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The Diplomat (Working Title)

Chapter Text

"Khuzdul"

"Greenspeech"

"Sindarin"


 

The peaceful lands of the Shire were noted for their rolling verdant hills, rich with vegetation and home to many a creature. Most notable were the Hobbits, small creatures with large hairy feet, round bellies and leaf shaped ears. They made their homes in the rolling hills of the Shire, farming the land and living simple but joyous lives. Though there were a few exceptions to such a general rule. One such exception was one Miss Billana Belladonna Baggins, most commonly known as Billa and by Bilbo to only her closest friends, much to the horror of her more conservative relatives.

Billa Baggins was the daughter of Belladonna Baggins nee Took and her husband Bungo, and at thirty-six years old, already Master of her Estate with the passing of her father not three winters prior. Being the only child of to one of the wealthiest families within the Shire, Billa was considered one of the most eligible heiresses in all of the Shire… or would be if she were not as queer as she was. For Billa was more like her Mother than many of her Baggins relations would have liked. With a perchance for adventure and “wearing trousers!” (Billa’s Aunt Camellia would often exclaim) Billa had – not that she minded a whit – earned herself the title of Mad Baggins. One she would often tell her younger Took cousins, she was quite proud of.

The young hobbit-lass had indeed also taken up her late Mother’s role as Ambassador for the Shire, and often travelled to both Ered Luin, Mithlond, and Rivendell to speak on behalf of her Cousin and Uncle, the Thain and Master of Buckland respectively.

It was after one such visit to Ered Luin, to Thorin’s Halls in the ruins the dwarven city of Nogrod, that Billa found herself riding her pony – a skewbald mare with a sweet disposition she had fondly named Myrtle – through the Shire making her way home from the Great Smials of Tuckborough. She had just returned to give her report to her Cousin Fortinbras before making her way back to her home: Bag End. As she rode Billa greeted those she knew kindly and ignored the whispers and the sneers of the more conservative Hobbits she had the displeasure of knowing. Upon reaching the end of Bagshot Row, Billa stabled Myrtle with Farmer Cotton, one of her tenants, before making her way up the road to her smial – the largest smial Under the Hill, and her Father’s wedding gift to her Mother. Upon reaching the Green painted door a sigh of relief left the hobbit-lass and a small but bright smile settled upon her plump rosebud lips.

“Home, sweet Home,” she murmured as she fished her key from around her neck and unlocked the door, a habit she had picked up after the last time she left the Shire for an unknown amount of time and Lobelia and Otho Sackville-Baggins had happily strolled right in and set up shop as it were. Easily crossing the threshold to place her pack down, Billa closed the door and headed straight for the bath. It had been just under two weeks since she’d been home, and she had a great desire to soak in the bath before seeking out some luncheon. After she had cleaned herself up and eaten her fill, Billa found herself seated just outside her door on her father’s smoking bench with a book and a mug of tea, her father’s pipe in between her lips as she blew smoke rings and relaxed.

Closing her eyes for a moment to enjoy the sweet scent of Longbottom Leaf, she ended up in a coughing fit as the smoke appeared to change direction suddenly choosing to blow into her face. Opening green eyes, only to be presented with a familiar sight.

“Good morning” she greeted with a repressed smile.

“What do you mean? Do you mean to wish me a good morning, or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or, perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning. Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?” the Wizard replied, blue eyes twinkling with badly concealed mirth.

“I mean to greet you Wizard, and perhaps wish a good morning to you. Though I do suppose all meanings could apply,” Billa said, breaking into a knowing grin “what has brought you to my humble smial today Gandalf?”

“Ah well as it happens, I am looking for someone to share in an adventure” the Grey Pilgrim answered with a smile.

“I would say you would be hard pressed to find someone this side of Bree, but we both know that’s not true now do sit-down Gandalf and tell me what it is I should be expecting,” Billa answered her grin turning into a sly smirk. The Grey Istar, simply smiled and stepped through the gate to take a seat next to the young hobbit-lass who shifted her book to the nearby outdoor table along with her mug.

“The full details will be explained when the Company is all together of course, but first I should ask, are you willing to host thirteen Dwarrow and myself for dinner tomorrow evening my dear?”

“I would be honoured of course Gandalf, are these Dwarrow from Ered Luin?” the hobbit-lass responded taking another pull of Longbottom Leaf.

“Indeed, they are, dear Bilbo, and they are in need of the fourteenth member to join them on their journey,” Gandalf answered.

“Ah yes, the Dwarrow are rather superstitious when it comes to the number thirteen aren’t they. And where is it that this journey is taking them, Gandalf?”

“To reclaim a Home for Durin’s Folk, my dear.”

“They would not dare try and reclaim Moria so soon after Azanulbizar, their numbers do not have the strength for it. Gundabad, is nothing but an Orc infested ant-hill now, so that leaves either the colonies within the Grey Mountains or Erebor. So, do tell me Gandalf, which wyrm infested location shall be their destination?” Billa questioned shrewdly, her knowledge of Arda’s history once more surprising the Grey Pilgrim.

“Erebor, my dear. Ered Mithrin has long been lost to the Dwarrow, none would dare test the wyrms of that region.”

“I see, well I shan’t keep you from your duties Gandalf. I shall see you on the morrow for dinner, and wait to hear the remaining details till then,” Billa said after a few minutes of contemplation.

“See you tomorrow evening dear Bilbo, I shall go and inform the others then,” the Istar responded standing with ease from the bench and with a small pat of the hobbit-lass’ shoulder took his leave. Billa watched the Wizard leave, green eyes thoughtful as she considered what information she’d been able to glean from the short discussion. While the Wizard was known for speaking in riddles, Billa found she was rather good at deciphering them.

“So, you’ve found a way to enter the Mountain then, Grey One,” she muttered under her breath in the Green Tongue, the language of her people. Snuffing out her Father’s pipe, the hobbit-lass rose from the bench book, pipe, and mug in hand as she re-entered her smial.

By the time Gandalf had returned to leave his mark upon the round Green door, Billa was busy elbow deep in dough, as she began to cook for the rather unexpected party she would be throwing the following evening.

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By tea-time the following day, Billa had finalised the last of the baked goods for the dinner she was to be hosting, with a skilful eye she checked over the roasting meats, the slow cooked stew, and the roasting vegetables. Satisfied they would be fine for a short while, she went about getting cleaned up for the event. After her bath she deftly braided the length of wet copper curls into a simple three strand braid over her shoulder, before dressing herself in a pair of trousers, loose blouse and one of her embroidered bodices. There was no harm in looking decent for company as the Gentle-Hobbit she was supposed to be.

By the time she had returned to the kitchen to finish up the last odds and ends, it wasn’t long before she heard the first knock at the door.

“Coming,” she called out, drying off her hands as she left the kitchen. Opening the door Billa found herself face to chest with a tall Dwarf, one of whom she was vaguely familiar with.

“Dwalin son of Fundin. At your service,” the Dwarf bowed.

“Welcome Master Dwalin, I assume you are the first of the companions Gandalf spoke of when I met with him?” Billa asked.

“Indeed I am.”

“Wonderful, please do come in. My name is Billa Baggins and welcome to Bag- End,” she replied stepping out of the way to allow the tall, broad Dwarrow entrance, before continuing gesturing as she spoke “please make yourself comfortable, you can place you weapons to the right there in the chest and hang your cloak up just by the door here. If you don’t mind, please leave your boots here in the entrance way, my smial’s carpets would be very grateful.” Her amused smile, was met with an expression of surprise by the Dwarrow, who complied with her wishes without a word.

“Now, if you follow me to the kitchen I may have something to tide you over until your fellows join us. Tell me Master Dwalin, do you happen to like cookies?” Billa asked, leading the Dwarrow she knew to be the Guard Captain of Thorin’s Halls through her smial and into the kitchen. She had a hard time repressing the amused smirk that tugged at her lips as she was met with a rather enthusiastic “Yes!” from the Dwarrow. Once she had settled Dwalin at a seat in the kitchen with a plate of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies sat in front of him, the hobbit-lass returned to her meal preparations.  A short time later another knock came from the door.

“Please enjoy your cookies Master Dwalin, I’ll get the door,” she said breezing past the Guard Captain before he had even started to get out of his seat. On opening the door this time, Billa revealed yet another familiar Dwarrow; this one with hair and beard as white as pure snow, and of shorter stature then the one in her kitchen.

“Welcome Master Dwarf, one of your fellows has already arrive. My name is Billa Baggins and welcome to Bag- End,” the hobbit-lass said ushering the Dwarf who went by the name Balin, into her smial before giving him the same run down she had Dwalin. Once his weapons, boots, and cloak were dealt with Billa lead the Dwarrow to her kitchen. Upon sighting Dwalin seated at the small table she kept in the kitchen, Balin cried out,

“Brother!” A large grin on his face. Dwalin returned it as he stood to greet his brother.

“Oh, by my beard, ye’re shorter and wider than last we met,” Dwalin cried boisterously.

“Wider, not shorter. Still sharp enough for the both of us,” the white bearded dwarf replied gripping his brother’s shoulders. The two laughed as they headbutted each other, and Billa looked on with curiosity.

She had already determined that some of the Noble-Dwarrow must be behind the quest, but to have both the Captain of the Guards and the King-in-Exile’s Chief Advisor greeting each other in her kitchen was not something she had been expecting. At the next knock, Billa slipped from the room as the two continued to catch up to answer it.

However, when she opened it she had not been expecting to see the both Princes-In-Exile, and her dear friend’s sons before her and was struck speechless.

“Fíli,” the blonde of the two began.

“Kíli,” the darker-haired said before they bowed speaking in unison.

“At your service.”

“You must be Miss Boggins,” Kíli grinned. The cheek of the youngest Prince startling her out of her stupor.

“Billa Baggins at you and your family’s service,” she responded with a deep curtsey, “please do come in Master Dwarrow, and make yourselves comfortable. If you would take of your boots and place them with your fellows’ over there, I can take your cloaks while you store your weaponry over to the right there, in that chest.” Billa made sure to keep her tone somewhat firm with the young Dwarrow, recalling many a story Dis had told her during her ambassadorial visits with the Princess-In-Exile. She kept her eye on the two as she bid them follow her. Once in the kitchen the Princes, greeted both Sons of Fundin.

“I do so hate to interrupt Master Dwarrow. But if I could enlist you to shift the dining table into the parlour, we should be able to fit your companions a might easier then where it is currently,” Billa said politely.

“Of course, Miss Baggins,” Balin responded, before turning to his brother and the Princes, “come on lads.” Billa followed the four Dwarrow helping to shift the chairs into the new location, she then directed the removal of some of the more delicate items from the parlour and into her study and sunroom where they would be at less risk at being broken. Once the table was set with enough chairs, Billa enlisted the Dwarrow’s help ferrying the feast she had cooked up onto the table. About half way through there was another knock at the door.

“That’ll be the door lass,” Dwalin said as he helped young Fíli to carry the pot of stew.

“Of course, just set the pot in the middle of the table, I’ll just be a moment,” she responded. It took some quick manoeuvring to avoid being flattened by the eight Dwarrow who came tumbling into her smial, the Grey Pilgrim smiling from where he stood behind them.

“Oh dear, is everyone alright?” she asked helping the Dwarrow up from the pile, “welcome to my Bag-End Master Dwarrow, my name is Billa Baggins. Now please if you would. If you would take of your boots and place them with your fellows’ over there, I can take your cloaks while you store your weaponry over to the right there, in that chest.” Once the Dwarrow were on their feet and their belongings stowed, she enlisted a few to see to bringing a few barrels of ale and a cask or two of wine up from the cellar, while the remainder she set to work helping the Sons of Fundin and the Princes.

Gandalf stepped into the smial chuckling lowly as Billa easily took charge of the situation. He’d known this would be good for her, while being entirely too amusing to him

Satisfied everything was in order, Billa invited the Dwarrow to begin. After a quick head count she noted only twelve Dwarrow, curious she turned to ask the nearest Dwarf only for her curiosity to turn into pure surprise followed immediately by concern.

“Nori?!” she exclaimed. The star-haired Dwarf turned to face her and exclaimed just as surprised,

“Bilbo?!”

“What are you doing here? Especially considering the Captain of the Guard is in this very smial?!” she demanded, her voice dropping into a whisper as she pulled the Dwarf up from the table and away into the Hall, much to the surprise (and suspicion) of the other Dwarrow.

“My younger sister signed on for the quest, and I refuse to let both my sister and brother go on this suicide mission on their own when I might be able to save them,” Nori responded lowly.

“There’s more to it then that Nori, you’ve always been terrible at lying to me,” Billa said shrewdly, green eyes narrowed on the thief.

“When I went to steal the contracts, there was an assassination attempt on the Princes. I managed to thwart it, but due to my history, to avoid arrest I was only given two options. The Quest or my head,” the Dwarrow thief explained.

“Are they idiots?” Billa hissed under her breath, “you’re a thief, not an assassin. You also refuse to harm children or young ones.”

“Things aren’t great in Nartumunzahar at the moment Bil,” Nori responded quietly, his voice weary, “the mines are drying up, the amount of food that can be bought grows lower each week, there was also another mine collapse. I hate to say it, but Durin’s Folk really do need another option.”

“Why on earth didn’t Dis tell me there were problems with buying food? I would have been able to formulate a new treaty with Fortinbras to ensure your people are fed, its not like we can’t afford it with how bountiful our harvests have been recently!” Billa exclaimed, her voice raising in level and catching the attention of the other Dwarrow. Nori shushed her before dragging her into her study.

“She hasn’t been able to get through Thorin’s pride, from what I’ve heard he refuses to take charity,” the theif responded.

“It is not Charity!” Billa exploded out, “no Hobbit would see another starve! We know all too well what that feels like!” Nori was taken aback slightly but sighed.

“There’s not much we can do about it now,” he said.

“Like Yavanna’s sweet earth there isn’t!” Billa growled before marching over to her desk to pen a letter to her Cousin. Indicating that she would put money forward from the Baggins Estate to help provide for the community of New Nogrod and Thorin’s Halls. “Your community will not suffer due to their King’s blasted pride Nori, I will not let it,” she explained, as she penned another letter; this one directly to Dis, explaining her actions.

“You aren’t serious Bil,” Nori exclaimed reading her letter to her Cousin.

“Deadly serious Nori, I will not let anyone starve if I can help it. Now go re-join your companions before they become more suspicious, I’ll be along shortly and then I expect you to introduce me to your family,” Billa responded stonily, before lightening it towards the end.

“As you say Bil,” Nori said, leaving her in the study as she began to pen yet another letter; this one to her lawyer Balgo Fisher explaining that she would be leaving for an indeterminant amount of time and that she wanted her second Cousin Drogo – and his betrothed, her Cousin Primula Brandybuck – to care for Bag-End and take up the title of Master of Bag-End while she was away, and that under no circumstance was Lobelia and her husband Otho Sackville-Baggins to get their grubby little hands on it; if in doubt he was to refer to his copy of her will. Billa composed yet another letter to Fortinbras, explaining she’d been called away from her duties by Gandalf and that she believed that Sigismond Took, their mutual cousin would be an adequate substitute as Sigismond had a way with the Dwarrow of Ered Luin. As for Rivendell, she wrote that she would organise to pass through if she could so as to ensure the treaty’s already in place were suitably stable before her journey continued.

Affairs in order, one last letter was written to Drogo and Primula, explaining the circumstances and that she hoped they would keep the Gamgee’s on as Caretakers of Bag-End’s gardens while they took up the Estate’s upkeep. The letter also detailed where they could find her will if it was required. Satisfied, Billa sealed each document with her official seal and gathered up the letters. Leaving her study, she passed quietly by the raucous party happening in her parlour and left her smial to place the documents into her letterbox to go out with the first post at dawn. Returning to the party, Billa made sure to grab herself a plate of food and strode over to Nori, who to Billa’s delight had not heard her and as such jumped in his seat when she called his name.

“Ack, Bil! Don’t do that,” he hissed, marsh green eyes catching her amused smirk.

“Do what Nori? It’s not my fault you did not hear me,” she teased, “now I do remember you saying both your brother and sister were with us, so do be a dear and introduce me.”

Billa was incredibly pleased to meet Nori’s sweet younger sister Ori. The Dwarrowdam had a sweet face, her eyes a deeper green with flecks of blue that mirror the ocean, her beard downy in comparison to the coarser facial hair of the Dwarrow, and beautifully braided. The Dwarrowdam had taken to the hobbit-lass when they began to speak in depth about the ‘dam’s craft, and love of history. Nori’s older brother Dori had been taken with the hobbit-lass, who had charmed him with talk of tea and fabric’s. Nori had been both surprised and just a bit horrified at how quickly Billa had ingratiated herself with his siblings before begging leave to introduce herself properly to the Ur’s.

After a thrilling discussion with Bombur over cooking, and an amusing chat with his brother Bofur – as both translator for their cousin Bifur, and active participant – Billa suddenly remembered they were one Dwarf short. Glancing over the party of Dwarrow sat at her dining table, she decided that the Sons of Fundin would likely have the answers she was looking for, and if not, well they were sat relatively close to the Wizard. Approaching the two Dwarrow, Billa interrupted softly,

“Begging your pardons Good sirs, but I noticed that you appear to be one short. Will they be requiring a meal? And if so would you like me to set aside a plate or two and keep them warm in the oven?” Balin studied her for a moment, blue eyes shrewd before he spoke.

“You are quite right Miss Baggins, we are awaiting our leader. I dare say he will be hungry when he joins us so setting aside some food likely won’t go astray with the way this lot have taken to it,” the Advisor said kindly, though his eyes never lost the shrewd glint. Billa simply smiled sweetly, she expected no less from the King-In-Exile’s Advisor, it was clear the Dwarf was as perceptive and calculating as they come, and she knew Nori! Bowing her head to both Noble’s, Billa set about setting aside some food for the leader of the Company; a leader Billa had her suspicions about. When she returned from the kitchen – set aside food warming in the oven – she was not very surprised by the drinking contest she walked in on.

Indeed, she found it quite amusing, so skirting around the Dwarrow at the table she turned to a cask of wine and poured herself a glass. Sipping at it slowly as she watched as the contest turned from drink to belching. Billa had spent enough time in the company of Dwarrow that she took no offense to what would be considered most disrespectful by Hobbit etiquette.  She cheered as Ori won the competition. Billa took her glass of wine and took to leaning in the doorway. Happy to simply observe the party, what she hadn’t been expecting is the Prince’s shenanigans with her Mother’s West Farthing crockery. Nor the particular rough handling of the cutlery, and while she greatly enjoyed the song; she would easily admit her heart had been in her throat at times watching the Dwarrow toss and pass her beloved mother’s crockery about. While the only real value was sentiment, they did mean a great deal to her regardless.

Entering the kitchen, she was relieved to find everything neatly stacked on her kitchen table. The laughter of the Dwarrow was silenced by yet one last knock on the door.

“He’s here,” Gandalf said.

“Yes, lets just be ominous Grey One,” Billa snarked under her breath at the Wizard as she and the rest of the Dwarrow followed him to the door. Gandalf opened the door revealing a rather well dress Dwarrow, his silvered dark hair long, and eyes a deep blue. Billa knew who he was without him speaking a word.

“Gandalf. I thought you said this place would be easy to find. I lost my way, twice. Wouldn’t have found it at all had it not been for that mark on the door.”

“Mark? Gandalf did you mark my freshly painted door,” Billa scolded the Wizard with a frown. Who responded with a sheepish smile,

“Ah yes, there is a mark. Billa Baggins, allow me to introduce the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield.”

“Oh, I know exactly who stands in my doorway Grey One,” Billa snarked before turning to face the King-In-Exile and greeting him with a curtsy, “welcome to Bag-End your Grace, Billa Baggins at your service.”

“So, this is the Hobbit. Tell me, Miss Baggins, have you done much fighting?” the King-In-Exile questioned as he circled the hobbit-lass. Refraining from rolling her eyes, she met the King’s eyes with raised brow.

“Pardon me?” she asked, knowing full well what he was asking.

“Axe or sword? What’s your weapon of choice?” he queried, arrogance oozing from his stance.

“I have a rather good handle on my cast-iron skillet, my Lord,” she sneered, leaving politeness be for the moment, interrupting him before he could spout anything more insulting, “but to answer your question I am trained mostly in the use of throwing daggers and a short blade.” Taking a breath to reign in her irritation, she spoke politely with barely perceptible sarcasm, “regardless of what weaponry I am most familiar with, I am sure you have had a long journey, so I shall let your companions lead you through to the parlour while I retrieve your meal. Unless you have something else you would like to say?” Billa smirked inwardly at the glare she received and was not surprised when the Dwarf swept past her to follow his kin.

Stepping into the kitchen Billa let go of her tightly reigned in irritation letting it broil for a moment over the arrogance of the Dwarf who had just entered her home. Picking up her half empty wine glass, the hobbit-lass drained it before retrieving the two plates and carrying both the plates and her wine glass into the parlour. Setting her wine glass on a side table as she entered she presented the King with a bowl of Beef and Stout stew, and a plate with an array of roasted meats, vegetables, cheese, and bread; not a moment after she had set it down in front of him did she turn on her heel and snatch up her glass.

She needed another drink.

Billa listened in on the conversation between King and Company as she drained yet another glass of wine. Filling up her glass one more time, she left the room to grab a few more candles as darkness had truly fallen now, and they would need a little more light for the next part of discussion. On her return Gandalf spotted her

“Ah my dear Bilbo, I was just about to ask.”

“Night has well and truly fallen Gandalf, of course we need more light,” the hobbit-lass stated matter-of-factly placing two candelabras with fresh candles onto the table before lighting them from a previously lit candle. While she was doing so she watched as Gandalf rolled out an old map atop the table before he began speaking.

“Far to the East, over ranges and rivers, beyond woodlands and wastelands, lies a single solitary peak.”

“Apologies for interrupting Grey One, but I believe everyone in this room is more than aware that the destination of your quest lies with Erebor, and likely the Dragon who has claimed it,” the hobbit-lass interjected from her place leaning against the doorframe. She was more than aware the Wizard had a perchance for the dramatic.

“Aye. Óin has read the portents, and the portents say it is time,” the Dwarrow who Billa remembered to be Glóin, another Noble, spoke.

“Ravens have been seen flying back to the mountain as it was foretold: When the birds of yore return to Erebor, the reign of the beast will end,” the grey-haired dwarf Billa believed to be Óin, explained more fully.

“Ah yes the Dragon,” Bill said taking a sip of her wine as she earned the attention of the Dwarrow and Istar yet again, “I do hope you have a plan for that.” A few of the Dwarrow shouted out various things; mostly pertaining dwarvish iron, and places where sun does not shine.

“The task would be difficult enough with an army behind us. But we number just thirteen, and not thirteen of the best, nor brightest,” Balin interjected, quieting them for a moment before offended voices piped up again.

“We may be few in number, but we’re fighters, all of us, to the last dwarf!” Fíli called out over the top of the dwarves rallying them in silence.

