After the Fall of Arthedain, many things were left in ruin and far more in question. With the last kingdom of the Dúnedain went the unification of the northern Eriador, and those lands once ruled by the Arthedain kingdom were left adrift, leaderless and directionless.
One of those lands was the Shire, the small nation of the Halflings – Hobbits, as they called themselves. Once under the rule of the kings of Arthedain, their leader a Thain under the Dúnedain King's command, they were now a nation onto themselves, under no rule than of their own.
Around them, the lands of Arthedain were abandoned quickly here and slowly there. Villages formerly protected by great armies were emptied either by misfortune or will to survive and those Men that still survived moved southward. While the Kingdom of Angmar fell alongside Arthedain, its people were still there and just as hungry as everyone else – and trice as ferocious. Orcs, Trolls and Men that fell into evil all ravaged the northern lands that Arthedain once ruled, tearing asunder what had been build there and reaching ever south in their quest for things to devour.
Everything fell into disarray. Towns of Men withered into villages, villages into ruins – while there were rumours of a number of surviving Dúnedain establishing a Watch, whatever effect they had couldn't be seen. In the face of the northern threat, more and more people headed southward, aiming for the southern lands, to Minhriath and Enedwaith. Though there was no rule there either, no great armies to protect the refugees, they felt themselves safer there, with distance between them and the north, and elves and Rohan to the east.
The Hobbits would not move, however. They had grown their roots in the softly rolling hills of the Shire, and grown accustomed to their lives there. The weather was mild; the land was fresh and fertile. The memory of their wandering years had yet to fade and a folk so long homeless could not be easily moved.
As it was, they were protected by the great River of Baranduin, the river Brandywine that ran deep and wide and could not be crossed by horses or Men. The Hobbits burned all the bridges that still remained, and the river protected them. And so, in the shelter of the river, they remained.
Hobbits are, if somewhat inclined to easy, lazy living, quite industrious in their own way. Should there be a task to be accomplished that promised an easier tomorrow, it would be completed post haste. The years after the Fall of Arthedain were not easy, but the promise of an easier future was there, so the Hobbits of the Shire worked twice as hard, to attain that shining future. Under the guardianship of their Thain, now a lone leader of Hobbit kind, they worked their fields and rebuilt their homes and rooted them even deeper in the soil of the Shire.
And, beyond all, they shared freely. After all, a treat shared was sweeter for the sharing and a task shared was a task completed twice as fast. In that, Hobbits were always considered something of a backwards people – no other folk gave guests gifts on their own birthday, after all, nor did the concept of mathoms exist in any other culture. To share to increase the pleasure and lessen the burden, however, was nothing if not the very foundation of what would one day be a great empire.
It began with the simplest of things – a Hobbit lady of great learning seeing how her farmer neighbours had difficulty wrangling their many children and minding their farm work at the same time.
"I'll teach your faunts to read alongside my own, and take them off your hands for a while," she offered.
"Do that, and we'll share with you our yield," the farmers promised. That was how the very first school in the Shire was founded and how the first teacher found her occupation – and she was not the last. It was perhaps more the promised food stuff fresh from the field rather than the task of teaching itself that made the habit so popular among the noble Hobbits of the Shire, but the fact that it became popular at all is what matters here.
In less than a couple of decades, Hobbits gained the highest literacy after the elves.
With the widespread ability to read came the call for the use of that talent. Letter writing, wholly a habit of the rare few before, became a wide spread everyday practice, with most Hobbits writing as many as ten letters and notes per day. In the beginning it was a cumbersome thing to send a letter, however – with most paying neighbour faunts some sweets to carry this or that missive to this or that household. But as those faunts grew, some of them banded together with an idea.
"It is an easy occupation, carrying letters. Nothing like heavy farm work, or food chopping, or near as hard as trying to learn something more difficult," one of them said. "I'd rather keep carrying letters for sweets."
It took few years for the postal service to truly gain its footing. In the beginning Hobbits brought their letters to the post offices and the postal Hobbits would carry them to appointed houses. It wasn't until one particularly lazily manned post office set up a box for the letters, that the service truly found its way.
At first there were post boxes in busy streets and markets, but as the practice spread, the postal Hobbits decided that it was too tough a work to always walk to a door and knock and wait for a response while handing letters in. So mail boxes began – and with them the service had its system.
And once one post Hobbit got quite tired of not being paid for his work as well as he'd like went and invented the stamps, and refused to carry a letter without a stamp – and, naturally, refused to hand a stamp over without payment… it became quite a lucrative system.
