The Burglar reached out one, trembling hand, the glint of the golden band that veiled her from his eyes, shined on her finger as she grabbed the white jewel that blazed like a star made stone.
She slipped the Arkestone inside the pocket of her borrowed, torn, blue coat and darted aside just in time as he opened his mouth.
The flame came out roaring in a hot jet and the green stone walls of Erebor begun to twist and melt. Molten stone running down the Mountain’s depths.
It was so hot that the Burglar begun to fear she might melt too. On all four, she crawled amongst the the golden hills of coins heated by dragonfire that blistered her ruined hands. Her damp curls clinged to her forehead and she felt the salty taste of her sweat dripping from her brow to her lips.
She kept crawling, trying to push her way through that golden desolation deep into the mountain, while him twisted his serpentine body above her, clawing the stone walls, flaring is huge nostrils to catch her scent, to catch her. His scales were blazing red, crusted with golden coins that fell with a pling upon the hard stone.
Her shadowy veil of invisibility was still in her favor, for as long as she wore the ring. One hand wandered to her pocket, she felt the hard bump of the jewel. Finally, she had fulfilled the task for which she had been employed for – only eight months earlier but it felt a thousand years ago.
The Burglar prayed, begged and cursed under her breath as she gasped in the heat, thinking back at how far her journey had taken her. She took a path that had led her astray from who she once had was. She had made many bad decisions along the way, and the Valars only knew how many more she would make. Decisions that could cost her her life, the love of her friends. Decisions which consequences will stay with her for all her days, decisions that will unexpectedly turn out to be for the better, really.
If asked when her journey begun, our Burglar would probably answer that this whole nasty, uncomfortable business had started that morning of late April – that seemed ages ago – when she signed away her life.
In truth, this adventure had begun a hot summer of Mid-summer’s eve, many years ago. . .
It was a hot summer night. The great field of Hobbiton was alive with the laughter of children, the party tree was decorated with many, colorful lanterns, the air was heavy with the smell of baked goods and roasted meat, the smoke of the fireworks and pipeweed that made her eyes sting.
Thud! Her stick- sword hit the old man’s bottom a little harder than she had intended.
The man turned instantly toward her and the little Hobbit met a pair of confused, gleaming blue eyes, heavied by a furrowed brow.
Cheeky as you please, the little Hobbit offered the old man the most innocent smile she could muster.
“Bella!” her mother’ soft ammonition came out in a gasped laugh as she flew to her daughter’s side and promptly reached to take the toy sword from her hands, “No, sweetling, No! give it to me!”
Bella squirmed, keeping a tight grip on her sword, “No!”
“At once, young lady!”
Reluctantly, the little Hobbit girl surrendered her precious toy sword to her bossy mother.
Meanwhile, the old man clothed in grey was leaning on his twisted, long staff. laughing beneath his long beard at the scene between mother and daughter, deeply amused, “Well, I am glad to see that there’s a new flower in the Took’s garden.” He said turning his smiling, gleaming eyes toward the little Hobbit.
Her mother smiled at the tall, old man, “Gandalf the Grey!”
They both hugged like long-lost friends, “my most darling girl. Though you are not girl anymore and you have become a mother.” The old man said. His gleaming eyes falling again on the little girl, studying her carefully.
Her mama brought her forward to introduce her to him, “Bella, this is an old fried of mine, Gandalf the Grey. He’s a wizard.”
Little Bella gasped, alert like a fox at the word, “A wizard?!”
Gandal bent down to look at her, leaning on his staff, arching one, bushy brow, “In person. And you, young hobbit are?”
Bella beamed up, “My name is Belladonna Baggins, sir! But you can call me Bella! Are you truly a wizard? Can you do a magic trick? I never seen you before, where did you come from? Where have you been? How many places have you visited? For how long have you known my mama? And – “ her mama put a hand upon Bella’s mouth, hushing her. Nonetheless, the little girl kept asking more questions, even if muffled by her mother’s hand.
“You must excuse my little one, Gandalf, “ said Belladonna, “she is a excitable, little girl, too lively and enthusiastic and – ouch!” her mother jerked away the hand she was holding against her daughter’s mouth, because Bella had just bit her.
Gandalf bursted out laughing, “Fierce as a dragon in a pinch!” he exclaimed as he reached out one, worn out hand to ruffle Bella’s short, red-golden curls, “and a strong arm too,” his hand went to his lower back, rubbing the spot when Bella had hit him with her toy sword, “were you planning to skewer me, young hobbit?”
Bella bit her lip and flushed. She felt her mama’s disapproving, brown eyes upon her. She knew very well that she could keep her toy sword for as long as she wasn’t going to hurt anyone, and she’d been already pushing her luck when she had broke her cousin Otho Sackville-Baggins’ nose, last spring.
