Smiling Frodo

The Bagginses

Home of the Lord of the Rings Caption Page (est. July 2002)

The Fellowship of Grey Panthers

by Simmer, Elijah's Grey Panthers

Simmer: In this story, we somehow "wake up" one by one in Middle Earth, and struggle to find a role for ourselves in a story we already know dearly. As each of you prompt me with hints or clues, I will tell the story incorporating you...

FB was strangely aware of birds. More birds singing than she could possibly imagine would normally sing around her house...vaguely, she had the feeling that she wasn't exactly comfortable in her bed...

her bed -- more awareness poured in as she struggled to deconflict these waking moments with where she could possibly be. New York City? No, the birds...

She opened her eyes to bright sunshine streaming in through a window ABOVE her -- directly in front of her were the legs of a small table -- good lord, she was on the floor!

She bolted up straight, and her head immediately connected with the underside of the table with a dull "thud!" "Oh," she said, holding her head and looking around from under the table. She lost sight of the window, but the surroundings of the dining area she found herself in immediately stunned her. Frozen, she stared in shock at the smallish furniture -- a few chairs, pantries, and books and papers scattered here and there.

She recognized it immediately, of course. She just couldn't imagine how in the world she had arrived there. The rounded entryways beckoned her, urged her to get up and explore -- to exclaim, to call out, to see who might be around --

Slowly, she gathered herself together and scooted out from under the table. But, she still couldn't stand. Somehow, the strength had gone out of her legs, and she stared helplessly out the small, round window that had first been the culprit to her awakening. She could see a glimpse of something that might be the beginnings of a crazy idea; green and beautiful and lively -- but she still could not get her mind to accept it. Had she died? Is this heaven? After all, He gives you your heart's desire, right?

But does it start from underneath a table?

No, she dismissed it. Perhaps a dream?

No, this was real. Slowly, she pinched herself as she stared out the window at the passing birds, the blowing foliage. As her senses sharpened, she became aware of a "snipping" sound, rather mechanical-like, coming from outside, close to the window.

That did it. She might not understand how she got here, but there's someone else here with her -- they'll know something. Pursing her lips in determination, she stood, and on wobbly legs walked towards the window.

Plaid was enjoying a delicious glass of red wine, and, oddly enough, planting flowers. It was two enjoyable things: the flavor of the fruity grape that died so that she might have this moment, and the feel of moist earth in her hands...

She became aware that someone was snipping the flowers she had planted. Enraged, she waited as the snipping came closer to her -- just let him TRY to snip up the flower she had, she'd show him what for. And then, there he was -- a tall fellow that towered over her -- the snipping suddenly stopped.

Ha! she said to herself, he is intimidated.

"Ere, now, who're you?" the tall fellow practically shouted at her, and she realized with a shock he didn't have the New York accent she'd expected.

The realization shattered her dream, and her eyes popped open.

She found herself horizontal, staring at two bare feet with a horrendous amount of graying hair on them. The toes were grimy, each toenail filled black with earth.

The shock of this sight with the fact that someone had just shouted at her (as if SHE had done something wrong) caused her to sit up -- her head was stopped unfortunately by the shrub she happened to be under. The branches immediately snatched her hair. This annoyance, along with the fact that she didn't know where she was, who was demanding these things of her, and she couldn't see the fellow because he was standing against the sun, brought her ire to the forefront.

"Wha - what is the matter?" she demanded back at him, and struggled to free her hair, trying her best to glare.

"I'll tell ye what the matter is, missus," he retorted. Plaid suddenly recognized the fact that he wasn't tall -- at all. "Mr. Baggins doesn't take kindly to folks in his garden!" Plaid's dawning realization quit her reaction to the bush; she was utterly confused as to where she was and how she came to be there, but this little fellow had her complete attention.

She began to crawl out from the bush, and the little fellow (now she was seeing more details of him), began backing away. "Ere, now, I dunno why you're 'ere, but go-on, ye hear?"

"Wait," Plaid blurted excitedly as she took in his clothing, his wild grey hair and oh-so-hobbity feet. "Where is this? Where am I?" The old hobbit began looking side-to-side, seemingly to find an escape route, in case this girl was dangerous. His frightened demeanor halted Plaid's advance, and she calmed down a little.

"Wait," she repeated, holding out her hand. "Are you, um, uh..." she struggled with the name, "the Gaffer? Gamgee?"

Horrified, the old hobbit dropped his shears and bolted for the gate...

FB, inside, heard the shears stop before she got to the window. She halted when she heard the loud question; immediately she felt like a trespasser.

For an instant, she felt panicked, thinking she was in trouble -- surely this was the set? She knew they had taken it down, but PJ still had it somewhere, and somehow she was there. She struggled with an instinctive flight reaction, but then she realized there was nowhere to go that was familiar to her.

She would just have to face the music. Emboldened by her determination to find out how she had arrived in the place, she strode to the window and looked out.

And was struck immediately by the sight of a smallish old man, no more than 3 feet tall, standing in the middle of a lovely garden. In front of him, between them, was a lady on her knees who seemed to be trying to plead with him. The little old man, seeing FB in the window, dropped his shears in horror and fled.

On hobbit feet. FB couldn't move again ...

Plaid sat back on her heels, momentarily at a loss. Could this really be --?

She swung around to look behind her -- the sheer magnitude of seeing Bag End behind her almost made her swoon, and the additional shock of seeing a lady in the window was enough to make her fall backward on her hands.

Both women stared at each other.

"I'm sorry, I --" Plaid started, then realized the other woman had begun speaking as well. They both stopped, grinned, and Plaid stood up. When she looked again, the woman was gone from the window.

FB was immensely relieved to see the lady in the garden, and was looking for a way out of the set of Bag End to apologize to her. She must be a stage hand, handler, something, she muttered to herself. As she grasped the handle of the round green door, FB marveled at the craftsmanship of Weta, Ltd. -- the door felt absolutely real.

She stepped out of the door and walked around to meet the woman.

Plaid watched the woman headed toward her and wondered briefly what this could mean. She looked in the direction that the gaffer left in, and saw nothing ... he had to be real. She was almost convinced of it. But here was this woman, dressed casually in regular clothes, coming at her with a wry smile.

Just as they were about to shake hands in meeting, FB suddenly wondered about revealing her name. She faltered, and Plaid waited.

"I'm, uh, really sorry, but I'm not sure where I am," FB said with an "are you going to believe me" look.

Plaid was startled, somewhat. "Well, it looks like we're at Bag End to me," she replied, smiling.

"Yes, but," said FB, looking around, "see, I don't know how I GOT here..."

"Oh," Plaid answered uneasily, "well, to be honest, neither do I!" They looked at each other, astonished. "Did you just wake up, and um, find yourself here?" Plaid asked.

"Yesssss," said FB, anxiously. "So, who was that?" She pointed in the direction that the gaffer left in.

"Well, that would be the gaffer -- my guess, Sam's dad," answered Plaid, craning her neck to look down the lane.

"What?" laughed FB.

Plaid immediately liked her laugh, but it didn't change the fact that she was serious. "I'm serious," she said, looking at FB. "I'm telling you, he was the real deal."

FB's laugh was gone. "Okay," she answered, "I'm not sure I buy that -- I'm thinking we're on the set, somehow." It suddenly dawned on her. "Oh, maybe they're filming the last shots for Return of the King! You think Elijah Wood is here?"

Plaid whirled on her. "Are you a fan of Elijah's?" she answered, the excitement of this prospect making her words almost a squeal.

"Oh, yes, I love the whole thing, but I so admire how he handled the role. Actually," here, her voice dipped a little lower, in confidence, "I regularly post on a website dedicated to's for older fans."

Plaid went completely still. "What is the name of the website?" she whispered.

"We call ourselves Grey Panthers," FB said slowly, wondering at Plaid's reaction.

Plaid reached out and grabbed her arm. "Who are you?" she asked wildly. "On the board--?"

"FrodoBaggins," FB said with a surprised smile.

"OMG -- it's me, Plaidpj's!" Plaid exclaimed, jumping up and down. "I can't believe I've finally met you!"

FB and Plaid were both astonished, delighted, and confused at the same time. "Wow," they both said at the same time, and laughed.

Just then, a commotion from down the lane caught their attention.

"There they are, jus' like I said," they heard a voice say, and to their surprise, the old hobbit came hobbling up the lane followed by -- Samwise.

FB and Plaid stared in disbelief. There was Sean Astin, miniature size. They looked at each other, then back at Sean.

"Now look 'ere," Sean/Sam began, walking toward them with a bit of bravado in his step. "Mr. Bilbo and Mr. Frodo are out for the moment, if that's who you've come to see, and it isn't polite to hang about in their garden as if you own the place."

Neither one of the women could speak.

Sam began to get frustrated after a moment of silence. "If you'd like to come back around noon, you might find one of them here...can I tell them who they'll be expecting?" He still hadn't come very close to them, not even a step into the gate, but he swung open the gate to let them out.

That action galvanized the women, and they started out of their shock to walk hesitantly toward the gate.

"Um," said FB, and thought how unrefined that sounded, "Could you tell me -- sorry, um, isn't this a movie set? I'm afraid we're a bit lost."

That seemed to soften Sam's heart somewhat, but he was still suspicious. "Miss, I don't rightly know what you mean about a 'set,' but this is Bag End, home of the Bagginses. You're in Hobbiton, in the Shire. I'm not sure what I can do for you, seeing as you're lost and all, but if you follow this lane to the right you'll come to the Green Dragon, where they might have a place for you to stay tonight." The gaffer glared at them.

"Oh, okay," they both replied, and stepped out of the gate onto the lane. Both hobbits folded their arms across their chests to watch them go.

Plaid turned to face Sam. "Sam," she said, and realized at his start that he didn't expect her to know his name, "I'm Plaid, and this is -- "

She turned to FB with an "uh-oh" look...

"FB," replied FB, and stuck out her hand to shake Sam's.

Sam looked at her hand, and slowly reached out. "Ef-bee," he said, holding her hand for a moment, and he looked suspiciously at Plaid. "And how is it you've come to know my name, that's what I'd like to know, Miss Plaid."

Plaid quickly searched her brain for a reasonable explanation, but came up empty. She looked helplessly at FB. FB struggled to come to her rescue.

"We uh, heard you and your dad talking on the way up here," she answered lamely. She struggled to divert: "We'll be back at noon to see the Bagginses, as we have business we'd like to conduct with them. Could you let them know, please?"

Samwise nodded slowly, his arms crossed against his chest once more. The gaffer snorted.

The women raised up and turned to go. As they walked away, they both heaved a relieved sigh, and looked at each other.

"Okay," said FB, "I'm guessing we're not on a set."

"Yeah," Plaid replied, "Is this strange, or what? Now, wait," she said, and stopped. FB stopped and turned towards her. "Either way -- if this is some dream, or real -- if we're in the Shire, or New Zealand -- " she paused and they both looked around at the lush green surroundings, the hobbit holes here and there, the unpolluted sky, and the tall trees they were about to go through, "We don't have any money that works here. What's our next step?"

FB nodded. "Yes, you're right. If this is New Zealand, we find a way to get to town, get to a phone, and I've got folks who can get us the money to get back to the States. If this is the Shire --" she blew out an incredulous breath -- "I don't know. This place doesn't exist. What are the rules, here? If I played along, then perhaps Gandalf could tell us why we're here and how we could get back?"

Plaid thought about this. "Do we want to go back?" she said, and laughed. FB laughed with her.

"You know," replied FB, after a moment, "If I hadn't seen Sean Astin at around 3 1/2 feet tall, I wouldn't have believed it was possible. If it really IS Sam, why is he Sean, and vice-versa? Have we put him in that role, somehow, because that's who we associate him with, now?"

"I don't know," Plaid said. "It just blew my mind."

"Well," said FB, "Let's go kill some time and find the Green Dragon. Maybe they need a couple of dishwashers, and we can make some money. Or, maybe they have a phone." They both laughed, and walked on.

