THE HOBBIT-HOLE

A SANTHARIAN FAIRY-TALE

 
Master Tribell's Miraculous Narrations   
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Introduction. A royal courier stumbles across a strange oddity when travelling through halfling lands: a giant hole in the ground. Curious why it was dug, he only receives fragmentary answers, which aren't exactly what he hoped for. A circumstance that calls for an official investigation into this bizarre matter...

 

nce upon a time there was a hobbit-hole. Maybe not one of those you’re thinking of right now though: a hole dug into the hillside, one with a perfectly round door like a porthole, painted green, with a shiny yellow brass knob in the exact middle. Everybody knows these hobbit-holes and that they mean comfort. Nay, it wasn’t one of those. The hobbit-hole of our story is really something else, in more ways than one. So listen:

It was not long after the unification of the ancient realms into the Kingdom of Santharia that one of the king’s couriers came across a remote halfling village while on his route. He sought accommodation for the night, so that’s why he stopped by near the hobbit hills; after all he had heard that the little folk meant hospitality and merriment, and he didn’t mind checking on that himself. And there he saw it: the hobbit-hole.

It was gigantic, that hole in the ground, for that’s what it was: an enormous black nothingness. Located next to the mountainside, the chasm went deep, deep down, at least a dash if not more in diameter. However, clearly it was not a natural hole, but carved into the ground by man-made – or rather hobbit-made – tools. Around its rim stairs had been etched with meticulous effort into the earth, stairs, which led spiraling down into the big wide unfathomable darkness, the unknown that lurked below. Even as the courier only looked down into the immense fissure, a fearful tinge of vertigo came over him in face of the vastness of the earth’s gaping maw, and he was quick to step back in fright.

Puzzled by what he had seen, the messenger approached a peasant halfling, who was busy ploughing a field with his draught pony nearby, and inquired about the landmark. Who could blame him for his curiosity? The young man had never seen anything like it and wanted to know more.

“Well, that’s Big Deep of course,” the peasant answered and shrugged. “And it is all it says with its name. It’s big, and it’s deep.”
 

The Hobbit-Hole

View picture in full size Image description. View down the mysterious hobbit-hole... Picture drawn by Faugar.

“I see that,” the courier said. “But... did you, I mean, the hobbits, dig this enormous hole? What’s it for?”

“Aye,” the peasant nodded. “Dig it we did, and still do! Methinks there’s even some digging going on down there right now. Most of the time there is anyway.” Said it and swiftly went back to attend to his business for the sun was already descending behind the hills, and he wasn’t finished ploughing his field yet.

“And?” the courier followed up, impatience coloring his tone, before the hobbit was off again.

“And what, lad?” the hobbit peasant stopped his harrow once more. He looked at the human with his big eyes as if he had no idea what he was supposed to reply to.

“The purpose!” the courier reminded him. “What’s it for, that hole?”

“Ah, yes, yes, the purpose. Well, there isn’t much to it. Not much that I know of anyway. Just digging.” That’s all the halfling came up with. Maybe that was why he seemed to have forgotten the question in the first place, because his reply would turn out so bleak.

“Just digging?” the courier repeated, not satisfied.

“Just digging,” the hobbit confirmed. “It’s always been that way and will be for quite a while, I suppose.” He scratched the back of his neck with his callous forefinger and shrugged. “But now excuse me, stranger, for my field doesn’t plough itself, and as nobody else volunteers, I better do it myself.” He lifted his straw hat in greeting. “Dalireen with you!” he bade the traveler farewell as was customary among hobbit folk.

The given explanation didn’t ease the courier’s bewilderment a bit, quite to the contrary, and so he asked some of the locals in the halfling inn as well about the bizarre matter. However, he didn’t get any wiser there either than from his previous conversation and wondered in secret whether the hobbits had something to hide. But well, strange as it is, the courier thought, be it as it may. He had his job to do, so he took a good night’s rest, and in the morning rode off to deliver his message.

A fortnight later or so the halfling village had some more unexpected visitors.

A Secretary for home affairs hailing right from the king’s court arrived on a reddish-brown mare, complete with the royal emblem dangling from the harness; in tow two brawny fellows on no less impressive steeds, along with a sage, white haired and looking all sagely, and a priest. The latter from the Nehtorian order by the looks of it, for he had a healer’s satchel and a harp fixed to his saddle. Clippity-clop, clippity-clop the hooves went as they hit the main road, and as there were five times four of them, the newcomers were hard to not to notice.

A big commotion arose among the hobbit folk. Those toiling outside, like the ones tending to their gardens or fields, ceased their work when they saw the newcomers ride in, and gazed at the mysterious procession in wonderment; and out of the perfectly round hobbit-home windows peeked many a curious pair of tiny eyes. Most of the halflings, who preferred keeping to themselves, were afraid when they saw all those official visitors and didn’t dare venture out – who knew what all this meant?

