome holes of his memory. This was not the lighthearted account he had given to the children of the Shire for generations-the Ring never entered those stories. And it was not even the account he'd later given at the Council of Elrond. This felt like reliving the whole thing.

He realised that his hand was cramped, and a look out the window let him know the hour was late. He had not noticed-Elven lanterns gave off a steady light and they did not gutter or burn down the way candles did.

He went to bed rather hesitantly, expecting nightmares. Instead, he fell asleep deeply and soundly, and if there were dreams, he could not remember.

He awakened long after his usual time. It was nearly elevenses, and the smell of coffee and scones tickled his nose. He followed the aroma into the kitchen, where he was delighted to find not only Frodo, who was taking out a pan of scones rich with the smell of berries and cinnamon, but Gandalf as well.

"Good morning, Uncle Bilbo! Did you not sleep well last night?" Frodo asked as he placed the hot pan on a folded cloth.

"I slept uncommonly well, lad. I cannot believe that I slept so late!" He turned to their guest. "Hullo, Gandalf! I am glad to see you here this morning!"

"I'm glad to be here, Bilbo! Especially since Frodo has been baking!"

The three friends enjoyed their elevenses, slathering the scones with fresh butter and sipping their coffee. Soon there was not a crumb left. Frodo rose. "I am to meet the Lady Celebrían and Adamanta down on the beach, Uncle Bilbo. Since you were such a slug-a-bed, I shall leave the washing up to you!"

Bilbo laughed. "I suppose I deserve that! Off with you then, Frodo! Give the ladies my greetings!"

"I will." Frodo dropped a kiss on top of Bilbo's head. "Good day, Gandalf!" and then he was off.

"It is good to see Frodo in such high spirits!" said the wizard.

"It is," said Bilbo. "But I think also he wished to leave so that we could talk."

"Ah! Have you finished your reply to the latest letter then?"

"Not yet. I wanted to ask you about something he brought up. Did you know that he thought Pippin was the Ringbearer? He was asking me about Pippin, and about Sam, too!"

"I did know he thought that-it was why I had to whisk the lad off to Minas Tirith so suddenly."

"What did happen with Pippin? Frodo said that you would know more than he did."

Gandalf nodded. "I have to say, the youngster was not entirely to blame. He should never have been allowed to handle the palantír in the first place. His impulse to look into it could not be completely blamed on Tookish impulsiveness-that sort of thing has its own lure! But he did not stand a chance once he looked in it. Sauron must have been monitoring Saruman's stone-he latched onto it at once, and seeing a hobbit, drew the logical, but incorrect, conclusion that Saruman had captured the Ringbearer. He pounced upon Pippin at once and pressed him down into the darkness. Pippin resisted admirably-he kept his minds upon the green hills of the Shire and off his loved ones, somehow. Sauron grew insistent and pushed too hard, and for one brief instant almost broke Pippin. But not quite-he lost himself in a way, and all he could remember was that he was a hobbit. He was sorely tried, but never once allowed himself to think of Frodo. I broke the hold when I got the palantír away from him."

"Poor child!"

"Fortunately he took no lasting harm! Why he questioned me half the night once we left, his curiosity unquenched by his trial."

"He wants to know about him, and as I said, about Sam as well." Bilbo gave Gandalf a troubled look.

"He can do them no harm from across the Sundering Sea. Tell him as much or as little as you wish, Bilbo, but do not fear that he can do anything to them."

{I have to say, I was most distressed by your revelation that you had instructed the Ringwraiths to attack any hobbit! I certainly will not share that bit of information with Frodo; I have to say it angered me quite a lot to realise the harm that could have come to those youngsters in his company, simply because they had been brave enough and loyal enough to go with him.

You asked about two of the three. Sam, I think, can wait. I will need quite a lot of paper and ink to do justice to Samwise Gamgee!

The other two were Meriadoc Brandybuck and Peregrin Took. Peregrin, or Pippin, as he was commonly called was the youngest of them. He was not even an adult at the time they left the Shire-and having five years to go until his majority then, even now he is still not an adult! Yet he had always followed Merry and Frodo about from the time he could toddle.

He probably was too young for the things he did; I know Frodo would have preferred to leave both him and Merry behind, but especially Pippin. Still, he knew that they would follow him anyway. It was deemed safer for them to do so openly.

Master Elrond was against Pippin's going-he wanted to send him home to the Shire. I can remember Peregrin standing in front of the Lord of Rivendell, hands on his hips and his pointy little chin jutting out emphatically, saying: "Then, Master Elrond, you will have to lock me in prison or send me home tied in a sack. For otherwise I shall follow the Company." He looked Elrond right in the eyes without even flinching. Of course, once the permission was granted, the lad was terrified of his own temerity!

I had not seen him since he was a small child. I remember before I went away a tiny blur of exuberance and enthusiasm. I do not believe I ever knew a child so full of energy or questions. He ran his parents ragged, but he obeyed Merry and Frodo who were his idols. He had a very pleasant voice and was always singing and humming. Frodo told me that he had learned also to play several instruments and is still a delightful singer. He was also a very tender-hearted child, easily moved by the misfortunes of others. He was very Tookish, and I have the word of Gandalf, who should know, that he was the spitting image of my Grandfather Gerontius (who was his great-great-grandfather).

He would have died for Frodo. He very nearly did-in the battle before the Black Gate he fought in the livery of the Tower Guard. He slew a troll single-handedly (I was assured of this by several who had reason to know the truth of it) but was almost crushed by its body. He was lucky to be alive afterward. When I saw him once more in Rivendell, I was pleased to see that he had gained a little wisdom and patience, but his bright spirit remained unquenched. I think that he shall one day make an excellent Thain, though he is still not eager to take the job.

As you can see, I am moderately fond of the youngster, and perhaps a little proud.

I find myself quite astonished by the news that you have a sister! I did not know such was even possible for one of your people. But as I said above, I have recently come to know that my knowledge in that area has been somewhat lacking.

She sounds a most interesting person. If she should come to the Blessed Isle, I shall be honoured to make her acquaintance.

I think that I have rambled on quite enough for one letter. I look forward to your reply.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}


Chapter End Notes:

Author's Notes from Dreamflower: My section contains references once more to my story "Ancestress" and also to my story "The Knight Has Been Unruly". Also the part about Pippin's musical abilities are from my own fanon, as are my speculations on the deaths of Drogo and Primula.


Author's Notes from Pandemonium: Sauron's reference to the Domes of Varda and the stars as simulacrums are inspired by Tolkien's later writings about the cosmogony of Arda (see History of Middle-earth, vol. X, Morgoth's Ring, "Myths Transformed") in which he attempted to retrofit his secondary world from a flat-earth to a round world as we know it. Although some have opined that such retrofitting would have "ruined the myth," I'm convinced that had JRRT written out in full, his vision would have been magnificent and would have added to the heightened sense of reality that blends with Faerie in his secondary world.

Sauron's sister makes an appearance in Light Over the Mountain (on the SWG).

Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.

Of Marbles and Golf

The edges of the parchment shook in Sauron's hand. He clenched his jaw tight and ground his teeth while he read the spidery script:

[The last I heard of him was his screech of dismay and fury: "Thief, thief, thief! Baggins! We hates it! We hates it forever!"]

Thief? Who is the thief? They were both thieves! The Ring is mine, mine alone!

He wanted nothing more than to crumple the letter in his fist as if to crush the little mortals who had the temerity to steal his masterwork. The urge became harder to fight off. His heart hammered, the sinews of his right hand tightened, and the edges of the letter crackled.

Stop. Don't be ridiculous.

The familiar voice - the cool, rational voice of his conscience - broke through his rage. His hand relaxed. He loosened his jaw and closed his eyes. He sucked in a deep breath and released it slowly from his chest. Then another. His heartbeat slowed and a sense of calm took hold.

It's gone. I am free of it. Free...

He opened his eyes to meet Olórin's gaze, at once kind and shrewd. That disconcerting combination never failed to throw Sauron off balance.

"Mr. Baggins has told you of something that disturbs you." Olórin's remark was not a question, but stated as fact.

"He has."

"He gave you his account of how he came to possess the One."

"Yes."

"How did that make you feel?"

"Angry."

"And now?"

"I used that exercise you recommended: the deep breathing, detaching myself from my anger. So I feel better. Oddly, I feel relieved."

"Why?"

Sauron looked out over the forest, the trees clad in the copper, gold and bronze of autumn. The light of the westering sun burnished their leaves and set the colors ablaze. The sun did not fall behind the western mountains, but remained suspended over their peaks. The stationary sun was just as incongruous as the two comfortable chairs perched on a ledge cut deep into stone of Amon Lanc.

"I feel relieved because I am free of it," he confessed to the trees of southern Mirkwood, no longer blighted but full and healthy. Their leaves rippled in the breeze. He admired the artful illusion. "The Ring had as much a hold on me as any, more really. I feel the loss, too."

Sauron leaned forward and picked up the mug of coffee that sat on the low table between the two chairs; he took a contemplative sip. The coffee was still hot despite the cool autumn air. He reached back into his memory of Frodo Baggins standing at the brink of the fiery abyss, at that moment when the hobbit claimed the Ring. Baggins understood its draw. He had been unable to resist it, no less than Sauron had been consumed with his desire to regain his prize. But it had been Gollum who had wrested the Ring away from Baggins in a frenzy of possession. It was Gollum who fallen into the molten river of rock. He turned to look at Olórin again.

"It occurs to me that in a strange sort of way, Frodo Baggins and Gollum together freed me. Freed me to become a prisoner of another kind, but nonetheless..."

"I understand what you mean, and I agree." Olórin tapped his pipe. "They freed Middle-earth from your threat, but by the same token, they freed you of the bonds that Morgoth set upon you, and the bonds you set upon yourself. I, for one, am glad of that."

"Stop being so bloody kind! Anyone else would be gloating in my fall. If I were in your shoes, I would."

"I am not anyone else. And those long toes of yours would never fit in my boots."

Sauron chuckled at that and wriggled his toes in his sandals. Olórin grinned in response.

The old wizard pursed his lips around the slender stem of his pipe and sent a set of smoke rings floating out over the ledge. "You're one of the very few to whom Bilbo told the true story of how he found the Ring. I find that curious."

"How so?"

"I expect Bilbo would be the first to say that he does not trust you."

"The first? I highly doubt that. He's just one of the multitudes."

"For pity's sake, it's just an expression!" Olórin puffed on his pipe with renewed vigor. "Yet I read trust in this letter despite his suspicions of you. He was reluctant to tell you about Peregrin Took and sought my advice."

"And what pearls of wisdom did you offer him?"

Olórin puffed again and ignored the barb. "I told him that it was his decision to tell you of Pippin and the others, but that you could do them no harm from across the Sundering Seas."

"Not to mention the fact that the Doomsman has me under lock and key! I told Mr. Baggins that I was as harmless as a toothless old cat."

"Do you really believe that?"

"Of course not. Why else would I be imprisoned? The Valar learned their lesson well after they allowed my master - my former master - to walk free in Valinor." He drummed the three remaining fingers of his left hand on the arm of the chair. "Well, I cannot say I trust Mr. Baggins either. These veiled remarks he makes..." He lifted the letter and read aloud:

" 'I had always been led to believe that Melian was the only Maia to make a union with one of the Children of Ilúvatar. I have recently learned that this is not in fact, true!' And this: 'I did not know such was even possible for one of your people. But as I said above, I have recently come to know that my knowledge in that area has been somewhat lacking.' He lowered the letter. "What does he know? Has anyone told him of..."

"No one has told him," Olórin interrupted, his voice firm with assurance. "Only one living mortal knows of that chapter of your past."

"Aragorn. I am aware of that."

"And those Elves who were in Eregion keep their own counsel."

"That is good. I wouldn't be surprised if Naryen tells that healer though. They are close, and truth be told, I have spoken to the healer myself in this guise. She's smart enough to put two and two together. And those hobbits might, too, now that they have seen me. I just want to be sure that Naryen and her family are protected since I cannot be there to watch over them."

"Frodo and Bilbo can do no harm on this side of the Sundering Seas, even if they do guess correctly, but I believe you have little reason for concern. I imagine the very idea would never occur to them. As for the Istyanis, I have no doubt she can take care of herself and her loved ones. She has done so for many long-years."

Sadness descended upon Sauron when he considered the most costly of his many betrayals. "She has, no thanks to me. But clearly Mr. Baggins knows something specific beyond my remarks in the letter. To what or rather to whom does he refer?"

"Ah. Well, that is something that is between you and Mr. Baggins. If you're curious, and I know you are, just ask him."

"Then I will." He looked out over the trees again and toward the mists in the North. "And this thing called golf. I mean to ask him about that, too." And later that evening, he wrote his reply:

{Dear Mr. Baggins,

I am in happy receipt of your letter, which your friend (and my counselor) gave to me during our last session. That's what Olórin calls these chats of ours: sessions. He's eccentric, isn't he? Eccentric enough that for our session, he conjured up a scene of southern Mirkwood under an autumn sun: we sat in two old but comfortable leather chairs perched on the hillside below the ruins of Dol Guldur. I hear Artanis did that: threw down the walls of my old stronghold, that is. I'm sure it's now a heroic lay that bards sing, celebrating my demise, but my guess is that she enlisted those remaining Noldor who have expertise with explosives. Curumo, Olórin and I were not the only ones to know about black powder. The Noldor and later, the Númenóreans quarried stone, after all, and they did not dislodge huge blocks of granite and limestone by chipping with chisels alone.

Thank you for asking of my health, and yes, I am feeling considerably better. Be assured that you did not offend me. Those of us who assume a body (and that is most of us) can in fact become ill, although that is far more likely to occur in Middle-earth than it is here. Usually, such things are transient: a cold or a fever that might last for a day or two; a brief bout of nausea and the like. But the same infections that are an inconvenience for us (or for the Elves) can be fatal for mortals. My recent illness, though, was of a different nature and more profound. But it has passed.

[My people have always either allowed families to deal with trouble-makers, or in the case of the seriously incorrigible, made use of banishment. Until Saruman (whom you call Curumo, and the Shirefolk learned to call "Sharkey") came to the Shire, the hobbits there never even had the facilities to lock anyone up.]

The practices of punishment in the Shire, I must say, stand in stark contrast to those of Mordor. I imagine that does not surprise you, and I shall not go into the specifics of the dungeons of the Barad-dûr. Where I reside now is a far cry from those. As for my punishment, I believe you and I can both agree that I am considered beyond the bounds of "seriously incorrigible." So here I am. I must say, my fate could have been far worse.}

[The few Elves I have known who were present during that time seem strangely reluctant to speak of it. The Lady Galadriel simply gave me a look that made me feel like an impertinent tween and changed the subject, and Glorfindel (with whom I became quite friendly during my years in Rivendell) seemed even more reluctant to discuss it, feigning not to even hear my question.]

Sauron frowned. What does Baggins intend by dropping those names? Neither finds favor with me.

{I'm glad to know you appreciated my sketch of what life was like for me during the Years of the Trees. There is more, and if I think of anecdotes that are appropriate to share with you, I will.

I can't say I am surprised that your elvish friends are reticent on the subject of that time. You mention Artanis and Laurefin (or whatever he names himself) who, even if they were not the chief architects of the Noldorin Rebellion, were certainly in the thick of it. It is said that my former master incited the Noldor's revolt, but truly, their choices and their actions took them over the brink.}

That and the Valar should never have brought them to Aman. Námo will surely blot that out if I write it so why bother?

{There was blood on their hands. Betrayal. So I reminded Findaráto when we had that little exchange of ditties.}

Sauron stopped writing. The memory of the duel of songs threatened to come flooding back. It thrilled him to recall such a victory yet it made him wince, too. Apart from the confrontation with the hobbits, his only other visitor had been Findaráto of all people. He had visited just the once, but the generosity of the elf-man baffled Sauron. He had not expected forgiveness for what amounted to a very awkward apology of "I am sorry that I imprisoned you and put you to death." Stranger things had happened, for example, the very fact he sat here in a prison cell composing a letter to a hobbit.

He re-read Baggins' script. So he was friendly with Glorfindel. Conniving, presumptuous Glorfindel. Sauron despised the idea that he was now irrevocably connected to the balrog-slaying, coffee-swilling, golden-tressed hero of the First Age. Yet he could not contain his curiosity about the man.

{You say you became friendly with Laurefin? What do you think of him? Truly? I will be honest with you (yes, I am capable of honesty): I don't much care for him. But then, he doesn't much like me either. He does have a good head for complex mathematics and is an avid student of astronomy. I suppose that much can be said for him. I just hope he is treating my telescope well.

[At any rate, most hobbits of the Shire are content to do their fishing from the bank of stream, river or pond, and never venture forth on the water's surface.]

I appreciate your sharing the fishing practices of the folk along the Baranduin and the varying proclivities of hobbits toward the water. Yes, I did laugh aloud at the pun. Brandywine. Very good. That was a hard lesson for your cousins - that boats are not trifles, particularly if one of the boaters does not know how to swim. As an aside, I find it amazing that you catalogue your genealogies in such detail.

What sorts of fish do the hobbits of Buckland enjoy? Pan-fried trout in butter with herbs is a particular favorite of mine. It's something just as easy to cook over a campfire as it is in a kitchen, and it tastes perhaps even better when enjoyed out in the woods on a summer evening.

[I find your use of the term "Fays" for your people quite interesting for a number of reasons. My own people have a number of legends about the "Faery Folk", whom many seem to think also includes the Elves! But all of these stories were thought to be the stuff of moonshine and are considered entertaining but unbelievable by most of the hobbits of the Shire.]

Yes, "Fay" is the colloquialism we Maiar use not only to describe ourselves, but also those other beings who passed with us through the Gates of Arda. These are the sprites of trees and woods, of dale and forest and mountain-side, or those that sing amid the grass at morning and chant among the standing corn at dusk. These are the Nermir and the Tavari, Nandini and Orossi, brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns, and what else are they not called, for their number is great. Yet they must not be confused with the Eldar, who were made from the bones of the Earth and the blood of the Sea. The Fays are from the Outside, although we long to be truly part of your world. We are the stuff of moonshine and of your nightmares, too. But you have seen the Eldar for yourself. They are as real as any mortal, yet different, too. I expect that as the Elves fade away in mortal lands, they will become much like the Fays to Men's (and Hobbits') minds.

[It had not occurred to me that the Great Eagles, or Beorn, or even those talking Wolves and Spiders we encountered were actually Maiar! Or were they the descendants of Maiar? I had no idea that such was feasible. This is quite a revelation! I had always been led to believe that Melian was the only Maia to make a union with one of the Children of Ilúvatar. I have recently learned that this is not in fact, true!]

It didn't occur to you? Have you forgotten your beloved tales? Yours truly took the form of a wolf on a number of occasions.}

And I never assumed that form again after the elf-witch and her demon-hound defeated me. He grimaced at that recollection: of Huan's fangs lodged in his throat, Lúthien's song of supremacy. Focus. Don't dwell on it. Write to this perfectly nice little fellow. Think about that.

{More likely, the talking creatures you encountered are the descendants of Maiar. This is the case for the Beornings. Beorn himself is not a full-blooded Fay, but he retains a prodigious ability to change shape. The talking spiders and wolves must also have Maiarin blood, but many can no longer shape-shift. Be assured that none of those wolves are my descendants! I never sired any cubs whilst in a beast's form. My fëa was (and is) so rooted to human form that such an act would have been bestial and too perverse for my tastes. And I can guess what you might be thinking, for I am well aware that all manner of perversions are attributed to me, but I am far more traditional in such matters than many assume.

I am not surprised that you presumed Melian was the only Maia to have joined with one of the Eruhini (let alone the kelvar). That conventional wisdom preserves the sanctity of the much vaunted line of Lúthien. May I ask what you have learned that has revealed this to be otherwise?

So you tramped about the Shire and were considered eccentric for this? There's nothing wrong with exercise for its own sake. When I worked regularly in the forge, I had no lack of exertion, but there's something to be said for a walk just for the sake of a walk, or a run just for the sake of a run. It relaxes the mind as it strengthens the body. Dare I guess that a good many hobbits, or at least those of the upper classes, were a bit soft? An enjoyment of good food and lack of exertion will have that effect.

[There is a single exception to this, but it is far too complicated to go into right now. It is a thing hobbits call "golf". I shall perhaps save that for another letter.]

You have quite the penchant for piquing my curiosity, Mr. Baggins. I trust you will elaborate on this golf in the near future? I would like to hear of it.}

He re-read the remainder of the letter, and this time, Bilbo's account of his encounter with Gollum in the darkness beneath the mountains did not enrage him.

[I have to say, I was most distressed by your revelation that you had instructed the Ringwraiths to attack any hobbit! I certainly will not share that bit of information with Frodo; I have to say it angered me quite a lot to realise the harm that could have come to those youngsters in his company, simply because they had been brave enough and loyal enough to go with him.]

{It is your prerogative to share what you will of our correspondence with your kinsman, but I am only being forthright with you, and I will say again, that had it served my ends, those young fellows would have met their demise. Recall what your kinsman said about a Big Person stepping on an ant hill? Well, there you are. Peregrin Took and Meriadoc Brandybuck may be dear to you and your cousin, but they were nothing more than obstacles to me. Whether they were brave or loyal meant nothing. Even if I had known them, admired them, loved them, chances are that I would not have hesitated to destroy them.

I suppose you've learned some snippets of what transpired in Ost-in-Edhil during the Second Age and of Celebrimbor's grisly fate, but I am certain you do not know the whole story. You should know that I counted Celebrimbor not only as a colleague, but also a dear friend, close as a brother. And yet, when he denied me knowledge of the Three Rings, I tortured him with hot irons and later, ordered him put to death. So you see, I was perfectly capable of betraying even those I loved. Your kin, however beloved to you or your cousin Frodo, stood no chance.

You mentioned scrumping, a diversion practiced among young hobbits. A charming kind of naughtiness, I must say. Do you know that orclings play a very similar game? No, I expect you never have given much thought to orc-children. It's far easier to think of one's enemies as thoroughly vile than to recognize that they might just have something in common with you. Granted, the orclings' version of scrumping was of a harsher nature, but you would recognize it all the same.

The children of Ost-in-Edhil did not engage in anything quite like scrumping (too much like stealing for proper Elvish society), but their play was no less charming. Games of marbles were a favorite pastime among the elf-children of that city.

I remember the first time I played such a game with them. It was in the summer of the fifth year after I had arrived in the city, and I was on my way to the House of the Jewel-Smiths. As I walked along the street, a child called to me:

"Istyar Aulendil! Please, Istyar, we have a question for you."

I was flattered, of course. I answered a good many questions posed to me by grown men and women in my role as the Istyar of the Jewel-Smiths, but this was the first time a child had called to me. I am not sure why this touched me so, but it did.

The child was Terevo, the son of one of my neighbors, who was a master glassblower. Thanks to his mother, Terevo had a goodly number of marbles that were scattered within a circle drawn on the pavement with chalk and surrounded by a clutch of children.

"Good afternoon, Terevo," I said to the boy. "You say you have a question for me?"