"...I'd always dreamed of --" FB paused. She and Plaid were walking through a wooded area along the path to the Green Dragon. "Do you hear that?" she asked Plaid.

Plaid stood still and listened. She heard something faintly like a yell through the woods on the right. Something was crashing through the foliage making a lot of racket, and they could see movement in the distance.

"Well, whatever it is, it isn't a hobbit," replied Plaid. "Should we hide?" Images of black riders suddenly loomed in her mind.

Suddenly, FB grinned. "You're not going to believe this," she said to Plaid.

"What?" Plaid said, trying to get a better look at what was coming straight for them.

"Hey!" They heard a female voice say. "Hello! Oh, please --!"

Plaid could suddenly see her, a tallish blond, tripping carefully through brambles, hopping, cursing, "ooh!"ing, and trying to keep their attention.

FB grinned wider. "It's Annabelle," she explained to Plaid.

"What?" answered Plaid, incredulous. "How do you know?"

"Lindy in the park?" answered FB, and then they focused on Annabelle as she made it through to them.

"Oh, oh, thank God," Annabelle panted, and paused to catch her breath. They waited patiently. "Oh," she said again, and looked up at them, "I have been -- I am so lost," she said, and pulled strands of hair out of her face. "Can you tell me where I am? I swear, I've been wandering around these woods for almost 2 days; I woke up yesterday and didn't have a clue how I got here! You have no idea how glad I am to see someone," she finished. She looked at them expectantly.

"Yes," said Plaid. "The same thing happened to us. It seems that it is happening to GREY PANTHERS."

"Grey -- what?" Annabelle narrowed her eyes and looked at Plaid, then FB. She was tired, hungry, miserable, but glad to see people...but these two seemed to know something she didn't. Both of them were smiling strangely at her. "Did you say --"

"Grey Panthers, Annabelle," FB finished for her.

Annabelle's jaw dropped. "Wha -? How do you -?"

"I'm FrodoBaggins, and this is Plaidpj's!" FB told her delightedly, and the two of them happily gushed with the news.

Annabelle's joy resounded through the woods. "OH MY GAWD!" she shouted, jumped and threw her arms around them. "That is so -- amazing! How -?" and the question immediately calmed her. "How are we here, and where are we?"

"Geez, is that a tale already, or what?" grinned Plaid to FB, and she looped her arm through Annabelle's.

"Annabelle," said FB, as they started walking her with them, "we are taking you to the Green Dragon. Are ya thirsty?"

Annabelle laughed -- a clear, delightful laugh. "Am I ever!" Then she paused, a bit confused. "What are you saying?" she asked.

The others grinned at her. "We'll tell you along the way," said Plaid.

Thunder was hungry. Her stomach kept telling her to wake up and go get a piece of her mom’s apple pie that she could smell, but her brain rebelled. She curled up tighter around her little cuddle (that she always slept with), and dreamed on of apple pie.


Right behind her, and a little vibration accompanied it. That was strange. Her brow furrowed. She just couldn’t think what would make that sound and vibration. Hmm, mustn’t be that important, she thought, and dreamed on.

She took a bite of apple pie, chewed it thoughtfully, and swallowed. As she went for another bite, her stomach blatantly told she was lying. She took another, and another, but still her stomach was insistent that the food wasn’t there.


This time, right beside her head, and this time, she woke up quickly.

To find herself surrounded by apples; apples on the ground, and in the air, hanging by the branches of the tree above her. To say she was astonished was an understatement. The bright day beckoned to her outside the shade of the tree she had been sleeping under. Rows upon rows of apple trees met her amazed eyes. How had she gotten here? In the distance, she heard a male voice, and the sounds of dogs barking.


She turned toward the shrub hedge that went around the last set of trees. She thought she’d heard a whisper, something, but there was no one there. She turned back toward the sound of the dogs, and began to stand up. She had to find out where she was. That was when she discovered, to her astonishment, that she still had her stuffed Blue in hand.

She was still looking at the stuffed dog when she heard the voice again. “Hey!” it was a small, child-like voice. She turned again in the direction of it, and saw only shrub.

“Who’s there?” she asked, and crouched down to try to see.

“You better get out of there,” said the child-voice, and suddenly, Thunder saw a tiny child’s head looking out at her from the bush. It was a little girl with dark, curly locks. “Farmer Maggot’s coming, and he’ll sic his dogs on you!”

“Farmer Maggot --?” Thunder asked, and turned again to look in the direction of the dog sounds. Now she could see two large dogs sniffing around, about 150 yards away. Where did she know that name?

In any case, she felt as though the child was probably right…she moved in her direction, and the child disappeared into the shrub. Thunder managed to squeeze under the branches and scratched her limbs and face.

On the other side, she had a chance to see her rescuer. Actually, two – a boy and a girl. She stared in disbelief – they were barely a foot and a half high, clothed in simple clothes, and, most importantly, as Thunder stared – they had bare, furry feet. “Are you – hobbits?” she asked, amazed.

“Uh, huh,” whispered the little boy, and hugged on the girl. “Are you going to hurt us?” The little girl looked at her with doe-eyes.

“No,” Thunder whispered. “Not at all – where am I? Farmer Maggot’s farm?” They nodded. “Where do you live?”

“Hobbiton,” they both answered.

“Ah,” said Thunder, thoughtfully. “Can you take me there?” They nodded again, staring at Thunder’s stuffed Blue. Then, they turned, and, holding each other’s hands, led Thunder to their home (not without turning to stare at her occasionally).

Annabelle was relatively easy to convince about where they were, and was immensely excited.

“Do you think we’ll all end up here?” she asked. That was a good question – one no one could answer.

They approached the little inn, and admired how well kept it looked from the outside. Hobbits hurried here and there on business; most stopped and stared at the three girls, then continued on, while throwing looks back occasionally.

“I can imagine that we’re pretty strange looking to them,” Plaid said, uneasily.

“Not to mention that hobbits aren’t known for liking the outside world to come in,” replied FB. “And we are DEFINITELY ‘outside’ what they would consider their world.”

They came to the door; FB led the way, opening the door and stepping into the dim, open room. Plaid, then Annabelle followed behind…the heels of their shoes (and tennis shoes) sounded hollow on the wooden floor. The friendly chatter of the room that met their ears when they came in suddenly stopped.

FB tried to ignore the baleful, some scared faces, and walked up to the proprietor behind the counter, who had paused in the middle of wiping a mug. It was a small counter (it was a small figure she was addressing), and it felt a little strange to all of them to try to cross that open floor with all the stares.

“Gosh,” whispered Annabelle to Plaid, “I didn’t know it would be like this…”

“I imagine a lot of local pubs are like this,” Plaid whispered back.

No one was still speaking when FB addressed the proprietor. “Excuse me, sir, could you help us? We’re here in the Shire on business, but have run out of funds. We were hoping to find some work in exchange for a room and a bite to eat…or work that we could do for money to pay for the same. We are all strong girls – quick, and talented.”

You could have heard a pin drop in the inn. This was obviously the strangest thing these Shire folk had seen in a long time, and no one was going to miss the proprietor’s reply.

He cleared his throat and looked around nervously. “Rosie!” he suddenly yelled. A pause, then a pretty little hobbit lass with red curly hair (that the 3 ladies immediately identified as Rosie) peeked around the corner of the kitchen door behind the manager.

“Yes, sir?” she replied, and looked at the women in shock.

“See what ya can find fer these lady-folk to do in the way of work,” he answered, and looked back at them with a scowl. “And don’t be too easy on ‘em, as they’ll be payin’ fer their keep!”

As FB, Plaid and Annabelle worked off the payment for their room and board, Samwise was busy trying to explain to Mr. Bilbo how they found two strange women in his home.

“Yes, sir, and I told ‘em that you and Mr. Frodo may be back at noon,” he finished.

Bilbo scratched his head dubiously. “I can’t say that we’ve been expecting anyone out of the Shire but Gandalf and a few dwarven friends of mine,” Bilbo answered. “Well,” he added and turned back to his pile of invitations, “if they want to see me, I’ll be here all evening.”

Sam nervously wrung his gloves. “Sir, do you know where Mr. Frodo might be?”

“If I know the boy,” replied Bilbo with a twinkle in his eye, “he’ll be off, reading somewhere under a tree.”

LaWise had had a horrible night. She kept dreaming black riders were chasing her, then she dreamed she woke up in the middle of a forest at night. What had she done to deserve this? Well, perhaps one too many brownies right before she went to bed may have contributed...

She felt in her dream-state that she still was not comfortable, but she didn't know why. Finally, oblivion came for a while.

Suddenly the earth was shaking. A pause. Shaking. A pause. Shaking again. "LaWisewoman, is that you?"

She opened her eyes with a start. This dratted dream just would not end. She was still in the forest. This time, however, Elijah Wood was standing over her, looking at her with concern.

Well, this was one dream she would stay with. She looked at him dreamily. "Oh, Elijah," she said to him. What else could she say?

"No, Tysk," he said, strangely. "Call me Tysk. Keeps people guessing."

Wow, Tysk was here? She woke up a little more. "What?" she asked him. Why would he say that? Is this a dream? Wait, what did he call her?

She struggled to sit up, slipping a little on the damp leaves she was sleeping on, then reality hit her -- she wasn't dreaming. She looked at Tysk full in the face -- the shock so great she wanted to scream.

Her shock must have registered on her face, for Tysk quickly knelt down beside her with more concern. "Whoa, it's okay, this is real," he said. "I don't know why we're here..." his voice trailed off as he looked around, "but I'm thinking this looks a bit like New Zealand. I could have gotten down here pretty easily, but I don't remember flying -- just waking up like you did."

"How do you --" stammered LaWise, "how did you know...what you called me..." she stared at him, flabbergasted. "You are really --?"

"I told you, I'm Tysk," he said, none-too-shrewdly, with a grin. "And why wouldn't I know who you are? I've seen your face before..."

He helped her to her feet. LaWise had to struggle to contain herself after he let go of her hand. Her head was still swirling...

"C'mon," he said. "We've got to find a path out of here. I'm pretty hungry. You?" LaWise nodded numbly, and began following him.

They trampled through the undergrowth for a couple of hours until they found some nicer areas with short grass and trees. This is nice, thought LaWise.

"Do you recognize this place?" she asked Tysk.

He paused and looked around. "Well, yes -- and no," he said. "I mean, it looks like it should be familiar, and yet I can't remember where it was." He turned, leaned against a tree, and dug around in his pants pocket. He pulled out a package of cigarettes and a lighter.

LaWise stared at him, fascinated.

He offered her a cigarette. She shook her head no, and leaned against a tree to rest. She watched him shake one out, pull it out with his lips, shove the package back in his pants, and light up.

He smiled at her as he blew out smoke. "Breakfast," he grinned.

Suddenly, he froze in mid-draw. He was looking above LaWise's head, and his whole reaction scared her. She just knew there was a snake in the tree above her, and her heart began beating in double-time.

"Wha - Kiernan?" he asked, stepping forward as he continued to stare. "No, who ARE YOU?"

LaWise stepped away from the tree and whirled around, to find Frodo Baggins only a few feet away from her up in the tree she was leaning against.

It was the classic pose -- the "reading the book" pose up in the tree that everyone wondered what happened to in the movie. He had been absolutely quiet, watching them. Only Tysk's chance position had given him the opportunity to see him.

But, who WAS HE?

LaWise looked at Tysk, at Frodo, then back at Tysk. This was too weird to be believable. More unbelievable was the fact that he was half the size of Tysk. LaWise almost giggled -- a Mini-me!

"I should ask you the same," Frodo replied, snapping his book closed and turning around completely on the limb to face them. "These lands belong to hobbits -- we don't see too many big folk around here."

LaWise couldn't believe how irresistably cute he was -- was this for real? It HAD to be. This was no camera shot, no angle, no computer generated figure. This was the real thing, she concluded.

She turned to Tysk. "Tysk, we are in the Shire. This is real. That isn't you --" she turned to Frodo, "although it looks like you. Half-size."

Tysk was stunned. It obviously hadn't hit Frodo that they looked alike. "Cool," he replied.

