Alicia ran through the wood, jumping this way and that from the zombies off her tail. The woods slowed them down of course, but didn't stop the chase entirely. She had no choice, time to be strategic about this. Forty or fifty zombies after her, and she was getting tired. She decided to use the 'sitting duck' strategy. This involved waiting for a small number of zombies to get to her, kill them and keep going until she eventually picked them all off. This allowed time to recover if done correctly. Luckily, Alicia had done this many times before. This unofficial mercenary work was what she specialized in. She was a runner. Which meant it was her job to get in and out with supplies as quickly as possible and kill zombies or anything else that tried to break into their colony. This time however, things got more out of hand due to another group of marauders and zombies coming from both sides, one of her friends got shot. She threw homemade bombs towards the marauders which attracted zombie hordes their way and allowing her and her friends to slip out more easily.
Their were still undead on their tail. During the retreat, she got separated from her group and had to double back to the woods for safety. Out of breath, and thankfully, out of danger for the moment, Alicia took a moment to catch her breathe. She was splattered in gore and bloody muck. This was often a good thing, despite the smell, to blend in with the undead. She found an opening as she wearily dragged her feet onwards, having no idea where to go, (except backwards to the horde) or which way she was going now. Tears stung her eyes as she thought of her friends' condition. She was happy that she was able to lead the largest horde away, but frustrated that she had no idea how her friends are faring now. Her breathing came in ragged breaths that scratched and stung her dry throat with each gulp. She was so exhausted; her legs shook under her, threatening to give out. It took some willpower to make her legs just stand there. Leaning against a tree, she looked around and listened for any signs of zombies coming.
Nothing. No moans or hisses, no dragging or clumsy footsteps. Nor did she see anything coming. She took this precious time to calm her breathing, but wished desperately that she could lay down with a gallon of ice water next to her and a nice cool bath ready for her. Shaking her head from distractions, she went back to surveying her current environment. That's when she noticed, the woods here are very different than any she'd ever seen. In all actuality, she had been moving for some time and only vaguely noticed the changing scenery after she fell down a ten foot ditch. Just as she regained her footing, the ground gave way again and she fell into an underground cavern. Thanks to the mud she was able to find another way out, but it sure gave her a panic attack when she thought was stuck down there. When she emerged from the tunnel, still with a few zombies on her trail, that's when the woods had changed. Everything seemed more lively, lush, thick and harmonious.
After calming back down, she broke through the brush, staring out into the open meadow. It looked so peaceful and beautiful, making her feel like a stain on such harmonious perfection. In the distance, the hills were pocked with what resembled little houses into the hills. There were dirt paths but no street lights. There were farmlands but no tractors were sprinkler systems, and wagons instead of anything like a motorized vehicle. As beautiful as the sight was, she couldn't choke down the growing fear that she clearly no idea where she was. There could be a sniper trained on her right now. Her legs burned so she plopped down on the ground to rest and slid off her bag. Now that everything seemed to slow down, she took this time to breathe deeply and clarify everything that's happened in order to choose what to do next. She couldn't very well just knock on someone's door. Also, going into a town splattered in gore really wasn't a good idea at all! She stared out, thinking about changing clothes by some stream and how to approach anybody here. She laid back a moment.
" Good heavens!" A voice cried out. Alicia cursed herself for dropping her guard so much. To her left came a rather short fellow with no shoes and the hairiest feet she had ever seen. ( And she thought he toes were hairy…) Slowly she sat back up, trying not to look like a threat. However, the little man still stepped back with a look on his face of both horror and concern.
" Are- Are you alright? Should I get a medic for you?" He said, slowly putting down his full bags of food.
Alicia stiffened in confusion at him. ( Who is that kind and trusting anymore outside of their colony?) She stared at him for a moment, searching for any signs of weaponry or danger. Sitting up, she was almost as tall as he was. She tried to speak, but her voice was hoarse and quiet still.
