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Friday morning again. I was on earlies. Out the door at six in the morning, half-asleep and three-quarters dead, which is why I didn't notice the portal in the pathway. I did notice once I'd walked through it. Canberra mid-winter early morning darkness to bright summer sunshine... somewhere else is something of a transition. So I asked the time-honoured, obvious, obligatory question:
"Where am I?"
There didn't appear to be anybody nearby to answer me. I looked around. Lush rolling landscape, green fields, neatly fenced-off meadows, round doors and windows in sides of the hillocks, mountains off in the distance - hang on, what was that bit about the doors and windows again? I took another look. Yup, round doors and windows under the hillocks. Ooooohhhkaaaay. Either I'd walked through a portal to New Zealand or I was in Middle Earth. I hoped it was New Zealand.
Next question: could I turn around and walk home? I looked behind me. There was an oak tree about two steps away. So either I stepped out of the tree, or I had appeared in front of it. Would I be willing to risk a bump on the head from walking into it? I took a closer look at the tree. If it were artificial, I'd know I was in New Zealand, which only left the question of how on Earth I got there. If it wasn't ... well, I'd deal with it when I found out. The leaves looked real enough, but I've seen some pretty realistic artificial leaves in my day. The only way I was going to be able to find out was by seeing one close up.
I risked a couple of steps back toward the trunk. If a portal had been there, it wasn't now. I was stuck here, wherever "here" happened to be.
It was time to find out for sure. There was a low-hanging branch of the tree hanging near the visible edge of the hill, which looked as though it might be in reach if I were lucky. I headed toward it. It was just out of reach. A small jump and I should be able to reach it. I jumped. I got the leaf, but I also discovered what I had thought was a slope heading down was actually something of a drop off: a six-foot drop off, to be precise. I wasn't expecting that. I also wasn't expecting a stone pavement underneath. Lucky I'm well padded. Just as lucky I had the sense to bend my knees as I landed.
"Shit!" It was a bad landing. My left ankle was telling me that it did not like this, and my left wrist was complaining ditto (trick wrist, doesn't like being landed on, or used as a prop). I've never been keen on falling over.
So, there I was, swearing and trying not to cry, trying equally hard to get some breath back so that I could swear some more, when the door opened.
"Excuse me? Are you all right?"
I looked at the speaker. He looked youngish, with curly blondish hair and bright blue eyes. Hairy feet. I noticed the hairy feet. No visible signs of prosthetics. Well, that plus the genuine, leaf-feeling oak leaf still clutched in my right hand sorted things out. I was in Middle Earth, and from the height of the person before me, this must be the Shire. How would I explain this at work? Better yet, how would I get back so I could get to work? I hadn't anyone arranged to cover my shift. I'd never hear the end of it. I decided to make a start on getting myself explained.
"Ummm ... hi. I don't know quite how to explain this, but, ummm ... I'm a bit lost.”
This seemed to be the right thing to say. The hobbit on the doorstep laughed.
"I should say so, if you've just fallen down the Hill at my door. Come inside and tell me how you got here."
I smiled weakly and tried to get up. I discovered my ankle had at least turned, if not actually sprained itself. Biting back another swear-word (Tolkien's characters do not swear, although I'm sure some of them would have liked to on occasion. Also, ladies didn't know those sorts of words in this particular society: a lady gets more respect than a trollop at the best of times) I leaned on the left wrist, and couldn't stop myself from gasping.
"That doesn't sound good," remarked my host, looking concerned. "Are you hurt?" I couldn't speak without swearing (see note earlier) so I nodded, biting down hard on my lower lip. He came forward, helped me sit up a bit, then called in through the door.
"Pippin, Sam, come here and give me some help. We've someone hurt here!"
At hearing the names, I started. A voice from inside the hole, calling "Coming Mr Frodo!" didn't ease my mind. Not only was I in Middle Earth, but I appeared to be in Middle Earth around the time of the Quest of the Ring. A quick look at the hands of my host didn't help: ten fingers. I was here before the quest to destroy the ring. But when? If I was lucky, it was the year after Bilbo's birthday party, and Gandalf would be along at some stage. The wizard was my best bet of getting home. If I wasn't lucky (and when was I ever lucky?) I'd landed right at the time of the quest of the ring. I had to find out which. I looked up at Frodo.