"Yes, Istyar. One that the loremasters could not answer my question in class today, but I knew you could."

"And what is that?"

"I asked Master Celegil this: if the Moon suddenly swerved in his chariot and charged into Imbar, what would happen? Would Imbar fall into the arms of Arien? Master Celegil just shook his head and said that Imbar would surely fall into the sun and would burn like Morgoth when he ravished Arien. That's all he would say. I do not think he really knew the answer."

"Master Celegil knows his history and poetry, both very laudable fields of study," I said to the children, "but for a question of physics, you were right to think of me!"

I examined the paraphernalia of their game and found it perfect for my explanation. I knelt and rearranged the marbles of various sizes and colors. I chose a marble embedded with flecks of gold to place in the middle of the circle.

"This is Arien the sun, and here is swift little Elemmirë, then brilliant Tancol and our Imbar, next red Carnil, great Alcarinquë, Lumbar of the rings, blue Luinil, somber Nénar and Pityamorno..." I said as I set up the glass balls to represent the nine heavenly wanderers. "Now where is your smallest marble, Terevo? Yes, that will do. Let us say this is Isil. Let's put him here."

By gently flicking it with my finger, I proceeded to show them how the smallest marble, if it hit Imbar from its current close orbit, would make Imbar wobble, but that the impact would not make it fall into the sun.

"If Isil fell into Imbar, there would be a great deal of damage," I told them. "It would probably kill almost all life except the very smallest.

"But, if a heavenly body that is the same size as Isil came from the Outside and at much greater speed..." and then I shot the smallest ball forcefully; it hit the Imbar marble and sent the latter rolling across the rough paving stone, "our world could be knocked out of its present orbit. If it still had enough velocity and momentum to stay in orbit, it would not fall into the sun but would achieve a new orbit - a new circle around Arien. But if its velocity slowed down too much, indeed the sun would draw the world into her fiery embrace."

The children's eyes were wide with wonder and fear, too. "Will that actually happen?" asked a little girl named Meryára.

"Of course it will!" answered a little boy. Lúco was his name. He became a potter, I believe. "That's what Master Celegil says. That will be the Dagor Dagorath, when Morgoth returns and hurls the moon at Imbar. There will be a huge battle, Túrin Turumbar will return, and we will all die. Isn't that right, Istyar?"

I had to wonder just how much superstitious nonsense the poetry master was feeding to these children and thought that if I had a child of my own, he or she would never be subjected to such dangerous fancies. So I answered Lúco and his friends truthfully:

"No one really knows how the world will end, not even the Guardians of the West. The tale of the Dagor Dagorath is just that: a dark frightening story meant to scare you into obedience and one that has little to do with facts or evidence as we know it. But would you like to learn a little bit more about facts? About trajectory, force and angles? We smiths must know of such things."

They all nodded. Remember, these were the sons and daughters of the Noldor, always eager for knowledge. So I asked each child to aim their marbles and explained, in a simple way, those concepts of physics before I left them to their play and went to join Celebrimbor and our colleagues.

That was the first of such encounters I had with the children of Eregion, for there were many in those happier times as the High Elves gained strength and power in their chosen domain of Middle-earth, the land where I came to be respected and admired as a teacher. That is how they knew me: the wise Istyar Aulendil who made so many marvelous inventions and who, along with Celebrimbor and the Dwarves of Cassarondo, elevated Ost-in-Edhil and Eregion to great heights of learning and culture.

But "Istyar Aulendil" was just part of who I was - who I am - and although my intentions were good when I first came to Eregion, well, you know the rest of the story. The smiths and a few others had known after I forged the One Ring that Istyar Aulendil and I were one and the same, but they were too fearful or humiliated or both to tell the rest of the populace. Imagine then, Mr. Baggins, the shock of the Elves - of Terevo, Meryára and Lúco now grown with children of their own - when I rode through the broken gates of the city, and they saw that the face of their Great Enemy was in fact one they knew well.

I saw the soldiers of my army slaughter those children, slay my colleagues, kill the merchants of the market place who had given me free apples and rolls. Before my eyes I saw my...}

The memory pierced him, sharp as the spear that had killed her, she who bled out her life as he held her in his arms. The body of the overeager lieutenant, who had cast the errant spear meant for Celebrimbor, smoldered nearby: a hideous blackened heap of scorched flesh and bone, incinerated from the inside out, his fate not unlike that of Gil-galad, both victims of his wrath.

Culinen! Don't leave me. I can't bear it... He had stroked her tangled dark hair, but her skin was sickly white and her blue eyes were glassy, staring at nothing: she was gone.

The pen fell from his hand, and his vision blurred. He buried his face in his hands, and along with it, he buried the terrible vision. Reflexively, he cast about with his thought, trying to pick up the least hint of her fëa here in the Halls of Mandos. But all was silent except for the beat of his heart and his ragged breathing at the verge of a sob.

He managed to compose himself. Focus. Write to Mister Baggins. The pleasant, inquisitive Mister Bilbo Baggins, Esquire. He wiped his eyes with thumb and forefinger, took a deep breath and picked up the pen again. He continued, but wrote something other than the moment of vulnerability he had so nearly revealed.

{...I saw my neighbors cut down before the sword. The streets flowed with their blood, fires burned and smoke choked the sky, and the land wept with lamentation. I was willing to destroy what I had made of my life, and indeed, some of the happiest times of my life, all because I wanted to possess the Rings of Power, each and every one.

I tell you this so that you will comprehend the significance of my reaction when I read your tale of encountering Gollum and the finding of the One Ring. I was angry, Mr. Baggins. Furious. I wanted to crush you, Gollum and any and all hobbits who had taken my Ring.

But I broke the spell. Your friend Gandalf has taught me a few tricks to pull myself out of these black spirals so I used one of them. It was effective. It was then I had a moment of clarity once I breathed my anger away: your kinsman freed me by destroying the Ring. Or should I say Gollum did? Or both of them to be fair. You had a hand giving me my freedom, too, what with your quick thinking and riddles in the dark. I have no doubt you recall each and every one of those riddles.

It is strange to speak of freedom as a prisoner, but when the Ring was destroyed, I broke free of a vicious circle: the desire for more and more power and consuming anger when it was denied to me. Frodo of all people can understand the grasp that the Ring has on one's mind. Let me assure you it was no different for me, and truthfully, much stronger because the Ring was attuned to my mind alone.

So it is with clarity that I can now read your account of finding the Ring and am no longer moved to fury. Instead, I imagine what it would be like to be in your shoes (even if you do not wear them): a hobbit of the gentry who left his safe green land to find himself immersed in the dark with a creature who might just want to eat him! And how the Ring helped you escape. I can now read your description of Pippin Took and not see red because I made the egregious error in thinking he was the Ringbearer. Instead, I read of your great affection for the lad and understand it, and understand why it still angers you to think of harm coming to him or Mr. Brandybuck or Master Gamgee as they journeyed with Frodo.

Such anger is a natural reaction, but it is also a bad habit that becomes engrained in us, such as my anger when I first read your tale of the finding of the One Ring. But we must let such anger pass, Mr. Baggins, and move on. I am learning that, and I find your inherent cheeriness, your "hobbity nature" as Olórin calls it, is one of the things that is helping me learn to set aside old habits.

[He would have died for Frodo. He very nearly did-in the battle before the Black Gate he fought in the livery of the Tower Guard. He slew a troll single-handedly (I was assured of this by several who had reason to know the truth of it) but was almost crushed by its body. He was lucky to be alive afterward. When I saw him once more in Rivendell, I was pleased to see that he had gained a little wisdom and patience, but his bright spirit remained unquenched. I think that he shall one day make an excellent Thain, though he is still not eager to take the job.

As you can see, I am moderately fond of the youngster, and perhaps a little proud.]

You speak of Pippin like a proud father might. You speak of Frodo in the same way. Olórin has told me that you never married and had children of your own, but I am loath to use that latter description. I would say that you love those young hobbits no less than if they were sons of your blood. I understand that kind of love, too, as difficult as that may be for you to believe.}

He re-read that last sentence, pen poised over the paper. Have I said too much? Ah, well, can't cross it out now without making an unseemly mess. It's cryptic enough.

He signed with his usual flourish as "D.L. Sauron," which never failed to amuse him. He read the letter again and entertained second thoughts. He knew that its content could very well end the correspondence, for his connection with the old hobbit was a fragile one: not a friendship exactly for there was no loyalty or love - just mutual curiosity. Yet he had to take the risk. He felt that he owed Baggins an honest presentation of the Dark Lord who had once occupied the Barad-dûr. And in the spirit of honesty, he had to admit that he was developing grudging admiration — and maybe even affection — for the little old mortal. Even if he stole my Ring.

He folded the letter precisely, rose from the chair and tapped on the door to his cell. The hatch opened silently, and Sauron placed the letter on the try, watching it slide away after which the hatch closed, and the door became seamless steel again.

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

Bilbo glanced at Gandalf as he began to read. It had become his habit to read the letters then and there, when his old friend presented each one to him, and to search for reactions in the familiar face to his own reactions. He made a little sound halfway between a chuckle and a snort. "He calls you eccentric," he said.

Gandalf returned the chuckle, and gave another puff of his pipe, this time sending forth a burst of fragile multi-coloured butterflies that drifted apart in the breeze. Bilbo allowed himself to be distracted-after all these years, Gandalf's old conjuring tricks could still delight him. "Eccentric? Everyone is eccentric in some way or other. I suppose my way of doing things seems eccentric enough to him."

Bilbo drew his brows together, feeling a sense of dread as he began to read more.

He looked up once more as he finished, and bit his lower lip. "Is he trying to repel me?" he asked. "The things he reveals about himself?"

Gandalf shook his head. "I don't know what he's revealed to you, Bilbo. Unless you or he care to share what you've written, I do not read your correspondence."

"But someone does."

Gandalf shrugged. "He is a prisoner. But reading what he writes to others is not a part of my efforts. I do not know whose duty that is; it is not a part of my concern."

Bilbo sighed. "I may have to think about my answer for a while."

"He's not going anywhere anytime soon."

It was more than three days before he picked up his pen; it was nearly a week, as he mulled over his reactions to Sauron's revelations.

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

Gandalf calls his visits with you sessions? Interesting use of the word. You are right that he is an eccentric, although I am afraid some of my friends and neighbours in the Shire had less kind words for him. Except among the Tooks and to a lesser extent the Brandybucks (who have numerous connexions among the Tooks), his reputation in the Shire was less than sterling. He was often thought of as a troublemaker! Although from all that I know of him and have been told, he was never an instigator-he just happened to be around a lot of the times when other people made trouble. And he was definitely an exotic figure to impressionable tweens.

His fireworks were a marvel to behold-in fact, when I met him once more as an adult after he'd had a long absence from the Shire, the only thing I really remembered about him were his incredible fireworks. I am quite sure, knowing what I know of his true nature now, that he was augmenting those bright explosions in some way to get such spectacular effects. He told me once that he only ever made his fireworks for hobbits; I have never known him to lie, so I've no doubt he meant it. But I've never quite understood why. I still quite enjoy watching him get up to tricks with the smoke from his pipe or the flames on the hearth. In fact, he was playing with his pipesmoke as I read your latest letter!

[The practices of punishment in the Shire, I must say, stand in stark contrast to those of Mordor. I imagine that does not surprise you, and I shall not go into the specifics of the dungeons of the Barad-dûr. Where I reside now is a far cry from those. As for my punishment, I believe you and I can both agree that I am considered beyond the bounds of "seriously incorrigible." So here I am. I must say, my fate could have been far worse.]

That is true. I find your frankness somewhat startling, and yet it seems not misplaced. It can only do you good to admit such things, as I am sure Gandalf would agree.

Please pardon my messiness. I suddenly realised I was being somewhat pompous and sententious. The Baggins side of me coming out I suppose. Bagginses can be somewhat prim and staid at times. My first cousin once removed, Dora Baggins, epitomized that characteristic. She had a kind heart, but she was always a stickler for propriety, and it seldom, if ever, occurred to her to be Wrong.

[You say you became friendly with Laurefin? What do you think of him? Truly? I will be honest with you (yes, I am capable of honesty): I don't much care for him. But then, he doesn't much like me either. He does have a good head for complex mathematics and is an avid student of astronomy. I suppose that much can be said for him. I just hope he is treating my telescope well.]

I most certainly think you are capable of honesty. If you were not, Gandalf would not waste his time on you!

I suppose that there is probably quite a long history between you and Lord Glorfindel. I only came to know him after my retirement from the Shire, when I went to dwell in Rivendell. He was unfailingly polite and kind to me, and not at all in any condescending manner-which could not have been said of every Elf who dwelt there.

Shortly after I had settled in there, I was surprised to discover that I was not the first hobbit to have spent a well-earned retirement in Master Elrond's Last Homely House! My very own uncle, Hildifons Took (sixth son of the Old Took), who had vanished from the Shire shortly after coming of age, had ended up there. I found his journal in Master Elrond's library.

Naturally I began to ask questions of many of the Elves who had known him at that time, and he was very kind in answering my questions. He was also very forthcoming about a piece of history about which I had always been curious. During the years of the Wars between the last of the Northern Kingdoms and the Witch-king of Angmar, a small contingent of Shire archers had set out to join the King. None returned to the Shire, and their fate was always a question unanswered. Lord Glorfindel was kind enough to tell me how bravely they had fought, and how they had all been slain. He told me that when Angmar escaped after the battle, he'd had a flash of foresight, enough to show him that the dread sorcerer's fate would eventually fall on him-though little he understood what he saw at the time.

It was not until many years later that he realised what he had seen, and what it meant: that the Witch-king would not be slain by any man or Man, but by the team of a woman and a hobbit! I was quite proud of the role young Meriadoc played in that event, though he suffered sorely for a time after striking his blow.

The hobbits who had marched to war long ago were finally avenged by a hobbit.

Lord Glorfindel was certainly a font of information about the history of Middle-earth, and was able to give me a first hand account of many of the events of which I had only read in tales or heard in song. But there were some things of which he would never speak; yet I suppose all of us have things we'd rather not tell to others.

[As an aside, I find it amazing that you catalogue your genealogies in such detail.]

It may amuse you to know that when I first read that sentence, I was puzzled-and then I had to laugh at myself. You would think that one who has lived as long as I have outside the Shire could remember that not all Races share the hobbit obsession with family and genealogy. It is second nature to us to tell in what way someone is related to us when speaking (or writing) to someone unacquainted with the relationship. After all, among hobbits, the likelihood is that you may find that the person to whom you are speaking is related to you through that other person or one of his or her relatives!

[What sorts of fish do the hobbits of Buckland enjoy? Pan-fried trout in butter with herbs is a particular favorite of mine. It's something just as easy to cook over a campfire as it is in a kitchen, and it tastes perhaps even better when enjoyed out in the woods on a summer evening. ]

Ah, yes! The description makes my mouth water! I've enjoyed it prepared in just that way many a time!

The Brandywine is home to a number of fish: brown trout, perch, brim, carp, and pike are the most commonly found varieties of fish. In some areas, freshwater mussels and crayfish can also be found.

My first cousin Adalgrim (Peregrin's grandfather) once showed me this way of preparing fish back during the scrumping days of my own tweens:

Filet the fish, and rub well with fat or oil or butter (whichever you have on hand) and then salt it lightly. Steam a cabbage leaf so that it will fold easily. (My cousin placed the leaf on a hot rock and poured water over it immediately as we had no pot or pan.) Place the a fish filet in the center, and if you have any, add a bit of onion, a clove or two of garlic, a few thin slices of potato, and some herbs, such as dill, thyme or savoury. Fold the leaf up around the fish and tie it with a bit of well-soaked twine. Make a small trench by the fire, and put in a two inch layer of hot ash and embers. Place the packets of fish onto the embers, and then shovel another two inch layer of hot ash and embers over them. Depending on the size of the fish, it will be flaky and delicious and ready to eat after a quarter of an hour to half an hour.

It's quite delicious that way, especially when served with a slaw of chopped cabbage and some purloined mushrooms! I taught Frodo how to make it that way myself after he'd come to live with me, and I believe he also showed Sam how to make it that way.

But the most popular way to serve fish in the Shire is to put it in a thick batter of flour and fry it to a crisp golden brown in hot fat. Potatoes are cut up and also fried, and they are served up together as "fish and chips", sometimes eaten plain or drizzled with a little malt vinegar they are heavenly! I do not know anyone who can fry up a mess of fish and chips as delicious as Samwise Gamgee!}

Bilbo was surprised by a rather loud rumble from the vicinity of his middle. Good heavens! He'd made himself hungry with all this! He decided to put the letter away for a bit-it was very nearly time for luncheon!

He found Frodo in the kitchen, his nose and cheeks red with the sun, and the hair on both head and feet damp. His cousin smelled of sea-water and he had just brought in a large metal pail. Bilbo grinned.

After a lovely luncheon of a thick clam stew and bread left over from elevenses, Bilbo went back to his letter.

[These are the sprites of trees and woods, of dale and forest and mountain-side, or those that sing amid the grass at morning and chant among the standing corn at dusk. These are the Nermir and the Tavari, Nandini and Orossi, brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns, and what else are they not called, for their number is great.]

{Bless me! I'd no idea there was so great a variety of beings! Some of them I have heard of-others are completely new to me!

I suppose it did not occur to me to connect the creatures of legend with the creatures I met on my journey. Those of legend were, well-legendary! In my mind of a much greater and higher sort that the beasts and monsters I met, even the ones who were Evil. (As I suppose you would have had to be accounted in the tales.) Yet somehow the very fact that I met the talking Eagles and talking Wolves and Spiders made them seem different than the ones I'd heard of in tales!

[I am not surprised that you presumed Melian was the only Maia to have joined with one of the Eruhini (let alone the kelvar). That conventional wisdom preserves the sanctity of the much vaunted line of Lúthien. May I ask what you have learned that has revealed this to be otherwise?]

I have been wondering whether to mention this to you. It is something of which I had no inkling until Frodo and I came West. Gandalf says it will do no harm to tell you, and I have asked the other person involved and received assent to do so.

One of the legends about the Tooks, one discounted for the most part, and yet persistent all the same, was that far back in the mists of history a Took had taken a "faery wife". It was to this supposed strain that all the wildness and adventurousness of Tooks was to be attributed.

Well, you can imagine the shock Frodo and I had when Gandalf introduced us to a Maia named Mirimë, who revealed to us that she was our ancestress! You could have knocked me over with a feather as the saying goes! She had taken the form of a hobbit, and had wed the first of the Tooks and become the mother to his children. She was called Adamanta among hobbits, and that is what she likes us to call her. She visits with us often, clad in her hobbit form!

There you have it, and make of it what you will! I am still rather flabbergasted even months after the revelation.

Golf! I must think that this truly is an invention of hobbits of the Shire. I have never encountered any of another race who have even heard of it! The legend is that it was created by Bandobras "Bullroarer" Took, the younger son of my great-great-great-grandfather Thain Isumbras III. It's an attested fact that he led the hobbits who drove out the invasion of goblins in the Northfarthing in the year of Shire-reckoning 1147 (Which would be Third Age 2747). The story goes that the Bullroarer, who was an uncommonly large and strong young hobbit and was able to actually ride a horse! knocked the head clean off the head goblin who was named "Golfimbul" and it went down a rabbit hole, thus inventing the game of golf.

I have to say I tend to doubt this. While it's true he killed their leader, how did hobbits know his name? And I do believe it would have to be an uncommonly large rabbit hole to accommodate his head! But mostly I doubt it because there is evidence to suggest that in the North-farthing, golf was already being played long before the Battle of the Greenfields.

The game is most popular among Tooks, and even more popular among the North-tooks. My grandfather enjoyed it; my own father did not, considering it something of a bore and a waste of time. It involves a lot of work not only by the hobbits who play, but by those who make it possible for them to play. A large section of land is put aside for what are called "links". This consists of between ten and eighteen holes in the ground and a lot of land in between. Hobbits play by using a long stick with a club-like extension on one end to knock a small ball into a hole. That's not hard. Hobbits have uncommonly good aim. What's hard is that the holes can be several furlongs apart, so that it is very hard to get the ball in with one stroke (not impossible, but rare). Therefore the game is scored so that the hobbit who takes the fewest strokes to get the ball in wins the hole, and the hobbit who takes the most holes wins the game.

I've played, but not often. Frodo is better at it than I am, though not much fonder of the game. Most gentlehobbits do know how to play. He says it's just a way to spoil a good walk. But Tooks (and especially the North-tooks) can be quite obsessive about it. Meriadoc is quite good at it, although there are no links in Buckland (one of the early Masters of Buckland declared it a waste of good land). Pippin is also quite good at it.

You'd be right that many hobbits grow physically soft over the years, especially the gentlehobbits. Working class hobbits are another matter altogether. I'd certainly never dream of calling Samwise's father even close to soft, for even after he retired from doing my gardens, he kept himself busy. But even the softest of hobbits can endure quite a lot of privation if necessary. I can remember the Fell Winter, and how well many hobbits managed to do without. "Needs must," after all.}

"Needs must". And he needed to address the next part of Sauron's letter. His statements were forthright and chilling and sad-almost unbearably sad. Bilbo sensed there was more to the story than what his correspondent had written. There was a feeling of "something between the lines" that Bilbo could not quite get a handle on.

Sauron was laying bare his actions as a villain, implying that he was remorseless and uncaring at the time. Of that Bilbo had no doubt-if he had remorse and caring he could not have done the things he did. But what about afterwards? Did he ever spend sleepless nights over the long years remembering those children's faces? Or was that only happening to him now, now that he was no longer what he had been?

And he had been almost too honest in his descriptions. Somehow Bilbo thought that Sauron might be testing him, trying to reveal his worst side, to see if Bilbo would decide to give up writing. Why would he do that? To punish himself perhaps?

{Children of the Shire play marbles as well. It is a popular pastime, especially with lads in their teens. I am sure that those young Elves were enjoying themselves immensely.

And I am also sure that they enjoyed your attention-whether you confirmed what their teacher had told them, or explained matters to them differently, what was important was that an adult was paying attention to them and treating them seriously. That makes more of an impression on a child than what the adult is actually saying.

I am not quite sure how to respond to your revelations of what came after; the words of condemnation I am sure you've heard before and to say it was a shame seems like an ironic understatement. Should I tell you it was despicable? I'm sure you know that. And I think that you are also beginning to know what regrettable means. It was a hard thing to read, but I think it must have been a harder thing to write.

I also think that it must have been hard for you to tell me of your reaction to my story of the Ring-I am afraid I did not even think of your emotional reaction to my tale, and after all, you did ask. But I should have thought of it, for even now I can recall my own possessive feelings for it.

Frodo would indeed understand that you feel freedom at the destruction of the Ring-he too felt freed, especially at first, although it seemed to come back to haunt him over and over. It was not until he came here to the Blessed Isle that he began to know a peace uninterrupted by those times of longing and despair.

And to be honest, I feel a difference as well. Whatever else you put into that thing, it held a goodly store of malice, and it's just as well that it's gone now. But I will tell you something I probably would never say aloud to Frodo (0r Gandalf, though he may guess it): I do not regret that it existed and came into my life any longer, for it enabled me to live long enough to have Frodo as a part of my life.