It might seem like a small thing – everyone everywhere sends letters after all. But Hobbits did not merely send letters – missives of information or appeals, no. They sent greetings and how do you dos, they sent invitations, and sometimes they sent letters just for the pleasure of sending letters. Writing good letters became a thing to strive for, and most everyone took great pleasure in hearing the words, "I got a most marvellous letter from so and so."
And so, Hobbits made efforts to make their letters not just well written or memorable – but important. Truly, there was nothing quite as nice as having someone pass your letter around, just because whatever was written on it was too good, too important – or too informative – to be kept a secret.
(Of course, there were special secret letters too, which many Hobbits took great pleasure in both reading and writing, but that's a whole different thing.)
It happened in many of the larger Hobbit villages separately, but it happened more or less around the same time. There was that one group of industrious letter writers who wrote such informative letters that they absolutely had to not only be passed around – but eventually there was call for duplicates. How these informative letters, usually entailing the latest gossip and news both local and distant, came to be called News, no one knew.
It started from the rubber stamps. They'd been created because some Hobbits would take their paper stamps off the letters they'd received and glue them onto the letters they were sending, thus cheating their way out of the postal fee. The post Hobbits now stamped all the letters with an extra stamp that went right over paper stamp, to make sure no one tried to re-use stamps. At first the rubber stamp markings were simple "Sent" or "Paid" or something of that sort, but as the service grew, postal offices made their own specialised stamps, to mark where the letters had been send from.
And one day one News letter writer watched as a post Hobbit stamped his letters – duplicates of the same gossip and news filled letters he'd spend the whole day writing, and said. "How useful would it be, if I could just stamp my letters like that and then need not to write them all by hand!"
"Yes, but imagine having to carve every single letter every day," the post Hobbit answered.
The news letter writer did imagine it. And though it took him upwards to fourteen years to make his first perfect array of rubber letters, which could be fitted onto a wooden frame, and stamped right over a page to instantly write a whole slew of words. That was how the first Hobbitish Print House was begun.
While all of this was happening, many other things were also slowly occurring, the old wartime Thain had died and for a while the Hobbits were confused. The Thain had been chosen by the Arthedain king - all the Thains had been chosen by the kings, in fact. Now there was no king to choose a Thain, so what were they to do?
In the end they chose the Thain's son to be the new Thain. He was, after all, the only one who had any idea about how the task ought to be done, now, with no King of Men to guide them. He had watched the old Thain, been closer to him than anyone else. It followed quite logically, the Hobbits thought, that he'd be the next one.
The new Thain wasn't military trained by the Dúnedain like the last one, however. What he was, was one of the many Hobbits that as a faunt had been taught by a Gentlehobbit teacher in a classroom of many other faunts. His world view was vastly different from that of his old, now passed, father, in that he'd grown in the age of letter writing and News letters and who now was hearing of a News letter writer who was no longer writing – but printing.
While his father had been satisfied that the Thain's position only involved the managing of the Shirriffs and occasionally the Bounders – and thus had lived quite the easy life since the Shire had turned self sufficient in so many ways – the new Thain thought differently. There were new issues in the Shire, new problems – and whole new solutions to the old ones.
And, while his father had been satisfied in letting the other Hobbits mind their own business, the new Thain looked at the Hobbits and instead of seeing kinfolk he saw a people. A nation, not really that different from the ones his Gentlehobbit teacher had spoken off, when he'd been learning how to read and write.
"This Shire might not be big, it might not be grand, but it is a land and we a people – and together we make a nation," he said. "A growing nation."
His near eighty years as the first hereditary Thain of the Shire were marked by many changes. The unification of the postal service into a better managed system. The establishment and building of actual school houses. The taxation system, that eventually came to fund the schools and other public services that made everyone's lives much easier. He also followed the progress of the first publishing house of the Shire with great interest – and the very first book ever to be printed in the Shire, was the Book of Hereditary Laws, written by him.
The first trade school was begun four years after the second hereditary Thain rose to power. Its creation prompted less by need and more by the sheer level of interest. That was the year when pipe-weed was introduced to the Shire, and with its success the already widespread interest in things that grew was blown out of proportion. Yet, there weren't enough skilled scholars of plants to teach all those interested – and so, the trade school specifically dedicated to the study of plants, was created.
The rise of medicinal knowledge naturally followed. First it was general, as herbal medicine became more widely available, first through the number of new practitioners, and then in the ensuing influx of books written on the subject. Then it grew more specific, as those interested delved deeper and deeper. And as it was with all things, when new uses for old things came to light, new solutions for old problems were created.
The Michel Delving School of Herbology grew over the years from a single schoolhouse to a network of classrooms. It was eventually dubbed a Collage of Schools – which, as the years grew on, was shortened to Collage – or College.
