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Index:
Part 1 - You Are Here
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Part 6
Part 7
Part 8
Part 9
Part 10
Part 11
Part 12
Part 13
Part 14 (Final)

Okay, y'all, I can't take it any more.

Since grade school I've had this fantasy world in my head. ---Well, actually , I have quite a few worlds in my head, but this one is my Playtime Universe. It tends to catch whatever random story critters don’t fit into my other worlds--plant-based fairies, volcanic pirates, hyper-religious trolls, cetacean merfolk, mind-melded dragons, and wingèd giants. Naturally, it wasn't long before a whole shireload of hobbits stumbled into it.

Having a bunch of little hobbits crashing around in your head is pretty entertaining, but their stories so far have only been fragments. AWESOME fragments, but still. Fragments.

And then suddenly my brain was all like DAMMIT LET US WRITE THE REST OF THIS DOWN. And that seemed like a good idea, so I obeyed my brain, and I am in fact writing them down.

Except now my brain has taken it a step further. Now it's hollering AND THEN YOU SHOULD POST IT ON YOUR BLOG.

So I think I will. And you lucky bastards get to put up with it.

Given that this is a perpetual work in progress and only done for my own entertainment, I'm not really sure if this'll go anywhere. But who am I to argue with the inscrutable exhortations of my soul? Not to mention all the darn hobbit feet stomping on my brain.

I would also just like to say that I now know more about the perilous, disaster-laced history of matches than I ever thought even existed. Good lord, the things you take for granted here in these modern times.

So anyway. Meet the hobbitses.

---

Four days out of the Birchdale carnival, Ivan was stopped by a traveler.

He was glad to be on the road again. He always felt out of place in Alricshire--well, even more out of place than he did anywhere else. In Alricshire, it was not just a matter of appearing exotic and slightly dangerous. The Fyan were seen that way at every stop on their yearly circuit over Arna; that was as it should be. The unsettling thing was finding oneself in a place where everything was built for someone half one's size. To set up the trade fair only to find one's wares inspected by canny, child-sized merchants, to be obliged to stoop to enter the Celadon Toadstool Tavern, to sit on settees (for no amount of work could fit his human-sized hips into those armchairs) with knees splayed like some ungainly frog's--that was what made him uncomfortable. He always felt better when the caravan packed their wagons and put the small world of hobbits behind them.

And yet here, just before the bridge that would take him back to the world where one could buy a good pair of boots or a blanket that actually covered one from head to foot, was just that--a hobbit.

She stood on the side of the road, watching the colorful wagons with an appraising eye. A young hobbit, dressed for travel in a green calf-length skirt and a red vest over a light linen shirt. She had thrown back a hooded cloak of rich purple--that fantastic shade, the pride of Alricshire, that drew his caravan each year. Her long brown hair was escaping the braid she'd tied with a green ribbon.

Ivan eyed her right back. He'd seen her at the carnival, dashing about in front of his wagon-turned-booth with an equally mischievous hobbit lad. Then she had looked as though she had never heard of tomorrow. Now her face was set with determination--that, to his dismay, crystallized when she saw him.

"Sir," she said, striding toward his wagon. His mules, Scoff and Scorn, glared at her.

He considered moving on. But he had the feeling she'd step in front of him if he tried, and running down a three-foot-tall maiden with a wagon was frowned upon in most districts.

"Sir," she said again.

He stopped the wagon. "Can I help you, little miss?"

She hooked a lock of hair back over her ear. "I'd like to join your caravan."

He'd been afraid of that. "Is that so?"

"Yes," she said, nodding almost to herself. "I would. I'm going to Saint Verdaine."

"By yourself?"

She gave him a pointed look. "Not if I go with you."

He grinned despite himself.

She could not be expected to know the proper protocol, being an outsider. But he knew it. No way to overlook it. How could he politely explain things to her?

He was saved from his dilemma when another figure approached from behind his wagon.

"Brother? Is all well?"

Ivan smiled gratefully. She must have seen his wagon stop.

"Zeia," he said. "Can Zorna spare you? I've a lady here with a question."

"So I see."

