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Weaving My Fate

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He was in habit of weighing his options carefully before taking any action.

She could not remember the last time she looked before taking a leap.

He was created by Aulë, or Mahal as he was called by the Dwarrow, strong and meant to endure.

She swore by the Green Lady.

His hair was sheer gold.

Hers were the exact shade of a moonless night.

He was dynamic.

She was dramatic.

He was precise.

She was impulsive.

He stood amongst others with natural authority and strength, one who could draw attention and respect without trying.

She cared naught for her appearance.

He excelled in diplomacy.

She excelled in diplomacy, but often resorted to throwing punches instead.

He was amiable but composed.

She smiled and laughed without a care in the world.

He never had any romantic inclination in his life.

She hated romance in all forms, if it were directed towards her.

He was the future King of Erebor.

She wanted freedom to be her future.

For him the story began- as he would later speculate, when he was assigned with the task of training the next regiment of Hobbits who would late join the forces of Ered Luin and Erebor.

It began for her- she would later speculate, as booming clapping and cheers followed when Otho Sackville-Baggins attempted to kiss her and she turned her head in revulsion, tears of indignation burning in her blue eyes as she fixed them on the ancient Party Tree and considered various ways to escape this unexpected disaster.

But in the end, they both coincided- or rather she forced him to agree with her- that their story began with her 'Coming of Age'.

..........................................

"Good evening, Mrs Higgins. I will have a pint please." Donnabell tried to smile, she really did. It came out more of a grimace but at the moment she couldn't bring herself to care.

"Happy Birthday, dearie! Wasn't this a wonderful day for you now? Hobbiton hasn't seen a party this magnificent since the coming of age of your own late mother, excellent affair that was- but why are you out so late, love?"

The very mention of the remarkable event that had just concluded aggravated Donnabell's already frayed nerves. Her ill temper must have shown up on her face, for inn-keeper's wife immediately reassured her that her order would arrive in time.

"Though it beats me why she'd be out tonight?" Mrs Higgins wondered to herself, as she bustled about the counter. "It's hardly proper as it is, now that she is of age. But aye, she's a Took through and through and Belladonna's daughter at that so such behavior can be expected though certainly it is not to be condoned, the lass hasn't yet grown out of her tweens as it seems-"

This trail of thought was rudely interrupted by the rap of the brass knocker on the inn's door. Mrs Higgins looked up in anticipation of more customers, not many were out that night.

Which was again quite expected. Mrs Higgins shot a grudging look at the occupant of the table placed on a distant corner, her party had cost Green Dragon's usual share of visitors.

The Dwarf, Nori as he was called, sauntered towards the counter. He had a very distinctive gait: a simultaneously lazy and businesslike, self possessing walk that suggested that wherever he might be, he would be just as comfortable somewhere else, and whoever he might see there was quite lucky that he came at all.

Without as much as a greeting, he told her gruffly. "Shall be needin' a room for a night or two. And I'll have a pint. The usual."

"I'll have everything prepared in a moment, Master Dwarf," Mrs Higgins graced him with her ever-present smile as he shoved few coins on the counter.

She didn't mind the lack of niceties, for Nori was one of her usual customers and always paid handsomely for his fare though the sight of his shabby travel garb suggested a not well-off background. But then, you never knew with Dwarves. Even after years of having dealt with Mahal's children, Mrs Higgins wasn't entirely accustomed to their oddities.

The Dwarves of Ered Luin used roads and paths leading through the Shire whenever they undertook journeys to Erebor or other areas. Green Dragon was famous spot for them to halt by and spend a couple of nights, and the inn had flourished as a result.

The Dwarves of the Shire ,though, were another matter entirely. Mrs Higgins didn't approve of them at first as she did so of the wayside travelers and the Rangers.

But she didn't dare to entirely disapprove of them either, for the arrangement was so by the King's order. And it had done much good for the Hobbits, although they had been highly dubious of the Dwarves at first. Now the two races co-existed as a single community, in complete harmony, as if they had resided with each other from the very beginning.

This Dwarf in particular immediately made for the table where Donnabell Took was seated, but it hardly came off as a surprise to Peony Higgins. It was perhaps not very respectable to mingle with shady travelers, especially if it were an unescorted female, out in an inn this late. Tooks though, were strange entities so none of the usual tutting followed, as it usually would have from the well-meaning Hobbit matron, who was somewhat of a busybody.

Donnabell glowered at Nori as he seated himself on the chair across from her, indecisive as to greet him or not. If he had failed to show up entirely, this day of all days, she would have disowned him as her best friend.

“Hello Nori, did you have a nice day?” Her tone pleasant and soft, so entirely opposed to her general disposition and the way her furious eyes flashed, didn’t bode well with the Dwarf. "I hope you didn't lose your way, that would've been terrible."

"Yer angry with me," The Dwarf stated the obvious and tried not to flinch under her ferocious gaze. Donnabell, for all her beauty, had a truly terrible scowl- one that could instill fear in even the most battle-scarred warriors.

It was very useful to drive away potential suitors, or so she proclaimed. Nori had a fine scowl of his own, put into effect when he did not desire company- which was often. So frowning was his usual state of being. One would have thought that such practice through years would have him honed the art of 'death glare', but no, Donnabell still managed a better scowl than him.

It never failed to annoy the Dwarf.

"I know, I know I'm horribly late and - ya needn't glare at me so! Ya know better than most how Dori's like- always suspicious an' a worrywart- wouldn't let go of me until it was too la-"

"You need not rattle off that prepared speech." She cut in coldly. "I am immensely glad that you weren't here for my wretched party."

