My friend, Mr. Sherlock Holmes, had handled many an odd case in his day, but none I can recall seemed to me stranger than the matter I am about to recount. Only during the singular affair of the man without a cork leg, which had puzzled so many of the greatest minds in England, was our client a more unusual person in his own right.

It was late one evening during the November of 1898, as I recall, when Mrs. Hudson entered our sitting-room, looking very distressed.

“Mr. Holmes, I’m sorry to disturb you at this hour, but there’s a… a very small person to see you. He’s a stranger, he says, and he’s been wandering about Town trying to find Baker Street. He said it’s most urgent.”

“Well, where is he?” asked Holmes, not looking up from an old document in his hand.

“In the kitchen, sir.”

“In the – the kitchen?” Seldom have I seen Holmes astonished in the slightest; the utter blankness of his face served to remind me he was indeed human and not infallible.

“Yes, Mr. Holmes. He looked so young, sir, and hungry, and cold, with those bare feet of his–”

“Well, send him up, Mrs. Hudson. You can mother him later.” Holmes covered his slip from omniscience with a tinge of sharpness.

“Yes, sir.” Mrs. Hudson shut the door with a bit more force than was called for, only to reappear shortly, followed by the small person of whom she spoke.

His appearance itself was remarkable. I could see little of his clothing, for he wore a cloak of a peculiar shade of grey fastened with a clasp shaped like a young leaf. Curly brown hair thickly covered his head, which was little more than three feet above the ground. His feet, which were bare, had a covering of hair very like that on his head.

“Good heavens!” I exclaimed.

“If you will pardon the question,” Holmes asked gently, “what are you?”

“Holmes, what do you mean, ‘what are you’? I should think ‘what is your name’ would be a better question, when your client cannot be anything but a human.”

“I’m not a human, I’m a Hobbit, and my name is – Mr. Underhill,” said the client, glancing around the room. “Are we alone?”

“Yes. This is my friend and associate Dr. Watson, before whom you may speak as freely as before myself.”

“A Hobbit?” I repeated.

“That’s what I said. Haven’t you heard of us?”

“Quite remarkable,” murmured Holmes. “I can’t quite identify the accent. Where are you from, Mr. Underhill?”

“The Shire.”

“Which shire – Hampshire, Yorkshire–” I asked, but Underhill interrupted me.

“Just the Shire. Maybe you’ve heard of Bree? It’s a good-sized town, over the Brandywine and across the Old Forest. Plenty of Men live there.”

I was saved from admitting my ignorance concerning this Bree by a dreadful shriek from Mrs. Hudson.

“Watson! Quick!” shouted Holmes, flinging open the door and rushing downstairs. I followed as quickly as I could, only to be stopped in my tracks by the horrible sight which met my eyes.

A strange creature with large, pale eyes, thin, stringy hair, and no clothing save a rag loincloth crawled on all fours up the stairs. It hissed and gurgled to itself while shoving past Holmes. “The preciousss, the preciousss, he has it! The nasssty Baggins has it, and we wants it!” I shuddered and drew back as the thing approached.

“Where isss he, we wonders? Maybe the big person knowsss, preciousss, maybe he can tell us where Baggins isss.” The repulsive creature stopped and stared up at me. “Doesss he?”

“See here, I don’t know any Baggins.”

“Watson! Don’t let it get our client!” Holmes shouted at me. Before I could react, it spat at my friend and scrambled up the last of the seventeen steps. “Too late, too late! Watson, why couldn’t you have stopped it? Back into the sitting-room, quick!”

We burst through the door together. The horrid creature was there, but the Hobbit was nowhere to be seen. I crossed the room and picked up the handiest weapon, a heavy steel poker.

“Where is Underhill?” I demanded. “What have you done with him?”

“I’m right here,” Underhill’s voice said from the doorway. I looked up in surprise to see him standing where nothing but empty space had been moments before.

“I must admit you are even better than Holmes at disappearing and reappearing at odd times,” I told him.

“He hasss the preciousss, and we wants it!” wailed the creature. “Give it to us!”

“No,” said Underhill sternly. “It is not your precious any longer. It is my burden now, and you will not have it.” He turned to Holmes. “I possess an object of great power that must be destroyed. It is a very dangerous journey. I don’t think I can do it alone, so I came to you for help.”

“This object is what that creature calls his ‘precious’?” Holmes queried.

