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“I see that,” the courier
said. “But... did you, I mean, the hobbits, dig this enormous hole? What’s
“Aye,” the peasant nodded. “Dig it we did, and still do! Methinks there’s
even some digging going on down there right now. Most of the time there is
anyway.” Said it and swiftly went back to attend to his business for the
sun was already descending behind the hills, and he wasn’t finished
ploughing his field yet.
“And?” the courier followed up, impatience coloring his tone, before the
hobbit was off again.
“And what, lad?” the hobbit peasant stopped his harrow once more. He
looked at the human with his big eyes as if he had no idea what he was
supposed to reply to.
“The purpose!” the courier reminded him. “What’s it for, that
“Ah, yes, yes, the purpose. Well, there isn’t much to it. Not much that I
know of anyway. Just digging.” That’s all the halfling came up with. Maybe
that was why he seemed to have forgotten the question in the first place,
because his reply would turn out so bleak.
“Just digging?” the courier repeated, not satisfied.
“Just digging,” the hobbit confirmed. “It’s always been that way and will
be for quite a while, I suppose.” He scratched the back of his neck with
his callous forefinger and shrugged. “But now excuse me, stranger, for my
field doesn’t plough itself, and as nobody else volunteers, I better do it
myself.” He lifted his straw hat in greeting. “Dalireen with you!” he bade
the traveler farewell as was customary among hobbit folk.
The given explanation didn’t ease the courier’s bewilderment a bit, quite
to the contrary, and so he asked some of the locals in the halfling inn as
well about the bizarre matter. However, he didn’t get any wiser there
either than from his previous conversation and wondered in secret whether
the hobbits had something to hide. But well, strange as it is, the
courier thought, be it as it may. He had his job to do, so he took
a good night’s rest, and in the morning rode off to deliver his message.
A fortnight later or so the
halfling village had some more unexpected visitors.
A Secretary for home affairs hailing right from the king’s court arrived
on a reddish-brown mare, complete with the royal emblem dangling from the
harness; in tow two brawny fellows on no less impressive steeds, along
with a sage, white haired and looking all sagely, and a priest. The latter
from the Nehtorian order by the looks of it, for he had a healer’s satchel
and a harp fixed to his saddle. Clippity-clop, clippity-clop the
hooves went as they hit the main road, and as there were five times four
of them, the newcomers were hard to not to notice.
A big commotion arose among the hobbit folk. Those toiling outside, like
the ones tending to their gardens or fields, ceased their work when they
saw the newcomers ride in, and gazed at the mysterious procession in
wonderment; and out of the perfectly round hobbit-home windows peeked many
a curious pair of tiny eyes. Most of the halflings, who preferred keeping
to themselves, were afraid when they saw all those official visitors and
didn’t dare venture out – who knew what all this meant?
The illustrious group however didn’t stop in the village, rather they
headed straightaway towards the hole near the mountainside, to “Big Deep”,
as the peasant had called it a few weeks ago.
Once there, they all got off their horses and the inspections and
discussions started. First the humans talked among themselves, but then
the halfling Thain of the settlement, the hobbit equivalent to a human
mayor, joined in. He was accompanied by a couple of hobbits armed with
pickaxes and shovels. Regular workers down in the pit, the Thain assured
them, and not here to literally pick a fight with their pickaxes.
The visitors were not so sure about that.
“So... We’ve heard, this is your doing,” the Secretary addressed the
Thain, and didn’t even try a formal greeting. He just pointed towards the
hobbit-made gorge that seemed to lead into eternal depths.
The Thain nodded. “Sure it is, honorable Secretary,” he said, and added:
“And welcome to our humble hobbit hills!” The Thain had recognized the
visitor’s position immediately based on his attire.
The Secretary wasn’t a man to mince his words and got right down to
business: “Given the fact that this hobbit settlement is part of the
United Kingdom, Thain: Are you aware that all major mining operations must
be registered in the royal mining registry? Even if it’s a halfling
project, approved by hobbit consensus. You’re still ruled by a human
sovereign, and as such are obliged to notify your superiors whenever you
commence prospecting of any kind! Have you anything to say to that?”
“Aye, I’m aware of what you say,” the Thain nodded. “Didn’t commence this
one however. This was begun long, long before our time.”
