Actions

Work Header

Three Adventures Belladonna Took Never Went On

Work Text:

‘This is Great Smials,’ announced the young hobbit, ‘not a tavern. I ask you, are you any sort of a Took? No? Then take yourself off, my good man! We don’t want any Gandalfs here, thank you! Go and find yourself a place that caters to Big Folk!’

Now Gandalf was a wizard, and a very important wizard at that, and he was not used to such treatment from anything short of a king, and there had been none of those in that neck of the woods for the best part of a thousand years. It goes without saying that Gandalf was a good wizard, which was a good thing because he’d had a very bad day and if he’d been a bad wizard, he might have been inclined to turn the young hobbit into a very small toad and then step on him.

Gandalf’s bad day is part of quite a different story, but I can tell you that he’d been busy with very important things for some very important people (they went by the grand name of the White Council to those sufficiently important to be counted their friends) and it had rained hard enough and long enough to make doing them very unpleasant, very unpleasant indeed. Grave matters crowded Gandalf’s mind, and he had looked forward to talking them over with his old friend the Thain, those of them that were fit for hobbit ears at least, and to hearing his bluff good sense, like an ent draught after the unending arguments of the learned. More than that, he was cold and wet and hungry, and he craved a bellyful of good hobbit food washed down with strong hobbit ale, a pipe stuffed with Old Toby and a dry roof over his head to smoke it in, and some cheerful hobbit company to make merry with in front of a good warm fire. Hobbits are rightly famed for their home comforts. And now this puffed-up hobbit lad was telling him the Thain’s smials were not a tavern! All I can say is, it is lucky Gandalf was a good wizard!

I must tell you, in the interests of fairness, that Isumbras Took (for that was the name of the young hobbit) had not had a good day either. His father had gone off to Michel Delving before second breakfast and he had taken his elder brother with him. They had business with the Mayor, Thain’s business, they said, but neither had troubled to tell him what that business was. At elevenses the Great Smials’ cellarer had come to him complaining that a nasty leak in number 3 pantry’s roof had spoiled most of the sugar, and right before lunch the kitchen-gardener had come running in saying that the wind had brought a fence down and the pigs were trampling his lettuces, and Isumbras had all but missed lunch organising the pig-shooing party. Then the second under-cook had quite spoiled his enjoyment of his afternoon scones and bread and butter by enquiring just how she was supposed to make jam before the raspberries spoiled when the cellarer was refusing to give her any sugar! To cap it all his mother had not stirred from her room all day. She was not far from her time, he thought, and he worried that he ought to send a runner to bring back his father.

These were some of the things tumbling round in Isumbras’ mind, making as much noise as dried peas in a rattle, when he told the old tramp that neither the first footman nor the butler had been able to shift from the Great Smials’ front doorstep to take himself off. Calling himself Gandalf, and demanding to see his father the Thain! The cheek of it! To be sure they were not grave matters by wizardly standards, but Isumbras’ mind was not a wizard’s mind and the lad was only eighteen: a mere child as hobbits reckoned it, and far too young to have been left in charge. (He had not really been left in charge, of course, but his mother was occupied with far more important business than sugar, lettuces or even raspberry jam.) Wizards can read minds, so they say, and perhaps that was why Gandalf stumped off thumping his staff on the ground rather harder than was needful, rather than turning the hobbit lad into any size of toad.

‘Not a tavern!’ the wizard muttered. ‘Iron arm, iron head more like. To think that I should have lived to be not-a-taverned by Gerontius Took’s son! I’ll not-a-tavern him!’ There was rather more in the same vein, though I’m afraid some of it was rather less polite.