"Now- now, ya needn't act as-" Nori suddenly stopped and peered at her intently. "Somethin's off. Yer supposed to be in seven heaven's of delight, love, not lookin' like somethin' the cat dragged in."

The Hobbit's rich curve of lips quirked up in a sweet smile so obviously fake, that Nori's suspicions were instantly confirmed. He weighed his words, and asked cautiously, for years of maintainingg friendship with this particular Hobbit had him attuned to Donnabell's disposition. A mere careless word might end up, with him getting struck by that pint in her hands.

"So I take it, your comin' of age party didn't go well?"

"It was marvelous," She tittered, the mock smile still plastered on her lips. "Absolutely spectacular. The grandest affair that Hobbiton has ever hosted that will probably be talked off in coming nine, or rather ninety-nine days more likely. My beloved grandmother outdid herself."

Nori let out a groan, slamming a clenched wrist on the table. "Don't tell me, that old hag managed to ruin your party too? How could she do that!"

"Ruin?" Donnabell's face contorted, the smile falling off. Nori wasn't sure what was worse, seeing that mock copy of her truly wonderful smile or her eyes full of barely suppressed pain.

"She doomed me to eternal suffering! Nowi Wee, you currently behold the beloved betrothed of Otho Sackville Baggins, who is sitting in my chair and wearing my clothes. She even has the same name as I."

At this melodramatic declaration (and that ridiculous nickname she insisted on), Nori stiffened- then gawked at his best mate as if she had grown an extra head.

“How come? Ya never told me that ya were involved with-“

“I wasn't! You know well enough that I wasn’t!” Donnabell interrupted vehemently, shaking her disheveled curls out of her face. “I can’t be tied down by a wretched wedding of all things. I need to explore the world and live up to my mother’s name!”

“Your mother married.”

If Donnabell hadn't desperately needed to drown her woes in her drink, she would have definitely thrown it at his head. Nori thanked Mahal that she didn't, for years of playing conkers had her aim perfected.

“Thanks for informing me of that fact, Ri. I was wondering how I came into being." She gritted out. "But you’re missing the point completely! I wasn’t even aware of this- arrangement- until the time it was announced. In front of the whole gathering! And... and to that loathsome Otho- Green Lady have pity on me.”

“Otho-“ Nori twirled one of his auburn braids thoughtfully, and she hid her face in her trembling hands. “Isn’t he that toad who’s always boastin' 'bout his wealth in the market place? The one singularly obsessed in winning yer hand, and I bonked his head up for that?”

“The very one,” Donnabell looked up and nodded miserably. But suddenly her startling blue eyes grew determined and she shook her dark curls fiercely. “I won’t have it. I won’t be coerced into such a marriage, against my will.”

“That’s the spirit, Ravenprig.” Nori eyed her third pint warily. “What ya gonna do against the might of yer grandma though? Once she's set her mind on somethin', she usually isn’t the one to back down.”

“It’s my life,” Donnabell clenched her wrists. “I’ll talk to Uncle Isengrim. Even he was left in dark about this, and he certainly is not happy with this... arrangement.”

“Even so, the King doesn't condone such a practice. He spoke against such forced unions like his own." Her friend shrugged. "Ya can petition Lord Balin, when he drops by Great Smials next time- he's ridiculously fond of ya for reasons I can't fathom.”

"Git," Donnabell muttered. She ran a hand through her mass of curls. "The King did nothing to implement that, did he now? And do you think Lord Balin can make Grandma change her mind? She barely tolerates his presence as it is. Or of any Dwarf from Erebor for that matter."

Nori was surprised to her Donnabell speak against the King, she idolized him.

He squirmed uncomfortably. “Bell, ya know well enough that Erebor doesn't make every policy of the Shire. Especially, in matters of old customs and traditions- Erebor has nothing to with that.”

“Oh yes, that’s in the hands of the Thain- or in other words Grandmother Adamanta." She exhaled a cold sigh. "Oh how I wish Grandfather were still alive. He wouldn’t have let her do- this atrocity!”

“Now, now-" Nori suddenly snatched the mug of ale from her trembling hands, this brew was potent stuff as he knew very well and though Donnabell could hold her beer much better than other lasses of the Shire, three pints, in one go, were far too much. It wouldn’t do her any favor to return to Great Smials in such a state.

“Give it back!”

“Oh, be reasonable for once ya dunderhead! Ya’ll most certainly get drunk and we all know what happened last time that happened.”

“I’m staying at Prim’s place- do you know that toad threatened to make them leave Bag End? Because with our union, it would come under his control!”

“Don, calm down now. Yer makin' a fuss for nothin'.” Nori tried to soothe her, though he knew that wouldn't work. Nothing worked when Donnabell was in one of her 'moods' and Nori wasn't very skilled in this art anyway. He knew at the moment the words left his mouth that they could hurt instead of comfort but he didn’t know how to comfort with words.

But still he made another attempt. “Hobbit engagements aren’t bindin', there’ll be a way out of this. Don’t, er, lose hope.”

“Hope?” She sighed. “There wasn’t much hope for me from the beginning. My life is a graveyard of buried hopes.”

It was so exactly a Donnbell thing to say that Nori burst out laughing. He soon stopped though, for she had reclaimed her mug.

“Yer not gonna drink that, Ravenprig!”

“You’re going to patronize me?” There was challenge in her eyes.