Bella did not meant to hurt Gandalf. Bolder than the other Hobbit children, she had crept in on him, quiet as she could be as the old man was turned – she had never seen someone as tall as him and so strange looking. rarely tall folks ventured in the Shire, nor Hobbits were too eager to leave their land – in a rush of childish excitement, she had so desperately wanted to catch the old man’s attention, but she never meant to hurt him.
Bella scuffed a furry toe amongst the moist grass and lowered her head, “I’m so sorry I hit you with my toy sword.” She said in her most sweet, sorry voice.
Gandalf burst into amused giggles at the sight, but her mother was not as easily fooled, “I Ought to snap this wretched toy on my knee and be done with it.”
“No!” Bella cried, fearing for her precious toy.
Gandalf came to her aid “Oh, my dear Belladonna, please. There’s no need to. I had endured worst blows than one of a simple sword-stick, I’ll grant you and the girl said she’s sorry,” said the wizard, “Besides, if you took it away from her, no doubt you’d find a Narsil in your daughter’s hands within the morning.”
Her mama snorted back a proud laugh, “Yes, you are probably right.” Belladonna looked down at her daughter with a mischievous smile on her face, “Oh, alright,”then held the toy out to her, hilt first, “Go. Unleash hell.”
Bella took it in her hands, a happy grin blooming on her face, “thank you!”
Gandalf knelt in the grass, in front of her, leaning on his long, twisted staff. He messed up her curls once more, “What a jolly, unexpected, little girl. You asked me if could perform a ‘magic trick’” he arched one, bushy brow, “would you like to see one?”
Bella nodded her head frantically, her curls fluffing on her head.
In the blink of an eye, the wizard used his long staff to lit a firework. When the spark flew up in the sky and exploded above Hobbiton in golden and scarlet sparks. The dragon roared and twisted and when it opened its mouth, golden flames poured in a glittering jet that turned into dust in the night sky.
Hundreds of hobbits cried in surprise and in concern, but little Bella Baggins lifted her head in wonder, she had never seen anything more beautiful.
Gandalf was observing her closely, “Magic trick enough for you?”
Bella nodded slowly, not able to gaze away from the firework, “It looks like a real dragon.” She said, awed.
“I am afraid a real dragon is a far more dreadful sight, little Hobbit.” Said Gandalf with an amused sigh.
“Have you ever seen a dragon ?” Bella asked him suddenly.
The Grey Wizard gave her a long, careful look. His eyes gleamed beneath his pointy blue hat. “I know a story about a Dragon.” He said, stroking his sweeping silver beard.
Bella lit up like the firework. “Tell me everything!” she pleaded, tugging at his grey robes.
“everything? “ Gandalf laughed and messed up Bella’s short curls again. “ My dear child, you are far too eager and curious for a Hobbit…that is most unnatural.”
Gandalf used his staff to lit another firework, when the spark flew in the sky, purple flowers blossomed and died, glittering in the night. Somewhere across the field, the band was playing but Bella could scarcely hear their tune above the explosions of the fireworks and the delighted cries of hundreds of Hobbits. Her pointy ears twitched at the noise.
“If I hadn’t known for certain that your dear mother had married respectable Master Bungo and bore a daughter named ‘Baggins’ I would say that you are quite the adventurous little lass, just like many Tooks before you.”
“Take me with you and I’ll show you.” She said to Gandalf, in a sudden rush, “Mama will let me go with you if you ask her, I know she will!”
Gandalf’s bushy brows rose and then he burst into laughing, “The world outside your Shire is a hard place for a young, little Hobbit, my dear Bella.”
“I am almost a grown Hobbit!” Bella protested. “I am the oldest of all my cousins, I’m ten! and I can climb a tree higher than any other children and I am the fastest! Even the boys can’t run as fast as me!”
Gandalf snorted and stroked is beard, “Remarkable qualities.”
Bella wanted desperately to explain, to make him see, “Please Gandalf, please! I never seen the world outside the Shire and I want to go in a adventure like one in the great stories!” she pleaded to this wizard she had only just met, but she was sure in her heart he could make her wildest dreams come true.
“Have you given any thought to what your parents would say about me, leading their little girl into perilous adventures out in the wide world?” he asked, glancing up to where her mama and papa were dancing as the band was playing.
Bella chewed on her lip defeated. She knew all too well that her mother was famous in the Shire for being an unexpectedly adventursome woman, daughter of Gerontius Took, Thain of the Shire and descendant of the famous Brandobras Bullroarer Took, had her fair amount of adventures.
Bella wanted so very much to be like her mother, her grandfather and her great-grand-uncle, but her last name was Baggins not Took and she knew the Bagginses were very well thought of in the Shire. Never had any adventures and did anything unexpected of them.