It was in the Michel Delving College, that many new faming methods were invented – such as plows by Hobbits who no longer felt like swinging a hoe themselves, and irrigation by Hobbits who felt it was a waste of time to water everything by hand – and where the first fertilizers were mixed by Hobbits who did not quite feel like handling dung in their green houses. The majority of Hobbitish inventions thus have their roots in the avoidance of hard labour, but that only made them all the greater.
The yield of Hobbit fields were increased incredibly following the success of the Michel Delving College methods, and the era came to be called the Great Growth in Hobbit annals. The surplus of food that suddenly became available was not by any means wasted, for Hobbits are nothing if not quite capable of emptying their plates. The time of Great Growth was also the time of great festivity, as simple birthday celebrations expanded to involve entire villages and towns, and the Thain himself established yearly feasts in celebration. For almost a decade, Hobbits enjoyed plenty of food and joy.
It was followed by a near explosive increase in Hobbit population – the festivities having their natural toll, both in and outside marriages. In less than twenty years the Hobbit population very nearly doubled, and it showed no sign of stopping.
The increase in Hobbit numbers led to two important things.
First was the expansion of the Shire. Where before the Shire had been naught but fifty leagues in each direction, the increasing numbers expanded towns and villages. The increased numbers also demanded more food – and so more land was converted into farm lands, with the all new methods of farming easing the way tremendously.
The second was the research for methods of contraception. Quite a few young Hobbits found themselves in the family way somewhat earlier than they would've liked in the Great Growth years, and quietly they took steps to ensure it might not happen again.
More population – so many of them so young – also called for the establishment of more schools. New trade schools were begun in places other than Michel Delving. While most of them were on the topic of herbology, it remaining the leading interest in Hobbit society, there were others. The most notable was the College of Medicine in Buckland.
It was the start of many things, though it took more than half a century for the effects to truly show. The study of medicine expanded quickly from the study of mere herbal medicine, to other fields as well. Though the years when those Hobbits interested in such things were studying the anatomy of various creatures weren't quite as tasteful as some Hobbits might like, their fruits were born and carried across the future generations. The book, The Study of Hobbit Anatomy, was at first considered a grotesque book and many had suspicions about how the knowledge in it came to be collected – robbing graves being so much easier than getting permission from a living Hobbit and waiting for them to die.
But it changed the field of Hobbit medicine forever. Though Hobbitish healers were quite capable of treating burns and setting bones even before the book, the book made certain things only vaguely understood clear. Things such as internal organs and their placement, the brain and its formation – those things came to be not just the vague knowledge learned by the butchery of other animals, but actual proven knowledge.
The first time a Hobbit healer cut around a terrible injury to get into the insides to try and fix a hole in the intestine was not quite successful as an operation – but it was an opening for a whole different age of medicine.
With the rise of Hobbitish medicine and medical procedures came many side effects, the most well-known is that of the increased average age of Hobbits in general – and eventually, the dramatic decrease in infant mortality.
And so, the numbers of Hobbits increased once more – as they had been increasing at a not so much steady as alarming pace. Even before the better medicine, an average Hobbit family could easily have as many as seven children – with the new methods, better understanding over infections and eventually the practice of having doctors and better learned midwives aid in the birthing, the numbers rose dramatically.
So the Shire spread again. With the lake Evendim now included in the lands of the Shire, and the lands further north being unsafe, many things came to pass. The Shire began spreading more to the south instead, over the south down and the marches, which during this process were tamed – more by accident than intention. As the rivers there were re-directed to feed the farmlands, the marshes dried and were in turn converted to farmlands.
Spreading to the south did not lessen the threat of the north, however, so the Thain of the time made a decision. The Dúnedain rangers might be patrolling the north, but their effectiveness and motives could not be relied on. So, the Bounder and Shirriff services were re-examined and the North Guard was established. They were more specialised than either the Shirriffs or the Bounders, better armoured – it was quite cold in the north after all – and better trained. Their job was to simply watch the north and guard the Shire from threats.
To the Hobbits, the North Guard was just something between the Shirriffs who kept the law, and the Bounders who watched the boarders, just specialised to the northern regions of the Shire where things were a tad tougher.
To anyone outside the Shire, it would've simply been the establishment of the true first army of the Shire.
Eventually, a South Guard, West Guard and East Guard joined the North Guard as years went on, and some Hobbits grew interested in that avenue of occupation. It was easy work, after all, to be a Guardsman in the other regions – there wasn't much to do in the south, east or west, very little did threaten the Shire from those directions.