‘Psst!’ came a very small voice. It came from a very small hobbit lass, who might well have stood no higher than the wizard’s long black boots if she were not psst-ing through a round window about the height of his nose. She had dark brown curls, almost black in the failing light but with glints of warm gold about them that truly black hair never ever shows, not even by candlelight. (If you are lucky enough to meet an elf of one of the old, proud, raven-haired families, you will know just what I mean.) Her bright eyes were almost as round as the window she was holding open, and in the way of all very young hobbit children, they took up far more of her face (which was also round) than they had any right to. ‘Are you really Gandalf?’ she enquired. ‘Gandalf the Grey Wizard? Papa’s friend Gandalf?’

‘Gandalf I certainly am,’ the wizard said. ‘Whether I’m your papa’s friend, little lass, depends on who your papa is. Or perhaps it does not. I thought I was Gerontius Took’s friend, and now his son turns me away from his front door!’ But he left off his stumping and his thumping and he poked just the tip of his long nose out from under the wide brim of his pointy blue hat, even though the rain had yet to stop, so that his nose soon added a couple of raindrops to the wart that distinguished it from less-wizardly long noses.

‘Never mind Bras,’ said the little lass. ‘He’s an idiot. Are you going to turn him into a toad?’

‘I don’t think so,’ the wizard said, even though no more than a moment earlier he’d been cheering himself up by imagining quite what an ugly toad the boy would make.

‘That’s a shame. Bras would make a good toad. I’m Bella. My papa’s the Thain. He’s not here and mama’s “lying in”. I don’t know what that means,’ she admitted, ‘but she hasn’t got out of bed very often for ages, so it probably means she’s very tired.’

‘It probably means you’re about to have a little brother or sister,’ said Gandalf, wisely. Wizards are very wise and often very learned, and most of them know a great many words in a great many languages of men and elves, and even of birds and beasts, some of which nobody very much except wizards speak any more (and some of which nobody has ever spoken at all). So a polite circumlocution like ‘lying in,’ however mysterious to the ears of a four-year-old hobbit lass (whose proper name was actually Belladonna Took), was unlikely to give Gandalf a moment’s difficulty.

‘Oh, I hope not! Not another brother!’ Bella counted brothers carefully on the fingers first of one hand and then (sticking out her tongue with effort) the other. Then she did it again, this time starting on the other hand. Numeracy is not greatly prized among hobbits, and I am ashamed to say that many quite grown hobbits have difficulty counting much beyond half a dozen, especially after downing a few halves of Shire-brewed ale (which is especially strong if you stand only three feet above the tavern floor). But few hobbits bear enough children to strain even their skills. Gerontius Took was a most unusual hobbit even back then, when he’d been Thain for only a handful of years and had yet to earn the title of Old Took. Back then he was still in his sixties, which is accounted merely middle aged among hobbits, for hobbits live into their nineties quite often, and occasionally into their eleventies (especially when there is an inheritance at stake).

Seven brothers is quite enough!’ Bella announced, after two or three counts had all come to the same figure. In fairness to her (for she was promising to be rather bright, for a hobbit, and already knew her numbers to the giddy heights of the eleventies), it was keeping track of all her brothers that the little lass had such trouble with. They were all called Isen-this or Hildi-that, and some of the thisses and thats were the same, and only Hildifons had much time for his baby sister, and there was an extra Hildi her mama occasionally talked about but nobody else did—not to mention all her Took cousins who also lived at Great Smials, many of whom also had names much grander than their diminutive heights, and some of whom were far more her friend than six of her seven brothers. It was almost enough to confuse a wizard!

‘She might be a little sister,’ Gandalf suggested.

I do not think, on this occasion, the wizard had any special foresight—although I might as well tell you now that Adamanta (that was the name of Bella’s mama) would give birth to a baby girl later that night. It was probably just a lucky guess, although wizards’ guesses are luckier than most. Either way, it was clearly a new thought to the hobbit lass, and she gave it some consideration before shaking her head. ‘Then I wouldn’t be special any more,’ she said, quite gravely. ‘I don’t know if I’d like that.’