The two women regarded each other curiously. Though short for a human, Ivan's sister still towered over the hobbit lass. Her red kirtle was girded with a complicated beaded belt. But the belt was her only adornment--her dark braid was pinned close to her scalp, and her eyes were not even lined with the simple kohl the others wore. Even in Real Time she was not half so gaudy as the caravan's carnival performers, the fortune-tellers and dancers and conjurers, who still liked to accent their travel clothes with small bits of sparkle and face paint. One might never notice her. As it should be.

"How can I help you?" Zeia asked.

"My name is Nolly," the hobbit said. "I would like passage to Saint Verdaine."

"Indeed?" Only Ivan could tell that Zeia brightened. "Interesting. You know, we rarely take on passengers."

"I know." Nolly pulled her pack around. "But I can pay."

She drew out a tin case the size of a loaf of bread. Ivan leaned forward without meaning to, trying to get a clear view of the words stamped into the lid.

Zeia recognized it more quickly. "Oh, my."

Nolly grinned and lifted the lid.

Ivan's breath wheezed out of him in a highly untradesmanlike gasp. Packed tightly in the case were stacks of smaller tin rectangles. Each had two compartments, and each had the same inscription stamped into them: Kallem & Fine's Snapdragon Matches.

"Each tin has twenty-four matches in one chamber and twenty-four strike-ends in another," Nolly said. She handed the larger woman one of the little containers for inspection. "You can save the tins for refill matches--I know someone in this caravan bought several cases of loose matches from us."

Ivan schooled his expression to disguise his sudden desire. A whole case of matches! Purple dye and pipeweed were tempting, but the Blue Star Caravan would never have added Alricshire to their route if it weren't for these matches. Only these hobbits knew the secret to making them good, cheap, and reliable; only they could make matches that wouldn't explode, or poison their users, or give off miserable fumes. Just one of these tins would sell for a full ten coppers. And yet the hobbits went about with the tins in their pockets, lighting their kitchen fires and their pipes without a second thought spared for the extraordinary ease with which they stole the gods' own element.

She's alone, he told himself. She's got a case of matches. Something's wrong. We shouldn't.

"Where did you get these?" Zeia asked.

Nolly pointed to the label. "'Kallem & Fine.' My name is Nolly Fine."

Brother and sister relaxed slightly. Not stolen, then.

Nolly waited. "Well, if you don't want them," she said after a minute, closing the case.

Zeia held up a hand. Nolly stopped.

"You cannot behave like an outsider if you travel with us," Zeia said. "We have our own ways. You must follow them."

"You'll have to teach me," Nolly said.

"Oh, I will. You'll be expected to help with chores--"

"I can cook quite well!" Nolly said.

"Good. And recall, we are a traveling fair. We've one stop to make before we get to Saint Verdaine. You're all right with cooling your heels for three days there?"

The light in her eyes as she nodded made Ivan grin. Carnivals were still exciting to her.

"Then you may ride with us."

"Thank you!" the little hobbit said brightly.

Ivan gave his sister a wry glance. Something that might upset the others in the caravan should have been negotiated longer. But Zeia carried some clout already, and Zorna the herbalist might help plead the case, too. She must have really wanted these matches.

Ivan spurred Scorn and Scoff on again, and the two women fell into step beside his wagon. Zeia spent a few minutes quietly giving Nolly an overview of basic Fyan etiquette, then said she must be getting back to Zorna's wagon--she was the woman's student, after all, and the road was a place to study.

Now that the negotiations were concluded, Ivan could join the conversation. "You can sit up here, if you like," he said, patting the seat behind him.

"Don't let your skirt touch him," Zeia said. "And you must be in the women's camp by the time the sun is down. There's no fraternizing after dark on the road. You can come find me."

Ivan flushed. It was crude to state such rules aloud where he could hear them. But Zeia was always blunt with him; she seemed to think of her brother as some kind of exception when it came to the rules of men and women's interactions.

Nolly looked puzzled at Zeia's instructions, but she shrugged. "All right."

She climbed up beside him, taking care to keep her skirts to herself. She set her pack by her feet, then offered the match case to him.

"Keep it," he said uncomfortably. "Till we get there."

"I don't think you'll break your word," she protested.