Frodo looked puzzled. "I don't understand you," he said. "Why are you here? What business have you in the Shire?"

LaWise was still struggling with the concept. "Um," she started, trying to get something out that might make sense. The party! "Isn't your Uncle Bilbo throwing a party for his birthday soon?" she asked. "We came to find out when and where..." she finished, rather lamely, she thought. She found herself staring at Frodo's dangling feet.

"Well," said Frodo, jumping down from his perch. "I haven't told you my name, and I don't believe we've met before, but you seem to know a lot about me. If you are indeed friends of my uncle, I'm sure he'd be glad to know you have arrived." He started walking away. "I'd be glad to take you to him," he said, in invitation.

FB, Annabelle and Plaid were walking back to Bag End, talking.

"Isn't Rosie a sweetheart?" Annabelle asked. The other two agreed.

"I think you were pushing Samwise on her a little bit," remarked FB. Plaid laughed.

"Well," blushed Annabelle, "He's such a cutie. I know it's going to happen, and we don't really get to hear her side of the story in the books OR the movie, so I couldn't help bringing him up..."

"Again and again!" laughed Plaid. They laughed with her.

"So, what are we going to talk to Bilbo and Frodo about?" Plaid asked. They all thought for a moment.

"Tell them about the Ring!" shouted Annabelle.

"Shhhhhh!" FB and Plaid said nervously, and looked around.

"Oh," said Annabelle, sheepishly.

"There must be someone here in Middle Earth (maybe Gandalf?) who can explain why we are here and how to get back," Plaid replied after another moment.

"But, can't we help them?" said Annabelle. "After all, we DO know what's going to happen."

"IF that story exists here," FB said thoughtfully. "Perhaps there is no Ring. I think we should go with Plaid's thought first, then, if we are permitted, we can approach the other subject."

They walked on in silence for a while.

"I hope Gandalf is coming soon," breathed Annabelle. "Not that I'm not enjoying being here!" The others agreed.

The trio became aware of the sound of something/someone coming up behind them.

"It's a horse," said Annabelle, clearly frightened.

"Now, now, Bilbo's still here," FB reminded her. "No need to think about black riders for a while."

"Sounds like it's pulling a cart," Plaid said, listening intently. They all looked at each other.

"Gandalf?" they all said, almost in unison.

And yet, they were still anxious. Annabelle bit her lip. "Can't we just hide a little off the trail," she said, moving over into the brush, "and then come out when we see him?"

"This sounds familiar," muttered FB, as she and Plaid followed her off the trail into the trees.

The sound of horse and cart grew louder, driving their heartrates faster as it neared. They watched the trail intently, as far up as they could see it. Suddenly, they could see the legs of a horse as it walked calmly along (the foliage of the trees kept the upper part of the horse hidden)...then the wheels were in view, then, they stopped.

They could hear a muffled voice, coming from what seemed like the other side of the trail.

"A wizard, Frodo Baggins," said a voice from right in front of them, "is never late. He arrives precisely when he means to."

FB grabbed a hold of both women who almost bolted out towards the lane.

Naughty became excruciatingly aware that her pillow was either gone, or extremely flat. Annoyed, she realized her attempts to remedy the situation (find the pillow, fluff the pillow) were of no avail. She couldn’t, her body told her. Waking up annoyed is not a good way to wake up – it is even worse when you realize you are unable to open your eyes.

Consciousness flooded her brain, as she attempted to figure out what in the world was going on. She attempted to move her arms – they were tied behind her, and she was lying on her side on one of them, which contributed to the fact that it was going to sleep. Her feet, too, were unable to move. Something was binding her face, preventing her from seeing.

She groaned and turned over the other way to relieve her arm.

A voice, right above her, spoke. Unfortunately, she had no idea what it was saying. It sounded male; a fluid, voluptuous speech that reminded her of something.

“What??” she answered back, groggily. “Speak English!”

“Hold on,” said the voice. “I will help you sit up.” Even in English, his voice was very soft and melodious. He had an accent she couldn’t place. He put his hand behind her back and helped her sit upright.

She sat there, panting for a moment, angry. “What is going on?” she asked, in the direction she thought he was. There was no answer from him. She had the feeling he was gone, although she couldn’t say for sure.

“Hey!” came a whisper from the right of her. This person had an accent she couldn’t place either, but not like the person who had left. This one sounded female.

“Who’s there?” Naughty asked.

It was Little Spirit. Little Spirit had gone through the same awakening Naughty had, but having been awake for a few hours, she had been questioned by the voices for a while. After the initial couple of questions, she wondered if she was truly awake. They had asked her where she was from; when she told them, they acted as if they had never heard of the whole of Europe. That seemed to make them disbelieve anything she had to say. She had been frustrated by their refusal to acknowledge her questions other than to tell her she had trespassed into ELVEN territory, and they would determine her fate.

She had been dumbfounded. Was someone playing a cruel trick on her? Everyone knew her love of Tolkien’s stories. But, the ropes were too tight, and there was no evidence of sniggering. In fact, when they lapsed into what could only have been an elven tongue, she was completely at a loss. No one she knew could plan a trick this elaborate.

When she heard someone groaning next to her, she knew someone else had been taken in; she no longer doubted the validity of what was happening. Her dilemma was, should she reveal her identity to people she didn’t know? She decided to use her Grey Panther name – it was easy, and would fall in line with the strange circumstances she found herself in.

“Hey,” she said again to the other person, “I think I’m in the same situation you are.” She swallowed nervously. “I’m Little Spirit.”

Naughty sat still, thinking. “Little Spirit,” she whispered. “Someone has that name on a website I go to online.”

Website?? Little Spirit was taken aback. Had the elaborate hoax slipped? “Yes,” she said slowly. “I post on a place called Grey Panthers…” no doubt this person knew that.

Naughty couldn’t believe her ears. “Really?” she said. “Yeah, I do too – I’m Naughty Hobbit.”

Little Spirit sat stunned. “Okay – we’re both Grey Panthers, and we both woke up bound up by elves?” she finally said.

Naughty could not believe what she heard. Was she still dreaming? “I don’t know,” she answered. “I don’t know where I am or how I got here or WHAT IS HAPPENING!”

Just then, they both heard voices coming toward them.

LaWise watched Frodo leap into Gandalf’s arms, and wondered briefly why THIS particular scene was playing out. Why the movie, and not the book? She hadn’t yet figured out everything to her liking; in fact, she had pinched herself a couple of times just to make sure.

Tysk and Frodo had immediately hit it off, and had talked like long-lost brothers all the way back to the road. LaWise had felt a little miffed and a little left out, but enjoyed listening to their conversation nonetheless.

Tysk had been very careful not to insinuate anything, but kept Frodo talking about his uncle Bilbo, Hobbiton, and the Shire in general. One time, Tysk asked Frodo about his hair, which Frodo found a little odd.

“Do you – who cuts your hair for you?” Tysk asked him. He almost reached out to pull on it, but caught himself, earning an astonished look from LaWise.

“What!” Frodo laughed. “There are a couple of Bracegirdle sisters in Hobbiton that do almost all the bachelors’ heads – most married hobbits have their wives do it,” he added with a smile, and almost a blush. “Why do you ask? You don’t look like you need a cut.”

“Ah, no…” Tysk had stammered. “Just in case, I guess.”

And now, Frodo turned around from greeting Gandalf, and introduced them.

“Gandalf, these are my new friends, LaWisewoman and Tysk. They say they’ve come to visit Bilbo, and to attend his birthday party.”

Gandalf peered at them from under his bushy eyebrows. “Have they, now?” he said slowly, and put his pipe back up to his mouth.

Suddenly, there was a racket from the other side of the road; three figures hastily emerged – everyone was startled to see three women brushing themselves off and staring back at them. The women seemed especially taken aback when they saw Tysk.

Okay, Gandalf they knew...Frodo they expected (and was delighted to see)...there was another woman on the little hill that was obviously one of them...

"Okay," said FB out-loud, "Now I am thoroughly confused." She thought she had it all figured out, but there seemed to be a kink in her theory as to where they were.

For, there was Elijah.

Frodo and Gandalf watched in puzzlement as the three women stared at Tysk, and began to walk toward him in awe.

Tysk knew what was happening, and had to set it straight immediately. "Hey!" he said to them. "It's me, Tysk!"

That stopped them in their tracks. They looked at the woman, questioningly. Then, FB knew.

"LaWise!" she shouted, and ran toward her, "It's me, FrodoBaggins!" (Plaid grimaced, and looked toward Frodo.) "Here's Plaidpj's and Annabelle!"

LaWise couldn't believe it -- it was too much! She came over to them. "How did you -- how did we get here?" she asked them. "What is going on? Oh, my goodness, a Grey Panther meeting in the Shire?" And she laughed with joy with them. She looked into each of their faces, and they into hers, as they hugged and met each other for the first time.

This time, it was Tysk who was a little miffed. After a moment, they all turned to look at him.

"Tysk?" asked FB. "This is really you?" He smiled at her. That drew the group closer to him. "Well," laughed FB, "You couldn't look better!" And all the women laughed.

Tysk smiled a little crookedly, and asked, "Well, don't I get a hug, too?"

Oh, my, they all thought, and didn't hesitate to come and all give him one. First, a group hug, then one by one.

"Okay," said Annabelle, grinning. "This is the best d@mn dream I've EVER had!" And they all laughed with joy once more.

They all seemed to come to their senses at once, and turned to look at Gandalf and Frodo, who were still sitting on the cart, watching them.

“I’m sorry,” said Tysk to them, still smiling. “We happen to all be part of a group that enjoys particular stories…” he faltered and looked at for help from the others.

“Yes,” FB picked up, “We are here specifically to see you, Gandalf, and Mr. Bilbo and Frodo. We may need help, and we think perhaps we may be able to help you, although we aren’t sure.” She looked at the others to see if they had anything to add.

Ten minutes later, they were all piled into Gandalf’s cart, lumbering down the road; FB and LaWise were sitting up toward the front, explaining to Gandalf how they had arrived in Middle Earth.

“So,” said Gandalf, finally, “You say you are all from some other lands, not of Middle Earth, and you ALL awoke to find yourself here in the Shire? Is this the extent of your group – is this all of you?”

“No,” said LaWise, quickly. “It seems that we are the ones that are more active than others in our participation, although there are others that are very active that are not here.”

Frodo was sitting sideways on the seat, and looked from LaWise to Gandalf. Gandalf paused, letting this sink in as he smoked his pipe, leaning over his reins. “Well,” he replied, holding his pipe in his teeth, “Perhaps I am missing a piece of this puzzle. What is the nature of the ‘stories’ that bring you together?”

This question froze them all in their seats, as they quickly looked at each other. How quickly he had come to this question! What should they reveal? What was too much?

The nature of their reluctant silence spoke volumes, they realized. Frodo was watching them, curious. They knew they had already clued Gandalf on the fact that they felt they had something to hide…

“Okay,” said FB. She took on a role of decision-maker for the moment, and felt that no one was begrudging her this role, as she looked around. Annabelle, Plaid, Tysk and LaWise all looked at her, seemingly hopeful of a way out of their paradoxical dilemma. “The stories that bind us together are all about people and places of Middle Earth.” She ended here for the moment, not sure HOW she could describe the fan-base of Elijah Wood. While it would be truthful to try to divulge that information, she wasn’t certain it was relevant.

It was obvious everyone else thought about it, too, because all the women cut their eyes to look at Tysk. Tysk raised his eyebrows at their glances, but did little else. No one offered to add anything to FB’s explanation.

Naughty and Little Spirit were startled to find their leg bindings and blindfolds removed. They blinked in the light, trying to focus their eyes at the figures sitting before them. There were three of them, with one tall male sitting in front of the other two; his elven features were fair, and his long blond hair flowed over a green cloak that fell around his knees.

“I am Glorfindel,” he said to them. “And I ask for your names and why you are here.”

The women looked at each other; their shock was registering too great to be excited to see each other – yet, looking at each other seemed to give them both strength. Little Spirit spoke first.