The wizard did not laugh, as her elder brothers or cousins might have. Nor did he stoop to saying anything so silly as ‘You’ll always be special,’ as one of her aunts might, or even her mama on a bad day—though if you happened to catch sight of the twinkle in his eyes under those big bushy brows you might conclude that he’d been thinking it, or something very like it, and I cannot say that you’d be mistaken. Like many old men, and Gandalf was older than most, the wizard found the company of young children as refreshing as sunlight through young beech leaves, and he had the advantage over many a gaffer that nobody ever asked a wizard to change a nappy. (Of course, nobody ever asked a hobbit gaffer to give the child good fortune, or long life, or anything else besides the odd mathom or perhaps a silver penny on his birthday. Perhaps Gandalf would rather change a soiled nappy than look into the cradle of one doomed to die young, or live long and miserably, and wish the babe good fortune, knowing that he could give that good fortune but only at a price he could not count. But that was not a problem with Bella or her soon-to-be sister, nor yet with the little sister and brother that were to come.)

As it was, before Gandalf could say anything at all, Bella put in, ‘You look hungry.’ She said it in quite a different voice from before, as if the little white duck of earlier had been gobbled up by a greedy fox.

Gandalf had dealt with foxes before; indeed, he was something of a fox himself. But he was cold and wet and hungry, and tired besides, and he knew how seriously young hobbits took hunger—usually their own, it must be said. ‘I am hungry,’ he admitted, and his empty belly rumbled its agreement.

Now I have told you that Bella’s brother Hildifons was the only one to have much time for little Bella. But what I have not told you is that Hildifons was one of those rare hobbit children whose mind is turned outside the Shire. It might have had something to do with being the fifth son, but his two younger brothers were as staid a pair of young hobbit lads as any in the Shire, so that could not be all of it. Most of the Thain’s twelve children turned out part Took, part Chubb, but some were all Chubb (that was Adamanta’s family) and one or two, like Hildifons, were all Took. Fons had told Bella, and only Bella, of his plans to leave the Shire one day, and he’d explained that catching a wizard in a good mood was the easiest way of going about the business.

As for Bella, now she was a Tookish mix, with a streak of Chubb practicality, and a core of iron all her own. That brightness of hers was far more crafty than bookish. ‘If I bring you some food, will you take me on an adventure?’ she enquired.

‘When you’re old enough,’ said Gandalf, lightly.

All at once the little fox pounced. ‘Do you promise?’ (Fons had impressed on his baby sister the importance of getting a proper promise out of the wizard.)

‘I promise,’ said Gandalf, less lightly. ‘But only when you’re old enough for an adventure, and not a moment before, mind you!’

Bella was to have cause later, much later, to think that she should have asked the wizard exactly how many years there were in ‘old enough.’ Fons would have done, she was sure. But he was twelve and she was four, and she’d been the much-loved only daughter of the Thain all those four years, and she’d got her own way—at least in small things. So instead of demanding to see the small print, like a proper cunning fox, she just said, ‘Good,’ like a little white duck. She spat on her small palm and held it out, as she had seen some of her brothers do. What a nasty habit for a polite young hobbit lass to have picked up! But Gandalf had been in some nasty places in his time, and done nastier things, no doubt. He reciprocated, spit and all, and they shook slimy hands very solemnly through the little round window (which was exactly like a ship’s porthole). Gandalf didn’t even wipe his hand on his handkerchief!

‘Can you turn yourself into a bird and fly in through the window?’ she enquired.

‘I could,’ he said. It was a bit of a fib, but wizards are allowed to fib where children are not. ‘But I know the cats in your smials. They’re hungry too.’ This happened to be true that night, though usually the Great Smials’ cats were smug, well-fed beasts who turned their noses up at little birds in favour of bowls of fresh-caught trout, and other smelly tidbits. But by some womanly sense that might as well have been magic, every hobbit maid and matron in the whole of the smials knew that their Mistress was a-bed with the new babe coming and the Thain away, and there were more tasks than just feeding the cats that went undone that autumn evening. (On no other night could the much-loved daughter of the Thain have leaned out of her bedroom window for half an hour talking to a wizard without her nurse giving her round behind a good sound spank, and tucking her up in bed without her bedtime bread and milk.)