“And how long exactly has this been going on?” the Secretary wanted to
The Thain gave the question a moment of solemn consideration and, as if to
help his memory, silently began counting with his fingers. Eventually he
came up with a remarkably accurate number: “367 years, I’d say, give or
“What…!? 367 years?” the Secretary looked befuddled. He didn’t have much
more to offer at this moment than a face furrowed with crinkles signifying
“Astounding...” the sage at his side produced in his stead. “Quite
astounding...” The words rolled from his tongue in a slow and
contemplative tone, which added extra gravity.
The Secretary composed himself. “Registration also applies to existing
projects, Thain, no need to split hairs. You should very well know that.
The kingdom needs information on what exactly you’re looking for down
there and what progress you’ve made so far. Any deposits you’ve come
across or hope to come across have to be recorded and reported
accordingly.” He threw a stern glance at the hobbit. “It’s all yours of
course, whatever you find. After all, this is your land, but the laws
apply to all of us and have to be followed, and there are strategic mining
decisions to be made that go way beyond your reach.”
He wrinkled his nose at the tiny man. “Just don’t try to keep things from
us, Thain, for we’ll find out! Is it some kind of metal you’re seeking? Is
it gold? Silver? Red, blue, black iron? Quartz, herne, fyrite? Gems maybe?
Something rare, something precious perhaps that only you know about and
therefore don’t want to share with the rest of Santharia? Is it?”
“Whatever it is,” one of the bulky fellows to his side chipped in. “Your
mining techniques are questionable at best if you dig down into the
earth instead of sideways into a mountain! This won’t work!”
“If you halflings need assistance on how to approach prospecting,” the
other stout chap added, “the kingdom is happy to provide it. All you need
to do is ask. That’s what we’re here for: to help you hobbits on your
The Thain however shook his head to all this. “Methinks there’s some kind
of misunderstanding, Mr. Secretary,” he informed the bystanders. “We’re
not digging for minerals down here. I don’t know whence you even get that
fancy notion! Should we discover something, anything, we’d of course
gladly report our findings to whomever it may concern. Though it’s highly
unlikely, given that we’ve been digging more than three and a half
centuries already, and there’s nothing there.”
The sage frowned at the halfling’s words. “Our sources told us that the
locals would claim such things. Interesting however, that you even
maintain this stance in the face of an official delegation!”
“Official or not, I tell the truth to everyone who wants to hear it,” the
hobbit replied. “If you wants to hear something else, well, you better
talk to someone else too.”
“Would you mind if we have a look what’s down there?” the Secretary
“Not at all!” the Thain replied. “Whoever wants to get their feet dirty
has a good chance to see their wish fulfilled in a hole like this. So, be
Thus the two brawny fellows, mining overseers by trade as it turned out,
excused themselves to be led away by the halflings carrying the pickaxes
and shovels. Together they descended into the pit, treading the spiraling
stairs with extra care, as there were no railings provided. After a while
their lanterns became alive, and only their uneasily oscillating gleaming
orbs could be seen from above, flickering along, spinning downwards like
fireflies during a mating dance. Then even these last faint glowing
indicators of the men’s existence disappeared, swallowed by the darkness
of the gaping maw. Daunted by the sight, the rest of the delegation
watched, the air somber and suspense-laden, as if they expected something
to happen anytime. But nothing did, or at least nothing they could see
from the rim of the pit.
While the bone of contention was under investigation down below, the
Secretary returned to his questioning aboveground: “So you want to say
you’re digging just for the sake of it?” he summed it up. “For fun? Is
that it? Maybe because you halflings enjoy digging holes?”
“Ah, sake, fun, tradition, to take one’s mind off things... – everyone has
his own reasons, I presume,” the hobbit responded. “Though we are
sort of experts in digging holes, aren’t we?” The Thain chuckled to
The Secretary just grunted.
“I guess there’s one thing you should know, however, now that you ask,”
the halfling went on. “When the hole was started by the Thain back then,
there was sort of a reason. A goal, if you so want, if you’re that
keen on hearing about one.”
Secretary, sage and priest perked up their ears. “Go on, go on then,” they
said almost in unison.