Too trusting. She needed protection.

"Besides, even if I'm holding onto it, if you felt like stealing it and leaving me, I could hardly stop you."

That made him feel slightly better.

As Zeia had said, the Fyan rarely accepted travelers into their caravans--but when they did, one of the unspoken terms was that the hosts would ask no questions. The Fyan respected privacy.

It made small talk rather difficult, though.

"Got that pendant from us, did you?" he finally asked.

Her hand went to the polished agate hanging at her throat, a thoughtful look coming to her face. "I think he did get it at the fair," she said.

"'He'?"

"My lad," she said, growing suddenly animated. "Largo. He's always showing me pretty stones and such.

Ivan nodded noncommittally.

"We're to be married when I get back," she added.

"You are going back?"

It came out before he could stop it. Zeia's influence.

Nolly gave him a startled look. Then she laughed. "I--yes, I'll be coming back. I'm not running away, you see. At least--not forever. I had--pressing business."

"Indeed. And your young man will wait?"

"Of course," she said decisively. "He'll be right where I left him."

#

In fact, she had almost stayed because of Largo. She wanted to, when he'd proudly pressed the red-brown stone into her hand and shown the matching one he'd bought for himself. The newfound shyness in the way he glanced at his feet, the moment in which his fingers lingered on her palm--it kindled the first spark within her to rival the one already there, the one that had burned ever since she'd been a tiny lass listening to the tales the wandering storytellers wove.

Largo had listened to those same stories. He'd played the games of make-believe they inspired. And while those games had faded over the years, he and Nolly had stayed together. It was only this summer that walks in the woods, swapped stories and songs in the Celadon Toadstool Tavern, idle games of catch, or--best of all--swims in the river had taken on new, uncertain meaning. She was torn now; she wanted to stay and explore this change.

And she would have stayed, but for that idiot Glodho. He must have seen Largo give the little pendant to her from across the tavern, because not a quarter of an hour later he'd cornered her as she went to get another ale.

"I've been looking for you," he said without preamble.

"Hullo, Glodho," she said coolly. "Enjoy the fair?"

"I know you did. Saw you watching the dancers."

She'd seen him, too, drooling like a hungry troll as he watched. It was rather obvious that he was not appreciating the artistry of the complex performance. She'd had to look away and concentrate very hard on a nearby wagon wheel to keep the image of him romancing a Fyan woman twice his size out of her head.

"Did you see me ring the high striker bell? That game's meant for bigfolk, you know."

She hadn't seen it, but she'd heard about it. Many, many times. "Impressive," she admitted.

Unfortunately, his obsessive interest in growing muscles meant that it was going to be difficult to get around him. She considered her conundrum for a minute, then gave up. "Glodho, was there something you wanted?"

He flinched. "Uh--yeah. Yeah. Listen, I was going to give these to you on my birthday, you know, but"--he shot a glare across the room toward where Largo sat with her brother Arven--"I couldn't wait."

From the satchel he drew something that sparkled in the smoky light.

Horrified, Nolly stared at the exquisitely wrought objects he drew out. A pair of elm dancing wands, decorated with tiny red and green crystals and silver filigree, much like a pair a Fyan woman herself would use in the elaborate dances that ended each carnival day. They were almost as long as her arms, sized as they were for much bigger hands, but still magnificent and delicate. "Wh--what?"

"I know you like to dance, so they're for you," Glodho said. "They're awfully expensive. I give them to you with--with my troth."

And that did it. Nolly had felt a growing panic since her own birthday a couple months ago. She had come of age, and it was only a matter of time before someone asked for her hand. She would marry, and have children, and at that point it would be fair difficult to ever see the far-off lands of stories.

And how could she wait the two years until Largo turned twenty-nine and could ask her? Two years of suitors and nagging and gossip before they could have done with it?

Looking at the fancy gift Glodho offered her, Nolly decided. She didn't want to be around for that.

"Oh, Glodho," she said. "I--I don't know what to say."

"Say you'll marry me," he suggested.

She cast about for an answer. "I'm, ah, overcome. Give me time to ... formulate a good answer."

He blinked.

"Keep those for now," she added quickly, when the wands remained in front of her.