Bella must have guessed he was fibbing. Rather than bothering to argue that he could just turn himself straight back as soon as he was inside, she gave him directions to the smials’ biggest cow barn, which stood in the south pastures on the far side of a little stream crossed by stepping stones, and told him to wait for her there. The directions were hobbit lass sized, but hobbit cows are only a little smaller than everyone else’s cows, and the barn was plenty big enough for a wizard, even though it was wild enough that evening that the cows had been herded in from their pastures as soon as it went dark. Wizards, or at least good wizards (which is the only sort I have ever dealt with), are good with all kinds of beasts, and the cows moved over when Gandalf asked them to, so that he could perch up on a fresh bale of straw in a corner out of their way. He kindled a little light on his staff, nice and dim so as not to keep the cows from their sleep, and inspected his lodgings. It was no Great Smials’ banqueting hall, to be sure, but with all the cows inside, it was snug enough, if a little smelly.

Quite a lot smelly, in fact. ‘Pooh!’ said Bella. ‘I didn’t know the cows would be in!’ She patted her pockets (for such a little lass, she had a lot of useful, deep pockets) and brought out, one by one, a pork pie, a thick slice of ham, a leg of roast chicken, a hunk of cheese, a small loaf of bread and a pat of butter with it, an apple tart, some candied ginger and raisins, a seed cake, an angel cake, and a pocketful of those past-their-best raspberries that should have been jam by now. They were a little squashed, but still good. There was even a bottle of Old Winyards! (That womanly magic I mentioned must have spread to a few of the menservants too. I think they must have started toasting the newest Tooklet before she’d even been born.) Bella had thought of everything, but then hobbits take food very seriously, and she had been the Little Mistress of Great Smials all her short life. She spread the feast out on Gandalf’s cloak. ‘There,’ she said, extremely proud of herself, and it was a not-unjustified pride, I think you will agree. A burglar equipped with a magical ring could hardly have done better! ‘Now, let’s talk about The Adventure of Belladonna Took…’

I am afraid, very much afraid, that Gandalf might be a bad wizard after all, for after that eventful day when giants were spotted south of the Shirebourn, and Donnamira Took drew her first breath, and the Thain himself found his eldest daughter in Angband, lulling Morgoth to sleep with the power of her voice (her body was in a cowshed, half asleep in the arms of his wizardly friend), it was rather more than thirty years before the wizard was seen in the Shire again. I regret to tell you that Belladonna’s promised adventure had quite slipped his mind. It had not slipped Belladonna’s mind. She waited for her adventure for thirty years. I cannot say she waited patiently, for patience was never one of Belladonna’s virtues, but she waited steadfastly. She rejected more than one proposal of marriage while she was waiting, and what is more she rejected Hildifons’ noble offer to take his little sister with him when he left the Shire! But after thirty years and more had gone by without a sign of Gandalf’s big nose and bigger pointy hat, she accepted Mr Bungo Baggins on his third time of asking.

Bungo took her away from Great Smials and all her relatives, and promised her a grand smial of her own in The Hill. Being a hobbit of his word, he even began to delve one, or at least to pay someone else to do so, which was rather better, as Bungo was not a dab hand at digging or indeed anything else that might get his nice clothes dirty. For all that, he made Belladonna a surprisingly good husband, apart from a tendency to trot out ‘third time pays for all’ rather too often, and there are worse faults a husband can have, let me tell you. Fortune smiled on their union after just long enough to confound all the Hobbiton gossipmongers, who were quite sure of the reason such a solid, respectable gentlehobbit as Mr Baggins would up and marry such a queer duck as the Old Took’s eldest daughter from across The Water. The girl wasn’t even a beauty! It was perhaps lucky that everyone, even the nastiest of the tittle-tattlers, agreed that young Bilbo was a copy of his father.