The unusually short man shivered and his already fair face went a tint paler. His eyes widened as he took in the lady sitting in front of him. Needless to say this made her painfully aware of her current appearance. Dead blood and mud was caked on her face and hair. Her clothes were stiff with thick layers of the same media mixed in with grass. A horrid stench of sweat, blood, mud and surely tears reeked from her. She was dressed in old jeans and an old plain T-shirt with military gear strapped to her like a thirty year old olive colored tactical vest decorated with mix matching pouches from different branches of the American military. A samurai sword tied securely to her left hip. On her left arm was a black leather forearm brace that was decorated with sharp spikes. ( small chunks of rotted flesh still stuck on it.) Open-fingered gloves revealing long, bony fingers with dirt filled nails. Well, she could have very easily been mistaken for a zombie too.
Quite unlike the fellow standing and gawking at her now. He was dressed in a style that reminded the woman of people who lived in London. A nice button up vest with suspenders, a smooth long sleeve shirt and simple breeches was what the little man wore and it earned a subtle gawk from her. He seemed to have never done manual labor before in his life!
" M-My name is Bilbo Baggins of the Shire." The little man stuttered, trying to break the awkward staring contest.
That was when she finally was able to retrieve her voice. " Hello." She said stupidly. " Good morning. Or afternoon…. Evening?" The girl looked around nervously for a moment.
The fellow relaxed a little, there was even a hint of a smile when he witnessed her genuine confusion.
" It seems you haven't the slightest idea where you are, or when for that matter." He stated. Bilbo's wrinkled as he sniffed. He pulled out a handkerchief and covered his nose with it.
Her muscles began to feel sore and she winced as a hopeless sigh escaped. "No sir." She looked at him.
" At the moment, I'm completely lost." She tried not to sound too irritated. She wanted to portray a fake sense of helplessness case this guy meant trouble for her. Luckily for her, most of it was already genuine. She was debating with herself if she would ask this guy for directions or not.
Bilbo his throat nervously. " Yes. That much is quite obvious. May I ask where are you headed?"
She looked back at him. " I….. well. I don't suppose you know where Lake Livingston is."
He frowned. " I'm afraid not."
" I'm afraid not."
At that, the girl her head in defeat.
Bilbo however, was getting a little braver. He approached her slowly. " My dear. You look like you could really use some medical aid. We Baggins are not known for turning down a person in need mind you. If I understand correctly, you don't know where you are, or how to get back to where you were. Neither do you know anyone here or who to turn to." The little man managed a small but honest smile. " You can come with me if you'd like."
She met his eyes, nervousness clear on her face.
"Don't worry I mean you no harm." Bilbo said. " But I simply cannot leave you alone in this state. Please come with me, or at least until we find someone who can offer better assistance."
With no other option, She followed obediently.
"May I help?" She asked, gesturing to his grocery bags. Mr. Baggins smiled gratefully as she freed one of his arms. The feeling of wariness would not leave her completely though, but she did well not to let things get any more tense between her and Bilbo.
"I daresay you look like you stepped off of a battle field." Mr. Baggins said after a moment. " What is your name my dear?"
" I…yes." Alicia stuttered as she fell in pace with him. " My name is Alicia. I don't mind nicknames if you'd prefer that too. I'm sorry. I'm not sure how far exactly I am from home, I've been on the run for days. Can you tell me where I am currently?"
Biblo adjusted his vest, eyeing her bloody clothing warily as they walked, " Al-li-ci-a." He muttered.
" Well miss, you're not too far from the Shire, my home. You poor thing, I can't even begin to imagine what your home must be like. I will have some warm tea for you, and you can wash up while you're there. I can call a medic if you need."
Alicia was so taken aback by his kindness; this was what Alicia had hoped her colony and others would one day remember this humanity. " I would greatly appreciate that sir."
She quietly, eerily like a ghost almost, followed him obediently to his home. He made sure to take to take the least busy paths to his home, for fear of being seen with a very tall woman covered in blood and smelling like the butcher forgot to clean out his kitchens after a few weeks.
