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Sword-Brother

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Bifur detested autumn with a passion. It was pretty enough to look at as they traveled, with the leaves surrendering their green for a blaze of oranges, reds, and yellows, but it was the nights which often brought him low and sent him scurrying for his bedroll. As the temperature shifted rapidly from day’s warmth to night’s chill embrace, the iron in his head reacted and made the joyous chaos of twelve healthy dwarves turn into a nightmare cacophony which echoed in his head. At those times he simply withdrew to his bedroll and tried his best to endure the agony while not letting his stomach revolt. Thankfully the others either knew or his cousins had quietly informed them, but none of the others came over to bother him on those nights. No night watch was ever his either, though in return he did insist on more than his fair share of day guard as they rode.

 

Tonight was another of those nights, where only time could bring relief, when something changed in the routine. Nearly silent footsteps hesitantly pattered up to his bedroll and he could easily hear the sounds of a small body settling itself to the ground behind his shoulders. He’d curled on his side, away from the fire’s painfully dancing light, but didn’t need his eyes to know every little movement. His ears caught the shuffle-stop-shuffle as his uninvited visitor scooted over the few inches, and then there was the slight press of another’s body against his shoulder blades.

 

It took him silent minutes to puzzle out that he was feeling a leg against his back, and that the other must have been sitting with his legs crossed under him in order to achieve that position. No words were exchanged, only the knowledge that someone else sat with him in silence, and Bifur didn’t notice when peaceful sleep stole over him. When next he awoke, the fire had burned down and camp resonated with hearty snoring. The presence at his back had disappeared but had apparently left a bowl of that night’s stew sitting where he could see it. It was cold, but he was still thankful as it was far better than an empty stomach. That thought brought him up short- he rarely was hungry after one of his spells, and never woke this early from them. No pain thundered in his forehead and the night’s sounds were simply that, comforting sounds rather than raging mûmakil in his ears. He didn’t know what to think and chose his cousin’s way of dealing with it; he shrugged and went back to eating, simply thankful to feel like himself again.

 

The next several times he had to retreat in pain, the same thing happened. Nearly silent feet carried a small body over to sit against him and he realized that the soft touch actually brought comfort to his darkness. No words were ever exchanged, indeed they could not converse at all as their burglar couldn’t speak khuzdul and he couldn’t speak common, but a far more powerful and simple conversation took place in the silence. Bifur found himself increasingly grateful to Bilbo for the peace that he brought and for the gentle friendship that the two shared even when he wasn’t laying on his bedroll in pain. More nights passed, with more comfort selflessly given, and Bifur searched for his cousin. He mentioned the behavior to Bofur as his cousin had befriended the strange little hobbit, and had gotten an odd reply.

 

“Oh, aye, I asked him about it after the second night he sat with you. Little fellow simply shrugged at me and asked if he should leave anyone in pain to suffer alone and then kept right on walking as if it was the most obvious answer in the world.” Bofur scratched under his hat as if the reply still confused him. “I can make him stop if he’s bothering you?” he asked.

 

Bifur could understand the confusion- dwarves, as a rule, didn’t appreciate company when they were injured and healing. Healers were welcomed as they brought relief, but usually all but mates were refused access to the hurting and incredibly surly, often violent, patients. Dwarves and pain didn’t mix well, especially with visitors who were normally loud and boisterous, and it was best to keep everyone out of reach until the patient healed. “No,” he replied slowly, “he is a comfort.” Bofur gave him a puzzled look and so Bifur tried to explain. “He simply sits, still and silent and I can focus on that rather than turning inward. It is peaceful, that stillness, and I can sleep.”

 

“Well,” Bofur decided, “I can’t see it myself, but I won’t stop the lad if he’s helping you. Mahal knows how you can stand to have someone that close when you’re hurting, but then he’s not a dwarf and that may be the difference.”