But we are getting ahead of ourselves. On the fine summer’s day when Gandalf came striding into Hobbiton and striding out along the new row under The Hill, admiring the shiny green door of the big new hobbit-hole as he went past, Bilbo was still a few months away from being born. The wizard didn’t even know that Belladonna lived there, and indeed, when she ran out of her shiny green door with her stays unlaced and her buttons askew and her hair only half brushed and hanging loose down her back, looking not at all like the respectable Mrs Bungo Baggins she was now, he didn’t so much as recognise her! Belladonna certainly recognised him. She had the advantage, of course, that wizards do not change as much as hobbits in thirty-odd years, do not change very much at all. If there’d been anyone around to notice, they change rather little in a hundred or even a thousand years; but as most of the sort of people who might be around to notice change rather little themselves, they don’t notice it in others, as a hobbit or a dwarf or one of the Big Folk would.

Belladonna had another advantage. She’d thought of Gandalf, and she’d planned the adventures they would have together, every day of those thirty-odd years. I would like to say that her wedding day had been an exception, but it would not be true. If Gandalf had arrived before she’d said her vows, I really think she might have run off with him in her wedding dress, without so much as stopping to say goodbye to the guests, or even to eat a slice of the wedding cake! It is probably for the best not to think about what might have happened if Gandalf had arrived after she’d said her vows but before there was a little Bilbo to think about.

But there was a little Bilbo to think about, and when Belladonna caught the wizard up, what she squeezed out between puffs and pants was not, ‘So here you are at last,’ but ‘You’re late!’ (And if you think she was not fit enough to go on an adventure, you should try catching up a Big Person quite twice your height, while expecting. It is no joke!)

‘Late?’ said the wizard, turning politely to attend to the plump hobbit matron who was tugging at his scarf from behind as if he were a bell she was trying to ring. The scarf was a fine silvery grey one like a spider’s web from Lothlórien, and luckily it was far stronger than it looked. ‘A wizard is never late.’

He’d got his mouth open to say more but Belladonna burst out with, ‘Never late, never late! That’s what you say. Well, you’re too late for our adventure! I walked ten miles before breakfast every day for twenty-five years. I learned to light fires with wet wood, and track deer, and trap and skin rabbits. I camped in the snow. I memorised maps. I even learned Elvish! And now you turn up! Never late, hah!’ You can see that she’d got her breath back now. She added bitterly, ‘You don’t even recognise me.’

‘Recognise you? Why, of course I recognise you.’ It was not a lie. Wizards have had more practice than many at recognising friends they have not seen in thirty-odd years. What is more, he had remembered his promise. ‘You’re Belladonna Took,’ he said.

If she had still been Belladonna Took she might have kicked his shins or even spat at his black-booted feet, but if she’d still been Belladonna Took she would not have wanted to. ‘Mrs Bungo Baggins to you,’ she said, in the voice she used when the Sackvilles came visiting, and it was like being smothered in a sack, a sack she had climbed into with her own two feet and tied up with her own two hands.

Gandalf did not seem to notice the sack, and he’d brought bad news to the Lady of the Golden Wood, the oldest and most powerful elf-witch in all of Middle-earth. No icy hobbit matron voice could scare him! ‘So you married a Baggins!’ he said. ‘I cannot think that was a wise decision. Never mind. It cannot be helped. Go and fetch the hobbit. We will try to make do.’ He was being brave. Taking a person on an adventure who truly does not wish to go is not a pleasant experience for anyone concerned. ‘An adventure will make a fine honeymoon, and who knows even a Baggins must have some shred of adventure in him somewhere.’ In this Gandalf was mistaken. Belladonna had chosen Bungo not for any of his fine qualities but because he had not the slightest shred of adventure anywhere about him. Of course the wizard had yet to meet this particular Mr Baggins, which must be his excuse.