“And you forget, we have a wizard in our company. Gandalf will have killed hundreds of dragons in his time,” his brother added. While Gandalf was struggling to answer the curious dwarves about the number of dragons he’d slain. Billa was quietly giggling to herself, she had it on good authority Gandalf had never killed a Dragon and was watching amusedly as Gandalf embarrassedly coughed on his pipe smoke. The dwarves jumping to their feet arguing among themselves over the number of dragons the wizard had killed.

“Shazara!Thorin bellowed, jumping to his feet his face a mask of anger “If we have read these signs, do you not think others will have read them too? Rumours have begun to spread. The dragon Smaug has not been seen for sixty years. Eyes look east to the Mountain, assessing, wondering, weighing the risk. Perhaps the vast wealth of our people now lies unprotected. Do we sit back while others claim what is rightfully ours? Or do we seize this chance to take back Erebor? Du Bekâr! Du Bekâr!”

Billa rolled her eyes, wonderful the Idiot King – for she was truly beginning to think he was – believed the Dragon dead simply because it hadn’t been seen for sixty years. Did Dwarrow know nothing of animal hibernation?

“You forget: the front gate is sealed. There is no way into the mountain,” Balin, ever the voice of reason interrupted.

“That my dear Balin, is not entirely true,” Gandalf responded his blue eyes twinkling.

“So, you have found another way into the mountain,” Billa mused studying the key the Istari produced from his robes in an extravagant sleight of hand trick.

“How came you by this?” Thorin queried his eyes glued to the key in wonder.

“It was given to me by your father, by Thrain, for safekeeping. It is yours now,” Gandalf responded, handing over the key.

“If there is a key, there must be a door,” Fíli pointed out quite pointlessly.

“Indeed, the map speaks of a hidden door; these runes here speak of a hidden passage to the lower halls,” the Istar explained.

“There’s another way in!” at Kíli’s exclamation, Billa rolled her eyes.

“Well if we can find it, but dwarf doors are invisible when closed. The answer lies hidden somewhere in this map and I do not have the skill to find it. But there are others in Middle-earth who can. The task I have in mind will require a great deal of stealth, and no small amount of courage. But, if we are careful and clever, I believe that it can be done,” Gandalf said.

“And that’s why we need a burglar” Ori spoke up.

“Hmmm,” Billa mused, as many of the Dwarrow turned to fix their eyes on her, “and is this why you sought me out Gandalf? You are more than aware I am no burglar.”

“I’m afraid I have to agree with Miss Baggins. She’s hardly burglar material,” Balin added, Billa studied the older Dwarrow keenly; green eyes narrowed on the Dwarrow who avoided her gaze.

“Aye, the wild is no place for gentlefolk who can neither fight nor fend for themselves,” his brother piped up. Billa had had enough of the sly comments about her gender.

“I would say I have had plenty of experience of the wilds Master Dwalin, as Ambassador for the Shire,” she snapped, green eyes cold and daring him to interrupt her, “I have spent the last fourteen years consistently travelling between The Shire, Ered Luin, Mithlond, and Imladris. The last three, I have spent doing so alone since I came of age. I have been trained to protect myself since I was twenty-two. Keep your ‘gentlefolk’ comments well to yourself.” Billa could see her sharp words about to cause argument as was not surprised when Gandalf intervened; voice booming over the rising murmurs of the Company of Dwarrow.

“Enough! If I say Billa Baggins is a burglar, then a burglar she is. Hobbits are remarkably light on their feet. In fact, they can pass unseen by most if they choose. And while the dragon is accustomed to the smell of dwarf, elf and man, the scent of hobbit is all but unknown to him, which gives us a distinct advantage.” Gandalf sat back in his seat his voice returned to its natural intonation, “you asked me to find the fourteenth member of this company, and I have chosen Miss Baggins as your Burglar. There’s a lot more to her than appearances suggest, and she’s got a great deal more to offer than any of you know, including herself. You must trust me on this.”

“Very well. We will do it your way,” Thorin grumbled, before speaking to Balin, “give her the contract.”

“It’s just the usual summary of out-of-pocket expenses, time required, remuneration, funeral arrangements, so forth,” Balin explained. The older Dwarrow stated as he handed over the contract. Billa accepted the contract and then stepped into the hall to read it carefully wine still in hand as she let the parchment fall open.

“You don’t do anything by halves do you,” she said, eyeing the long parchment contract. Not expecting a response, she skimmed over the contract careful to pick up certain words used and terminology before she called over to the Advisor, “Balin, can I have a word?” The older Dwarrow stood from his seat and joined her in the hall.

“Yes Miss Baggins, is there a problem?”

“Well it seems that this contract is, I dare say, rather prejudice,” she stated simply, before reading off the contract, “Disputes arising between the Contract Parties shall be heard and judged by an arbitrator of the Company’s choosingand all pleas shall be pleaded, shrewed [sic], defended, answered, debated and judged in the Dwarvish Tongue. Now as I know – and respect – that your language is secret; so I doubt you are planning on teaching me enough to understand any such proceedings so do forgive me but how exactly am I meant to sign something that is for all intents and purposes, leaving me with very little rights at all within your Company,” her voice beginning to grow icy as she continued to speak,  “then there is of course this waiver; ‘Remedies shall similarly not be sought for any unlooked-for misfortune befalling Burglar’s home during his absence.’ You are indeed very lucky I had set my affairs in order before reading this otherwise I would have taken great offence. And what about this insult; ‘Funeral expenses to be defrayed by us or our representatives if occasion arises and the matter is not otherwise arranged for. Basic funeral to ‘commoner’ or peasant standard is allowed for only. Lavish ceremonies and jewelled (sic) or gilded coffins not provided. Plain pine box is the normal standard. Transport of any remains, in whole or in part, back to the country of Burglar’s origin is not included.’ You can clearly see I am by no means a peasant, that you would not even, if the chance allows, send my remains home to my family is disgraceful.” Balin had begun to turn grey as she continued to quote various issues with the contract at him. Thorin grew angry listening to her and rose to face her. Billa having expected this stood her ground and turned cold green eyes upon the King-In-Exile.

“You of all people Thorin Oakenshield should know better than to treat allies like they are worth nothing but the dust off your feet. That you knew that your Burglar was likely to be someone of a different race, and you approved of such a contract is both appalling and shows your arrogance,” she seethed, “regardless of my role in providing food for your people and organising contracts and treaties with your sister, I have never been so insulted in my life. You would for all intents and purposes near enslave a person to do your bidding with this contract!” Billa’s eyes flashed dangerously as the King opened his mouth to speak.

“Unless the words from your lips are an apology, I would suggest keeping your mouth shut. I have only two corrections I would like made. You will give me this, otherwise word will be sent to your sister of your abominable treatment of the Ambassador. Am. I. Clear?” she gritted out stepping forward to ensure the King could in no way doubt her sincerity. The Dwarf glared at her viciously but closed his mouth, and Billa smiled icily, before speaking to Balin, “wonderful, now Balin if you and Ori follow me we have some corrections to see to.”

.

.

.

An hour later Billa was satisfied with the contract corrections and signed the new contract with a flourish, much to the irritation of the Dwarf King who had read over the contract and signed it with a glare. Content to live her guests to their own devices, Billa set about preparing herself for the journey ahead. The voices of the Dwarrow lulling her as she prepared.


 

Chapter Text

"Khuzdul"

"Greenspeech"

"Sindarin"


 

The next morning, Billa had woken before dawn. Gathering the last few odds and ends she wished to take with her, she readied herself for the day ahead. Having finished her packing, she took to the washroom to have what would likely be her last bath for some time. Her soak in the tub had to be cut short however, as she wanted to have time to use up the last of the foodstuffs in her pantries – lest it go to waste. Slipping out of the washroom in her bathrobe, she easily made her way to her bedroom to dress. Upon returning to her room, she quickly pulled on some clean undergarments after drying her hair before she began to dress for the road; pulling on thick wool travelling trousers which had been dyed black, followed by a light undershirt and thicker tunic in a deep green. Billa finished off dressing by doing up the clasps of her customised leather jerkin – a gift from the Princess Dis, who had it commissioned after their first meeting. Her coat, cloak, and boots – loathe as she was to wear them – were folded and sat next to her pack and weapons which the hobbit-lass now moved to the entrance hall.

With a quick check of her father’s pocket-watch, Billa decided it was time to put together breakfast. Heading into the kitchen, she picked up the large basket she used for collecting ingredients from her pantries and headed for said pantries. The hobbit-lass’ lips quirked into a smirk at the significant gaps on the pantry shelves, amused at the Dwarrow ability to put down as much food if not more than most hobbits; although, she mused it was mostly due to Bombur’s near insatiable appetite, shaking her head she returned to her task.

By the time the first of the Dwarrow began to stir, the smell of bacon, sausage, eggs, pastries, tea, and coffee had wafted throughout the smial. Billa had been cooking up a veritable feast for her house-guests. With her back to the door, she had been mixing up a new batch of pancake-mix while keeping an eye on the last of her blueberry pancakes in her skillet when the first of the Dwarrow entered. 

Not turning around, Billa set down her mixing bowl and reached for her cast iron skillet as she acknowledged their presence, “Good morning Master Dwarrow, breakfast is nearly ready but please help yourself to what has already been made up whilst it is still hot.”

“Yet another feast.” Billa took a moment to place the voice to a name, Kíli. Glancing over her shoulder she noted that she had been correct, and it was the two youngest Dwarrow who now made for her kitchen table and started plating up some food for themselves.

“I did not want to leave perishables in the pantry before my Cousins could arrive to stand in for me as Master of Bag-End. It also only seemed practical that we start this journey well fed, it will likely be the last time we will get the chance to eat so well for some time,” Billa explained, turning her eyes to the pancake which was now ready to be flipped.

“Your Cousins?” the blonde dwarf asked – Fíli, Billa reminded herself as she used her spatula to flip the now cooked pancake onto one of her Mother’s serving platters. Before pouring in some of the new batch.

“Stand in?” Kíli added in query.

“Yes, my first Cousin Primula Brandybuck and her fiancée – my second Cousin Drogo on my father’s side– will be taking up my titles and estates in my absence. Another of my Cousins, Sigismond Took will be taking up my duties as the Shire Ambassador for Ered Luin and Mithlond,” Billa explained as she continued cooking up the pancakes.

“Titles and Estates?” came a new voice.

“Yes Miss Ori,” Billa responded kindly with a smile thrown over her shoulder at the young Dwarrowdam, “as my Father’s only child, concessions were made and I was able to inherit his title as Master of Bag-End and his numerous estates as Head of the Baggins Family; although that title was given to my Uncle Polo, which in some respects I am glad for. It allowed me to become the Ambassador.”

“So, you have named your Cousin as your heir?” Fíli asked.

“In a way, yes. That I have yet to marry means that I have no children to leave Bag-End too, so I would much prefer that Drogo and Primula get it as they will need a home of their own to raise their own faunts in. They deserve it more than the Sackville-Bagginses,” Billa answered her voice ending with a hiss, even as she picked up the now full pancake platter and offered them to the young Dwarrow.

“You must not like these Sackville-Bagginses,” Ori commented as she accepted some pancakes.

“You would be correct in that Miss Ori, they have long believed that Bag-End should have gone to them when my Father passed. My Aunt Camellia once sought to seduce my Father away from my Mother and when that didn’t work, tried to betroth me to her son Otho, who is near thirty years my senior,” Billa explained as she set down the pancakes on a side board and made for the oven, wrapping her hands in tea-towels she reached in and pulled out the tray of blueberry, and chocolate chip muffins.  Followed shortly by the several loaves of bread she had made up that morning.

“I must admit, I have been attempting to make myself seem as undesirable as possible in an attempt to make them leave me alone. Being the Ambassador for the Shire has been one of the only things that has likely kept me sane,” Billa joked slightly, bringing over a plate of the freshly baked muffins.

“You mentioned that earlier, are you Mamahkhallazûna?” Fíli inquired picking a blueberry muffin.

“That is what your mother calls me. In Westron ‘Ambassador’ is the closest thing to represent what I actually do for the Hobbits of the Shire, the direct translation from the Green Tongue is closer to ‘Messenger’,” Billa responded with an amused smile as Kíli and Ori both snatched the chocolate chip muffins. Before Fíli could continue his questions Bofur, Bombur, Dori, and Glóin all entered the kitchen.

“Good morning Master Dwarrow, please help yourself to breakfast,” Billa greeted with a smile, gesturing to the spread of food that decorated her kitchen table. They were soon joined by Balin, Dwalin, Bifur, and Óin; and upon a suggestion from Fíli, Billa made up a plate of blueberry pancakes, sausages, eggs, roast tomato and potato hash. After a moment’s thought, she also snatched up the last of her blueberry muffins and set the plate in the oven to stay warm.

Upon Gandalf’s entrance to the kitchen, Billa had grabbed herself a plate and had been nibbling on a piece of bread slathered with butter and blackberry jam. Once she had finished her meal, she set about beginning to wash up the plates that had already been cleared of all foodstuffs. To her surprise and delight the two Princes-in-Exile offered to help her, this time without any tossing of her Mother’s crockery.

By the time their Uncle had joined the Company, most if not all of the dishes had been cleaned and put away. Billa once again fished out of the oven the meal she had set aside for the King-in-Exile and set about cleaning up her counters, humming quietly as Gandalf, Thorin, and Balin sat at the table discussing the path they would take. Having finished her cleaning Billa poured herself one last cup of coffee which she doctored with milk and a single teaspoon of sugar, listening to the two Dwarrow and the Wizard while the other Dwarrow set about seeing themselves packed.

“While we remain in the Shire, keeping to the East Road heading towards Bree will be our fastest route,” Gandalf advised Thorin, gesturing the route on one of the maps he had had Billa procure for him. She had never been gladder to have multiple copies of Maps of Middle Earth, as she had already packed her originals in oilskin and had them in her pack.

“Keeping to the East-West Road may indeed also solve our problem of how to avoid detection Thorin, if we simply appear as merchants heading west to the Iron Hills any who ask will quickly lose interest,” Balin added. Billa kept her expression neutral as she sipped her coffee, although her interest was piqued; the quest was meant to be kept a secret.

“As you say, for now we shall take the East-West Road towards Bree,” Thorin confirmed as he finished his meal and stood from the table, before imperiously stating, “we leave within the hour.” Billa did her best not to roll her eyes as she stepped up to the table picking up the now empty plate and coffee cup and headed for the sink.

“Sorry to bother you lass, but would you mind terribly if I kept this?” Balin asked having rolled up the map. Glancing over at the white-haired dwarf, Billa smiled.

“Of course, Master Balin. It is simply a copy of the original and I can’t help but see it being useful to you,” she responded as she washed up the few remaining dishes.

“My thanks Miss Baggins,” Balin said with a grateful smile as he tucked the map into his wine-red robes.

“It is no trouble Master Balin,” Billa responded, making quick work of drying the dishes and setting about putting them away. After a moment she paused in her actions to observe him studying her from where he stood at her kitchen table, “was there a problem Master Balin?”

“Ah forgive me Miss Baggins, I will admit I am trying to place you within Thorinuldûm,” the Advisor said sheepishly.

“Ah, I see. Well as you would know I deal mostly with the Lady Dís, and before her passing I also worked with the late Lady Nís alongside my late mother, but we never stayed within Thorin’s Halls. I often stay within the city of New Nogrod though, as close to Thorin’s Halls as I can be without imposing. Dís has been wonderfully practical about the whole thing and usually has one of her guards’ escort me from whichever inn I am staying at,” Billa explained easily, as she went back to packing away the dishes.

“And is that how you met Nori?” the Advisor asked. Billa turned to face the older man with an eyebrow raised.

“Though I don’t see why you need to know, no it was not. I met Nori when I saved him from bleeding out in an alleyway in the slums of New Nogrod, where he had been mugged for what little food he had been bringing to the orphans of the slums. I had wandered off on my own – exploring the city while my Mother worked with Dís and Lady Nís – I wasn’t about to let him die, especially after I found out why it had happened.”

“So, you are the reason we have the Orphan’s Rations,” Balin commented thoughtfully.

“More than that.” Billa turned her head to acknowledge the thief she’d heard enter the kitchen – he had a much softer tread then many of his kind. “Bilbo is also the reason why there were orphanages built in the better districts, and why they are still receiving the rations.”

“You are the mysterious sponsor. We have been trying to find out who’d been sponsoring the orphanages for years,” Balin exclaimed quietly in surprise.

“Father approved of my usage of my inheritance so that I could sponsor the building of the orphanages, he and Mother were happy to support me in my decision. It’s not like I was going to bankrupt myself,” Billa said, narrowing her eyes slightly at Nori, “I must admit I was hoping to remain an anonymous sponsor. Many Dwarrow would not have taken lightly to knowing that it was a Hobbit who was sponsoring and keeping their orphanage’s afloat.”

“You mean our esteemed leader,” Nori murmured from her side, Billa elbowed him swiftly in the ribs. Balin looked between the Thief and their Hobbit Burglar as he spoke.

“I see. Well, I promise to keep it to myself for now, if that will make you more comfortable? Although I will be forced to tell Thorin about this at some point.”

“Let him get over the fact that I am a Hobbit and a woman first, mayhaps once he has become used to my presence within his Company he will be more receptive to finding out. I would rather not be cursed and accused of bribery,” Billa responded drily, sharing a wry glance with Nori.

“Perhaps so,” Balin murmured thoughtfully, before he bowed to her “for what it is worth Miss Baggins, thank you.” Billa simply nodded in acknowledgement as she watched the Advisor leave her kitchen. After a moment she turned to face Nori who was already looking at her.

“Well, that was interesting,” he said leaning against her crockery cabinet.

“Indeed, was there a purpose to telling him about my sponsorship?” she asked him.

“The Advisor is a smart Dwarf. Wily, cunning, but incredibly intelligent. He is a dangerous enemy to have Bilbo, but also a great ally to gain. If I can help you gain at least his approval you will be well accepted by the others, though it seems you are already half way there; you have charmed my nana’dith quite completely Bil and seem to be well on your way to gaining the friendships of the two terrors. Bombur is also quite charmed by your cooking ability and you of course already have my friendship,” Nori commented smirking at the hobbit-lass, with her long copper curls loose and dressed the part of an adventurer.

“Five out of thirteen, still some ways to go,” Billa murmured.

“Aw Bofur and Dori will be easy enough for you to charm, and Bifur is just a big ol’ softie beneath his gruff countenance once you get passed the language barrier. Just give it some time Bil,” he answered shifting away from the cabinet to pat her shoulder softly.

“We shall see, now I assume you came in here for a reason?”

“Yes, the King has ordered us ready to leave; the terrors and Glóin have just returned from picking up sixteen ponies we shall be leaving very soon.”

“Just as well I am finished, did you return my dining table to the dining room?”

“Yes, I had Dori and Bofur help me. Do you have everything?”

“Everything is packed and set near the door, I just need to put on my boots and coat. It is just a mite bit too warm for my cloak,” Billa answered leading the way through the smial to the entrance hall where she pulled on her socks, and then specially crafted boots, before putting on her thick adventurers’ coat; it was oilskin leather lined with white wolf pelt, taken from her very first kill.

“And your hair?”

“I’ll do that atop Myrtle. I told the boys to save some coin and that I would pick up Myrtle on the way past Farmer Cotton’s.”

“You knew which direction we would be going?”

“There is only one way out of the Shire to Bree, one safe way that is,” Billa reminded with an amused smirk as she armed herself. On her belt; a sword that was long enough to be considered a long sword to her race on her right hip, and two daggers, one in the small of her back and the other on her left hip. She then strapped her thigh holster to her right leg, checking the security of the hunting knife that was sheathed, this she followed with a thigh holstered bag that contained her emergency healing supplies, and served to holster three hidden throwing knives. She then went about hiding her remaining throwing knives upon her person two in each boot in the hidden sheaths there and eight in the hidden pockets of her coat. Nori snorted as she armed herself.

“You know I rarely keep to the roads Bil,” Nori responded drily as she hid her last throwing knife in the lining of her coat.

“True enough,” she said with a smile, shouldering her pack and carrying her cloak over her arms, “but Gandalf knows his way through the Shire, so I very much doubt that Master Oakenshield will be able to get us very lost.”

“I hope you haven’t jinxed us Bil,” Nori groaned as the two left the smial. Billa took one last look over the entrance hall of her childhood home. There was no way of knowing if she’d return or if she’d want to, but in her heart, she knew she was ready for her next adventure. Stepping out her front door she pulled it closed behind her before locking it with the brass key that hung around her neck. She’d given Hamfast directions to show Drogo where the spare keys were, as she had always planned to take hers with her. With a small huff of breath Billa finally responded to Nori,

“We need only follow the road, how could he possibly be that bad with directions?” she asked green eyes wide, and eyebrow quirked in question.


 

She soon learned the answer to her question when the Company had somehow ended up in the Marish after two days of travel.

“How in Yavanna’s sweet green hills did we end up in Deephollow?” she groaned leaning over Myrtle’s neck in despair as Balin, Thorin, and Gandalf tried to figure out exactly where Thorin had led them.

“You now know better than to say those words now don’t you,” Nori teased from astride the dappled pony Billa had named Ivy.

“Aye, I shall never say anything of the sort again,” Billa responded fervently, “Lady knows how he managed it though, we are at least a good day’s south of where we should be.”

“A good day’s south?” Kíli asked leading his bay pony – Honeysuckle – alongside Myrtle.

“Yes. Your Uncle has successfully led us to the Marish, which is south of both crossing points of the Brandywine,” she answered the dark haired Dwarrow with a strained smile.

“You know the Shire very well,” he commented.

“I should, it’s my duty as Chennad of the Shire to not just deal with diplomacy beyond its borders but within as well. I am the first point of call for all disputes within the Shire, my Cousins Sigismond and Adalgrim also serve as Chennad of the Shire, but my duties go beyond theirs. They stick to dealing mostly with the diplomatic disputes within the borders of the Shire,” Billa responded, before smirking with a teasing glint in her green eyes, “I know the Shire like the back of my hand, I could likely get around blindfolded for how well I know the land and its people.” Kíli’s dark eyes lit up in response.

“Truly?” he breathed.

“In truth, quite possibly. Hobbit’s have a connection to the earth, similar to that of Elves but much stronger,” Billa mused as she hid her amusement at the young Dwarf’s excitement, she however did giggle at his deflation over her following words, “but that is not something we should test with your Uncle’s temper being on such a short wick as it is.” She grew ever so slightly concerned when he perked up again, by now very aware firsthand of just how mischievous he and his golden brother could be.

“I must speak with Uncle and Balin,” he said before he clucked to Honeysuckle and the bay stallion made his way forward.

“Nori,” Billa called, catching the redhaired Dwarf’s attention.

“Yes Bil?” he asked as she moved Myrtle alongside him once again.

“How likely is it I am going to die by Oakenshield’s blade?” she muttered the question as she watched the youngest Durin speak with the Idiot King and the Advisor.

“Depends what are the parameters for the bet?”

“His stubborn refusal to accept that I may be useful?” she responded drily with a quirk of her brow.

“Death is not in the picture quite yet, unless you mean death of your pride and self-worth. He will likely try to humiliate you to make himself feel better,” the Thief responded quite easily. Billa groaned again and returned to laying across Myrtle’s neck.