Nori racked his brain for something that would- oh. He quickly pulled up his travel pack from where it slumped on the floor in front of his booted feet, well out of reach of petty thieves. Ironic, really, as he was one himself. “Before ya get wholly drunk and outta yer wits, I brought somethin' for ya.” He brought out a poorly packed gift, tentatively. He had not found the time before or enough paper for that matter to properly wrap it, but now he really wished he had taken a moment to do so-

Donnabell’s face split into a truly delighted smile, her eyes crinkling at corners. “You brought me a gift? Oh Nori, you didn't have to- you're the sweetest Dwarf to grace Arda!”

“Who am I competin' with?” The Dwarf teased, relieved partially from the fact he had managed to drag her (hypothetically) out of her grim mood and that she appreciated the gift. It was good to know that not every relation with another being in his life was messed up. “Lobelia Bracegirdle?”

“Oh, stop spoiling this moment with your mouth.” Donnabell's deft fingers tore off the wrapping paper, and she gazed starry eyed at the tomes within.

Gifts to Donnabell Took never needed to be impressive, expensive or creative. For one thing, Hobbits gave gifts to others on their birthdays. For another she cared nothing for jewels or ornaments, but coveted books as a Dwarf coveted gold. Or so the Tree-shaggers or the Men would say.

“You’re the most wonderful Dwarf to grace Middle Earth.” Donnabell declared again, her eyes still occupied in gazing ardently at the books he brought for her.

Nori huffed a quiet laugh. “After King Thorin, I suppose.” He swept a quick glance around, registering that the inn was noticeably emptier and the hour was indeed very late. “Ya better go, now. It'd be dark outside, and I never trust ya with findin' the right way in night. Or even in sunlight for that matter.”

“You’ll be still here in the morning?” She inquired anxiously, refusing to rise to the bait- even though she could her find her way around the Shire in the dark just fine, thank you very much.

“Of course, idjit. Where do ya suppose I’ll wander off ta this late?”

“One can never be sure with you, son of Ri.” She laughed softly, as Nori accompanied her to the door of the Green Dragon.

“Isn’t the night sky simply ravishing?" Donnabell remarked, stepping outside and tilting her head upwards. "The stars look like tiny diamonds against dark velvet and-”

“G'night, Bell.”

“You’re such an unromantic soul. You could've been a kindred spirit, but no- you had to go and be so cynical and dry.” She huffed. “To think my best friend isn’t a kindred spirit.”

"I hope ya get over it."

Accustomed as he was to her every little mannerism, Nori didn't miss the undertone of hysterics in her voice or her tensed shoulders- or how her normally fluid gait was now unsteady. Donnabell had likely shown no such emotion nor displeasure at her engagement to others, she was too prideful and stubborn to do so.

But he knew it was surely gnawing away at her heart from inside. She needed a good friend and confident to let out this burden, and although Nori was her best friend, he would be lying if he was confident he had the capability of being one. Nori had no idea of how to deal with a miserable, depressed Donnabell.

So he said. “Don’t do anything foolish.” He shouldn't have. Idiot. She was sure to do something stupid now.

She gave him a smile in return, that might have fooled others but certainly did not fool him. With books tucked under her arm, the Hobbit waved goodbye and bounded away towards the path leading to Bag Shot Row.

Nori sighed. He had been looking forwards to a night of uninterrupted sleep that he never got in Ered Luin. But now he knew he wasn't going to get a wink this night with the knowledge of what had transpired with his best mate.

He knew that she wasn't going to sleep either.

Chapter Text

 

The first thing she did after tumbling out rather unceremoniously from her snug bed, was to eagerly drink in the well familiar view of Tuckborough outside the circular windows of her room.

It was quite a morning, not an extraordinary one by any means, but still undeniably gorgeous.

Autumn was in full swing, and Donnabell couldn’t recall being ever so elated before. Well there were certainly various occasions, innumerable moments, lasting memories that made her lips quirk up when snatches of them flitted through her mind.

Her birthday last year was one such marvellous affair, but she had already been anticipating the next one- and regretted not thoroughly enjoying herself afterwards.

There would be no such regrets today.

A world all renewed greets my awed gaze
The sun is aglow, from beyond the haze
The endless stretch of grass appears to be greener
The chirping of songbirds has never been so sweeter

“My, my they do write songs about mornings such as these.” Donnamira Boffin’s amused comment was the only warning she got, before the door to her room swung open.

Donnabell was not surprised to see her aunt already donning a rather pretty jade gown with cream white trimmings, her copper tresses down from their usual bun. She was nothing if not punctual.

“Mornings when tweens are finally able to have some say in their own life?” Donnabell offered cheekily. “And you do look very lovely, Auntie.”

“Well that too.” The Boffin née Took allowed, her expression somewhere between unadulterated fondness and sheer exasperation. “But you have to admit it’s a beautiful day. I think someone was singing about this particular aspect of it, not quite a few seconds ago.”

“And you always look lovely too, my snapdragon- even with your head bearing resemblance to a crow’s nest at the moment.”

Her hazel eyes twinkled. “Now come out here, I have drawn you a bath. You’ll look lovelier than any other lass in the Shire after I’m finished with you.”

..................................................

There were warnings, oh yes. Even before she rose from her bed, Donnabell knew it would be a trying day.

A shriek and a stream of curses colouring the air blue, roused her. It took a few moments for her to realize she was even conscious at first, but once she did Donnabell immediately regretted it.

The room spun around her dully while her temples pulsed horribly. She clutched her forehead and bent forwards with a groan. Her tongue felt like it was twelve sizes too big for her mouth and she had a raging thirst. Feebly, she reached out for the glass of water placed on the round side-table.

There was still mayhem outside her door, and it took a few moments before things began to make sense.

Paladin Took, against all wisdom, advice and common sense, had evidently attempted to get up and see to his needs by himself therefore aggravating his leg injury, yet again.