" You said you don't mind nicknames. What is your nickname?" He tried to start a conversation.
She half smiled at him, "I have a few actually. Bug Al, Ali, Raff which is short for Giraffe, Shade, Sweets. It's whatever you want it to be as long as it's nice."
" Hm, interesting At least you aren't the picky type. Where are you from?" Bilbo inquired.
She sighed, " I'm from Crosby." She answered slowly.
" Crosby? I've never heard of it before. Is it near Rohan?"
Alicia tilted her head side ways, " No sir. I don't know any place called Rohan. Crosby was a small town not too far from Houston, which is a major city."
Bilbo found it much easier to talk to her without looking at her. Her voice was soft and sweet, disarming compared to her looks. He also noticed how she kept looking around, partly to soak in the view, partly as if expecting to be attacked.
He sighed to himself. He silently hoped that he hadn't bitten off more than he could chew with this girl.
They made it to his little home with no extra attention drawn. He noticed how she hesitated by the door, crouching down as she looked at the entrance.
" Please come in. You can set the groceries there on the table. I 'll show you to the washroom." Bilbo invited.
" Thank you sir." She tentatively stepped inside, carefully avoiding not tracking too much dirt in. This made Biblo smile. 'Such a polite young woman.'
She did as she obeyed, following him to the washroom stepping lightly. Her demeanor made him slightly uneasy. To him, it said 'dangerous, unpredictable.' He didn't know whether to feel sorry for her fear her like a tiger.
She set her strange backpack in the hallway. He showed her where to find the clean towels and all.
" I'll have a nice warm fire and food with tea going when you come out. Also, these gowns here, belonged to my mother once, wonderful woman. They should be able to fit you."
Alicia smiled again at him as she accepted his kind offer, " Thank you Mr. Bilbo. This is all very generous of you."
" Think nothing of it my dear. I'll see you when you're finished." He walked off to get the fire started.
His generosity was like a drink of ice cold water after hours in the scorching sun.
The washroom was a very old fashion style room, reminding her of how her grandparents' childhood.
As quickly as she could, but still soaking in the comfort, she washed off thoroughly and changed into the gown that was provided for her.
Outside the washroom, the house was filled with the warm smell of hot tea, food and all the comforting smells that Alicia thought she might not ever enjoy again. There were hallways after hallways though, making it look easy for someone to get lost.
Bilbo sat in his armchair reading some book while he sipped his tea. She lightly stepped into the living room towards him. It was obvious by his broad smile that he was much more pleased with her appearance than before. Her damp brown hair, once matted and caked with sweat and blood, now hung in bouncy curls. The mud washed away revealing clean golden brown skin. She gave the impression of a quiet, young good girl to Bilbo now.
" My, my. Much better yes? How do you feel?" He asked.
" Better, yes. Thank you." Alicia replied.
" Good, good. I've got some stew cooking in the kitchen. Care to join me and we can talk more over a nice lunch." He bustled into the kitchen with her right behind. He was bemused at how the girl looked around at everything, as if seeing a house for the first time.
" So, tell me Miss Alicia. How did you come by the Shire?" Bilbo asked after serving lunch.
Alicia didn't want to give away too many details, so she kept to minimum details. She was trying to find supplies for her colony, but was attacked, got separated, and has been running ever since, her provisions running low.
" How sad. Do you know how to get back home?"
Her shoulders dropped, " Well, probly' back through the woods I came out of." She half joked.
Bilbo leaned back in his chair." Well, that's quite a predicament. Sounds like some war going on with the humans."
This made Alicia pause. She looked at Bilbo more closely, noticing also his pointed ears. " Humans? Not to sound rude Mr. Bilbo, but may I ask what you are?"
He chuckled, " That's not rude at all my dear. I am a hobbit. We usually don't get much taller than me, maybe wider though. We're quiet folk who keep our noses to ourselves. Stay away from trouble and no trouble will find you."