“Joy of joys,” she grumbled into the pony’s light mane, “knowing him, he’ll be even worse than Rudyard Burrows was when I publicly rejected his proposal.” Not a moment later she stiffened at the call – roar – of their leader.

“Baggins!”

“Lady help me,” Billa murmured before straightening in the saddle and nudging her mare up to where the illustrious leader of their merry band was sat astride the glorious black stallion, fondly named Minty, “yes Master Oakenshield, you called for me?”

“Kíli tells me you are able to guide us through the Shire,” the Dwarf-King stated gruffly.

“He is correct, my Lord, I know exactly where we are,” she replied politely though she sat stiffly in her saddle.

“Then you will lead us across the river,” he commanded. Billa fought not to roll her eyes at the Dwarf.

“Would you like me to lead you to the Brandywine Bridge or the Buckleberry ferry? Both cross the Brandywine into Buckland. Although the Bridge will set us back upon the East-West Road,” she asked glancing between Thorin and Balin.

“Whichever comes first, I would be out of the Shire as soon as possible.”

“Of course, my Lord,” Billa responded bowing slightly in the saddle using it as a chance to roll her eyes at the infuriating Dwarf, “if you are ready to depart I can lead the way.” With a nod of ascent from the Dwarf-King she brought her fingers to her lips and let loose a shrill whistle that caught the attention of the Company, smirking slightly at the glare she received from Thorin. Once she was sure she had their attention she spoke,

“Master Oakenshield has asked me to lead the way out of the Shire, if you are ready to depart please follow me.” With that the hobbit-lass turned herself forward facing in her saddle and clucked at Myrtle to get the mare on the move again, within moments the Company had fallen into step behind her with only Nori urging Ivy forward to trot beside Myrtle.

“Death may be more likely then I previously thought,” Nori commented amusedly, “I have never seen anyone earn a glare so dark from our illustrious leader.”

“I don’t think anyone has dared to whistle that close to his royal ears,” Billa retorted with a devious grin.

“You are a right devil lass,” Nori said as he devolved into raucous laughter.

“Perhaps,” Billa responded with a smirk.


 

By nightfall, Billa had successfully led the Company out of the Shire and across the Brandywine Bridge. Having made the executive decision that with sixteen ponies and one horse the Buckleberry Ferry was simply out of the question; much to Thorin’s irritation. The Company had quickly set up camp and had a cold dinner that night of bread, cheese, and some jerky she had packed after going through her pantries the morning they left. The night passed quietly with many of the Company avoiding angering Thorin further, for the Dwarf-King had been snapping at any who spoke so much as a word to him. After some particularly vicious words to Kíli, Billa had had enough. Standing from where she had been combing through her knotted curls, she strode over to the Dwarf and set her hands to her hips.

“That’s quite enough of that. Your nephew was doing no more than attempting to cheer you up some, there’s really no need to take out your anger with me on the Company,” she chided, well aware this was likely not going to end well.

“Who are you to tell me what to do,” he snarled, standing from his bedroll to tower over her.

“Who said I was telling you to do anything, I was giving you your target my Lord,” she sassed, slipping to sit on one of her hips.

“Why you impertinent cumberworld…” her roared.

“Why that is almost a Hobbit insult, my Aunt Camellia would be most impressed,” Billa interrupted snidely.

Abrâfu shaikmashâz!” Thorin roared at her before devolving into more aggressive Khuzdul. Billa simply stood there and took it, not letting on that she had over the years taught herself a good deal of Khuzdul, not that she would ever claim fluency. Once the Dwarf had run out of breath she waited a moment before speaking,

“Feel better now?” she asked politely, earning a bewildered look from Thorin, to which she explained, “well it looked like you needed to yell and curse it out, so I gave you an easy target. Better me than you aiming sharp words at your nephews that you will later regret.” Satisfied the King-in-Exile was now calm enough if not confused enough to stop being such a grump, Billa curtseyed ever so slightly and left returning to her bedroll to continue combing through her knotted curls. There was silence for several long moments as she hummed contentedly, running the wooden comb through her hair, before the Dwarrow began to speak amongst themselves again. Billa had just managed to detangle her curls when Bofur came over to sit next to her. She observed him with keen green eyes as she set about braiding her hair in a tight fishtail braid.

“That was a very brave thing ye did lass,” he said after a moment, his voice quiet in comparison to the few other times they had conversed.

“I wasn’t about to let you all get snapped at because he was beyond irritated with me, nothing he could have said could have been worse than what I have heard from the lips of some of my own family and kin. At least he is less tense now and has seemingly apologised to both Kíli and Fíli; I would hate for him to have said something he would regret, family is too important for that,” she responded with ease, not at all surprised at the topic of conversation.

“No’ many would face him ‘nd bear the brunt o’ his wrath,” Bofur replied.

“Perhaps it is time that someone does, I will not hesitate to call him out when he is being unreasonable. He may be our leader, but he is still mortal. He is no more perfect than I,” Billa said quietly.

“I stand by m’ earlier comment lass, ye are very brave,” the usually comic Dwarf said seriously before a mischievous grin pulled at his lips, “I doubt there’ll be a dull moment wit’ ye among our humble Company.”

“I hope not Master Bofur, it wouldn’t be an adventure otherwise,” Billa said grinning impishly and drawing a hearty laugh from the hatted Dwarf.

The remainder of the evening was spent chatting with Bofur and Bombur with the former also serving as translator for Billa and Bifur, before the Company bedded down for the night with Dwalin on first watch.


 

The following morning saw the Company pack up swiftly and eat breakfast in the saddle as Thorin was eager to make up for lost time. Billa had spent most of the day riding in silence listening to the conversations flying around her, so by midday it had surprised her to be boxed in on either side by both Princes-in-Exile.

“Miss Baggins,” they greeted in unison.

“Master Fíli, Master Kíli,” she returned with a curious look.

“Ah we wished to extend our thanks for last night,” Fíli began.

“Yes, not many interfere when Uncle gets angry and we truly appreciate it,” Kíli finished.

“Think nothing of it. It was my actions at the root of his anger, it is only fair the one to face his wrath be the one that fertilised it,” Billa responded with a gentle, kind smile at both Dwarrow, “I will not let him take his anger at me out on another, t’is only right.”

“You truly are Mabarrajûna,” Kíli breathed quietly. She simply looked at him curiously, though she inwardly smiled bashfully at the compliment.

“A compliment Miss Baggins,” Fíli extended, “he means to say you are astounding, and I must agree,” the golden Prince-in-Exile said.

“Thank you very much for your kind words, the both of you,” Billa said with a smile allowing a slight blush to cover her cheeks. It was very rare for her to receive a genuine compliment these days.

By late afternoon Billa once again looked around her surroundings bewildered. She had led them back to the East Road and yet somehow Thorin had got them to Crickhollow and was trying to lead them into the Old Forest.

Cachad! she exclaimed causing many of the Dwarrow nearest to her to look in her direction, even as she urged Myrtle to quicken her pace so she could intercept the Dwarf-King. Pulling the reins, Billa succeeded in intercepting Thorin, Balin, and Dwalin.

“What is the meaning of this?” Thorin snarled.

“You’ve somehow got turned around again my Lord,” Billa said bluntly, her fear of the Old Forest far stronger than any fear she held towards the Dwarf-King, “we have once again drifted south and if we continue the way we are headed we will be beyond help. You lead us towards the Old Forest.”

“And why should that stop us?” he demanded.

“Very few that enter the Old Forest, ever return. Only those who have the luck to chance across Tom Bombadil do so as he is the only being that the wights are terrified of, and the Huorns heed,” Billa stated clearly though her voice trembled with her fear.

“There are warriors among us…” Thorin began.

“And what use are they against the dead?!” Billa cried out, fear shining in her green eyes, “once a barrow-wight gets its ice-cold hands upon your flesh your will is no longer your own. They take you to the Barrow-downs and dress you in robes of white, adorn you with the gold of the Ancient Kings of Men and chain you upon their dark alters to slay you; and through it all you are as helpless as a babe! No good will come of going into that forest, please believe me, I beg of you.” It was at this point that Gandalf decided to interfere, he had remained quiet to observe but at the sheer terror housed within his young hobbit friend he felt honour-bound to interfere.

“I must concur with Miss Baggins’ accounts, the Old Forest is not safe for mortal beings and by most accounts not safe for those who are immortal either. It is best we head back the way we came and make for Bree Thorin, as Bilbo stated; no good will come of going into that forest,” the Istar stated firmly. The Dwarf-King seemed torn but one last look at the terrified hobbit and he nodded in ascent allowing the Wizard to lead the way back. Billa simply waited until the Company had turned around and were well on their way back toward Bree before she nudged Myrtle to follow them.

She rode in silence, her mind ravaged by dark memories of winter, helpless terror and of the timely arrival of a being of legend. She hadn’t even noticed she was shaking until a gentle hand set itself upon her shoulder. Nearly jumping out of her skin, her head snapped around with neck-breaking speed to set her gaze upon Nori, who looked apologetic for causing the scare.

“Apologies Bil, but you’ve been in a trance like state for hours now. We’re halfway to Bree and Thorin has ordered us camp for the night, we will reach Bree by nightfall tomorrow by Balin’s estimates,” the Thief explained. Shaking her head slightly, Billa boxed her past up and shoved it deep into the recesses of her memories. Composure regained, her smile was strained as she acknowledged his words.

“Of course, Nori. Thank you.”

Billa went about her evening duties stoically, her memories breaking free every so often to fill her with dread before she pushed them aside again. She would have night terrors that night, there would be no escaping them. So it was, when it came to choosing where to place her bedroll she placed hers as far away from the Company as possible, while still being within the boundaries of their camp. For she did not wish to disturb the sleep of the Company with her night terrors. Sleep evaded her for some time, before sheer exhaustion took over and drove her in Irmo’s realms.

The terrors came with a vengeance.

Memories: some twisted while others were left to play out their terrifying truths. Billa’s experience with her night terrors had driven her to learn to keep quiet, often she awoke biting down on the side of her palm and was still surprised she did not have deeper scars. This night was no different and just as the night terror reached its climax, green eyes clouded with fear snapped open as she rocketed upright from her bedroll. Her scream muffled by the heel of her palm where it was caught between her teeth. After several minutes of deep breathing Billa had finally shaken off the last of the night terrors and took her hand away from her mouth, only for her to hiss at the taste of iron upon her tongue. She had broken skin. With practiced ease she reached for the bag holstered to her thigh; collecting salve and bandage she set about cleaning the bite marks and covering them with the salve, finishing up by wrapping the bandage firmly around her hand.

“You are well versed in medicine,” came Kíli’s voice from his place as the final watch of the night.

Glad he had not brought up the subject of night terrors and knowing she would get no more rest that night, Billa set about rolling up her bedroll and attaching it to her pack. Picking it and her belt up she moved to sit next to Kíli on the log on the skirts of the camp. Belting on her sword and daggers, she finally responded, “it came as part of my weapons training. My tutor was adamant I learn to heal myself and others and would often make me practice upon myself if I received an injury during training. Perhaps not the kindest way to teach, but learn I did. Though he certainly did build upon the skills my Mother had already imparted upon me as a young tween,”

“You have mentioned that you were trained before, who was it that trained you? For forgive me, but I cannot see it being another Hobbit,” he asked. Billa giggled at the image he presented.

“No offense taken Master Kíli, and you are correct it was not another Hobbit. My tutor was one of the Dúnedain, a Ranger by the name of Calder. He still serves as one of the Shire’s silent protectors though from my latest contact with him he was serving down at Sarn Ford,” she explained a content smile upon her lips.

“Would you tell me about your training?”

“Of course,” she replied, “Calder didn’t want to train me at first, but I was rather persistent, and I believe he agreed only because it would stop my nagging.” This earned her a chuckle from the young Dwarf. “I was twenty-two and there had just been a terrible winter, the coldest in many a year. So cold the Shire’s natural defence – the Brandywine – froze over, leaving us quite defenceless against the dark creatures the winter and the snows had driven towards our borders. My Mother had been one of the many victims that winter – so now called Fell – and once spring came, in my grief and frustration I begged to be taught how to defend myself and others. Calder eventually agreed and taught me how to wield blade and bow, taught me to throw knives with great proficiency, and how to heal all but the direst of wounds. He also became my personal escort on my duties as Ambassador up until my thirty-third birthday where he claimed that now I was of age he could finally return to his duties. He is a good friend of mine, although a callous man.”

“You can wield a bow?” Kíli asked in his excitement.

“Yes, though I have yet replaced my old bow from when I lost it,” she replied, shivering as her mind drifted back towards her night terrors.

“When we next make camp, would you be opposed to showing me your skills?” he inquired, seemingly excited to share the commonality of the bow with the hobbit-lass.

“If you mean to lend me your bow to do so certainly, it would be a bit hard to show my skill without one,” she teased earning herself a slight blush from the young Dwarf.

“I see no other option,” he replied with confidence although his blush darkened his cheeks further.

“Then yes, when we next make camp I will show you my skills with the bow,” she answered smiling sincerely at the Dwarf. The remainder of their joint watch was spent talking idly, conversation often drifting back to Dís, and subsequently Billa’s acquaintance with the Dwarrow Princess-in-Exile. At the first signs of the sun peaking over the horizon they began to stir the Company from sleep. By the time the dawn had coloured the sky an array of pinks, oranges, and purple the Company was well awake and setting about packing down camp. The last items to be set upon the two Pack Ponies – Flax and Hollyhock – were the cooking utensils and bowls as the Company took a hot breakfast with the few conies Billa had managed to catch while the Company had been waking. 


 

The day passed quickly with light chatter and merry making as they progressed down the East Road. As had been predicted, just as night began to creep over Eriador the Company reached the gates of Bree. They entered without problem and Gandalf took the lead, leading them towards one of the best inn’s in Bree – The Prancing Pony. Upon entering the establishment Billa easily slipped herself to the front of the Company and made her way straight up to the counter taking the carefully crafted stairs designed for the smaller folk until she was level. After a moment of waiting, in which she was almost certain that Thorin was about to have a conniption once he had finally spotted her, Millard Butterbur caught sight of her.

“Ah Miss Baggins, back again I see,” the young innkeeper greeted the hobbit-lass, meandering over to the counter.

“Lovely to see you again Mister Butterbur, could I trouble you for seven small folk rooms and one mannish room? I am travelling with a band of Dwarrow who were kind enough to allow myself and my dear friend Gandalf to join them on the Road. So, of course when the opportunity arose that I could mayhap repay such kindness I just had to take it, so please simply adjust it to my tab if at all possible,” Billa said, spinning her tale with a sweet smile.

“Your graciousness becomes you Miss Baggins, but unfortunately we do not have enough small folk rooms, I only have the room you usually stay in available.”

“Hmm I see, well perhaps five mannish rooms and my usual then? Most of my companions are travelling within family groups,” she countered with a winning smile.

“Aye I’ll be able to arrange that. Will you be paying for the food and ale consumed as well, Miss Baggins?” Billa chanced a glance over her shoulder with an inquiring brow raised at Thorin who simply shook his head at her.

“Simply the food Mister Butterbur, I shan’t have anything left on my tab should I pay for their liquor as well my friend,” she jested earning a broad smile and a chuckle from the innkeeper.

“Aye, that’ll do ya. I’ll send you the invoice as always Miss Baggins,” he responded shaking her hand companionably, before holding it between both of his in concern, “I must say it is nice to know you will have company on the road ahead Miss Baggins, whispers have come through that the Road ahead is quite dangerous. I’ll worry less knowing that you will be well protected dear lady.”

“I thank you for the news Millard, it will certainly caution us to be careful on the Road,” Billa returned with a sincere smile of gratitude. Millard released her hands after another moment and handed her the keys to the rooms she asked for and with yet another word of thanks, she stepped down from the stairs and approached a scowling Thorin.

“Before you yell at me Master Oakenshield, please consider the fact that I did what I did to save you coin and to solidify your cover tale, there were several Men who took interest in our party as soon as we entered,” she said quietly, her lips barely moving as she smiled winsomely at the Dwarf-King before speaking louder, “here we go Master Thornur, keys for your party. Unfortunately, Millard doesn’t have enough rooms fit for us proper sized folk, but I was able to seek two mannish rooms furnished with twin beds that should fit two each, and two with double beds that will fit three each if that’ll be suitable.” Thorin’s eyes narrowed slightly at her act.

“Thank you, Miss Baggins. Your generosity is boundless, it will be more than suitable,” he answered voice smooth, bowing to her in thanks.

“Think nothing of it Master Thornur, you have been nothing but helpful to myself and Gandalf. It was the least I could do,” she responded with another winsome smile, “now please excuse me I would like to make use of this fine establishment’s amenities while we have the chance, and I still have yet to give Gandalf his key! Shall I meet you back here in the dining hall in an hour?”

“Of course, Miss Baggins,” Thorin said, agreeing to her dismissal. With a small curtsey Billa turned on her heel and glided towards Gandalf, catching Nori’s eyes as she continued her act with Gandalf. When she turned back Nori was gone, she simply hoped he had got her message. As she took herself and her pack upstairs she was joined at the top of the stairs by a Dwarven shadow.

“So, what did you want to speak about?” Nori murmured as he fell in step with her.

“Some of the Men who appeared interested in my little story down there concern me, could you do me a favour and perhaps find out just what it is that made them so interested?” she inquired quietly.

“I know just the ones, I had my eye on them too.”

“Excellent. Once you know more perhaps you should speak with Balin and organise a meeting later tonight with Master Thornur, we should really clarify a few things before we return to the road,” Billa said a little louder as they passed one of the serving girls who cleaned the inn’s rooms.

“Of course, Miss Baggins,” Nori responded in kind, voice laden with charm. Once they were once again alone in the hallway, Billa spoke again.

“I always have a bath readied during my stay here, so if Ori would like to bathe in private tell her she can simply come up to my room now,” she said as they reached her room.

“Thank you Bil,” Nori said sincerely, “I am sure my sister will enjoy some time away from Dwarrow in the company of another ‘dam.”

“It is a pleasure Nori, now you go on and extend my offer to her first before you disappear back into the shadows.” With quiet farewells Billa entered her room, smiling warmly at the sight of the steaming hot bath that was already waiting for her. Millard was a gem.

Billa set down her pack near the room’s single bed and without preamble, promptly shed her clothes and sank into the searing heat of the bath. Making use of her favourite honeysuckle and goats milk soap she’d had the forethought to bring with her, she scrubbed her body and hair free of the dust and grime of travel. Taking several moments to simply relax in the heat of the water, she was interrupted by a quiet knock and voice through the door.

“Miss Billa, it’s Ori.”

“Please come in Miss Ori, the door is open.” Glancing around the dividing screen that blocked the sight of most of the bath from the door, Billa greeted the nervous Dwarrowdam with a kind smile as she entered the room and closed the door behind her.

“Nori said that you offered to share your bath with me Miss Billa,” the shy Dwarrowdam said.

“And he was correct, I thought you might like some privacy to do so away from prying eyes. I do hope you don’t mind sharing the bathwater?”

“Not at all Miss Billa,” Ori said firmly.

“Well the water is still hot, just let me get out,” Billa replied with a warm smile as she stood from the small folk sized tub and stepped out of it reaching for one of the towels that had been left for her usage. Quickly drying off her body she wrapped the towel around her and gathered her clothing to allow Ori to make use of the screen, which the Dwarrowdam did. As the hobbit-lass changed into fresh undergarments, an undershirt, her black woollen trousers and green tunic, Ori slipped into the heated water of the bath with a relieved sigh.

“Did you have any soap Miss Ori?” Billa asked as she sat herself at the table set in the middle of the room.

“Unfortunately not, Miss Billa,” she replied.

“Well I have my spare soap, its scented lavender if you would like to use it?” Billa offered.

“Oh, I would hate to be a bother Miss Billa.”

“Not at all Miss Ori, not at all,” she responded moving over to her pack and fishing out the lavender scented soap before she headed over to the screen and placed it within arm’s reach of the young Dwarrowdam on the side table beside the tub, “there you go.”

“Thank you, Miss Billa,” the Dwarrowdam said sincerely, prompting an amused pursing of hobbit-lass’ lips.

“Now please tell me if I am being to forward Miss Ori, but perhaps if we are to be friends and as the only females on this journey we could drop the formalities?” the hobbit-lass asked, running her wooden comb through her damp curls. The Dwarrowdam made a noise akin to a squeak before finally managing to bring words to her lips.

“I would like that very much Mis… Billa.”

“That’s just lovely Ori, because I would very much like that too,” Billa responded with a warm smile.

Billa and Ori chatted idly as the latter bathed but after a short time both ladies were dressed comfortably and left the room. The hobbit-lass had not forgotten to strap on her thigh holster for her hunting knife and had two throwing knives hidden in her boots, with another two sets hidden in invisible pockets sewed into both her tunic and pants. Upon entering the dining hall, the two ladies migrated towards their companions who had already been served their evening meal and appeared to be starting into their cups. The two new friends took a seat among the Company and continued chatting idly, though both chose not to take part in the unofficial drinking competition that Bofur and Kíli had somehow started with Dwalin and Glóin. The night passed amiably but despite the relaxed manner in which Billa presented herself, shrewd green eyes surveyed the room keeping track of the Men she had earlier picked out.

As she surveyed the room yet again, green eyes widened in surprise as they fell upon a familiar face.

“Rorimac!” she cried out, extracting herself from her seat and gliding over to her Brandybuck Cousin.

“Billa!” he called back coming to meet her half way, swinging her off her feet with great ease as he was one of the tallest hobbits she knew, though certainly not taller than the average Dwarrow.

“What are you doing in Bree?” she asked giggling as he swung her round once before setting her to her feet.

“Beginning my training as one of the Chennad. With you leaving for an unknown amount of time, Father and Fortinbras both thought it would be a good idea for me to start my training. I won’t be going as far as Sigismond will be, but I will likely be going with him on the next trip as part of my training,” the blonde Brandybuck responded.

“I had forgotten about the talks of another Chennad, though I fully approve of it being you and Buckland finally having its own,” Billa admitted with a grin she shared with her Cousin, the one that labelled them both as Grandchildren of Old Took.

“Aye, I must admit I am glad that it is now and not last year. Saradoc is toddling now and sleeping through the night which makes him less of a stress for ‘Gilda to deal with while I am away on Chennad business.”

“Oh yes, your little boy turns two in just under a year, I do hope I will be back by then to be there for his and Paladin’s birthdays,” Billa said warmly.

“I will never understand what uncanny coincidence it was that my son would be born the same day seven years after Adalgrim’s.”

“Neither can the rest of our Clan,” Billa teased, chancing a glance over her shoulder she spotted Nori speaking with Balin, deciding that she needed to say her goodbyes she turned back to Rorimac and pulled him into a tight hug saying her well wishes and sending her love back to his family before retreating to her companions. She met Nori’s murky depths with an inquiring nod which earned her a nod and a gesture towards Balin and Thorin, smiling in thanks she returned to conversation with Ori until Balin came over feigning a need to speak with her. Once Balin, Dwalin, Nori, Thorin, and she were settled in the Mannish room the sons of Fundin and Thorin were sharing, Billa turned to Nori.

“What have you found out?” she asked.