Her ears caught strains of Primula’s choice imprecations in response- they were all well-versed in profanity, being taught by Nori to swear like a Dwarf soldier or not at all, and consequently, though rare, Prim’s (or even her) invective when expressed was fluent and vivid.

With unsteady vision and unsteadier legs, the Took somehow managed to make her way to the bathroom to splash her face with cold water and empty the contents of her rumbling belly without once falling over (tripping did not count).

The Hobbit was nursing her poor head in her palms- lamenting the drinks she had ill-advisedly consumed in Green Dragon last night (and after), when the door opened and Drogo Baggins flitted in.

“Good morning.” He greeted her pleasantly.

“There’s nothing remotely good about this morning.” Donnabell grouched. “And for the love of all that is good and green- shut the door before I act on the urge to maim and kill myself!”

Drogo complied with a sympathetic grin, and Donnabell let out a sigh of relief as the commotion in the hallway became muffled once again. Paladin certainly knew how to throw a tantrum.

“How are we this morning?” Drogo drew back the curtains just a crack to allow a little sunlight to filter inside and she tried to stop herself from rolling her eyes.

Be bother Bagginses and their stuffy formalities!

She considered briefly. Her throat felt like sand, and there were dark clouds in her vision which seemed to have no intention of clearing until late afternoon.

“All bad, all very very bad.”

There. That was pretty much self-explanatory.

“That’s a shame,” The lad chuckled ruefully. “I thought you might be able to knock some sense in that little Oliphaunt roaring in the other room.”

Donnabell raised an eyebrow.

“I had the worst coming of age any one could ever wish for. In a single day; I got engaged to a spineless git without any prior knowledge and without my consent, the person I wanted the most to show up- didn’t, one of my closest friend didn’t bother showing up early and I got thoroughly stoned afterwards; breaking my personal record. You expect me to coerce Pads to be reasonable after enduring all that?”

This was one of the rare occasions she allowed herself to wallow in self-pity, to feel the twinge of bitterness. This day was supposed to be even better than the one before.

Donnabell became vaguely aware of Drogo’s rambling response. “People listen to you- oh yes they do- especially when you back your words by that famous scowl of yours…”

The Master of Bag End was sufficiently shamed by the very scowl he mentioned and Donnabell was sufficiently mollified as he poured her a steaming cup of tea.

“Chamomile,” she sniffed, long fingers curling around the curve of the cup handed to her as a peace-offering.

“We ran out of coffee beans.” The master of Bag End told her sheepishly. “And before you ask, I did slip in something which should help with your hangover-’’

“Yavanna, I love you Drogo- uh, not like that. That would be most awkward.”

He laughed out loudly at that and she winced before sending him yet another death glare, then they winced together as a shriek echoed in the corridor and the door swung open once more; this time with considerable strength behind it.

“I give up!” Primula Baggins announced, exaggeratedly throwing up her hands as she stomped inside.

Donnabell took a large sip, watching as the Bagginses gave his wife a grin who grumbled in return and flopped down on the bed.

Primula shifted to face Donnabell, frustration on her face. “Young Paddy’s being utterly impossible. How do you all put up with him back there? And why can’t Tooks be all sensible as you are, Bell?”

“Sensible as I?”

Her eyebrows vanished somewhere in her hairline. The pain in her head registered itself with an alarming force and she regretted that immediately.

“Oh, I only said that because you might still throw us out of here.” Her cousin replied in a tone, which implied she was stupid for not realizing that before.

“I’d never ever do that-” Donnabell choked on her tea, horrified, and then glared as the married couple burst out in fits of helpless laughter. “You’re both horrible!”

“Ah, that look of righteous indignation,” Drogo made an exaggerated show of wiping his eyes. “Bless your dear heart, cupcake.”

“You are only a few years my elder, Baggins. I can see that Prim has entirely corrupted you.”

Primula shook her auburn curls, her expression fond. “Did you honestly think, we’d honestly think you’d ever do that?”

Donnabell placed the now empty cup on the side-table. “People, who I have known for entirety of my life, somehow manage to surprise me still. I don’t judge myself to be a good authority on any person any longer.”

“Bell-“ Drogo said, softly. “Don’t you worry your pretty head. Your grandmother is a force to reckon with, but no one is going to let what your fear the most happen, alright?”

“What if… what if it does?”

Her voice was an octave higher than usual, and she hated the way it cracked towards the end.

“It won’t,” Primula said firmly. “Uncle Isengrim was against it- you saw his face last night! Aunt Donna and Mira are also against it- heck anyone who’s ever made small talk with you save for those gits themselves is against it! Worst come, we’ll smuggle you out of the Shire-”

“- in a heartbeat.” Drogo finished his wife's sentence, and they shot each other a guarded look. She tried to imagine him doing that- Primula wouldn’t think twice, but sensible, always shying away from anything remotely out of ordinary Drogo?

And yet he had married a Brandybuck.

“I could simply refuse to say my vows.” Donnabell peered at their faces intently.

“Well, we could always smuggle you out after that.” Drogo nodded sagely. He tried too hard to keep his voice nonchalant.

But before she could ask about whatever they were keeping from her- another crash sounded in one of the corridors, reverberating around Bag End.

Primula made for the doorway, her face livid. Drogo shot Donnabell a guilt-ridden look before following his wife’s wake.

“If that was my favourite vase, Paladin Hildigrim Took- you are not surviving this day!" 

..................................................

Gold and ruby, the Autumn’s leaves
Wave by, as they hang in the breeze
The Sun beams and then beams some more
The Zephyr’s gentle as it knocks on my door

“This is really happening.” Her voice choked towards the end. It was a little bewildering, a tad overwhelming.