And whenever something did threaten the Shire from those usually calm regions, the overzealous Guardsmen dealt with it as quick as they could, so that they could go back to the easy, quiet work. It became something of a pride thing, eventually – how quickly could a Guardsman deal away with a threat. A race even. And as with all things that were turned into a competition – there were successes to be admired and to be learned from.
The one remarkable thing about Hobbits that shines above all others is that they rarely – if ever – have any sort of drive to be remarkable. Hobbit Guardsmen might've been an army of sorts, but they were never a traditional military. There were no generals or commanders – just a Head Guardsman who was forced to keep track of everyone else. Most often than not, that Head Guardsman just made sure that the rest knew their work, and then let them do it, troubling himself as little as possible. The Guardsmen of the Shire were never soldiers wearing grand armours and flaring banners, they did not have war shouts and they did not hold grand speeches. In fact, most of them did their work in casual, every day clothing – and whatever armour they wore, they tended to wear under their clothing.
To them it was a matter of comfort, and propriety – they might be doing a sort of hard work, when it absolutely had to be done, but there was no need to look like they were hard working people, now was there? A guardsman much preferred to blend in with everyone else, in fact – to the point that they began to make their swords look like walking sticks, their daggers and knives were always hidden and if they used a bow, it was cleverly hidden under the lapels of a long coat.
And it made their work quite easy in the beginning – when those suspicious people up to no good would do their no good deeds right in front of a Guardsman, never realising he was there, and thus be quite easy to then deal with.
Outside the Shire it prompted the wide spread understanding that every Halfling in the Shire was a trained assassin. To the Men around those lands it made sense, of course. Hobbits were a little, soft people – and yet their nation was growing at an incredible rate, having doubled in the last lifetime alone. And yet they'd never had an army.
The inclusion of Lake Evendim made way for another grand change in the simple life of a normal Hobbit household. Lake Evendim was where the Brandywine began. And though the river was a dear protector once, it was a dearer resource now, with quite a lot of it having been directed into irrigation systems. Now that Evendim could be said to be included in the lands of the Shire, many looked on it with great interest.
After all, the irrigation systems had long since led to the invention of various pipe systems – and pumps were far easier to use than buckets when fetching water from wells. There had been interest in a grander pipe network before, originally for the better irrigation of fields and eventually for the homes. It would be far easier for everyone, after all, if one's water would simply come to ones home.
So, Lake Evendim was dammed, and the work on the water pipelines of the Shire began. It was a great undertaking that took many decades – and prompted the Hobbits of the Shire to do quite a bit more trade with the dwarves of the Blue Mountains, the nearest and easiest source of iron they had. The dwarves were quite happy to trade iron for food, however – and food Hobbits had in plenty.
Eventually, every home had running water, and a sewer connection to go with – which yet again, changed many things. With cleanliness no longer a luxury but a simple fact of life, the rate of infections dropped down to near nothing.
The Shire continued to grow in size, population, and wealth of knowledge in the following centuries. A standard of learning among the Hobbits lifted the age of maturity from near twenty to thirty three – as that was the approximate age a Hobbit graduated from whichever college or university he or she attended. Many studies were written on the subject of Hobbit learning and its great effects on the growing Hobbit Empire. And there were many, many great effects.
The most remarkable of which happened near the end of the third millennium, when research on new methods of fertilization led into the discovery of black powder. It was inconsequential at first, as Hobbits had no interest in explosions – though the wizard Gandalf famously adopted the black powder and later created his fireworks from it. The only change the black powder made in lives of Hobbits was in the invention of fire sticks, sticks of wood coated in the powder that could be struck to light a fire, a method much easier than using flint and tinder. Later, however, black powder changed everything.
It ended the first war brewing against the Shire in its infancy.
It was the third millennium of the Third Age under Sun, when the Shire had finally consumed the entirety of Minhriath and was spreading over the Greyflood to Enedwaith. The people of Enedwaith were more aware of the slow steady progression of the Empire of the Shire, as it was then started to be called, and weren't quite as ready to give their lands up for farmlands for the increasing demands of the ever growing Hobbit population. So, when the building of bridges began for the easier crossing of the Greyflood, the men of Enedwaith made a stand.
Hobbits are not, in general, a warrior like people. That does not mean that they are passive, however. The death of those farmers and bridge builders that day sparked a nationwide alarm unlike any the Shire had ever known, and it prompted a quick rebuttal. The Thain of that age was still quite young and likely to overreact – he ordered the Guardsmen to deal with the men of Enedwaith swiftly. It was, perhaps, the most bold and decisive action a Thain of the Shire had given since the age of Arthedain.
Because by that time the Guardsmen of the Shire – the assassins of the Shire as the rest of the world knew them – had brought their swiftness to a near art form. After all, the faster something was done, the better.