And I thank you for the kind words you have given me about my relationship with Frodo, as well as with Pippin (and Merry and Sam and several other young hobbits would be included in that number). I did and do feel a fatherly interest in them all; but Frodo truly is the son of my heart.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}

Bilbo put the quill aside, and sanded the letter. He'd pass it on to Gandalf in the morning.


Chapter End Notes:

Author's notes

From Dreamflower:

More references to my own stories, to "Trotter" and to my WIP "Ancestress". The recipe for ember-baked fish comes from The Magic of Fire: Hearth Cooking; One Hundred Recipes for the Fireplace or Campfire by William Rubel, a wonderful resource for any writer who writes fiction about places where people cooked over open fires.

From pandemonium: Sauron quotes from The History of Middle-earth, vol I, The Book of Lost Tales I:

These are the sprites of trees and woods, of dale and forest and mountain-side, or those that sing amid the grass at morning and chant among the standing corn at dusk. These are the Nermir and the Tavari, Nandini and Orossi, brownies, fays, pixies, leprawns, and what else are they not called, for their number is great.

The Dark Lord also makes reference to a healer. The details of that encounter may be found in SurgicalSteel's Kindness Repaid.

Sauron names the planets of our Solar System (= Arda according to JRRT) using the Quenya names that Tolkien (who loved astronomy) concocted. I expect the reader can puzzle them out.

 Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.

Distant Kindred


Sauron snatched the letter from Olórin's hand.  He snapped the seal, unfolded the paper, and proceeded to devour the spidery script.

Too fast!  Slow down and savor this, he reminded himself. 

"Astounding.  Most astounding,"  he said aloud, and then, "Fascinating.  I wonder if...?"    Then he fell silent while he soberly contemplated the old hobbit's words.

He had read the letter three times over before laying it down on his lap and turning to his counselor, who smiled broadly behind his white beard.

"You look like the warg that just swallowed the warbler. What amuses you so?"

"You do.  You're like a child with a sweet when you read Mr. Baggins' letters."

Being compared to a child was not what Sauron expected, but lately, he did not attempt to conceal his excitement when he received Mr. Baggins' missives.   "I suppose so.  I do look forward to them.  But here, well, he has quite a revelation."

Olórin merely raised his bushy brows, his signal for Sauron to continue. 

"Master Baggins has Maiarin blood."

"Ah. Yes," replied Olórin casually. "He just learned that.  Caught him by surprise, I'd say."

"Were you aware of this, that is, when you roamed Middle-earth making a pest of yourself?"

Olórin's mouth quirked at the jab, and he puffed on his pipe, blowing smoke to send a string of smoke rings into the dappled green sunlight.   Sauron, in turn, took a long drag on his cigar, and sent forth another set of smoke rings, which joined with those of Olórin to form a chain.   The chain of smoke drifted interlinked over the stream and floated up into the canopy of green leaves overhead.

"Not explicitly," said Olórin.  "You must understand that when I was first sent to the Outer Lands, my memories of Aman were, hmmm, let's say more than a little befuddled, so I did not know exactly who this ancestress was, but that there was a clan of hobbits who showed the signs of Faerie, Frodo and Bilbo among them."

"It explains a great deal," replied Sauron.

"How so?"

"Bilbo Baggins' resilience to my Ring, for one.   Frodo Baggins' ability to survive the plains of Gorgoroth while still bearing the Ring, for another.   And mostly, the very fact that they were willing to leave their comfortable little land.  I gather that for the most part, hobbits are not so adventurous."

"You gather rightly.  Most are not.  But the Tooks are different.  More inclined to bolt off into the Blue, as they say in the Shire."

Sauron grinned at the quaint colloquialism.  "Mr. Baggins' relative — Hildifons Took — must have been of that stripe.  Am I right in guessing that those young hobbits have a streak of Took in them?"

"Yes, Peregrin, obviously, and Meriadoc , too.  Not Samwise Gamgee."

"Yet he bolted off into the Blue."

"He did, but that was out of loyalty to his master."

"Ah.  Loyalty.  A dangerous thing.  Often leads to betrayal."

"In your experience, perhaps.  Not in theirs."

"Yes, not in theirs.  They enjoyed a very different kind of life than I did, now didn't they?"  

To deflect his counselor's further inquiry on that thought, Sauron turned his attention to the stream that babbled near the bench alongside the woodland path where he and Olórin sat side-by-side.   He had to admit that Rivendell was a pleasant enough place, even as a replica.  He took another drag on the cigar and sent forth the shape of a winged dragon.   Olórin responded by puffing a ship from his lips.  The smoke-ship pursued the dragon to colllide with it, forming a cloud that hung in suspension until the breeze destroyed it.

Restless, Sauron shifted on the stone bench.  He had more questions, but Gandalf was not the one to answer them.    "I was wondering if you'd mind waiting while I dash off a short note to..."

"Mairëa?"

"You know I hate it when you interrupt me.  Yes, to Mairëa."

"Why do you think Mairëa would know of Mírimë?" 

"To begin with, Mairëa has always been a friendly and inquisitive sort.  She knows many here in Aman, Maia or Elf.  But I cannot help but think that this woman - Adamanta, as Mr. Baggins calls her - must be one of Yavanna's people."

"Was one of Yavanna's people.   Her allegiance is now given to Nienna."

"Ah.  So you do know more than you are telling me."    There was much unsaid there.  A change in allegiance from Yavanna to Nienna implied a deep hurt in need of healing.  Sauron thought he might know why, and if he was right, then he understood this Mírimë's sorrow.

"There's something else,"  he said to Olórin.

"Yes?"

"This game of golf.  I would like to know more about it."

"I will see what I can do."   Olórin rose from the bench, and Sauron followed in kind.

As soon as he stood, the shackles of light tightened around his ankles, and the dappled sunlight and stream disappeared, leaving a large, featureless chamber, empty save for the bench upon which Sauron and Olórin had sat.  Quicker than thought, the iron-scented guards were at his side.   In silence, they escorted him to his cell, and before the door swung shut and sealed, he already sat at the table where he composed a letter to his sister, coming straight to the point:

{My dearest Mairëa,

Forgive me for the lack of a preamble, but Olórin waits for me while I write this so that it may be delivered to you without delay.   As you know, I have been engaged in correspondence with Mr. Bilbo Baggins, the perian who lives in Elrond's household.   His most recent letter contained a most astounding revelation:  he is one of a clan of hobbits who claim descent from a Fay, a woman named Mírimë.   I guessed that she might belong to the House of Yavanna, which Olórin confirmed, although he said she now owes fealty to Nienna.   Nonetheless, because she once was of Yavanna's house, I thought you might know her. 

Yes, I can hear you now.  You will scold me and tell me that I ought to know her, too, from our early days here in Aman.  But I buried my nose in my work most of the time, and when I did come up for air, I socialized with those of Aulë's House, not those of Yavanna like you did.   Furthermore, I do not remember her at all from our lost years at Home before the Guardians took us under their wing.  

So I ask, what might you tell me of her?  I wish to know in part because of my own curiosity (of course), but also because of Mr. Baggins.   He's a remarkable old fellow.   I doubt that he will ever hold any kind of affection for me, and I cannot blame him, but his letters enliven me. You have my gratitude for whatever you might impart.

With all my love,

~S.}

He folded the letter and sent it through its usual route through the tray of the door.

Within two days, he received a reply from his sister. 

{My dearest Mairon,

Firstly, I will make no apologies for refusing to address you by that dreadful name you now insist others call you.  I do not like it, and I never will. 

Secondly, I will answer directly.  Yes, I know Mírimë.   She worked closely with Yavanna and, like me, she tended peoples of Middle-earth during those early years.   It is no surprise that you do not remember her from Home, because because she came across the Sea, but I made her acquaintance here.  A lovely woman, as I recall, merry and generous of heart.   But where I was bound to the Tatyar to prepare them for the Great March, she was assigned another people, a race of diminuitive Eruhíni dear to Yavanna:  the hobbits.   While she watched over them, she fell in love with one of their men, donned hobbit-form, married him and bore his children.  Thus she sealed her fate.  You and I both know how that is, and for all of us who join with the Eruhíni, the endings are invariably bittersweet.  Yet we cannot help ourselves, can we? 

I was not on hand when she returned after her beloved died, but was told that her grief was so profound that Yavanna urged her to seek solace and healing from Nienna.  I have not had the opportunity to see her since her days in the House of Yavanna, but I would not mind a visit with her in the least.   Long ago, she never failed to put a smile on my face.   I hope she has recovered from her grief, and I expect that meeting her descendants may ease such pain, even if it brings back sweet but sad memories.

Do ask Mr. Baggins of her, and through him, please send my kindest regards to his ancestress.   I can well imagine their first meeting must have startled him!  If I can pull myself away from the workbench and the gardens long enough, perhaps I shall take the ferry to Tol Eressëa to meet her myself and, if he is willing, to meet your correspondent.  You have told him about me, haven't you?

Speaking of visits, I continue my campaign to be allowed to see you.  The Master is working hard on my behalf, but you know that he and Námo often lock horns over many issues, large and small.  But soon, I hope.  Soon.

Your loving sister,

Mairëa}

At the same time that Mairëa's letter was delivered, his reading tablet, which he had given to the guards, had come back with a number of new books on it, and as he had requested, they focused entirely on the subject of golf.  He dove into those immediately.   All came from the Other Time and Place, which was so mysterious, and yet familiar, too.  

Many of the books were written by a fellow named Bernard Darwin.   Sauron made note of the name, reminding himself to ask Olórin if this fellow was related to the other famous Darwin, whose book On the Origin of Species also resided on his reading tablet.  He often found himself wondering if there was a connection of Charles Darwin to the Númenórean naturalist, Darwen Toanehtë, who had sailed with Tar-Aldarion before he became king, and who had written a book that brought forth a startlingly similar theory to that of the Darwin of the Other Time and Place:  all species originate from a common ancestor. 

Yet how to explain the races of Elves, orcs and trolls?   Darwen's speculations hit close to the mark. Consequently, a small, but influential, group of Eldarin scholars of Aman, likely aided and abetted by the Valar, successfully suppressed her work, which led to much more violent suppression by the Númenórean nobility. 

She was too close to the truth fo their comfort, he thought cynically.  I expect those loremasters of the Eldar wouldn't take too kindly to being called 'hopeful monsters.'   He had to grin wickedly at the thought.

However, Mr. Darwin the Golf Enthusiast did not once mention common origin, but eloquently held forth on the great game of golf.  Sauron studied every word. Darwin's reflections on a course named Aberdovey transported Sauron to a distant green land where gulls cried on the margins of the world and grasses waved in the West Wind, where small balls went soaring to land upon velvet greens or to be devoured by sand traps.   It reminded him very much of the western shores of Eriador, and the more he read, the more he realized that the country called England was strongly reminiscent of Mr. Baggins' beloved Shire.  

He had requested technical books, too.  He poured over these and committed to memory the stance of a swing and the design of clubs.   He caused a minor stir with the guards during his exercise, when, in the midst of running, he stopped and practiced swings with an imaginary club and envisioned a ball arcing over the high wall to land upon a smooth green in Darwin's Aberdovey.  

There was another book, too, one that was very humorous:  The Clicking of Cuthbert by one P.G. Wodehouse.  Now that made him laugh aloud as he read it.   In many respects, the land, people and culture that Mr. Wodehouse described also called to mind those snippets of the Shire that Mr. Baggins had related.   In fact, Mr. Wodehouse's tone reminded him very much of Mr. Baggins.  He wondered if Wodehouse might claim hobbit ancestry.

From his readings was born an idea.  It would take time to accomplish, but first, he wished to write his reply to Mr. Baggins.

{Dear Mr. Baggins,

I will come straight to the point:  when I read your letter, you could have knocked me over with a feather as well.   Your revelation that you are a descendant of a Maia is most remarkable.   Do you realize that makes us distant kindred?  Delicious, isn't it?

I took the liberty of writing to my sister to ask of your Mírimë, or Adamanta, as she likes to be named by you, her great-to-the-umpteenth power grandson.  Mairëa remembers her from our very early days here in Aman and in Middle-earth.  My sister describes Adamanta as a merry, generous woman who often put a smile on others' faces.   Now I know from whom you inherited your daunting cheerfulness and optimism.    My sister has asked me to pass along her kindest regards to Mírimë - Adamanta - and that she remembers her fondly.

How does it feel to know that you harbor bits of the Fay within you?  It's a strange thing about Maiarin blood when mixed with that of the Eruhíni (and your race would be counted as such):  as the generations pass, it becomes more and more diluted, but now and then, individuals pop up that harbor strong Maiarin traits.  Not that you'd be able to change shape or what not, but certain talents and tendencies manifest themselves.  Your friend Aragorn is like that.   Melyanna exerts herself strongly in him.  I expect your kinsman Frodo harbors something deep inside of him that he inherited from his ancestress, this Adamanta.   As loath as I am to say it, Elrond and his cronies probably could not have picked a better person to take on the quest to destroy my trinket.

But never mind that.  One thing I am learning from correspondence with you is to try to look at the brighter side of life.  Trite, but true.   I have my dark moments, and I expect I always shall, but it is gradually becoming easier to seek a more pleasant viewpoint, even in confinement.  My books transport me, and so do your letters   Do tell me what you will of Adamanta.  Be assured I am very interested in her.   She obviously had at least one child.  Were there more?

[During the years of the Wars between the last of the Northern Kingdoms and the Witch-king of Angmar, a small contingent of Shire archers had set out to join the King.  None returned to the Shire, and their fate was always a question unanswered.]

Ah, Angmar.   Now there was quite a sorcerer!   Glorfindel describes a time when the Witch-king operated with considerably more independence from me, for I was struggling in hidden places to perfect the art of necromancy.  You needn't know more about that, for it is a grisly, dark art, and I fear I have already disturbed you sufficiently.  At any rate, the Witch-king did an admirable job of stirring up trouble and holding down the fort in Rhudaur.  

As capable as he was, I can't say I liked him much.  Well, to be truthful, I held him in contempt.   As a man, he was despicable:  a scion of the royal Númenórean lineage who was shipped off to Middle-earth because he had — how shall I put this delicately?  He had unseemly appetites for young boys, a most disordered kind of behavior.  But between that and his lust for power, he was easy to ensnare.    He was another one of those, like Aragorn, whose Maiarin traits came to the fore, which is why he, aided by a Ring of Power, became such a powerful sorcerer and an effective instrument in my hands.  Do you know that I do not recall his given name?  I expect he forgot it himself.

So hobbits had a hand in the great wars of the disintegrating North Kingdom? Your folk are less peaceable than you claim!   That contingent of hobbit-archers must have fought bravely, I will give you that.  As for the Witch-King's ultimate demise, I felt his death, or rather, the moment when the spell was broken, but until now, only heard rumor of how this came to be, nothing from the horse's mouth, as it were.   So it was this woman of Rohan, you say, and Meriadoc Brandybuck who brought him down?   I would know more of what happened, if you do not mind.   One of them surely must have wielded an ensorcelled blade to accomplish this.

You say that Glorfindel had the foresight to predict that "no man" would bring down the Witch-king.  Well, we all have our moments.  You are right that Glorfindel and I have "history,"  although we saw one another in the flesh only once, and that was when I rode into Ost-in-Edhil after we breached the walls.  That was not an altogether pleasant first meeting.   I knew he had returned to Middle-earth, having been groomed by my kindred Maiar, to thwart me.   My kin did a good job, for that elf-man carries an air of the Maiar about him, and he indeed thwarted me right and left in ways I did not expect.

But now?   At this risk of sounding like your prim Dora Baggins, I Do Not Approve of him.  Fussy of me to say, I know, and maybe even ridiculous, but I cannot help it.  Never mind why.  By the same token, if and when he should arrive on these shores, I do feel that perhaps he and I should try to reach some sort of peace.

Yes, Mr. Baggins, we all have things we are reluctant to tell others, but I must ask:  did Glorfindel tell you of his battle with Gothmog's lieutenant?  I heard only rumor of it.   I was not active in the siege of Gondolin, because I was still cowering in Taur-nu-Fuin. } 

As soon as he committed the words to paper, throbbing pain erupted on either side of his neck.  He dropped the pen and, with the palms of his hands, rubbed his skin, smooth except for the crescent-shaped scars that hovered over the great arteries and veins that carried blood to and from his brain.   

Would he ever forget Huan's fangs?  He didn't think so, especially since the scars from that bite persisted in every form that had housed his fëa since the awful battle, just as his missing finger persisted.  Yet avoiding the subject of his humiliation at Tol-in-Gaurhoth did him no good.   Olórin was always after him to be open, so he may as well continue the tale.  As soon as he made that decision, the pain disappeared.

{Let's just say that my defeat at Lúthien's hands and the loss of the fortress did not please my master, so I laid low for a good long while after that.   I'll never forget Huan's hot (and very smelly) breath right in my face, his fangs within a hair's breadth of my life's blood, and Lúthien's song.  Great Bauglir, I will never forget her song!   Beautiful, but deadly. 

Upon my release from that demon-hound's jaws, and with great difficulty,  I took on vespertilian form to flap off to the enchanted pine forest.  Let me tell you that crashing through those trees was a most unpleasant experience.   At any rate, I took little part in events in Beleriand after that.  Apparently, my former master decided to entrust much of his designs to Gothmog, for good or ill.

Speaking of valaraucar, I understand that your kinsman encountered the one that dwelt in the depths of Khazad-dûm, and that Olórin tussled with it, and so met his temporary demise.   I also had a brief encounter with the creature.  When I lived in Ost-in-Edhil, I often visited the Dwarven mansions under the mountains, and once, when Celebrimbor and I were taking a tour of the deeper mines, I sensed its presence.  It was hibernating in the crevices of the rocks, but stirred in its sleep when I drew near. Thankfully, it did not wake fully, and we beat a hasty retreat.  It settled back into sleep after that, until many years later when the Dwarves, to their peril, awoke it.

I cannot tell you how frightening that experience was!  Yes, frightening.   The valaraucar are fierce, wild creatures, and difficult to control.  Although they are counted among the Ainur, they are not of the same kind as Olórin, Melyanna, Eönwë and myself.   The Valar collected them from a surpassingly strange place:  the outer layers of a star where these beings swam about in unimaginably hot fires like whales and dolphins swim in our seas.  The Valar gave them the ability to assume forms more compatible to Endor, but that weakened them in certain ways.  Hence Gothmog drowned in a fountain. What an ignoble way to go.

You imply that not all of Elrond's household were as kind and polite to you as Glorfindel.  I hope that only a few were like that, but Elves can be an arrogant lot.  I should know since I lived as one of them for a good while.  I expect there were many Elves you met in Rivendell.  Did you know any who worked in the forge?}

Sauron paused and scratched his head.  That's a leading question, but truth be told, I am curious.  I suppose he'll respond or not.

{Thank you for the fish recipe.  It does sound tasty and quite easy.  It made me nostalgic for the fishing expeditions I took with Ar-Pharazôn.  Say what you will about what transpired, but the King of Númenor was a good fisherman.   Our expeditions were not exactly "roughing it," as the King enjoyed luxuries, but your recipe is refreshingly rustic.  And may I say that the idea of purloined mushrooms made me laugh?  Do hobbits often steal mushrooms?  But I must curse you (of course, I jest) for causing me to crave fish and chips.

Now on to golf.  Mr. Baggins, may I say that your descriptions of the game piqued my interest in a most significant way?  When I become interested in something, I dive into it with great enthusiasm, and so I have with this game of golf.  I asked for books about it, and Manwë's chief archivist indulged me in a most abundant manner.  

These books have ensnared me, and I am inspired to translate one of them into the Common Tongue so that you can understand it.  It is a very funny book, and I think you (and Frodo) might enjoy it.   The author is (or will be?) a fellow named P.G. Wodehouse.  His name sounds like that of hobbit, doesn't it?  Or maybe  that of a Man of Bree.   He is quite a humorist, whatever his name is.  I am not altogether sure how effective the translation will be, but I would like to give it a go.  Then I will send it to you.}

[I've played, but not often.  Frodo is better at it than I am, though not much fonder of the game.  Most gentlehobbits do know how to play. He says it's just a way to spoil a good walk.  But Tooks (and especially the North-tooks) can be quite obsessive about it.  Meriadoc is quite good at it, although there are no links in Buckland (one of the early Masters of Buckland declared it a waste of good land).  Pippin is also quite good at it.]

Sauron stopped writing and chewed on the end of the pen.   He thought back to Darwin's descriptions of Aberdovey and could not help but imagine there must be a similar setting on Tol Eressëa.  It seemed like the kind of country Elves would favor. 

Upon thinking of Aberdovey, an impulse blossomed within him.   It was a strange sensation, and one that he had not experienced for many years.  He recalled such feelings when he had been very young, a time when he had liked nothing more that surprising those he loved with little gifts.   How long had it been since he had given a gift freely with no strings attached to it?  Far too long.  For whatever reason, he now dearly wished to give something to those golf-loving hobbits. True, there was no love between himself and the Bagginses.  They would surely despise him forever, and he did not want their pity.   Perhaps they would not welcome a gift from him.

No matter.  The compulsion had sunk its hooks into him, and he had no choice but to give into it.  The gift would be something that both Frodo and Bilbo might enjoy together, and he knew just what it would be.   For all of Bilbo's protestations to the contrary, Sauron suspected that the old hobbit might enjoy some time on the links, if Elrond could contrive such a thing, especially with his kinsman, who likely was reasonably proficient with the game. 

But how to accomplish this? he thought, tapping the pen against the table.  Elrond must hire a tailor to make their clothing, so perhaps I might enlist Olórin to obtain their measurements from that tailor.  Olórin can be trusted to keep this a secret.  Ha!  Yes, that is it!  Who would have thought it?  Gandalf the Grey and the Dark Lord, Co-conspirators!

That thought amused him enough to make him laugh aloud, but then his mind set to whirring.  What was it that had been said of Curumo?  Ah, yes.  A mind of metal and wheels.  Such is mine.  Nothing wrong with that.  Metal and wheels can be used to good purpose, and I intend to do just that for Bilbo and Frodo.  Once I have the measurements, I can begin the design, and then send it to Aulë's workshops by way of Mairëa.   Then perhaps she can persuade...

 

Immediately, his mood darkened when he thought of just who in Aulë's train he wished to make the gift for the two Bagginses and otherwise oversee the project.  The Noldorin man he had in mind was a most capable smith, and he should know, for the smith had been his apprentice many years ago in Ost-in-Edhil.   More than that, the young man had been dear to him. 

How likely is it that he will be willing to take on this project?  Probably not likely at all if the request comes from me.  I used and betrayed him, just as I used and betrayed so many others. But if Mairëa speaks on my behalf, then maybe, just maybe, he will do it.  He will listen to her, and if he knows this is for the hobbits, that might help my cause, too.   I may as well ask, and if not him, then perhaps Aulë can recommend another.