“I have answered this question and many others before,” she said. “Naughty’s story is much the same as mine, I believe. Although we knew each other somewhat before we arrived here, neither one of us had anything to do with why or how we are here. We simply woke up here. We were hoping you could tell us how you found us and that could give us some clue as to how we arrived here…” her voice trailed off. She couldn’t understand how to explain to them their confusion without sounding suspicious.

Naughty was still somewhat angry. “Is this some kind of joke?” she said. “It isn’t fun to wake up with your arms and legs bound, with no way to see. How did you get me out of bed without my knowing it? Where is my family? Or, are they in on this, too?”

Glorfindel turned and spoke in the strange tongue to the two behind him. They answered, but seemed ambivalent. He turned back to the women.

“It is not our intention to harm you,” he answered. “We found you sleeping in our woods, but I will not say where. These woods cannot be entered without our knowing it, and yet we did not sense when you entered. This indicates strong magic. However, you have either decided to keep this magic hidden from us, or it is beyond you. This mystery must be solved…”

Everyone was waiting for someone else to speak. FB looked up at Frodo, and found to her surprise that he was looking straight at her. How strange it is to be here, she thought, yet wonderful. She smiled at him, and he returned her smile.

“Would that be why,” he said to her softly, “you called yourself Frodo Baggins earlier?” FB saw Gandalf look his way quickly, then back to the road.

FB blushed as everyone looked at her. “Yes,” she replied. “You are part of the stories that we know.”

Frodo looked down in consternation, then back at her. “Why? Why me?” he asked. “What is so special about me?” He looked at them all with a mixture of surprise and doubt.

That direct question made them all squirm. They knew where they were in the story; Gandalf hadn’t even made the connections, yet, so what could they say?

“Oh, Frodo --!” began Annabelle, almost tearfully.

Plaid quickly clapped a hand over Annabelle’s mouth, looked at her, then dropped her hand. “We cannot say too much yet, Frodo,” answered Plaid, regretfully. “We aren’t sure why we are here, and if we know something that you don’t through the stories we know, we have to be extremely careful not to disrupt something…” she paused, a little unsure, to look at the others.

LaWise, although she hadn’t been privy to the conversations between the other three women, began to understand. “It is true,” she added. “Our stories may not be truth here. But, we will help, I believe, if we can.” A few moments of silence followed.

Gandalf cleared his throat. “Well,” he said, “It seems there is more mystery here than I have seen in many years. Perhaps after a good meal and a pipe of tobacco, we can discuss these things into the later hours.” He turned slightly, to look at them. “I do not sense evil purpose in you, but there seems to be a heaviness with all of you that I cannot comprehend. However, I warn you, do not bring evil purpose here to the Shire,” he ended, and turned back to the road. Frodo looked at them quickly once more, then turned to face forward with Gandalf.

FB and LaWise both sighed, and looked at each other.

Glorfindel led the two women from the culvert where they were hidden out into the forest. Naughty looked back and in mild surprise, saw nothing of the little place they had been captive. The two other male elves followed behind, expressionless.

Naughty was pretty well convinced they were dealing with the real thing, just as Little Spirit was. The elves were too serious to be other than what they purported to be.

As they walked along with their hands still tied behind their backs, Naughty had a thought. Elves are quick, yes? She eyed an exposed root up ahead, then began looking up at the trees in admiration, smiling.

Suddenly, she gasped as her toe stuck up under the root – everything went into slow motion as she watched the ground coming up to meet her – she could not pull her hands out to catch herself – !

Just as she almost touched the ground, arms reached around her torso and slowed her descent to a soft recline into the grass. She turned her head to look into the face of her rescuer, the elf who had followed a few feet behind her. His blond hair fell like a canopy around his head to hers, and his green eyes narrowed as he looked at her. His mouth tightened into a line… “Did you --?” he stopped as she grinned unrestrainedly at him. His eyes twinkled a little for an instant, and then he pulled her upright.

Glorfindel had returned to investigate…he looked askance at the other elf, who simply shook his head slightly. Glorfindel looked at the two women for a moment, then turned to lead them on further.

"Gandalf," said Frodo, suddenly. "I need to hop off here and go help with the party..."

"Oh!" squealed Annabelle, interrupting. "Can we help?"

Frodo turned around with a grin. "Sure," he said. "We could use some tall people. But, did some of you want to talk to my uncle?"

"FB and I can go on with Gandalf," LaWise responded, although her heart wanted to go with Frodo. She reminded herself that there was a whole party and beyond to look forward to...

The other three, Plaid, Tysk and Annabelle looked at each other, and gleefully jumped down out of the cart. Gloomy business, or party business? No contest...

"Gandalf!" shouted Bilbo, as he came out to hug his friend.

LaWise and FB stood a bit to the side, watching the reunion. "Can you believe we're watching this in person?" LaWise whispered to FB. FB shook her head.

As Bilbo invited his friend in, Gandalf turned to introduce them. "Bilbo," he said warmly, "we have some unexpected guests..."

Bilbo peered at them, then exclaimed, "Well, come in! We can't have you standing about, worrying the neighbors!"

The ladies filed in after Gandalf, and LaWise was dumbstruck. She felt a rush of unrealness wash over her as she soaked in Bag End. "I've always wondered," she murmured.

FB smiled in agreement, looking around again as well, this time under the knowledge that it was indeed, the real thing. The warm smells of wood, earth, books and tea brewing drew them in.

"Don't stand there in the foyer, come in, come in!" Bilbo motioned to them to the table. "Would you like some tea and cakes?"

"Yes, please!" both women answered at once, then looked at each other, a bit embarrassed. Gandalf laughed, and sat down.

"Yes, for me too, as well," he answered. "But, a bit of wine, if you have it," he added.

"If I have it!" retorted Bilbo, and went down to the wine cellar.

"While he's gone, what can you tell me quickly?" Gandalf asked, suddenly.

LaWise and FB both sat down quickly on a bench and slid over.

“Well,” said LaWise, “it’s about Bilbo’s ring…”

“If he has one,” finished FB.

Gandalf looked at them suspiciously. “Of what sort of ring do you speak?” he asked, finally.

FB looked at LaWise, and spoke. “In our stories, Bilbo obtains a magical ring from a creature named Gollum in the Misty Mountains. The ring allows the user to disappear, but there is more to the ring--”

FB paused as Bilbo came back into the room.

Plaid, Tysk and Annabelle followed Frodo to the meadow where Bilbo’s party was already being set up. Every hobbit head turned to look at the strangers; some muttered among themselves before returning to their tasks. Pavilions and stages were being built, and tables and chairs were being placed out onto the grass. Food was set out for the workers, and Frodo encouraged his guests to get a bite before helping out.

“Otherwise,” he laughed, “you’ll be thinking about the food rather than the work!”

He joined them in eating, and talked merrily with them about the party in general, his cousins, and of course, his uncle Bilbo. “He’s been so busy, mostly trying to keep curious hobbits from hanging around or bothering him about party events.” He sighed, and looked a bit pensive.

“You’re going to miss him, huh?” said Annabelle. Plaid looked at her quickly.

Frodo looked at all three of them with narrowed eyes and a furrowed brow. “Just how much do you know?” he asked.

Suddenly, there was a shout from the other side of the meadow, and all of them turned to see Merry and Pippin bounding over to them. “Frodo!” shouted Merry again, and the two stopped short on their approach when they noticed the three humans.

“Oh, uh, Merry and Pip, these are my new friends – Plaid, Annabelle, and Tysk. They’re here for Bilbo’s party,” Frodo answered to their shock.

But Pippin had seen more than just three humans. He looked at Frodo, and Tysk again. “Frodo!” he said, “that man looks like you! Why does he have your face?”

LaWise and FB explained to Bilbo who they were and about their companions, while drinking hot tea and eating scrumptious white fluffy cakes with honey drizzled over the tops.

FB kept gazing at Bilbo in wonderment. How exactly right Ian is for this role, she thought, then realized he wasn’t playing a role. It could get so confusing…he caught her looking at him, and smiled.

“My dear,” Bilbo said to her, “this must all be such a shock for you.” And he patted her hand in sympathy.

“To be honest,” FB replied with her own smile, “this is a dream come true. Imagine having read these amazing stories most of your life, and then you get to live them! I mean, I’m rather sorry we missed your trip to Lonely Mountain, but …”

Bilbo jerked back with a start, then looked at Gandalf. “What? Have you already told them about our adventures?” He seemed put out. “And I was so looking forward to telling them to you myself,” he added sadly.

“Oh, but we’ve READ them,” answered LaWise. “We were able to live your adventures through the stories…”

“Yes,” said FB, “we know about your adventure with the trolls, how Gandalf saved you, and then the terrible ordeal in the Misty Mountains --” she stopped, realizing what she was saying. “Um, someone wrote all about it in our world, but we thought it was all his imagination.”

Bilbo’s eyes had narrowed subtly, and his hands fidgeted in his lap. “I should like to know,” he said, quietly, “if it was all the truth – I mean, what really happened – or if it was hearsay.” He looked at Gandalf quickly, then arose from the table. “Well, in any case, I must be off to attend to some business about the party for a little while. Please, make yourselves at home,” he said, putting on a jacket and taking a walking stick. He smiled at them, then to their puzzled good-byes, he went out the door.

Little Spirit and Naughty were amazed to find themselves before Elrond, the Elf-lord. He sat before them in the same chair they were accustomed to seeing from the movie; around them, the half-ring of chairs were only partially occupied by the few elves that brought them to the dais. Naughty grinned at Little Spirit.

“Well,” she whispered, “at least we know where we are…”

But Little Spirit was confused. At Elrond’s stern look, she dared not answer Naughty, although she wanted to.

“You have been found in trespass of these lands,” Elrond said, theatrically.

Dooooommm, thought Naughty, and stifled a giggle.

Elrond focused on Naughty. “Are you not concerned with the consequences of your actions?” he asked her.

“Dude – dooooommmm!” said Naughty. She burst out laughing, almost hysterically.

Little Spirit looked at her in horror. What would they do in the face of Naughty’s moment of insanity?

Indeed, the elves looked at each other in consternation. Elrond turned to Little Spirit. “What do you have to say, for yourself and your companion?”

“Sir,” said Little Spirit, and paused a moment while Naughty caught her breath and returned to sanity, “we are lost. Actually, we are from another world, we believe, and we aren’t sure how we arrived here. We hoped you would perceive we are no threat to you, and yet we are still bound…” she said this last a little bitterly, and turned slightly to show him her bound hands.

“That is no longer necessary,” Elrond responded, and the ropes fell off their hands into the waiting hands of the elves behind them. “Although the mystery of how you arrived here has not been resolved, I will allow you to stay until we have understood who you are and why you are here. If what you are saying is true, we have no knowledge of the portend of your coming,” here, his eyes took a far-away look, “although the shadow has been growing on this land. Still, it may be none of our concern, as all elves are leaving Middle Earth.”

Naughty and Little Spirit looked at him sadly. “I never understood why you had to go,” Little Spirit interjected, and Naughty agreed with her.

Elrond focused back on them. “What do you know of our business?” he asked.

“Mr. Frodo, Mr. Frodo!” Sam came running up to the group, and came to a quick stop when he saw Annabelle, Plaid and Tysk. He eyed them warily, and finished, “I was just looking for you, sir, to tell you about some strange folk about, but I see you’ve already met up with them.” He looked at Annabelle, who smiled at him warmly, and that seemed to disconcert him a bit.

“Yes, Sam, I did,” smiled Frodo, and welcomed Merry and Pippin too by making introductions all around.

“Sam,” said Pippin quickly, after Frodo finished, “don’t YOU see a resemblance between your Mr. Frodo and the gentleman Tysk?” Pippin had seemed a little put out by the interruption. Merry nodded a bit, in agreement with Pippin.

Sam moved to where he could see the both of them, to the girls’ and Tysk’s discomfort. Tysk smiled wanely.

“Yes,” murmured Sam, his brow furrowing.

