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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 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-dűr. 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-dűr. 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-dűr. 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.





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