From the moment the clock had struck midnight, her life had become her own. Her fate was now firmly in her own hands. She would be free to live where she wanted, to be with whom she wanted, to rush into adventures headlong that came her way without a second thought.

"Indeed it is.” Donnamirra confirmed with an understanding look in her kind eyes and Donnabell shot her a true smile. She might not have parents, but that certainly did not mean she wasn’t loved.

Her heart leaped, and she hummed the melody again as her aunt's nimble fingers began to unravel the knots and tangles of her hair.

Lined with cotton puffs, the sky is blue and clear
The Road outside, tells me to have no fear
It beckons me to explore the expanse of the rolling hills
Far beyond Bywater, far beyond the Old Mill
It lures me out to frolic in meadows fair
It tempts me to run amok the trees, without a care

“Although that might not be a sensible idea- today of all days.” Her aunt commented lightly.

She laughed at that and then began examine herself critically as Donnamira began braiding ribbons and mayflowers in her cascading curls.

It wasn’t in her nature to be overly mindful of her appearance. Her features were somewhat too distinct for an average Hobbit, her hair an uncommon midnight shade.

Donnabell rubbed a spot over the inside of her arm, as she did whenever she felt nervous or uncomfortable. A rush of warmth surged within her and the moment passed.

Of late Hobbits did not mind distinct and the unfamiliar. Her uncertain heritage had never earned her outright shunning, or even pointed fingers. Hobbits she did not mingle with did have a certain something in their gazes whenever they met her- and every now and then hushed whispers would follow her wake and burn her ears (which weren’t pointed enough, Camilia Sackville had once declared.)

But it wasn’t something she would bother losing her sleep over and whatever way she might look; today she was determined to appear her very best.

“Waiting to impress a special someone, are we not?” Her Aunt deduced with a suppressed grin.

Of her immediate family, Aunt Donna had always been very apt at reading her, but this one instance her guess wasn’t exactly accurate.

"You know well enough that I care nothing for romance Auntie." Donnabell replied, examining the silver, embroidered flowers on the hem of her shimmering periwinkle dress.

She would have preferred a darker hue, as she had been told it brought out the colour of her eyes.

And then there was the matter of it being his preferred colour, too.

"That might change in time. You are but a fledgling, beautiful if not conventionally and-"

"-of a renowned family, well connected, with a tidy dowry to my name, a passable cook and can act 'proper' when the occasion calls for it." Donnabell rattled off perfectly.

She earned a playful smack to her temple as a response.

"More than a passable cook, and that further proves my point, you know? You have wide opportunities, more than your fair share of lads falling over your feet. You'll make a good match in time."

Her Aunt made it sound like she was talking about a business transaction.

Donnabell snorted. "Or I'll just get vain, listening to my innumerable prospects- but we have darling grandmother to keep me in my place.”

"Bell," Her Aunt shook her head, sighed and gazed at her handiwork critically. "Try not to rile her up, this day of all days. It is a very significant occasion for you, my little rose. Don't let any unpleasantness put a damper on it."

"I won't," She replied firmly. Nothing could ruin her happiness today.

He had given her his word that they would come.

And she couldn't wait to see two of them again.

..................................................

Neither designed for melancholy nor inclined towards pessimism (usually), Donnabell allowed the beautiful morning to refresh her spirits and ease the insufferable pounding in her head.

In the haze of early morning with dew still clinging to every blade of grass, she lost herself to the criss-crossing paths of Hobbiton, wandering without any particular direction in mind until her heels protested and she couldn't ignore the rumble of her stomach any further.

By the time she arrived back at Bag End, the solitude of dawn had given way to noise of the day. Donnabell listened to the voices echoing from the breakfast over the clamour of silverware as she made for her room to divest herself of her coat.

A few minutes later, she stepped in the breakfast room only to stop short at seeing Nori sitting at the extreme end of the table, attacking a piece of buttered toast with his fork.

Drogo greeted her brightly; Primula gave her a wave and groaned as little Frodo left his place to run into her arms.

"What are you doing here?" She inquired, swinging her young cousin up and kissing his chubby cheek.

"Havin’ breakfast," Nori swallowed a sliver of bacon. "As ya see."

"But why are you here in the first place, so early? Did Mrs Higgins throw you out?"

"Top of the mornin’ to ya also, Ravenprig."

She gave him a pointed look and settled down on her usual place at the chestnut table, Frodo sitting quite contently in her lap.

The Hobbit poured herself some tea, and coaxed her young cousin to drink his milk and piled eggs on her plate.

Soon enough, Nori got frustrated by her silence and held his fork out in surrender.

“I come bearin’ news from the greatest of all rabbit warrens. Have it on good authority that Greedy Guts is currently bein’ housed there ‘long with the rest of his miserable family. And the old hag requires your immediate presence.”

Nori assigned his self-invented names to every person he came across, feigning trouble in remembering the actual ones.

“Then, I’m not going.” Donnabell said, her tone brooking no argument.

“Ya know she’ll keep sendin’ messengers bearin’ subtle threats and finally come herself if it comes to that?”

“I’m not afraid of her. There’s nothing she can say or do that will sway me.”

Primula spoke up. “Running away from all this mess will not solve anything, Don.”

“I wasn’t the one who created this mess in the first place!” She said indignantly.

“True enough, but you are in in the thick of it, aren’t you?” Drogo said sensibly. “And you have always been quite good at resolving the issues of others, I believe you will figure this one out eventually.”

Donnabell contemplated for a while, finishing up her share of scrambled eggs. “What do you think I should do?”