“I’m sure it’s just a coincidence,” Frodo said, looking up at Tysk, “if we do look somewhat alike. Surely we’re not related!” He laughed, and Tysk and the others laughed weakly with him.

"Mr. Frodo!" gasped Sam in shock after watching Tysk laugh; he grabbed Frodo's arm.

"Sam," said Frodo sternly, "Don't be rude to our guests. They've offered to help with setting up the party, and that's what we're going to do now." He looked at the others, and Merry and Pippin. "Let's go find something to do, then we'll have plenty of time later for comparing my face to everyone elses'!"

Gandalf stared at the door for a moment after Bilbo left, then turned toward the women.

“Tell me what you know of Bilbo’s ring,” he said, and leaned back into his chair to light his pipe.

LaWise and FB looked at each other. “You might say,” began FB, as she gave her attention back to Gandalf, “that we might know some of your future, if not all of it – but we aren’t sure. So, we can tell you what we know of the story about the Ring, and if it corresponds to what you know”— she shrugged.

“From the stories, we believe the Ring to be the One Ring,” LaWise almost whispered. A chill breeze blew the curtains up a little, and both women shivered. FB, who was closest to the window, stood up and looked out. There was no one there, and the sky looked perfectly blue – a beautiful, sunny afternoon. “You know,” LaWise encouraged Gandalf, who had seemed to look at her a bit puzzled, “SAURON’S Ring.”

At those words, a gust of wind even chillier than before blew around FB. She struggled to look out for any sign of impending weather around the flapping curtains; as she did so, she noticed a dark spot on the grass outside of the window. She focused on it, and it suddenly moved! Unnerved, she watched it slowly crawl across the grass around Bag End until she could no longer see it…

She turned around and sat down at the table. Gandalf had seemingly forgotten about his pipe – it lay in his hand in his lap. He was staring at LaWise, an indeterminate look on his face. Finally, he spoke. “Do not speak of this again for today,” he said, grimly. “If what you say is true…” he could not finish. He stared out past both of them for a moment.

The chill seemed to hang in the air. FB shivered again. “Well,” she said softly, looking at LaWise, “I don’t know about you, but I could use a cup of coffee!” LaWise quickly agreed, smiling.

“Oh, ho-ho, do WE know a lot!” Naughty practically giggled. She turned to Little Spirit with a grin. “This isn’t a dream, right?”

“No,” smiled Little Spirit. Little by little, they both were able to tell Elrond who they were, how they came to wake up in Middle Earth, and some about the Tolkien stories. “So you see,” explained Little Spirit, “we’ve read about you and much of the impending” she couldn’t help herself here, “doom that is about to befall Middle Earth.” Secretly, she prided herself on the word, ‘befall.’

Just then, one of the elves behind them drew closer, and Elrond gave him his attention.

“We have word from Aragorn, my lord,” the elf said, and looked sideways at the women. “It seems he has found more of these ‘strangers’ in the woods.”

Tysk, Plaid and Annabelle all felt the same sense of elation at actually being part of Middle Earth and Hobbiton. Their excitement and happiness translated well to the hobbits they were helping; as they helped put up tent poles, tables and chairs, they chatted amicably with the hobbits, asking questions, laughing, and generally enjoying themselves. The hobbits were already in a good mood about the upcoming party, and this enabled them to warm up considerably quicker to the humans than they otherwise might have.

Tysk would catch either Sam or Pippin staring at him every now and then, Sam a bit less friendly than Pippin in his looks.

Plaid, who was helping a group of hobbit maids and lasses in arranging food on some tables, noticed some children gathering around someone under a tree on the other side of the pavilion. She strained to see who it was (secretly hoping it was Bilbo); as she maneuvered around a table, she was surprised to see a young lady sitting on the grass, talking to the hobbit children.

“Annabelle!” called Plaid, over her shoulder. Annabelle stopped rearranging the chairs and came toward her. “Look!” said Plaid, and pointed.

Annabelle’s eyes widened. “Another Grey Panther?” she asked excitedly. They walked toward the little crowd.

As they neared, they could see the young lady had a stuffed Blue (from Blue’s Clues) she was using to animate some story. She looked up at them, startled.

“Hi,” said Plaid, as they came to a stop outside the ring of children. All the children turned to look at them. “I’m Plaid, and this is Annabelle – we’re Grey Panthers, and I assume you are, too?”

Thunder was astonished, and delighted. She jumped up. “Yes!” she exclaimed, her face a show of relief and amazement. “I’m Thunder! What are we doing here?” She stepped over to them, and they briefly hugged and looked at each other.

“We’re not sure!” laughed Annabelle. “But we’re enjoying it!”

“Where and when did you get here?” asked Plaid.

Thunder briefly told them about her awakening in the apple orchard, befriending some hobbit children, and subsequently endearing herself to all the neighborhood hobbit children. “The parents actually love me!” she finished, with a little giggle. “I’m like a huge amusement to them, and a babysitter at the same time! I think I’ve found a job…”

FB stood up again, feeling a little restless. LaWise felt it, too, she knew. She hadn’t yet said anything about the spot on the grass – she felt she knew what (or who) it was, but didn’t want to sound accusatory around Gandalf (who, once again, had lit his pipe and was enjoying his wine). She did indeed feel the need for a cup of coffee, as she had intimated to LaWise – it would be something familiar, to fill the “gap” she suddenly felt, not that she needed a caffeine jolt.

As LaWise guiltily reached for her third snack cake, FB returned to the window, thrusting her hands into her pockets in an act of resignation, as they waited – for what? Bilbo to return? Her left hand found something in her pocket, and she rustled it about for a moment, lost in thought.

The size and shape of the object broke her reverie. “What have I got in my pocket?” she muttered to herself, turning back from the window. LaWise chuckled.

“Funny,” she replied, looking up.

But the remark had gone over FB’s head, as she pulled the thing out of her pocket. Astonished, she stared at the packet of Starbuck’s Coffee in the palm of her hand. She looked at LaWise, who stared back at her unaware of what FB was seeing.

“What?” LaWise asked, to FB’s dumbfounded look. FB turned her hand out to LaWise.

“Woo-hoo!” LaWise leaped from her seat to snatch the packet out of FB’s hand. “Wow, do you always walk around with these things?” she asked delightedly, sniffing the package.

“Uh, no,” answered FB. “In fact, I can’t remember ever buying a package like this.”

Unruffled, LaWise didn’t hesitate to find the kettle and begin the brewing process, and soon the aromatic smell filled the house. Gandalf was amused by LaWise’s excitement, and commented politely on the aroma, but he kept looking at FB out of the corner of his eye.

Just as LaWise was pouring the three of them the rewards of her work, Bilbo walked in.

“Hullo!” he said cheerfully, putting away his items. He came into the kitchen and smelled deeply. “This is a new smell, indeed, and not altogether unpleasant,” he said, looking thoughtfully at the brew in their cups. He politely refused a cup, but proceeded to sit down and tell Gandalf about his plans for the evening. After Gandalf had finished his cup of coffee (which he quite enjoyed, after a little sugar), he and Bilbo excused themselves to the women and left to take a quiet walk together.

Little Spirit and Naughty threw themselves onto the little beds inside the room they were shown to. Both of them heaved great sighs of exhaustion.

“Did you ever think,” Little Spirit said, after a silent moment, “that Elrond could be capable of GRILLING someone like that--?”

“I know!” answered Naughty quickly. “I never thought I should have to recite the entire 3 volumes of the Lord of the Rings!” She heaved another sigh, and closed her eyes.

“Yeah, and don’t forget The Hobbit, too!” Little Spirit grimaced. She closed her eyes for a moment, then remembered to tease, “and they kept calling you Noddy!”

They both tiredly giggled. “Yeah, well, maybe that’s okay,” smiled Naughty, after a minute. She turned around to face Little Spirit, whose bed was on the other side of the room. “Say, who do you think Aragorn found?”

“I don’t know,” answered Little Spirit, and sat up. “But, I hope they’re Grey Panthers.” She looked around. “Did they give us anything to eat? I’m starving.”

“Oh, I bet we have to wait until this evening. Remember, we’re eating downstairs,” answered Naughty. But she turned to look around as Little Spirit did, and they both saw an urn with two goblets set out on a small wooden table. Both of them scrambled up to look.

The urn was filled with a clear liquid. When they drank it, it was light in their mouths, but heavy in their stomachs. Little Spirit licked the foam off her upper lip. “Yum,” she said. “Not quite as refreshing as my favorite brew, but it will do!”

Roxyshade and Harmony tramped through the wilderness, flanked by two rangers. They were far over their initial shock of waking up in the middle of nowhere; after having been “rescued” by three rangers, they had found each other and discovered their connectivity. Trying to explain who they were to the rangers had been difficult. Both women had been a little angry at the abrupt manner of the rangers in the beginning – after they found out who it was that found them, the shock of where they were had sunk in.

Admittedly, they couldn’t blame the rangers for their suspicion. Their clothes weren’t exactly Middle-Earthish, and neither were their accents.

But, Harmony couldn’t help herself, and had asked, “Where is Aragorn?” The rangers had looked at each other, and then another barrage of questions had come. How did she know that name? Why did she want to see someone by that name? What else did they know?

Roxy had had a little less patience than Harmony, and finally said, “Why don’t you just take us to him? Do we look like we could harm him? Surely such big, brave rangers such as yourselves can handle us?”

Those questions earned stern looks from the rangers, and they walked away to discuss the matter amongst themselves.

Harmony grinned at Roxy, whose temper had fled in the face of what might come next. “Actually, that was a great idea,” she whispered. “From what I remember, these guys aren’t exactly the life-of-the-party types, but they won’t hurt us. What do you think Aragorn looks like?”

Before Roxy could reply, the rangers returned. The tallest of the three spoke. “We will take you to him, and there you will answer our questions.” They helped the women up from the ground.

As Harmony wiped off the debris from her pants, she asked, “Where is he?” She watched as one ranger tightened his gear, and abruptly ran off.

“He is in Bree, an hours’ march from here,” the tallest ranger said. “Come.”

The shadows were lengthening as FB and LaWise walked down to the party. Bilbo had pointed them in the general direction, and they let the noise lead them on from there.

“So, are you sure you didn’t put that coffee in your pocket before you went to sleep?” LaWise asked FB.

“Absolutely sure,” replied FB. “Like I said, I don’t recall ever purchasing a package like that.”

“Hmm, well, wherever it came from, it was the real thing!” sighed LaWise.

A moment later FB brought up the other thing that had been on her mind. “Do you know when you were telling Gandalf about the Ring, and I was looking out the window?” LaWise nodded. “Well, I think I saw a shadow outside – it was moving by itself. I think” – she paused, “I think it was Bilbo. I think he heard what was said.”

LaWise stopped abruptly, and FB stopped and looked at her. “Do you think he’ll change his mind about leaving it to Frodo?” she asked, concerned.

“That was my thought,” FB answered, and they walked on. “I’m worried that our actions may affect things in ways that may not be for the best, although we may think we’re doing the right thing.”

Just then, they reached the top of a knoll; looking down, they saw the party being set up before them. It was much bigger than either of them had imagined it to be. Stages, tents, chairs, tables – and hobbits everywhere already. In the midst of them they could see Plaid, Annabelle and Tysk already getting into the swing of things, giants though they seemed to the hobbits. Their hard work must have paid off, because the hobbits were laughing and talking to them without restraint.

LaWise suddenly noticed another girl, leading a group of children in a game which looked very much like “Follow the Leader.” “Will you look at that?” she said to FB, pointing at the girl, “There’s another one of us, I bet! Wonder how many will show up?”

FB smiled as they started their descent down to the party. “Yes, we’ve wondered that already. Who knows?”

Music was beginning to play, and hobbits were forming in their respective family and friends groups, leaving the five humans to feel a little awkward at first. That ended when Frodo saw what was happening.

“Hey, come sit over here!” he shouted at them, and Sam helped Frodo to push some tables together. Gladly, the friends sat down with Frodo and Sam, who were quickly distracted because their names were being called by the musicians and dancers.