No, that would not do.  Sauron did not want another smith who now lived here in the Blessed Lands to work on the project.   Yet, with everything he had done that had ruined his former apprentice's life, how could he be at all surprised if his request was rebuffed?  He again read the passage from Bilbo's letter

[I am not quite sure how to respond to your revelations of what came after; the words of condemnation I am sure you've heard before and to say it was a shame seems like an ironic understatement.  Should I tell you it was despicable? I'm sure you know that.  And I think that you are also beginning to know what regrettable means.  It was a hard thing to read, but I think it must have been a harder thing to write.

 

I also think that it must have been hard for you to tell me of your reaction to my story of the Ring-I am afraid I did not even think of your emotional reaction to my tale, and after all, you did ask. But I should have thought of it, for even now I can recall my own possessive feelings for it.]

He set pen to paper, determined to address Mr. Baggins' comments head-on and honestly.

{Now on to a more serious subject.  What I wrote to you about the children of Ost-in-Edhil playing marbles and what happened to them later was in fact quite difficult for me to write.  Although not the least of my transgressions, for there are worse,  their fates at my hands were among the most heinous of my deeds.   I would venture that 'despicable' does not begin to account for many of my actions, among them the most deeply personal of betrayals.   

But beginning to know what regrettable means?  Mr. Baggins, be assured that I have long known regret.   That and sorrow are nothing new to me.  There have been very few moments in my long and eventful life that my conscience did not exert itself.   A nagging sense of right and wrong is a consequence of not being wholly evil.  Obviously, I did not heed my conscience for the most part, but it still made itself heard.  It howls at me now.

Yes, I was angry when I read of your account of finding my Ring, and yes, I did ask, but please do not hold back.  I am only being frank with you as my correspondent whom I increasingly trust.  I do not wish to hide what I was - what I am - from you.   If it is too much of a burden for you to hear such things, please do not hesitate to tell me.

So there it is.  I had been in lofty spirits when I started writing this, but upon surveying my incomprehensibly long list of ill deeds and thinking of how the supplications of my conscience fell like dry leaves into the fire of my Purpose and Will, I am feeling less than lighthearted, and this letter has taken a dark tone.  I will try to change that by suggesting that you ask Olórin about our contest of smoke rings.  I think it will amuse you.  

I realize that I have spoken entirely too much about myself here without any inquiries of how you are faring in Tol Eressëa and how it might compare to your Shire.  And this Sam Gamgee.  You are still being a bit cagey about him, now aren't you?  If you would, do tell me of this master gardener who prepares delicious fish and chips.  Damn it, my stomach is growling now.  I wonder if Lord Námo's cooks will accomodate my craving?  Actually, I am fed quite well here.  Hence the need for my running about on the grass.

With that, I shall close, wish you well, and hope that you are enjoying as many mushrooms as you care to eat.  I daresay that in Elrond's household, these are legitimately acquired mushrooms, but that purloined mushrooms doubtless taste better.

Sincerely yours,

D.L. Sauron}

With that, he folded the letter, set it aside to place on the tray later, and picked up his tablet, turning to Mr. Wodehouse's tales of the eccentric inhabitants of Blandings Castle.  The stories were funny enough in their own right, but Sauron was all the more amused when he substituted the names of Fingolfin and his clan for Mr. Wodehouse's characters.

  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

When Gandalf arrived with the letter, Bilbo and Frodo were entertaining Adamanta to tea on their terrace. 

"Gandalf! You are just in time!  Do join us,"  said Frodo.

"Yes, please, Gandalf!" added Bilbo.  "We've not seen you in several days!"

"Far be it from me to decline," he replied with a twinkle in his eye, "especially since I see some of your famous honeycakes on the table.  Not to mention Frodo's currant scones.  He drew up the chair kept for his convenience (or that of any Elf who might be visiting) and took the cup of tea that Adamanta poured out for him.

The four of them talked pleasantly as they made their way through the excellent tea, Frodo regaling Adamanta with the stories of his cousins when they were children.  Frodo licked his fingers after finishing one of the honeycakes.  "Do you remember," he asked Bilbo, "the time you allowed Pippin to help you make honeycakes?"

Bilbo laughed aloud.  "How could I forget?  It was when the Dwarves came to visit.  I'll never forget the sight that child made when he answered the door covered in flour and honey!"  He glanced over at Adamanta.  "Pippin was an excitable child at best-but the combination of too much honey, and Dwarves at the door and he was nearly impossible to contain!" He laughed again.

Frodo put down his teacup and glanced over at Gandalf.  Then he began gathering up the dishes.  "I shall leave you all to your conversation," he said, "and do the washing up."

"Frodo is as perceptive as ever," Gandalf said as he watched Frodo push the tea trolley in through the wide glass doors.  He reached into his robe, and handed out a letter. "I am sure he knew why I was here."

Bilbo sniffed.  "Of course he did," he said as he took the letter from his friend.  "But he'd rather not be here when I read it." He slipped a finger under the seal.  "It took the fellow long enough to answer this time."  He looked over at Adamanta.  "Do you mind, Adamanta, if I..."

"Not at all," she replied.  She was aware of the unusual correspondence, since Bilbo had asked her permission to mention her to Sauron.  "I am most curious as to how he reacted to your revelations of me," she added with a twinkle in her eye.

Bilbo chuckled, and began to read.  His eyebrows rose, and he glanced up at her.  "He says he mentioned you to his sister--  Mairëa?  And she remembered you from before?"

Adamanta closed her eyes in thought briefly, and then nodded.  "Yes, yes I do remember her as well."

"He says that she passes her regards to you.

She smiled.  "That's very kind of her; she was a kind person as I recall, and we were friends on a time, although not close ones.  But that was before. But I would give her my regards as well."

Bilbo skimmed quickly through the rest of the letter.  As always, much food for thought...he folded it and placed it in his pocket, and looked over at his guests, and they resumed their conversation.  After a while Frodo returned, and the afternoon was spent in pleasant talk.

That evening, Bilbo took up his quill and began his reply.

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

As it so happens, Adamanta was visiting here when Gandalf arrived with your letter.  I told her of your sister's message, and she remembers Mairëa fondly, and returns her regards.

"Distant kindred"?  I suppose that it does.  But then it is my conceit that all are distant kindred of one sort or another, especially if one goes back far enough.  Of course, not all the branches on the Family Tree are as congenial as others.

As to how it feels to learn that the oft-ridiculed legend of the "Took fairy wife" is true?  The only word that comes to mind is "gob-smacked".  Even after a few months, I still feel a little gob-smacked!  But I am so glad that Frodo and I have come to know Adamanta!

Adamanta is a delightful hobbitess; as Mirimë she is beautiful as well, but I do not see her in that form often.  Gandalf tells me that she has decided to retain the fana of a hobbit now that the burden of secrecy has been lifted.  Personally I believe she is doing it simply to honour Frodo and to some extent, myself. 

We have heard some of her story, of how she met and married Tûk-the name of our distant ancestor-and of their children.  They had twelve, she tells us, six sons and six daughters.  That's quite a family, even for hobbits, although my grandfather also had twelve children.  And she has told us a little about each of  them, though mostly she encourages Frodo and myself to talk of the Shire and our family there.

As for the Maiarin blood, she claims that Tûk already possessed many of the qualities of boldness and curiosity and steadfastly claims that it is his nature her children have inherited.  She clearly loved him very much.  She says that save for the colour of his eyes, Frodo resembles her lost love in an uncanny fashion.

Gandalf seems of the opinion that the several strains of Fallohide blood scattered among the Tooks, Brandybucks, Bagginses, Bolgers, Boffins and some of the other gentry all came together in Frodo, to once more produce a true Fallohide.  I would not dispute that.  I have always maintained that Frodo was the finest hobbit the Shire ever produced.  But of course, I may be more than slightly biaised.

I must say, your revelations about Angmar are disturbing but not surprising.  Shire history records him as a villain of the worst sort, though I do not believe that his disgusting perversions were mentioned-most hobbits have never heard of such things, and even if our scholars knew of them, they would not think them fit to record.  The majority of hobbits do not even believe he existed, although the more educated realize that he did.

[ So it was this woman of Rohan, you say, and Meriadoc Brandybuck who brought him down?   I would know more of what happened, if you do not mind.   One of them surely must have wielded an ensorcelled blade to accomplish this.]

Indeed, you are right about the ensorcelled blade.  When Frodo and his friends left the Shire, they took a shortcut through the Old Forest, which lies upon the Eastern border of Buckland.  This was not an action taken lightly, as the Old Forest has a bad reputation.  But they felt it was preferable to risk the possibly mythical dangers there than the very real dangers of your Ringwraiths who were pursuing them.  They did indeed find danger there, and were rescued by a strange person called "Tom Bombadil".  (I learned later that Elves call him "Iarwain Ben Adar", and I get the impression that he might be one of your people.)  There are songs and legends of this "Tom Bombadil" in Buckland, though not being a Bucklander, I was only familiar with a couple of them.

After the four lads left him, they fell into trouble once more.  This time they found themselves captured by a barrow-wight, and they were in dire trouble indeed!  But Frodo called for Bombadil as he had been told, and they were rescued again.

Within the barrow was a store of treasure and weapons, which Bombadil insisted needed to be scattered in order to break the spell.  He insisted that each of the lads take a large knife, one that could serve a hobbit as a sword.  It was later revealed that these weapons had been forged during those wars with Angmar and were enspelled to work particular harm to the enemies of those days.

Frodo's was lost at the ford, when his pursuers caused it to break, but the other three carried theirs on their quest.  (I later supplied Frodo with my own old sword, Sting, which I had from my Adventure.)

The Company that set out from Rivendell had a number of mishaps and trials along the way as you might know, and at one point young Meriadoc found himself alone in Rohan, entrusted to the King of that land to keep him safe.  When Merry learned that the Rohirrim were to ride to battle and would leave him behind, he was in despair.  He was determined to follow after them, though he knew very well that he would be too late to be of any use.

However, he was surprised when one of the Riders offered to take him along.  To his eyes, it appeared to be a very young rider, no more than a boy.  They went along in secret, hidden among the rest of the Riders.  They saw battle there at the Pelennor before the gates of Minas Tirith, and when the leader of your Nazgûl bore down upon the King of Rohan, they were nearby.

From what I learned from Frodo and from Pippin and from Merry himself, the event transpired as follows: the King's horse was slain, and in its death throes it landed upon its rider, crushing him.  The Nazgûl bore down upon them, and it was the Witch-king's threat to allow the fell beast he rode to feed upon the body of his enemy that caused the young rider to come between them.  The Nazgûl mocked this new foe, and boasted "No living man may hinder me!"  

Merry was cowering in terror, unnoticed behind him, but he was shocked when his companion revealed herself.  It was the Lady Éowyn, the King's own neice, who had disguised herself to ride among the men.  She told him "No living man am I!"

And she beheaded the fell beast.

Of course, she had not the strength to overbear the Witch-king himself, and he struck out at her with his mace, breaking her shield arm.  Still she remained defiant, and her courage bolstered Merry, gallant lad that he is, to his own defiance, and before the Nazgûl could strike another blow, he used his small sword and thrust it into the back of the creature's knee.  All he had hoped to accomplish was to distract their enemy, perhaps long enough for Lady Éowyn to escape, or to at least not die alone.  But apparently Merry's weapon broke the spell preserving his life, and she used her own sword to kill the Witch-king.

Both the Lady and Merry were in sore straits afterward, laid low by something called the Black Breath, and it was only through the ministrations of my friend Aragorn that they were able to survive.

By the time I heard the story, of course, all was over.  Frodo and Merry were quite solemn about it, but Pippin (since he was over the fright his cousin had given him by nearly dying) was downright gleeful, declaring that the Witch-king was remarkably stupid to think that "no living man" was any guarantee of invulnerability.  After all, he said,  not only could he be felled by a woman or a hobbit, but it could have been an Elf or a Dwarf or an Ent, or he could even have been stepped upon by an Oliphaunt!  I must say he put an end to the haunted look in both his cousins' eyes, and soon had us all laughing as he imagined all the possible ways that the sorceror could have been killed without it being brought about by any "living man".

I spoke later with Glorfindel about that event, and he told me that he had only a flash of foresight, seeing what appeared to be a woman and a child upon a battlefield.  He could tell, somehow, that this was far in the future-but he saw them slay Angmar.  It was not until he met my lads in the Wilds to guide and guard them into Rivendell that he realised what it meant-especially once he saw the blades they bore.  But he had no idea of specifics, nor did he know which of the four would do the deed, and so he did not say anything.  Yet, he told me, he had been quite relieved when Master Elrond agreed to allow Merry and Pippin to be part of the company, for he had begun to believe that the hobbit he saw on the battlefield might have been Merry.}

Bilbo looked at the next part of the letter.  What was the obsession with Glorfindel?  From what his correspondent revealed, the two had never had that much contact-yet his ire seemed out of proportion?   And on the one hand he said he did not approve of Glorfindel, yet on the other there were the persistent questions, as though there were some yet unrevealed connection between them. How odd!  He wondered if Gandalf could (or would) shed any light on it.  Probably not-Gandalf was  still as close as ever about some things.

But it couldn't hurt to ask.

Bilbo put down the quill and stretched his fingers, and then picked up the other letter again.  There were a lot of things he wished to ask about.  Which ones, he wondered, did he stand the best chance of getting answered?  He chuckled and thought once more of Pippin and his insatiable curiosity-perhaps if he threw enough questions out quickly enough, he'd get some of them answered.  Time for a break, he thought.  Were there any of Frodo's currant scones left?

As it was, he did not return to the letter.  After finishing off the scones, he thought it only fair to do some baking.  He made bread and seedcakes and ginger biscuits, and while things were baking he did some cleaning as well.  Supper, a thick vegetable soup made to a recipe he had learned in Rivendell from Master Elrond's irascible head cook, simmered at the back of the stove.  Frodo came in when it was nearly finished and after they had supped, they decided to go to the Hall of Fire for the evening.  It was in many ways similar to the one in Rivendell, but it was different in subtle ways as well.  The wood used to build it was lighter in colour, and there were wide shuttered windows that remained fully open in all but the most severely inclement of weather-a rarity on this Blessed Isle, but not totally unheard of.  At any rate, there had been none since his and Frodo's arrival, but they had been assured that such did occur once in awhile.

When he fell asleep he had a most confusing dream of playing golf at the links in Tuckborough, only he was playing with Glorfindel, Aragorn and  Frodo, and their balls continuously landed in the rough, which looked, oddly enough, like the mountainous country he had passed through on his Adventure.  It did not seem at all strange or frightening that his caddy was Gollum, until he awoke suddenly, confused and thirsty...

{He did speak a little of his encounter with the Balrog.  I have noticed a thing with most warriors, that there are some fights which they will recount with relish, describing their own blows and those of their opponents in great detail and wide gestures-and yet for the most part those are fights which ended with their opponent yielding, or perhaps for fights that were for sport or sparring.  The more serious ones are mentioned much more briefly and with reluctance.  Glorfindel showed no relish for that fight, speaking more of his fear that he would be unable to buy enough time for Idril and the others to escape from that dreadful pass of Cirith Thoronath, for he knew he could not survive it himself.  He said he did not recall the end of the fight.  I am not sure that was completely true-he had a look in his eyes that indicated he did not wish to recall the ending, and I did not press him.

Glorfindel was among those who were most welcoming of me from the beginning.  A few seemed to hold themselves aloof for a time, but most of them came to accept me after a few years.  One however, an Elf named Lindir, seemed to resent my presence, and was sometimes cutting in his remarks about mortals-though never in the presence of the Master of the House!  I never really knew why, and we came to a truce, more or less, before I left.  He did not sail when Master Elrond did, but remained behind with Elladan and Elrohir.

Interesting that you should ask about smiths.  I had only a passing acquaintance with most of them, but one of them, an Elf-woman called "the Istyanis" was Glorfindel's wife!  I did have some very fascinating conversations with her, and she was also very kind to Merry and Pippin while they were there.  She had been absent in exile for many years, it seems, but she and Glorfindel had known one another long ago and when she returned (shortly before the Company left Rivendell) they married! A most romantic story!  I recall giving them a pottery pepper-pot in the form of a hobbit-smial (a trinket given me as a gift by that self-same cousin Dora before my departure and brought along with me when I retired from Bag End) as a wedding gift when I learned of their nuptials.  I thought it would amuse them, and it did, though I doubt they ever put it to its intended use.

[Let's just say that my defeat at Lúthien's hands and the loss of the fortress did not please my master, so I laid low for a good long while after that.   I'll never forget Huan's hot (and very smelly) breath right in my face, his fangs within a hair's breadth of my life's blood, and Lúthien's song.] 

I had quite forgotten that part of your history!  What an amazing thing!  Not my forgetting-at my age, very natural to forget things-but such a legendary encounter!  I am always astounded that I have been so blessed as to "rub elbows" so to speak, with so many legends of old!

[The valaraucar are fierce, wild creatures, and difficult to control.  Although they are counted among the Ainur, they are not of the same kind as Olórin, Melyanna, Eönwë and myself.   The Valar collected them from a surpassingly strange place:  the outer layers of a star where these beings swam about in unimaginably hot fires like whales and dolphins swim in our seas.] 

How intriguing!  I wish I were a talented artist like Frodo, that I could depict the images that puts into my head!  The idea of creatures that could swim in fire as though it were water makes me almost giddy!  I would love to see such a sight, even if the creatures were fierce and wild!  (But not close up, thank you!  I have engaged a dragon in conversation, and that was enough for me!)

 I'm glad you liked the fish recipe.  [Do hobbits often steal mushrooms?]  As tweens, quite often, and it's boasted of.  Adult hobbits do not admit to doing such a thing-but I know from my own experience that it happens more often than anyone cares to say.}

Bilbo looked again at what his correspondent had revealed.  There were BOOKS about GOLF, a sport hitherto known ONLY to hobbits!  And how, he wondered, did anyone outside the Shire know enough about golf to write a book about it?  Or even humorous stories about it?  Clearly Gandalf had access to a most unusual library.  Questions, questions, questions!  The first being: could he expect an answer to any of them?  He tapped a finger on the letter impatiently. 

{There are BOOKS about GOLF?  And I trust from your description they are not written by hobbits!  I am flabbergasted!  I will most eagerly read any such translations as you care to send me!

Now, as to your revelations, while they are hard to read, I do not say that I am unwilling to read them.  I too value honesty in our correspondence, and you may write to me what you will.  There may be times when I do not respond to specific revelations, but rest assured that will not be for any other reason than that I may not know of anything useful to say, and not because of my distaste for the subject matter.  It is not a burden-or better to say, it is a bearable burden, as I know all of these things are past and done and cannot be changed now, and it will harm no one else in the future.  I am sorry to hear that replying to me has dampened your spirits-if that has set back your progress, Gandalf won't thank me!  I hope that it won't affect our correspondence, which I am quite enjoying. 

But rest assured I shall ask him about smoke rings (among other things)!

Sam?  I am not really being cagey about him.  He's very dear to my heart, though, and it is difficult to know where to begin explaining why such a very ordinary person is actually so extraordinary, especially since he is so close.  It can be difficult sometimes to distance oneself enough for observation.

Samwise was the fifth child of my gardener.  He had two older brothers and two older sisters, and one sister younger than himself.  He had no sooner learned to toddle than he would follow his "Gaffer" (as everyone called his father Hamfast) about everywhere-including up to the gardens at Bag End anytime he could.  He was always a gentle-hearted child who had more of an imagination than his father thought was proper.

Hamfast loved all of his children dearly, but he never thought it proper to encourage fancy, which he thought of as something only to be indulged in by gentlehobbits who had the time for it.  Still he never had the heart to suppress Sam completely, and though he was reluctant, he did allow me to teach the child to read and write.  That was after Frodo had come to stay, and Sam was thrilled with any activity that would allow him to be near Frodo, whom he idolised from the first.  And the adoration was mutual.  I think Frodo originally befriended such a young child because little Sam reminded him of young Merry, but he soon grew to love him for his own sweet sake.

Sam was a quick and clever pupil, learning his letters and his sums very quickly.  He also had a knack for recitation, although it was hard sometimes to get him to overcome his shyness.  But once he was fairly begun he would throw himself utterly into the part, to the great joy of his listeners.

Ham was also reluctant to allow Sam's friendship with Merry.  Merry used to make extended visits to Bag End every Spring, and as Sam was the only lad of the neighbourhood anywhere near Merry's age (Sam was only two years older) I managed to prevail upon Master Hamfast to allow them to be playmates during those visits.  I know that he feared that Sam would learn to get ideas "above himself", but that never happened-Sam was far too modest a soul for that!  I think he also feared that Merry's family would disapprove, but Brandybucks are much less bound to propriety than the folk of Hobbiton.  Bucklanders make much less of station than the hobbits West of the River.  There was no chance that Saradoc Brandybuck would disapprove of Merry having any friend of good character, no matter what station in life he might have.

However, once Sam neared his tweens, Hamfast did clamp down on his son, who now had to refer to his playmates as "Master" or "Mister".  He was also his father's apprentice by then, and had much less free time.  His father kept him very busy in the garden, turning almost all the flowers over to Sam's capable hands, while he concentrated on the kitchen garden and orchard.

Sam's mother Bell was a delightful hobbitess, but she died suddenly a few months prior to my own departure from the Shire, and I think that Frodo's consolation of him at the time cemented their devotion even more.  At that time Sam was still a youngster, barely in his tweens.  I left that autumn.

I did not see him again until he showed up in Rivendell, cloven to Frodo's side along with Merry and Pippin.  There was never any doubt that he would accompany Frodo on his mission!

Of what occurred during that time, of course, I have no personal knowledge, only what has been told me.  Sam stuck to Frodo like glue, and when my cousin decided to strike out on his own rather than risk his companions any further, Sam guessed his mind and followed after, so that Frodo was compelled to accept his company.  Frodo says it was a good thing, too, as he could never have reached his intended destination alone.

It was difficult to get any details out of the two of them, but it seems that when Frodo was attacked and paralysed by a giant spider on the borders of Mordor (and the one who attacked them sounds much nastier than any I encountered in Mirkwood, I must say!) Sam thought that his master was dead and that he was the only one left to carry on their mission, so he took the Ring with that intent.  But then he learned Frodo was alive, and went to rescue him from his captivity by the orcs who guarded that way.  Again, as I say, I do not know all the details, though I am sure Gandalf does.  But Sam returned the Ring to Frodo once they were reunited, and then they made their way towards Mount Doom.

I know that Frodo says at one point he was so weak that Sam had to actually carry him.  But when they reached the mountain, Gollum caught up with them and attacked them.  Sam was knocked unconscious by the wretched creature, and by the time he woke up, Frodo had been overcome by the Ring.  He woke up in time to see that final struggle and Gollum's fall into the Fire.  It was only at his insistance that they went back out and away from the eruptions caused by the Ring's destruction, where they were then rescued from the destruction by Gandalf and the Eagles.

At Frodo's insistence, Sam was honoured equally with him by the renewed kingdom, something to which Aragorn needed little persuasion.