Underhill nodded.

“We should be glad to assist in any way we can,” I said, keeping watch over the horrid thing as it cowered in a corner, sobbing and gurgling.

“What must be done to destroy it?” Holmes possessed the gift of keeping a conversation where he desired it to be.

“Gandalf said to take it to Mordor and cast into the Cracks of Doom in the Mountain of Fire.”

“Where is Mordor?”

“I don’t know, except that it’s in the south-east.”

Holmes opened his mouth to reply, but was interrupted by the entrance of another Hobbit. This one had a large pack on his back.

“Mr. Frodo, I’m coming with you like I promised!” he panted.

“It’s too dangerous, Sam. Go back while you can.”

“I made a promise, Mr. Frodo, and I’m goin’ to keep it,” repeated Sam. He saw the pale, bony creature and gasped. “It’s that Stinker, still after you! I said I’d fix him if he didn’t leave us alone, and aim to do just that!” From beneath his grey cloak, he drew a short sword and prepared to charge. Holmes gently restrained him.

“Your devotion is commendable, Sam, but now is not the time for violence.”

“He’ll throttle us in our sleep. Let me get at him.” Sam tried to pull away, but Holmes’s grip on his arm stopped his struggles.

“It’s all right, Sam,” soothed Underhill, moving to Sam’s side. “These Big People said they’d come with us if they could.”

Sam glanced at Holmes and myself. “They might be able to keep that slinker Gollum away,” he said doubtfully, “But every time Men tried to help, things went all wrong.”

“Strider helped us a lot.”

“The Fellowship separated because of a Man, beggin’ your pardon, Mr. Frodo,” countered Sam.

Underhill crossed his arms. “They’re coming, Sam,” he stated in a voice that left no room for argument.

Sam shook his head sadly. “No good’ll come of it, Mr. Frodo. But if it’s settled, I hope there’s no harm in askin’ if there’s a bite to eat around here?”

Holmes smiled and released the Hobbit. “Mrs. Hudson!” he called.

The poor woman came to the door, still showing the effects the sight of the Gollum-creature had brought.

“Just bring up a tray for our guests, would you? Thank you, Mrs. Hudson. And now to business,” Holmes said briskly. Once again, the opening door interrupted him; this time, however, he was nearly hit when it slammed open. Two more Hobbits, several inches taller than Sam and Underhill, skipped in.

“Frodo Baggins!” one said delightedly. “If you want to keep your movements secret, you’ll have to do something about Sam. He’s easy to follow as an Orc.”

“Meriadoc Brandybuck! I told you that the name of Baggins was not to be mentioned!”

“You are among friends, Mr. Baggins,” put in Holmes. “Do not be concerned that your true name is revealed.”

“The Nine are looking for me,” Baggins murmured. “They know a Hobbit named Baggins has It.”

“The Nine?” I asked.

“Black Riders,” said the other new Hobbit in an eerie voice. “Robed, hooded riders on black horses. When they’re mounted on horrid flying beasts, they’re called Nazgûl. The Dark Lord sent them from Mordor.”

“Don’t talk about them,” whispered Baggins, his hand stealing to his shoulder in a manner I instantly recognized, having done the same many times when reminded of my Jezail bullet.

“They must inflict dreadful wounds indeed, if even the mention of their name causes so much distress,” soothed Holmes. “Dr. Watson can sympathize, having been injured while serving Her Majesty in Afghanistan.”

“Afghanistan? Where’s that? Bilbo probably told me about it, but I never could remember all those place-names,” Meriadoc said cheerfully.

“If you tell him, he’ll forget it in half a minute,” confided the still-nameless Hobbit. “Merry doesn’t remember much except when to show up for meals.”

“I remember more than that, Pippin!” Meriadoc retorted hotly. “For one thing, I remember the time you–”

“Don’t say it!” Pippin executed a flying tackle that would have done justice to any Rugby player, and the two turned a somersault across the floor.

“Ignore them as best you can,” sighed Baggins. “One’s a Took, the other’s a Brandybuck, and both are still in their tweens.” He said this as if it explained the whole matter.

“You were about to tell me of your mission,” reminded Holmes, raising his voice slightly to be heard over the scuffling Hobbits.