 

Bifur nearly laughed at his cousin. When the brothers were younglings, Bofur had taken a tumble down slick steps, breaking his leg in the process. He had then proceeded to break Bombur’s nose when his brother snuck into the healing wing to see him, against the healers’ warnings. Sullen at being laid up and in pain, he just couldn’t handle a jovial visit or the inevitable teasing for such a clumsy feat that followed. The healers managed to sort them out in time for them both to face their mother’s wrath when she learned of the idiocy. “It will be fine cousin,” he assured and they both considered the matter closed.

 

In return, Bifur was left with a bit of a puzzle for himself. Bofur confirmed that Bilbo knew full well what he was doing. Every night that Bifur had to retreat, Bilbo willingly gave up his own evening’s rest to offer comfort and sit with him, usually leaving food behind so that Bifur didn’t miss the meal. How does one repay such generosity of spirit? He couldn’t very well thank the hobbit as the common tongue just wouldn’t come to his lips anymore, and he couldn’t teach Bilbo their language as it was forbidden to outsiders… or could he? He needed to speak with Bofur immediately.

 

His opportunity came the next day as they were both walking at the end of the company; Bifur to watch their trail and Bofur to keep him company. “I have a request to make of you, cousin,” he asked quietly.

“And I would hear it, cousin,” Bofur replied, startled at the formality yet keeping the forms they had been taught since birth.

 

Bifur took a bracing breath, for his request could go horribly wrong. “I owe a debt one who has helped me greatly and yet I cannot repay him in the manner I wish. This weighs greatly on my heart because I cannot even thank him with my own words, cannot teach him our words so that he could understand my gratitude. I ask of you, eldest son of the primary bloodline, your permission that I may adopt the one I owe as sword-brother and grant him our rights and protections.”

 

Shocked silence met his whispered words and Bifur was incredibly grateful that none appeared to have overheard their conversation. He glanced over at his cousin and was heartened to see him considering the request rather than walking in shocked outrage. “Your request has worth, and the one you owe has qualities which would benefit the bloodline with his addition. I grant you your request, cousin,” Bofur finished with the ritual words and then a thought seemed to hit him. “Wait a minute. Oh no, I cannot believe that I did that.”

 

“What is wrong?” Bifur quickly asked as Bofur’s face fell into horrified lines.

 

You want to adopt him, but I will be the one stuck having to ask him and explain all about it,” he moaned piteously.

 

Bifur bit the inside of his cheek rather than laugh as his cousin played up the ‘grievous injury’ that this would surely do to his poor mind. Having just won his request, he didn’t think it would be terribly diplomatic to laugh at the head of their family, even if he was making a fool of himself. “Perhaps you could speak to him tonight when he goes to gather firewood and herbs?” he suggested lightly across Bofur’s whining and turned his attention to the trail, allowing the humorous complaints to pass his ears without comment.

 

That night he watched Bofur offer to accompany Bilbo into the woods and sat on his bedroll in satisfaction as he absently watched Bombur begin to prepare the night’s meal. Even if the offer was rejected, it was an honor to be asked and he was sure that Bofur would carefully explain that to the hobbit. He hoped that it wasn’t turned away as he truly did wish to teach the gentle little being their ways, and aligning with a family could only serve to help him later after their quest was finished. He couldn’t allow himself to contemplate the company failing in their quest, so he forcefully limited himself to thinking only of what would help for the future after they had succeeded in retaking Erebor. Soft footsteps disturbed his thoughts and he started to discover that a chunk of time had passed without his notice; the fire was set up, Dori was minding the cooking pot, and everyone seemed to be occupied in their own evening pursuits. By his quick look, it appeared that Bofur had dragged his brother off to privately discuss the potential new addition to the family as both were missing from camp.