Sam's back in the Shire now, and happily married with a baby daughter.  Frodo gave Bag End to them, and there they live.  But he knows that if he wants to, when the time comes he can join Frodo here.  I doubt I will still be here by then, but who knows?

I do hope that you can persuade your captors to allow you fish and chips, though I don't suppose they will anywhere near as good as Sam's! 

I had some wonderful stuffed mushrooms at Master Elrond's table just a few days ago!  The varieties of mushrooms to be found here are most delicious, and none are unwholesome, so gathering them in the wild is quite delightful.

I see how long my reply has become!  I shall close now.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}

Bilbo capped the ink, put his quill in the stand, and carefully sanded the last page of the letter. 

He looked forward to the reply, and to the promised translations.  And he also looked forward to his next encounter with Gandalf.

He had Questions!

  ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Author's notes from Dreamflower: 

There are references in Bilbo's letter to several of my stories, especially in the account of Sam's backstory.  The account of his friendship with Frodo and Merry during his childhood and the date of his mother's death are all strictly speculation on my part.  Some of the stories referenced are: "A Place for Gandalf", "Ho, Ho, My Lads!" (co-written with Marigold), and "Memory and Sorrow". (All can be found here at SoA.  "Memory and Sorrow" is in my "Dreamflower's Mathoms I".

Author's notes from pandemonium:

The Tatyar were the second clan of the Elves who awoke in Cuiviénen, and from whom the Noldor were descended.

valaraucar (valarauca, s.): balrogs

Bernard Darwin, a famed golf writer and grandson of Charles Darwin, was a member of the idyllic Aberdovey Golf Club, located on the west coast of Wales

Darwen Toanehtë appears in Chronicles of the Fifth Voyage of the Númerrámar: The Loremaster Arrives, and her works on the natural history of Middle-earth are referenced here and there in The Elendilmir.

Sauron's near-encounter with Durin's Bane is described in The Elendilmir, Chapter 28: A Shadow Dreaming.

The smith in Aulë's train whom Sauron wishes to enlist for the project has seen considerable coverage in the aforementioned The Elendilmir (a WIP;  I haven't forgotten about it!) and The Apprentice. Similarly, the encounters with the exiled prince of Númenor who eventually becomes the Witch-king of Angmar is addressed in The Apprentice; although that particular chapter (Heart of Darkness) is not explicit in content, it puts the novel in a solid adult rating due to the highly disturbing tendencies of the prince.

Sauron's fishing expeditions with Ar-Pharazôn are referenced in Into This Wild Abyss.

Bilbo gives nods to both Abundance and Inner Light (the thick vegetable soup, an impulsive marriage after a long separation, and an elven-smith's curiosity pertaining to idiomatic Westron and hobbits as a whole) as well as to Surgical Steel's OC, the irascible chef of Rivendell, Haldanar, who makes his first appearance in The King's Surgeon, both in the Original Timeline and the Happy AU

And the pepper-pot?  I'll bet Bilbo has a story behind that!

Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.

Revelation and Reaction

From the edge of the cliff, Sauron looked out over the plain of Gorgoroth, baking in bright sunlight.  The slopes of the Morgai were awash with crimson from the wild roses that bloomed in the glens.  Vapor trailed lazily from Orodruin's summit, less imposing than it had been during the latter years of his reign, but now a perfect cone.  It was Mordor much as he remembered it when he first set foot in these lands so long ago, before he had laid the foundations of the Barad-dûr and before the mountain had belched forth fumes and ash.  He turned his back on the panorama and retreated to the shade where he flung himself into the empty chair that faced Olórin.  

"So this is what the heart of my kingdom — what was my kingdom — is like now?"

"It is. Based on all reports, Mordor is healing."

"If your vision is true, then the land is remarkably resilient."

"What you see is true," Olórin replied.

"I wonder if I am as resilient?"

"I have no doubt about that, should you choose to take that path."  

"You're quite confident about that, aren't you?"

Olórin gave no audible reply but raised those bushy white brows.  He glanced again at his counselor's hands, which held two envelopes and something else, an intriguing thing — a device of some sort. "May I?"  He scooted forward in the chair and took the letters from the wizard.

The spidery script on one envelope confirmed that Mr. Baggins had responded.  Sauron considered opening it at once, but decided to wait.  He had to admit that Mr. Baggin's letters had become a highlight of his life now, so he wanted to savor the pleasure of reading it. Save the best for last.  He carefully balanced that on his knee while he opened the other missive.  He scanned the unfamiliar script that listed measurements of arms, legs and torsos, even feet beneath each Baggins' name.

"Excellent.  Elrond's tailor pays attention to the smallest detail.  This will help me immensely.  But have you received a response from..."

"You'll find that here."  Olórin leaned forward to give him the curious device.  Sauron was too intrigued to snap at his counselor for interrupting him.

"What is this thing?  It looks like my reading tablet."  It was almost identical to that but had a larger face and was framed in a sleek black material.

"It's much like your tablet, but with more capabilities, as Aulë says.  The letter is in it."

"A letter?  In it?"

"Yes.  Press the little button there at the bottom of the frame."  Sauron did so, and the face of the device came to life.  Neatly arrayed against a soft grey background were a dozen symbols. One of them looked like an envelope of a letter.

"Press the..."

"The envelope?"  

Olórin grinned. "Yes."

With one touch, the face of the tablet brightened to show a plain background the color of bleached linen with Tengwar typeface marching across it:  a letter, captured in this tablet.    At the heading was a familiar name:  Istyar Sámaril Orontion, Brotherhood of Smiths, The House of Aulë.  

Sauron stared at the name and title.  More than seventeen hundred years had passed since he last had any kind of contact with his former protégé, and now here was what might be a chink in the barrier between them.   But if there was a such a chink, it was not to be found in Sámaril's tone, which was appropriately professional and detached.  Sauron could hope for no more than that, all things considered.  It was enough of a relief that Sámaril even accepted the project, and here he outlined the first steps that he would take, once Sauron sent the first set of designs to him.  The end of the missive, however, was more personal:

Please understand that I do this behalf of Maireä and those hobbits, not for you.

Any glimmer of hope that he might have harbored for reconciliation was dashed.  Why should he have expected otherwise after using Sámaril as he had and then destroying his life?  Still, he was disappointed. 

At least he will work with me on the gifts for the Bagginses.  There is that.

He turned his attention to the other symbols of the strange device to discover new marvels:  moving pictures, music, and what appeared to be several games.

"This is incredible."  He started to hand the amazing tablet back to Olórin who waved him away.  

"It's yours.  It is Aulë's express wish that you have it."

"Will this hold my books, too?"

"Indeed it will!  They are already there, in fact.  Press the symbol that looks like an open book."

He did, and all the volumes on his other tablet appeared on the face of the tablet.  He had to fight to keep his jaw from dropping.   He lifted his eyes to stare at Olórin.

"I never thought I would see such marvels again.  Do you remember when the Guardians first brought us to Ellor Eshúrizel?  What we saw?"

Olórin puffed on his pipe and sent forth a flock of birds into the hot afternoon breeze. "Yes.  Yes, I remember.  We were all so young and impressionable."

Sauron felt a wistful smile creep across his lips.  "It all seemed like magic then, didn't it?  I imagine something like this would be magic in the eyes of Mr. Baggins or anyone of Middle-earth.  It would be convenient to write to him if he had one of these things but..."

"But?"

"It would be too much for him, I think."

"You are right.  He has finally become accustomed to the 'elvish lights.'  They discombobulated him a great deal at first, although Frodo adapted to their use quickly.  Besides, Bilbo loves the very act of writing."

"I have to admit I enjoy it, too, with pen and paper.  Still..." Sauron lifted the new tablet. "This ought to be extraordinarily efficient.  I will be able to communicate with Sámaril with this?"

"Yes.  As fast as thought.  Likewise, you and I will be able to send notes to one another, should you wish."

"You have one of these?"  Now that was astonishing.  Olórin tended to be quite old-fashioned.

"Yes.  Aulë gave one to me, too.   Mine has a white frame though."

Sauron chuckled.  "Of course, it does."  Then a more serious thought came to him, one that had been growing on him for some weeks.  "Well, it shall be very convenient, seeing as how difficult it is for me to touch others' thoughts these days.  Do you have any idea of why the Guardians are doing this?  Allowing me to have access to such devices and all the books and now moving pictures?"

"Frankly, I am not altogether sure because they have inundated me with the same."

"Why do you suppose they are so intent on educating us about the Other Time and Place?"

"I honestly don't know.  The Valar are as mysterious to me as they are to you."

Sauron said nothing in return.  Inscrutable as the Valar's actions might be, he felt a spark of hope catch hold.  He doubted that the Guardians would be educating him like this if their ultimate plan was to toss him into the Void to join Melkor.  But what were their intentions toward him?  

He ran his fingers along the black frame before he set it down at his side.   And now, what do you have to say, Mr. Baggins?  He unfolded the old hobbit's letter and read the now familiar, spidery script.

"'All are distant kindred of one sort or another.'  He speaks the truth there!"  he said aloud as he read.  "Fascinating, what he says about this Adamanta.  Twelve children!  Is that so?"

Olórin nodded and puffed on his pipe.

"Astonishing.  I didn't think we had it in us to be so prolific.  My hat's off to her."   He read on.  "Ha!  Bombadil!  Has anyone figured out just what kind of creature he is?"

"No, he's as peculiar and enigmatic as ever."

Sauron continued to read.  "Humph.  So Laurefin's prophecy was fulfilled, although strictly speaking, Meriadoc Brandybuck is a man, just a man of a nominally different race than Men."

"You're being pedantic."

"You'd expect otherwise?"  

Sauron lingered over Bilbo's response to his leading question:  had he meet any of the smiths in Rivendell?  He already knew the answer to that, but he had not known how exactly the old hobbit would respond.

He raised his eyes from the letter to look at Olórin.  "He remembers her.  He speaks well of her, too."

"Why wouldn't he?  The Istyanis made a favorable impression on him, and the feeling was mutual.  He noticed her accent straightaway."

"Stands to reason.  She was in the East for so long that I am not surprised her pronunciations were affected."

"No, not just that accent.  He also noticed the way she speaks the High-Elven tongue:  that she uses the thorn.  Stubbornly adheres to it, I might add.  I am certain he guessed that she descends from the House of Fëanáro."

"Astute of him.   She doesn't make a secret of that.  She slaps the Fëanorian star on all her work, after all, and still wears the circlet that Tyelperinquar made for her.  I would assume he guessed no more?"

"He had no reason to do so, and I do not think such a thing would ever occur to him.  During the Third Age, you were seen as something quite inhuman."

"Believe me, I took great pains to foster than image, and the fact is, the consequences of necromancy do not contribute to humane characteristics."

Olórin visibly shuddered.  Sauron guessed that he was recalling his foray into Dol Guldur when he had been in search of Thrain.   For a moment, he gloated, recalling the White Council's attack on his old stronghold and his clever feint to take up residence in Mordor.   Ah, yes, that had been a triumph!

His counselor visibly shook off what must have been a dark memory, and then lit his pipe again.  "You must have mentioned something to Bilbo that made him recall her."

"I did."

"Why?"

Sauron said nothing, but Olórin did not allow the silence to linger.

"Is it because you want to tell him about her and Culinen?  About that part of your life?"

May as well be frank with him...and myself.  "Yes."

"And why would you wish to tell him?"

"So that he — and perhaps his kinsman — will see that there's more to me than a tyrant with ambitions to be the god-king of Middle-earth."

"Good heavens!  You don't still harbor those ambitions, do you?"

"No, not precisely," he replied all too quickly. Go on.  Be honest with him.  "But, yes, I do think about it now and again. Not much I can do about it though!   But yes, I would like to tell him about the better part of my nature.  Perhaps it will crack open the door that remains shut between us."

"Telling him may have the opposite effect."

"It might.  That's a risk, I suppose."  The wizard's dark eyes took an unfocused cast, as if he were looking back into another time.  "The thing about Bilbo Baggins is that he has a great capacity for pity."

"I do not want his pity!" 

Sauron would not have been surprised to see stones split at the sharpness in his response.  Olórin's brows bristled, and his dark eyes smoldered.  The arid air between them nearly crackled until Sauron took a deep breath and relented.

"I'm sorry, Olórin.  This is such a painful subject."  He looked away before the old wizard could see that his eyes threatened to tear up.  He gritted his teeth and swiftly regained control of his grief.  "I do not suppose you have heard anything of Culinen?  If there's any chance that she might reincarnate?"

"I have heard nothing.  I am sorry..."

Sauron lifted his hand before Olórin could say any more. "Yes, thank you.  Well, then.  I'd best get to work on my projects.  'Books on Golf.'  So, I assume he has questioned you about this?"

"Persistently!  It was not at all easy to explain, and he is a shrewd as ever, but I think he is quite taken with the idea that hobbits continue to exert such a powerful influence."

"Yes," replied Sauron dryly.  "A most powerful influence."

Later, Sauron sat at his desk in his cell, pen in hand, paper laid out before him, and a cup of black coffee steaming nearby.

{Dear Mr. Baggins,

Thank you very much for such a splendid wealth of tales in your latest letter.  There is so much for me to respond to, from Adamanta to old Tom Bombadil to the shieldmaiden of the Rohirrim and to that mysterious but intriguing word:  smial.

First, yes, there are indeed Books on Golf.  If you are interested, I will happily translate not only the tales by P.G. Wodehouse, but also another called Green Memories.  I think you (and your kinsman) might enjoy it.  As to the author of that work (a fellow named Bernard Darwin), I can only tell you that he, like Mr. Wodehouse, does not live in the here and now, but will live in a place you might find very familiar and yet different, too.  How the Guardians obtain such books for me, I cannot tell you.  Please just accept this as one of the Valar's many mysteries.

I must say, your remark on our distant kinship moved me — that all of us come from common roots, although we might debate how those roots came to be.  Your assessment that not all branches of the family are as congenial as others made me laugh.  Can you imagine if I had appeared at one of your hobbit teas in the Shire as a long-lost cousin, many times removed from your Adamanta?  The very idea makes me laugh aloud.  Never mind me.  Of late, I find amusement in the most absurd things.

"Gob-smacked."  What a wonderful expression!  Likewise, I was thoroughly gob-smacked when I read that your Adamanta had twelve children.  As I told Olórin, it's remarkable that one of us, meaning the Maiar, was so very prolific.  I daresay she is the most prolific of our people.  This is not the usual case.

I am not at all surprised, however, that she often takes the form of a hobbitess, for she most likely experienced her happiest moments in that guise.  Contrary to the misinformed writings of Middle-earth historians (Ælfwine, Rúmil, or Pengolodh, I forget which), the Maiar do not become locked into a form when we beget children.   Rather, we beget children through a form that we favor.   I suspect that you and your kinsman remind her so strongly of a part of her life that gave her such joy, however brief, that she is not only doing this to honor you (although that likely is true) but because she genuinely likes being a hobbitess.}

[Gandalf seems of the opinion that the several strains of Fallohide blood scattered among the Tooks, Brandybucks, Bagginses, Bolgers, Boffins and some of the other gentry all came together in Frodo, to once more produce a true Fallohide.  I would not dispute that.  I have always maintained that Frodo was the finest hobbit the Shire ever produced.  But of course, I may be more than slightly biased.]

Sauron lifted the pen and considered Bilbo's remarks about Frodo.  He tried to summon a similar kind of charitable feeling — or, dare he say it, affection — for Frodo Baggins that he felt for the elder hobbit.   It was impossible.   True, Frodo's role in destruction of the Ring had freed him of the vicious cycle of grasping for power, doubt, fear, and yet more grasping.  Nonetheless, he could not forget that the younger Baggins was responsible for the annihilation of all he had achieved in Middle-earth.

"Finest hobbit the Shire ever produced," he said aloud.  Now that left a bitter taste in his mouth.   However, Sauron considered that Bilbo viewed Frodo as a proud father might.  He did call him the son-of-his-heart.  I can respect that.  He set pen to paper again.

{I cannot speak to the characteristics of the tribe of hobbits you name "Fallohides."  Remind me, have you elaborated on these?  I remain ignorant of the subtleties of hobbit ancestries and their divergence, for I made no in-depth study of your folk, in contrast to Men and Elves.  So I will take your word that these Fallohide traits have been distilled into your beloved cousin, and yes, your bias shows.  I would imagine there might very well be other hobbits who might say the same about their offspring.  Based on your descriptions of Frodo's companion (and briefly, a Ringbearer), Master Hamfast would be justified in such a claim.  Then again, so might the parents of the insatiably curious Peregrin and the courageous Meriadoc (who I venture to say was truly responsible for Angmar's demise).

It is curious, is it not, how traits become diluted over the generations and then emerge to become concentrated in one individual?   That would seem to have happened to your cousin.   And why "Fallohide?"  Are these hobbits an equivalent of the Mannish House of Hador or the Vanyarin Elves with their abundance of golden hair?   Your kinsman's dark locks do not fit the bill here.

My revelations of Angmar are only a drop in the bucket, to use the colloquialism, of the things I knew and did that you would find highly disturbing.  Angmar's predilections were, to be sure, vile, but not speaking of such things or pretending they do not exist does not necessarily serve others well.   Think of the dark faerie tales children are told.   The purpose of these might warn young ones away from the very real perils (orcs, trolls, wights and the like) in the Wide World, but they also warn of human predators who prowl within their own town, village or tribe.   It may be that hobbits are a notable exception among the Eruhíni and do not harbor any such deviations, but among Men?  Well, it is different for them.}

Sauron once again set his pen down.  He rubbed his eyes and tried to wipe away the mounting wave of guilt when he remembered how he rewarded Angmar in those early days when the Man who became the Witch-king was still human, before he faded to a true wraith.  He knew now how abominable it was to send those young slaves to Angmar. He could still see the faces of those boys, dirty, hungry, yet still pretty, and hopeful from the lies told to them, that they were plucked from the mines to be sent to a better place.  In part, that was true. They'd be fed well and no longer suffer the foul airs of the mines.  That was sufficient to ease his conscience just a little.  After all, the gifts of these pets had served his purpose in further locking his hold on the Man who became the Lord of the Nazgûl.   

Yet more transgressions for which I can never atone. Well, no point in feeling sorry for myself.  Forge on… He picked up the pen.

{I suppose the Shire records are accurate enough.  The Witch-king was villainous, but he was also an extremely capable captain.  However, I would challenge the contention that he was a villain of the worst sort.  I claim that distinction, for I knowingly engaged in many terrible deeds myself, or ordered them to take place, and ignored my conscience when it stood in the way of my ambition.  I might tell you of my many heinous deeds, for example, the precise means I used to incinerate Gil-galad (although I might note that was an act of war, always a very brutal business), the techniques I applied to torture Maedhros, my deception of Gorlim, how I extracted information from Gollum, how I drove Denethor of Gondor to despair, and the list goes on and on.   Simply put, there were many times that I realized what I did was wrong, but I invariably found justification for my actions.

But on to something less onerous than my endless list of evil deeds — the subject of Iarwain Ben Adar, although I must say, 'Tom Bombadil" has a more charming ring to it.   Old Bombadil is an enigma, not only to the Eruhíni, but to the Ainur as well.   Curiously, he is not one of my folk.  When we (meaning the Ainur) opened the Gates of Arda and settled on Imbar, we found this fellow already here before us, tramping about the forests and hills in the west of Endórë.   I think Oromë stumbled upon him first.   Couldn't get a coherent word out of the creature, but presumably, Iarwain learned to speak to the Quendi and the Followers.  Bombadil has never been forthcoming with regard to his origins, if he even remembers them, but there's something to be said for mysteries, don't you think?

So the hobbit walking party encountered a barrow-wight and lived to tell the tale?  Obviously, they did.  They were fortunate, for the wights are very dangerous beings, again apt for evil purposes but not so easy to control.   With the proper spells, they may be repelled, and evidently Bombadil knew just what to do.

That your friends also stumbled across those blades is all the more remarkable, for the spells embedded in them were the only things that could have brought down Angmar, short of the Ring's destruction.  That makes me curious about the daggers.   Who forged them and who laid those spells into their steel?  I suppose I will never know the answers to those questions.

Thank you for recounting the tale of Éowyn of Rohan and Meriadoc of the Shire.  If I had considered how the Witch-king might fall (indeed I did not think it possible), I could not have conceived of a more unlikely pair to accomplish the task.   I am sure their deeds have been put to the harp among the bards in the mead halls up and down the Anduin Valley.   I have to say that found myself chuckling at Peregrin Took's impish sense of humor directed toward a dark subject.  That is something I can appreciate.  

As to the trials and mishaps of the Company that set out from Imladris, I know of these in general, thanks to Olórin who gave me an account when I had plenty of time to listen to him as I shall explain.  I know that Meriadoc recovered and returned to the Shire, but what happened to Éowyn of Rohan?  Obviously, she survived the effects of the Black Breath.  That's an odd name for the effects of the enchantments that knitted the Nazgûl together.  Makes one think that the Ringwraiths might have ingested too much garlic, that is, if they could ingest!  

Also, thank you for telling me of Glorfindel's tale of his encounter with the balrog.  Perhaps I shall ask him about this face-to-face someday, although I cannot foresee such a meeting in the very near future. I can well understand his reluctance to delve into detail of his encounter with the balrog.   A balrog at close quarters invariably results in horrific (and often fatal) injury for an incarnate of the Eruhíni, not quite as awful as falling into the fires of Orodruin but close enough.   From what I understand, Glorfindel has a good deal to accomplish in Middle-earth before he can take his leave, and I expect it will be extremely difficult for him to let go of Endórë.   It was for many of us, but it is clear that the World of Men has arrived.

Now, with regard to the Istyanis, I can confidently assure you that by now she has put your kind gift of the pepper-pot to good use, because she is utterly enamored of spicy food, thanks to her long sojourn in the East — Bharat, specifically, although I understand she journeyed to Kitai and the Lands of the Dawn under the tutelage of Alatar and Pallando, whom you call "the Blue Wizards."   If she did not commandeer a spice-grinder from the kitchens of the House of Elrond to grind the peppercorns for said pepper-pot, she would have made one herself.  I would venture to say that she did not know what a smial was, and I also venture to say that you explained it to her in great detail.  Might I ask that you do the same for me?  How do you pronounce it?  Smee-yal?  

Now, I could leave it at that, and let you wonder why I am so confident that the Istyanis not only appreciated, but also actually used your gift, and likely continues to use it.  However, rather than teasing you, I think it is time for me to open up to you once again, to use Olórin's vernacular.  I have alluded to this subject previously when I mentioned that the human form I now inhabit is very much like (if not identical to) the one with which I made my best creation.  Likely, you took that to mean the Ring.  That is not what I meant.  The Istyanis is my best creation, for she is my daughter.

I imagine that if there are any feathers nearby as you read this revelation, they will have knocked you over by now.  Although the knowledge of your Maiarin ancestress might allow for the plausibility that I might be a father and husband, I expect what you and many others knew of me in the Third Age makes wholly improbable the very idea that I might harbor such human qualities.  I am well aware that recorded histories proclaim this unlikelihood, too.  But there it is.