“Oh, yes. Through a long series of events, I came into possession of what I should prefer to call an heirloom. A trusted friend, Gandalf the Grey, told me what it was – a tool and weapon of the Dark Lord of Mordor. If he” – there was no mistaking who was meant – “takes it back, it will give him power to destroy and rule all of Middle-earth, instead of just his realm.

“I agreed to take the heirloom to the one place where it could be destroyed – the Cracks of Doom on the Mountain of Fire, deep in Mordor. There it would be cast into the fires that forged it, and the Dark Lord’s power ended. To help accomplish this, the Council in Rivendell formed a Fellowship. There are Nine of them, so Gandalf and Elrond said there should be nine of us: Gimli for the Dwarves, Legolas for the Elves, Gandalf for the Wizards, Merry, Pippin, Sam and myself for the Hobbits, and Strider and Boromir for Men.

“We got along well enough until one of the Fellowship gave in to the lure of the Ri- I mean the heirloom. He tried to take it, and I had to leave by myself before anyone found out. Sam followed, though, and wouldn’t go back, so he came with me. Gollum was following us, because he owned the heirloom for a long time and wants it back. Getting into Mordor is going to be very hard, and I don’t think I can do it, even with Sam. Will you and Doctor Watson help us?”

“I shall do everything in my power to aid you in your quest,” Holmes assured our small client, then rose from his armchair to take a tray of food from Mrs. Hudson. Her eyes widened at the number of remarkable people in her flat, but Holmes quietly shooed her out and set the bountiful tray on a low table. “Here is the food Mrs. Hudson brought,” he announced.

Pippin stopped pummeling Meriadoc and scrambled to his feet. “Are there any mushrooms?” he asked hopefully.

“It would seem so, Master Pippin,” I said, looking at the dishes. “Are you injured, Meriadoc?”

“No, I’m fine. Don’t bother saying Meriadoc, it’s too long. Just plain Merry, M-E-R-R-Y, is what I’m usually called.” He, along with the three other Hobbits, bowed politely to Holmes and myself before tucking into the substantial meal our excellent landlady had provided.

The Gollum-creature slunk around to see what the Hobbits were consuming with such relish and made a wry face.

“Nasssty things they eats, precious. Nasssty food for nasssty Hobbitses. Blech! We wants nice fisssh, we does.” He, or it, sidled up to Holmes. “We wants juicy-sweet fisssh, so wriggling and crunchable!”

“I am afraid I cannot oblige you,” Holmes said coldly.

“Nasssty, cruel manses!”

I must admit that by now, I felt nearly equal parts revulsion and pity for this Gollum. Whatever despicable deeds he might have committed in the past, his present wretchedness must at least partially atone. Feeling someone’s eyes on me, I glanced up to see Baggins looking at me with an understanding expression.

“You’re right, Doctor.”

“Good heavens,” I exclaimed, “you do it too? Why must everyone practice their facial-expression reading on me?”

“I have always told you, Watson, that your face could be read like the front page of the Times,” laughed Holmes.

“Really, Holmes, this is too much,” I remonstrated. “If you expect me to allow my thoughts to be plain not only to you, but to your client, I am afraid I must excuse myself.” My hand was on the doorknob when a loud bang! and a flash of light from behind gave me quite a start. I whirled around, filled with sudden memories of my time in Afghanistan, and saw a remarkable sight.

Merry and Pippin stood on chairs at Holmes’s acid-stained, deal-topped table, cheering and singing snatches of songs. The whole area appeared to have been shaken by some powerful explosion, with broken test-tubes and bottles strewn around.

“We did it!” shouted the two scorched Hobbits. I shall not record Holmes’s reaction.

I sprang backward to avoid the door as it flew open. A tall elderly man with an exceedingly long grey beard, high, pointed hat, and a staff in one hand strode through.

“Who are you?” demanded Holmes.

“My name is of no concern of yours, but since you ask, you many call me Mithrandir,” the stranger replied in impatient tones. “I have come to fetch these Halflings before they wreak any more mischief.”

“Gandalf!” crowed Pippin. “Did you see what we did? We made an explosion, just like you! Can you make a bigger one? I bet you can’t beat ours!”

“Tom-fool of a Took!” growled Mithrandir, or Gandalf, as Pippin called him. “Next time explode yourself, and rid us of your stupidity!”

Pippin withered under Mithrandir’s harsh words and went to a corner, where he sat with downcast face.