Nodding slowly, groping his way around the new direction his proposal had taken, he returned them to his satchel. "Tomorrow, then?"

When she returned home that evening she had packed her bag. Before dawn the next day she'd left with her cousins, who were returning to Weston after the fair. She told her family she'd be in Weston for a month. Her cousins thought she was just seeing them over the hill before returning home. And so with nobody expecting her back, she turned to catch up to the departing Fyan.

She would settle into marriage, after a time. But first, there was a world out there, only hinted at by the yearly carnival. It waited to be seen, and she meant to see it.

#

The wind of changing seasons swirled the mist on the river and ruffled the predawn leaves in the tree over the Blackstone hobbit hole. Birdsong bounced from branch to branch. With a great silent fanfare of light, the sun rose over the hills to begin its daily journey across the sky.

Or did it?

Sparing a slight frown for the glorious dawn bursting onto the world, Largo Blackstone returned to his contemplation of the array of small stones on the stoop before him.

"Still not right," he muttered. "It's one of you. But not you." He picked up the pebble he was addressing. "And certainly not you," he added to another.

He thought for a moment longer. The light seized the shadows of the stones, pulling them out into great spires. It was only adding to his confusion.

"Oh, have it your way," he said to the sun. He picked up a third pebble, a golden-yellow one, and dropped it in the middle of the cluster.

He was rearranging the other stones around it when a much larger, sharper shadow blotted their friendly little ones out.

"Idling as usual, Largo?"

Sweeping the pebbles into his pouch, Largo looked up in alarm. "Uncle Sirthaus!"

With an expression rather like one he might use if he'd found a cat had thrown up on his favorite cape, the old hobbit watched Largo scramble to his feet and dust off the dirt. Sirthaus would never be caught with dirt on one of his somber suits. Largo could never work out the trick of projecting austere majesty the way his uncle did.

"I didn't--it's Saturday, isn't it?" Largo spluttered.

Sirthaus raised his eyes heavenward. "What a glorious thing it must be, to have so little use for the days of the week that one might forget them."

Not true. Generally Saturdays loomed like gathering stormfronts in his mind. But this morning he'd been so absorbed in his project he'd forgotten all else ...

"You're far too old to be playing at childish games," Sirthaus added.

"I wasn't--" Largo stopped himself. He had no idea if what he had been doing might be even less respectable.

"Well?" his uncle said after a moment. "Are you going to invite me in?"

"I'm sorry, uncle! Won't you come in? Breakfast is ready." His mother would have been up before dawn cooking it. Often he helped her, but today his head had been too full of stars.

Sirthaus waited for a moment longer. Then, wordlessly, he held out the small leather case he was carrying.

"Oh! Can I take your bag?"

"May I take it."

"Right. May I?"

"Thank you." Sirthaus handed him the case and swept inside, Largo trailing dejectedly behind.

Sirthaus Eliwell might be a fine, regal hobbit, with a wordly education received at a monastery in far-off Corridaine with the bigfolk; he might be the honorable judge of Birchdale; he might be one of the richest men in town; but he still found time every Saturday morning to call upon his favorite niece and her family for breakfast.

It was simply Largo's misfortune to be that niece's son.

He deposited the case in the parlor and tried to lose himself in the rest of the family. Six of his siblings also lived at home, so when he sat down to the table he could concentrate fully on his knife and fork and blend into that mass of children while Sirthaus talked to their parents.

The subject of today's discussion, not surprisingly, was the recent visit by the Fyan.

"A necessary evil, I'm sorry to say," he said. He looked at Largo's father. "I hope they didn't overcharge you too much."

"Their prices seem fair once you've haggled them down," Linus Blackstone shrugged. "The store pulls in a lot of profit from the goods they trade us."

"And the carnival is rather diverting," Largo's mother, Heliotrope, added primly.

Sirthaus sniffed. "A dangerous time for the impressionable, though."

"I thought you liked bigfolk," Largo's sister Angie pointed out. Angie was twelve and completely unafraid of Uncle.

"Not the Fyan," Sirthaus corrected. "The holy and noble men of Corridaine are a far different breed from these baser creatures. The Fyan are rootless wanderers, untouched by civilization's redeeming graces."