Bella lowered he head, lost.
Gandalf caught her chin in his hands and urged her to look up at him, “ It’s a dangerous business, Bella, going out your door. You step onto the road and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”
Bella knew those words, “That’s what mama always says.”
Gandalf nodded, “and she’s right. Now, you might dream of great stories and living adventures, but you must know that the world can be a dark, dangerous place as well,” he pulled out a pipe from one of his sleeves and lit it with his pinkie finger and inhaled, “For dark and dangerous things roams this world.” He began blowing ribbons of grey smoke.
“Dark and dangerous things like… a Dragon?” she said suddenly, thinking about the great fireworks in the sky.
Gandalf seemed surprised that she had spoken of it. Smoke rings curled around them and Bella waved them away with her hand.
The Grey wizard led her to a nearby bench and pulled her up to sit in his lap, “Let me tell you something about dragons, dear Bella. They are ancient and twisted creatures, fire and death made flesh. They have dark hearts and even darker minds. Their wings eclipse the sun, turning day into night, their fire can melt mountains and their scales are like armours. They can live thousands of years and they fly over the realms of men, burning and destroying cities and kingdoms and fed on the flesh of men, women and children.”
Gandalf’s voice was almost a whisper, his eyes gleamed dimly and Bella found herself leaning foward to listen.
“They are greedy, cunning creatures, but they can also be seductive and alluring. They are malicious , subtle beings of immense intelligence. Their eyes are pools of molten fire ant their speech had a power to compromise a men’s heart and bend their minds. Those who did not wish to fall under their spell ought to talk vaguely and in riddles, for denying an answer would mean sure death.”
“Dragons can talk too?” Bella asked, startled. The smoke rings were curling and dancing around her. Her eyes filled with tears, pheraps it was the smoke, pheraps it was the fear.
“Yes, dragons can talk.” Gandalf nodded, almost absently. “A Dragon owes allegiance to no one. The kingdoms of this world are nothing to them, their eyes are set on other prizes…” Ribbons of grey smoke came alive around her, turning into a tiny dragon, Bella heard a hideous sound or she through she did. The little smoke drake turned its head slowly and snapped its jaws at her. Gandalf’s voice was as distant as a memory “…for dragons covet gold, with a dark fierce desire… “ The little smoke- dragon twisted and roared and whirled above her head when it finally whimpered and died, fading into thin air.
When the party was through and the lanterns were all blown out, The wizard left as he came, suddenly. Taking away his fireworks and his stories with him.
For days Bella had wondered if she will ever see her new, unexpected friend again, and for years she had dreamed of adventures, stories and dragons.
“can I have a book about dragons?” she once asked as her mother was tucking her to bed.
Belladonna had smiled, then. She had a mouth made for smiles with dimples of each sides of her face, “and what for? The only dragon to be found in the Shire is the one painted on the plate of the Green Dragon Inn.”
Despite being mother and daughter, the two Belladonna’s were as different as the sun and the moon; her mother had brown, doe-eyes and long brown curls that fell past her waist. While little Bella took her colours from her grandfather, the Old Took, with her red-gold short curls and big green eyes without a trace of hazel in them.
“Gandalf told me a story about dragons.” She said, yawning.
“Oh, did he?” her mama asked as she tucked Bella into bed. Her brown locks fell like a curtain around her. Bella fought to keep her eyes open as her eyelids grew heavier. “Can I go with him the next time he comes back to the Shire? I want to go on a adventure.”
Her mother’s big eyes widened at that and she laughed softly. “you are too young to go on a adventure with that blasted wizard.”
“What if I promise to be careful?”
“What would your father say if i just let you go off with Gandalf, living adventures, fighting dragons … “
“You can’t fight a dragon, their scales are too hard, as hard as armours.” Bella explained proudly.
Her mother snorted. “All right, smarty-pants! And surely you can’t fight a dragon with your little toy sword.” She smiled mischievously.
“Perhaps with a real sword… “ Bella offered, cheeky.
“It doesn’t have to be a big sword, it could be little…like me!”
Her mother chuckled. “with all the troubles you have already caused with your toy, you’ll be lucky if I trust you with a letter opener. “
Suddenly Bella remebered of what Gandalf had told her, of the ‘dark and dangerous things’ that roams the world outside the little, peaceful green land of the Hobbits. “Do you think he’ll ever come back?” she asked, uncertaintly.
Her mother patted her cheeck. “He is a wizard, he does as he chooses, but i promise you, he will come back, precisely when he means to.” Despite her fears, Bella thrilled at the never-failing comfort of her mother’s touch. She curled closer to her pillow,her eyelids fluttering closed, and with hope in her heart, little Bella Baggins fell asleep, dreaming of swords, adventures and dragons.