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Gandalf sat upon the stone steps of the terrace on the South side of the Great Smials, his staff across his knees, as he contemplated what was ahead of him. He had lingered long in the Shire, helping the beleaguered hobbits endure and survive the horrible winter, that now was being called "the Long Winter". He had made many new friends among this small people as he learned that the size of the body was no guide to the size of the heart. Stout-hearted, resilient, and most of all compassionate, they had found ways to help one another--and from the first he had been attracted by the free and open Pity they showed him (a lone stranger travelling from the Wild) and one another. Only two weeks past, they had buried their Thain, Isumbras III--last of them all to succumb to the ills that had plagued the Shire and weakened the hobbits during their bitter time of cold. Yet they had never failed in their hospitality to him even in their time of grief.
He looked out across the gardens, filled with the sight of lilies, snapdragons, and laburnums, fragrant with roses, violets, stock and sweet alyssum, and buzzing with the hum of bees and the wind in the branches of the beeches. Once the Winter had finally loosed its grip, the colours of Spring had lost no time in making themselves known.
Though his ears heard nothing approach, he easily sensed the presence of the hobbit who had come to join him. "Good morning, Gandalf," said Ferumbras II, the new Thain.
"Is it a good morning, Rumble?" the wizard asked.
He got a faint smile from his young friend. "Well, I wish it to be a good one for the both of us. The day itself has started well, whether we wish it or not, and we should hope to feel better at least. And it is always a morning to be good on."
Gandalf laughed aloud at this. Rumble was still grieving his father, but he took the time to cheer a guest.
The hobbit sat down next to Gandalf and took his pipe out of his pocket. This reminded Gandalf of his own pipe--a gift from his host. He took it out of his robe, and set about filling it with the fragrant leaves of galenas, still somewhat surprised by the use the Shirefolk had found for it; they simply called it "pipe-weed". He had soon found the smoking of a pipe to be a relaxing way to pass the time. The two sat and puffed silently for a while, and then Rumble began to blow perfect little round rings of smoke. Gandalf watched him for a few minutes and then assayed the skill himself.
He was pleased at the results, and in only a few moments had replicated Rumble's perfect rings.
Rumble smiled. "Not bad for a beginner," he chuckled.
Pleased at having made his friend smile, Gandalf looked at the rings, and he reached inside himself, for that part of him that never forgot what he was, where his very being as a Servant of the Secret Flame was kept, and where in spite of any sorrow his inner joy never faded. He puffed out another ring, this one turning a rosy colour as it floated up. With satisfaction, he saw Rumble's jaw drop in amazement and wonder. He puffed out another, pale violet. It floated up by the first. He followed it with blue, then green, then yellow and orange. They hung side by side in the air for a moment before dissipating just as normal smoke would do.
There was silence for a moment, and then Rumble turned to him with a gaze of childlike pleasure. "That was incredible!" he said.
Gandalf looked at the hobbit's face, suddenly he knew what he would do. "My friend," he said, "I think you know that I shall have to leave soon. I seldom linger so long in one place as I have the Shire this past few months."
"How soon will you go?" Rumble's face fell.
"Not at least for a couple of weeks," was the reply. "I would like to do something special for your people, in thanks for your hospitality."
He spent the days after that gathering the things he needed; Rumble granted him the use of a small storage shed behind the West garden, and he experimented with the materials he had located until he was satisfied.
On the last day of the month, the Thain gave a great Farewell Feast for his guest; it was held outdoors. Lanterns hung from trees, and a colourful pavillion was set up across the road from the Great Smials, in a large field often used for assemblies of the hobbitry. The tables groaned with food. Word had gone out that there would be a great entertainment once the Sun had sought her rest, and there was much speculation as to what it might be.
Once all the corners had been filled, but before the hobbits had time to grow weary from their feasting, Gandalf and the Thain ushered them out of the pavilion. The wizard went away from them to a grassy knoll that rose near one end of the field, and without fanfare or speeches, he set to his task.
The hobbits watched as with a whistling sound, something dark and smoky rose into the indigo sky: suddenly there was a burst of bright colour, and scintillating stars began to rain down upon them. Up went another rocket, exploding into a fountain of gold and red, and before their glitter faded another burst into blue flowers, that swirled in the sky. From his place on the knoll, Gandalf smiled to himself as he listened to the collective "oohs" and "ahhs" and heard the laughter and the cheers, and watched the fingers pointing to his handiwork. He sent up rocket after rocket, a twinkling garden against the night in colours to rival the garden in sunlight, until all he had prepared were spent.
The cheers of the hobbits afterwards were most gratifying. A bonfire was started, and there was music and dancing, and he found himself pulled into their merriment. But finally the Moon rose, and the hobbits began to wander away--those who did not fall asleep where they were--and at last Gandalf and the Thain stood together alone.
"Are you sure you don't wish to remain until after first breakfast tomorrow?" Rumble asked.
"No, I shall travel under the Stars this night. I may find other friends in the Woody End with whom to rest, but I should be away now that I've said my farewells. But I shall be back, my friend. I do not think that having found it, I could stay long away from the Shire." He placed a hand on top of Rumble's head and said a silent benediction, and then made his way to the stable where his horse and his pack awaited him.
But Rumble stayed where he was, and watched. Gandalf saw him as he strode away leading Borin, and he turned and waved before he disappeared over the knoll.
He'd definitely be back. He'd felt more at home these last few months among the hobbits than he had since setting foot upon the Eastern Shore of the Sundering Sea.
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