She blinked at him like he was crazy. " What is a hobbit sir?"
To his credit, Bilbo did not take offense. " We are folk who have a love for things that grow, like plants and families. Being the quite folk that we are, we don't get many visitors outside, nor do we venture far from The Shire. Simple lives of honesty, and neighborly attitudes are what we believe in."
A half smile of uncertainty parted Alicia's lips. " I'm sorry if I find this hard to believe. Where I'm from, there's only humans, animals, and your occasional robot. You're saying that a Hobbit is not considered human in any way, shape or form?"
Bilbo looked at her curiously. " Well, I wouldn't say we're as different as, say, a bird and a tree. But no, we're not really considered human either. What is a robot?"
" It's a type of machine that is able to so some degree of thinking by itself." She answered easily.
It was Bilbo's turn to be perplexed." I see. And why would you need something to do… half the thinking for you?"
Alicia huffed amusingly, " Well sometimes your own two hands just isn't enough. So we build machines to help make jobs more easier and efficient." This guy really didn't know what technology is? She took the moment to look around at his house. That's when she noticed that there was nothing in his house that even remotely resembled a modern house from her home town, not even the most humble of homes. There was no T.V., no radio, the only light sources were from fires like the hearth and candles or the sun. The only pair of shoes in the house that she saw was the ones she was wearing. Even her grandparents had a more upgraded house than this! Also she noticed the architecture of the house. It was round instead of flat, but that was the smarter choice when it came to rooms underground, that way the weight of the dirt from above goes to the side and the room is more re-enforced that way. That explains the bath that she had instead of a shower. Of course, she was happy either way though. Did he always live this way? Or did they choose this to survive the apocalypse?
Bilbo could see that the girl was still trying to wrap her mind around it all by the look of wonder on her face. He sat with his tea and watched her carefully. She seemed to be having some internal argument with herself, judging by the way she kept glancing over her shoulders again.
" That's very interesting Mr. Bilbo." She smiled at him, relieving the growing tension.
"So… you don't really have any problems out here?" She asked looking out the window.
" Well, we have little thieves and hooligans."
It was her turn to look perplexed again. " Thieves and hooligans? What do you mean by Hooligan?"
" People around here who like to cause mischief. They'll play little pranks on the bakers or spook a poor farmer's animal. Silly things like that."
To Alicia, that didn't sound like much of a problem at all compared to what her homeland had. Plus, the only time she ever heard of inhuman creatures smart enough to build homes and interact human levels were in books, movies and fairytales. Was this guy serious or just tricking to be a hooligan himself? Doubt was still in her mind.
Still, she didn't want to give the hob-bit any reason to throw her out yet so she did her best to remain a good guest. " You live a very blessed life Mr. Bilbo. I hope thieves and hooligans will be all you'll ever have to worry about." She finished the rest of her stew in record time.
Bilbo couldn't understand why anyone would eat so fast and not enjoy their meal, then again, she must have had to eat fast sometimes.
After lunch, she insisted on helping him with any chores that needed to be done. She did everything without complaint, as quick and efficient as she could once she got the hang of it. She was very easy to talk to and Bilbo enjoyed her company as he talked more about hobbits lifestyle and the world of Middle Earth. He noticed that she never said too much about herself unless asked, but she did ask a lot of questions about the Shire, it's people, and then even about Middle Earth and the humans that lived around the realm. She asked about all the types of "intelligent species" and how to best approach them if she ever did. Bilbo once again guffawed at her strange choice of words and tried not to laugh rudely at some of her ignorant questions like ' Elves exist? Or are the just people who call themselves elves? Why do humans here live so miserably? A dwarf? Isn't that rude to call someone shorter than you that? You are actually referring to a body building midget?'
She offered to help whenever she could and intently listened to everything the hobbit had to say, even if it wasn't very nice about other nosy hobbits.