"Reason with her?” Drogo said tentatively.

“… Reason with her? Did you ever have the pleasure of meeting my beloved Grandmother?"

Drogo shuddered. Primula sighed. "Don, you-"

"No, she's insane. Barking mad. Out of her sodding mind."

“Have to agree with Raven here, on this one.”

Primula rolled her eyes. "Maybe she's just-"

"You're defending her?" Donnabell said in a dangerous tone, turning on to her cousin.

"No, I'm not!" Her cousin protested. "I just-"

"How could you! I trusted you!"

Primula sighed again. It was hard, nay impossible to make the Took see reason whenever she got in one of her ‘moods’. “You are right. You're completely, absolutely right."

"Damn straight I am." She replied hotly, resuming her breakfast.

Frodo gave his aunt a bewildered look. Donnabell offered a buttered roll to appease him.

..................................................

Two beads glinted from the leather cord that hung around her neck. Donnabell vaguely recalled placing that makeshift chain around her neck after she had thoroughly washed herself.

She had taken to wearing it every single day that passed yet her aunt coaxed her to remove it for the present. While Donnamira was occupied in twiddling open a box that had gathered dust and seen better days- Donnabell quickly coiled the cord around her left wrist and concealed it with the corsage she already donned on her left wrist.

Donnamira carefully took the lid off, and concealed away in its depths her niece set her eyes on a truly magnificent necklace. A single Belladonna, carved cunningly to resemble the real flower, dangled from a chain, both formed out of some metal that to gleamed more than silver.

The sheer beauty of it took her breath away.

"This belonged to your mother." Donnamira's eyes misted over. "It's yours now."

“Mine? But- but I cannot possibly have it- can you imagine me wearing it?”

Her aunt promptly placed it around her neck and clasped it. “Now I can- and it compliments you and your dress perfectly.”

“Aunt Donna!” She protested halfheartedly. It felt lighter then it appeared to be.

“Hush now! I want to tell you something very important.” The elder Took said, her voice becoming solemn. “My father imparted these words to every one of us, and now I must impart them to you.”

“Do they have to be conveyed in your most formal tone?” Her niece said, marvelling at the delicate flower still.

“Not necessarily- do pay attention Bell!”

“I’m all ears.”

Hobbits seldom made such jewellery, preferring the natural beauty of flowers and plants and all things that grew instead of cold, lifeless jewels and metals other races so coveted.

It was far too stunning to be made by hands of Men, though Men could and did make many things of beauty. Either Elvish or Dwarvish, she told herself.

Dwarvish, her mind whispered. She knew this metal; the beads concealed under the corsage were crafted of the same.

“Live your life to utmost.” Donnamira spoke slowly and clearly, smiling at her all the while. “Be free in your smiles and your laughter. And when you meet your special someone, love him fiercely and settle for nothing less than equally fierce love in return.”

“I am in want of no special someone.” Donnabell scoffed. She had him.

“Glad you got my point,” Her Aunt replied dryly. “Here’s the last bit, do not let fear and doubt direct your path.”

She had an urge to inquire how long Donnamira had spent in memorizing that piece, but the words did leave an effect on her- so she contained herself.

“And grandma?” Donnabell said instead.

Her Aunt gave her a tight smile. “And grandma and all others who think they can direct your life. Including myself.”

..................................................

Uncle Isembard opened the crimson door to the Great Smials, and favoured his niece with his usual fruity grin.

“Hullo lil’ Bell. We spend the whole morning looking for you, darling- hullo there… Dwarf.” He glanced barely even glanced at Nori, as if he had no purpose here at the crimson door of Great Smials.

Donnabell bristled and returned her uncle’s greeting coldly. He was a particular favourite of grandmother’s and had been the one to announce her engagement at the party.

“This is Nori.” She emphasized. “He’s from Erebor- was a part of the Company who set out to reclaim the Mountain actually.”

“Oh, I do recall seeing him around.” Isembard said waving away the introduction. “My mother awaits you in her study, muffin.” He continued, ruffling her curls. She did not particularly care for gesture, especially not coming from him.

Donnabell dithered around, taking as long as she could possibly could before entering the dreaded room in a solitary wing of the Great Smials.They weren't here still, and she wanted nothing more to escape her home once again.

The Hobbit lass sighed, and made her way to Grandmother's Took study.

Inside a cacophony of sounds echoed and did nothing to ease the tension within her. Well, at least I won’t have to face her alone.

She entered without being bidden to and exhaled a sigh of relief at registering the Thain along with both of his sisters, seated side by side on an ostentatious couch.

It suited her purpose perfectly. The more the people, the less unreasonable her grandmother would prove to be.

Adamanta Took watched her grandchild flit in with grey eyes which betrayed no emotion. She possessed of a tall and threatening build, her voice was stern and elegant, her manners impeccable.

Donnabell held her gaze, chin tilted up in defiance, and only considered seating herself as one her aunt motioned at her to- and then only by her favourite Uncle’s side.

“You may leave us now and tend to the day’s tasks Isengrim. Donnamira, Hugo must be waiting for you in the hallway- it is unbecoming of someone of your station to keep her spouse waiting in that manner. Mirabella, see that our guests are in want of nothing.”

Grandmother Took had a very distinct way of speaking.

“No, mother.” Aunt Donna gently persisted. “It’s for the best that way we stay here for now.”

“We’re not going to allow you to bully our niece into doing your bidding,” Mirabella snorted.

Uncle Isengrim shot her a look and Donnabell gave him a subtle grin then sighed. Her prediction about it being a trying day was proving to be true so far.

..................................................