The illustrious group however didn’t stop in the village, rather they headed straightaway towards the hole near the mountainside, to “Big Deep”, as the peasant had called it a few weeks ago.

Once there, they all got off their horses and the inspections and discussions started. First the humans talked among themselves, but then the halfling Thain of the settlement, the hobbit equivalent to a human mayor, joined in. He was accompanied by a couple of hobbits armed with pickaxes and shovels. Regular workers down in the pit, the Thain assured them, and not here to literally pick a fight with their pickaxes.

The visitors were not so sure about that.

“So... We’ve heard, this is your doing,” the Secretary addressed the Thain, and didn’t even try a formal greeting. He just pointed towards the hobbit-made gorge that seemed to lead into eternal depths.

The Thain nodded. “Sure it is, honorable Secretary,” he said, and added: “And welcome to our humble hobbit hills!” The Thain had recognized the visitor’s position immediately based on his attire.

The Secretary wasn’t a man to mince his words and got right down to business: “Given the fact that this hobbit settlement is part of the United Kingdom, Thain: Are you aware that all major mining operations must be registered in the royal mining registry? Even if it’s a halfling project, approved by hobbit consensus. You’re still ruled by a human sovereign, and as such are obliged to notify your superiors whenever you commence prospecting of any kind! Have you anything to say to that?”

“Aye, I’m aware of what you say,” the Thain nodded. “Didn’t commence this one however. This was begun long, long before our time.”

“And how long exactly has this been going on?” the Secretary wanted to know.

The Thain gave the question a moment of solemn consideration and, as if to help his memory, silently began counting with his fingers. Eventually he came up with a remarkably accurate number: “367 years, I’d say, give or take.”

“What…!? 367 years?” the Secretary looked befuddled. He didn’t have much more to offer at this moment than a face furrowed with crinkles signifying genuine bafflement.

“Astounding...” the sage at his side produced in his stead. “Quite astounding...” The words rolled from his tongue in a slow and contemplative tone, which added extra gravity.

The Secretary composed himself. “Registration also applies to existing projects, Thain, no need to split hairs. You should very well know that. The kingdom needs information on what exactly you’re looking for down there and what progress you’ve made so far. Any deposits you’ve come across or hope to come across have to be recorded and reported accordingly.” He threw a stern glance at the hobbit. “It’s all yours of course, whatever you find. After all, this is your land, but the laws apply to all of us and have to be followed, and there are strategic mining decisions to be made that go way beyond your reach.”

He wrinkled his nose at the tiny man. “Just don’t try to keep things from us, Thain, for we’ll find out! Is it some kind of metal you’re seeking? Is it gold? Silver? Red, blue, black iron? Quartz, herne, fyrite? Gems maybe? Something rare, something precious perhaps that only you know about and therefore don’t want to share with the rest of Santharia? Is it?”

“Whatever it is,” one of the bulky fellows to his side chipped in. “Your mining techniques are questionable at best if you dig down into the earth instead of sideways into a mountain! This won’t work!”

“If you halflings need assistance on how to approach prospecting,” the other stout chap added, “the kingdom is happy to provide it. All you need to do is ask. That’s what we’re here for: to help you hobbits on your way.”

The Thain however shook his head to all this. “Methinks there’s some kind of misunderstanding, Mr. Secretary,” he informed the bystanders. “We’re not digging for minerals down here. I don’t know whence you even get that fancy notion! Should we discover something, anything, we’d of course gladly report our findings to whomever it may concern. Though it’s highly unlikely, given that we’ve been digging more than three and a half centuries already, and there’s nothing there.”

The sage frowned at the halfling’s words. “Our sources told us that the locals would claim such things. Interesting however, that you even maintain this stance in the face of an official delegation!”

“Official or not, I tell the truth to everyone who wants to hear it,” the hobbit replied. “If you wants to hear something else, well, you better talk to someone else too.”

“Would you mind if we have a look what’s down there?” the Secretary proposed.

“Not at all!” the Thain replied. “Whoever wants to get their feet dirty has a good chance to see their wish fulfilled in a hole like this. So, be my guest!”

Thus the two brawny fellows, mining overseers by trade as it turned out, excused themselves to be led away by the halflings carrying the pickaxes and shovels. Together they descended into the pit, treading the spiraling stairs with extra care, as there were no railings provided. After a while their lanterns became alive, and only their uneasily oscillating gleaming orbs could be seen from above, flickering along, spinning downwards like fireflies during a mating dance. Then even these last faint glowing indicators of the men’s existence disappeared, swallowed by the darkness of the gaping maw. Daunted by the sight, the rest of the delegation watched, the air somber and suspense-laden, as if they expected something to happen anytime. But nothing did, or at least nothing they could see from the rim of the pit.

