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This story should really be subtitled "The One That Got Away" because that is precisely what happened. When I received the prompt back in early November, this was the extent of what I was required to do: Hobbits, of course. I'd love something that sheds light on life in the Shire-- preferably pre-Quest. If it includes the major hobbits, I'd like it to include all five of them (that's the Travellers plus Bilbo); but I don't mind a fic that focuses on some of the minor canon characters mentioned in the books or on the Family Trees, or even OCs, with the main hobbits playing minor roles. I'd enjoy something about Hobbity Yule traditions, perhaps involving food or gifts, and something that sheds light on Hobbit social interactions.
Now, hobbity Yule traditions and social interactions I can handle just fine, but trying to get five different characters of disparate ages, families,hometowns, and social backgrounds all in the same fic is extraordinarily difficult: either you must ignore these differences for the sake of getting the characters together (a common approach), try your best to explain why these differences don't matter in this story (which is sometimes pulled off extremely well, and other times not so much), or just tell different stories and try linking them together through a common character or theme. The first two approaches were too much of a cop-out for my tastes, which meant that this was going to include multiple scenes that would be somewhat, but not entirely, related. Of course, the one unifying factor of the "major hobbits" is Frodo Baggins, which meant that once again I not so reluctantly had to turn to telling a story from his point of view. In the end I was not able to include Bilbo as a character, but since the entire story is about him in a way I figured Dreamflower would not mind (and indeed she did not).
After some delicious research in English cookbooks I had a couple of ideas here and there, but as I was composing all sorts of other side ideas came barging in whether I liked it or not--which actually fit the everyday nature of the piece very well, although I did not enjoy watching my freetime sink down the drain in front of my keyboard. The total word count was so high that the story ended up maxing out both the Yahoo Group's message limit and Livejournal's, requiring it to be truncated in the former (though I understand the email went through just fine) and split in two in the latter. Both of these posts had some formatting issues which I am pleased to clear up here.
The story is set in the winter of 1408/9 S.R. Ages of principal characters are given below in real years and Mannish equivalent:
Frodo = 40 (25)
The astute reader (especially the linguistically inclined) will notice several indicators of my authorship embedded throughout the story, which I did not hesitate to slip in as Dreamflower is a mod of the community and thus already knew I would be the one writing her tale.
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