Largo carefully maneuvered a forkful of eggs to his mouth. He knew what was coming.

"Listen well to me, Angie my dear," Sirthaus went on. "They're clever. All those well-woven stories they tell, those of adventure and drama"--he spat the words--"you probably heard them."

Angie nodded eagerly.

"Webs, they are. Webs of the most cunning kind, woven of disagreeable truths, meant to ensnare the weak-minded. That's why their trade fairs are so dangerous--they take you in with the flash and empty adornments of their performances. Don't be taken by them, young Angie. Know that they try to spread corruption--to make us all slaves to our baser instincts. To tempt us back to the use of magic."

Angie's eyes widened.

Largo lost concentration; he fumbled his spoon. A sticky blob of honeyed porridge splatted into his lap.

Sirthaus turned his cold gaze on his nephew with slow disdain for the interruption.

"Sorry," Largo muttered, scrubbing at his pants with his napkin.

Sirthaus had warned them of the wily ways of the Fyan last week, when the fair was setting up.

Magic was an unsavory thing. All the Alricshire hobbits agreed on this, but Sirthaus was more adamant about it than most. He was old enough to recall the days of Baron Lodrad, the Arcadian usurper. Under Lodrad the human kingdom of Arcadia had reached outward, grasping for the free lands of Alricshire and the Wild Mountains. The mages he'd dispatched to keep the peace had been quick with their cruelty. And when they were met by resisting mages, including a few local hobbits, the resulting battle had destroyed the eastern town of Hollygate.

Sirthaus had witnessed it. He'd walked the smoking ruins of once-bright homes. He'd wept to see family and friends felled by magicked blades and arrows, blinded and maimed by the fire-sparks flung by spellcasters on both sides. And he'd been in the front of the crowd the day the mages from both sides were tried, sentenced, and hanged.

Lest such ills befall them again, magic had to be stamped out at all costs.

Sirthaus didn't order mages hanged anymore. But Largo recalled seeing, at eight years old, the judgment Sirthaus had laid on a suspected witch. Left-handed, the old woman was, and fond of cats, and unmarried, and she could do wonders with herbs. When a neighbor accused her of summoning rot to spoil his grain, Sirthaus had heard the case. Largo could still see the man upon his great seat of judgment, long fingers pressed together, eyes icy, as he spoke the words: guilty, and exiled. She was given one day to put her affairs in order, and then she must leave.

They found her the next morning at her kitchen table, blue and cold, an empty vial from her own storeroom in her left hand. Largo had watched her body being carried from her home, destined for an unmarked grave; her calico cat was left behind in the doorway. He'd secretly gone to feed that cat each day as it prowled forlornly in her overgrown garden, until Uncle Sirthaus had caught him.

"Fool!" the judge had cried, delivering a solid smack across his nephew's face. "Only an idiot or a warlock would befriend a witch's familiar!"

Largo did not believe him. It was a cat, not a demon. But no matter how much he'd insisted so with shouts, pleas, and sobs, Sirthaus was unmoved. Even the cat's piteous cries, then its silence, as the bag it was tied in sank into the river, could not convince him otherwise.

The memory of that sinking bag was always in the back of Largo's mind when he talked to Sirthaus.

"At least they have the sense to hold it back when they pass through here," Linus said now. "I suppose as long as they keep it to themselves, it's no bother to us."

"As well ask them to keep a plague to themselves," Sirthaus said. "It's insidious. Over the years since the Battle of Hollygate, I've seen more people succumb ..."

Largo tuned him out. He managed to get through the rest of the meal without dropping any more food into his lap, and the washing-up went quickly. A few moments more and he could make his escape--

"Largo."

He froze on his way out the door.

Slowly he turned. Sirthaus had the case Largo had carried in. He began laying out its contents on the parlor table.

"You'll be spending the day with me," he said.

At the sight of the slate and hornbook before him, Largo's heart seized.

"Why?" It came out a hoarse squeak.

Sirthaus carefully lined up several pieces of chalk. "I should think that would be obvious," he said. "You've spent far too long in idle ignorance. I can't stop you from looking a fool, but no nephew of mine will enter adulthood without at least knowing his letters."