While the bone of contention was under investigation down below, the Secretary returned to his questioning aboveground: “So you want to say you’re digging just for the sake of it?” he summed it up. “For fun? Is that it? Maybe because you halflings enjoy digging holes?”

“Ah, sake, fun, tradition, to take one’s mind off things... – everyone has his own reasons, I presume,” the hobbit responded. “Though we are sort of experts in digging holes, aren’t we?” The Thain chuckled to himself, amused.

The Secretary just grunted.

“I guess there’s one thing you should know, however, now that you ask,” the halfling went on. “When the hole was started by the Thain back then, there was sort of a reason. A goal, if you so want, if you’re that keen on hearing about one.”

Secretary, sage and priest perked up their ears. “Go on, go on then,” they said almost in unison.

“Well, you see, that Thain, Bormdrim the Elder by name, was obsessed with exploring and discovering, and while the great discoverers had already gone north, south, east and west and even in those fancy directions in between, he thought he might try his luck with digging down to the world’s other side. Because for some reason he was convinced that the world was round like all the sparkling stars in the night skies, and so he started digging down, well, to prove it.”

There was general consensus in the remaining delegation to gasp at this point. “Utter folly!” the sage exclaimed, outraged. “Pure drivel! Every child in all of Caelereth knows that the world is flat as a pie!” he lectured the halfling.

“Aye,” the hobbit attested. “It’s not that many believed him back then, and there are even fewer today who do. And while I’m not a scholar myself, I think the idea – however intriguing it may sound – isn’t really worth pursuing. Even if it were true, when could it be proven?” The Thain had pulled a pipe from his pocket, which he now fed with some of the famous smoking weed growing in the hobbit shire. He began puffing away. “In the end, given the fact that 367 years have passed since Big Deep was begun, there hasn’t been a breakthrough yet.”

“Folly!” the sage hissed again, commenting in his very own sagely fashion. However, further elaboration apparently wasn’t his strongest suit.

“If it is of any consolation to you,” the hobbit continued, “there’s really no halfling I know of who digs for the purpose the hole was initially created for. So why bring it up at all? Nowadays, the digging is about anything but arriving at the other side. Some dig for fun, or to get away from things, clear one’s mind, or to sweat alongside a brother for a greater task they don’t understand anyway.” The Thain puffed some more. Tiny wisps of smoke curled up in the air. “But most do so because it has always been tradition to dig, say, on Big Deep Day. Folks bring children and their wives, there’s always a whopping feast, a raffle, lots of storytelling and the occasional marriage that day. And when each member of the family gets down there to share the effort by digging a few shovels full, it ties them together.”

The priest at last had regained some strength after the initial shock and brought up the bit he had come to say: “What feasts you celebrate is your business, Thain, but the digging matter concerns us all! Don’t you know, that deep, deep down beneath us, there is the realm of darkness, the Netherworlds? A place where demons, monsters lurk, where the vilest of creatures dwell, the whole lot?” His eyes began to glow with obsession. “It’s a twisted mockery of our world down below, fabricated by Coór, Lord of Chaos, which, when unleashed...”

“Hold it!” the halfling Thain interrupted what otherwise would probably have turned into a full-fledged sermon. “I’ve heard all that before! Though I fear human superstition has no place in a hobbit-hole, be it giant and in the ground or dug in the hillside, warm and comfy. You see, simply put, hobbits don’t believe in your Netherworlds.” The Thain took another puff from his pipe. “I assume your argument would be that if this dig were to be successful, then we’d end up in that ghastly mockery you try to conjure up, with all that doom and gloom it stands for – is that it?”

“You can bet that this is it!” the priest maintained. “And therefore...”

“May I ask you something then, healer?” the halfling cut the priest off again.

“What is it with you, you hole-digging hobbit fools?” came a snarl in return. “Can’t you see I have something important to tell you?”

“Do you believe in Dalireen?”

“Uh... oh... Dalireen? Isn’t she some sort of... of... imp? A hobbit-imp maybe? A pixie? An elf of hobbit size? Is it important?” The priest only proved his ignorance with his feeble guesses. “She’s someone out of lore and legend, I’m sure. – So why should I believe in her? What would be the point for a human?”

“She’s one of our deities,” the Thain informed him. “And indeed, why should you believe in Dalireen? And to make my point: Why should we as halflings believe in the Netherworlds, something that is clearly lore and legend to us, a wretched sphere of evil, made up by men or dreamt by an elven Goddess in her restless slumber?”