“Most of the men were bandit informers who became uninterested rather quickly once reminded that there were several accomplished Dwarrow warriors among our number serving as guards,” Nori began.

“And the one whose eyes were glued to our Company the entire time?” Billa inquired.

“He’s the one I am most concerned about. From what I could overhear, his ‘Master’ would be very eager to hear about our party passing through Bree. He knew Thorin’s name and sent one of his cronies away as a messenger.”

“Did you intercept the message?”

“What do you take me for Bil? O’ course I did. That’s how I know he knew Thorin’s name, the message was verbal; ‘Tell the Master that Oakenshield and his sister-spawn have passed through Bree’.”

“They know about the lads too,” she commented mostly to herself as she fell deep into thought as Balin continued the questioning. Listening with half an ear Billa picked up on a few significant mentions. Raising her green eyes to study Thorin a moment, she turned back to face Nori who simply looked at her expectantly.

“I have a few questions, mostly directed at the lot of you so anyone who is willing to answer please do. First of which is, since I know this quest of ours is supposed to be confidential – who exactly knows about the details?”

“I put a call out for any willing Dwarrow who would be eager to help seek Durin’s Folk a brighter more stable future,” Thorin stated, “Balin was the one who stressed the need for secrecy until proven loyal.”

“I see, and you went to speak with the Nobles in Council at New Belegost correct? The new seat of the Broadbeams?”

“Yes, though again I kept the details vague – it is likely why they were not so eager to answer the call alongside several other things.”

“Indeed. So, if this is true and the only ones who should know about the specifics of the quest have signed confidentiality contracts, I believe there is only one possible explanation; you have a traitor within your midst,” Billa stated solemnly, continuing before the three Nobles could explode into a litany of curses, “however it is not one of the Company. Over the past five days I have learned enough to know that every Dwarrow signed to your Company is loyal; if for one reason or another. I can only vouch for myself when I say I only found out the day prior to your arrival at my smial and have had little time to think about it even if I should have wanted to. Which I don’t because despite everything I believe what you are trying to do for your people is a noble act. One I will endeavour to aid in whatever way I can.”

“Then who?” Balin demanded alarmed.

“Nori has mentioned to me how it was he ended up caught up in all this – rather stupid thinking him to be an assassin but I guess as I know him better than you do, perhaps not – I would like to know just how many attempts have been made on the Royal family’s life. Because I believe it may help to enlighten us to the potential cause for the information leak,” Billa responded.

Balin, Dwalin, and Thorin glanced amongst themselves in silence for a few moments before Balin began to speak, “within the last year there have been fourteen attempts made on Thorin, twenty-two made on Dís, and thirty-seven made on the lads. Both Óin and Glóin have had at least three attempts made on their lives each within the last six months, Dwalin and I have counted eight between the two of us, more attempts on my life than his.”

“They are going after the line of Durin,” Billa stated in clear horror. Surprising three of the four occupants of the room, she immediately turned on Nori, “how many Nori?”

“Dori doesn’t know of course, and Ori only found out after I intercepted an attempt on her. Over the last three months I have intercepted five attempts made on Ori and Dori.”

“And how many have gone after you?” she demanded standing from her chair and marching over to her closest friend, closer than those she had in the Shire.

“Eleven so far. They stopped going after Dori and Ori once they realised they couldn’t get to them if I was alive,” Nori answered grimly.

“One hundred assassination attempts on the line of Durin in the past year,” Billa’s voice trembled slightly, before rage took over, “I am bloody going to kill Dís, why in Yavanna’s sweet name did she not tell me! And you!” she said turning directly on Nori, “why didn’t you send word, or better yet tell me last time I had to stich you up you skelpie-limer! Bwchi!

“No need for such dirty language Bil, I didn’t tell you because I’d just received word from some of my associates…” Nori began

“Informants,” she interrupted.

“Yes alright, my informants that a bounty was about to be set on you. If I had told you would have stayed in Nartumunzahar longer which would have put you at risk.” Billa stared him down for a moment before sighing.

“I cannot argue because you do know me far too well, I would have stayed, and I would have sought out those who were trying to harm you.” Taking a deep breath, Billa turned her eyes to Thorin, “I take it measures were put in place to protect Dís?”

“As many as were feasible and physically possible,” he responded, bewildered by the hobbit-lass’ genuine concern for his sister, and the Thief – regardless of the purity of his blood.

“Right so my Cousin is here in Bree. He is the next Chennad of Buckland, taking up some of the duties I am unable to complete at this time. I taught Dís the Green Tongue years ago, despite it being against most Hobbit sensibilities if you have anything you would like me to warn her of I am happy to write your letters and give them to my Cousin to give to Dís. Rorimac is a good man, he will not betray your confidence.” After a quiet conversation in Khuzdul, Thorin agreed and Nori went and collected some writing implements from Ori for Billa to use. Thorin then dictated a letter to Billa as she easily translated the words into her own tongue, before handing it to Nori for him to confirm it for Thorin.

“She taught you too?”

“Aye she did, I’ve known Bil a little over twenty years. We met during her first trip to Nartumunzahar and your Halls with her Mother.”

“I was sixteen, still a child at the time by our standards. Mother had been beside herself when I disappeared only to scold me after she found me tending an injured dwarf in our inn room and hadn’t called for her,” Billa added with a sad but amused smile as she wrote her own letter to Dís.

“Belladonna was a sweet lady, talented, voracious and fierce, but gentle. She was one of the kindest people I have ever known, alongside Bilbo,” Nori said honestly before taking up the finished letters Billa handed him, “Bil, these are your private letters.”

“And considering the circumstances I would rather be transparent with those who might be concerned about my loyalty to the quest and to the Company,” Billa responded simply. Carefully putting away the borrowed writing implements.

“If you are sure,” he said.

“I am. Now might be the only time we get a chance to contact Dís and I would have her as knowledgeable as possible.”

“Alright,” he agreed facing Thorin, Balin, and Dwalin he began to read the letter aloud.

“Dearest Dís,

You have likely received the letter your brother dictated to me within this package, I would add my own warnings and cautions to you for safety. And please do not act too surprised over my presence here upon your brother’s quest. You know adventure sings in my blood. The Took in me will not allow me to sit still for long, and though I will miss our regular visitations I will use that to fuel my desire to see you back in your ancestral home as soon as I can so that we may partake in our debates over tea like usual, once more.

 I have just been informed of the extent of the assassination attempts and I hope you realise just how unimpressed I am that you did not tell me. Regardless of whether or not Nori and yourself conspired to keep me out of harms way or not. I hope you are making use of our little birds while we are away and unable to conduct their mischief.

The little birds and their keepers will start reporting directly to you my Lady. I have enclosed a letter for Vestri and Vigg, please see to it that it gets to them. I would have my little birds safe in both your care and service Dís, please look after them and the orphanages.

My will dictates the money I have set in trust for the orphanages will continue to be sent in instalments until either you have found a new far more stable home, or you no longer need anonymous sponsorship to maintain them. So there is no need to worry for the moment regarding the sponsorship. I am sure you have also received my letter by now explaining my reasons for paying for double the agreed upon amount of food and supplies. I refuse to let your people starve simply due to recent misfortunes. Though I think investigations into the mine collapse should perhaps be looked into. I have a feeling that you will soon have a new sponsor present themselves in an attempt to garner favour among those of New Nogrod. Be wary of them.

Stay Safe and Live Well my dear friend,

Yours Truly in friendship,

Billanna Belladonna Baggins

P.S Worry not I will keep a hawk’s eye on those lads of yours, mischievous as they are.

“You are the anonymous sponsor,” Thorin spluttered.

“And here I thought the fact that I named Nori and I as close associates of your sister would be more surprising,” Billa commented drily.

“You and Nori are the leaders of Dís’ spy network,” Balin deduced.

“Aye we are, the network is mostly formed of those loyal to Bil and the Princess for their roles in getting them off the street. They respect me for my skills and my own loyalties to Bilbo and the Princess.”

“And for the fact you are the reason that before we came along they hadn’t starved to death. You give yourself too little credit Nori.”

“Shadow and Nightshade,” Dwalin grumbled.

“Oh my, I haven’t heard anyone use that name in quite some time,” Billa murmured.

“What is the other letter?” Thorin asked.

“Orders for the little birds to report directly to Dís. My oldest doves will be taking over the care of the network until Nori or I return. If we do not, she will have fierce loyalists at her beck and call,” Billa explained, with Nori backing up her statement adding his own signature to the orders.

“One day, you two are going to explain how you two created such an extensive network,” Dwalin said gruffly.

“And give away all of our secrets? Never,” she teased, “but in all seriousness I should go find Rorimac, I need to speak with him. Also, just a suggestion but we should leave before dawn, we do not want our ugly friend downstairs to follow us.” After receiving words of agreement, Billa handed the writing tools to Nori before leaving the room and headed towards the room Rorimac had said he would be staying. Knocking on the door the sleepy hobbit woke up over the hushed words the hobbit-lass shared with him in their shared mothertongue. With a promise and an exchange of letters, she left him with a blessing of Yavanna and wishes of safe travels, before she took to her own room. Locking the door behind her. Billa dressed herself properly for the road again, before she lay on her bed and fell into a deep slumber.

She was awoken by the sound of Nori knocking on her door several hours before dawn, and within the hour the Company had been roused and all were mounted on the ponies. By the time the sun’s rays began to stretch over Eriador, the Company of Thorin Oakenshield were several leagues east of Bree.

Thorin had even asked her to join Balin in explaining their early start to the Wizard, who had been among the few who had not taken well to the early rousing. Billa was still surprised he’d actually asked her and not just demanded it. Maybe he was finally warming up to her, she mused. Shaking her head, she nudged Myrtle to ride alongside Gandalf’s Rohirric stallion, a beautiful specimen named Ogden.

“I do extend my apologies Grey One, for being among those who insisted upon the early start,” Billa said sincerely, glancing up at the grey robed Istari out of the corner of her eye.

The Grey Wizard looked down at the hobbit-lass a moment, his blue eyes almost hidden by his bushy eyebrows in his frown, before he spoke, “and I assume there was good reason for it?”

“Indeed, we have determined there were people on the lookout for our party of travellers. People who knew certain names without any of our party having said them,” she responded quietly, eyes flickering to study Thorin before darting across to the Princes-in-Exile, Gandalf’s gaze followed her own.

“Ah,” he grunted, “and I assume there has been discussion on the potential leak?”

“A leak, a traitor in New Nogrod. Someone who was able to find out the details without having been among those told, ears to the stone,” she answered vaguely, but direct enough for her meaning to get across: it is none among the Company.

“We will have to be cautious from here on out,” Gandalf grunted sharing a concerned look with the hobbit-lass who only nodded in solemn agreement before she was called away by the princely terrors.

Chapter Text

"Khuzdul"

"Greenspeech"

"Sindarin"


 

Two weeks passed on the Road without incident, and with only minor changes to their previous routine. When they had made camp the night after they had left Bree, Billa had kept her promise to Kíli and once camp had been set had shown him her skills with the bow. Which had prompted Dwalin to demand a demonstration of her abilities with her blade. Submitting to what would end up being a spar, she had agreed. She had been made to spar against Fíli, and Dwalin before she had been allowed to eat her meal that night.

Since then each of the Company had spent time on weapon practice, sparring with each other over the course of the evening after camp had been set; and that night would be no different. Billa had just finished her camp chores – having just returned from seeking firewood with Bofur – and set up her bedroll. Shucking off her coat and jerkin, she folded them up and left them on her bedroll before seeking out Nori. The redhaired Dwarf Thief had just returned from hunting with Kíli and was depositing their catch with Bombur and looked up when she approached.

“’ello Bil,” he greeted, and she smiled in response.

“Nori, it’s been a while since we last sparred. What do you say?” she said after a moment, green eyes sparkling as she sat on her hip, arms crossed under her bust. Nori’s marshy green eyes sparkled in answer as a devious grin pulled at his lips.

“Armed or unarmed?” he asked standing from his crouch over the fat pheasants he had been helping to pluck.

“Unarmed, no need for either of us to accidentally cause damage,” Billa answered with her own cheeky grin. Nori’s excitement only seemed to grow at her words.

“Parameters?”

“The usual I’d say: first to yield, no holds barred.” With a nod of agreement from Nori, the two made for the cleared area that had been left for sparring among the boulders away from the rocky outcrop that would serve to shelter their camp that night. Billa simply felt her grin grow when she noticed they had the full attention of the Company.

The Thief and the hobbit-lass set themselves up several paces away and opposite from each other. Bowing at the other before falling into well-practiced stances. In the next blink of an eye, Billa had dropped to the dust in a crouch to avoid Nori’s fist and had swept his feet out from under him.

“Come on Nori,” she goaded, “now’s not the time for sleeping.” Nori was back on his feet in the next moment, and she was forced to block several punches in quick succession. The Company began to call out from their places observing the spar, some offering advice while others were simply egging them on.

“Who said I was sleeping?” Nori retorted, marsh green eyes alight with delight, as Billa caught his wrist and used his forward momentum to duck and flip him over her form. Nori, used to this particular move simply continued his forward momentum and rolled back to his feet.

“Well I simply assumed you were with how slow you are,” she taunted, as she back flipped away from his latest attack, kicking out at him as she did so forcing him to dodge but he was back at her as soon as her feet touched the ground. The two traded blows to and fro for several long minutes before Billa caught Nori’s booted foot and used it to unbalance him. He used his position on the ground to sweep her feet out from under her and grappled her into submission.

“Do you yield?” he demanded, a full-blown grin spread across his bearded face. Billa simply smiled, before bucking him off and turning the tables; straddling his back as she held his hands behind his back and used her weight to keep him prone. Her legs entwined with his as she leaned over and smiled winsomely at the Thief.

“No, but I believe you should,” she said even as he tried to wriggle out of her grip. Her smile lost its innocence and turned devious when she put slightly more pressure on her grip on his arms and began to tickle the back of his neck with her now free hand, careful not to touch his hair.

“I yield, I yield,” the Thief cried out, laughter spilling from his lips as he tried to struggle away from her nimble fingers. With a victorious grin, Billa released him and stood up, offering a hand to Nori to help him up. They shared a grin as they clasped arms as she pulled him to his feet.

“Well you’re still in good shape for someone who doesn’t spar much,” Nori commented bumping her hip with his as they stood next to each other.

“I keep a rigorous practice routine when I am unable to spar, you know this,” she retorted with a grin.

“Yeah, your flexibility has increased again,” he mused, studying her for a moment, “you have never been able to get out of that grapple hold so easily before.”

“As I said, rigorous practice routine,” Billa answered slyly, not bothering to hide her smirk as several of the Company choked on her words, the three youngest blushing at the implied connotations, but she continued innocently, “I work my way through each set for two hours every day if I can, then I start on stretches for an hour.” Earning several disgruntled grumbles from the Company. “What?” she asked eyes wide in faux-innocence as she looked around at the assemblage of Dwarrow, even as Nori burst into badly contained laughter until he was near howling with it.

The evening passed with easy chatter and merry making, before they took to their beds. Kíli and Fíli had been put on first watch and were sat against the rock that served to form the overhang that sheltered the Company. Billa had tried to sleep but she had been unable to settle enough for sleep to claim her. She felt tense and she did not know why, and while watching Glóin inhale live moths only to exhale them alive too was fascinating, she was not keen on watching all night. Deciding she would spend some time with Myrtle, she stood silently from her bedroll; once again in full adventuring gear with the exception of her sword belt. With a side-glance at the princely terrors – as she had taken to calling them – she made her way over to where the ponies were stationed and speaking quietly with Myrtle in her own tongue, she fed the skewbald mare a wild apple she had found while searching for firewood earlier.

A moment later a foul screech disturbed the silence.

“What was that?” Ori asked nervously having been woken up by the sound.

“Orcs,” Kíli answered, the entire camp now alert as yet another screech penetrated the air.

“Throat¬cutters. There’ll be dozens of them out there. The lowlands are crawling with them,” Fíli added looking to Billa, who simply raised her eyebrows at the two. Terrors indeed she mused.

“They strike in the wee small hours, when everyone’s asleep. Quick and quiet; no screams, just lots of blood,” Kíli continued for his brother, before they dissolved into snickers before being silenced by a scowling Thorin who scolded them thoroughly. Billa remained near Myrtle even as she listened to the story Balin wove about Azanulbizar, one very different to the one she had heard from Dís.

“But the pale orc? What happened to him?” Ori asked, her voice trembling as she leaned into Dori’s side.

“He slunk back into the hole whence he came. That filth died of his wounds long ago,” Thorin inserted gruffly. Billa studied him a moment before finally speaking.

“I wouldn’t be so certain of that Master Oakenshield,” she said, earning herself a now rather familiar glare.

“And why shouldn’t I?” he demanded.

“Because I have seen your Pale Orc with my own eyes,” she responded quietly, though all heard her in the silence of the night.

“What?!” Thorin growled, “you are mistaken.”

“I would rather believe I would remember the being responsible for my Mother’s murder Master Oakenshield,” Billa hissed, temper flaring.

“How could this be?” Thorin demanded.

“The Fell Winter,” she responded hotly, earning her a few gasped breaths from those who knew – namely Kíli and Nori. “The winter of 2926 was the coldest on record since the Long Winter. You should all remember, it affected your settlements within the Blue Mountains just as much. Winter came on suddenly and the first frost came two months too early killing off half the Shire’s Harvest. A week after we lost most of our winter stores to the frost, the first snows hit. By the time winter was supposed to start the Brandywine River- the only natural defence of the Shire- froze over for the first time in recorded history and with its loss came the wolves. Driven by the snow and the promise of easy prey the Shire and its surrounds fell victim to the creatures.”

Billa took a moment to ensure she had the full attention of every member of the Company, ignoring the expressions of empathy from Gandalf, this was a story his knew well.

“Many hobbits had fallen victim to what we called the Wasting- a disease that struck and killed most if not all who contracted it- leaving the Shire extremely vulnerable in addition to the starvation that was rife at the time. But the white wolves of the North were not the only fell creatures to attack the Shire that winter,” Billa explained mechanically, “Orcs and Wargs were next and many more Hobbit lives lost. They were led by a Pale Orc upon a White Warg and they slaughtered any who they could find. They raided smials and ate hobbits in front of their captives.”

Taking a deep breath Billa continued, her voice wobbling slightly as she spoke, “towards the end of Winter my Father contracted the Wasting, our rations were nearly gone so we could not afford to keep him fed enough to see him through the winter. My Mother, Belladonna Took Baggins lost her life to the wounds inflicted by a one-armed Pale Orc with a twisted metal prosthetic after she left Bag-End to head for the Great Smials in Tuckborough for medicine for my father. I managed to find them just in time to fend off a Pale Orc who was very ready to feed my mother to his great White Warg. I nearly lost my own life that winter in my efforts to protect my Mother’s corpse.”

Silence reigned as Billa finished her explanation.

“That’s what caused the scar,” Nori commented his eyes torn between sadness and fury.

“Scar?” Ori asked looking between Nori and Billa.

“I apologise Ori, there is a reason I did not show you my back in Bree,” Billa answered, before explaining in more detail at the demanding look Thorin sent her, “when I defended my mother’s body I was not trained, it was pure rage and grief that fuelled my actions. Azog’s prosthetic caught me along my back leaving behind three very deep, long wounds. I would have likely died if not for the fact of Gandalf’s timely arrival with the Dúnedain and an Elven battalion from Rivendell. I am only here thanks to the sons of Lord Elrond and Gandalf.”

The rest of the evening passed by with a tense overture, as Billa returned to her bedroll and tried to sleep. It was only after she felt Nori and to her surprise Ori move their bedrolls either side of hers did she fall into an undisturbed sleep.


The week following, saw Billa more quiet than usual. She spoke only when spoken to and often found herself riding next to Gandalf, and as the second bout of Spring Rains hit a gloom fell upon the Company. They had crossed the Last Bridge over the River Hoarwell two days prior and were now well into the trek through the Trollshaws. Despite the light rain the Company made good time through the forest with the East-West road not as muddy as it could have been for the time that they had followed it before turning North onto a woodcutter’s trail. Billa was pulled from her dark musings by Dori’s voice.

“Here, Mr. Gandalf, can’t you do something about this deluge?”

“It is raining, Master Dwarf, and it will continue to rain until the rain is done. If you wish to change the weather of the world, you should find yourself another wizard,” Gandalf retorted earning a surprised snort of amusement from Billa.

“Are there any?” Ori asked curiously from beneath her oilskin hood.

“What?” Gandalf huffed

“Other Wizards?” the hobbit-lass clarified for the young ‘dam.

“There are five of us. The greatest of our order is Saruman, the White. Then there are the two Blue Wizards; you know, I’ve quite forgotten their names,” Gandalf replied, trailing off with a furrowed brow.

“Alatar and Pallando, Gandalf,” she offered, the Grey Wizard looked back at Billa curiously but nodded gratefully.

“And who is the fifth?” Ori asked.

“Well, that would be Radagast, the Brown.”

“Is he a great Wizard or is he...more like you?” Billa teased. Smiling slighty as the Dwarrow laughed at the offended expression on Gandalf’s weathered face. Nonetheless he answered,

“I think he’s a very great wizard, in his own way. He’s a gentle soul who prefers the company of animals to others. He keeps a watchful eye over the vast forest lands to the East, and a good thing too, for always Evil will look to find a foothold in this world.”

“He sounds like a lovely person,” she responded with an apologetic smile to sooth the Wizard’s ruffled feathers.

“That he is, my dear Bilbo,” Gandalf replied with a huff of laughter.

Ori’s quiet curiosity interrupted the two old friends a moment later, “excuse me Billa, Mister Gandalf, but why do you call Billa, Bilbo?”  Gandalf looked to Billa to answer the question.

“It is the nickname my Mother gave me, after her pet name Billa-bo,” Billa responded, explaining with a kind smile at the young ‘dam, “she shortened it to Bilbo and now only Nori and Gandalf use it.”

“And her full name is Billanna,” Nori added with a laugh, grinning at the hobbit-lass’ emerald-eyed glare.

“Thank you, Nori,” she said primly.

“Your welcome Bilbo,” he responded teasingly.

“You have quite a few names,” Ori commented nudging Daisy alongside Myrtle.

“Yes, I suppose I do,” Billa mused, “I have my full name Billanna Belladonna Baggins, my shortened name Billa, and my nickname Bilbo.” When Ori made a strangled noise, the hobbit-lass looked at her curiously for a moment before emerald eyes widened, and she backtracked waving a hand frantically as if to erase the thought, “oh no Ori, Hobbits do not bear inner names. My full name is akin to a Dwarrow full outer name.”

“Not to mention Nightshade,” Nori added from where he had drawn Ivy alongside Billa, his voice relatively quiet.

“Nightshade?” Ori asked after a moment having regained her breath.

“Yes, a play on my Mother’s name, and useful when one is trying to remain anonymous,” she answered emphasising the last word with a pointed look at Nori.

“Why keep it quiet now? Dwalin already knows who you are,” the Thief commented. Billa paused a moment.

“Perhaps, but I have a feeling that that name is going to be needed in the future, the less people know about the bearer of the pseudonym the more useful it will be,” she said her voice serious. Nori simply raised a braided brow at her in inquiry.