I did not create the Istyanis from some arcane spell, but rather through a time-honored and quite pleasurable means.    That bears some discussion (not prurient, I assure you).  I suspect that the Valar are too far removed from the Eruhíni to beget children on them, although again, the Valar retain their mysteries, so who knows?  But we Maiar are more closely related to you, the Eruhíni.   To the best of my knowledge, Olórin, Curumo and Aiwendil managed to resist love affairs and marriage.  Of Alatar and Pallando, I have no idea.  I did ask Olórin once if he had enjoyed the pleasures of incarnate love during his sojourn in Endórë.  Oh, the look he gave me!  I never asked again.  

I expect this challenges how you (and others) conceive of me as the Great Enemy. Of course, I fostered a larger-than-life image of the remote, untouchable Dark Lord, seeing all with his Great Eye from the mighty heights of the Barad-dûr.  Exposing my more human aspects would have weakened my aura and called into question the extent of my powers.   Conversely, when leaders rouse others to fight against an enemy, acknowledgment of the opponent's humanity is not helpful to the cause.  Best to keep him dark, terrible and monstrous.  The latter is not far from the truth, especially with regard to my aspect of the Third Age, but it is not the whole truth.

The Istyanis' mother, Culinen, is the very reason that I linger here in Mandos.  My wife died in my arms during the fall of Ost-in-Edhil.  Although it was not I who killed her, I am ultimately responsible for her death, and to say that haunts me is quite an understatement.  Every day, I seek hints of her presence here in Námo's halls.   I would give anything to see her once more and tell her how very sorry I am and to tell her that I truly loved her, still love her, and always will. Then the Valar may toss me willy-nilly into the Void.}

His script, always so decisive yet graceful, now wavered.  He stopped writing to wipe away the tears that blurred his otherwise keen vision.  The memory of the light leaving Culinen's eyes was all too vivid.  But he had a task at hand here, and somehow, putting all this to paper relieved a tension within him, like releasing a tight knot in a straining rope.  He gathered himself and set pen to paper again.

{In a nutshell, as they say, I met Culinen in Ost-in-Edhil almost as soon as I set foot in the city.  She was the only child of Caranthir (Carnistir's name rendered in Sindarin, but you, who translated The Shibboleth of Fëanor, ought to know that) and was born in Thargelion by the shores of Lake Helevorn, where her father built his fortress.  That made her Celebrimbor's cousin, and they became close, being the only survivors of their clan after the War of Wrath, save for Maglor, who allegedly yet lives.   

Wedding Culinen was much to my advantage.   Our marriage strengthened my ties to Celebrimbor, gave me even more credibility among the smiths, and most importantly, connected me to the royal House of Finwë, which neatly played into my regal ambitions.

Those motivations for marrying her must seem cold and calculating.  I do not deny that, for "cold and calculating" are true to my nature, but they do not tell the whole story.  As I said (and say again and again), I loved her, Mr. Baggins, and I still do.   I could wax poetic about her beauty (and I thought her very beautiful, as beautiful as Adamanta must have been in the eyes of your forefather), but it was her mind more than anything that attracted me.  Such a brilliant woman, and truly my equal in that regard.   In keeping with her Fëanorian heritage, she searched for the answers to the most fundamental of questions.  She puzzled over the very roots of our existence, and tried to connect things so small they cannot be seen to the larger world.  So we had that in common.  She was also just as proud and opinionated as I am, so our discussions were invigorating, and our arguments?  Well, they were spectacular.   

We had been married for a little over a yén when she expressed longing for a child.  I wasn't sure I'd be able to give her one.  Although we Fays may be attracted to the Eruhíni, we are not exceptionally fertile with your kind, or so I believed until your latest missive!   I remain gob-smacked — absolutely gob-smacked — by the notion of twelve children.

I gave her desire careful consideration.  If I begat a child, I would achieve what Melkor never could — creation of a new life — and in that, I could surpass him. Furthermore, I told myself, I could groom such a child to be my lieutenant, just as I had been Melkor's, but the child would cleave to me fully out of loyalty and love.   

All of these were self-serving motivations yet again, but what parent who chooses to have a child does not have selfish reasons?  But there was something else, too, something wholly unconditional:  Culinen greatly desired a son or a daughter.  Because I loved her, I did my best to give her one.  I began the meditations that Elf-men must use to prepare their bodies for begetting children.  And it worked. I named our baby Naryen shortly after she was born, and Culinen called her Mélamírë (also very appropriate) only a few months later.

Those days were the best of my long, eventful life, but it was a life lived in deceit, and ultimately, I squandered what I loved in exchange for power.  I wonder sometimes what would have happened if I had turned from my quest to become the supreme ruler of Middle-earth?  If I had been content to live in Ost-in-Edhil as the respected Istyar, married to a wonderful woman and father of a daughter of whom I am immensely proud?  How different the world would have been.

You may see now why I am so curious about Glorfindel, and at the same time, so vexed.  Yes, Sauron the Terrible is no different than a fussy old man whose darling daughter has married a man of Whom He Does Not Approve (but probably ought to).  I am ridiculously overprotective, although Naryen would call me horrendously controlling.  She would be right, too.  After my wife's death, I could not bear the thought of Naryen being out of my sphere of influence.  So my soldiers captured her and bore her away to Mordor while I wreaked havoc throughout Eriador.  Much to my astonishment, she managed to escape the Barad-dûr.  That is a tale unto itself.

Another tale of note might be how I came to be trapped in a mithril ring that I made for Naryen. When the One Ring was destroyed, my hold on my then less-than-adequate body (always tenuous) disintegrated.  I recall rising high above the crumbling Barad-dûr and directing one last threat toward the Army of the West.  Then the winds came.  I thought Manwë would blow me to shards and send my spirit off to gnaw and claw at itself in the Wilderness (as Olórin had predicted), but the core of myself — that which makes me, well, me — coalesced, defied the winds and shot straight toward the West.  I had no idea of what was happening until I became aware I was streaking toward Minas Tirith, where Naryen stood near the wall on the upper level of the city.   I found myself drawn up into her ring, a failsafe I had crafted to ensure my own survival (the curwë behind the One was imperfect, as I have noted), but also ensnared in a prison of my own devising.

Naryen gave the ring to Olórin, and he bore me here to face judgment in the Máhaxanar — the Ring of Doom.  While we were on the voyage, he told me much of what had transpired, but did not have the time or inclination to go into great detail.  For that, I rely on you, or, if I may say so, your kinsman, if he is inclined to elaborate.

So there you have it, Mr. Baggins.   My greatest regrets are the events that led to my wife's death and the estrangement of my daughter.  I know there are those who say I deserve every dram of pain inflicted upon me.  They may be right, but I do not think that Culinen and Naryen deserved the loss of husband and father. That is the greatest cost of my many betrayals.   The very greatest cost.  No less of a cost is that I will never dandle my little grandsons on my knee like a grandfather ought.   

Bauglir's black blood, but I am a sentimental old fool!   Forgive me.  I told Olórin that I wished to tell you of my most human qualities so that you will not see me as an absolute monster.  But I strongly suspect this makes it all the worse.   I do not seek your pity by way of this lengthy outpouring, but instead tell you this so that you may come to know me a bit better.  I will conclude by saying that I am glad to know that you had interesting conversations with the Istyanis, and that you think her husband is a decent fellow.   You have eased a father's worry, and I thank you for that.

Sincerely yours,

D.L. Sauron}

He set the pen down and took a gulp of coffee, now cold and bitter.  He picked up the pages of the letter to Mr. Baggins.

I could, and probably should, tear this to shreds and start over. I could say nothing of this to him.  Nothing of Culinen or Naryen. 

