Crimson Sunrise - Chapter 8
The days passed quickly- more quickly than Jessina would have liked. The land was beautiful, and everything seemed new to her. Trees and plants and animals she remembered, but she often needed to refresh her memory. ("What kind of bird is that?" "What is that plant called?") And some of the animals and plants were of course completely new to her. She constantly asked questions, which Gandalf seemed to find amusing, and he answered all of them in good time. They rode slowly, at a very leisurely pace, for they had no need to hurry.
The land was mostly made up of rolling green hills, with a few patches of trees along the way that were just starting to blossom. As the days went by they began to pass small houses, many near fields of newly-tilled earth. In place of fields some houses were near what appeared to be small orchards, the flowers on the fruit trees beginning to open and filling the air with a warm, pleasant fragrance. They saw people working in the fields- she hadn't see them up close, but they were small, an adult about the size of a human child. This puzzled Jessina until finally she asked, "Where are we, and who are these people?" She looked curiously about as they passed another farmhouse, young children playing in the front yard with a large-but-friendly dog.
"We are in the Shire, and these people are Hobbits. They are smaller in stature than humans, elves and dwarves and prefer to keep to themselves. They don't take much interest in outsiders or oddities, as they hardly see any. Indeed, you yourself are one of these oddities, and they will ponder you for a while, but then their thoughts will quickly turn back to their farming and their animals and their pipe weed and food. They are polite, but not afraid to ask for what they wish. Not the most intelligent either, but they have a great deal of `hobbit-sense,' as they would say." Gandalf was silent for a while, looking about. Jessina frowned a bit. Of course she knew about humans, and somewhat of the elves, but dwarves...?
After a while of thinking about it she shook her head. "For another day," she mumbled to herself under her breath. Gandalf nodded, as if he knew what she was thinking. "Yes, for another day," he said slowly, smiling.
They passed through a bustling little village, alive with noises and voices, with smells and sights- more than she could take in at once. Many of the hobbits shouted a greeting to Gandalf, to which he responded with a wave or smile. They looked at her with perplexed expressions- but just as Gandalf said, only for a moment before they went back to their business.
On they continued, soon leaving that village. Eventually the sun sank below the hills until there were but a few rays of light above the horizon, making the sky a mellow purple. Jessina's head had begun to nod, and it slipped onto Gandalf's shoulder. But as she closed her eyes, she saw lights in the distance. She sat up and looked ahead, rubbing her tired eyes. But the lights stayed, and she blinked, puzzled.
"We have reached it at last: Hobbiton," Gandalf said, smiling. Jessina yawned in reply. "Don't worry- I have a few friends there that would allow us to stay for a night. We would have stopped earlier, but I had hoped to make it here before the sun set- and we just about have." He urged the horse to go faster, and they trotted off down the well-worn road toward the light. Jessina could hear the same cheery voices in the distance that had occupied the air of the other village, and she smiled. The place doubtlessly had a homey, welcoming atmosphere to it, even if the residents of this strange "Shire" were a bit secretive to outsiders.
The ride could have been no more than a half hour, but Jessina was next aware of Gandalf gently shaking her to wake her up.
"Now where are we?" she asked, stretching.
"At the home of a friend," he replied, getting out of the cart and walking up to a green door in the middle of a hill. She blinked stupidly, trying to figure it out, until a curly brown head poked out of the door and she realized the house was built into the hill. Jessina could see Gandalf's smile in the light.
"Gandalf? Back so soon?" the hobbit greeted him. He laughed.
"Yes, Bungo, I am back- and you sound so happy to see me, too. But only for a night or two- if you don't mind- my friend and I need a bed to sleep in." Bungo nodded and looked at Jessina warily.
"Well... alright then, we've got plenty of rooms. Come in and say hello to Belladonna and the baby, while you're at it." The hobbit went back inside and Gandalf helped Jessina out of the cart. She barely missed a low rafter on the ceiling, and as soon as she was out of danger she looked around. The house was very cozy and looked wonderfully lived-in, although a bit small. (She was a little shy of five foot 2 inches and the smallness was at first an annoyance to her.) But all that was forgotten as she greeted Bungo and Belladonna.
"Hello my dear!" Bungo said, shaking her hand vigorously. Belladonna gave her a wide grin.
"You look famished. What do you say to something to eat? I was just preparing supper. And what is your name?" the cheery hobbit asked, brushing a wisp of dark brown curl out of her face.
"My name is Jessina. And a little something to eat would be wonderful," she said, returning the smile. Belladonna turned to go back to the kitchen when there was a small noise from behind her.
"Oh! Jessina, this is my son, Bilbo," Belladonna said, picking up a small gray-eyed child who had been hiding behind her skirt. Gandalf knelt down in front of him.
"Do you remember me, Bilbo?" The boy shook his head. "I'm Gandalf. And that's Jessina," he said, pointing to her. "And how old are you? You look so much bigger from when I last saw you!"
"I two," Bilbo said, holding up the index finger of each hand. "How old you?" he asked Gandalf, who laughed.
"I'm much older than you, my boy."
"You hunded?" Gandalf laughed again.
"Older." Bilbo looked frustrated, as he didn't know any higher numbers yet. "But it's not important now. You stay and play with Jessina; I'm going to go talk to your mother and father now." Gandalf stood and followed Bungo, who was already talking, into the kitchen. Belladonna turned to follow, but before she did she said, "Make yourself at home, love."
Jessina sat on the floor, studying Bilbo, who was studying her. The boy had unruly light brown curls all over his head- as well as on his feet, she noticed, which was something new to her. She began to ponder this when she realized that he had come closer and was looking at her face.
"I two. How old you?" She stopped to think for a moment, then sighed.
"I really don't know."
"You hunded?" She smiled warmly.
"Sure." There was a moment of silence. "What kind of games do you like to play?" she finally asked. His face lit up with a grin- one of his front teeth hadn't quite come in yet and left him with a funny-shaped gap. She giggled.
"I show you a vewy good game," he said, taking her right hand in his tiny ones. "Come on Dessina, I show a good game." He led her down the hall, and she smiled to see how happy he was.