“Do you think the occurrences in New Nogrod will just cease?” Billa demanded lowly, sharing a deliberate look with Nori, “those who are causing trouble for the Line of Durin will follow with the caravans once Erebor is reclaimed. I very much doubt that they will stop whatever it is they are planning unless every member of the Line is dead.”

“You think the one behind the assassination attempts seeks something from the Line of Durin?” Ori asked quietly. Billa hadn’t even noticed that the three of them had drifted to being the last in the line of ponies, even going so far as to be behind Flax and Hollyhock.

“Yes, what they seek however is beyond me at this moment in time. With such little information I would simply suggest it be either vengeance or a desire for the throne but both of those do not seem to encompass the scale of the attempts. For the throne I can understand putting out hits on all known relations of the Line, but that would not explain the voracious nature of the attempts. One hundred in a year would suggest passionate emotion driving the person,” Billa replied, green eyes reflecting the depth of her thought on the matter.

“And if they were driven by both?” Nori inquired.

“I still believe that only just scrapes the top of the cake Nori,” she answered with a concerned frown, “this is a person who I believe is so driven to see the destruction of the eldest line of Dwarrow Folk, and I just cannot see how a desire for the throne could be that powerful. There is someone out there who feels so wronged by the Line of Durin that their only satisfaction will come with its destruction.”

“Then let us hope our little birds can find something,” Nori said uneasily.

“That’s all we can do, Nori. That’s all we can do,” Billa responded in kind.


Several days later just as dusk was setting in the Company rode into a clearing that housed what remained of a burnt-out farmhouse. The sight filled Billa with trepidation, it didn’t look like an accidental burning. Dismounting when Thorin called a halt, she only listened with half an ear as Thorin and Gandalf argued over the location of their campsite. The hobbit-lass was well aware that Gandalf wanted to take the Company through Imladris and knew one way or another it would happen so simply let the argument wash over her as she examined the farmhouse. At the crunch of the glass beneath her leather shod feet, her trepidation only grew upon noticing that the glass from the windows had been shattered from the outside. The ignition points of the fire, she noticed were also only located on the outside. Her investigations turned up nothing much more but left her feeling nauseated and anxious. By the time she had determined that this was definitely not somewhere they wanted to make camp, camp had already been set and Thorin was in no mood to listen to her.

Taking a seat near the fire, Billa helped Bombur prepare the evening meal keeping her concerns to herself. Nori took notice of her anxiety, but she simply shook her head and accepted the bowls of food she was to take to the princely terrors. Upon entering the adjacent clearing they were using to station the horses Billa immediately noticed there was something wrong.

“We’re supposed to be looking out for the ponies,” Kíli stated

“Only we’ve encountered a slight problem. We had sixteen. Now there’s fourteen,” Fíli continued, and Billa set down the meals before she dropped them.

“Daisy and Bungo are missing,” Kíli reported diligently after looking over the remaining ponies.

“That is rather unhelpful. Should we not tell Thorin?” she asked raising an eyebrow at the two as they shared a look.

“Uhh, no. Let’s not worry him. As our official burglar, we thought you might like to look into it,” Fíli answered confidently looking over at where the hobbit-lass stood, easily making up an excuse so as to not to be scolded by his Uncle. Billa rolled her eyes but acquiesced, beginning to wander the clearing shrewd green eyes analysing the vegetation.

“Something big uprooted these trees,” she stated running her hands over the exposed roots.

“That was our thinking,” Kíli responded his voice serious as he examined the uprooted trees.

“Something very big, and possibly quite dangerous,” she commented drily, eyebrows raised as she turned to face the two Princes-in-Exile.

“There’s a light over there!” Fíli called, beckoning the other two to his side as they made their way closer to survey it better.

“It’s a fire,” Fíli whispered as harsh, guttural laughter sounded from near the now identified firepit.

“A camp?” Billa asked.

“Trolls,” Kíli answered gruffly.

“Right well before you two go and get us caught and made into stew for a Trolls dinner, we are going back to camp and informing your Uncle,” she ordered firmly cutting the two of them off by gripping their ears and frogmarching them back to camp.


Billa stood outside the firelight of the Trolls’ camp and massaged her temples. This was exactly what she had wanted to avoid, but the natures of Dwarrow – or perhaps simply their Idiot King – was to be reckless and rush in to battle. Now seven Dwarves were trussed up on a spit while the remaining six were tied up in overlarge hessian sacks.

Lady help me, confusticate and bebother these daft Dwarrow,” she muttered under her breath as she listened to the Trolls speak.

“Don’t bother cooking them. Let’s just sit on them and squash them into jelly,” one said.

“They should be sautéed and grilled with a sprinkle of sage,” the one with the ladle responded with a frown.

“Ooh, that does sound quite nice,” the first one answered.

“Never mind the seasoning; we ain’t got all night! Dawn ain’t far away, so let’s get a move on. I don’t fancy being turned to stone,” the last of the Trolls said. A sparkle settled in her emerald green eyes as an idea struck her. Freeing her hair from the tight braid it had been in, she ran her fingers through the knots and smoothed it out before calling upon her innate magic, a remnant of the creation of the Hobytla by the Valier Yavanna.

“I ask the Light to surround me. I ask the Light to flow through me. I ask the Light to heal me. I open my Heart to Yavanna. And, I ask to be protected from those who may not wish me well,” Billa sang under her breath, grinning when her skin began to glow. Plan set in action, Billa strode into the clearing and in a firm voice called out to the Trolls.

“What exactly do you think you are doing with my Dinner?” she stood with her hands upon her hips, as her glow intensified to compete with the light of the fire.

“Oi who’re you?” the first troll demanded.

“I am the resident burr-a-hobbit of this forest and you have just stolen my dinner,” she said primly, looking down her nose at the troll, “not that I was going to be able to eat them this night anyway, they’re completely riddled with parasites you know. I was in the process of readying them for purification when one managed to get out of his bonds and help the other’s escape. Nasty business of course but I shan’t be swayed.”

“Parasites?” the cook asked dismayed.

“Mm quite, I have never come across such a sickly lot. That’s why it took me so long to organise the purifying herbs. I was going to marinade the lot too, my Mother’s recipe for Honey-Mustard Dwarrow is just to die for, you know,” Billa answered ignoring the offended cries of the Dwarrow and affecting a disappointed tone, “I doubt they’ll be able to purified now, the infection has had the chance to settle in too deep. I mean can’t you smell it?”

“Smell what?”

“The sickness? It’s emanating from the lot of them,” she cried out, her expression one of disbelief.

“I can’t smell nothing,” the second troll sneered.

“Oh dear,” Billa said, “it seems the infection may be spreading. Usually one would have to eat an infected bit of meat, but it appears to be airborne. The only ones who can’t smell the infection are those who have been infected.” Putting on an expression of sympathy she turned back to speak to the cook, “I’ve heard death by parasite is a very long drawn out process, and an excruciatingly painful one too.”

“I feel fine though,” the first troll said.

“That’s what they all say,” she responded not needing to act saddened as she continued to speak “then they begin wilt, their strength fading day by day until they simply waste away. It’s a terrible business I watched several family members succumb to it and all because they didn’t heed the warnings of others.”

“You think I don’t know what you’re up to? This little ferret is taking us for fools!” the third troll exclaimed.

“I do beg your pardon!” Billa cried out affecting an offended stance, drawing the Trolls attention back to her as she spotted familiar grey robes flickering just beyond the firelight.

“Fools?”

“The dawn will take you all!” Gandalf exclaimed

“Who’s that?”

“No idea.”

“Can we eat ‘im too?” Billa snorted, as she danced out of reach of the first troll who made a grab for her just as Gandalf struck the large boulder with his staff; easily splitting it in two to let the sunlight stream into the clearing. The hobbit-lass watched with morbid fascination as the Trolls began to howl and shriek with pain as the sunlight hit their skin, within minutes the Trolls were nothing but stone statues.

“Well that was interesting,” she commented to herself as she unsheathed her hunting knife and began to release the bonds of those caught in the sacks. She released Thorin first and maintained a slightly bemused expression as he somehow managed to maintain a majestic stance as he rid himself of the sack. She then went about releasing the others starting with Glóin, then Bombur, Balin, and Óin. The last to be released was Kíli who had been towards the bottom of the pile of sacked Dwarrow. While the freed Dwarrow helped those who had been trussed up on the roasting spit, Billa set to working free the restraints keeping the hessian sack secured around Kíli.

“Sweet Yavanna, what have you done to yourself,” she tutted as she crouched beside his sack taking note of the excessive restraints used.

“I was wriggling too much and apparently the Trolls were afraid I was going to free myself from the sack,” the dark-haired Prince-in-Exile said, a slight blush darkening his cheeks.

“Well they certainly did a good job trussing you up,” she commented drily as she eased the hunting knife’s blade beneath one of the ropes and easily sliced through it. After several moments of working in silence Billa glanced up to meet dark chocolate eyes, “what is it?”

“You’re gl-glowing,” he stammered out. Pausing her actions for a moment, she looked down at her hands to confirm that yes, she was still glowing.

“So, I am,” she said with a small giggle, “really, the spell should have faded by now.”

“Spell?”

“Ah yes, some Hobbits have some remnant innate magic from when we were created by our Lady Mother Yavanna Kementári. As a descendent of the Tooks, I have a bit more than most,” Billa explained, “some, like the Gamgee’s and the Roper’s have their magic tied to the very earth itself – and make incredibly good Gardeners and Farmers because of it – while others like the Tooks and the Brandybucks are able to invoke our Lady’s favour a bit more. It is one of the reason’s that it is the Hobbits of those clans that make up the Chennad, we are our Mother’s Messengers according to our lore. The Chennad are not elected, they are chosen by our Mother.”

“So, you are like the Priests and Priestesses of Mahal?” Kíli inquired as she continued her work.

“Yes and No. While your Priests and Priestesses of Mahal can invoke Mahal’s favour it is not an inherited skill like it is with the Chennad. That being said, what little magic we can invoke is minuscule in comparison to beings like Gandalf and the Elves. Parlour tricks,” she answered. With a flick of her wrist the last restraint was cut loose allowing Kíli to finally wriggle free of the sack.

“Ah, your glow is diminishing,” he said when he looked back at her.

“I should think so, that it stayed for this long is quite out of the ordinary,” she said with an amused smile as she helped him to his feet.

“Thank you, Miss Baggins. For both distracting the Trolls and for untying me,” Kíli said, bowing in gratitude. Billa simply smiled at the dark-haired Prince-in-Exile as he straightened up again.

“I wasn’t about to let you all get made into a stew, Master Dwarf,” she said with a teasing grin, “so there really is no need to thank me. If I hadn’t thought of something I’m sure Nori or Master Balin would have.”

“Kíli,” the dark-haired Dwarf stated determinedly, with an easy smile, “I would like it if you would call me Kíli.”

“Then it is simply Billa to you, Kíli,” she responded with a slight blush, as her heart fluttered in her chest when the young Dwarf’s smile only brightened. They were both called away before Billa could fully analyse the feeling caused by the Prince-in-Exile’s smile.


Billa had to admit she was not at all impressed by the stench of the troll hoard and had - to save torturing her poor nose - elected to remain outside on watch as the Dwarrow explored the cave. Balin, Dori, Bifur, and Bombur had gone back to camp to pack everything up, while Ori had chosen to stay with Billa. The princely terrors were ordered to round up the ponies that they’d been supposed to be keeping an eye on. Óin was simply milling around outside the cave while his brother, Bofur, Nori, Dwalin, Thorin, and Gandalf had entered the hoard. The Dwarrow that had returned to pack up camp turned up just as Nori exited the cave with a Cheshire grin, marsh green eyes sparkling.

“Dori, a shovel if you would please,” the Thief requested easily catching the tossed shovel before retreating back into the hoard.

“I wonder what he’s doing,” Ori mused.

“Likely burying treasure Ori. Troll hoards are known for housing a great many treasures; from gold, and silver, to precious and semi-precious gems, to ancient relics. Really anything goes in a Troll hoard,” Billa responded patting down her invisible pockets for her Father’s pipe and her pipeweed ration, “blast that Brother of yours, he’s stolen my pipe again.”

“I’ve noticed you and Nori are rather close,” the young Dwarrowdam commented nonchalantly a slight smirk upon her bearded face.

“Not in that way,” Billa blushed, “if anything he is the closest thing to an older brother I have ever had.” Ori smiled at the hobbit-lass’ words.

“How long have you known each other?”

“Twenty years, I stumbled across him after he’d had a run in with some rather shady characters,” the hobbit-lass answered.

“So, you’re the fairy he said healed him!” Ori exclaimed.

“Fairy?” Billa queried, eyebrows raised.

“He was a bit delirious apparently when you first found him and took him to your inn room, so when he related the story to Dori and I after he finally returned home he dubbed you mimzardûna, our closest equivalent to ‘fairy’ in Sigin-khuzdul” Ori explained with a bright smile that set her ocean-green like eyes alight. Billa simply stared at Ori before turning on Nori who had reappeared with those who had entered the hoard.

“You didn’t tell me you once thought I was a fairy Nori,” she called out to him with a teasing lilt. The Thief froze mid step, and a flush began to colour his neck, creeping up beneath his beard to colour his cheeks.

“Bilbo!” he complained, even as he handed the shovel to Bofur and beelined for his sister and his hobbit friend.

“Ori was just telling me how you told Dori and her you were healed by a fairy,” Billa grinned, enjoying Nori’s embarrassment.

“And I have a very talkative nana’dith,” Nori grumbled as Ori giggled.

“I’m not sorry nadad,” she said, with a smile.

“Course you’re not,” he complained again, sending both ladies into another fit of giggles. Their fun was interrupted with Gandalf approaching the trio with what looked to be a sheathed elven long dagger.

“Here this is about your size,” the Wizard said as he offered the blade to the hobbit-lass. Billa accepted the blade with a small smile, studying it carefully as she unsheathed it. The Wizard continued to speak as Billa studied the blade that was the equivalent of a short sword for her, “the blade is of Elvish make which means it will glow blue when orcs or goblins are nearby.”

“Glows? It must have been forged by the High Elves of Gondolin, the knowledge was lost with its fall,” Bilbo commented, earning an intrigued look from the Istari.

“One of these days Bilbo Baggins, you and I are going to sit down and have a nice chat regarding the wealth of knowledge you’ve been keeping to yourself,” Gandalf said with an amused grin. Billa simply smiled.

“You know of my love of books Gandalf, Lord Elrond and Erestor have long since given me free reign of the Library of Imladris,” she stated.

“Hmm, still my dear I shall greatly look forward to it,” he responded smiling gently in kind, before wandering off to speak with Thorin. Billa stood up from the log that she had taken a seat on and unbuckled her belt placing it back on the log and removing one of her daggers to make room for the newest blade.

“What are you going to do about your dagger?” Nori asked, having cooled off a bit while Billa had been distracted by Gandalf. The hobbit-lass paused mid-way through putting her belt back on and considered her twin dagger, before she finished buckling her belt.

“Ori, I know that you have your slingshot and the dagger Nori gave you, but do you have any other weapons?” Billa asked the Dwarrowdam.

“No,” Ori replied.

“Hmm, well then that settles it. Ori until such time that I might need it again, you may hold on to and use my dagger,” Billa said smiling at the ‘dam as she picked up the dagger and offered it to the other young woman.

“Oh, I couldn’t,” Ori began.

“You can, and you will dear,” Billa interrupted, “I’ll not have someone who I have come to consider a dear friend be helpless should your other weapons be taken from you. Keep it hidden someone safe and only use it in emergencies if you must.” Ori appeared very flustered, but a happy smile pulled at her lips as she finally accepted the proffered dagger.

“Thank you Billa,” the dam said taking one of the hobbit-lass’ hands in hers and giving it a gentle squeeze.

“Think nothing of it Ori,” Billa said, squeezing her hand back. Ori let go of her hand after that, sending her another warm smile before rushing over to Dori.

“I’d like to add my own thanks to Ori’s, Bilbo,” Nori commented quietly from beside her as they went to shoulder their packs as the princely terrors had finally returned from rounding up the ponies.

The hobbit-lass studied the Thief a moment before responding softly, “while I know she is older than me in years, Ori is a gentle soul. I will do everything within my power to protect that if I can.” Nori responded by bumping her hip lightly with his own.

“Don’t go saying that around Dori unless you like being suffocated. Dori forgets his strength when overcome by strong enough emotion, and that’d likely send him into tears of gratitude,” he jested, earning a giggle from Billa.

“I will keep that in mind,” she responded with a grin. The Company’s walk to the ponies was interrupted when the sound of something crashing through the underbrush reached them.

“Something’s coming!” Thorin cried.

“Stay together! Hurry now! Arm Yourselves!” Gandalf cried, his expression showing his alarm.

Billa was tense up until she heard cries of “Theives! Fire! Murder!” from the tree’s. A moment later, a sled led by eight large rabbits burst through the trees. Its driver was a man robed in brown with a wizard hat and bird feces coating the side of his face.

“Radagast! Radagast the Brown,” Gandalf said relaxing his fighting stance, “ah. What on earth are you doing here?”

“I was looking for you, Gandalf. Something’s wrong. Something’s terribly wrong,” Radagast cried.

“Yes?” The Company stared as Radagast opened his mouth to speak, only to shut it again. The Brown Wizard continued this motion for a few moments and Billa was quite sure he had forgotten what he was going to say causing her to giggle slightly under her breath.

“Oh, just give me a minute. Um, oh, I had a thought, and now I’ve lost it. It was, it was right there, on the tip of my tongue,” Radagast said before his eyes lit up, “Oh, it’s not a thought at all; it’s a silly old...” Billa shuddered as Gandalf pulled a stick insect from his fellow Istari’s tongue, “stick insect!” When the two Wizards disappeared to speak privately, Billa manoeuvred herself closer to keep an ear on their conversation.  A frown pulled at her lips over talk of Dol Guldur and the Spiders infecting the Greenwood.

“That’s not from the world of the living,” Radagast said catching Billa’s full attention, looking through the tree’s she saw Gandalf holding a bundle wrapped in cloth. Suddenly a howl sounded from nearby.

“Was that a wolf? Are there- are there wolves out there?” Ori stuttered, inching closer to her brother’s.

“Wolves? No, tha’ is no wolf,” Bofur said.

“Wargs,” Billa breathed just as a Warg-Scout burst through the trees from atop a rocky crag. Thorin easily brought it down with a swing from his new blade just as another burst from the other side of the clearing. Kili immediately knocked an arrow and let it fly but it took Dwalin with his warhammer to bring the beast down.

“Warg-Scouts! Which means an Orc pack is not far behind,” Thorin exclaimed.

“Who did you tell about your quest, beyond your kin?” Gandalf thundered storming into the clearing, seeming to have forgotten in his anger the conversation Billa had had with him just after they had left Bree.

“No one,” Thorin answered, gripping his blade tightly. 

“Who did you tell?” Gandalf demanded

“No one, I swear. What in Durin’s name is going on?” Thorin responded. The Company were all on edge, all looking out into the forest.

“You are being hunted,” Gandalf said. Billa froze, head swinging around so fast to stare at the Istar her copper braid smacked her in the nose.

“We have to get out of here,” Dwalin shouted.

“We can’t! We have no ponies; they bolted,” Ori cried out from where she stood with Bofur and Dori having just come back from trying to gather the terrified ponies. Billa remained silent as the Company began to despair.

“I’ll draw them off,” Radagast said with the most clarity she had heard from the Wizard since his strange arrival.  

“These are Gundabad Wargs; they will outrun you,” Gandalf responded concerned.

“These are Rhosgobel Rabbits; I’d like to see them try,” Radagast retorted before jumping onto his sleigh calling out to his rabbits, “onwards Percy, lead on!” with a crazed cackle Radagast shot off.

After a few moments where the Company and Gandalf seemed at a loss of what to do Billa chimed in with false calm, “well are we leaving or do you all wish to become a Warg’s chew toy?”  Gandalf jerked at her words before quickly ushering the Company onwards away from the direction Radagast had taken.

Gandalf led the way through the trees at a run until they reached the treeline to the plains, after making sure the way was clear the escape began. Across the plains they scurried, taking shelter from the Orc-pack by the boulder stacks with Radagast leading the Orcs on a merry chase. Taking shelter in the shadow of a rock outcropping, Billa looked up as her ears caught the sound of heavy sniffing from above them. She watched as Thorin ordered Kili to take it out. His arrow flew true but the dying squeals of the Warg caught the attention of the Orc-pack, even as Bifur and Dwalin leaped forward to deal with the Orc.

“Move. Run!” Gandalf cried, and they were off again. It wasn’t long before they were surrounded and being backed into a different rocky outcropping. Gandalf had disappeared and the Dwarrow had taken to yelling in panic. Billa simply drew her blades and set her stance, she had a fair idea where the Grey One had gone but now was not the time to voice it.

“Hold your ground,” Thorin ordered, unsheathing his sword.

“This way you fools!” Gandalf cried his head popping up from a gap in the rocks.

“Come on, move! Quickly, all of you! Go, go, go!” the Dwarf-King called. The Dwarrow rushing to comply as the Wargs began to advance on them. Bombur, Óin, Ori, and Dori had managed to reach the outcrop just as the nearest Wargs leaped at the remaining members of the Company. A rider-less Warg charged at Billa and the hobbit-lass quirked a crooked smile as she spun away digging her swords deep into the Warg’s side using its own forward momentum against it before yanking her blades free and dodging the jaws of another Warg. Her longsword came up to block a swing from the mounted Orc even as her new blade dug deep into the Warg’s jugular causing the creature to collapse. Blocking the Orc’s next frantic swing with the bloodied elven blade Billa used her long sword to decapitate the fell creature.

It was only Thorin’s cry of “Kíli!” that broke her battle fury, so focused she had been on ending the Orcs and their fell mounts. Casting her eyes over the field, Billa could see that Kíli was struggling to retreat, and was the last bar herself and Thorin to retreat. Making a snap decision, Billa sheathed her elven blade and fished out a few throwing knives from her person as she ran full pelt to the dark-haired Prince-in-Exile’s side. Her first knife pierced the red eye of an advancing Orc, while the next two pierced the throat of another and the forehead of the third. With the advance halted out of shear surprise, Billa grabbed Kíli’s pack and dragged him behind her as she ran for the outcrop. As they neared the outcrop a terrified shout from Thorin warned Billa of an approaching Warg. Using her full bodyweight and forward momentum the hobbit-lass spun around sending Kíli straight at the gap in the outcrop, while also positing herself to take the brunt of the Warg’s weight as it’s jaws snapped down on her right shoulder. The bite followed immediately by searing pain.

Bwchi!” she hissed even as she brought her dominant left arm and long sword up to stab the Warg in the throat, which forced it to let her go.

“Hobbit!” Thorin yelled.

“I’m coming! Get down into the damn tunnel!” she yelled back, kicking the Warg away from her even as she retreated further towards the outcrop. Once she was close enough, she forced Thorin down the crack first before skidding after him. Thorin looked just about ready to scold her but was interrupted by a horn sounding from nearby which was followed shortly afterwards by the thundering of hooves overtaking the plains. A moment later an Orc tumbled down into the cave, landing at Thorin and Billa’s feet with elvish arrows imbedded in its corpse.

