This story begins with a Hobbit standing on the edge of the Binbole Wood, in the northern part of The Shire, several miles east of The Water. Now I know the images that probably come to mind when you hear me mention The Shire. You probably imagine Hobbiton in the spring or summer, with its lush green hills and colorful round doors, and perhaps a still pond surrounded by butterflies and the hum of cicadas. But this is not anything like what the Binbole Wood looked like at the time of our story.
You see, though The Shire enjoys a temperate climate, it still goes through seasonal changes, and believe it or not, the winters can get to be very cold. And in the Northfarthing in particular, where the Binbole Wood is, there are even long periods of heavy snow. You can imagine, then, how unhappy our young Hobbit was, standing on the edge of the Wood in snow almost up to his knees, with nothing covering his feet except for a layer of coarse, black foot-hair.
Indeed, he was rather angry with himself for his ill-preparedness. He wore only a loose-fitting cotton shirt and green velvet vest, with brown trousers that went halfway down his calves. To keep warm, he stomped around in the snow, trying to pack it down before he could sink any deeper. He was ruddy-faced from cold and fatigue, and he grunted as he stomped, as clouds of steam shot out of his mouth. And just who was this silly, bitter young Hobbit? Why, it was Samwise Gamgee of course!
And Sam was not alone. He turned to his companion and shouted, "Dimple! Come along now!"
Dimple Bracegirdle was a fat Hobbit of about thirty years of age, which was quite young for a Hobbit. He had been slightly better prepared than Sam for their journey. Around his neck he wore a threadbare scarf, and for makeshift shoes he had tied two pieces of leather around his hairy feet.
"I'm coming, Mr. Sam," he earnestly responded, huffing from the large steps he had to make to get his stout legs through the snow. "Will the snow be this high once we are in the Wood?" he asked.
Sam looked pleadingly at the dark treeline several hundred yards ahead of them. He was so exhausted he had almost collapsed in the snow several times, but as he was older than Dimple and the leader of this journey, he didn't want to seem weak. "I don't believe so," he said academically. "The trees haven't lost all their leaves yet, so the canopy will have absorbed some of the snowfall."
"Thank goodness for that!" said Dimple with boyish optimism.
Within an hour, they had arrived at the edge of the wood and seen that Sam's prediction was correct: the snow was much more fluffy here and only came up to their ankles. They could now walk comfortably, but before entering the wood, they looked up at the sturdy black oaks before them. They creaked and groaned like Hobbit great-grandfathers in their sleep, and their thick canopies created an eerie atmosphere of silence and darkness.
For a moment, Sam felt frightened and tightened his grip around the item in his leather pack--it was the item that had brought them to the Wood, that had necessitated their journey. The item that, with its sudden and mysterious intrusion in their lives, had put them both in terrible, imminent danger.
"Is something wrong, Mr. Sam?'" asked Dimple, wiping snots off his nose with the back of his hand.
Sam snapped out of his daze and shook snow out of his rough, orange hair. "Nothing's wrong," he said abruptly. "I was simply resting."
He released the object and straightened his vest.
"Let's go now," he said. "The sun will be setting soon."