“Bell, why are you out here?” A familiar voice startled her enough to nearly cause her to topple into the deep blue water she seated herself by the edge of- not quite a few moments ago.

Esmeralda Brandybuck crossed the path leading from the far doors of the immense barn towards the small deck, set on the edge of the large pond where Donnabell was watching the road contently from.

Donnabell grudgingly made space for her cousin, who flopped down on the wooden surface of the deck beside her, their gazes settling on the calm stretch of water reflecting yellow lights from distant Hobbit Holes and towards the road.

“I might ask you the same question, Esmera.”

Her cousin nudged her in the side. “You missed the first two dances.”

They are not here, yet.” Donnabell tried to keep worry from colouring her tone. “The first two dances were reserved for them- I couldn’t possibly dance with anyone else!”

Even in the faint moonlight, she could see Esmeralda’s lips thinning. “We planned this for you- not them. Come on now, I hear the music changing. It’s time for the third set.”

“Not until they are here.” Donnabell replied stubbornly. “And Pads booked that one, I’m not going to dance that with anyone else either. I feel guilty enough that he’s not here to celebrate with me.”

“It was his own fault.” Esmeralda shrugged. Siblings. “He shouldn’t have carried out that dare.”

“What would you have done if Jessamine dared you to get that acorn from the tree top?”

Esmeralda sighed, and the bitterness in it took her quite by surprise.

“What happened to you now?”

“Nothing- why would anything happen to me?”

“That sigh almost caused me topple over again, cousin mine.”

Esmeralda’s lips twitched but no smile formed on her cherry lips. “Saradoc signed up as a recruit in Pads stead.”

“What? No... he wouldn’t do that!” Disbelief coloured her voice.

Esmeralda smiled sardonically. “He already did.”

Signing up for training at Dwarrow camps was one way a Hobbit could find respectable occupation outside the Shire- but it meant being away from your loved ones for quite a lengthy time period.

 Some like her Uncle Isengar ended up fighting in battles, some were appointed guards, some became part of patrols that protected the paths connecting Ered Luin, the Shire and Erebor and the rest either opted for the post of Bounders and Sheriffs or decided that they weren’t cut out for such a risky livelihood.

Donnabell dreamed of leaving the Shire at one point. Her cousin, Paladin, shared that dream, and planned to convert it into a reality.

Paladin Took intended to try out at one of the Camp, if only for a chance to visit one of Dwarven strongholds. He would have gone along with it too, if he hadn’t fallen out of the tree and sustained a leg injury while carrying out Jessamine's dare..

This particular Camp would start moving outside the Shire in about a week. He was strictly confined to bed for about a month.

But Saradoc Brandybuck had courted her cousin all summer long and had given no indication that he too shared his best friend’s dream of leaving the Shire. He was destined to become the Master of Buckland after all.

No words formed in her head that she could use to comfort her poor cousin. Donnabell slung one arm around her instead and pulled Esmeralda closer.

“I’m alright.” She said in a tight voice. “I think I finally understand though why you seem to have more affection for them sometimes than your own family. I’ll wait with here with you until they arrival.”

It wasn’t a competition, Donnabell wanted to tell her. But even she couldn’t deny the truth in Esmeralda’s words.

Aunt Donna, Aunt Mira, Uncle Isengrim- they cared for her the most out of her mother’s siblings, yet she was not the first in their affections. They had families of their own to love and cherish.

She didn’t always get along with the offspring of her Aunts and Uncles. Great Smials was always crowded, and although no one was in want for anything- there was a constant struggle for every member to make their own space.

Donnabell was already distinct from the reality of having her own parents deceased, her aforementioned looks and heritage, the fact she garnered so much attention from their grandmother (entirely unwarranted in her opinion) and that she had an entire smial to her name (occupied, but that was beside the point).

Her relations with many of her cousins were not entirely cordial as a result, even strained with a few of her Uncles and/or their wives.

Only three she could claim, were very close to her heart; Primula, Esmeralda and Paladin. Primula had Drogo and their son. Esmeralda and Paladin had each other.

She had no one. No one save Nori, and he too had his own family and their friendship was based on many things save affection. And there was the fact that his visits were always irregular and unexpected.

But with him, she forgot that she was an unwanted addition to a full to brim household. When he arrived, his eyes were for her solely. She only truly ever felt wanted in the warmth and comfort of his embrace.

Her heart thumping with wild, painful love, she turned her gaze towards the road again and waited for her adad.

..................................................

Fate worked in funny ways sometimes. But it was being an exceptional arse to her this day of all days.

“How could you not have consulted any of us before taking such a step, mother? And so publically at that?”

“When does she ever consult anyone in any matter?” Mirabella said below her breath- and Donnabell was inclined to agree.

Where Aunt Donna was all grace, compassion and gentle humour, Aunt Mira inclined more towards mischief, droll commentary and a pretence of indifference- a façade which hid a very kind heart.

“You are forgetting your place, Isengrim.” Grandmother said in a faux calm voice, her eyes narrowing. “You might be the Thain of this region, but I am your mother, and I was the wife of the Thain before you. I do not require to take your opinion in account when matters of family have to be decide.”

“I am a part of that family and so is my niece. In cases such as these, I believe her voice if not ours, should be heard and acted upon.”

“I’m present in the room!” Donnabell announced loudly and everyone turned to look at her.

She cleared her throat, uncomfortably. “Just a reminder, since people keep forgetting my existence. Carry on, Uncle- you were doing admirably.”

“Do you not see how insolent she is becoming?” Adamanta Took’s voice rose in strength. “How wild and unacceptable her behaviour is?”

“We were same at this phase, Ma.” Donnamira said exasperatedly. “She is barely of age, and has plenty of years before solemnity is required of her.”