“Sir,” I said firmly, “your manner is uncalled for. I suggest you refrain–” I fell silent as Mithrandir turned on me with a glare of anger.

“Frodo! Samwise! Where is the creature Gollum?” he cried.

“Right, here, Mr. Gandalf, sir,” answered Sam, coming out from behind the settee and dragging Gollum along by a rope around the ankle. The wretched creature shrieked and writhed, clawing at the rope.

“It hurts us, it hurts us! Nasssty, cruel Hobbitses! Elves twisted it, nasssty horrid Elveses, curse them! Take it off us!”

“Samwise, untie Gollum.”

“He’ll strangle us all in our sleep, Mr. Gandalf. I’ve got to see Mr. Frodo safe to – where we’re goin’ an’ back,” insisted Sam.

“Sam,” said Baggins gently, “let Sméagol go. He won’t do anything.” He put his hand on Sam’s arm.

“Very well, Mr. Frodo,” said Sam reluctantly, bending over and tugging at the knots. In a few moments the rope had been removed.

“Nice master, yes, nice to poor Sméagol, we won’t hurt nice master,” fawned Gollum, most of the hissing gone from his voice.

“If you come with us, you must not harm Sam or me,” warned Baggins.

“Be nice to master,” assured Gollum, “but not cruel, stupid Hobbit.” He shot an angry look at Sam.

“Both, Sméagol,” thundered Gandalf.

“Yes, yes, both. We’ll be nice to stupid fat Hobbit, even if he’s nasssty to us. We’ll promise on the precious, master, on the precious.”

“Not on the precious,” Gandalf said. “By it, if you like.”

“We swears by the precious.”

“What do you swear?” asked Baggins.

“To be very very good.” Sméagol huddled at the Hobbits’ feet.

“Good enough for me,” said Gandalf. “I apologize for the intrusion, Mr. Holmes. Over Wizards, fire, and beasts I may have power, but not even the Dark Lord Sauron can control the actions of fanfiction writers or the twisted workings of their inner minds. Hobbits! Sméagol! We must leave now. I shall accompany you in place of these gentlemen.” He made as if to follow them out the door, but Holmes called after him.

“Mithrandir, why are you here? As I recall, you fell into a chasm at the bridge of Khazad-dûm, locked in mortal combat with a powerful enemy.”

The old man paused. “As I recall, you fell into a chasm at the falls of Reichenbach, locked in mortal combat with a powerful enemy.”

Holmes said nothing, but nodded farewell and reached for his old briar. Lighting it and leaning back in his armchair, he placidly sent wavering little smoke-rings drifting toward the ceiling. “A singular set of people, Watson,” he remarked thoughtfully.

“Indeed,” I replied, with some emphasis. “I fear our poor landlady will never be the same.”

“Hullo,” said Holmes, “I hear horses in the street.”

I stood and held the curtains back, looking over the quiet evening street. Nine black, hooded figures on black horses gathered before our home. One dismounted and knocked at the door. “Open in the name of Mordor!”

“I’ll get it, Mrs. Hudson!” shouted Holmes, tearing downstairs. He opened the door. I stood at his side. No doubt these were the fearsome Black Riders we had been warned about. “Can I help you?” Holmes asked politely.

“We are searching for a certain magic Ring,” the dismounted Rider said. “If we don’t find it, our boss will get really, really mad. Can you help us locate the Halfling who bears the Ring without our boss finding out?”

“Who is your ‘boss’?”

“The Dark Lord Sauron, he of the lidless Eye that sees all! You cannot escape his wrath.”

“He also writes very good speeches for his minions,” Holmes remarked.

“Yeah, he’s got a real way with words. So, will you cooperate, or be destroyed?” The Nine drew their swords with one fluid motion.

“How often must you practice to reach such superb synchronization?”

“We don’t practice. It comes as part of the contract – we promise to obey blindly, regardless of wind, rain, snow, floods, angry Elvish warriors, or suicidal Shieldmaidens; Sauron promises us scary-looking horses, robes, weapons, flying beasts, and drill team-style movements without spending hours practicing. All in all, it’s a pretty good deal. Anyway, will you help us like we asked?”

Holmes shook his head. “I’m afraid I can’t help you. No, it’s no use arguing. I have made up my mind. I will not handle this case.”

The Rider shrugged and remounted. “Thanks anyway,” he called as the Nine rode into the darkness.

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