Largo took a step back. For a man who despised magic, Sirthaus had an eerie ability to bring Largo's worst nightmares to life.

But when he remained rooted to the spot, Sirthaus slammed a hand on the table.

"I am growing impatient with this stubbornness!" he snapped. "I've heard your excuses for years--'It's impossible,' 'The letters are all jumbled.' Nonsense, all of it. Why, young Angie has been reading since she was four years old. Surely you can do at least as much as your baby sister."

Largo found his voice at last. "No."

An elegant eyebrow rose. "'No'? 'No,' what? No, you cannot measure up to a four-year-old girl in intellect? Or no, you refuse outright to bring even the least attention to it?"

No, I'll not be caught out! he wanted to scream. By you least of all! My years avoiding this will not be wasted!

"He means 'Not today, I'm afraid,'" his mother said, coming into the parlor with a dusting cloth. She set to work on the mantel. "He's promised to help his aunt Lilac make the year's first batch of apple butter today."

For once in his life, the prospect of a day in a hot, sticky kitchen stirring bubbling pots of fruit and cider was the best news Largo had ever gotten. He could finally meet Sirthaus's eyes squarely. "Sorry, Uncle."

"Don't think we don't appreciate such a generous offer," Heliotrope added quickly. "But if you're willing to wait a week, Uncle, I do believe your influence may inspire our lad to new feats." Largo's complete refusal to learn to read tried her patience, too. She had echoed most of Sirthaus's sentiments over the years, though less strongly.

Sirthaus pursed his lips. "Very well." He began to pack the lesson materials away again. He fixed his eyes on his nephew. "We will begin next week."

Largo nodded. He would have to be up before dawn next Saturday if he wanted to get away.

For now, though, he said, "Yes, Uncle."

Sirthaus waved him away. "Then go. Do not keep your aunt waiting."

"Yes, sir."

Doom deferred. He had a week to work out how to escape it. With a lighter heart, Largo fled to the sanctuary of his aunt's home and endless kettles of apple butter.

#

Part 2

Date: 2013-01-27 01:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ellenmillion.livejournal.com
Okay, I'm hooked!

Date: 2013-01-27 03:22 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wren-chan.livejournal.com
Poor Largo. All alone, and nobody believes in dyslexia.

(Also OMG SO SHINEY SHARE MOER SHARE YAY. XD)

Date: 2013-01-27 03:33 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] sylvidoptera.livejournal.com
Oooh wonderful! More more more! :)

Date: 2013-01-27 04:53 pm (UTC)
ext_12931: (Default)
From: [identity profile] badgermirlacca.livejournal.com
What They Said.

(although I wish you hadn't had to kill the cat)

Date: 2013-01-27 06:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] ellixis.livejournal.com
Please, sir, may I have some more?

Date: 2013-01-27 10:08 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dark-phoenix54.livejournal.com
Cool! I want to read more!

Date: 2013-01-28 12:02 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] westrider.livejournal.com
MOAR! Definitely liking this so far.

Date: 2013-01-30 03:21 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] hrhleia.livejournal.com
Oh, I like it! And I am intrigued by the hints of history and magic and slightly clashing cultures!

Date: 2013-01-30 04:34 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] gwalla.livejournal.com
I'm enjoying this.

Date: 2013-02-02 10:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_wastrel/
running down a three-foot-tall maiden with a wagon was frowned upon in most districts...
With an expression rather like one he might use if he'd found a cat had thrown up on his favorite cape...

You really have a way with words!
I like the worldbuilding and the way it's worked into the storytelling.
Poor Largo's situation reminds me of this:
http://paintingthegreyarea.wordpress.com/2012/11/26/literacy-privilege/

Also, I'm apparently still here, being reminded of why it's worth it, what's up with that?

Date: 2013-02-02 11:20 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] padparadscha.livejournal.com
Good to have you back! And glad you're enjoying this!

Date: 2013-02-11 12:33 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] http://users.livejournal.com/_wastrel/
It's good to be back. ^.^

Date: 2013-02-09 06:01 pm (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Glodho sounds like someone who might use antlers in all of his decorating....

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