“And we are Tooks! Wild and Unacceptable flows through our very blood.” Mirabella said as if it should have been obvious.

Grandmother Took carried on as if she hadn’t heard- and if she had, she simply did not care. She did address Donnabell directly this time.

“It is time you get your heads down from the clouds. It was I, who raised you- and I who will choose where and with whom you will settle. Your father has left you as a burden on us, on me!”

A horrible silence settled over them all. Her mother’s siblings wore varying expressions of shock and utter horror that such a subject had been mentioned in her presence.

“To further argue on this point is moot, I shall not accept-”

“I thank you, for everything you have done for me, Grandma- but I will not let you dictate my life.”

Her tone was contained, calm even but fury emphasized every syllable she uttered.

She could not, would not stay here any longer, trapped as a bird in cage.

..................................................

Melodies changed rapidly as the night dragged on, indicating change in dances. Donnabell missed every single one.

Hobbits were send to sniff them out, but they did not bother looking outside the stretch of field and the barn where the party was being held, so the duo remained undiscovered.

When the fiddles stopped, and someone struck a harp to form beautiful notes- Esmeralda finally coaxed her cousin to go back inside.

“You have already missed most of the party- you cannot miss out cutting the cake on your own coming of age!”

“They are still not here…” Donnabell mumbled in disbelief, the hitch in her voice unmistakable. “He promised…”

“Something could easily have delayed them on road; you can cut another cake with them after they arrive.”

Esmeralda later told her, numb, if she had foreseen the night uncovering that way she would have never pulled her up from that deck.

Donnabell had been too numb herself, to form any intelligible response.

..................................................

“Come out here at once, I say or it won’t go well for you at all.”

Donnabell softly cursed herself. If only she had gone along with a green skirt instead of a vermillion one!

Otho could not climb trees. She would’ve got away with her behaviour that morning, consequences be damned.

"You're in here somewhere and I’m gunna find you! Real soon at that. Won’t go well, if you don’t come out of your hidey hole now."

Donnabell peered through the leafy camouflage of her temporary hiding spot, mentally calculated the distance and with a sudden, quick spring- she leapt from the bough.

Otho Sackville let out a startled squeak, as she landed on a turf of grass just a couple of steps ahead of him in a graceful motion.

“Good afternoon,” she said in a tone that suggested otherwise. “I did not think that you’d have finished your share of luncheon so quickly, Otho? You hunger is never sated is it?”

“That’s ‘cause I’m every bit o’ a proper Hobbit,” he rounded up on her and  told her proudly, as if he were talking to an infantile.

“Really- who would have thought?”

“You’re doing that thing again, aren’t you?”

“I’m appalled by the insinuation!”

“-where you mean one thing but imply another? A very underhanded way o’ speaking, that’s what it is. Right dishonest.”

“And you want to marry someone who speaks in such a dishonest way? I wonder how that reflects on you, Otho.”

It took him a few solid minutes to make sense of what she had said. His face turned an alarming shade of red.

But then he sneered at her. “You just need a lil’ moulding to become a perfect wife. I’ll teach you how to behave like us honest folks do, how to act like a proper Hobbit. You’ll bear me children-”

“… over my dead body…”

“And I’ll beat all that unnaturalness out of you!”

She raised a brow, Otho was a head shorter than her.

“Threatening your intended with physical violence? What a perfect husband you will prove, Otho.”

“That I will. It’s about time someone shows you how real world works. You can’t go along with the likes of Dwarves, wild Tooks and giving refuge to disgraced Hobbits. Bag End will belong to me o’ course. I’ll tell you what I’ll do, make that rotten family move out at this very instance!”

“You will do no such thing!”

He grabbed hold of her wrist. “You don’t use that tone, with me!”

Donnabell wrenched her hand from him, and looked at him coolly. He wasn’t worth her anger.

“Why- do you belong to the royalty, Otho Sackville? Let me remind you that I am a Took, the granddaughter of the late Gerontius Took and the niece of current Thain of the Shire.”

She took no personal pride in being related to such a prominent family, but Otho always spoke to her with a condescending air around him and it did irk her sometimes.

He spat. “You’re nothing but a vile Halfling.”

She raised her brows. “Was that supposed to be an insult? You need to come up with something original, because that’s what every other Big Folk calls us by. One would have thought you’d have figured that out.”

His close-set eyes narrowed. “I’m a pure Hobbit, my line can be traced far back. You however?”

“What of me?”

“You’re no Hobbit, Donnabell Took! And no respectable Halfling either- who was your sire?”

There was a blow she could not avoid.

Donnabell pursed her lips and looked him straight into his eye. She refused to let someone like him get under her skin.

“Someone who refused to acknowledge my existence, so it’s not like I care to know who he was or is anyway.” She replied dryly, and it was worth- to see the stunned then frustrated expression on his mean eyes.

“Respectable folks do care about it, s ’matter o’ fact.”

“Well they must not be very respectable then. To waste their time pondering on a lineage of a clearly unrespectable Hobbit!”

“You’re no Hobbit, Donnabell Took.”

“I’m as much of a Hobbit as you are.” She snapped back.

“You are a half of a half. The daughter of infamous Belladonna Took and her Dwarf lover. Always wandering ‘bout and refusing to settle down- right cracked in the head she was! But that was before she went out adventurin’. Too eager to spread her legs, wasn’t she? And look what became of her and her daughter!”

A smirk spread on his face. “For you’re no Hobbit.”

And Donnabell finally saw red.

..................................................

The worst she could have ever imagined had come to pass.

And he wasn't there.