Dinner was prepared by the hobbit while Alicia prepared the table.
Again, she scarfed down her food in a matter of minutes, then broke the silence. " Mr. Bilbo, thank you so much for all your hospitality. I don't want to impose anymore. I'll be going after some more tea."
The hobbit stared at her as if she had just sprouted two more heads, both by what she said and how quickly she ate. " What? W- Where will you be going?"
" Back the way I came I suppose, it's the only way I really know."
" Isn't it dangerous that way?"
She sighed. "Yes. I guess. I don't have any money at all to rent a room. All I've got is what's on me and my camping goods."
" In that case my dear you will stay here tonight. I won't hear anything more of it." Bilbo insisted when he saw her about to protest.
The young lady looked at his with furrowed brows, as if to guess if he was up to no good. Bilbo returned a look of concern to her. " Do you not visit people where you come from? I – I do not wish to impose on any custom you may have…" He stuttered shifting under her steely gaze.
Alicia blinked and smoothened her face. " No sir. It's not that. It's just been a long time since I've met someone so kind outside of my clan. Usually it gets pretty dangerous and…. Well you know…. I'm sure I don't need to tell you not every person who seems nice at first really is. Like that Mr. Hugglefoot you spoke about earlier today." She lowered her gaze from his.
Bilbo knew what she was trying to say despite her rambling though. " I understand what you mean. I won't keep you here. If you feel safer leaving then, do what you must. I can send you with some provisions for your trip. But it would put me more at ease if you stayed the night and left in the morning instead. I'll even give you a room with a lock if you'd like."
She looked back up at him then. " I would like that very much. Thank you."
Bilbo smiled back. " Good to hear. I'll show you to your room when you're ready."
Alicia did not protest again. " Yes sir." She whispered. She washed her clothes and laid them out to hang dry on racks and such in her room, which was one of his guests rooms.
" Goodnight Mr. Bilbo and thank you again." Alicia greeted before going to bed. Sleep took her quick, for she hadn't been sleeping well since being separated from her group.
The girl didn't emerge from her room till after nine in the morning. But the extra sleep was beneficial. Her skin looked healthier, her eyes weren't so dark, and she stood straighter than yesterday.
Bilbo sat on his armchair flipping through his mail when she entered. " Good Morning Miss Alicia! I trust you slept well."
" Yes Mr. Bilbo. It was the best sleep in a while, thank you for letting me sleep in." She greeted.
" Not a problem my dear. Second breakfast is in the kitchen." He said.
" Second breakfast? When is first breakfast?"
" Oh. Between four and six in the morning usually." He answered nonchalantly.
'Holy Moly.' The girl thought as she ate heartily after blessing her food.
Bilbo scuttled back and forth about his house, muttering to himself.
" Something wrong?" She asked.
" No no. I have some errands to run is all and I'm just making sure I have everything before I leave." The hobbit answered as he patted his pockets and searched his desk. " I have quite a few things to do today."
" What all do you have to do? May I help?" She asked.
Bilbo grinned thankfully to her. " Well, it isn't proper to have a guest work you know."
" What if I want to help?" She grinned back.
" Then I suppose you can help with the garden first." Bilbo said.
He asked if she could pick out the weeds, pick a few vegetables and water. He told her of his plans to start tilling the small portion to the left for more plants and finish digging out the water trough for it later. She started immediately after he left for the market.
By the time Bilbo came back from his first two errands, he had a bowl of freshly rinsed vegetables on his table. The hobbit walked outside to his garden and stared wide-eyed. The girl was hard at work, tilling the last portion of the ground. " Almost finished! I'll have the water trough finished in no time!" She waved.
" Why Miss Alicia! I would never have asked you to do such labor for me! And I didn't know you liked to garden!" The hobbit called.
" Gardening is a favorite hobby of mine. And a little hard work never actually hurt anybody." She answered. After that, she went cleaning the kitchen, living and dinning room. Then she went to chopping extra firewood. To avoid letting her do anymore manual labor, Bilbo offered to take her for his last few errands.
