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The Prisoner and The Hobbit  by Dreamflower

 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.





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