 

“Do you truly want to adopt me into your family?” Bilbo asked as he settled on the ground not far from Bifur and pitched his voice so that it wouldn’t carry beyond them. Bifur could only meet the hobbit’s eyes seriously and nod in reply. He sent a questioning look and Bilbo gazed at the ground. “I don’t really understand it all, I mean that I understand the request and what would be required of both of us, but I just don’t understand.” He looked up to meet Bifur’s gaze. “Why me? I have nothing to offer you; I’m no great warrior like Dwalin, or crafty like Nori, or wise like Balin, I’m just me- a simple hobbit who is out of his depth and very far from home.”

 

He had dropped his eyes again in what Bifur realized was shame and he nudged Bilbo’s knee to encourage the hobbit to look up. What he wanted to say ran through his head and he had to sort through it to find the simplest meaning that he could convey. Bifur reached up to tap at Bilbo’s temple and then down to tap at his chest, over his heart. He watched the other puzzle out the message.

 

“So, you’re saying that I have a head and that my heart is beating?” he asked.

 

Bifur simply gave him a look and the hobbit breathed a little laugh at being caught out. The others could fall for his deliberately obtuse act, but Bifur had observed enough to know that the lad was far brighter than that.

 

“Thank you,” Bilbo dropped the act. “I don’t know how much my mind and heart will benefit your family line, but if you want them then I accept your offer and would be honored to call you sword-brother,” he spoke, and Bifur ignored the less than formal acceptance. His ways were not their ways, yet, but he looked forward to teaching his friend, his brother, all about them.

 

He quirked an expectant look at Bilbo and gestured to the camp in invitation. Did he wish to do the ceremony tonight? Despite a distinctly queasy look, Bilbo nodded, and they both walked to stand in front of the fire together. Sensing a serious event, the others quieted and gathered around. Even Fíli and Kíli abruptly stopped their attack on Ori to sit together solemnly. Bofur joined them by the fire as a slightly confused yet smiling Bombur seated himself with the rest of the company.

 

“I have a debt to pay,” Bifur explained to the gathering. “This one has done me great service in accomplishing what none before could so I have been granted permission to adopt him as sword-brother and he has agreed. You are witness so that none can say that it is a false claim.” His formalities finished, he moved aside for Bofur.

 

“As the eldest son of the primary bloodline, I acknowledge my cousin’s permission. Bilbo Baggins, son of Bungo, do you freely consent to be adopted into the line of Báfur?” Bofur asked of Bilbo.

 

Bilbo swallowed hard and stepped up on the other side of Bofur. “I freely consent and offer all that I am and may be to the line of Báfur. My deeds are your deeds as yours are mine,” he spoke slowly, obviously remembering the words that Bofur had coached him on, but he didn’t waver.

 

Bofur turned to face the two of them and Bifur prepared himself for the next part as his cousin pulled out a small knife. Bilbo took the knife as it was offered and cut a small line in the middle of his hand before he handed the blade to Bifur who did the same before he handed it back to his cousin for a moment. They clasped their bloodied hands together and leaned in; Bifur had to twist a bit to make it work around the axe, but they were able to gently rest their foreheads against one another. “Brother,” he spoke to Bilbo, and he heard his word repeated back though Bilbo’s tongue tripped a bit over the foreign pronunciation. They pulled apart and Bifur reclaimed the knife from his cousin to press into Bilbo’s hands as a symbol of his new status. By word and by blood, Bilbo belonged to their tiny family; any insult given to him was given to them all, and all would protect each other on this journey and after.

 

After that dinner was a riot of celebrating dwarves, though both Bofur and Bombur made sure to cordially welcome Bilbo into the family and gently, mindful that hobbit bones couldn’t take the same force that dwarven ones would, press their foreheads together in the traditional informal greeting. Bifur felt happiness warm his heart as he considered that now he finally had a brother as well as a staunch friend who could calm the storm in his head. He cheerfully ignored Thorin’s skeptical glare and Dwalin’s polite silence- his brother would show them all the full measure of the qualities which Bifur could see waiting in him, it was only a matter of time. Until then, there were language and family lessons to look forward to!

 

. - ~ End ~ - .