He held the letter in his hands for a good long while before he made his decision. Then he folded the pages into precise thirds, stood, and knocked on the door. He smelled iron; the tray in the door formed and slid open.  He placed the letter on the tray and watched it disappear.   Then he picked up the new tablet and lay down on his bed.   He pressed the symbol that opened up a realm of moving pictures.  He scanned them and settled on one.  Grim, dramatic music played, perfect for his mood, and the title formed against a dark, brooding sky:  King Lear.

~~~~~~~~~~~

"My dear Bilbo!  Are you all right?"

Indeed, Bilbo did not feel at all "all right".  He could feel the blood drain from his face, his hands trembled as he held the letter tightly, his old heart was racing.  He forced himself to take a deep breath and a sip of his tea — his mouth was dry — he took another sip.  He drew another breath.

"I am fine, Gandalf," he said, forcing lightness into his tone.  "Just somewhat — startled."

Keen black eyes snapped beneath the bushy brows.  "Do not presume to lie to me, Bilbo Baggins!  I thought for a moment there you were about to swoon."  The gaze sharpened, and then relented.  "Please do not frighten me so, old friend, or I shall regret ever allowing this correspondence."

"I just —" Bilbo looked back at the letter.  "I just had no idea. No idea at all.  I think this is even more startling than learning about Adamanta."  

Gandalf shook his head, and gave a rueful chuckle.  "Startling?  Hobbitish understatement if ever I heard it."

Now Bilbo was able to manage a smile, if a brief one.  "This news is interesting, to say the least.  I shall have to think about it."  Filled with a sudden burst of energy, he rose to his feet and paced back and forth.  "I am sorry, Gandalf!  I really am!"

"Good heavens, Bilbo, do not apologize to me.  You have done nothing to be sorry for."

"I do not know how to answer this!" He began to pace back and forth, "I never thought — his revelations are so — personal!  He doesn't ask me to feel sorry for him.  I don't want to feel sorry for him!"

"Then don't.  He would not welcome Pity, for he does not understand its uses."

Bilbo stopped, and stared at Gandalf.  "Uses?  I am afraid I don't understand what you mean."

Gandalf smiled, and he seemed somehow brighter as he spoke.  "Yes, you do.  But you understand it here…" he reached out a hand and touched Bilbo on the chest where his heart was beating, "…and not in your head.  Pity, also known as mercy or compassion, is one of the most useful things that any of the Children possess, and you as a hobbit, are gifted with a greater amount than most races.  And you, yourself, are gifted with more than most other hobbits.  Perhaps even more than Frodo, who learned it from you and from sad experience, you know how important it is."

Bilbo blushed, and sat down again.  "You mean Gollum?" he asked.

"Among other things," he said.  "At any rate, Sauron is a different matter altogether.  He does not understand pity's importance in the same way you or I do — because he does not wish to.  And right now, he does not especially need it, although the day may come when he does."

"But how am I to answer this?" Bilbo asked plaintively.

"My good hobbit, you do not need to put pen to paper immediately.  Not even in three days, despite your Cousin Dora's admonitions.  He is not going anywhere.  And even when you do answer it, you do not need to address those revelations in detail."

Bilbo looked up at him with one arched brow and said wryly, "You told me you do not read what he writes."

"Nor do I.  But he as much as told me what he was going to write this time; and it was clear from your face as you read that he told you more than the mere facts of the matter."

Bilbo sighed and shook his head.  "I will answer it."

"I know you will, old friend.  You are Bilbo Baggins, and you do what you set out to do."

"I'm very tired, Gandalf."

Gandalf did not speak, but allowed the elderly hobbit to lean into his side for a while, and they sat in companionable silence.  Gandalf soon felt his friend slip into sleep, and he sat quietly and meditated on the qualities of mercy.

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

It was, indeed, a good many more days than three before Bilbo could get up the nerve to read the letter once more and consider setting pen to paper.  He found he was able to read it this time with a bit more equanimity than the first.  

He pursed his lips and thought on the matter.  He could easily answer the first part of the letter.  He would try to get that far, and then decide how to deal with the revelations of the second half.  They still disturbed him on some visceral level in a way that he could not quite understand.

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

I apologise for taking so long to answer your last missive.  I am afraid I was rather taken aback by some of what you had to tell me, and needed to think over my response.  

Then too, I have been away from my home for some days.  Elrond and his family took a brief sea voyage along the coast and invited Frodo and myself to join them.  It was quite a pleasant experience, and much different than our voyage here to the Blessed Isle.  On that voyage I cannot recall being so aware of the Sea itself.  For much of the journey here was more like a dream than an actual experience, and it was not until we neared our destination that I have any clear memories of that trip.

I shall look forward very much to your translations of those books.  Gandalf remains very cagey about them.  Close as an oyster he can be sometimes.  (That's an expression I never heard and a delicacy I never had before coming here!  The Elves seem to like them baked or stewed or even raw, but Frodo and I discovered that they are delicious breaded and fried in the same way as other fishes.)  At any rate, it does seem to be a mystery on which he refuses to enlighten me.  Not that I have given up trying.

You ask about "Fallohides", and I cannot recall if I had mentioned them before.  It is hard for me to  understand sometimes that you do not know what seems to me to be common knowledge—it makes me realise that I myself am subject to a good deal of the Shire insularity which afflicts most hobbits.  Why, indeed, should anyone outside the Shire (or possibly Bree) have any knowledge at all of the origins of such an obscure race as hobbits?

According to the historical records of the Shire, there were originally three clans of hobbits: the Harfoots (acknowledged as the predominant hobbit-type) who were the first to take up farming and gardening; the Stoors (alleged by some malicious gossips to have had a petty Dwarf among their ancestors); and the Fallohides (who tended to be hunters and gatherers, and whose skin tended to be more fair; their hair, on the other hand, was usually darker than average, though there were some who also had fair hair, or amongst the Tookish branch, the reddish tinge of chestnut).  It was also thought that Fallohides tended to lighter eyes, as well, but it was from Adamanta that I learned the blue, grey and green eyes found in Fallohide clans came from her side of the family.  The majority of hobbits have brown eyes.  Adamanta's beloved husband Tûk was among the early Fallohides.

The Harfoots preferred to settle where the soil was fertile, among gentle lands easily tilled and planted, and with low hills into which their holes could be easily dug.  The Stoors seemed to like riverbanks and the areas around lakes or marshes, and were keen anglers.  But the Fallohides made their holes among the higher hills, where they kept flocks of sheep and goats, and from which they would venture to explore and to hunt.  Fallohides also tended towards more boldness and curiosity, and were far less timid than the other clans.

Over the centuries the blood of the three clans has mingled freely.  But in what are sometimes called in the Shire, the Great Families, there has always seemed to be more Fallohide blood, most especially in the very oldest known of Shire hobbit families: the Tooks, the Brandybucks, the Bolgers, the Boffins, the Proudfoots and the Bagginses.  Most of the families of the gentry have kin among those six clans, who are the oldest known clans.  The name of "Fallohide" has faded from use; the brothers Marcho and Blanco who founded the Shire used the Fallohide name, but their descendants did not.  Nor will the name of "Stoor" be found in any of the families who settled the Shire.  There linger some few families with the surname of "Harfoot".}

Bilbo paused, and looked at the next part.  The Witch-king of Angmar featured more prominently than most non-hobbit names in histories of the Shire, since his actions in the wars in the North had impinged upon hobbits, if only briefly.  He even found his way into some of the darker "scary stories" young hobbits were so fond of around a bonfire during Harvest festivals.  Most more scholarly hobbits had dismissed the worst stories about him as exaggerations or fabrications, but now Bilbo realised that they had probably been toned down to make them more suitable — much in the same way as he had done when telling the story of his own Adventure.  He smiled ruefully when he recalled young Peregrin's shock at discovering how much worse trolls were in real life than they had been in his tales.

[Think of the dark faerie tales children are told.   The purpose of these might warn young ones away from the very real perils (orcs, trolls, wights and the like) in the Wide World, but they also warn of human predators who prowl within their own town, village or tribe.   It may be that hobbits are a notable exception among the Eruhíni and do not harbor any such deviations… ]

Were hobbits an exception?  It was not that he did not know that some hobbits could be extraordinarily selfish and nasty—he could remember how unkind his Uncle Longo had always been to his father, recall the greed and ambition of the Sackville-Bagginses, the grasping nature of Lalia Clayhanger Took, and Frodo had told him some of what had occurred in the Shire during those two years between his arrival back there and his departure from the Grey Havens left no doubt that Lotho had given some orders that had resulted in violence or even death to other hobbits — that the actions were done by Men did not take away from the evil of those orders.  

And though it was often said with no little pride that the murder of one hobbit by another on purpose had never taken place in the Shire, well, who could say what "on purpose" was?  He recalled the gossip about Frodo's parents, and of what he had been told about the aftermath of Lalia's death by Frodo and the others.  Clearly thoughts of murder could cross hobbit minds, even if the action did not follow.

These were troubling thoughts, very troubling indeed.  Perhaps at some time he could discuss them with Gandalf; he was unsure about the wisdom of discussing them with Frodo.  Frodo's healing was proceeding apace, but there was nothing that could heal lost innocence, and Bilbo had no intention of poking at his cousin's sore spots, even if they were barely scars.

Obviously, however, he kept poking inadvertently at his correspondent's sore spots, as a letter did not seem to go by without Sauron talking of how heinous his own deeds were, and how he had suppressed any tendencies that lay in the way of his ambition…

Tom Bombadil was not a Maia?  That was a surprise.  He had always assumed that he was, once he'd discovered the fellow was real, and not simply a Bucklandish legend.  He knew Gandalf counted him a friend; perhaps the wizard would know; perhaps not.

[That your friends also stumbled across those blades is all the more remarkable, for the spells embedded in them were the only things that could have brought down Angmar, short of the Ring's destruction.  That makes me curious about the daggers.   Who forged them and who laid those spells into their steel?  I suppose I will never know the answers to those questions.]

Bilbo smiled.  He knew what Gandalf thought.  He also knew that his correspondent did not agree, but he had learned enough to have faith that Gandalf was right and that there was Someone who saw to the ordering of such matters.  After all, his presence here, and Frodo's, was more than evidence enough for him.  But this was a highly subjective matter, and truthfully not something he felt comfortable discussing even in a letter.  He dipped his quill and began to write once more.

{You asked about the fate of Lady Éowyn of Rohan.  As it so happens, after the end of the War, she wed the younger son of Lord Denethor, Faramir.  He too had suffered from the Black Breath and recovered (Your description of the malady made me laugh aloud, but reminds me that I have a question for you.)  By all accounts the two are very much in love and very happy.  Merry and Pippin were filled with glee with the match, I know, for of course Merry accounted the lady a dear friend after all they had been through, while Pippin had a great admiration of Lord Faramir, who subsequently became Aragorn's Steward when the Kingdom was renewed.  Frodo also admires and respects him, most especially for his kindness in sending him and Sam on their way when they encountered him in Ithilien}

Bilbo paused, and toyed with the idea of mentioning that Lord Faramir had also refused the lure of the Ring.  He decided not to, as he found that his correspondent had rather volatile reactions to mentions of it.  Best not to twist the knife in the wound.  He would instead ask something that might be provoking or might not, but was something he'd often wondered about, and knew that Frodo had as well.

{Here are a couple of questions I have often wondered about: once the Nazgûl actually had become wraiths and were under your domination, how much free will did they have left?  I wonder, because the story as I was told by Frodo and the others of their pursuit from the Shire seemed to me to show a certain lack of initiative on their part.  There were occasions when those Black Riders (as my young friends called them) could have easily captured them all if they had only done something slightly different.

I have also wondered about the effects of their "Black Breath", which from all accounts they seemed to spread fairly widely-- and yet in the Shire, they are able to talk to hobbits during their search without said hobbits falling over in a fatal swoon at their presence.  Could they control the intensity of their influence of fear?}

He looked at the letter again.  He was approaching the part of Sauron's revelations that he found disturbing.  The Istyanis, that very nice and kind smith, and gracious lady, was…his…daughter.  He put the quill down, and got up.  A cup of tea. That was what he needed, a cup of tea in the garden, perhaps with a couple of sugar biscuits…

After a brief repast, in which the sugar biscuits were also joined by a peach and some creamy soft cheese, he took his walking stick and walked down to the beach.  He was not so fond of walking upon the shifting sands as his younger cousin was, but there was also a boardwalk that paralleled the beach for a short way, and then led down to a small pier.  The brisk sea air helped clear his thoughts, and it was not long before he was spotted by Frodo who joined him and walked back up to the house with him.  

The two were soon engaged in preparing supper, and Bilbo decided to put finishing the letter off until the next day.

{You mentioned that the Istyanis lived in the far lands of the East—Bharat  and Kitai, lands of which I have never even heard, and you mentioned the Blue Wizards — of whom I have only heard but little, very little.  I certainly never heard even their names before; Gandalf had only told me once on the voyage over that there had once been five wizards, and that two of them were Blue and he did not know what had come of them.  I believe he had hoped Radagast the Brown would come back with him.

 [I would venture to say that she did not know what a smial was, and I also venture to say that you explained it to her in great detail.  Might I ask that you do the same for me?  How do you pronounce it?  Smee-yal?]

Smial.  Yes, that is how it is pronounced; a very old Shire word, and all that it means is that is what we mostly call the holes we live in.  I did not realise I had not used the word before in my letters.  "Smial" and "hole" are pretty much interchangeable in the Shire, although "hole" has its other more common meanings, and "smial" does not.  The pepper-pot I gave her was shaped rather like a miniature hill dotted with flowers, and showed the doors, windows and chimney of the smial.  If I remember correctly, it had a red door.  The upper part of the hill lifted off so that it could be filled.}

Bilbo stopped again.  Now they came to the meat of the letter.  The part that had filled him with such turmoil.

{You are quite right. I could have been knocked over by a feather.  I was quite stunned by your revelation!

The Istyanis was a very kind and gracious lady.  I recall that she had a lovely smile, and I enjoyed seeing how happy she and Glorfindel were.  To learn that she is actually your daughter is un-nerving to say the least.

Certainly, after learning of Adamanta, I do not doubt that such a thing is feasible.  But I would have put the probability of it at, well, at none at all.

That you married during that time when you were in disguise in Ost-in-Edhil and then that you had a child seems less unlikely when I consider what you tell me of your motives in making your place in that society.  

But all that followed after I find confusing.  If, as you tell me you did (and this I am sure you mean) you loved your family, I simply cannot understand how you were able to follow through with what came after.  I find that very baffling.  But I do realise that probably has much to do with my own race, for there is much among the history of Elves and Men that I find confusing as well.

I do understand now your curiosity about Glorfindel; your questions make a good deal of sense, and I am glad that I was able to reassure you that he is making a good husband for the Istyanis.

I cannot begin to imagine how deep your regrets may be, nor how you could have brought yourself to betray your family, but perhaps there will come a time when you might be reunited with your wife, if only briefly.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}

Bilbo looked at his letter, somewhat dissatisfied.  There was much he had not said.  But if he was to continue this correspondence it would hardly be wise to tell Sauron that he was getting only what he deserved and had brought upon himself, nor to speculate on what his wife's reactions might be if they were reunited.

And dash it all!  He did NOT want to feel sorry for him.

But he did. 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~  



Chapter End Notes:

Dreamflower's notes:  

Most of the information about the history of the hobbits was gleaned from canon, but there are quite a few of my own fanon ideas mingled in with it.  That Marcho and Blanco actually used "Fallohide" as a surname, and the part about petty Dwarves and the Stoors are definitely my own head-canon.

Lalia Took is "quasi-canonical", and her story features in JRRT's Letters, #214.

There is also a brief reference to my story "A Question of Trolls".

The "pepper-pot" I describe is based on a piece of fanart I once saw, though I seem to have lost the link to the image.  It was a little polymer sculpture, and I admired it a lot.

Pandemonium's notes: 

Ellor Eshúrizel  is mentioned in The History of Middle-earth, Vol. IX, Sauron Defeated, "The Notion Club Papers."  Ramer describes it as one of the "places off Earth, other heavenly bodies…" that he has visited in a dream-state.  In the Pandë!verse, this is where many of the Valar (and not only those concerned with Arda) dwell and where the proto-Maiar were taken to be taught and nurtured.

Those unfamiliar with the Pandë!verse may find the more human side of Sauron to be as shocking as Bilbo does, and those who prefer to see Evil as an external agency may outright reject the idea.   For my part, I am addressing Tolkien's world with the view of a humanist while still acknowledging aspects of Tolkien's legendarium.   From my humanistic stance, it is not Satan (or a Morgoth) who has fundamentally corrupted the world and mankind:  it is us — humans — who, by our very nature, are capable of such harm.  Yet also, by our very nature, we are capable of great good.  

In my vision of Middle-earth, if one has a human form, then human qualities, with all their complexities and foibles, even if overlaid with that of what we would call "magic," are an inevitable consequence.  The good and bad qualities are mixed and fall along a spectrum from one extreme to another, but with no absolutes, which really is not so different from Tolkien's vision. The addition of a family is meant to emphasize the terrible personal consequences of betrayal, not only to the betrayed, but also to the betrayer.

 

  Author's Note: Because SoA does not allow the changes in font we are using at other archives, and in order to avoid long blocks of italics, the actual correspondence will be indicated by being enclosed in {brackets}.


An Unexpected Visitor


 

The crumpled paper sailed through the air with a perfect arc, just so, but bounced off the rim of the wastebasket and fell to the floor, joining a gaggle of its wadded fellows.  Sauron stared at the mess.

Surely there's a metaphor here.  But he couldn't think of anything clever.
He ran his fingers through his hair again, only to have the bothersome strands fall across his face again.

Blast it!  I should just ask to have it cut.

He picked up another sheet of paper from the ream stacked on his desk, and poised the pen above its eggshell-white surface.

What a muddle I have made of this.  Why did I ever tell him?  How can I possibly explain it?

He sat back in the hard chair, its rungs digging into his back.   He had to try again.   And putting pen to paper, he did.

{My dear Mister Baggins,

Rather than hemming and hawing, which would result in yet another piece of paper wasted, I shall come straight to the point:  I am sorry that my last letter troubled you so deeply.  Do not deny it:  your learned discourse on Harfoots, Stoors, and Fallohides (however intriguing that may be) nor your remarks on the gustatory pleasures of oysters (I thoroughly agree with you) cannot disguise how disturbing my revelations were to you.   Exposure of my more human side has shaken more than one person, not because it makes me more likable in any way, shape, or form.  Rather, my actions are made all that much worse, if that makes any sense to one who is already baffled.

I do not expect most, but in particular a Hobbit, to understand how I could betray my family and friends.  When I reflect back on everything I did, I am not altogether sure myself, but I will say that I am not the first man nor will I be the last to deceive loved ones for the sake of power.  Power deludes men, mortal or otherwise, and muddies the truth for those of us who justify the means to our ends.   We become oblivious to the needs of others, including those we love.  

Your friend Olórin observed how readily I became blinded when I focused my wrath on Minas Tirith rather than guarding Mordor from intruders.  "Wise fool," he called me.  And he was right.  I was blinded to the danger on my very doorstep, and so your kinsman and his boon companion slipped past my nets to the very heart of my realm.  I was likewise blinded when I sincerely believed that my wife and daughter would cleave to me, no matter what I did, for the way I saw it, they were mine.  I could not imagine otherwise, just as I could not imagine anyone destroying my Ring.   

Since sending that letter and receiving your reply, I have asked myself many times why I revealed so much to you.  I suppose I foolishly hoped we might find common ground, and perhaps then I could tell you of things that might be far more pleasant for you to hear.

I apologize again for burdening you with this knowledge of my past, more than you likely wanted to know.  It is more appropriate that Olórin bears the brunt of my confessions, for he is my counselor and, as one of my own kind, perhaps better able to understand how I think.

If you wish to cease this correspondence, I will understand, and I will trouble you no more.  To be honest, I hope that you do not, for your letters are bright spots in my long days here, and I find I am learning to look at the world a different way by reading them.  That said, I respect your decision.

Sincerely yours,
D.L. Sauron}

He waited a moment for the ink to dry and quickly folded the letter, allowing no second thoughts.   When he stood at the door, the tray did not open to receive the letter.  Instead, the scent of iron flooded his prison cell when the door opened.  

"You have a visitor," said the one of the pair of guards, cool but polite.  "Please come with us and bring your tablet."

Sauron picked up his reading tablet from the bed.  A visitor.  Now that was something unusual to be sure.  They never announced Olórin in this fashion so it must be someone else.  Finrod perhaps?  He had said he would return, much to Sauron's amazement.   He still could scarcely believe that Finrod had forgiven him.   What a conversation that had been!  Yes, he would welcome a visit from Finrod, whose remarkably generous demeanor might dispel the gloom that had settled on him.  

Sauron was not at all prepared when the doors of the counseling chamber slid open to reveal a seascape of dark waters, tinged crimson like wine, and a sky washed with violet.   A beach of silver sand stretched off on either side to disappear into grey mists.    Pale grasses waved in a gentle breeze, redolent of brine.   A knot of sorrow formed in Sauron's throat when he remembered running up and down such a beach while his parents prepared a steam-pit to roast the sea creatures they had gathered from the little tide pools, an innocent time before their lives went up in flames.

The air between him and the waves wavered then cleared to reveal a figure reclined on one of a pair of cushioned settees facing the waves.  The rarified fragrance of mountain air and lightning mingled with the scent of the sea.  The figure rose, and Sauron immediately recognized the silky white hair, bound back in a long plait interwoven with diamonds and sapphires, and a noble profile that recalled a bird of prey.  Intensely blue eyes, the color of lapis lazuli, trained themselves on him.

Sauron half-whispered in disbelief: "Eönwë…"  

"Mairon."   Manwë's herald walked barefoot in the silver sand toward him, right hand extended in greeting.  His grip on Sauron's hand was firm but cool, almost clammy, an indication that Eönwë did not fully inhabit his fana.

"Please, not 'Mairon.'  Call me 'Saur…' "

"No!  Mairon.  I will hear no more of it."  

Eönwë — as imperious as ever.  

Sauron reached back into his vast vault of memory to the last time he had seen the Herald of Manwë in this guise.  It had been after the War of Wrath, when he came to Eönwë's camp to sue for pardon.   He recalled the flash of gloating triumph that he had perceived in Eönwë's thoughts, enough for him to turn away from facing the Valar's judgment.   He saw nothing like that now.  Curiosity, yes, and perhaps pity.

The guards melted into the background, as they always did, unseen, but present.  Sauron walked alongside Eönwë, the warm sand working its way into his sandals.

"Please, sit."  Eönwë gestured toward the empty settee.  "Would you care for a drink?"

"Yes, thank you."  He eased himself onto the cushions and stretched out his legs.  The shackles of light that bound his ankles hummed faintly.

The Fay who brought the pitcher and glasses on a tray was the same fellow who had served ale at the replica of the Prancing Pony; he had once again crafted his appearance to be identical to Barliman Butterbur.   Sauron had found this to be disconcerting then and even more so now in the context of the sea and sky of his original home.  But the cool drink, a blend of dark cane liquor and fruit juices, eased his misgivings.  

"So how are you?"  The Herald offered him a courteous, if guarded, smile.  "It looks as though you are being treated well."  

"I can't complain on that front, all things considered.   The Doomsman has been more accommodating than I ever would have expected."

"Ah.  Well, he has little choice in the matter.  My master has commanded him to be merciful, and Aulë made it crystal clear that you are not to be mistreated.   Not only that, Ulmo has backed him up.  How you managed to get Ulmo to be your advocate…"

"That surprises me as much as it does you.  I have no idea of what motivates Ulmo in these matters."

"Who does?  He is as slippery as ever, but there's no question Ulmo is a force to be reckoned with.  Be grateful that he spoke for leniency.  Otherwise, you'd be keeping company with your master in the Void."

"Former master."

"Right. Former master."  Eönwë looked at the letter Sauron held.  "For Mister Baggins?"

"Yes."

"I can deliver it, if you wish."

"I would appreciate that."  

"How is the correspondence going?  You should know it is the talk of Taniquetil."

"I imagine it is!  It was going well, but I'm afraid I have been too much for Mister Baggins."

"How so?"

"I told him — how shall I put this?  I told him the details of my life in Ost-in-Edhil. That seems to have pushed him over the edge."

"Yes, I can see why he might find all that disconcerting.  Many do.  What you did to your closest friend was bad enough…" Sauron flinched, and he was certain Eönwë noticed.   He struggled to suppress the vivid memory of what he had done to Tyelperinquar.  He had used brutal techniques, crude but sufficient to break through the bulwarks of his colleague's tormented thoughts and discern images that allowed him to make an astute guess as to the fate of the Three Rings.  He may have ordered others to put Tyelpo to death, but there was no question that his friend's blood indelibly stained his hands.

Eönwë leaned back against the cushions and took a long drink.  "As for your family?  You had absolutely no business becoming so intimate with the Firstborn.  You might have spared yourself and others a good deal of trouble if you had kept your vië tucked safely away in your trousers."

"Such excellent advice, seeing as how it comes from one whom a number of eaglets in the Misty Mountains could call 'Papa.'"

The shade of red that inflamed Eönwë's pale skin could not have gratified Sauron more.  Yet instead of sputtering, as Sauron anticipated, Eönwë broke out into his characteristically grating laugh, its shrillness recalling an eagle's scream.

"Point taken!  I make no apologies."  Eönwë drained his glass and held it out.  Butterbur materialized again, poured the heady mix of liquor and fruit juice into the glass, and discreetly disappeared.  "Errámë prefers the form of an eagle to that of a woman.  Thus our children sport feathers."

"No wonder those bloodthirsty birds interfered with my plans so much.  They take after you."

"I am very proud of Gwaihir's interference, thank you." Eönwë's smug tone grated even more than his laughter.  "Rather than inventing weapons that can destroy the world, his descendants — my descendants — shall become the symbols of great empires."  

"At least one of which will live in infamy," Sauron replied, dark and smooth as the cane liquor in his drink.  "Recall the Wehrmacht eagle of the Third Reich."

"Ah, so you have studied that infamous part of history — or the future — whichever it is. Speaking of which, I have brought you more reading material from Lord Manwë's archives.  May I?"   Eönwë held up what looked like a stick of clear crystal.

Sauron leaned over to pass the tablet to him.   Eönwë stuck the crystal into the side of the tablet.  "There's a biography in here about another one of your descendants…"

"…Who does not have feathers."

"Right!  No feathers.  Rather, he has hair, a copper-top even, perhaps an inheritance from Mahtan. This fellow would seem to take more after Fëanáro than you.  He was, or will be, or is, considered a great patriot in his own country:  an inventor, an intellectual, brilliantly articulate.  He was also a Kinslayer of the first order, inciting his countrymen to rebellion against the crown.  Had his king caught him, he would have been hanged for treason.   'The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants' was one of his more famous — and disturbing — remarks."

"Sounds like a man after Fëanáro's heart."

"Indeed.  But he's like you, too."

"How so?  Other than being a brilliant and articulate inventor, that is."

"He owned slaves, and he justified this reprehensible practice.  Just as you do."

"Did.  I own no one."

"But you once owned slaves, many of them.  You allowed your minions to torment them in the worst ways.  Worked them to death in your mines and in your fields."

"Not all.  There were those I treated well.  I ensure they were fed, even educated.  They lived better lives than…"

"…And there you are, still justifying what you did.  I suppose you continue to justify your torment of Tyelperinquar and Gorlim as well.  Or of Nelyafinwë.  Isn't that how you learned so much of Fëanáro and his family?   Those means of torture that left no marks on Maedhros' body, but sifted through his mind?"

The cordial conversation had turned openly hostile.  The Herald did not attempt to contain the contempt in his voice, and Sauron felt the flame of anger ignite.  He did not try to suppress it, but offered no response.  Eönwë did not need one to continue.

"You would have tortured those hobbits, too, had you gotten your hands on them.  You would have enslaved their people.  Now you exchange cheery letters with one.   You are, as they say, a piece of work, Mairon."

The anger building within him snapped, and Sauron hurled his glass at the sea.  The sky swallowed it, muffling the sound of shattered glass against a hard wall.   White-hot pain engulfed his ankles, coursing up his legs and through his torso to erupt at the top of his skull.   He squeezed his eyes shut, drenching his anger and willing himself to remain calm and peaceful, the only thing that would stop the punishment of the shackles.

"Why are you here, Eönwë?" he gasped as he wrestled with the pain. "To gloat again?  To torment me?  Well, have at it.  I'm all yours."

"No.  I…" Eönwë abruptly sat forward, his tone now remorseful.  "No, I'm sorry, Mairon.  That is not why I came here.  I genuinely wanted to see you, to talk to you.   But again, I find you anger me beyond all reason."

"Why is that?"  The pain subsided to become a dull throb, but Sauron knew it lay in wait, ready to punish him if he had another violent outburst.

"Because of what you have done to yourself.  You could have brought so much good to the world, had you sincerely foresworn your allegiance to Moringotto."  Eönwë paused and turned to gaze out over the dark waters of the sea.  "I will confess something to you.  I am angry with myself for letting my pride get the better of me all those years ago, when you came to me and begged for pardon.   Something I did — or thought — turned you away from me.   I have thought many times since of how I could have handled it differently."

"Don't blame yourself.  It was my decision to remain in Middle-earth.   As much as I'd like to blame the bonds that Melkor set upon me, ultimately, it was my choice.  Just as it was my choice to rule by cruelty and coercion rather than wisdom."

"I'd say your assessment is wise.  Still, it is hard for me not to second-guess myself."

"I know all about second-guessing, Herald.  I'll confess something to you, although maybe it is not a confession, but rather, a statement of fact:  what I once was has not disappeared altogether. I wonder if more of that part of myself is returning."

"That is what Olórin says.  He believes that your conversation with Mister Baggins is helping you."

"Perhaps, but I'm convinced it is simply too much for the old hobbit, no matter how curious he might be.   He loves his kinsman as his son and is loyal to him.  He can never forget what my Ring did to him, or how my servants threatened Frodo and the others.  I would feel the same way in his position."

"Is this empathy  I am hearing from the dreaded Dark Lord?"   

"Please don't tell anyone.  Makes me seem weaker than I already am."

"Your secret is safe with me, Mairon.  Speaking of the hobbits, I have brought something for you from Aulë's workshop."  Eönwë reached for the canvas bag lying on the sand. "Here.   Istyar Sámaril thought you might like to have a look at the prototype."  He extracted the golf club from the bag and handed it to Sauron.

The craftsmanship was exquisite.   The heft and balance felt just right, and Sámaril had paid attention to every detail, from the leather-wrapped handle to the etchings in the metal shaft to the grooves of the head, and it was all half-scale.  