“Gobbledygook!” the sage dismissed the hobbit’s remarks.

But the hobbit Thain wouldn’t let go. “Say, would a hobbit object to a man building a tower of immense height to reach his Gods up there in what he’d call “heaven”? For he might think that they reign from the Void above him, like puppeteers, guiding the fate of mankind? Ha, trust me, a hobbit would be amused seeing such folly. As if the Gods were to expect a visit by a mortal to have a word with them! And yet, a hobbit wouldn’t complain.”

“Don’t distract from the matter at hand, little one!” the priest barged into the hobbits musings. “This is not the time and place to discuss fancy stories of misguided men, but the irresponsibility of halflings in regards of other races!”

“But excuse me, dear healer,” the halfling said. “Isn’t it the United Kingdom’s creed to accept the differences of those races? Wasn’t it exactly that which brought them all together? So that the disputes aren’t to be duked out on the battlefields, but rather that there’s understanding of the follies of others and judgment put aside?”

The priest’s face turned red, fuming with anger. He seemed close to bursting. “But you’re endangering other races with your lunacy, hobbit! Can’t you see? Isn’t it apparent to you that what you consider harmless digging and even has lost its purpose – as you say yourself !– might turn out to be the perfect cataclysm for all life as we know it? Hobbits, men, and everyone else included? The possibility alone ought to be enough to dissuade you from any further digging!”

The heated discussion went on a while with little progress, until the mining overseers, that had been sent to investigate the hole, returned to join the dispute.

“Not much down there, except a lot of mud,” one of them said with his dirt covered boots proving the statement. “No gems, no minerals. It’s dark, it’s cold, the whole operation is quite pointless, really.”

“A glorious waste of time,” the other agreed.

“How far have they dug already?” the Secretary wanted to know. “Could you make that out? At least, approximately?”

“The dig has to stop before they’ll penetrate the infernal grounds to the Netherworlds!” The priest spelled out his alarming assessment once more. Though, of course, nobody really knew how deep one would have to dig for disaster to strike. But better safe than sorry.

However, the news from the mining front were less exciting – or perilous, as one might have it – than anticipated: “This is quite a futile undertaking, Secretary, in any sense,” one of the miners elaborated. “Not only is there nothing down there, and with nothing I mean absolutely nothing. Even the dig itself is minuscule compared to human excavations or natural chasms found just a few strals south, say, in the Mithrals. Hobbits are no humans – not in size, nor in muscle, as is quite apparent when you watch those fellows work their puny pickaxes. It’s trice the struggle compared to a full-grown man, but all that hard toiling is to little effect. If you really wanted to dig down, orcs, ogres, giants would be the ones you’d need to achieve a decent progress. Halflings just labor all the time and merely scratch the surface!”

The other miner added: “They are more preoccupied anyway with making the hole round and the stairs leading down nice to tread on, as if it were a common hobbit-hole, a work of art! Next thing they might do is get some rugs and furniture in! To be frank, Secretary, I can’t understand, what drives them... They’d need several more centuries to even reach the depth of, say, the Pit of Orcenroth or Deepgorge Mine! If they were serious about this they should have started on any of those places!”

“Folly!” the sage repeated, for he had known all along.

“Lunacy and blasphemy!” the priest assented.

“Quite a crazy tale,” the Secretary summed things up from his official point of view.

“But that’s the way it is,” the halfling Thain held against all that while puffing away on his pipe.

Well, and in essence, that was it. The discussions ended right there. Everything everyone had to say concerning the matter had been brought forward, and after a hearty meal in the halfling inn, the Secretary and his procession departed. Not without an ominous warning however, that there’d be consequences, that these issues had to be brought up in the royal assembly, that more voices had to be heard what could be done at this point, how to do it and when, because, so the Secretary expounded, there was no way one could let the matter rest the way it was. With all that said, the delegation rode off.

In fact however, the matter was laid to rest there and then. Because there were more urgent matters the king felt he had to attend to than hobbits digging pointless holes, and so the whole affair – or rather the hole affair – somehow got lost in the wheels of the royal bureaucracy, where many a thing is entered for consideration, but often dies a slow, unceremonious death. Such was the case as well with this very special hobbit-hole.

Maybe it was all ado about nothing. Maybe the hobbit-hole at least makes a decent whimsical tale. Maybe what transpired there might also make the one or the other think, and then think again.

Well, the halflings still are at it, that’s a fact; they dig and dig, just the way they had been for ages and ages. And if there isn’t a king’s decree to put and end to it all, the hobbits will still be digging down there in Big Deep for ages and ages and ages to come. Probably they’re also quite happy because of it.

 


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