This was the era long before such things as flash flames or even fireworks – indeed, it would take Gandalf the Wizard almost another five hundred years to perfect his craftsmanship in the art of rockets. The people of Enedwaith had nothing to compare the event to, when the walls they built on the shore of the Greyflood were simply blown up. The destruction that followed the Guardsmen's swift way of dealing with the decision was unlike anything ever seen in Middle Earth – except perhaps for one thing.
And so a Dragon became the symbol of the Hobbits. Some believed that the Hobbits had tamed a dragon and could use it like a weapon; others believed that there was some of dragonkind in Hobbits – many believed other, increasingly nonsensical things. It was, however, the only thing they could liken the destruction of the black powder to – that of a dragon fire. And so, when the people of Enedwaith came forth to hand their surrender to the one they called Emperor Thain, it was in the form of a golden statue fashioned into a form of a dragon.
And the young Thain thought it quite the thing, and from thence forth demanded himself to be called Emperor Oldbuck the First. Hobbits at first did so with great humour and hilarity – but in the end, the title stuck. It was more due to the outside world, however – for the Men refused to call the Shire anything but an Empire. The nation of Hobbits, these small, fragile looking creatures, with dragon fire under their command and an army made of assassins.
As the Empire of the Shire begun to take over the land of Enedwaith, many things happened. The further south the Shire progressed, the different the land became – for further south the weather and the very make up of soil was different. It sparked a curiosity like no other in Hobbit scholars – as it wasn't until then that they truly realised that other lands were different from the Shire not just due to the people that presided there, but due to the actual makeup of different lands.
After so many centuries of dedicated learning and tutelage, the concept that there was so much they did not know struck wanderlust into some Hobbits. The very first adventurers of Hobbit kind were, indeed, scholars, looking to further their learning. They ventured first out only very carefully, but when it seemed that the world outside meant them no harm – indeed, seemed quite willing to do all they could to tend to them – they grew braver.
When a Hobbitish scholar went anywhere bearing the Dragon of the Empire of the Shire, he was treated very kindly indeed. And they brought tales of that kindness back to their peers who, in jealousy and curiosity, ventured out themselves.
The era of great expeditions was begun then, as Hobbit scholars travelled further and further away, making notes and writing books to be printed out by the increasingly efficient printing houses of the Shire – of which there were now many. They brought back with them new plants and new knowledge, everything from these curious little worms that made the most fascinating silk cocoons, to spices from distant lands. One of the things they brought that received great popularity among the Hobbits was the tomato plant – shortly followed by the bell pepper plant.
The expeditions were followed by the era of trade. Tea and spices captured the Hobbits' interest almost as dramatically as did the tomato and bell peppers and all other wonderful exotic foods the other lands had. While some of them were brought back and introduced to the Shire that way, some of them couldn't be cultivated in the Shire, not even the southern parts of it. So the very first grand trade agreements were struck. And they weren't between Hobbits and the Men of west or Elves or even Dwarves – though Hobbits did trade with them for iron and other metals. No.
The trade route that marked the start of the third millennium was between the Shire and Harad. The original route travelled past Gondor, through the pass of Drúwaith Iaur and Ere Nimrais and through Enedwaith to the Shire at first. It was a cumbersome journey for the Hobbit traders, even when they hired numerous Men from Enedwaith to work for them. The thing that made the Hobbit traders most bitter about it, however, was the kingdom of Gondor. They extorted kingly taxes for every good that passed through their lands.
So, despite all sense and reason, the Hobbit traders turned their eyes to the sea instead. Hobbits as a whole are not good swimmers, most of them never touch water deeper than that of their bathtubs if they could avoid it – but the interest in spices and tea was far too great. And so, the building of the very first Hobbit merchant ships was begun.
It was from Near Harad that they brought back the Pox. It was a terrible thing that caused fever, muscle pains, boils and far too often death – and it had the Hobbitish doctors working hard and tirelessly for many years to discover a cure. And they found it, in the end, in the shape of a milk maid that refused to get sick.
Vaccinations joined the increasing expanse of Hobbit medicine after that.
As the Shire's merchant fleet was created, it was originally plagued by the Harad pirates – of which there were many on the seas west of Harad. That stopped, when Hobbit traders decided to start arming their ships with black powder – there were very few pirates that dared to threaten a ship with such an easy and terrible way to set another ship aflame, after all. So the trade of spices and tea began and it grew as it turned out that Elves too enjoyed tea – and Dwarves were great connoisseurs of the most fiery of spices.
That, one could say, was the true start of the Empire of the Shire.