"This is going to sound like an odd question, but could you tell me what year it is?"
He looked at me, taking in the oddness of my attire, my accent, and the fact I didn't look as though I belonged in the Shire. He seemed to be weighing me up. Apparently he must have concluded he liked what he saw, or I seemed harmless enough for a travelling madwoman, because he told me, "The year is 1418 in the Shire reckoning, and it is the first day of September. Does that help you at all?"
I nodded, because it did, although "help" was probably the wrong word altogether. I'd landed at Bag End, twenty-three days before it got handed over to the Sackville-Bagginses, and the Quest of the Ring started. Oh lovely. When I find out which of the various gods I believe in is responsible for this one, I'm going to Have Words with them. At great length.
Another two hobbits appeared at the door and stared at me. I could see one of them plucking at Frodo's sleeve, looking concerned. Samwise, I guessed from his clothes; which would make the other one who was peering at me curiously Peregrin Took. They both looked similar to the actors chosen to play their roles, although not identical by any means: for a start, there wasn't the vague five o'clock shadow on either chin. Pippin looked as though he'd been red-headed as a child (which would account for the nickname) while Sam's hair was dark brown, verging on black. Sam took Frodo by the elbow and drew him off to the side a little. I could hear what he was saying.
"Who's this, Mr Frodo? Seems odd, her arriving out of the blue, just out of nothing like that!"
"I don't know, Sam. But while she's here, she's hurt, and we ought to help her, at least."
"But Mr Frodo, she might be someone sent to take ... it." Here he directed an angry look toward me.
"Sam, have a look at her. She's hurt, and if I read her eyes right, she's frightened. I think her wits are a little mazed, too: she asked me what the year was. I don't think she's a tool of the dark. I think she's what she says she is: lost."
"Yes, but lost from where? Where's she lost from, that she winds up at the door of Bag End? I know she didn't come up by the road, for I was watching from the kitchen window, and I saw nobody coming along it. I'd want to know who she is, and where she's from, before I'd be trusting her inside."
Frodo nodded and turned back toward me. "My friend here has a point," he said. "Who are you, and where do you come from?".
I closed my eyes. Now I was for it. Should I play the wandering madwoman? Or should I trust them with the truth. The truth, I think. They'll decide I'm a madwoman soon enough.
"My name is Meg. I'm from a place called Australia, far in your future. I arrived on the hill when I was meaning to be heading to the bus stop. I don't know how I got here, just that I am here."
Sam turned to Frodo and said, "You're right, her wits are mazed."
Pippin took a closer look at me. "Wherever she's from," he commented, "it's not the Shire: her clothes definitely aren't of Shire-make. Have a look at her boots, too!"
The other two took another look at me, Sam scowling at me as he did so. I wasn't comfortable with their scrutiny, which went on just a little too long.
"Look," I said, looking straight at Sam as I did so, "I'm not here to hurt any of you. I don't know how I got here, and I don't know why I was brought here, but my ankle is aching something fierce. I'd like to be able to check on whether or not I've done something nasty to it. Please?"
This recalled them to my injuries and the three of them together helped me up. I gave my bag to Pippin to carry, while Frodo and Sam supported me in the door. There were comments when I rose to my full height. I'm five foot two: short for a human, but a good fifteen inches taller than the tallest of the hobbits (Frodo). The difference was noticeable. It hurt to put weight on my left leg, but I could do it, so at least that ankle wasn't broken. That was a small mercy, anyway. I got taken inside the hobbit hole, and sat down on a chair in the hall. I started undoing the laces on my left-hand boot. There was some swelling; the knot in the laces was hard to undo, with very little slack, which wasn't a good sign. Sam was the one who bent down, batted my hands away and took to the knot himself. He had it undone in a trice and carefully eased the boot off my foot.
With Sam's assistance, I carefully rotated the ankle: there was a lot of pain, but I had the full range of motion (and no extra, thank heavens). Sam looked up at me.
"Looks as though you may have twisted your ankle, Miss. I'll go get a cold compress for it."