Her head swiveled this way and that, taking in the scenery and once again, asking Bilbo questions. Luckily they were not as absurd as yesterday. Bilbo enjoyed showing her to some of the more popular bakeries with delicious pastries. Many other hobbits casted her their own odd looks, and not all were easily ignored.
" Why are they giving me weird looks all the time?" She quietly asked Bilbo.
Bilbo gave some of those hobbits a particularly dirty look. " Don't mind them. As I've said, we don't get many visitors here. Some don't remember their manners when we do get visitors."
Alicia didn't really blame them; after all, a hobbit was a four foot person with large hairy feet, dressed like England farmers with pointed ears and fair skin complexions. Alicia was a five foot ten woman with reddish brown skin from the sun, slim but muscular build, her face wasn't the narrow and slim features of a typical woman of grace and beauty, her face had a bit more of her father with stronger more squared features around her jaw. Her eyes were the only graceful thing on her face really, slightly slanted. Some children even openly questioned what kind of creature she was, as if a plain human was implausible. Alicia smiled amusingly at that.
She would wait outside for Bilbo when he needed to enter a shop that stooped too low for her. Three children came to talk to her while she waited. She kneeled to the ground while they showed her how to play a game with marbles and shared some of their own treats with her. She almost didn't want to leave when Bilbo was finished. The more immersed into Hobbiton she was, the harder it was for her to believe that people pretended that they didn't know what technology was, zombies, or even know the phrase 'Doomsday'. Surely children couldn't fake it as well as those kids did. Neither did she feel it was her place to teach of such an ominous subject at all.
Bilbo and Alicia were practically dragged away by Ms. Rosie, her sister Petunia Wollowood, and their neighbor Wilcomb Tuckborough for afternoon tea and lunch.
" Why hello there Mr. Baggins! Do come and join us! It feels like ages since we've talked!" Rosie said as she scuttled up to Bilbo. She gave Alicia a curious glance and a "Good day."
" Hello How are you?." Alicia greeted back with a dip of her head, quite unsure if her mannerism would be insulting not.
The three hobbits all gave her looks and Wilcomb's was the most obvious of them.
Rosie waved at her, " I am well this day thank you! Please won't you and Master Baggins come join us?" She offered, although poor Bilbo was already being pulled up to their little picnic table. Alicia couldn't help but smile at Bilbo's sputtering as she followed behind.
Petunia gave her a friendly smile after a none-too-subtle look over.
Alicia sighed inwardly, trying to choke down the feeling of awkwardness for a tall woman like her to be around such short people. No way was she even going to bother sitting in one of their chairs. If it were more familiar friends she probably would for laughs. ' At least on the ground I might be more their height, heh heh'.
Before anyone could protest, she did exactly that, and made sure to smile while she did so that everyone thought she was fine like that.
" Well, far be it from a Baggins to turn down such an invitation to a lovely lunch." Bilbo concluded. He sat down his bags and looked for Alicia. " Oh dear. I can't have that." He muttered.
Wilcomb swiveled around. " Well unfortunately our furniture is too small for your guest. Beg your pardon Miss."
Alicia smiled her warmest smile. " It's no problem at all sir. I like sitting on the grass."
Her gentleness and friendliness put the curious hobbits at ease. Petunia presented a platter of food that reminded Alicia of Panini style sandwiches and they looked delicious! A pang of guilt hit her when she thought that her colony couldn't share this lunch.
Bilbo didn't like the idea of sitting at a table with his guest sitting on the ground, especially when he noticed a sudden fall of her face. He picked up a plate and napkins. " Alicia. How many would you like?"
" Oh! Two please." She answered.
Bilbo put two on the plate, fixed him a plate of five, and turned back to Rosie. "If you don't mind, I will be joining Miss Alicia here."
Rosie looked confused for a moment, but then her smile flashed back on her face. " Of course! A splendid idea!" She followed Bilbo and the two hobbits sat on the ground with the girl.