“Elves,” Thorin cursed. Billa took the chance to shift out of Thorin’s sight and make for the Ri’s, sheathing her long sword as she went. Nori looked at her shoulder in alarm, which reminded the hobbit-lass that she’d become a Warg’s chew toy for a moment. Looking down on the injury, she hissed under her breath and she shifted her ripped clothing aside to take a better look at the wounds.

“Remind me not to ever suggest the worst outcome, Nori,” she commented drily as she examined the thankfully not life-threatening wounds. It had barely had a chance to chomp on her before she’d caught it in its throat.

“I’ll gag you if required,” the Thief said in irritation.

“Hopefully not,” she retorted, “now breathe, it is not life-threatening. I just need a safe place to tend to the wounds.” The Thief grumbled under his breath but gently pulled her into his side.

“I cannot see where the pathway leads. Do we follow it or no?” Dwalin called from where he stood at the back of the cavern. Interrupting Nori’s examination of her wounds and allowing Billa the chance to slip out of his grip; which had been tightening the more Nori studied the wounds.

“Follow it, o’course,” Bofur answered leading the way.

“I think that would be wise,” Gandalf said as the Company fell in behind the hatted Dwarf. Billa raised her eyebrows at the mischievous smile that pulled at the Wizard’s lips but said nothing even as she followed along behind Ori. After a short time, Billa shuddered as she felt an aura of peace and power flow over her. Elven Magic, the Grey One has led us to Imladris, she thought amused, a smirk pulling at her lips even as she waved away Nori’s concern. Several more minutes passed before the Company reached the end of the passageway and stepped out onto a platform.

“The Valley of Imladris. In the Common Tongue, it’s known by another name,” Gandalf intoned.

“Rivendell,” Billa helpfully supplied as she let her emerald eyes roam over the Hidden Valley, yet another home away from home.

“Here lies the Last Homely House east of the sea,” Gandalf continued as he led the way down the narrow path into the valley.

“This was your plan all along, to seek refuge with our enemy,” Thorin retorted, expression dark. 

“You have no enemies here, Thorin Oakenshield. The only illwill to be found in this valley is that which you bring yourself,” Gandalf responded disapprovingly.

“You think the Elves will give our quest their blessing? They will try to stop us,” The Dwarf-King cried out.

 “Of course, they will,” Gandalf answered, “but we have questions that need to be answered. If we are to be successful, this will need to be handled with tact and respect and no small degree of charm. Which is why you will leave the talking to me.” Billa muffled her laughter into her left hand, ignoring the confused look Nori sent at her as she continued to giggle at the thought of Gandalf being tactful.

The walk down into the Valley from the Hidden Passage was thankfully a short one, and Billa felt relieved as the Company crossed over the bridge that led to the Last Homely House proper, they finally came to a stop in an elegant courtyard not too far from the bridge. Waiting for them atop the staircase was a dark-haired elf. Deciding to head off any potential issues Billa immediately made for the stairs catching the attention of the ellon.

“Lindir,” she greeted with a warm smile.

“Miss Baggins!” Lindir replied rushing a little faster down the stairs than necessary to crouch before the hobbit-lass, “you did not send word you would be coming to Imladris.” Billa smiled at the bard who appeared to be standing in for his brother Melpomaen – Lord Elrond’s Steward.

“I am currently here on non-Shire business I’m afraid, so I was unable to be sure I would be passing through,” Billa explained by way of apology.

“Of course, Ivanniel,” he replied with a soft smile, before greeting Gandalf without rising from his crouch in front of the hobbit-lass, “it has been some time Mithrandir.”

“Indeed, Lindir we must speak with Lord Elrond,” the Wizard began but Billa cut him off.

“If he is here that is and not out on patrol,” she said.

“Unfortunately, Mithrandir. It is as Ivanniel has said; Lord Elrond is not here at the moment, but he should be returning soon. The elvish horns have been heard announcing their return to the Valley,” the bard said regretfully, before turning his head to acknowledge the Dwarrow as he continued, “but until he arrives however, I am happy to lead your companions and yourselves through to the guest suites so that you may freshen up. I will also send for some food to be sent to your rooms.”

“That would be lovely, thank you Lindir,” Billa said warmly, cutting in before either Thorin or Gandalf could say anything. Turning to eye the leader of the Company as she continued, raising her brows challengingly at him, “we haven’t had much of a chance to eat in the past several hours. The roads have grown more dangerous.” Thorin grumbled under his breath before barking out his orders to the Company in Khuzdul and stepping forward to lead the Company up the stairs. Lindir smiled warmly at the Dwarrow as he rose from his crouch.

“Apologies for not introducing myself before, it has been sometime since I have last seen Miss Baggins, my name is Lindir. It is my honour to serve,” he said bowing to the Dwarrow who had now made their way up the steps to await the ellon to guide them. Billa simply smirked at the bewilderment that crossed the faces of the older Dwarrow at such a greeting, from an elf no less.

They were stopped from going anywhere by the sound of elvish horns announcing the arrival of the Lord of the Homely House. The elvish patrol came thundering into the courtyard just as Billa heard Thorin call out, ““Ifridî bekâr! Hold ranks!” Glancing back at the Dwarrow from where the elvish patrol had caught her attention she saw the Dwarrow had pushed the princely terrors and Ori into the centre of a tightknit circle and had their weapons at the ready.

Deciding enough was enough she shared a disappointed look with Lindir before marching straight up to the Half-Elf Lord before he could so much as say a word, catching him by surprise.

“Forgive me my impertinence my Lord Elrond but that’s quite enough of the dramatics,” Billa stated firmly, with a small frown. Her words drew a laugh from the mounted Half-Elf Lord, who at least had the manners to look at least somewhat apologetic as he dismounted and knelt before her.

“It seems it is I who should be asking for forgiveness Ivanniel, your presence among a party of Dwarrow surprises me my friend,” the dark-haired Elf Lord said.

“Perhaps. I must apologise for drawing the Orcs that hunted us so close to the Hidden Passage, I hope we didn’t inconvenience you too much,” she responded.

“I had wondered what had drawn Yrch so close to our borders, but here now, you are injured!” Elrond said startled leaning in closer to examine the sluggishly bleeding wounds.

“Injured!” Lindir cried rushing over to Billa and looking near close to tears for not having realised it.

“I am quite fine Lindir,” she reassured the ellon before turning to the Elf Lord, “you can look over my injuries once you have been introduced to my Companions and they have been seen to the guest suites. Sleep and sustenance are very much required I’m afraid, last night we were attacked by Trolls and this morning by Orcs, it’s been a very busy time.”

“You make a sound suggestion. Come, introduce me to your companions and then Lindir can lead them to the guest suites. You my friend will be coming with me directly to the Healing wing, I would deal with your wounds as soon as possible,” Elrond stated before straightening from his crouch and walking beside the hobbit-lass towards the now slightly less tense company of Dwarrow.

“Lord Elrond let me introduce you formally to the leader of our Company, Thorin Oakenshield the Second, son of Thrain, son of Thror,” Billa said formally taking a few steps up to place herself between the Dwarrow and the Elf Lord, “Master Oakenshield, this is Lord Elrond Peredhel. Lord of Imladris.”

“It is an honour to finally meet you King Thorin, I knew you grandfather when he ruled Under the Mountain.”

“Indeed, while he made no mention of you Lord Elrond, I still thank you for accepting us into your home,” the Dwarf-King said neutrally.

“I am sure he wouldn’t have, his disposition was greatly soured towards Elves after Thranduil’s slight,” Elrond commented his voice smooth as he offered what Billa believed to be an olive branch.

“There is truth enough in that,” Thorin agreed solemnly much to the hobbit-lass’ delight accepting the peace offering for what it was.

“But that’s enough talk for now, I am sure we shall have the chance to speak together during the feast tonight. For now, I shall have Lindir guide you to your rooms. Please do not hesitate to ask him for anything you might require,” the Elf Lord said, gesturing for Lindir to come forward, after a brief conversation in Sindarin the bard bowed and turned to the Company.

“If you would follow me, I will lead you to the guest suites closest to Miss Baggins’ rooms, my Lord and I believe you will feel more comfortable there as that particular guest house is a bit further away and affords more privacy. Mithrandir your usual rooms are waiting for you as always,” the bard said smiling at the Dwarrow. Thorin sent Billa a bewildered look before acknowledging the ellon’s words and thanking him for the consideration before following him into the Last Homely House. After watching the Dwarrow disappear down the hall and Gandalf vanish off towards his own rooms, Billa turned to the Elf Lord.

“Thank you, my friend,” she said gratefully, “I am sorry for our unannounced arrival, unless it is indeed here that Gandalf visited while we were dealing with the Trolls?”

“He did come by yesterday to ask if I would be willing to help with some academic inquiries,” the Half-Elf stated.

“Of course, he did,” she murmured, continuing at a more reasonable tone, “well that can be considered later when all affected parties are present. Perhaps it would be best we head to the Healing wing, I must confess my wounds are quite painful.”

“Of course, let’s see what you’ve done to yourself this time Ivanniel,” Elrond jested leading the hobbit-lass through the halls with a gentle hand on her uninjured shoulder.

“I became a Warg’s chew toy that’s what,” she said drily earning her a chuckle from the Elf Lord as they made their way towards the Healing wing.


Billa huffed out a relieved sigh as she lowered her body into the steaming hot water of the hot spring baths located within the Guest House her room was located in. After leaving Elrond in the Healing wing, the hobbit-lass had eagerly made for the baths; only stopping off in her room long enough to eat the meal that was left for her and grab some clean clothes and her soap before rushing off to the springs. It had been a long few weeks, with limited chances for washing, except if they passed by a stream or river. The last proper bath – if it could be called that – was just after they had crossed the River Hoarwell, as the Last Bridge had eroded away some of the bank to provide a sheltered cove of sorts. The water had been freezing however and their time short.

Green eyes tracked the steam as it curled off the water’s surface, a satisfied smile pulling at her bow-like lips. After a few more moments of soaking, Billa set to work scrubbing the dust, dirt, and additional grime from her skin and hair, using the provided hair oils to moisturize the dry curls and give them life again. With a contented sigh she stood from the water and stepped out onto the cool stone tiles of the baths, reaching for one of the large fluffy towels to dry herself with. When she turned to where she set her clothes a startled laugh fell from her lips; for instead of the fresh tunic and trousers she’d brought with her, a hobbit-sized elven gown lay in its place.

Elvish terrors” she giggled, even as she stepped towards the gown and dressed herself in fresh undergarments before slipping into the silk dress. It was two-toned in colour, the sleeves a pale green while the remainder of the dress was deep emerald. Billa simply smirked at the image she would present to the Dwarrow once she sought them out, though she had to admit she was grateful the dress was one of the ones in her closet with a more modest neckline. She wasn’t quite comfortable showing off her scars to the Company just yet.

Gathering the items she had brought with her and taking note of her missing clothing, both clean and dirty, the hobbit-lass exited the baths and in non-booted feet glided back to her suite. Depositing the small pile back in her rooms, she left quickly to seek out the Company. It didn’t take long for her to find them, though she did hide a smirk at their overall cleanliness; spotting wet hair and skin rubbed pink.

“So, you did find the baths. I shouldn’t have doubted Lindir’s thoroughness,” she said by way of greeting as she entered one of the private courtyard balconies unique to this Guest House. It had been hewed from the rock of the valley directly, with an array of vegetation coaxed to life in various planter boxes scattered around the balcony. The view of Imladris was uncontained but it was clear that none would be able to look upon the balcony from anywhere else in the Last Homely House.

“Your elf-friend takes his job as steward very seriously,” Thorin grumbled in acknowledgment.

“Lindir is not the steward his brother Melponaem is, I can only assume that Figwit is on some diplomatic visit to Lothlorien or some such,” Billa responded, as she walked over to the balcony to enjoy the view, “although Lindir does stand in for his brother in such times, he is actually a bard.”

“You dress as if you are one of them,” Glóin rumbled from where he sat on a stone bench smoking his pipe, his glorious red beard recently brushed and rebraided.

“I had not intended to, but when I went to dress after my bath I believe Lord Elrond’s sons, Elladan and Elrohir may have ordered my clothes swapped. Absolute devils they can be,” Billa responded with an amused smile, “I should warn you all however, those two mean no harm with their mischief if you happen to get caught by it.”

“Not more mischief makers,” Dwalin grunted eyeing off the two Princes-in-Exile who had their heads bent together – golden and raven strands entwining – and were whispering.

“We can only hope they do not meet the Twins,” Billa stated, “but having said that the Twins have a nose for mischief, it would be better to pray they don’t burn anything down.” She muffled her giggle at the near unanimous groan from the eldest Dwarrow of the Company, even while Bofur roared with laughter and Bombur sat quietly eating some travel bread.

“What did you say about not letting you speak of the worst outcome?” Nori commented drily, as he meandered over to the balustrade with Ori.

“I did not suggest the worst outcome possible, though I can understand if you don’t believe me,” she answered.

“I guess we shall just wait and see,” he responded with a wary glance at the princely terrors, before turning marsh green eyes back to her. “Your shoulder?”

“Cleaned and healed by elvish medicine and no doubt a touch of the magic they wield, I will likely have nothing but a scar to show for it by the end of the week,” she responded, pulling aside her collar to show the Thief the raw pink skin that stretched over one of the bite wounds.

“It is good to hear,” he said losing a bit of the tense set to his shoulders.

“What Nori will not admit is he was very worried about you,” Ori piped up stepping closer to the hobbit-lass and scooping up one of Billa’s hands in both of hers.

“Thank you, Ori,” Nori commented drily.

“Nori likely has more reason than most to worry about me,” Billa said with a small amused smile, squeezing the ‘dam’s hand gently, “he knows just what kind of trouble I often get myself caught up in.”

“Taking on shady characters in the alleyways of Nartumunzahar, a Mahal damned magnet for bandits, not to mention your uncanny ability to run into Orcs, everywhere, all the time,” the Thief listed off on his fingers, his tone dripping in sarcasm, “and that’s just the most common.”

“Really?” Ori asked anxiously, looking between the two friends.

“He tells the truth,” Billa sighed, before commenting, “I appear to be a beacon for trouble, though I have found it is usually only me that is affected. Whenever I travel with company it is only ever me that stumbles into trouble. Unless Nori is with me of course, then we both get caught up.”

“Half the trouble she walks into! She’s challenged some of the most dangerous people in the underground simply to save others from themselves,” Nori’s voice sounded slightly strained, “you will likely be the death of me Bilbo, Ori never causes me this much anxiety.” Billa and Ori giggled as Nori massaged his temples.

“Now you know how I feel,” Dori commented as he wandered over to join his siblings and the hobbit-lass.

“I was about to say something similar Master Dori,” Billa responded with a warm smile, “Nori will likely turn me grey long before my time with the trouble he gets up to.”

“There is a reason my hair is silver Miss Baggins, and it is not because I am old by Dwarrow standards.”

Nadad’ugmal is only one-hundred-and-forty-four,” Ori supplied helpfully, with a bright smile at Dori.

“Still in your prime,” Billa complemented, earning a bashful smile from the eldest Ri before his expression grew serious.

“And yet too young to have ever seen Azsâlul'abad, I grew up on the stories our Mother told me, which I went on to tell Nori and Ori.”

Billa studied the silvered Dwarf a moment before speaking. “It is my belief that the longing for Erebor, lies in the collective memory of Durin’s folk. You need not try to explain to me why you feel that longing as if it was your own,” she said, not realising that she had earned the full attention of the entire Company, “the longing is a part of you. It is just as personal, as it is collective. For when Smaug came he took your home from you, not just those who were alive at the time. Wanting to reclaim your true home, to find a place to belong is not so hard to understand.”

“You speak as though from experience lass,” Balin said, from where he stood near Thorin watching her. Billa flushed bright pink upon realising that she’d been heard by everyone.

“Well, ah, I suppose so?” she stammered slightly, clearing her throat she continued “before Hobbits settled in the Shire, we were a nomadic people. We refer to that period of our history as the Wandering Days. Our collective memory of the time is formed by the songs, and tales that are passed down from our elders to our faunts. Every Hobbit remembers as though they personally were there.”

“Truly?” Ori asked, ocean green eyes alight in fascination.

“Yes. From what we can recall, our race originated in the Anduin Vale; likely around the Gladden River. The tales never tell of exactly what drove us out of the Vale although I have several theories, but driven we were and our Wandering began.”

“Are you allowed to impart your histories? I would love to record a book on Zantulbasn histories and culture,” Ori asked, near vibrating in excitement.

“Of course, I’m sure it would go against most Hobbit’s sensibilities to do so, but I do believe it will be the first of its kind and for that reason alone I would be more than happy to,” Billa responded with a warm smile, squeezing the excited Dwarrowdam’s hands with both of her much smaller hands.

“You will not be exiled for telling us of your culture?” Kíli asked suddenly appearing with his golden-haired brother not far behind.

“No Kíli. If anything, I will have just solidified my place as one of the ‘Undesirables’ and Lobelia will finally leave me alone because she will have no desire to be associated with me any longer,” she said with a broad grin, “and that is yet another reason to impart Hobbit culture, history, and tradition to Ori here to record.”

“Undesirables?” Fíli queried golden eyebrows raised in curiosity.

“A rather derogatory term I will admit,” Billa explained, “it refers to those who have lost all respectability, something which Hobbit’s hold in high regard. It usually is used to describe spinsters and confirmed bachelors, as they have – in the eyes of most Hobbits – failed to do their duty; marry and procreate.” At this she wrinkled her nose in distaste, before continuing, “it is also used to describe my Mother and I – women who have the taste for adventure.”

“What happens if you are labelled an ‘Undesirable’?” Ori piped up, having let go of Billa’s hands to reach for the small notebook and charcoal she kept in her pocket.

“Nothing. Well, not really. Often, we are given labels such as ‘Mad Baggins’ or ‘Fool of a Took’, but we go on to live reasonably well. Being labelled as such does not lose us our inheritance or anything like that, if anything you just might not have certain individuals wish to interact with you more than absolutely necessary and hear a bit more from gossiping busybodies more than is usual.  So, all in all the perfect way to get Lobelia to bugger off,” Billa answered with a wink and a giggle.

“Ah so that’s why the Zantulbasn I asked for directions from asked why I wanted to see Mad Baggins,” Balin commented.

“Aye that would probably be why,” Billa smiled, “I have earned myself quite the reputation as an ‘Undesirable’ in recent years; the only official female Chennad within the Shire, a hobbit-lass who has taken up arms, refusing to marry – the last has mostly had to do with Lobelia to be perfectly honest, the harpy just won’t let up.”

“And the fact you are one of the wealthiest Gentle-Hobbit’s within the Shire,” Nori commented leaning back against the balcony rail and propping his elbows behind him casually on the carved stone.

“Yes, that too I suppose.”

“I still wish you would let me deal with that Proudfoot fellow,” the Thief responded.

“I’d rather you didn’t go and rough up Guido Proudfoot, he and Angelica Bunce are quite happily engaged now that he’s taken his sights off Bag-End,” she said amused.

“Why would he have his sights on your home?” Ori asked a tad confused.

“Because as Nori stated, I am among the wealthiest heiresses in the Shire,” Billa explained, “and Bag-End is the most expansive estate in Hobbiton, with only the Great Smials of Tuckborough and Brandy Hall beating it within the whole of the Shire. It is a symbol of wealth and has been highly sought after since my Father had it built as a wedding gift for my Mother under the Hill, which has always been owned by the Baggins family.”

“It was a lovely home,” Dori complemented

“Yes, there has been no finer smial crafted in recent history. Many believed such a smial was not worthy of an Undesirable like my Mother. Regardless of the fact that she was the eldest daughter of our late Thain, and sister in law of the current Master of Buckland,” the hobbit-lass stated.

“Wait, are you telling us lass that you are essentially a Princess of your people?” Balin demanded in shock. Billa’s eyes widened as she shook her head vigorously.

“No, not at all. My Grandfather Gerontius Took was the previous Thain, which is not a monarchical title at all. It is akin more to a General or I suppose if you must attribute it as such a Lord, not that Hobbits take much note of it beyond the administrative duties entailed. The Master of Buckland is a similar sort of title, both are inherited but the Shire is governed more by collective council of the Heads of Families, the Thain, the Master of Buckland, and the elected Mayor of Michel Delving. It is far less autocratic than you are suggesting. If anything, I am simply the daughter of two of the wealthiest families of the Shire,” she stated ending with firm nod of her head, “not a Princess. We wouldn’t know what to do with such a title.” There appeared to be a collective sigh of relief from the Company at her words.

“I told you they would think they’d kidnapped a Princess,” Nori said cheekily. Before Billa could retort, a soft cough caught the attention of the occupants of the courtyard. Looking towards the entrance the Company was presented with two identical ellons.

“Apologies for interrupting, but our Father would like to invite your party to join him in a feast this evening. He has sent us to be your guides,” the dark-haired ellon on the left stated.

“Elladan. Elrohir,” Billa greeted hiding a wince as she internally prayed to Yavanna for mercy.

Ivanniel! Ada told us you were here, but we did not see you there,” the dark-haired ellon on the right stated; Elrohir from what Billa could tell.

“Unfortunately, I am not here purely as a social call. Though depending how long we will be staying, I will be arranging to do some business with your Father, Melpomaen, and Erestor,” she responded, breaking away from the Dwarrow to approach the Twins.

“Of course, Ivanniel. We do hope though, that you will get a chance to regale us with some tales of your journeys. You always do tell some of the best stories, Estel would no doubt be distraught if you were unable to visit with him,” Elladan said.

“It will all depend on when we are to depart, my friends,” she responded neutrally, glancing back over her shoulder at Thorin before turning back to the ellons. “Now you said something about a feast, it would do no good to be late,” she chided lightly with a smile.

“Of course, of course. Please follow us, we will lead you to the Dining Hall,” they chimed in unison before turning on their heels and leading the Dwarrow and hobbit-lass through the Last Homely House.


Dinner went as well as Billa had expected, with only minor incidents regarding the offered salads before she had intervened and requested the mains be brought out before the Dwarrow rioted. Elladan and Elrohir had appeared put out by her interference which only earned them both a disapproving glare from the hobbit-lass, even as the elven servers arrived with platters of roasted vegetables, breads, fruits, and cheeses. While most elves did not eat meat as a regular part of their diet they were known to partake in it from time to time, much to the Dwarrow’s surprise when a platter of meats was produced.

Billa had been seated up at the head of the table with Elrond, Gandalf, Thorin, and the Twins, and had been an avid listener to the conversation between the Wizard, Half-Elf Lord, and the Dwarf-King. Only choosing to add a comment here and there when appropriate. They spoke of the journey hitherto and when the topic of the Trolls came up quickly turned to discussion about the blades both Gandalf and Thorin had discovered. Billa listened with half an ear as Lord Elrond easily named both blades and honoured that they should be used and not kept as relics to catch dust. Mathoms, Billa had laughed internally. It was towards the end of the meal that Gandalf approached the subject of the map, and Elrond had conceded to look over the documents after the feast, and so it was Billa was seated calmly observing the Elf Lord and the Wizard as they awaited Thorin’s return with Balin. She had to admit she wasn’t exactly sure why she was there.