“Well, you see, that Thain, Bormdrim the Elder by name, was obsessed with
exploring and discovering, and while the great discoverers had already
gone north, south, east and west and even in those fancy directions in
between, he thought he might try his luck with digging down to the
world’s other side. Because for some reason he was convinced that the
world was round like all the sparkling stars in the night skies, and so he
started digging down, well, to prove it.”
There was general consensus in the remaining delegation to gasp at this
point. “Utter folly!” the sage exclaimed, outraged. “Pure drivel! Every
child in all of Caelereth knows that the world is flat as a pie!” he
lectured the halfling.
“Aye,” the hobbit attested. “It’s not that many believed him back then,
and there are even fewer today who do. And while I’m not a scholar myself,
I think the idea – however intriguing it may sound – isn’t really worth
pursuing. Even if it were true, when could it be proven?” The Thain
had pulled a pipe from his pocket, which he now fed with some of the
famous smoking weed growing in the hobbit shire. He began puffing away.
“In the end, given the fact that 367 years have passed since Big Deep was
begun, there hasn’t been a breakthrough yet.”
“Folly!” the sage hissed again, commenting in his very own sagely fashion.
However, further elaboration apparently wasn’t his strongest suit.
“If it is of any consolation to you,” the hobbit continued, “there’s
really no halfling I know of who digs for the purpose the hole was
initially created for. So why bring it up at all? Nowadays, the digging is
about anything but arriving at the other side. Some dig for fun, or to get
away from things, clear one’s mind, or to sweat alongside a brother for a
greater task they don’t understand anyway.” The Thain puffed some more.
Tiny wisps of smoke curled up in the air. “But most do so because it has
always been tradition to dig, say, on Big Deep Day. Folks bring children
and their wives, there’s always a whopping feast, a raffle, lots of
storytelling and the occasional marriage that day. And when each member of
the family gets down there to share the effort by digging a few shovels
full, it ties them together.”
The priest at last had regained some strength after the initial shock and
brought up the bit he had come to say: “What feasts you celebrate is your
business, Thain, but the digging matter concerns us all! Don’t you know,
that deep, deep down beneath us, there is the realm of darkness, the
Netherworlds? A place where demons, monsters lurk, where the vilest of
creatures dwell, the whole lot?” His eyes began to glow with obsession.
“It’s a twisted mockery of our world down below, fabricated by Coór, Lord
of Chaos, which, when unleashed...”
“Hold it!” the halfling Thain interrupted what otherwise would probably
have turned into a full-fledged sermon. “I’ve heard all that before!
Though I fear human superstition has no place in a hobbit-hole, be it
giant and in the ground or dug in the hillside, warm and comfy. You see,
simply put, hobbits don’t believe in your Netherworlds.” The Thain took
another puff from his pipe. “I assume your argument would be that if this
dig were to be successful, then we’d end up in that ghastly mockery you
try to conjure up, with all that doom and gloom it stands for – is that
“You can bet that this is it!” the priest maintained. “And therefore...”
“May I ask you something then, healer?” the halfling cut the priest off
“What is it with you, you hole-digging hobbit fools?” came a snarl in
return. “Can’t you see I have something important to tell you?”
“Do you believe in Dalireen?”
“Uh... oh... Dalireen? Isn’t she some sort of... of... imp? A hobbit-imp
maybe? A pixie? An elf of hobbit size? Is it important?” The priest only
proved his ignorance with his feeble guesses. “She’s someone out of lore
and legend, I’m sure. – So why should I believe in her? What would be the
point for a human?”
“She’s one of our deities,” the Thain informed him. “And indeed, why
should you believe in Dalireen? And to make my point: Why should we as
halflings believe in the Netherworlds, something that is clearly lore and
legend to us, a wretched sphere of evil, made up by men or dreamt by an
elven Goddess in her restless slumber?”
“Gobbledygook!” the sage dismissed the hobbit’s remarks.
But the hobbit Thain wouldn’t let go. “Say, would a hobbit object to a man
building a tower of immense height to reach his Gods up there in what he’d
call “heaven”? For he might think that they reign from the Void above him,
like puppeteers, guiding the fate of mankind? Ha, trust me, a hobbit would
be amused seeing such folly. As if the Gods were to expect a visit
by a mortal to have a word with them! And yet, a hobbit wouldn’t
“Don’t distract from the matter at hand, little one!” the priest barged
into the hobbits musings. “This is not the time and place to discuss fancy
stories of misguided men, but the irresponsibility of halflings in regards
of other races!”