‘I meant it when I said you were too late,’ she said, heavily. ‘I can’t come with you now.’ This time it was like cutting into her own belly and pulling out her unborn child and strangling him. It really was that gruesome. I hope you never have to do anything half so hard.

‘Don’t tell me you’re too old,’ said the wizard. ‘You can never be too old for an adventure!’

‘Not too old. Look at me!’ Belladonna cried, and she actually stamped her foot in the middle of the road! ‘I’m going to have a baby. That’s what women do!’

Gandalf looked at her narrowly. Who can say what a wizard sees when he looks, truly looks? They do not do it very often. Perhaps they are afraid of what they might see. Whatever Gandalf saw, ‘So you are,’ was all he said. ‘Well, we can put it off for a few years, I suppose. Wait until the child is weaned, or better yet, can walk.’

‘I can see your kind never have children!’

‘Say rather rarely have children. Do you remember when we last met I told you a part of the tale of Lúthien?’ Belladonna nodded. How could she forget? Lúthien was a woman and she outwitted Morgoth! ‘Her mother’s name was Melian. She fell in love with an Elvenking, before the sun and moon were born, and she wove a net of spells about his realm, the like of which the world has never seen, a web of spells that hid it from the eyes of evil, for a time, and there she bore a daughter. Her line lives on still in Rivendell. Melian was of what you call my kind.’

Gandalf certainly knew how to weave a spell with words. Belladonna’s eyes could still go round with wonder, and as she was a passionate hobbit whose emotions welled so deeply as to leave room for only one in her heart at a time, her wonder was slowly but surely drowning her fury. ‘There are wizards who are women?’

‘No, not a wizard. I was not always an old man! I knew Melian in my youth in the West.’

‘You were born in the Grey Havens? By the sea?’

The wizard laughed and shook his head. ‘West of west,’ he said, mysteriously. Wizards are good at saying even the most ordinary of things mysteriously, as you will soon learn if you are ever fortunate enough to become friends with one of them. It is among their most irritating characteristics. ‘Now,’ he said, less mysteriously, ‘do you want to discuss all our business in the road, or should we go into that nice snug hobbit-hole of yours and have a cup of tea?’

It took more than one cup of tea, in fact it took more than one day, but Gandalf was such a fine spinner of tales and he blew such fine smoke rings that it was hard for Belladonna to bear him a grudge, especially when he owned that wizards might, very occasionally and through circumstances not of their control, be late. He told her a few of the things he’d been doing in the thirty-odd years she’d been waiting for him, and though she scarcely understood one word in ten when he talked of the menace of the Sorcerer in Dol Guldur, of the death of the White Tree, and of the black Haradrim daring to attack the heart of Gondor, she could see that a wizard might have more important things on his mind than the adventures of one little hobbit lass, even than the adventures of Belladonna Took herself. Bungo, no admirer of traveller’s tales, discounted most of what the wizard said as sheer moonshine and the rest as having nothing to do with the Shire, but even he had to admire the smoke rings. They were magnificent.

The wizard agreed to take Belladonna’s eighth and youngest brother Isengar on an adventure, which pleased both Mr and Mrs Baggins. Garo, as he was invariably known (it being generally agreed that ‘iron spear’ was far too sharp a name for him), was a giddy lad in his mid-tweens who was wild for adventures of all kinds and apt to touch his new brother-in-law for money whenever he got into scrapes. Gandalf promised to come back and tell his tales to the littlest Baggins, and when Belladonna scowled at him he went very grave and, in a deep, solemn voice she had never heard him use before, a voice that somehow filled the room even though it was very quiet, he promised on the Flame Imperishable to return, and for a moment the room went very dark and still and Belladonna thought she saw a secret red fire spark in his eyes and on his hand as if he were really a dragon (though afterwards she wondered if she had dreamed it), and then he laughed and added, ‘As long as you don’t call him Isumbras!’—and this time he kept his promise.

