Bella Baggins, as the whole Shire knows, inherited a full share of her infamous mother’s personality, her wanderlust and Tookish love of adventure. But it is impossible for even the stuffiest matron to deny that Bella Baggins also inherited her father’s reliable steadiness and impeccable business sense; and so it is that when Bella Baggins is thirty-three and finally ready to make her very first solo trip out of the Shire, she returns from Rivendell having not only spent three months among the elves, but also having forged a remarkable trade agreement in order to sell the excess produce of the spice gardens which her father so foresightedly planted in the fields around Bag End. The agreement makes her very rich indeed inside of ten years, and her proud father goes to his grave swearing up and down that his daughter is a better businessman than he; her mother, equally proud, watches Bella set out each year with the caravans and wipes away happy tears to see her daughter blossom so.
Bella does not marry, which is something of a scandal; certainly there are many young hobbit men who would be very glad to take her as a wife, and when she turns them each and all down, politely and firmly, it is rumored for a while that she has found a lover among the Men or elves in the outside lands. But Bella only laughs at that, when Lobelia brings her the rumors. “Take up with one of the Tall Folk?” she says. “Why, I’d get a horrible crick in my neck looking up at him all the time, and he’d get an awful case of back-strain, always bending down to me.” Then, smiling at her friend, she adds, “No, ‘Belia, it’s only that I’d want someone who would come adventuring with me, and be at my side always; I couldn’t do as Mother did, and leave my man at home to wait for me. And there’s not a one of my suitors who’d dare do as I do, and you know it.”
Lobelia is forced to admit the fairness of this accusation, and she spreads the word that it is not that Bella is having an affair, but only that she is unreasonably picky; and since that is meaty enough for the old matrons to pick over for many years, the rumors die down, and by the time she is forty-two, Bella’s reputation is left quite alone. She is, simply, Belladonna Took’s odd daughter, sole mistress of Bag End, elf-friend and restless roamer, who wears breeches and smokes a pipe and bears a sword at her side, and brings in caravans of elf-made goods each autumn, to the delight of all her neighbors and friends.
Thus it is that Gandalf finds her, one pleasant spring morning, sitting on her front step smoking a pipe and looking out over the fields of pepper vines and ginger plants, and the priceless plot of saffron flowers, which have made her the richest woman in Hobbiton – and made her neighbors and employees very rich as well.
“Good morning!” he says, and she looks up at him and examines him closely, from his battered boots to his old grey hat and the long staff in his hand.
“Good morning,” she says at last. “Do I know you, sir?”
“To think I have lived so long, and should not be known by Belladonna Took’s daughter!” says the old man in his grey hat, and Bella blinks and stares and laughs.
“Why, Gandalf!” she says. “Or so I guess – Lord Elrond said you were in the area, but you did not come by this past winter, and I thought you had moved on.”
“Indeed, it is on Lord Elrond’s suggestion that I am here,” Gandalf agrees, pulling a pipe from his robes and lighting it, and leaning on his long staff to puff on it. “He said that there was a certain hobbit woman in the Shire who might be interested in an adventure.”
Bella blows a smoke-ring, contemplatively. “What sort of adventure?” she asks. “For I have caravans to manage, and crops to care for; I am a busy woman, after all.”
“A very fine adventure indeed,” Gandalf assures her. “One which would take you farther than you have ever journeyed, across the Misty Mountains and far beyond.”
“Traveling is all well and good, and indeed someday I should like to go over the mountains and far away, but you have not told me what I would be doing,” Bella points out. She has not created a trading empire, even a little one, by missing dodges like that.
Gandalf stares at her for a long time from under the brim of his hat, and at last he blows his own smoke-ring – it does flips – and sighs. “Have you ever heard of Erebor, the Lonely Mountain?” he inquires.
“A dwarven kingdom, very far away,” Bella says promptly. “Overrun with a dragon, long before I was born, if my mother’s tales are to be believed.”
“They are, indeed,” Gandalf says. “But now there has arisen one of the blood of Erebor’s kings who wants his mountain back.”
Bella blinks. “Well, I’m sure I’d want it back too, if it were my mountain,” she agrees. “But that is a dwarven matter, surely; what has it to do with me?”
“He will fail without you, Bella Baggins,” Gandalf says solemnly. “I do not know what service you will do, or how your presence will aid his quest, but nevertheless I know that he will fail without you, and Erebor become forevermore a haunt of dark and loathsome things.”
Bella’s pipe drops from her lips as she gapes in shock, and she scrabbles for it, dumping the coals out on the dirt path and stomping on them, before she looks back up to meet Gandalf’s eyes. “Me,” she says incredulously. “Or – would any hobbit do?”
“You,” Gandalf confirms, “and you alone.”
“Well,” Bella says after a long pause. “If I am all that stands between this quest and failure, I suppose I will have to go along. But there are things I will need to arrange before I leave – when will this king’s scion and his party be ready to leave?”
“They will be here to meet with you tomorrow evening,” Gandalf says, and turns in a swirl of robes and stalks away, leaving Bella Baggins gaping on her doorstep.
“Tomorrow!” she cries. “But – but – oh, bebother and confusticate all wizards! That is simply not sufficient warning!”