They were soon joined by Wilcomb who was already stuffing his face, and Petunia after she served everyone some tea. " We can't have any of our guests sitting all by their lonesome. What proper hobbits would we be?!"
Alicia made sure to express her gratitude to everyone. " Thank you very much." It was a simple gesture, but one that she appreciated deeply in the end.
" So Master Baggins, how's your garden? Did the trick I told you for your carrots work?" Rosie asked.
" Ah yes and very well I might add, thank you." Bilbo answered.
" That's wonderful! My sister and I have purchased some blueberry trees yesterday. We'll be making fresh blueberry dishes when they start to bear!" The lady hobbit talked.
She would have kept on if Wilcomb hadn't stopped her. " Come now Miss Rosie. Let's not put Mr. Baggins and his friend to sleep."
Petunia giggled at her sister's mock frustration. " He's right you know. Miss Alicia? How are you? And if I may ask, where are you from?"
" I am well, the food is delicious, thank you for sharing. I'm from a, small town called Crosby. It's pretty far away." Alicia answered politely, not sure of what to say without putting Bilbo in a bad spot.
" I'd imagine so. I've never heard of any place called Crosby. It sounds like a farming town though." Wilocmb inquired.
" Oh yes sir it was generally known for that." She answered, trying to hide any signs of grief or nervousness.
" What brings you to The Shire?" Rosie asked.
" Well," Alicia tried to choose her words carefully. " I seemed to have lost my way, trying to go home that is. And Mr. Bilbo here was kind enough to assist me." She looked at him for help and to see if she said wrong.
The hobbit just smiled and nodded. " I couldn't just leave her wandering around like a lost puppy. I am truly grateful for the help she gave in return. I had a dreadful amount of things to do today."
" How kind. You seem like a nice young lady." Rosie said.
" Thank you Miss. Rosie." ' Awesome. I'm on good terms so far.'
They talked more about gardening, crazy new clothing styles coming out, and the weather for the next few days while they finished up their lunch and desert, an apple cobbler. Alicia listened intently when they talked about gardening tips, thinking that she could use them for the gardens in her colony. The hobbits reminded her of loved ones, some still in her colony, others gone. They bickered like her grandparents, gossiped like aunts and uncles. There was a kind of tenderness that Alicia soaked up in every rare chance she got. No it wasn't easy saying good bye to some of her lost loved ones, but she forced herself to carry on and for strength each day till they found the colony. Refusing to let those sad memories emerge now, she focused on their conversations and smiling.
Bilbo and Alicia bade farewell, leaving with a pan of more apple cobbler, and headed home.
" Bilbo you have such friendly neighbors." Alicia said beside him.
The hobbit nodded " Ah yes. Hobbits are a friendly lot, perhaps the most friendliest in all of Middle Earth. Those particular neighbors would give you pieces of their rooftops if they knew it would aid you; or as others would say, 'the shirt off your back'." He peered up at Alicia. " Do you not have friendly neighbors where you're from?"
" I do. I did." She thought about it.
" You do or you don't?" Bilbo asked.
" I once did and now I do." She answered, but looking at the weird face Bilbo made that still wasn't clear at all. " Sorry. What I meant was I did have great neighbors like Miss Rosie, her sister and Mister Wilcomb. But things, changed horribly. To be brutally honest, I don't live in my hometown anymore, but we all still like to say where we're from so we don't forget you know? Because it's real easy to forget everything now, even yourself. So we cling to the most precious things so that we can incorporate them into a better future; or that's the plan at least."
" I see." Bilbo replied. He didn't ask her anything more till they got home. She helped unpack the groceries and put them away, and then she helped with any other chores he had to do. Anything Bilbo asked of her she did with no complaint or sign of weariness. Alicia stared at a map of Middle Earth. Bilbo watched her for a moment before speaking. " Do you know how to get home?"