And so it was that Bag End became one of a handful of places scattered across Middle-earth where Gandalf could hang up his pointy hat and be sure of his welcome. Belladonna put up a special bronze hook shaped like a dragon’s head and labelled with a G rune in the entrance hall, and she even made Bungo dig out a bedroom for the wizard. It was the only time she had to remind her husband that most of the gold that was paying for the finest, most luxurious hobbit-hole in all the Shire was Took gold. The room wasn’t quite wizard sized (Bungo had his limits), but it had a bed the wizard could lie down on without corkscrewing his back (before that he’d had to sleep on the sofa and both armchairs in the parlour, an arrangement which pleased nobody, least of all Bungo) and a roof high enough that if he sat up suddenly while he was in it, as wizards are apt to do sometimes, he wouldn’t knock himself out on the beams.

Belladonna found, somewhat to her surprise, that her adventuring apprenticeship served her rather well as the mother of a boy who had more than a dash of Took hidden under that thick Baggins hide. Over the years she sang little Bilbo to sleep with Elvish lullabies, and drew him maps and told him tales of the wide world beyond the Shire’s borders. She floated paper boats with him on The Water and taught him to climb the apple trees in Bag End’s flourishing orchard. She tramped right around the bounds of the Shire (though never outside them) with him and occasionally with Bungo, and she did a great deal more camping, which was only sometimes in the snow. She never regretted her choice to stay in the Shire, not in her heart, not even when Garo – Isengar – strolled in one day brown as a hazelnut, with hands as horny as his feet and his head full of great waves and sea monsters and high elven towers above silver beaches with black Corsair sails on the horizon. But she always kept at least one eye out for the wizard, who loved to turn up at the most unexpected and inconvenient moments.

Perhaps that was why Gandalf did not turn up when she most expected and longed for him, at Bungo’s funeral. The widow set a place for the wizard at the funeral breakfast in Bag End, and she shooed away Longo Baggins when he tried to sit in it. (Those of you who have heard about her son’s adventures might be interested to know that Bungo’s brother Longo had married into the odious Sackville family, and was the father of Otho Sackville-Baggins.) Gandalf had come to the Old Took’s deathbed, half a dozen years earlier, and had stayed for his funeral, and as he left he’d whispered, ‘Not long now,’ in his most infuriating manner, but she’d neither seen him nor heard from him since. She told herself that ‘not long now’ was no kind of promise, and that the wide world held many more important things than one hobbit widow, and if she took to tramping the Buckland water meadows down by Brandywine Bridge on the Bree road, what of it? The kingcups were pretty at this time of year, and besides, her sister Mirabella was Mistress of Buckland now, so she might wander where she chose! Thank you for asking!

Then one morning, directly after breakfast, a letter arrived at Bag End, addressed in a bold, flowing hand not to Mrs Bungo Baggins but to one Belladonna Took. The letter might have had a G rune on the back, where sensible folk put the return address. Belladonna had packed her bag, stuffed the few remaining coins of Took gold into her purse, put on her finest grey-green travelling cloak and picked up her favourite walking stick, the stout iron-shod one with the handle carved like a dragon’s head that Bungo had given her when he turned sixty-six, all before second breakfast. She gave the worn wood of the dragon’s-head handle a brisk caress. ‘Dear Bungo,’ she murmured. She said farewell to her son and she pecked him on the cheek, as was her habit now he’d grown past the age for motherly hugs, and then she hugged him tight anyway, and as she did so she might have whispered one or two words in his ear. But it would be wrong, quite wrong, to say she was never seen in the Shire again—no, indeed! It was just that with so many relatives, it was hard to say where she might be found. If you called at Bag End she was certain to be visiting her sister in Buckland, and if you called at Brandy Hall, why she’d left for Great Smials just that morning. Did you not pass her on the road?

17 August 2015