“Pray tell, why exactly am I here for this meeting?” she asked, green eyes flickering between the two big folk.

“Because my dear, you are a wonderful neutral party in this and will serve well as mediator,” Gandalf stated.

“That you feel the need for one such mediator says much Grey One,” she commented, “but as you say I will do my best.” It wasn’t long before the two Noble Dwarrow arrived and the discussion began. 

“Our business is no concern of elves,” Thorin sniped and Billa fought her desire to roll her eyes as the discussion quickly devolved into yet another argument.

“For goodness sake, Thorin, show him the map,” the Wizard snapped back.

“It is the legacy of my people; it is mine to protect, as are its secrets,” the dwarf retorted stubbornly

“Save me from the stubbornness of Dwarves. Your pride will be your downfall. You stand here in the presence of one of the few in Middle-earth who can read that map. Show it to Lord Elrond,” Gandalf commanded, his tone leaving no room for the argument to continue.

“Mayhaps if we are to consider the fact that no one else can discover the secrets of the map, it would not be so bad to trust it with Lord Elrond this once?” she suggested calmly as she met Thorin’s eyes for a moment before he broke the gaze to look at the map he carried. Thorin remained silent, ignoring the eyes of all in the room before coming to a decision, he began to hand over the map to the elf, despite Balin’s objections.

“Thorin, no!” the old dwarf exclaimed.

“Peace Balin, Lord Elrond is a Loremaster. He will take care with whatever he finds,” she said soothingly, pacifying the Advisor slightly.

“Erebor. What is your interest in this map?” the elf lord asked, grey eyes focused on Thorin. Even as Gandalf spouted his ready-made excuse;

“It’s mainly academic. As you know, this sort of artifact sometimes contains hidden text. You still read Ancient Dwarvish, do you not?” the Wizard explained, even as Elrond walked towards where the light of the moon was streaming in from the high windows. As the moonlight illuminated the map, Elrond’s eyes lit up in recognition.   

“Cirth Ithil,” he murmured.

“Moon Runes. Of course. An easy thing to miss,” Gandalf translated, even though Billa had her suspicions that neither Balin, nor Thorin required it, and the Wizard was well aware of her own ability to speak the elven tongue.

“Well in this case, that is true; Moon runes can only be read by the light of a moon with the same shape and season as the day on which they were written,” Elrond responded turning back to face them, meeting Thorin’s gaze easily.

“Can you read them,” the dwarf asked, his gaze intense.

“I should be able to, but it is not quite time. These runes were written on a Midsummer’s Eve by the light of a crescent moon nearly two hundred years ago.”

“Midsummer’s Eve? But that is two weeks away,” Thorin grumbled.

“Perhaps it is not so bad Master Oakenshield. After the last few days I believe our Company could do with time to rest and recuperate,” Billa commented keeping her voice light with the suggestion. The King-in-Exile studied her a moment before conceding with a nod.

“You put forth a strong argument there, Miss Baggins,” he stated.

“It was merely a suggestion,” she responded with a nod of her own before turning her head to speak to the Elf Lord, “I hope it would not be too much trouble Lord Elrond if we were to impose upon you until the map’s Cirth Ithil can be read?”

“Not at all my dear Ivanniel, it would be a pleasure to host you until then,” he answered with a warm smile for the hobbit-lass before acknowledging Thorin, “please feel free to take rest and recuperate from your journey thus far, we shall reconvene for a map reading on Midsummer’s Eve if that is suitable.”

“Thank you for offering your home to us once again Lord Elrond,” the King-in-Exile offered with a slight bow.

“It has been an age since there has been friendship between Elves and Dwarrow, Master Oakenshield,” Elrond said after a moment, “and it is time now to admit the mistakes of our pasts and perhaps make the first steps towards a more peaceful future.” Billa was just as surprised at the Elf Lord’s words as the Dwarrow were, but she was pleased by it nonetheless. Both Dwarves appeared to be struck speechless however, so Billa subtly kicked Thorin from where she was sitting. The Dwarf King jerked slightly and sent her a startled look before he responded.

“Perhaps it shall be so,” he acknowledged.

Billa withheld a sigh as the men folk dismissed themselves, baby steps Billa, baby steps.

Chapter Text

Billa wasn’t quite sure how it happened, but three days into their stay the Twins and the princely terrors began their reign of terror. From pranking unsuspecting Elves and Dwarrow to causing a riot in the kitchens when they ‘rescued innocent sweet treats from the evil clutches of the cooks’. The past week the hobbit-lass had been doing her best to avoid a diplomatic incident between the two races, and so far, she’d been successful; with Lord Elrond and Thorin too exasperated with their prankster kin to blame one another for its cause. In fact, the two had commiserated with the other’s exasperation in a manner that left Billa feeling quite smug, if only the other Dwarrow and Elves could be so easy to convince.

After a particularly messy prank that ended with Lord Elrond, Thorin, and Billa covered in honey, goose down, and flour. The former two finally put a stop to it. Billa kept her silence even as she admitted to herself she found the whole situation rather humourous; watching the sticky, flour and down covered Elf and Dwarf-Lord’s scold their kin, was just too funny. Although she maintained a neutral façade through the scolding, seeing the downtrodden expressions on the faces of the young Princes-in-Exile and the Twins made her heart ache – more so the dejected look on a certain dark-haired Dwarf’s face. So, when she passed by the brothers – as the Twins had scampered off somewhere at the earliest convenience -  to head to the baths to clean herself up, she made sure to whisper;

“Very well-done lads, that was well worth getting caught to see that.”  The lightening of their expressions filled Billa with warmth, as she continued her path towards the baths oblivious to the chocolate eyes that tracked her retreating form.

After her bath, Billa found herself seeking Lord Elrond. She had requested an audience with the Elf-Lord and his advisors the night before as she wanted to ensure she saw her business as Chennad through before the Company left the Hidden Valley. Knocking on his study door, she opened the heavy wood upon the invitation to enter and stepped inside. Green eyes caught sight of Lord Elrond sat behind his desk, with Lord Erestor, and Lord Elrond’s Steward Melpomaen – who had just returned from Lothlorien – sat to the right of the desk; the latter with a small lapdesk upon his lap with parchment and ink at the ready.

“Ah Ivanniel, here to finalise this year’s treaties?” the Lord of Imladris greeted.

“Yes, my Lord. I of course have faith that the Elves of Imladris will honour the oral contracts but I know that it would serve to ease the minds of my Cousin and Uncle if we were to send copies of the signed treaties back to the Shire,” she responded with an easy smile as she glided over towards her usual chair in front of the solid blackwood desk, and seated herself gracefully.

“Of course, it is in no doubt the Thain and Master of Buckland would prefer to have written confirmation on our negotiations,” Erestor inserted with a small smile.

“Fortinbras can be quite fussy like that, but he simply is one to prefer things to be orderly; a rather unusual trait for a Took, but one that serves him well as Thain,” she acknowledged with a sly grin.

“Well, let us look over what we have already, and see what needs further negotiation,” Elrond proposed, handing the hobbit-lass a copy of the pile of parchment he held in his slender hands.

“Well the last time you were here Miss Baggins, our negotiations for the past year were settled as six wagons, three carrying medicines and three carrying the saplings for the orchards,” Erestor began looking over his own pile of paperwork.

“Indeed, we did. In the last year the orchards have taken off well thanks to the saplings you sent us. Recently the farmers of the South Farthing have seen to cultivating saplings from the seeds of the youngest orchard trees, so Fortinbras conferred with the Farmers of Longbottom and Sackville and they have stated we should not need any new saplings for the foreseeable future though they agreed to send word if they were in need. So, we will not be needing to arrange for any saplings this year,” she reported leafing through the parchments, “that said however, we have a greater need for medicines. Predictions are that this winter will be a bad one – colder than has been seen in several years though certainly not as bad as the Fell Winter – Fortinbras, Uncle Gorbadoc, and I believe it would be prudent to negotiate two additional wagons full of our excess summer grains for another wagon of medicines. There are a lot of fauntlings who have not yet seen a particularly cold winter, and there is fear they may not cope, especially those from less privileged families.”

“Of course, for the extra grains one extra wagon of medicines is easily afforded. Our grain stores have seen to be depleted faster over the last year, with the greater number of travellers passing through the Hidden Valley. The extra grain will go a long way in keeping weary travellers fed during their stay and restocked till they reach the next available markets,” Erestor admitted freely.

“It seems that this will suit both parties then, do we have an accord my Lords?” Billa asked.

“We will, though I would also like to extend an offer that should the Shire be in need of skilled healers that word be sent to Imladris. It would not do to see our allies suffer for something we can easily aid in,” Elrond said solemnly. Billa hid a smug smile, she knew the offer would be made once she brought up the – valid – concern for the faunts.

“We can easily afford to send several of our healers if the need arises and should more medicines be required payment can be negotiated at a later date,” Erestor added after a moment of studying a particular piece of paperwork. “We have several apprentice healers who would be up to the task.”

“I would be a fool to refuse such a kind offer Lord Elrond, Lord Erestor. You have my personal thanks as well as the Shire’s,” she answered.

“Then we have an accord, I shall have Melpomaen scribe up the agreements and we will reconvene for the signing once we are happy with their wording,” Elrond stated before dismissing both Erestor and Melpomaen with a few words in hushed elven, both elves farewelled Billa before leaving on near silent feet. Once the hobbit-lass and the Half-Elf were alone the Elf-Lord turned back towards her, grey eyes shrewd as he spoke, “now my dear, why don’t you tell me what’s been bothering you. I have never quite seen you so put out before.”

“Ah, of course you were the one to notice mellonin. I must admit that there was another thing that has been concerning me as of late my Lord, though I must beg your pardon if this is too forward of me. During our travels thus far, I have been able to piece together a fragment of what appears to be the cause of the current feud between Dwarrow and the Eldar. Please forgive me if I’m wrong, but they are under the strict belief that no aid was offered to them in their hour of need. While the ElvenKing Thranduil I cannot speak for as I do not know him, you on the other hand are not someone I see would idly sit by if you were able to offer some kind of aid,” she answered a slight flush darkening her cheeks.

“And indeed, you are quite correct. Thranduil has long since been known to put himself and thus his Kingdom above the needs of others; including those of his own kindred. But when the Dwarrow fled towards Ered Luin, I did offer aid through means of healing, food, and offers to help build a new settlement. In return the letter I received from Thror was ungracious and insolent in its refusal of aid offered freely that I will admit I simply gave up. I had no time for such a boorish Dwarf, and it pains me to think on how many suffered from my own foolishness,” Elrond said in explanation having reached into his desk to pull out a scroll that showed its age and the care for preservation that had gone into keeping it.

“Have you given thought to offering this to Master Oakenshield?” she asked reading through the letter that had been offered to her, it certainly was insolent and rather insulting. “You did mention that you wished to see an end to the conflict between Elves and Dwarrow.”

“Indeed. I did say that, and I have thought on it. But I feel that it would be best to have a mediator sit in on the discussion,” he answered.

“And you wish for it to be me,” she finished without hesitation, her green eyes looking upon the Half-Elf knowingly as she gently rerolled the scroll, “I see no issue with such a thing as long as it is agreed upon by both parties. I would also suggest that you invite Lord Balin and Lord Erestor to the meeting. Having your advisors with you may serve to keep the peace.”

“An excellent suggestion my dear, I will speak to Master Oakenshield this evening over dinner and will send word once something has been decided,” he responded with a smile, even as he took the offered scroll from her.

“Do not forget to bring evidence of both your offer of aid, and Thror’s refusal. It would do Thorin and Balin good to see them and lend support to the truth of your words.”

“I will heed your advice my dear, now it is near midday. We should be making our way to luncheon wouldn’t you say?” the Elf-Lord’s words were met by the hobbit-lass’s stomach sounding its agreement much to her embarrassment.

“I would say that is a yes mellonin,” she responded with pink cheeks.

“Then let us go seek the dining room,” he said offering her a hand down from her seat which she took with a grateful smile.

“Lets.”


 

The day following her conversation with Lord Elrond, Billa had been most surprised to find she had been sought out by the King-in-Exile. He had finally found her in the library of Lord Elrond’s estate, deeply buried within a mound of books written in a variety of tongues.

“You can be a very hard woman to find Miss Baggins,” he said by way of greeting. The hobbit-lass’s unbound copper curls flared around as her head spun to take in his presence.

“I apologise your grace, I was unaware I was being sought,” she answered politely, although the Dwarf-King could tell she was curious and wary. Perhaps rightly so, he mused, he had not been kind to her these past weeks.

“I have found you at least, I was hoping for a few moments of your time if you are amiable?” he asked, deciding that it was time to take the help she offered and had done so since they had met; his sister trusted her, so he saw no reason why he should not either. The Hobbit had more than proven herself.

“Of course, your grace,” she answered bookmarking her page, before focusing the full attention of her emerald gaze upon him, “what was it you wished to talk about?”

“Lord Elrond spoke to me over dinner last eve, offering to speak about our mutual history in order to pave the way forward, so to speak. He also said that you were aware of what he wished to discuss as it had been you who brought it to him,” he began, taking a seat on the empty chair opposite her book pile.

“In a way my Lord Elrond is indeed correct, although it might be more correct to say I let my curiosity get the better of me and I proceeded to be nosy,” she responded honestly. If she wanted the two Lords to discuss the feud she would need to be honest with Thorin now, though she would be the first to admit the idea made her nervous.

“And what was it that you were curious about,” he asked keeping his tone neutral.

“The current feud between Dwarrow and Elves,” she answered continuing to speak even as she saw his eyes darken and a frown pull at his lips, “while I don’t know much about the ElvenKing nor his reasons for abandoning the Dwarrow of Erebor. I could not help but wonder why help did not come from Imladris, as you were bound to pass close by it on the Road to Ered Luin. So, I asked and received an honest answer, I then recommended to Lord Elrond that if he was serious about mending the relations between the races he should approach you with it. Although I also suggested it be in the presence of your Advisors. He was the one who requested my presence, but I told him what I will tell you now. I will only attend if all parties involved wish for me to mediate.”

“I see, and you believe his reasons?”

“I believe them yes, though I still think that more could have been done. Why do you ask your grace?” she asked studying him carefully.

“I have come to the conclusion that I have been too quick to judge you Miss Baggins. While we have been stuck here I have had time to reflect on your actions over the past months and what I now know about you and I believe it is time I accept the advice you have offered. You are incredibly practical, and I will admit those of the Line of Durin are incredibly head strong,” he answered after a moments silence.

“I see so you wish for me to… what exactly?” she asked not even trying to hide her confusion.

“Be a voice of reason and advice. You have already demonstrated an uncanny skill at negotiation and practicality which is well matched with your intelligence, though you hide it behind an act of innocence and a friendly nature. You are incredibly shrewd in your deductions which you demonstrated in our discussion in Bree. I can only see acknowledging your skills to be of the greatest benefit for not only me but my Company as well; though it has already benefited my people more than I could ever have hoped to know,” he responded, his voice rumbling and gruff but Billa could detect no lie in his words.

“As long as you remember to listen your grace, I see no issues with your request,” she answered with a smile that was ever so slightly sly.

“As it is, I have accepted Lord Elrond’s offer and would also request you attend as mediator if you are amiable. It is clear to me that Lord Elrond heeds your words just as seriously as I intend to from this moment forth, so I believe your attendance can only benefit us,” the Dwarf-King stated with a small smile of his own. He had to admit the Hobbit was amusing.

“Then I will happily mediate for you, and hope to avoid a diplomatic incident,” she said with a teasing lilt to her words.

“My thanks Miss Baggins, a meeting has been arranged to occur tomorrow in Lord Elrond’s study. He said it would afford the most privacy.”

“That it will, and that will likely serve both parties well,” she responded, “if yourself and Master Balin require an escort I will be happy to oblige, I know my way to Lord Elrond’s office quite well as most of my own business with him is often conducted there.”

“I believe it would be wise to take you up on that offer, as you well know I do not have much luck when it comes to directions,” he said and Billa could only stare for a moment shocked speechless.

“D-did you just make a joke?” she asked, green eyes wide.

“I do believe so Miss Baggins,” he answered solemnly though she noted his eyes had a familiar gleam to them that she often saw in his nephews.

“Well then colour me both surprised and humbled my Lord,” she responded warmly, before saying with a teasing smile, “and here’s to think I once thought the Durin humour had skipped you.”

“You have met my sister Miss Baggins, who do you think taught her all that she knows?” he offered, causing the hobbit-lass to let out a peal of laughter that shook her entire body, which also served to pull a chuckle from the usually stoic Dwarf-King.

Once she was calm Billa looked upon the King-in-Exile in a new light. “Perhaps I was also quick to judge, but regardless of our rocky start I believe we could come to be good friends Master Oakenshield,” she said.

“Indeed Miss Baggins, I must agree,” he answered, offering his hand to the hobbit-lass in a gesture of both peace and friendship. She studied him with intelligent green eyes for a moment longer before taking his larger hand in her own smaller one and proceeded to firmly shake it, wearing a small but warm smile upon her lips.

“Then I believe Master Oakenshield, we have an accord,” she said smirking without malice or ill intent, amused when it provoked an answering smirk from the Dwarf-King.

“We do,” he agreed.

Thorin did not linger long after once again confirming that she would attend the meeting and had instead said his farewells before taking his leave. Once she was sure he was gone she called out to the hidden figure who had conveniently not been seen by the King-in-Exile.

“So, Nori. What are your thoughts?”

“He was honest, no political games here,” the Thief said easily. He had come to find the hobbit-lass only to stumble across Billa in conversation with Thorin.

“That was the conclusion I had also come too, what do you suppose changed his mind?” she asked as the redhaired Dwarf sauntered over to take the seat the Dwarf-King had previously occupied.

“Maybe it’s as he said. Your practicality and intelligence provide an outside perspective very few Dwarrow could claim to have, perhaps he has also just figured out that you are rarely ever wrong,” Nori responded with a teasing smile. Billa only half returned it.

“I am not infallible Nori, I have my faults.”

“Yes, but that is what makes you alive Bilbo,” the Thief replied, “I mean look at me, I am a thief, a scoundrel, I get itchy fingers when I see something I like. I am not a good person Bil and yet for some Mahal be known reason you trust me.”

“You are a good person Nori, just not in the usual sense,” she said with a half-smile, “you never kill unless in self-defence or defence of others, you steal food for starving orphans and underprivileged children, you would never leave a child to suffer if you could help it. You may be a Thief Nori, but that is why I trust you, because despite your choice of occupation you are a good man.”

“Then if you can trust me despite my faults – and I have many – then it is not so hard to believe that his Lordship might just have come to trust you similarly now he’s had some time to rub those rocks most Durin’s have for brains together. Sometimes I truly believe Dís is the only one who has any sense.”

“You may be right there,” she chuckled lightly before a frown came to her lips, “but what if he is wrong?”

Nori studied her in silence for several moments before answering her seriously, marsh-green eyes boring into emerald. “Billanna, your biggest vice is your own insecurity. Yes, you are a sarcastic, stubborn, soft-hearted fool who at times is too practical and is far too forgiving, but while they are considered faults and often get you into trouble, they are a large part of what makes you, you. That you acknowledge that you are not perfect makes you a better person than most Bilbo.”

“And yet I cannot help but dwell upon them,” she retorted quietly her lips pulled into a grimace.

“I swear one day I am going to exact my revenge upon every being that ever made you feel so inadequate that you are this fucking insecure,” Nori growled, rage simmering, “Bilbo. You are one of the wisest, most intelligent, kind, and gracious beings I have ever had the pleasure to know. Despite your privileged life, you do not hesitate to treat everyone you meet as an equal, and don’t get me started on your sense of justice – perhaps I should have listed that as a vice. You are a beautiful young woman who is multi-talented and could charm a tree into tap dancing if you wanted to. Yes, you have your faults but they by no means define you.”

Billa sat in silence staring at Nori in shock even as grateful tears glistened in her emerald eyes, when she finally regained control of her voice she croaked out, “Thank you. It’s been a long time since someone was so incensed on my behalf.”

“Yeah well get used to it mimzardûna, I will tell you as often as necessary. I was also quite serious about exacting revenge,” he responded leaning over to tap his knuckles lightly against her forehead causing her to giggle wetly.

“You might have to go after half the Shire then,” she responded unsteadily.

“And you think that’d stop me?” he asked, “you are as dear to me as Ori is Bilbo. I will not let this go so don’t bother trying.” At his last words Nori had to scramble to catch the projectile Billa had turned herself into launching herself at him the way she had, the tears she had been holding back making quick tracks down her cheeks as she sobbed into his tunic. Nori simply held the sobbing hobbit-lass close, rocking them slightly as he let her cry. He knew it had likely been a while coming with so many memories of her parents being pulled out during the journey so far. Once she’d finally calmed herself down, she apologised wetly for snotting all over his tunic.

“None of that now, mim-zê. You never truly let yourself grieve for your parents, and I’m hardly going to be angry at you for grieving. Though this is perhaps not the best time for it, and it certainly isn’t the right way to go about it, I would like to formally acknowledge you as my sister in all but blood,” the redhaired Dwarf said looking down at the hobbit-lass sat on his lap. Tears threatened emerald green eyes again as she stared at the Thief in shock.

“You would accept me as your family?” she whispered as if afraid to speak any louder.

“Aye I would, you’ve been too long without in my opinion and it’s something I’ve been considering for years but my siblings did not know you then,” he answered, eyes showing slight concern when it seemed as though she was going to cry again, “not that you have to accept of course, you’ll still be my best friend.”

“Of course, I accept you ninny!” she cried out wetly as she embraced the now smiling Dwarf fiercely.

“Oh good. I thought you might, but you know I hate assuming things. It often leads to trouble.”

“That I do. Now what do we need to do to make this official?” she asked.

“I will braid your hair with the akrâgbaraf bead I crafted for you and that is that, it is simply a claim that will be visible to all Dwarrow that you are considered family to me, and if my siblings wish to accept you in turn they will add their own beads to the braid, but that will be up to them.”

“Alright then, can we do this now or?”

“I have carried the bead with me for the past five years akrâgnana’ yes we can do it now,” he answered, easily lifting her to sit on the floor in front of him. He set about sectioning off a section of her hair just behind her left ear and made quick work of the braid capping it with a beautiful oblong bead clasp that had green thread weaved around the copper of the clasp, with tiny gold leaf-like charms secured onto the green weave.

“It’s beautiful,” she said after taking a moment to fully appreciate its beauty.

“I’m still surprised at how it turned out. I am usually terrible at working with metals as my Craft lies in weaving, but crafting the clasp worked out to be a bit easier than expected. I had to work with the thread though, as soon as I saw it I knew what I had to use it for. One of the few things I actually purchased.”

“And the charms?”

“Same as the thread, I bought them at one of the markets of Nartumunzahar. As soon as I saw them, I knew they had to be for the bead”

“So, the bead is a show of your Craft in the thread and the clasp and your respect for my heritage and me with the fact you found leaf charms and purchased them?” she said tilting her head back to observe him as she clarified her deduction, and earned herself a blush from the Dwarf she could now call brother.