Sauron looked at the long, dark rod that lay on Eönwë's palm. "What's that?"

"This is a material that Aulë wishes you to consider for the hobbits' golf clubs."  He handed the rod to him.  Sauron examined the smooth texture and admired the color, more than a simple black with its depth and complexity.

"Carbon fiber!  I haven't seen this in…well, in a very, very long time.  I never had the means to make it in Middle-earth."

"I take it this is some esoterica that only you smiths can appreciate?"

"Just a remarkable material.  Very lightweight and with more flexibility than metal.  Yet…"

"Yes?"

"I think it is best to stick to the traditional for the hobbits.  Metal and leather.  How is Elrond proceeding with construction of the green?  Has he managed to keep it secret?"

"I have no idea!  But I can find out for you when I visit Tol Eressëa to deliver the letter."

"You'll find out for me…does that mean you will return to give me an update?"

"Yes, if that is agreeable with you."

"It is."   

Eönwë rose from his settee.  "I'll be taking my leave then."

Sauron stood alongside him and laid his hand on his arm, staying Manwë's longtime servant.   Their eyes met.

"You realize that I will never leave these halls.  I will never be free again."

"I know, Mairon.  That makes me angry, too — that you will never truly repent and so you condemn yourself to life as a prisoner.   I am angry that you will never walk among us.  You were such a generous person once, and we could all benefit from that generosity."  Eönwë turned away and stared at a horizon that looked more real than it should.  "As for being free, you and I gave up our freedom long ago on the shores of a wine-dark sea.  Until next time…"

Eönwë's form shimmered and disappeared, leaving behind the scent of lightning and mountain air.  Sauron thought he heard an eagle's cry in the distance.  He held out his glass, and the Barliman-Fay was at his side faster than thought.

"More to drink, m'lord?"

"Yes, but none of that fruity stuff.  Whisky.  Make it a double."

******

It had been the longest wait yet between letters.  Gandalf assured him that his correspondent still intended to answer his last letter-- that he had been told this more than once.  He would not say if Sauron had told him why he was taking so long to answer, but Bilbo suspected that he had allowed more of his own agitation to show through than he meant to happen.  

Yet he did not wish to end their exchange.  More and more he had begun to feel that this was important work, that it was helping Gandalf to complete a new and necessary task, perhaps just as important as the task of guiding Middle-earth through to the destruction of the Ring had been.  And it was pleasant to have someone to tell of the things important to him, to say things that he rarely discussed with Frodo simply because their new life was so different than their old one and also because these were things that Frodo already knew.  Hobbits did not discuss among themselves what it meant to be a hobbit, after all, but to explore that topic with someone who was both not a hobbit and yet was still interested in the subject was good.  He sighed.  The eyes of even the fondest of his Elven friends would begin to glaze over if he went into too much detail about hobbit genealogy.  

Of course, he could be boring his correspondent as well.  He wasn't there to see what his face looked like when he read the letters.  But he did seem to indicate amusement in his responses, so he could not be too bored.

That he became perturbed by some of what Sauron told him was undeniable — it was certainly an unpleasant sensation to read of his atrocities.  Yet at the same time, he wanted to know more.  His Tookish curiosity again, he supposed.  

Well, there would be no letter today at any rate, he thought as he poured the hot water into the teapot.  Gandalf and Adamanta had arrived for tea, and the wizard had brought no letter with him.  Perhaps tomorrow.

He glanced over at Frodo, who'd been preparing a tray full of seedcake and scones and radish sandwiches.   Frodo smiled at him, and they took the refreshments out to their guests.

Gandalf and Adamanta were waiting for them at the small table on the terrace behind Bilbo's and Frodo's quarters.  Gandalf was making Adamanta laugh by blowing smoke rings of various animal shapes.  Bilbo smiled to hear her laugh — it sounded much like the laugh of his own dear mother, gone these many years.

"Gerontius always laughed at my menagerie as well," Gandalf said.  "It was one of his favourite things, even up until the end of his days."

Bilbo and Frodo placed the trays upon the table and Bilbo asked Adamanta to pour.  They all sat down comfortably together, and Bilbo said, "I've always meant to ask you something, Gandalf."

"What is it, my old friend?"

"I used to see you often as a lad, and I know that I saw you to speak to and to see your marvelous fireworks the summer before Grandfather died.  Why was it that I did not know you at once when you came to Bag End on that spring morning?"

Gandalf pursed his lips, and appeared to be deep in thought, before he answered.  He took a puff of his pipe and blew out a normal smoke ring.  "I confess, I did muddle your memories somewhat at our last meeting when you were still a tween.  I am not quite sure why, but it seemed to me that you needed to forget such things as wizards and adventures for a while and to have a chance to settle into an ordinary life in the Shire for a while. Yet in the back of my mind was the thought that one day you would go on an adventure.  It was one of those things that I felt in my heart more than knew in my head at the time."

Bilbo nodded. "It's quite likely I would not have muddled through as well as I did with the Dwarves if I had not known I had my nice cosy smial to come back to," he said.  "And my parents needed me then, especially my father.  Their health was never the same after the Fell Winter."

"You don't speak of that time much, Uncle Bilbo," Frodo said.

Bilbo shrugged.  It was still a very painful memory.  He was ready to change the subject when he and the others heard a strange sound overhead: the harsh cry of a large bird of prey, and the rush of wings-- mighty wings!

"An Eagle is coming!" Frodo cried.  All four of them rose from the table and gazed upward.

The breeze whipped up by the Eagle's wings made the teacups rattle and the napkins blow from the table.  The Eagle was aiming for the small terrace, and Bilbo was sure that he would never have enough room, yet as he approached his form began to change, and by the time he stood upon the terrace, he was an Eagle no longer.

He was at least half a head taller than Gandalf; his hair was white and bound into a long braid entwined with gems, and his robes were of blue; his face was stern and noble.  His appearance was that of an Elf, but there was something about him that made Bilbo certain that he was no such thing.

Gandalf made a bow, and Adamanta curtsied deeply.  "My Lord Eönwë," said Gandalf.

"Olórin, Mirimë," he inclined his head slightly to each of them.  "Olórin, would you introduce me to your mortal friends?"

"My Lord Eönwë, this is Frodo Baggins, Ringbearer, and his kin Bilbo Baggins, Ringfinder and also a Ringbearer."

Eönwë gave the two hobbits more of a nod than he had to Gandalf.  "Frodo Baggins and Bilbo Baggins, it is an honour to meet you both."

Bilbo was still feeling somewhat stunned by the appearance of Manwë's Herald on his terrace, but Frodo managed to recover his equilibrium sooner.  "My Lord," Frodo said with a deep and gracious bow, "it is an honour indeed to meet you!  Your people came to my assistance when all would have been lost; they saved my life and that of my dearest friend."

Eönwë smiled and knelt down on one knee. "My people are at the call of the Lord Manwë and intervene at his command.  I am most pleased that they were of service to you."

Bilbo had finally recovered his own voice.  "Your people saved me as well on two occasions, although I suppose they were not saving me in particular-- the first time there were thirteen Dwarves and a Wizard as well, and the second time there was a mighty battle. I suppose I was simply an afterthought."

The herald smiled at him.  "Then you would suppose wrong, Bilbo Baggins."

Bilbo's eyes went wide and his jaw dropped.  He caught Frodo giving him a smug look.

Still kneeling, Eönwë reached within his robes and pulled forth a letter addressed  in a very familiar looking hand.  "I have come to bring you a message from Mairon," he said, thrusting it into Bilbo's unresisting hands.

Bilbo blinked and looked at the letter, clearly from Sauron.  "Mairon?"

The Herald's eyes, bluer and more piercing than Frodo's, looked into his.  "That was once his name."

Their guest had made an exit as spectacular as his entrance, and Bilbo and his guests had resumed their tea, though the conversation was somewhat awkward at first.  Bilbo kept thinking over the implications of the Eagles who had intervened in his own Adventure; it made him feel quite giddy.  He suddenly thought he knew how Frodo must have felt at the implications of what Mirimë had told him.  

He also wanted to think over the implications of Sauron's other name.  

Bilbo had finally excused himself and left Frodo to play host.  He wanted most dreadfully to open his letter.

["My dear Mister Baggins,

Rather than hemming and hawing, which would result in yet another piece of paper wasted, I shall come straight to the point:  I am sorry that my last letter troubled you so deeply..."]

*****

Bilbo sharpened his quill and dipped it into the inkwell.  How could he make sure that his correspondent believed his sincerity in wishing to continue?  Perhaps he should be somewhat more forthcoming about himself...

{Dear Mr. Sauron,

You certainly went straight to the main course as we say in the Shire, and so I will return the favour:  I have every intention of continuing our correspondence.  I am learning a lot about the history of Middle-earth, and I confess I look forward to your letters.

I will not deny that your last letter was both disturbing and distressing, but I hope that at my age I am able to put such things into perspective.  It would be nice if none of those dreadful things you spoke of had happened; it would be nice if the One Ring had never been forged.  It would be nice if one could go back and correct all one's mistakes and wipe out all one's regrets.  It would also be nice if all the world were apple pie, but I cannot see that happening anytime soon.

I'm a Baggins, and Gandalf can tell you that we are a remarkably stubborn lot.  Once we set our minds to something, we do it.  I have determined to carry on with writing to you, and so long as you continue to reply, I won't stop on my part.

Now that's out of the way, I shall tell you that I was most impressed with the way you chose to deliver the post this time!  What an amazing thing, to see that Great Eagle transform itself into Lord Eönwë was an incredible sight!  Thank you very much for the opportunity to witness such a thing!

Do you know, he as much as told me outright that the Eagles were sent to rescue our party from the Goblins and Wolves when were were trapped in the trees on my account?  And that it was on my account that the Eagles intervened in the Battle of Five Armies?  I found that notion quite staggering; I was used to dealing with idea that Frodo had a destiny.  I never thought of such a thing in connexion with myself!  I believe Gandalf was amused at my reaction-- and I know Frodo was!  I will have to re-think a great many of the circumstances of my life now!

Since you did not really ask about anything in your letter, and since I have been thinking about my life, perhaps I can tell you a little about it.  I think I have told you very little about myself, and you have been so very forthcoming with me.

My parents met at the wedding of my Uncle Hildigrim (on the Took side) to my cousin Rosa (on the Baggins side).  Their wedding was a scandal-- Rosa was not of age, yet the two of them, had as we say in the Shire, put the dessert before the main course, and anticipated the privileges of marriage.  Rosa was with child at the time of the wedding (my cousin Adalgrim, whom we all affectionately called "Chop").

At any rate, Bungo Baggins made the acquaintance of Belladonna Took at that time.  For some time, they carried on a warm correspondence, and only met at family gatherings.  Finally my father gathered up the nerve to ask Grandfather Gerontius' permission to court her.  Given the Old Took's blessing, their courtship began in earnest.  

My father endured what was to all accounts, a very difficult visit to the Great Smials (the Took ancestral hole).  While the Old Took approved of the match, my mother's siblings did not, finding it easy to tease my father who was not used to the free and frank ways of the Tooks.  And most of the Tooks thought my father was boring.  Still, he adored my mother and put up with it.

My mother made a visit to my father's family.  The family hole at that time was not Bag End, but a smial called Greenbriars, located lower down and behind the other side of the Hill.  My grandparents on my father's side were warm and welcoming.  My aunts and uncles were not.  They blamed Uncle Hildigrim for the scandal of Rosa's wedding and held all the Tooks guilty as well.  In addition, my Uncle Longo (my father's younger brother) disapproved out of what I think was nothing more than sheer jealousy of the Took wealth on his part.  My mother was not quite so patient and accepting as my father had been among her family.  The barbs aimed her way by my uncle and by some of my aunts angered her, and she decided to break off the courtship.

After several miserable months apart, they made up their differences.  It was then my father decided to build Bag End.  It was a most luxurious smial for Hobbiton, although nowhere near the size of the Great Smials.  They wed shortly after its completion.

I came along a few years later.  I was far too young to recall this, but years later after my retirement to Rivendell, I learned that I actually had an encounter with Elves when I was no more than an infant--- my mother sprained her ankle while walking with me in the woods, and she was found by Gildor Inglorion!  We were soon reunited with my father and Gandalf who were searching for us.

My childhood was unremarkable.  When I visited (or was visited by) my Took cousins, most especially my cousins Adalgrim (who was much older) or Sigismund (who was the same age) I would get into mischief and trouble.  Otherwise I studied with my father and played in and about Bag End, mostly alone but sometimes with my Baggins cousins. Midsummer was nearly always spent at the Great Smials when Gandalf would frequently make an appearance with his marvelous fireworks!  

The year after I became a tween, the Shire endured what came to be called the "Fell Winter".  Up until I went on my Adventure, it was the most hardship I had to endure.  The winter of 1311 (by Shire Reckoning. It was T.A. 2911) came early.  We had our first snowfall in September, a thing which had not happened since the Long Winter a century and a half before.  In most parts of the Shire, all the harvest was not in, and so our little land was ill-prepared for the very harsh winter.   Snow storms were followed by ice storms.  The Brandywine River froze over in early December, and the Shire was invaded by a  pack of white wolves.  Grandfather was ill, and so my Uncle Isengrim who at that time was the Thain's Heir was forced to call out the Shire Muster.  Tookish archers and other hobbits armed with stones were able to drive them back across the River.  Many of the wolves were slain and some hobbits lost their lives as well.

But worse than the wolves was the illness; catarrh began to spread across the Shire.  It hit the elderly and the youngest at first.  But as many of the able-bodied adults had been foregoing their own meals in order to feed their children, they also were weakened, my parents among them.  

There was no Yule in the Shire that year.  My parents fell ill of the catarrh shortly before the turning of the year.  I was just a young tween, yet it came to me to nurse my parents and to keep them and myself fed.  I could not count on my other kin; for once every family in the Shire was in the same fix or worse.  My father developed lung fever.  For several days we thought we would lose him.  But just before spring-- or the day it should have been spring if winter had loosened its grip-- he finally rallied, and he and my mother began to recover.  This was good, as no sooner were they out of their sick beds than I found myself in one.

It was nearly summer before the weather went back to normal, but it was too late for much of the planting.  Some farmers were able to get a few crops in, but not nearly enough.

I recovered well enough from my illness, but the health of my parents was never again the same.

The Shire slowly recovered.  But things were not the same.  Both my Grandmother Laura on the Baggins side and my Grandmother Adamanta on the Took side were gone, as well as two of my Baggins uncles and one of my aunts.  My cousin Fosco's wife nearly died giving birth to their third child Dudo.  He was a sickly babe, and his health was poor all his life.  Ruby's health, like that of my parents, was also permanently impaired.

Life returned to normal, but I was a much more serious youth afterward, and Tookish thoughts of adventures and wizards were the last thing on my mind.  I concentrated on my studies and in learning what I would eventually need to know about being the Head of the Baggins clan, and in following my father's footsteps as the Family tutor.  

My father died only three years after I came of age.  Mother continued as Family Head until her own passing when I was forty-four.  I led a very settled life until six years later when a wizard I had very nearly forgotten showed up on my doorstep to awaken my Tookish side and carry me off on a quest with a troupe of Dwarves.

Bless me!  I have yammered on at length about things which I have not thought of for years!  I do hope you have not found it boring.  I led for the most part a most ordinary life, nothing like the exciting lives of Elves!

I hope I have reassured you as to my willingness to continue with our letters, and that I shall not have to wait quite so long for your reply.

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esquire}

Well, he chuckled, as he sanded the ink and prepared to fold and seal the letter, he will certainly think me full of myself.

AUTHOR'S NOTES FROM DREAMFLOWER:

There are several references to some of my stories.  Bungo and Belladonna's courtship is mentioned in "The Family Way" "Dream a Little Dream of Me" and "One Fine Autumn Day"; and his friendship with his cousins Adalgrim  and Sigismund are chronicled in a number  of my stories.  The encounter with Gandalf in which his memory is "muddled" is in "A Midsummer's Night Dream".  His parents' illness during the Fell Winter is briefly mentioned in "Belladonna's Gift" .  Adamanta is, of course, the title character in "Ancestress" . The encounter with Gildor is in Part Seven of my AU, "Eucatastrophe: The Return "  (while the story as a whole is AU, the flashback is part of my fanon backstory for Bilbo).

"Sauron" means "abhorred one", while Mairon means "admirable one".  Both Bilbo and Frodo know enough Quenya at this point in time so that they do not need to question the meaning of the word.

The impact of the Fell Winter on the Shire is a bit of extrapolation from studying the Family Trees.  Several members of Bilbo's extended family died in 1311 or 1312, and his parents died relatively young for hobbits.  Also, his cousin Dudo (Frodo's paternal uncle) was born in 1311.  My speculation as to why he did not take Frodo in after Drogo's death has always been that his health was poor.  Since he was born during that year of privation, when his mother was ill and food was scarce, it could account for it.


AUTHOR'S NOTES FROM PANDEMONIUM

Two of my fics are referenced in this chapter.  The "wine-dark sea and a violet sky" are referenced in my WIP  Light Over the Mountain.  Sauron recalls his meeting with Eönwë after the War of Wrath in  How the East Was Won .  

Again, I'll note that my vision of the Ainur interprets these beings as more akin to the gods and demigods of the Greek and Norse pantheons than the "angelic" sorts found in "The Ainulindale" in The Silmarillion.   My interpretation also gives a nod to Tolkien's earlier versions of the Ainur, who (in my opinion) have considerably more brio.  Thus, the interactions with the creatures of Middle-earth (human and otherwise) are closer.

In The Return of the King, it is written thusly:

"There came Gwaihir the Windlord, and Landroval his brother, greatest of all the Eagles of the North, mightiest of the descendants of old Thorondor, who built his eyries in the inaccessible peaks of the Encircling Mountains when Middle-earth was young."

Eönwë notes that his connection to Gwaihir as his descendant can be reconciled with the Windlord's descent from Thorondor:  "We're related through the maternal line."

Eönwë's reference of Sauron's torture of Maedhros is my own invention.  It strikes me as fitting that Melkor might assign his right-hand man to do this.


 

Chapter 9:  Lord of Gifts

The driver slid out  of the golf bag as smoothly as a skillfully forged steel blade from a scabbard. Sauron ran his fingers over the polished wooden head, rounded on its backside, flat on the striking surface.  The workmanship was beautiful, and perfectly scaled to the size of a hobbit.

As it should be, he thought.  One of my best students made these.

Sámaril had clearly studied the texts on golf that Sauron had recommended, and more besides.  As he examined the clubs — brassie, spoons, mashies, niblicks, and cleeks — he admired the care that his former apprentice had placed into each club.  There were other hints of another's influence.    The precise balance of the hobbit-scaled golf clubs surely had been due to Aulë's input.  Then there were the balls:  most were leather and stuffed with feathers, but several were white and dimpled.  Now those were definitely from Aulë, who could not resist applying his otherworldly knowledge to his craft.

The golf bags, studded with brass, were exquisitely constructed, too.   The leather was embossed with brass studs, and engraved with an unfamiliar but distinctly botanical motif of swirling leaves and stylized flowers.  He looked up at Olorin, who answered before Sauron could even get the question out of his mouth, a habit that never failed to vex him.

"Hobbits love green, growing things, and so they often use the designs of nature.  Sámaril not only studied your suggestions about golf, but also mine on the nature of hobbits."

"Well, you're more of an expert on them than I am or ever will be."

Olórin just grinned and puffed on his pipe, sending interlocking smoke rings into the gentle autumn breeze.  They were sitting together on wooden chairs in a woodland glade, overarched by the boughs of ancient oak trees whose leaves were turning to russet.   Golden sunlight dappled the green grass floor.

Woody End,  that's what this place is, or was, called, Olórin had said.  Gildor and his company sheltered Frodo and his companions that night when Khamûl had been hot on their trail.   So close, so close.  If those Elves had not happened along when they did...

Sauron shook off the thought when the dark emptiness within himself threatened to gape open, as it always did when he thought about the loss of the Ring.  No need to throw me into the Void.  I carry it within myself.

"So, what is your verdict?"  Olórin's voice pulled him back from the brink and into the sunlight.

"They pass inspection.  I'll let Sámaril know straightaway."

"Very good, and timely, too."

"How so?"

"Bilbo Baggins will celebrate his one hundred and thirty-third birthday in a week's time.  These will be perfect gifts."

"I thought you said the hobbits generally give others gifts on their birthdays."

"Oh, they do.  But they receive them as well."

"Then he shall receive these.   One hundred thirty-three years old.  Isn't that quite old for a hobbit, being mortal and all?"

"It is.  You see, your Ring extended Bilbo's life.  Then his aging picked up where it left off once the Ring went to Frodo.  That and living on the Lonely Isle has sheltered him from the maladies of Middle-earth that so swiftly carry off elderly mortals."

Sauron sat in silence, fiddling with a leaf that had fallen onto his lap.  Bilbo's long life once again reinforced the resilience hobbits possessed, yet he wondered about Frodo and how he was healing from his trials. Does he look into the same emptiness that I do?  He glanced up at Olórin.

"Right then.  I suppose I ought to compose a note to him to go with the gift.  It has been a frightfully long time since I last wrote.  I hope he can forgive me, but all the materials that Manwë's archivist has sent have occupied my time."   

"I understand.  I am hard-pressed, too, with the same studies."

Sauron's brows raised. "The very same?  We ought to talk about that."

The barrage of materials was practically flooding into his tablet these days, with so many strange revelations.  He could hardly process it all, and he felt a kind of empathy with Olorin for experiencing the same.  It couldn't be easy for either one of them, and still, neither of them knew the full purpose of it, or at least the wizard had said nothing.

"We should and will.  But I am here only for a short visit at Sámaril's request."

"So you think Bilbo will like them?"

"I do."

"And Frodo?"

"I hope so."

Sauron's good mood clouded at that.  He did not want this to seem like a gift to soften Frodo toward him, yet at the same time, he had to admit that he harbored both guilt and anger when he thought of Bilbo's kinsman.  He knew he needed to work past that.  How was another question entirely.

"Then will you deliver them?"

"I will, and I will have a helper."

"Who would that be?"

Out from beneath the shadow of the trees stepped a tall elf-man with golden hair that shone in the light.  He smiled when he saw Sauron, who stood to greet him.

"Finrod!  What a pleasant surprise!"

"It's good to see you, too.  You're looking well."

"Thank you.  They treat me decently here.   Far better than I treated you and your companions, I am ashamed to say."

"True enough, but we've been through this before.  I have put it behind me.  You should do the same."  

Finrod's generosity continued to confound Sauron.   Had he been thrown into a dungeon as werewolf-food, he would never have forgiven his tormentor, and given half-a-chance at revenge, he would have taken it.  

And that is why I languish in this prison.  I am irredeemable.  The Valar know it.  I know it.  However, he did not want Finrod to guess just how despondent he was, so he responded cheerfully.

"I will take your counsel under consideration.  So you'll visit Master Baggins to give him the golf clubs?  When did you take an interest in the hobbits?"

"You are not Bilbo's sole correspondent."

"You are writing to him?"  Finrod nodded his acknowledgment.  The little jolt of jealousy surprised Sauron.   He pushed it aside.  It stood to reason that the inquisitive old hobbit would strike up a correspondence with someone like Finrod, and that the elf-man would be equally interested in Master Baggins.

"Let me dash off a note to him," said Sauron, "and you can take it with you.  I intend to write a longer letter to him, too, and that will follow.  Can you give me a few minutes?  And perhaps paper and a pen?"

Olórin lifted his hand, and within moments, an iron-scented guard brought in a lapdesk with the requested materials.  Sauron took the lapdesk from the guard, pulled a small piece of ivory-colored vellum from a packet of paper tied together with a red ribbon.  He clicked the pen and wrote:

{Dear Mister Baggins,

Please allow me to extend my congratulations on the occasion of your one-hundred and thirty-third birthday.  I offer you and your kinsman these gifts.  From our correspondence and also based on what Olórin has told me, I thought you might enjoy a game of golf or two.   Thus, my former apprentice, Sámaril, has crafted these golf clubs for you at my request, and from the looks of it, my former master (Aulë) has made contributions, too.  Sámaril has, in my opinion, done a splendid job, as good as if I had made them myself.  I hope you and Frodo will find enjoyment in them.

Sincerely,

D.L. Sauron}

He leaned forward to hand the note to Olórin, but Finrod intercepted it.  He read it, then tore it in half.  Sauron stared at him, astonished by the rude action.  At the first flicker of anger, the shackles around his ankles burned.   He dampened his temper when Finrod returned the halves of the letter, and the shackles cooled.

"Re-write it, but sign it with your other name."

"What?  Gorthaur?"

"No, and not Annatar either, although that would be accurate enough.  Your first name."

"You have a lot of nerve!"

"So I do, and I have also enough nerve to tell you it is no good to keep up with this self-flagellation by insisting that you are called by a name that you hated."  Finrod pointed to the golf clubs neatly arranged in their bags, propped up in the grass.  "Besides, this is a generous and admirable act on your part.  Worthy of the name you were first known by.  Rewrite it and sign it...properly this time."

Sauron extracted another piece of vellum, duplicated his words, and signed as Finrod demanded.  He caught the approving smile that Olórin shot toward the elf-man. He gritted his teeth, and the shackles warmed.  Both wizard and elf were incorrigible.


********

Bilbo paused after dipping his pen and smiled at the objects in the corner of the room, then he chuckled, and placed the nib to the parchment.

{My dear Mr. Sauron!

(First, I must ask you about the matter of address: I noticed the change in your signature, and wonder if this signifies a change in the way you would have me address you. For now, I am keeping the form to which we have been hitherto accustomed, but will most certainly change to the new one if that is what you desire. Please let me know of your preference!)

And now to the meat of this note: Thank you! Thank you very much! Thank you more than I can possibly express! I could not have been more surprised or more astonished at anything ever than I was at your most generous gift! To have a set of such beautiful golf clubs, and all of the accoutrements was beyond my wildest imaginings!

And apparently you enlisted the aid of most of my acquaintance. Frodo awakened me this morning with the reminder that we'd have guests today! Gandalf had told us that it was nearly the date of our Birthday almost a week ago, and so we had planned a small gathering at luncheon today (the day before, of course) for our closest friends and of course another less intimate gathering tomorrow for our actual Birthday Party. We bustled about preparing our quarters for our guests--of course they are well-kept, but as hobbits, old habits die hard. And one must always prepare for guests!

Luncheon was simple enough, a light vegetable and mushroom soup, salad, newly-baked loaves, and a fruit trifle for afters. Our guests today were Adamanta, Elrond and Lady Celebrian, Lady Galadriel, Gandalf and Lord Finrod.

All brought gifts, mostly small things, though Elrond informed us that he would give his later after luncheon as it was too large for our home. I could not begin to imagine what it might be, since he had generously given us ponies long ago. Gandalf said he'd wait to give us his as well, though his gift was a small one. And he then informed me that after the meal, he had another gift to present on behalf of someone else! Believe it or not, I did not guess that it would be from you--I do not know why, for Gandalf's always been our go-between.

After luncheon, Gandalf and Finrod stepped out the door, and then returned with the Gift! As Frodo and I stood there speechless and dumbfounded, Finrod handed me your note. Once more THANK YOU! I do believe Frodo was even more speechless than I.

Gandalf reached into his pocket and handed each of us a small bundle, each tied up in a white napkin. He presented each of us with half a dozen tees. He was beaming with pride--he had, after all whittled them with his own two hands. What's more, both Frodo and I had seen him at it from time to time and never guessed that he was making anything in particular; we thought he was just passing the time with one of the many skills he'd picked up in Middle-earth. They were very well done, and he seemed glad that we liked them.

In the meanwhile, I must say that both of us were removing the clubs from their bags and exclaiming over the remarkable workmanship and beautiful balance of each one. I was wondering if we might be able to construct a small putting green on our little terrace, when Elrond reminded us that we had yet to see his gift to us. We returned the clubs reluctantly to their homes and stashed the bags beside the door as we followed our guests out of our apartment and into the main part of the House. I had begun to suspect that the gift might be in the library, but no, he led us right past it and outdoors.

We followed him through the gardens on the North side. We seldom frequent that side, since our own rooms face South and West. Now I wondered if he had not created a little garden for our very own--yet still we continued on to a gate in a wide hedge, quite over our heads though not all that high for Elves.

He opened the gate, and gestured before him. Why, he had a golf course built for us! It consists of ten holes, which means a round of eighteen, playing the first and last hole once and the remaining holes twice--once up and once coming back. It's a beautiful little course, not too difficult really, for a couple of hobbits one of whom is fast getting up in years!  

I confess to being moved to tears by this display of friendship from so many! It's clear that most of our friends and a goodly number of mere acquaintances had been in on this little conspiracy of a gift. And Gandalf confided that it all originated with you, and that you had set it all in motion with your interest in our Shirish pastime of golf!

Most of all, I was moved by your inclusion of Frodo in the gift. I am aware that you were probably thinking of me, and that golf for one would not be much fun, but it was still very well done!

Please, once more, accept my profound and delighted thanks for your most ingenious gift!

Sincerely yours,

Bilbo Baggins, Esq.}

Frodo sipped his tea, and brushed the last crumbs of seedcake from his fingers. He'd done several notes already: to Adamanta for the delightful basket of wild mushrooms; to Finrod for the bottles of Elven mead; to Lady Galadriel for the celebeloth bulbs; and of course, rather more effusive thanks to Elrond and his Lady for the golf course and very warm thanks to Gandalf who had not only made his gift with his own two hands, but had facilitated all the rest. He took up his pen once more.

{Sir,

I do not know how to address you; I have never been privy to any of the details of my dear uncle's correspondence. But I would be remiss indeed not to offer my profound thanks for your amazing gift.

I am quite aware that the gift to me was given on behalf of Bilbo, to increase his own pleasure in his gift, and to give him someone with whom he could use the clubs. Yet I confess my own joy in the having of them, and of their beauty even aside from their purpose.

I know that I spoke hot words of anger at our one and only meeting. I understand some things better now than I once did though I do not believe that the two of us could ever feel comfortable in a correspondence in the way that you do with Bilbo.

Still, please know that not only do I feel genuine pleasure and gratitude for your thoughtfulness towards the person whom I love so dearly, I also no longer feel the same bitterness I did in the past. And I hold out a real hope (and belief) that your time with Gandalf and your letters with Bilbo are not wasted, but will bear fruit.

I do not expect you to answer this, but I hope that it will not offend you to receive it.

Sincerely,

Frodo Baggins }

There. Aunt Dora could never find fault that he had not written all his "thank you" notes promptly. What he'd written was absolutely true--he now felt more pity than anger for the maker of the Ring, and he was grateful to the interest he'd shown in Bilbo and how it had enriched Bilbo's life here. But, he couldn't help a little smirk--he wished he could see the expression on Sauron's face when he read the note. He was only a hobbit, after all.





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