The woman sighed slowly. "All I know is to go back the way I came, and you said You found me here right?" She pointed to a spot near a tree line.
"Yes right around there. But, isn't it dangerous that way?"
" I'm sure it will be eventually. But that's all I've got." She looked up at him and grinned. "I won't overstay my welcome if I can help it Mr. Bilbo. And I truly do appreciate everything you've given me."
Bilbo half smiled back. " What if- What if it's too dangerous. Remember I how I found you." He shook his finger at her. " If you don't mind my saying, you were a ghastly sight! You looked like someone stepping off a battlefield. Will you have to go through that again just to get home?"
" If I'm careful, not so much, no."
" And do you have any place to stay on your trip back home?" Bilbo asked.
" Uh, well, other than camping, no."
" I see."
Alicia dropped her shoulders. She was beginning to learn what Bilbo's two word answers implied and huffed.
" What about Inns or along the way?"
She almost laughed at him. "One, I don't have money for a room, and two, there are no working Inns anymore, and in fact it's dangerous to go into large buildings in the first place. Most likely even more dangerous than camping even. And I won't have any friends till I reach my colony."
Bilbo put his hands on his hips. "And how long did it take you to get here from your home?"
'Really? He's really not gonna let this go?' Alicia stared at him. " Well, I've been running for two days, plus I don't have a vehicle or any other mode of transportation besides my feet. And I'll need to find a way up the cave in I fell through… So roughly, I'd say a couple of weeks, give or take?"
" If you can even find your way back.' Bilbo concluded. " I don't mean to you from your home and your duty to your colony, which is very admirable by the way, but surely we can find a less, messy route home. By the way, I say you are allowed to stay here as long as you like. That means you can't overstay your welcome. No Buts!" He stopped her with a raised empty cup before she had a chance to protest.
" Th-Thank you." She said and looked back to the map. " I'll think about it."
And she did. She thought about if the colony thought she was dead already, or if they were sending out search parties. She had no important gear with her that her colony couldn't get somewhere else. She pondered about the horde and the marauders that she had to battle just to get here. Will the marauders still be there when she came back? Surely the horde would have either dispersed or settled, and if they settled then it would just be a matter of getting past them without them noticing. And what about food?
With what she had now she could make it stretch for a week; and no doubt Bilbo would have her carry her weight in provisions. It was definitely a scary thought facing all that by herself. She looked back at Bilbo who was cooking in the kitchen. The safety and comfort that he offered was a really hard thing to walk away from so soon.
' I suppose…. I don't have to decide right now, especially if everyone thinks I'm dead by now, but God how I wish I could know how they're all holding out!'
" I'll look for another route." Alicia muttered to herself. She was surprised that Bilbo still heard her.
" That's a relief to hear Miss. I have dinner cooking now. It'll be ready by the time we've both washed up." The hobbit said.
Still with an inner conflict, she quietly went to the washroom to bathe. She used very little water, most of it for her hair. The bath made her feel refreshed and distracted her from worrisome thoughts. She watched over the food as Bilbo went to wash and dinner was soon ready after words.
They had a thick and creamy soup for dinner and finished off the apple cobbler for desert, again.
Before bed, Alicia poured over another map that gave a little more details about the area in which she was found. She fixed Bilbo a cup of his favorite evening tea for him and her.
Bilbo yawned. " Well, I do believe I may have another busy day tomorrow. If you'd like, we can talk a walk back to where I found you with some extra maps of mine as well and I'll see what I can do about helping you map out a safer road to home."
" I would like that thank you." She smiled gratefully back.
" Think nothing of it. Goodnight Miss Alicia." Bilbo bade as he went to bed. Not long after, Alicia returned to her room. She stayed up an extra hour meditating about tomorrow and praying to take the fear away. Alicia liked the Shire, but she also missed her colony. Maybe, if she marked her trail well enough, she could come back and visit and she could even establish some kind of bartering system.
Sleep finally came and she slept soundly again.