A couple of hours later Caethir and Lamuna arrived at Bywater. They had exchanged few words since leaving Bindbole Wood. The Hobbit was mulling over their experience with the spiders, feeling a mixture of shock that it had happened and pride that she had aided the Elf during the chaos. Caethir himself had put it behind him, choosing instead to make sure the halfling was faring well, whilst taking in the late afternoon calm and the rolling hills of The Shire. He had observed a goblin scout from afar but mentioned nothing of it to his new friend.
She has been through enough for one day, he decided.
As they made their way over a tiny bridge and into the small square of Bywater, Caethir did his best to redirect the thoughts of his ponderous companion.
“Lovelight is an unusual Hobbit family name. Where did that come from?” He enquired
Lamuna allowed herself a smile.
“Yes, very unusual. A few generations ago we were part of another family, I forget which. The name was…granted to us, apparently,” she began.
Caethir paused his already-steady strides and turned to face the Hobbit.
“Granted? Imposed…or was the family split amicable?”
“There’s a reason why we don’t remember our ancient relatives, dear Elf!”
Caethir smiled and understood. Lamuna looked up at him then playfully poked him in his ribs.
“As for why we are the Lovelights, you will soon understand.”
And with that she turned on her heels and headed up a small, stony path that led to a grassy hillside. When Caethir raised his now-tired head he saw a very long burrow, having two entrances, one neat, round, wooden door at each end. He thought now that he understood the answer to the family name.
“I am looking forward to seeing the inside of your home, friend Hobbit” he exclaimed
“I am sure you are. Just mind your head, Big Folk don’t visit often!”
Turning to Gwaerennaur she petted the horse’s nose before tying him gently to an innately carved post.
“Don’t worry, we have better lodgings for you than out here. Ruby will be here soon to look after you.”
The steed bowed his head and nuzzled Lamuna’s ear. She giggled, threw off her muddy shoes and pulled the door of the burrow open.
“You’d better do the same, Caethir. Father is very particular about…well, everything!”
“You mean he polishes his turnips and his home needs to be cleaner than that?”
“Ssssh! He will hear you!,” then looking around conspiratorially, she whispered “but yes!”
She then hopped neatly inside and announced their arrival. Caethir had encountered so many Hobbits on his travels, but they still managed to surprise and entertain him. Untying his boots and slipping them off his achy feet, he collected Lamuna’s shoes, placed them carefully inside the door and stepped into the home of the Lovelights.
How he had managed to make it last what felt like an hour, the Elf could not discern. To turn a tour of a Hobbit burrow into a history of Bywater amazed even him. Lobbo had discussed everything in minute detail, waxing lyrical about his family history, the materials used to construct the family burrow and of his proud place at The Shire’s vegetable markets.
“I notice your burrow doesn’t go back into the hillside very far?”, the Elf asked in some attempt to focus his host’s attention.
“No, but it is long. Just how we like it!’ Lobbo exclaimed.
Caethir looked down the hallway, which had many spotlessly-clean windows through which the slowly sinking sun beamed, enhancing the appearance of the polished wooden interior.
“Hence ‘Lovelight'”, the Elf concluded.
“Told you Elves weren’t stupid, Father dearest!”, yelled Lamuna from the kitchen. “Now it is time to eat and rest.”
Caethir sighed in relief, hoping that it was not obvious to his host that he was now in need of respite. Following the sound of Lamuna’s voice he arrived at a long dining table laden with bread, meats, pies and what seemed to be roasted vegetables. Caethir permitted a smile to play at the edges of his mouth. Most smelled like turnips.
A small, flickering fire gently warmed the air and it was easy for the Elf to understand why many Hobbits prized their home life. But they never realised the sacrifices and vigilance of the Rangers was the reason why they could keep living like this. For now, at least.
It will be a few days before I have such comforts again. No wonder the halflings usually do not leave The Shire, He thought or Bree-land, he corrected himself.
The benches either side of the table were a little lower than would be comfortable for Caethir but this was not the first time he had supped with Hobbits, and it would not be his last. Sitting down cross-legged he allowed his shoulders to relax, hoping his mind would follow suit.
“An’ you muss be tha’ Elf”, stated a cheery voice, which was soon accompanied by a Hobbit-lass with scruffy ginger hair and a cheeky smile.
“Ruby, I presume?” Caethir asked.
The Hobbit gave an awkward bow before giggling.
“Rubybella, at yer service!”, she grinned, “Oh yer ‘oss is munchin’ oats out t’back. ‘e seems ‘appy. But if I ‘ad known afore now that we ‘ad a guest I would’ve put on cleaner garb! ”
“There’s really no need,” Caethir pointed out his own dirty shirt, “The forest is not known for its cleanliness. That’s where we have arrived from.”
“Silly shortcut if yer ask me. Place is crawlin’ wi’ spiders. Ain’t enough Bounders ter deal wi’ spiders, lerralone…” she pursed her lips and frowned looking around. “Where is Lamuna?”
“Right here cousin,” Lamuna stated edging her way cautiously from the kitchen with a platter of potatoes, “I had to wash my hands and face.”
Taters, the Elf mentally reminded himself.
Ruby stood aghast.
“Never mind yer ‘ands an’ face. What yer gone and done to tha’ dress?” She squeeled in horror.
Lamuna blushed and shifted uneasily on her feet.
“I left Bywater without my sword.” She mumbled placing the platter on the table and slumping unhappily next to Caethir.
“What ‘av I told yer ’bout that cuz? It ain’t safe outside the villages!”
“An’ I told yer both ’bout leaving Bywater at all, ‘less you ‘ave to,” Lobbo said sternly as he entered and sat down at the table, his back straight like a Lord in a manor. “If we dun aggro the things they’ll leave us alone!”
Caethir opened his mouth to contradict that and then shut it quickly.
Rubybella shot Lamuna a knowing look but bent down to give her cousin a hug before settling down next to her Uncle. Lamuna looked glumly back at her.
“Will you mend the dress if I promise to listen to you next time?”
Ruby gave a dramatic eyeroll and dropped her shoulders.
“Well, guess someone needs ter mek sure yer look good when not in armour! An’ I needs to teach yer soon ‘ow to use ma shield. C’mon let’s eat. Life always looks better after food!”