Gimbling in the Wabe – In Homage to the Professor

by Sharon Browning

Today is the anniversary of JRR Tolkien’s birth; the Professor would have been 122 – a ripe oldJRRTolkien-donato age, indeed, even for a hobbit.  In humble homage to the man who has had such an impact on my life, I offer up this excerpt from a role playing story I participated in years ago, set in Tolkien’s universe.  Entitled “In the Wake of the Nine”, and led by the incomparable talent of writer Greg Mussio, the effort lasted over a year and once complete, encompassed over 700 pages of superlative cooperative story telling.  This excerpt was the introduction of my character, Mailea, into the story that I still consider a shining point in my writing experience.

Happy birthday, Professor!  And thank you.


“Have I ever told you the story of how I fooled the spiders of Mirkwood, my dear?”

Mailea smiled indulgently at the small figure who leaned forward and whispered to her eagerly. His voice was growing frail, but his spirit remained unbowed. “Yes, Uncle,” she answered, slipping into the familiarity that they shared. “But I should so much like to hear it again.” The elderly hobbit chuckled and said warmly, “Then I will tell you again, my girl, even if you are only saying so to humor me.”

“Never, Uncle!” she replied, in mock protest. Looking the white haired hobbit in the eye, she added earnestly, “I have naught but the highest regard for you, my friend, as one who had his feet set on the path of adventure quite unlooked for, and not only rose to the task, but triumphed.” When she saw that she had touched him by the sparkle in his eye, she laid a hand on his arm and continued, “It is true, good sir… many have lived years far beyond your number, and yet have not lived nearly as well.”

He laughed, and patted Mailea’s hand gently. “Ah, it is good of you to say so, my dear.” Then he leaned closer and said, conspiratorially, “But I do seem to recall that you are not so willing to sit quietly and listen to an old hobbit’s tale, yourself. What is this that I heard of your stowing aboard a ship?”

Mailea laughed gaily. “And just where did you hear that, good sir?”

“Oh,” the old hobbit replied with a devilish grin on his wizened face, “a body can learn a lot when others think that it is dozing!” And he gave Mailea a quick wink.

Mailea had grown quite fond of the elderly hobbit. At first, he had been a novelty for her, as she had never met a Halfling before. But curiosity had gotten the better of her and soon she was ever his willing audience. The old hobbit was vain enough to enjoy being doted upon, and he was pleased by the attention that Mailea gave him, for many of the Eldar had grown used to him and tended to treat him kindly, but as they would a child.

“In fact,” he continued to speak to her in a low voice, as if he were afraid of being overheard, “it’s been said that you would might have made it all the way down the coast, were it not that a young sailor caught your eye and you made yourself known to him!”

Mailea colored deeply, remembering. “Aye, Uncle,” she exclaimed, “and that is the last time I let my heart overrule my head!”

Although her voice was light, she was still pained by the memory. She had been so young, and been inflamed with jealousy, as her father had deemed that it would be her brother who would accompany him to sea, leaving her behind to ‘concentrate on more seeming studies,’ although she was quicker and far more nimble than her twin. Unable to bear the idea of being left behind, she cut her hair and stowed aboard a merchant ship, making herself so useful upon discovery that the captain had relented to let her stay, believing her to be a young Elven lad out to seek adventure.

But she was so caught up in the headiness of independence that when she befriended another cabin boy, she was not ready for the rush of emotions that overcame her, and, still believing that the world was nothing save noble and good, she revealed herself to her new friend. Mailea had never anticipated friendship turning into betrayal. But betrayed she was, and rather than being allowed to prove herself, she was returned home in disgrace. Her father was greatly angered when he learned of her impulsiveness. Her brother, Eldair, who loved her dearly, tried to intercede on her behalf, but their father would have none of it, and it ever became a gap between himself and his children.

Eldair, in time, became an able sailor and was to be inducted into the fleet of Círdan himself. As proud as Mailea was of her brother, she was also jealous of what was given to him so readily and yet was denied to her. Yet, due to the love she bore her brother, Mailea tried to be dutiful, and she learned stories of her people, both great and sad, and she learned to sing sweetly, and she attended to all her studies and gentle duties as best she could. Yet still her heart quailed within her at being thus subdued.

Then one terrible day word came that the fleet in which her father and Eldair had been sailing had been set upon by corsairs; her beloved brother had been killed and her father had been wounded near to death. Returning, her father eventually did recover but his body was bent and crippled, and his soul was wounded as well. He found refuge in building ships rather than sailing them, and he drew his remaining family to him even closer, as if afraid that they, too, might be taken from him. But Mailea’s mother, in her sorrow, could not bear the loss of her son and the loss of the husband she had known, and before too long passed over the waters to the Undying Lands, leaving her husband to deal with Mailea as best he could.

Without her mother’s gentle influence, Mailea often felt the mantle of her obedience slip, and her willful nature would get the best of her. Although her father knew in his heart that she was bright and honest and good, he could not will himself to give her the freedom he knew she craved, so to keep her from sundering from him completely, he sent her to her mother’s kin in Imladris in hopes that a life of knowledge and contemplation far from the singing shores would give a safe purpose to her adventurous heart.

These things Mailea knew, for she could read her father’s heart almost as well as her own, yet it still pained her deeply that he could not seem to acknowledge her yearning. So out of the love she still felt for him, she did as he bid, and tried in Imladris to build a life of study. But ever there was a part of her that could not settle, and was always looking outward.

What she did not know was that despite her attempts to appear as demure and serene as would please her family and tutors, she had a spark to her that rose unbidden in her face and made itself known in her countenance, unlike many of her kinsmen, and it drew others to her as moths to a flame. And so, she remained restless… especially when she spoke with elderly hobbits who were so very willing to talk about their adventures.

“On second thought, my dear,” Bilbo sighed. “I would rather more than anything like to take a quick nap right now.” He gave her hand a squeeze and then drew his cloak bout himself, settling deeper into his seat. “How about if you were to sing me a song, instead?” he asked, already closing his eyes.

“Which one would you have me sing, Uncle?” she asked.

“Oh, sing that one I taught you the other night,” he said, gesturing absently as he drifted away, as only the aged can do. So Mailea began to sing, softly:

I sit beside the fire and think
Of all that I have seen,
Of meadow-flowers and butterflies
In summers that have been;

Of yellow leaves and gossamer
In autumns that there were,
With morning mist and silver sun
And wind upon my hair.

Mailea looked fondly at the old hobbit as she sang, and her heart ached.

I sit beside the fire and think
Of how the world would be
When winter come without a spring
That I shall ever see.

Her voice was clear and sweet, and all who were nearby paused to listen.

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen;
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green.

Mailea paused to take a breath, and then she noticed that Bilbo was quite soundly asleep. She stopped singing, and laughed softly, which was gently echoed by the others nearby who had been listening, for all of Elrond’s house were fond of the old hobbit. Mailea tenderly tucked the old adventurer’s cloak more snugly around him, and then stood up and moved outside to catch some fresh air before joining the others for the feast in the Great Hall. Once outside, she lingered in the moonlight, and stared up at the stars. Under their gentle light, she sang again softly to herself:

For still there are so many things
That I have never seen.
In every wood in every spring
There is a different green.

Related Posts

1 comment

Ronald Trutty 3 January, 2014 - 2:59 pm

My travels have taken me to far off places: Italy, England, Scotland, Greece, Portugal, not to mention(but I guess I will), Egypt, Kenya,and Indonesia and yet—“…there are so many things that I have never seen. In every wood in every spring there is a different green.”

Comments are closed.