He bustled off toward the kitchen. In the meantime, Frodo and Pippin helped me out of my coat ("the horse blanket" as I call it: a big duffle jacket of microfibre that I wear in winter to keep off the worst of the wind, the rain, and the cold) and hung up my bag on the coat hook as well. I was still rugged up in my black velvet coat, jumper, jeans, tights, leggings, scarf and gloves, as well as a long-sleeved t-shirt under the jumper (well, it was winter in Canberra and I feel the cold). All the layers got strange looks from the two hobbits, who were still in what were probably summer-weight clothes; the weather was a sight warmer in late summer in the Shire than it was in late winter in Canberra. I took off the jumper, as well as the scarf and gloves, smiling as I did so.
"It's warmer here than it was back home," I said.
It was all the extra layers which turned the tide for Frodo and Pippin. My hands and face were still cold (poor peripheral circulation: I never thought I'd be so thankful for it). If I'd walked to Bag End in all of that lot, even in the cool of an early morning, I'd've been sweating like an overloaded horse. But here I was rugged up for icy weather and cold as winter. I spotted the glance they exchanged; one which said without words, "something to discuss with Gandalf, when he shows up."
Oh gods. It just hit me: I've really landed in the story of the Lord of the Rings. What will my presence do to the story? I mean, I know that Gandalf isn't going to show. I know that Frodo is going to set off for Crickhollow with Sam and Pippin in just a few weeks. But they don't know this yet. They're all waiting for Gandalf, who's now imprisoned at Orthanc. Oh no. What have I got myself into? Plus ringwraiths are due here in about a month. Oh shit. This is not going to be easy.
How was I understanding Westron? Better yet, how was I speaking it? I knew I didn't speak a word of the language, and none of them should have known any English. So how were they understanding me? How long would it last?
I think some of this must have passed across my face, because Frodo looked at me in concern.
"Is your ankle hurting you?" he asked. I shook my head.
"It's not the ankle, it's something else. If you don't mind, I'll explain later." He looked at me suspiciously, but nodded. I leaned on the left wrist again and winced as a shot of pain went through me. I'd forgotten about it. I lifted up the wrist and felt around it with my right hand. Nothing out of the ordinary, just the trick wristbone again, easy enough to fix. I grasped my left wrist in my right hand, thumb underneath, fingers on top, and twisted it back toward me. Crack! Both Frodo and Pippin jumped, as did Sam, who had just entered the hall, bearing a bowl of water and a cloth for a compress. As the bones slid back into alignment and stopped pinching the nerve most of the pain was gone. I looked up, seeing the shock on their faces, smiled and held up my left hand.
"Trick wrist,” I said, by way of explanation. "It's been dodgy since I put it out playing volleyball at school once. I'm sorry I startled you all."
I think this won their trust. Frodo smiled, Pippin laughed, and I even got a shy smile from Sam, who came forward with the bowl of water and the compress. I took off my sock, but we were all stymied by the tights; I couldn't take them off without stripping almost to the skin. One damp ankle wouldn't kill me. I took the compress and put it onto my ankle, sighing as the pain started to ease. I looked at Frodo.
"Could I have my bag, please?" He looked back at me and a shadow of suspicion seemed to cross his open face.
"I'll let you watch as I take things out, if you like. I've nothing very dangerous in there." This seemed to reassure him. He took the bag down from the stand where it was hanging and handed it to me. I fished out my keys and work pass from my pockets (a bit awkwardly; my weight and bulk doesn't make getting into pockets while seated an easy thing) and put those on the floor before me, then started emptying out the bag.
The three hobbits looked astounded by the various things I produced from the bag. It wasn't much of a haul: one book ("The Ladies of Mandrigyn"); my wallet; my scribble pad of a notebook; my pencilcase (with the bulldog clip holding it closed, as usual); my shilaleagh of a keyring; my Leatherman; one rather battered bottle of Nurofen; a bottle of water (half-full, I'd forgotten to take it out after dance class last night); three sanitary pads; a tube of lip balm; roll-on sunblock; a half-eaten packet of Fisherman's Friend cough lollies; my box of floppy disks; a small packet of disposable tissues; my ID card for work; and a green and white linen teatowel which had been sitting in there since about early March and hadn't yet been put away. Nothing really helpful there, aside from the Leatherman. Not much to be going on with. This was not turning out well. Most interdimensional travellers come equipped for everything from having to escape from prison to bartering with the natives for food. If I'd known I was going to be stepping through a portal to another world, I would've at least loaded up with my medication. This was not going to be good.
Abruptly I put my head in my hands, trying hard not to cry. This was not turning out to be a good day.