“But excuse me, dear healer,” the halfling said. “Isn’t it the United
Kingdom’s creed to accept the differences of those races? Wasn’t it
exactly that which brought them all together? So that the disputes aren’t
to be duked out on the battlefields, but rather that there’s understanding
of the follies of others and judgment put aside?”
The priest’s face turned red, fuming with anger. He seemed close to
bursting. “But you’re endangering other races with your lunacy, hobbit!
Can’t you see? Isn’t it apparent to you that what you consider harmless
digging and even has lost its purpose – as you say yourself !– might turn
out to be the perfect cataclysm for all life as we know it? Hobbits, men,
and everyone else included? The possibility alone ought to be enough to
dissuade you from any further digging!”
The heated discussion went on a while with little progress, until the
mining overseers, that had been sent to investigate the hole, returned to
join the dispute.
“Not much down there, except a lot of mud,” one of them said with his dirt
covered boots proving the statement. “No gems, no minerals. It’s dark,
it’s cold, the whole operation is quite pointless, really.”
“A glorious waste of time,” the other agreed.
“How far have they dug already?” the Secretary wanted to know. “Could you
make that out? At least, approximately?”
“The dig has to stop before they’ll penetrate the infernal grounds to the
Netherworlds!” The priest spelled out his alarming assessment once more.
Though, of course, nobody really knew how deep one would have to
dig for disaster to strike. But better safe than sorry.
However, the news from the mining front were less exciting – or perilous,
as one might have it – than anticipated: “This is quite a futile
undertaking, Secretary, in any sense,” one of the miners elaborated. “Not
only is there nothing down there, and with nothing I mean
absolutely nothing. Even the dig itself is minuscule compared to human
excavations or natural chasms found just a few strals south, say, in the
Mithrals. Hobbits are no humans – not in size, nor in muscle, as is quite
apparent when you watch those fellows work their puny pickaxes. It’s trice
the struggle compared to a full-grown man, but all that hard toiling is to
little effect. If you really wanted to dig down, orcs, ogres, giants would
be the ones you’d need to achieve a decent progress. Halflings just labor
all the time and merely scratch the surface!”
The other miner added: “They are more preoccupied anyway with making the
hole round and the stairs leading down nice to tread on, as if it were a
common hobbit-hole, a work of art! Next thing they might do is get some
rugs and furniture in! To be frank, Secretary, I can’t understand, what
drives them... They’d need several more centuries to even reach the depth
of, say, the Pit of Orcenroth or Deepgorge Mine! If they were serious
about this they should have started on any of those places!”
“Folly!” the sage repeated, for he had known all along.
“Lunacy and blasphemy!” the priest assented.
“Quite a crazy tale,” the Secretary summed things up from his official
point of view.
“But that’s the way it is,” the halfling Thain held against all that while
puffing away on his pipe.
Well, and in essence, that was it. The discussions ended right there.
Everything everyone had to say concerning the matter had been brought
forward, and after a hearty meal in the halfling inn, the Secretary and
his procession departed. Not without an ominous warning however, that
there’d be consequences, that these issues had to be brought up in the
royal assembly, that more voices had to be heard what could be done
at this point, how to do it and when, because, so the
Secretary expounded, there was no way one could let the matter rest the
way it was. With all that said, the delegation rode off.
In fact however, the matter
was laid to rest there and then. Because there were more urgent matters
the king felt he had to attend to than hobbits digging pointless holes,
and so the whole affair – or rather the hole affair – somehow got lost in
the wheels of the royal bureaucracy, where many a thing is entered for
consideration, but often dies a slow, unceremonious death. Such was the
case as well with this very special hobbit-hole.
Maybe it was all ado about nothing. Maybe the hobbit-hole at least makes a
decent whimsical tale. Maybe what transpired there might also make the one
or the other think, and then think again.
Well, the halflings still are at it, that’s a fact; they dig and dig, just
the way they had been for ages and ages. And if there isn’t a king’s
decree to put and end to it all, the hobbits will still be digging down
there in Big Deep for ages and ages and ages to come. Probably they’re
also quite happy because of it.