“Sam, dance with Rosie,” Frodo nudged him, “I’ve got to go play the drum – I forgot it was my turn!” Sam sat, hunched, while Frodo rushed to the stage.

Annabelle looked at Plaid and FB, then at Sam. “Look, there’s Rosie,” she said, and waved back at her. Rosie had caught sight of them, and was smiling and waving as she danced. Sam looked quickly at Annabelle (his back was to Rosie), then back at his mug. “What a nice girl she is,” said Annabelle, seemingly to herself. She watched Sam out of the corner of her eye, and found herself lamenting once again how small he was. Cute, yet so small…

She felt a sudden jab in her ribs, and Plaid was looking at her. “Annabelle,” she whispered with a smile, “have you had one too many drinks?”

Annabelle looked down at her own small mug of beer. “No,” she said. “One of these barely gets a person going!” They laughed together.

“Mr. Tysk,” said Sam suddenly, to everyone’s surprise, “just how is it that you have a face like Mr. Frodo’s?”

Tysk looked uncomfortable. “Well, uh, I’m not sure,” he said, finally. “We know of your world through stories, and I once acted out the part of Frodo in a story, but I’m not sure why he looks like me. And, that’s the honest truth,” he ended, his eyes widening in a look of helplessness.

Sam obviously wasn’t won over by this explanation, but didn’t have anything else to say. However, LaWise had her own question.

“Tysk, I’ve been meaning to ask you,” she started, and Tysk turned to look at her. She was sitting across from him at the end of Sam’s bench. “Okay,” she started again, a bit unnerved by his blue eyes, “you knew about our disclaimer on the GP site” (Tysk smiled at this) “and we all played along, but either you are Tysk and don’t look like you used to, or you are Elijah and you are playing Tysk.” She finally got it all out, and heaved a sigh, looking at the others. Had they wondered, too?

The looks on their faces revealed that they had – Annabelle bit her lip pensively, Plaid leaned forward eagerly to look at Tysk, and FB grinned, put her elbow on the table and propped her chin on her hand to wait for his response.

Tysk’s response was great. He laughed, hugged Annabelle and FB who were sitting on either side of him, and said, “I love you guys!” Then he looked at LaWise. “Let me ask you something,” he said to her. “Whatever my response to you, would it make a difference right now either way? Ask me anything about the board, and I’ll know it. I can name the other members who aren’t here – Tamaruda, Spleen, Charlie, Hpooh – whatever! I’m Tysk! Does anything else matter?”

And, in the end, they all surmised, nothing else did matter. He was their Tysk – he was the epitome of Things You Should Know – and there was no other.

Naughty and Little Spirit followed a tall, slender elven maid downstairs. She had come up to summon them to eat, and neither of them hesitated to follow her, as hungry as they were. She fairly floated along in front of them, and spoke not a word to them until they reached the long dining table at which a few elves were already seated.

“Please be seated,” she said, pointing to the chairs.

Both women hesitated, looking to sit in a somewhat obscure place. They both felt a little awkward, until Naughty noticed one of the elves that had escorted them to the house – the one that had caught her.

“Little Spirit, over here,” she whispered, and maneuvered around the table to go sit beside him. At least she knew a face besides Elrond’s, who hadn’t yet arrived.

They pulled out the chairs and sat down; Naughty smiled at the elf, who had been watching them. He turned his head and said something in elvish to the elf across the table from him, who in turn looked at her with a near expressionless face – with the exception of the side of his mouth, which turned down slightly in some thought.

Naughty figured they were probably talking about them, so after settling her napkin, she turned to look at her elf square in the face. Eventually, he turned to face her – she noted his perfectly straight blond hair, parted in the middle – his hazel eyes flashed at her.

“So,” she said, a bit daunted, but trying not to show it, “can we join the conversation?”

“Noddy,” said the elf in return, “I must first introduce myself. I am Galadin, and this” he motioned to the elf across from him, “is Elidir, my cousin. I was telling my cousin of the interesting stumble you had on the way here…how you were testing us.”

“Testing -?” Naughty was speechless for a moment. She could hear Little Spirit chuckling quietly beside her. She decided honesty was the best policy. “Okay, maybe I was,” she admitted. “It was difficult enough to convince ourselves that we were really here in Middle Earth – I mean, normally, you don’t just wake up in a different place like that.”

“Yes,” chimed in Little Spirit, who was feeling rather cheerful after the brew they’d had in their room, and beginning on a glass of wine in front of her. “I thought it was a clever way to see if your reflexes were as quick as we’d read about them in the books, and when you caught her, we knew!” She smiled graciously at Elidir, who blinked and looked a little less stern.

Just then, some elves in another room began singing a song; the melody curled around the room like a graceful bird, and all the small chattering at the table ceased. There were musical instruments, too, of a kind that neither Little Spirit nor Noddy could identify, which gave the song its wings. Both women felt the beauty and angst of the song even though the words were unknown to them, and after a few moments, the singing died, and Elrond walked in. He sat at the head of the table, spoke a few words to the people on either side of them, and the food was served.

The rangers led the women to a small road, which they walked along for about fifteen minutes, up to a large, dark fence with traffic -- mostly human, but a few hobbits here and there, some with carts and horses -- coming in and out of a gate.

Both women felt a little lightheaded at this point. It was something to finally get themselves to believe where they were, but it was something else to suddenly be thrust into a thriving community where there is no mistaking where they were. None of the people passing by paid the company any mind as they went about their business.

As they were walking through the gate, an old man grumbled, “Hurry up, now! Sun’s going down, and I’ve got to close the gate!”

“Wow,” said Harmony, looking at the building structures, which seemed to lean over them into the street. “This is just like on the movie! Do you think we’ll see the Prancing Pony?”

“Yes, you will see it,” answered the ranger behind them, “because that is where we are taking you.”

Roxy and Harmony looked at each other and grinned in anticipation.

Sure enough, there it was – The Prancing Pony.

Roxy’s heart was racing...Harmony’s heart was racing – they drank in the wooden sign hanging from the building, and looked around for any familiar hobbits…then the first ranger held the door open for them, and inside they went.

There was the counter, just as they remembered it – of course, not as tall as it seemed in the movie. Behind it, however, they saw a girl.

“Hi!” she said sweetly to the ranger, then noticed the women. “Whoa!” she looked incredulous, “You don’t look like you belong here,” she said to them, and leaned over the counter. “Where are you from?” She seemed suspicious and excited at the same time.

“Um,” said Harmony, and looked at Roxy for support, “we don’t, actually, belong here.” The other ranger had come in the door, and began herding them into the inn. “Long story,” she finished as they walked by. The girl behind the counter followed them around the corner on the other side of the counter -- she seemed not to want them out of her sight.

“Wait!” the girl at the counter said, and reached across the counter to them with her hand outstretched, “I’m Pooh, also known as Hpooh…”

That stopped them – the ranger behind them nearly ran them over.

“What – Pooh?” both woman said excitedly, and rushed over to her to grab her hand and talk to her. “We’re Roxy and Harmony(4U),” said Roxy, and they immediately hugged and began asking each other questions.

“Oh,” said Pooh, in answer to their questions, “I found myself right outside of town a day ago, and wandered in. It was SO strange!” They giggled together. “I saw the inn, and couldn’t believe it…Barliman’s here!” she said, pointing him out. “Yeah, he gave me a job here, seeing as I’m kind of homeless – as you are too, huh?” Pooh was extremely glad to see them; it helped her, somewhat, to know she wasn’t having some strange hallucination – now things seemed to be righting themselves. “Anyway, the beer here is EXCELLENT…”

The tall ranger interrupted. “Did you say you came here in the same manner as these two?” he asked Pooh. Pooh nodded. He looked concerned, but did not say anything more to her. “Come,” he said to the two women quickly. He took Harmony’s arm, and the other ranger turned Roxy toward the back of the inn.

“We’ll be back!” Roxy whispered strongly to Pooh as they walked away.

The dancing had begun in earnest. Now, practically everyone, including Thunder and the children, were up and dancing in some way – with the exception of the people at Sam’s table.

“You know, you should go,” Sam said to them. Tysk was tapping his foot, Annabelle and Plaid were drumming their hands, LaWise was completely turned around watching, and FB’s eyes were shining with excitement. Even Gandalf had decided to join the hobbits in their merriment; he seemed not to care that he towered over everyone.

Annabelle looked at Sam with a mixture of pity and something else in her face. “Samwise,” she said, and nearly choked on the feeling that arose in her, “we will go if you will go and dance with Rosie…” Plaid turned to her and smiled sadly.

Sam looked at Annabelle in surprise, then slowly turned around to look at the crowd. It was if Rosie had been waiting all this time for him to look – she stopped dancing and smiled at him. Then, she held her arms out to him.

Sam looked stupefied. He looked around quickly, then back at her with a surprised “me?” Rosie laughed and nodded. Sam gulped, put down his mug and arose to meet her.

The five friends cheered.

“C’mon,” said Tysk, standing up. “There’s only one of me and four of you, and that’s about right!” Delighted, the girls stood with him, linked their arms together and fairly skipped and hopped to the crowd to dance.

Noddy (Naughty Hobbit, of course) and Little Spirit had a wondrous time that night – the air was full of singing, the table full of food, the conversation full of laughter and merriment. The elves found the women intriguing, and they, of course, felt even more intrigued. Noddy even gathered up enough courage to ask Galadin if she could touch his ear.

Little Spirit had nearly lost her mouthful of drink when Noddy asked.

“What?” said Noddy in response to Little Spirit’s suppressed laughter, nearly indignant because she was embarrassed. “We’ve never seen any that weren’t fake!”

Galadin smiled slightly, pulled his hair back and leaned over to accommodate her. Noddy, now extremely self-conscious, found it difficult to complete the action – but she had asked. She quickly reached out and touched the tip of the point of his ear, and finished with a short stroke down the back.

“I’m sorry if that was rude,” she whispered to Galadin, who smiled at her.

“You are curious,” he replied, with no hint that anything was wrong. “We also are curious, although we know the nature of man. Yet you claim to be from elsewhere, and have used some magic to get here that we are unaware of. Perhaps you have some part to play in the new age of this world, or in the struggle to come that we sense.”

Noddy sat, listening to him, captivated. It was amazing to watch elves, she thought. They are so different – purer, cleaner, softer-spoken, and yet resiliently tough. An interesting combination, she concluded, and smiled as he ended his speech. What had he said? She had to run it back through her mind.

As for Little Spirit, she was amused at Noddy’s mischievous nature, but had yet to get her fill of the atmosphere of the dinner and music. No wonder Tolkien wrote so descriptively, she thought, and settled back in her comfortable chair to close her eyes and listen to the sounds of the evening.

The fireworks had begun. Gandalf began with a few small ones of all kinds of shapes and colors, which even impressed the GPer’s. Thunder came and sat with the rest of them for a little while, and they talked about their lives and got to know each other a little better. Thunder had been offered a place to stay in exchange for helping out the school.

“Well, I guess we’ll all be staying at the Green Dragon tonight,” said FB, thinking beyond the night’s festivities. “LaWise and Tysk can come stay with us – I can’t help but wonder how long we’ll be here, and what will happen with us. I mean, will we have to make another life for ourselves? Are we starting over?”

That seemed to stun them all. None of them had reconciled the fact that, as adults, they had families, friends, jobs and aspirations they were leaving behind.

“I suppose,” said Plaid, after a moment, “we will have to make do with the situation for however long we are here.” The rest of them slowly agreed.

“If I’ve got to be here for the rest of my life,” answered Annabelle, suddenly, “then I’m inventing deodorant!”

That made them laugh.

“You know,” laughed LaWise, “maybe you could just ask FrodoBaggins” she pointed to FB “to get you some. We were wishing for coffee earlier today, and she just happened to have some Starbucks in her pocket!”

They laughed at the look on Tysk’s face. “You mean you had Starbucks, and you didn’t tell us??” he asked, incredulous.

“Oh, Tysk,” said Annabelle, “if the coffee’s gone, maybe she’ll have Spam!” That made them laugh harder.

