Donago Greenhaven buttoned his new fawn-colored waistcoat. As a rule, hobbits don’t tend to dwell on overt fashion and vanity, but he loved it when his mirror reflected a brightness to his image. From the top of his reddish-gold curls, to the bottoms of his hairy feet, he wanted to appear cheerful, intelligent, and ready for any adventure that might await him over the next hill.
Donago plucked at the red handkerchief that peaked in a triangle out of the upper pocket, making sure it stood out. Tonight he was especially interested in making an impression. Traveling hobbits had arrived in Little Delving, bringing wares for the market, presents for friends, and news of the other regions. He wanted to share in it, the busy world of those who worked, and those who dreamed.
He beamed at himself, at his own bright eye, at the dimple an inch from the edge of his mouth, and his one crooked tooth. He’d been told that he was born ready to grin, and that he’d no doubt die with a last bit of laughter on his lips. He looked fine. From the little round window that overlooked his garden and the distant fields to the west a breeze filtered in a whiff of the sea. The scent must have traveled for many miles, must have flirted with clumps of silver grasses and coasting birdwings, holding its essence to arrive in his room and call to him. It always made him laugh.
“All right!” he told it, forgetting his finery as he hurried out of his bedroom and then outside his hole. His intention had been to visit The Brown Barrel, Little Delving’s busiest Inn, and hear the tales that might be told, but that could wait. The sun was just setting, and all around Little Delving hobbits were lighting lamps against the night. His hole was in the last mounded hilltop of Little Delving, and he was at the end of the row. His second cousin on his father’s side had left him the small abode in an intricate will in gratitude for making him laugh right when he’d been frightened of death. Donago loved his house, for it made the wilds beyond Little Delving seem like they belonged to him alone.
Over there, further west, was the sea, beyond the downs, and, he was sure, the end of the world that could be known. His relatives and friends all told him it was too far away to send him any whiffs. But he knew better. He trotted over the hilltop, through the knotted grasses that needed a good shearing, to where the land leveled and became silent. It was there he loved to settle, and climb a tall tree and dream. From the top of that tree, branches swaying only a little from his hobbit weight, he could see the downs peaking in the distance in the daytime and the blue nuance of stars and wind at night. And sometimes, if he was patient, he could see the tall and stately forms of elves on the far road. They seemed to float as they walked, round globes of light like tiny stars around their heads, graceful with patience, yet rushing towards elfin dreams of new worlds. They were going to their ship at the Grey Havens. He felt akin to them. He felt sure they would understand.
But tonight an unpleasant surprise awaited him, one that dimmed even his most inborn laughter. He could see them, a circle of intruders standing around his tree. This tree that was just flowering the multi-colored blooms it had put out for a hundred years. The tree that had been planted by a hobbit so long ago that no one remembered his name. On the edge of their village it had waved a farewell to the village to those who left it, and it always shared its beauty with great energy. But today it looked beleaguered, for reaching up he saw several hobbits sawing and hacking. Some others he didn’t recognize were standing there behind them, looking dark and impatient. He saw money changing hands.
It was true, he didn’t own the tree. Someone else in Little Delving owned the property it grew on. Someone else saw it as a blot on the edge of the road that could otherwise be widened, or as a chore when the leaves fell and made a mess. He stood there, the light dying out of his eyes, until he ran forward in dismay.
“What are you doing?” his piping voice demanded, his bright clothes helping him to stand out. “Never tell me that you intend to cut down this tree?!” His voice was incredulous, and the group in the circle turned to stare at him. He stood frozen, a picture of misery, until his usual purpose returned to him. Darting, he pushed them all aside. He climbed the tree, making no more noise than a rustle, and disappeared into its tallest branches.
Exasperated, those at the bottom called up to him, threatened him even, telling him that his next post would be in a jail. But he clung tight and refused them. Then, since it was so late, the wood-choppers decided to go away, and return to their task in the morning.
That left him, swaying now at the top, staring at the distant night sky. Perhaps this was the last night he could sit here, where the inanimate world of tree and sky merged with the dreams inside him, drawing out yearning for beauty and a longing for a true tale to belong to. Bowing his head, he gave himself to it. Alone with the sure surface of the branches, and the soft light of the blossoms, he cried at the loss.
But he was interrupted. A voice spoke, from a person who had climbed to sit beneath him, moving as silent as only a hobbit can when it wants to hide away from big people in the grasses.
“What is this I see?” the voice asked, in tones that sounded like music. Donago lifted his head, shocked, and blinked open his tear-soaked lashes. An elf was sitting there, one with long silky black hair and eyes as blue as the night around them. Donago tried to hide his pain, but he’d never been any good at hiding his emotions. The elf reached out and touched his cheek.
“I’ve never seen a hobbit weep. You’re creatures of laughter, rather. Tell me, what has upset you?”
Donago sniffed. In all his life, he told no truer tale.
“They’re going to cut it down,” he said, sounding as forlorn as a five-year-old. “This tree that’s stood here so long, and while it’s blooming too!”
The elf tilted his head. He looked around, at the new stars peeking through the leaves, and nodded his head in understanding.
“Ahh,” he said.
Donago said no more, putting his head down on his knees. Sometime before he lifted it, the elf disappeared. But in the morning, although he stared with anxiety from his perch, no returning group of wood-choppers came. Breakfast passed, and then onto luncheon, but still no one came to finish off the tree. At last he climbed down. At the bottom he found it, a letter written on the finest parchment. It was addressed to him, although he had no idea how the elf had discovered his name.
‘To Donago Greenhaven, of Little Delving, on the morning of Mid-Spring,
I came upon you ready to leave my home in Middle Earth. I’ve seen many things in my travels, and seen the loss of many spots of beauty. I’ve heard Dwarves stomp under the mountains until the earth shook, and watched tinkling waters wash away dust from the rocks like glass. I’ve seen men quarrel, elves grow weary, and woodland creatures birthing in their burrows. I’ve been frightened, loved and touched by mysteries no mortal can understand. But I never expected to be moved by a hobbit’s tears. Because of you, I’ve had to fall behind my companions, and waste one more day in Middle Earth. I’ve had to walk into your little village and plead, and then make payments. But, in return I leave with a little more grace, knowing that a heart like yours exists here in this land I leave behind.
Take this, as my last work in your Shire, and the last gift I care to give. I’ve had it drawn up with all the proper legal documents that hobbits require. This bit of land is now owned by none other than Donago Greenhaven, and I leave the tree you love in your care.
Journey forward, little Halfling, and remain ever the hobbit that saved a tree because of his tears.
Your friend, an elf of the Grey Havens.’