“Oh, no,” laughed LaWise, “Can you imagine letting someone here try Spam? What do we tell them it’s made of?”

“Oh!” said Plaid, thinking, “We can make legitimate GP brownies, now!” They fairly hopped up and down in their seats thinking about this, laughing.

“Here,” said FB, reaching into her pocket with a grin, “I’ll just get one out right now…why wait!” They giggled with her, and LaWise held out her hand to FB.

“I’ll be the first to try it,” she said, going along with FB’s ruse.

FB’s smile suddenly disappeared.

“What?” asked LaWise, quickly. “What is it?” The others stopped giggling to look at her.

FB slowly sat up a little, and pulled her hand out of her pocket and opened it up. There, in the palm of her hand, was a moist, crumbling brownie.

As the rangers led the women to the back of the inn, Pooh hopped with joy. Barliman came over to see what she was so happy about. He eyed the rangers and the women.

“Do you know those women?” he asked her.

“In a way,” answered Pooh gleefully.

“Well,” he replied, and turned to fill a mug with beer. “Anyone who’s with those rangers can’t be too happy themselves.”

Harmony and Roxyshade were led to a table at the back of the inn – a dark, hooded and cloaked figure sat there, looking at a map laid out on the table. One of the rangers cleared his throat.

“My lord,” he said. Both Harmony and Roxy’s heart rates were high – they watched, and in seemingly slow motion, the figure at the table looked up at them.

To Harmony and Roxy’s frustration, the shadow of the hood blocked all but the chin of the man who looked up. “Yes?” he answered – and they knew. They looked at each other, astonished. Their exchange must have been noted, for suddenly the man threw back his hood. There was Viggo – Aragorn.

“Aaaaaah!” both women gasped, almost shrieked.

“What is the matter?” asked Viggo, looking at them. “Who are you?”

“I can’t believe it!” said Harmony to him. “Are you really Viggo? I mean, we thought we were in Middle Earth because we saw all these people, even hobbits, and it seemed to real, and then there were the rangers, but now we see you -- !”

“I am Strider, also called Aragorn,” he said in the space where Harmony took a breath. He looked up at the ranger. “Yes,” he said, “I know now a little about these women. You must have found them in the same way Ms. Pooh was found. Have you sent a runner?”

“Yes, my lord,” he answered. “One was sent to Rivendell immediately after we found them. We knew there was some strange magic that must be at work, so word was sent.”

“Good.” Aragorn looked at Harmony and Roxy. “Sit down, and tell me your tale,” he said to them. “There is something at work we are unsure about, and you may hold the key to the mystery, yourselves.”

Everyone sat, frozen with shock.

Finally, Plaid spoke. “FB, is this a joke?” There seemed to be a flicker of relief amongst them at the thought that it was, perhaps, a joke.


At FB’s word, everyone looked at her. Her face was grave, and there was no doubt that she was just as shocked as they.

“Okay, let’s think about this,” said LaWise. “I wanted coffee, and you had it. We wanted a brownie, and you had it. Is there ANYTHING ELSE in that pocket you haven’t told us about?”

“Is the brownie for real?” asked Annabelle, reaching out for it.

“It feels real,” FB said, and sniffed it. “It smells real.” She held it out for Annabelle’s inspection. Annabelle took it. FB dug around in the pocket again, and pulled the pocket inside out. It was evident there was nothing in it. She put her hand in her other pocket and did the same. Nothing.

“Well, there goes my hope for a cup of Starbucks coffee in the morning,” said Tysk, mournfully.

Annabelle tore a piece off of the brownie and ate it. “Mmmm,” she mumbled. “Not bad! With just a hint of…something…”

Plaid snatched it out of Annabelle’s hand. “Hey!” cried Annabelle, as Plaid and Tysk began devouring the brownie. LaWise and FB lunged across the table to join in the frenzy – in 5 seconds flat, the brownie was gone. Everyone sat back down, unsatisfied, and looked at each other. FB pushed her pockets back in.

Frodo and Sam returned from dancing. “Say,” said Frodo, “what were you all going on about just a moment ago?” He had obviously seen the commotion over the brownie. He sat down beside FB, Sam on the other side him, across from Annabelle.

Annabelle stared at Sam hungrily. Plaid pinched her. Annabelle kicked Plaid under the table.

“Well,” said Tysk, as no one else could find words to answer Frodo, “FB discovered a genuine Grey Panther treat in her pocket, and all of us had a go at it…”

“Oh, yes?” said Frodo, curiously. “Was it food? Might you have another for a poor, hungry hobbit?” Sam rolled his eyes.

FB looked down at Frodo, her heart melting for this, her favorite hobbit – asking her, no, begging her for a treat! His blue eyes sparkled in the candlelight, his Elijah-smile endearing.

“It was what we call a brownie,” answered FB. “I didn’t think I had one – in fact, I --” she stopped herself. All the humans were looking at her, knowing what she was thinking.

LaWise nudged her, and leaned over. “Try,” she whispered.

FB hesitantly stood, and thrust her hand into her left pocket. Slowly, she turned to Frodo, and reached over to hand him the brownie in her hand.

Frodo was delighted. He sniffed it, broke it in two, and handed half to Sam. Again, within 5 seconds, the brownie was gone. “Wow,” said Frodo, his mouth still full. “That was the best, most unusual treat I have had in a long time – ever!” he laughed.

Sam wiped his mouth. “It had a familiar taste, too, didn’t it, Mr. Frodo?” he asked, looking at Annabelle, who had her face in her hands, elbows on the table, staring at him.

At that moment, there was a blast from a nearby tent, and the tent literally shot up into the sky with a great roar. Everyone watched fascinated.

“Here it comes!” shouted Tysk.

Contribution by FrodoBaggins:

Looking down the road:

"Look. FB's brownie..."

"Oh.. and more brownies....."


All of the GPers were torn between wanting to see the legendary dragon firework and scampering under the table – in fact, they all hunched down beside the table, with Sam and Frodo looking at them strangely. As the firework exploded and took shape, Frodo began looking for Bilbo – and the hobbits, realizing what was coming finally, began screeching and running from the oncoming mythical pyrotechnic.

All of them laughed and cheered when the firework exploded.

“Wow,” sighed Plaid, “this is great…” The rest of them agreed.

Just then, a furious Gandalf stormed by, his robes flowing behind him.

“Scarier than the dragon,” mused Tysk.

Everyone sat back down at the table, laughing at the coming vindication Gandalf was about to bestow upon Merry and Pippin. Suddenly they heard, “That is the signal for supper!” Everyone cheered, and Frodo came back to them.

“Well,” he said to them, “I think Uncle Bilbo will begin his speech after this – should be interesting.” He smiled, and they all smiled back, some a bit sadly. “Come on, and come quickly!” he exclaimed. “The food is under the pavilion!”

They were hustled then bustled under the pavilion – hobbits of every sort and type were vying for food.

“Look,” FB nudged LaWise, “I believe that’s Otho and Lobelia.” LaWise turned to look, and Annabelle, having overheard, also looked. The two hobbits were filling their plates, but both looked like they could have curdled milk, as unhappy as their faces were.

“Grrr,” Annabelle nearly growled, and wished she could do something. LaWise quickly held onto her arm and whispered, “Easy, Samma. Neither Bilbo nor Frodo ever do anything to them, and they get theirs in the end, remember!” This did not seem to pacify Annabelle.

She turned to FB. “Do you happen to have something for them in your pocket?” she asked.

FB was alarmed. “Such as what?” she asked.

Annabelle thought for a moment. Then she grinned. “Perhaps a can of Spam?” she whispered.

The rest of them looked at her in surprise. “What are you going to do?” Tysk asked her, amused.

“Just watch, Tyskerdoodle,” answered Annabelle smugly, as FB reluctantly handed her a can of Spam. She opened it surreptitiously, and grabbed a knife from a nearby table and sliced it. She arranged it nicely on a plate, and moved over into the buffet line slightly in front of the two older hobbits. She laid in on the table for a moment, then suddenly exclaimed.

“Oh, SPAM!” she cried, as if she’d just discovered it. The other GPers attempted to hide their guffaws at her antics. “The most expensive, luxurious meat ever – how amazing!” She made a big show of delicately taking a slice from the plate. They watched as the two Sackville-Baggins looked at each other, and craned their necks to see what she was talking about. Sure enough, as they came upon the plate, they took all that was left on the plate.

They had to turn and walk away to hide their laughter.

“So,” said Plaid to Tysk as they sat back away from the remains of their meal, “is this set-up” she motioned to the party around them “similar to what you had on the set? I mean, it looks very much like what we saw on the movie.” Her eyes twinkled at him as she smiled, and every other GP turned an ear to hear his response.

“Almost,” Tysk replied, looking around with a critical blue eye.

“Oh?” said LaWise, unable to help herself. “What is different?”

Tysk looked at her seriously. “There’s no camera crew,” he answered.

Everyone sighed in faux disgust, and Plaid playfully jabbed him. Tysk grinned, enjoying the attention.

All of a sudden, hobbits were calling, “Hear, hear!” and Frodo was shouting from the front of their table, “Speech, speech!” A wash of unrealness came over them all, as Bilbo waved his arm at everyone from under the big tree in response to the chants. They all became still with awe at what they were about to see.

“My dear Bagginses and Boffins,” Bilbo began, and went through the litany they remembered from the movie (and of course, the book). They waited for the “Proudfeet!” and turned to get a look at the indignant hobbit as one. He, of course, looked the same.

LaWise watched Frodo from behind, and wished to see his face in response to Bilbo’s speech – then she remembered she practically had it memorized, anyway.

As Bilbo began to stutter at the end, without realizing it they all rose slightly in their seats to get a look at his fiddling with the Ring. Tension mounted – they saw his meaningful glance at Frodo – then he was gone.

After the collective gasp, the silence was deafening. Then, all the hobbits began talking at once. The GPers looked at each other.

“Did you-?” began LaWise.

“No,” said FB, “that didn’t look right.”

“Well, it was different, but does that make it wrong?” asked Plaid.

“Yeah,” said Annabelle. “He DID disappear, so does it matter if it looked the same as it did in the movie?”

They suddenly became aware that Frodo was listening and watching them. FB mentally kicked herself. “I think you know more about this than I do, myself,” he said to them, somewhat amazed. “You were expecting Bilbo to disappear?”

“Yes,” answered Tysk, after a moment. “Where we come from, it’s not an uncommon occurrence – you know, people just up and disappearing.”

Aragorn sat back and looked hard at Roxy and Harmony, his head tilted to one side.

Had they said too much? Harmony wondered. She and Roxy shared an anxious look.

“You have told me many things,” said Aragorn after a moment, “but only a few of them do I understand. You have surprised me with your knowledge of me; and hinted of dark things I do not wish to elaborate on here.” He glanced around the room that had gotten darker with nightfall -- the heavy drinkers singing, the noisy revelers and angry buffoons beginning to clash.

He leaned back into the table. “But my question is, what will you do now? What part do you expect to play in the ‘story’ you have described to me somewhat?” His passionate question startled them, and he saw its affect in their faces. “Ah,” he replied, smiling, “this is something you had not thought of. Your friend” he motioned over to the bar, where they could see Pooh throwing glances their way occasionally, “has found herself meaningful employment and has already begun affecting things here in some small way. It is my thought,” he added thoughtfully, “that you are here for a reason, and there are probably more than just three of you here.”

If it were possible for him to stun them any more, he had done it. They thought about this prospect, and then Roxy spoke.

“What part do you think we, as in Harmony and I, have to play? I mean, I think we both want to be helpful,” she looked at Harmony, who nodded in agreement, “and if it is possible to help you, we will do it.”

“Hey, you know,” said Harmony, “everything turned out okay in the end in the story that we know about, so I’m hoping that we don’t mess up the future…but maybe we can be on the sidelines and give some hints, or something.” Roxy grinned at her. “And,” Harmony said mischievously, “maybe you could give us some sword lessons, or something, in return?”

Hours later, the five friends along with Frodo and Samwise walked slowly (a couple with a bit of assistance) back to Bag End. Annabelle was a bit on the “too-happy” side, flanked by FB and Plaid who had each of Annabelle’s arms around their shoulders. She, of course, felt it was in comradeship – FB and Plaid knew that if they let her arms go, she’d fall head-first.

Tysk and LaWise were all grins helping each other along, laughing with Frodo over his tales of the Sackville-Bagginses and Bilbo’s attempts to hide from them. Samwise walked behind them, looking rather forlorn.

Suddenly, Annabelle got a rush of energy. “Where’s Sam?” she said, looking around FB and Plaid. They stopped for her, and she turned until she saw him bringing up the rear. “Oh, no,” she said when she saw his face. “What’s the matter, Sam?”

Tysk, LaWise and Frodo turned to look at him. Alarmed by all the attention, Sam turned red and stuttered, “There’s…nothing wrong w’me.” He crossed his arms and looked at them stubbornly.

“C’mon, Sam,” said Frodo, gently, walking toward him. “Let’s go home, you and I.” He looked back at the rest of them. “You’ll be staying at the Green Dragon?”

“Yes,” Plaid answered for them all.

“Okay,” said Frodo with a smile. “They serve good breakfast, but it’s not as good as the breakfast at Bag End. Come have second breakfast with me, if you would – we should be up by then! Good morrow, and a pleasant night.”

They all said their good-nights, and parted for the evening.

Little Spirit and Noddy found themselves yawning over and over at the table; the hour was late, the music was lulling, and the constant conversations in the elven tongue had begun to escape their attention, as fascinating as they were to listen to.

Noddy started when she felt a hand on her shoulder – she had been asleep. She looked up into Galadin’s face, who was smiling at her in amusement.

“You have been through much, and the evening is late,” he said. Little Spirit came to, hearing some words she understood. Galadin addressed her as well. “Please, feel free to retire to your rooms. Elrond will no doubt wish to speak to you again tomorrow, and you should be refreshed.”

Both girls gratefully stood, said good-night to their dinner companions, and treaded softly upstairs to their rooms for the evening.

By the end of the evening, they had struck a deal. Harmony and Roxy would learn “rangering” as a trade, even though they were women and not Dunedain. It was difficult negotiation, but both women had made convincing arguments that they had valuable information on their future, and should not fall into the wrong hands.

Aragorn made arrangements for the ladies to stay at the Prancing Pony for the night, and they finally got to sit down with Pooh for a moment.

“Wow, so, what is Viggo like in person?” said Pooh, as soon as they were sitting at a table together. “I freaked out when I saw him!”

“Don’t even think of him as Viggo,” answered Roxy, with a wry smile. “He’s Aragorn, through and through.”

They told Pooh of their deal with Aragorn, and she pouted. “What about me? I know the story, too!” Harmony and Roxy had been thinking about this, but before they could reply, Aragorn slid onto the bench next to Harmony.

“What is your name?” he asked Pooh. She told him. “Pooh, I believe your position here at the Prancing Pony could work very well for us, if you are of the same mind as your friends.” Pooh looked surprised. “You are working in a place that you know from the story, which means it is significant – and others like you may be drawn to it. What I’d like for you to do is be a look-out – a scout, and to get word back to me and my men what you see. It could be very important.”

Pooh thought about this new idea for a moment. “But,” she countered, “couldn’t Barliman or someone else do the same thing?”

Aragorn stared at her for a second, then leaned back to let them look at Barliman while he did so, as well. The older gentleman fumbled around with some things, set them down, turned around to talk to a customer, then began looking for the things he’d just set down. Aragorn turned back to look at her. Pooh got the point.

“Okay,” she sighed. “What do I do?”

“I’ll show you how to get in contact with us. If something or someone looks evil, let us know. If it is another person from your home, let us know. Whatever looks out of place – it can be anything,” he added, and stood to go.

“Wait,” said Harmony to him. “We know we’re staying here tonight, so how do we --?”

“I’ll come for you in the morning,” he answered her, pulled his hood around his head, turned and left.

They were wordless for a moment, then Pooh sighed again. “C’mon,” she told them with a smile, “I’ll show you to your room.”

The day dawned fresh and beautiful, birds happily singing, trees still green, the sun shining benevolently down upon this new land that all of the Grey Panthers found themselves in. Each one awoke and breathed in the atmosphere of where they were – the Shire, Bree, and Rivendell.

Rivendell almost pulled Little Spirit and Noddy out of their beds, beckoning them to their balconies to over look the splendor of every type of tree they could imagine, a waterfall that seemed so majestic that the roar of it was felt in a slight way in the air -- but it did not dare overpower the magic of the air that hung around them.

“This,” sighed Little Spirit, looking sideways at Noddy, “has to be a taste of heaven. How could it be more perfect?”

“Oh!” stretched Noddy, and looked down over the intricate tops of verandas and gazebos that poked through the trees beneath them. She could see glimpses of elves here and there, wandering…chuckling, she said, “Depending on who comes to visit, I think it could possibly get better!”

“Yes!” Little Spirit exclaimed, getting excited. “When do you think this is? Elrond didn’t fill us in as much as we did him, so, maybe he’ll call the council, or has already?”

Noddy gripped the rail of the balcony. “Do you think we’ll see Legolas?” she asked, breathlessly. “Do you think he’ll come earlier?”

Little Spirit laughed. “What about Galadin?” she asked. “You and he were pretty tight last night!” (Author's note: okay, I realize that was an American euphemism, but I JUST COULDN'T HEP MySEF!)

“Ha!” said Noddy, with a smirk. “Naw, he’s not interested, other than in some scientific way – it’s like Spock, or something: ‘fascinating!’”

They laughed, and went back in to get ready for the day.

The five friends at the Green Dragon found themselves up earlier than they imagined they would be. It was the excitement of a new day, the start of a great adventure, and they all knew it. And, they didn’t want to be late for second breakfast.

FB was looking out her room window when she felt a tap on her shoulder. She turned to find Plaid and Annabelle and LaWise behind her; Plaid whispered in FB’s ear. FB reached into her pocket, pulled out a stick of Secret Deodorant and handed it to her. As the women gleefully rejoiced over this treasure, a sudden rap on the door startled them.

Annabelle opened the door to a sheepish Tysk. Ten seconds later, he was walking happily back to his room with a bar of Lever 2000 and a stick of Arid Extra Dry.

“Okay,” said FB, when they had shut the door. “I guess I’m now the local convenience store!” They thankfully laughed.

They cheerfully helped the innkeeper fix a shelf, carry some heavier items, and clean up the inn after a small breakfast of cheese, fruits and bread. Then, out the door they swept, almost as if they were off to some amusement park – their hearts were light as they took in all that met their eyes. Some hobbits, now familiar with the group from the previous night, actually waved and smiled. It was hard not to catch their infectious grins. If it were not so unseemly, they might have skipped.

Gradually, their pace slowed as they walked along the road. Even their light chatter was silenced in the majesty of the day; a soft breeze blew the tall grass, birds fluttered from one branch to the next, warning others of their passing, the trees softly swayed and murmured to them.

“I’m not sure I ever want to leave,” FB said to herself, but the rest of them heard her.

“Now I know,” answered Plaid, “what Frodo wants to keep – what is so precious about the Shire.”

“Everything!” Annabelle said, in awe.

As they neared Bag End, Tysk had something on his mind that he wanted to ask. “FB,” he said. “Can you get anything out of that pocket?” FB looked at him questioningly. “I mean,” he said, “what are the limitations? If we run into something ugly, what’s the meanest thing you can pull out of that pocket?”

It might have been a funny question under another circumstance, but all of their thoughts had been bending toward what threatened the Shire, hobbits, and Middle Earth. Tysk’s question had given them a glimmer of excitement – did they have a secret weapon? What situations could be resolved with this pocket?

FB had been giving this considerable thought. She was thinking of the scenes that were not even shown on the epic movie Return of the King, yet – those horrendous last few miles where there was no water, food or shelter. However, they were far, far from that scene…

“I don’t know,” she finally answered. “I think we could do some experiments, to see if we can figure out what the limitations are. Obviously, non-durable goods are within the range.”

“But,” LaWise said, “what if you can only ask for so much? What if there are only a limited number of requests you can make?”

That set them back a bit.

“Well,” Tysk answered, “then we’re just back to where we started from. Might as well make the requests we make important ones.”

They nodded silently, thinking.

“Like Starbuck’s Coffee!” Tysk finished, as they walked up the Hill.

By the time Pooh knocked on the door, Harmony and Roxy were up and had been getting ready for the day. Roxy opened the door, and Pooh swept in with a tray full of breakfast.

“Good morning!” she said cheerfully, setting the tray on the bed closest to the door. She wiped her hands on her apron and smiled at them. “Did you sleep well?”

“Yes..” began Harmony.

“And no,” finished Roxy. “We talked a lot last night before we went to bed, and then both of us slept like logs!”

As both women reached for some of the breakfast, Pooh sat on the bed and looked at them wistfully. “You won’t forget me, will you?” she said, somewhat sadly.

“Oh, no!” said Harmony, her mouth full. She sat on the bed across from Pooh. “We don’t intend to. Both of us,” she looked at Roxy, “want to go to the Shire to see--”

“Oh, don’t tell me!” Pooh cringed and put her hands over her ears. Then she put her hands down in her lap and smiled ruefully. “I know, I want to go, too…but Aragorn wants me here, for some reason, and I was grateful for the job…” she sighed.

“We must be careful, Pooh,” said Roxy, and put her hand on Pooh’s shoulder. “We have information that the Enemy would like to get, and we all know that his spies are around Bree, or will be soon.”

Another knock on the door, and Roxy opened it to find a tall, hooded ranger standing in the hall.

“Are you ready?” he asked them.

“Not yet!” said Harmony, gathering up the breakfast in the huge napkin. They gave Pooh a hug, then silently followed the ranger out. Pooh sat on the bed for a while, looking out the window.

“You are welcome to stay here at Bag End,” Frodo said, as he poured he and Gandalf some hot tea. The smell of the tea brought a sweet undertone to the smell of the coffee LaWise had brewed earlier, which was steaming in cups in front of some of the GPers. “We have plenty of rooms, although most of the closet space is taken.” He smiled at their puzzled looks. “Bilbo’s and my clothes,” he explained. “Bilbo loves clothes.”

“Thank you,” said LaWise. “I think it would be a dream come true for most of us to wake up at Bag End!” Several heads nodded in agreement.

“Speaking of clothes,” said FB, “do you know of any tailors that could fix us up? I’m afraid we’re here with nothing but the clothes on our backs…”

“Oh, yes!” Frodo answered. “I believe I know of someone.”

There was a pause, and then Gandalf spoke. “FB,” he rumbled. “I believe we must address this ‘pocket’ of yours. I know your concerns about the Ring” Frodo looked at them quickly at this, “and I must be off tomorrow to ask some questions of my own, but this bit of magic seems to be a new thing to this world. You appeared surprised at its ability; is this also not a common thing in your world?”

“No,” FB answered. “We really only have illusions, explainable things. You are right – we were all surprised.”

“How does it appear to work?” Gandalf asked.

“I – think of something that I want, kind of picture it in my mind. Then, I just put my hand in my pocket, and it’s there.”

“So, you have only thought of small things?” he asked.

“Yes. We were talking about ‘trying it out’ to see what the limitations of it are, today. Would now be a good time?” FB looked around at everyone. They had eaten their second breakfast, and seemed to all be up for something. All the GPer’s sat up in their seats in anticipation.

“Now – or, whenever you like,” Gandalf answered.

“Any suggestions?” she asked them.

“Try something slightly larger than your pocket,” Plaid suggested.

“But, what if it rips the pocket?” Annabelle worried.

Plaid shrugged. “Maybe the pocket will stretch?”

“Let’s go for it and see,” FB answered. “What should it be? Something we could use here, I would think.”

“That rules out a cd,” Tysk said, somewhat regretfully.

Sadly never finished...