“Yes,” he answered after a moment.

“Thank you, Nori. I adore it,” she said smiling warmly at the Thief who relaxed minutely before leaning down and gently knocking his forehead against hers.

“I’m glad. Now, there actually was a reason I sought you out. Ori has been near to bursting wanting to discuss more Hobbit-y history with you. I thought I would seek you out just to save my ears from another round of ‘do you think Billa would mind terribly if…’” he said causing Billa to laugh.

“Of course, give me a hand putting these books back and then we can go find your sister,” she responded easily, getting to her feet. Nori let out a long-suffering sigh before agreeing and the two set about returning the books to their shelves. Not long afterwards the two left the library in search of the Company’s youngest member.

They found Ori in one of the many gardens of their Guest House watching the other Dwarrow training, with her notebook open in her lap and inkpot set beside her on the stone bench she was sitting on. Nori and Billa made their way around the sparring Dwarrow by hugging the edge of the clearing, and Billa smiled in greeting when Ori turned to look at them as they approached.

“Oh Billa, would you mind…” Ori began to say only to stop when Nori groaned, Billa grinned.

“Of course, Ori. That’s why Nori came and sought me out for you,” she responded glancing back at the Thief who at that moment was wearing a neutral façade and appeared to be watching the sparring.

“Oh, thank you Nadad,” Ori said before her ocean-green eyes caught the braid hidden among Billa’s long copper curls, “I see you finally asked her Nori. I told you she’d say yes.”

“Yeah, yeah nana’dith you didn’t even know who I made the bead for originally,” he retorted pink dusting his cheeks.

“Well I knew it wasn’t a courting bead as you still carry your ênâd'ebnel,” she said, “and it wasn’t too hard to figure it out after meeting Billa. You hover worse than Dori does.”

“I do not!” Nori cried out, not particularly liking being likened to his older brother, “I don’t hover do I Bil?”

“Sorry Nori, but I must agree with Ori here,” Billa answered with an amused smile, “even with your reasons I would still call it hovering.”

“Then stop getting yourself in trouble,” he retorted.

“I can’t help it Nori, it’s not like I go looking for it.”

“I would beg to differ at times, anyway shouldn’t you be imparting Hobbit-y history or something?” the embarrassed Dwarf said before disappearing over to the far side of the garden to sit next to Bofur. Billa and Ori shared a glance before devolving into giggles at Nori’s expense, once the hobbit-lass had calmed herself she took a seat next to Ori.

“What did you want to discuss this time Ori?”

“Well we have covered Hobbit governance, hierarchy, and the Shire. We have also covered the etiquette, expectations and mannerisms of Gentle-Hobbits, from the importance of Afternoon Tea and Elvensies for maintaining relations with other Gentle-Hobbits to what is appropriate conversation topics. Which to me really does seem to be all rather political,” the young Dwarrowdam said flicking through her notebook, “so I suppose my next avenue of questions should either be courting customs or the importance of seven meals a day.”

“Well I can answer the latter quite easily before going on to answer the former if you would like?”

“You would do both?”

“Of course. Neither is really a secret, so I don’t see why not,” the hobbit-lass said before beginning to explain, “Hobbit’s are known for having a very high metabolism and with how many of us work the land we expend a lot of energy and thus we need to eat a lot to stay healthy. A lot of the less privileged only eat four meals a day, so they are quite a bit thinner than the Gentle-Hobbits that barely move a finger and have the money to waste on enough food to have the seven meals; first and second breakfast, elvensies, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, and supper. Most even go so far as to eat a midnight snack as well.”

“I noticed you put out a wonderful spread when we dined at Bag-End, but you also have appeared to be fine only eating three meals a day?” Ori queried, hand poised ready to begin writing again.

“Since becoming one of the Chennad and travelling with my Mother before that, I have adapted to only eating four meals a day as seven full meals a day is not very efficient when one is on the road,” Billa said with a playful smile, “so I am rather thin in comparison to most Gentle-Hobbits. As for the spread; I keep my pantries as full as most of my contemporaries as at least twice a month I host a soiree at Bag-End for all of my tenants and I ensure that they all leave with whatever food is leftover. My tenants all eat at least six meals a day as I do not charge a high lease on my estates unlike some others, and if for whatever reason they are struggling I am known to feed families straight from my own pantries.”

“How is it you’ve managed to maintain your wealth?”

“I suppose that is a fair question as I have at least thirty families leasing upon my estates. I am very good at haggling for a fair price for my tenant’s wares when I take them to the markets of Bree and throughout the Shire and I receive ten percent of the total profit. The Baggins’ vineyards also have proven to bring in quite a bit of revenue, with the last few vintages selling for a high profit. The land I inherited from my Mother’s dowry in the South Farthing is being leased to the leaf-farmers of Longbottom, and as part of the rent I receive five percent of all profits of Old Toby,” Billa answered, unaware she had caught the attention of Balin from where he had been observing the sparring Dwarrow, “I have also invested my wealth wisely in several businesses recently and have as a result near doubled the wealth that my Father left me in three years. Smart investments and reasonable rents, have had a lot to do with it.”

“You are very good with numbers Miss Baggins,” Balin said wandering a bit closer so he could take part in the conversation and yet still observe the young Princes-in-Exile in their training.

“My Father was a very shrewd business-hobbit Master Balin and he taught me everything I know. By the end of his life I was the one managing our estates fully, I think it brought him joy to see them flourish as they have,” Billa responded with a sad smile, “when he died he admitted he was put at ease knowing that the families under our care would not suffer with me as the Master of Bag-End.”

“Is that why you chose your Cousins to take over Bag-End?” Ori asked.

“Yes, Drogo and Primula will continue the work that my Father and I started, of that I have no doubt. Drogo is even better than I am with numbers believe it or not, and Primula is a mean haggler so I know that my tenants are in good hands,” the hobbit-lass replied with certainty, “I also left instructions that if anything were to happen to me, or to them that Bag-End and her estates were to pass on to Hamfast Gamgee and his wife Bell. They have been good friends to my family and to me for years and I would see them comfortable. That I would prefer people who would love Bag-End like it deserves over people like the Sackville-Baggins’, well that’s for me to know.”

“So, food is very important to Hobbits?” Ori queried after a moment drawing the conversation back to the original subject.

“Yes, for the reasons I listed before and for its role in courting, which is why I had no issues speaking of both as they are somewhat linked.”

“So, courting?”

“Indeed. Hobbit courting customs follow three major steps. The first of which is done with bouquets of flowers as a show of intent; the flowers used in the initial bouquet must show the intent of the suitor and reflect their opinion of the one they wish to court.”

“How can that be represented through flowers?”

“Flowers have their own language and can mean many things alone or among a bouquet, and the manner in which they are given can indicate the manner in which the meaning should be received. We Hobbit’s actually have a poem that speaks of the flower language if you would care to hear it?”

“Oh yes please,” Ori said. Billa simply smiled as she closed her eyes to recite the poem in the common tongue.

“There is a language, little known, Lovers claim it as their own.
Its symbols smile upon the land, wrought by nature’s wondrous hand;
And in their silent beauty speak, of life and joy, to those who seek
For Love Divine and sunny hours in the language of the flowers.”

(The language and poetry of flowers, [1875] Marcus Ward & Co., Pott, Young & Co. London.)

“That is beautiful,” the young Dwarrowdam said, even as she wrote the poem down.

“I’ve always thought so,” Billa said, “so bouquets of flowers are always the first courting gift. Should the intent be accepted, the courting couple will often meet to go on walks, or meet for Afternoon Tea, or go for picnics; all within the presence of a chaperone of course. This time is used for the couple to get to know one another and to determine if they are indeed suited for each other. The next stage of courting begins if the couple have determined they wish to further their relations, and this is where food becomes important. The courting couple have three instances where they must cook a dish during this stage, one for each other and then together they must cook a meal for their combined family. This is done to demonstrate that the two of them can work together and build a home together, it is also a good test for the couple to see if they really know each other as well as they think they do. It is often at this stage that most courtships go awry and tend to be broken.”

“So, flowers are used to show intent, and food demonstrates the ability to work together, what is the third stage?” Ori asked.

“The third stage is the final courting gift, often called the ‘Wedding Gift’ as it often determines if the couple’s families will approve of the engagement.”

“So, when you said your Father built Bag-End for you Mother as a ‘Wedding Gift’, you mean it was to gain approval from her family?”

“Correct. My Mother was my Grandfather’s oldest daughter and he was very protective of her, so Father determined he would have to demonstrate to Grandfather both the extent of his love for my Mother but also just how far he’d go to gain her hand. So, my Father who was the most respectable Hobbit bachelor of his age, did the most unrespectable thing in his life – he journeyed to New Nogrod to find the best Dwarrow architect to help design Bag-End and returned with the plans and set to work building the third largest smial in the Shire. My father wasn’t a builder, but he got his hands dirty alongside the builder’s he had hired to put his own personal touch to the place.”

“Your Grandfather obviously approved,” Balin commented having been listening to the ladies.

“According to Mother he’d had half a mind to refuse anyway, but Grandmother Adamanta dealt with that quickly. My parents wedding was held only a month later, concluding one of the shortest courtships in Shire history.”

“What was your Mother’s gift to your Father?” Balin inquired, glancing at the hobbit-lass

“Aside from her negotiated dowry, my Mother had a pocket-watch commissioned for my Father. He was well known for enjoying being punctual. So, her gift was well received, and much enjoyed,” Billa answered pulling out her Father’s pocket-watch and handing it over to the older Dwarf to examine.

“It’s excellent craftmanship,” he stated, examining the pocket-watch closely.

“Indeed, which is only to be expected of Dwarrow craftmanship,” she answered with an amused smile as the two Dwarrow looked at her. “My mother had it commissioned in New Nogrod as well, the irony of my parent’s ‘Wedding Gifts’ always serves to amuse me; especially when you find out they were there at the same time and didn’t know until after they were married.”

Balin turned the pocket-watch over and looked for the makers mark, only to laugh. “Ah the craftmanship of such a piece intrigued me, I will admit. But seeing now who crafted it I suppose I should be less surprised,” he said before calling out, “Glóin!” The trio were joined a moment later by the stout auburn-haired Dwarf.

“Yes Cousin?” he said gruffly, though his body language was relaxed and Durin blue eyes showed his curiosity.

“Take a look at this,” the Advisor said handing the pocket-watch carefully to the other Dwarf. Glóin’s eyes studied the time piece closely, and when his eyes landed on the makers mark a grin split his lips.

“Aye this is my Gudni’s work, outstanding as always. Who does it belong to?” he stated.

“It was my Father’s,” Billa answered smiling at the auburn-haired Dwarf as he continued to study the pocket-watch.

“He could not have had a finer watch commissioned. My Gudni, is a jeweller by trade and Craft but with Nartumunzahar having little in the ways of gemstone mines, she turned to watch making and has done well.”

“I would say so, I have always been amazed at how well it withstood the sands of time, as it is older than me by a good ten to fifteen years,” the hobbit-lass responded.

“My Gudni’s work is nothing but extraordinary,” he said puffing up with pride.

“If this is what she can do with a watch, I imagine I would be beyond astounded by her abilities with gemstones,” Billa said, accepting the pocket-watch back and slipping it once again into the pocket of the elven tunic she wore. Glóin grinned at the compliment.

“Aye, her work is unmatched.”

“Just wait Glóin, Gudni says that once I have the chance to craft my Master piece I may yet surpass her,” Kíli called out from where he had just deflected an attack from Bifur.

“You have a long way to go yet,” Glóin called back marching off to take on the raven-haired Dwarf-Prince, much to the amusement of the Company.

“Are there any other customs unique to Hobbit courting?” Ori asked.

“Well, while bouquets of flowers are often used initially to show intent, they remain to be used throughout the whole courting process. Flower crowns and wreaths are used in Hobbit weddings to represent the couple and what they hope to build together, why?”

“Well it seems that Hobbit courting and Dwarrow courting customs are not too different. As we have similar stages within our own customs,” Ori answered, looking to Balin for a moment before continuing once she received a nod from the white-haired Dwarf. “The first stage of showing intent is done through courting beads, and braids. The second stage is demonstrating the couples’ ability to work together in battle as all Dwarrow are taught how to fight, the Dwarrowdam’s who do not join the Guard often being the last point of defence for the children. And the final stage is the final courting gift, similar to your “Wedding Gift” it is something used to demonstrate the extent of how far the two would go for each other and is often Crafted by their own hands.”

“How fascinating,” Billa responded intrigued, “I didn’t realise how similar our cultures were in some respects.”

“There is the difference that most Dwarrow wait until they find their One before courting them and only them,” Balin stated.

“Ah yes, Dwarrow call their soulmates Ones. I suppose you identify your soulmates differently than the way Hobbit’s do,” the hobbit-lass said thoughtfully.

“Hobbit’s have soulmates?” Ori asked.

“We do, though we call ours a Heart’s Home.”

“How do you identify your Heart’s Home?” the Dwarrowdam asked.

“Well there is a reason there is three stages of courting. During the first stage while a couple is getting to know one another, they are also trying to determine if the other is their Heart’s Home. When a Hobbit comes of age, we are gifted a dream from the Lady Yavanna that shows our Heart’s Home to us. Although often we are not gifted a true vision of them, she delivers us enough clues to identify them; be it what they smell like, their favourite food, the colour of their hair, eyes, or something that is symbolic of them,” Billa answered, “and though it is rare, if a Hobbit’s Heart’s Home is of a different race, the Hobbit either ages slower or faster after they come of age. Depending on the race of their soul-mate.”

“Have you found yours?” Ori asked quietly, eyes wide.

“Unfortunately not, Ori. I have also chosen to abstain from courting, due to my prior experience with it.”

“Oh yes, you were saying that many tried to court you to claim Bag-End. Is that common among Hobbits?”

“Not every Hobbit desires to find their Heart’s Home, I will confess many have forsaken it. But not all. Most Gentle-Hobbits are more concerned with maintaining their status and respectability these days, and it is not uncommon for arranged courtships.”

“That seems awful,” the young Dwarrowdam said in horror.

“It is, that is why I have abstained from courting. Although I am beginning to think that my Heart’s Home is not a Hobbit,” Billa confessed quietly, glancing over at Ori who had stopped writing to stare at the hobbit-lass.

“What makes you say that?”

“Since the day I came of age I have remained unchanged. Three years isn’t long of course but I would imagine that I would have noticed any minor signs of aging. Even Gandalf has confessed that he too is surprised at how little I seemed to have aged.”

“Do you know what race?” Ori asked.

“Considering my Heart’s dream, I would say Dwarrow,” Billa commented softly even though Balin had drifted away to coach Fíli in his newest match against Dwalin.

“Can you tell me what clues you were given?” the Dwarrowdam inquired.

Billa remained silent for a moment before answering, “usually the contents of a Heart’s dream are kept private until you identify your Heart’s Home. But I am willing to make an exception if you promise to keep quiet about what I am about to tell you.”

“Of course, Billa. I swear it upon my beard,” Ori said vehemently. Billa smiled gratefully at the Dwarrowdam.

“Thank you, Ori,” she responded lowly, “my dream offered me an array of images, scents, and sounds; chocolate, the scent of sandalwood, a forge, the twang of what I think might have been a bowstring – but I could be wrong about that – a raven, emeralds, and laughter.”

Ori studied the hobbit-lass thoughtfully for a moment, before choosing her words carefully. “And should you have been correct about the bowstring? There are not many Dwarven Archers, though that’s not to say they don’t exist.”

“That is exactly why I am not certain, although I don’t know what it would be if it was not a bowstring. It is a rather unique sound,” Billa replied, emerald-green eyes wide in dismay, even as they were drawn yet again to the raven-haired Dwarf-Prince where he stood doubled over in laughter. Ori followed the hobbit-lass’ gaze and let a sly smile play upon her lips, she was sure Billa was unaware of how often her gaze drifted towards the youngest Prince. It was something Ori had noticed early on while the Company had been on the road.

“Well I certainly agree that is likely a Dwarrow from the sounds of things. But look on the bright side Billa. With there being only a limited number of Dwarven Archers, I would say you are already one step closer to finding them,” the Dwarrowdam said, patting the hobbit-lass on the hand comfortingly. Billa turned her eyes back to the redhaired Dwarrowdam at her side and smiled gratefully.

“Thank you, Ori. Maybe you are right, either way now is not the time to fret over it. I’m sure I will find them eventually. Now I noticed you were interested before when I spoke of the language of flowers did you want me to teach you?” the hobbit-lass said gathering herself again, giggling over Ori’s enthusiastic agreement. For the remainder of the afternoon Billa sat with Ori, teaching her all about different plants and flowers and their meanings.


 

That evening the Company was invited to the Hall of Fire for after dinner entertainment, and were treated to several songs, poems, and tales by several talented minstrels before they were invited to take part. Bofur had jumped at the chance and had immediately begun to sing earning much laughter from the Dwarrow and Billa; and to the hobbit-lass’ smug amusement several chuckles from the usually distant elves.

Of course, Billa should have known better but eventually the eyes of the hall turned to her.

“Would you sing for us Ivanniel?” Lindir asked sweetly. Billa stared the bard down for a moment before nodding in agreement.

“I don’t see why not, what would you prefer a ballad or a cheery tune?”

“A cheery tune lass!” one of the Dwarrow called out. Billa was fairly certain it had been Bofur. Nodding again in agreement, she stood up from her seat and brushed down her gown before walking to the centre of the Hall; a bit closer to the Fire Pits so that the room’s occupants could all see her and then she began to sing, clapping her hands along to the beat;

“As I came down through Long Cleeve Village
At the hour of twelve at night
Who should I see but the Tookish Lady
Washing her feet by candlelight
First she washed them, then she dried them
Over a fire of amber coal
In all my life I ne’er did see
A maid so sweet about the soul

Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay
Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay

As I came back through Long Cleeve Village,
At the hour of half past eight
Who should I spy but the Tookish Lady
Brushing her hair in the broad daylight
First she tossed it, then she brushed it
On her lap was a silver comb
In all my life I ne’er did see
A maid so fair since I did roam

Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay
Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay

As I went back through Long Cleeve Village
As the sun began to set
Who should I spy but the Tookish Lady
Catching a moth in a golden net
When she saw me, then she fled me
Lifting her petticoat over her knee
In all my life I ne’er did see
A maid so shy as the Tookish Lady

Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay
Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay
Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay
Whack for the toora loora laddy
Whack for the toora loora lay.”

(edited from The Spanish Lady, Celtic Woman)

The Hall erupted into applause as the hobbit-lass concluded her song with a curtsey. Another elven minstrel took up after Billa singing of the tale of Luthien and Beren as she returned to her seat adjacent to the Company.

“Was that song written about one of your ancestors?” Ori asked when she sat down.

“Indeed, it was written about my great Grandmother who caught the eye of a travelling Dwarrow over one hundred and forty years ago.  Although there is still debate over whether or not he was the father of her child. As she did marry and her son – my Grandfather, Gerontius – did not appear much different to a normal faunt, aside from being taller than most, longer lived, and smaller of foot.”

“He never came back f’r her?” Bofur asked moving to sit beside Billa.

“No. It is said he went to Battle and never returned. She passed on shortly after her son came of age, as is often the case when one loses their Heart’s Home to something other than old age and there are faunts involved. My Grandfather was actually the one who said he was not my Great-Grandfather’s son by blood. Fortinbras Took the first was an older Hobbit well into his sixties when he married Orchid Took who was his younger cousin,” she answered.

“So, you have Dwarrow blood in ye lass?” the miner asked in surprise.

“Well if it is true that I do, it is dilute. Though it would certainly explain why my feet are small enough to fit into boots comfortably, and why the hair on my feet is so fine,” she said pulling her gown up slightly to show them her feet with a slight blush, continuing on with darkening cheeks “they are not what is considered very attractive in the Shire.”

“Well they look like perfectly fine feet to me,” Kíli commented, causing Billa’s face to flame red as she stuttered out a word of thanks. Ori giggled under her breath at the sight even as Kíli looked at the hobbit-lass curiously.

“Does anyone recall the name of the Dwarrow?” Bofur asked catching Billa’s attention again.

“Ah give me a moment, I remember my Mother telling me when she explained the song to me as a faunt,” she said even as her eyes grew distant for a moment, before she snapped her fingers with a triumphant smile, “ah yes, the song is often subtitled ‘The meeting of Orchid Took and Baldur Baraldurul’. I knew I knew it.” The sharp intake of breath from Bofur followed by a call in Khuzdul that saw his older brother and cousin rush to his side, caught Billa’s attention. “What’s wrong? Have I said something wrong?” she asked Ori as Bofur spoke in hurried Khuzdul to his kin.

“No, you haven’t. Just wait a moment Billa, it would be better for them to explain it,” the Dwarrowdam said.

After a few more minutes of conversing with his kin, Bofur turned back to her switching to common.

“Apologies Miss Billa, but Baldur son of Baraldur was our Uncle,” he said gesturing between himself, Bombur, and Bifur. Billa’s jaw dropped as she stared at them in shock. “He was our Fathers’ older brother who died at Azanulbizar.”

“Oh,” was all Billa could say, green eyes wide.

“To find out he may have had a child with your ancestress is more than we have ever known about him, he never stayed long with the family according to Bifur; he was often on the road as a travelling craftsman.”

“That aligns with what information I have about him. Many Hobbits would prefer to view Orchid as someone who died of the shame of almost having a child out of wedlock, but the Tooks have always been adamant that she died of Heart’s Loss,” Billa said after a few moments of digesting the news. The entire Company by this point had stopped listening to the songs being sung by the elven minstrels and were observing the Ur’s and the hobbit-lass.

“Is there any way we could find out whether or not her child was the son of Baldur?” Bombur asked in his quiet way. Billa considered the request a moment as she recalled the stories her Mother and Grandfather had told her of Orchid and Baldur, they had always been a bedtime favourite and now she was beginning to wonder why. After a moment it hit her.

“Oh, of course. Ori and Balin were just telling me today that the first stage of Dwarrow courting was the offering of courting beads. Orchid was well known for wearing her hair loose with a braid that she wore odd – by Hobbit standards – trinkets in. She gifted those beads to my Grandfather just before she died. My Mother even had my Grandfather show them to me once when we were in Tuckborough when I was a faunt; they were made of a beautiful red agate. I believe the beads are now in my Cousin Fortinbras’ care as Thain.”

“So, Fortinbras Took the first raised your Grandfather after Orchid died?” Ori asked for clarification.

“Yes. It is still debated of course, but it was my Grandfather who told me that he was the son of Baldur. Fortinbras Took the first needed an heir and married his cousin Orchid to spare her from being shamed for having a child out of wedlock. He then claimed and raised the child as his, and that was that. Or it was, until now,” she answered.

“So that would make you one eighths Dwarrow by blood,” Ori said

 A look of bewilderment crossed Billa’s face as she digested the Dwarrowdam’s words. “I mean. Of course I believed Grandfather, but I have never actually thought of it that way.”

“So tha’ makes ye kin,” Bofur said after a moment.

“First Cousins twice removed to be precise,” Billa answered distractedly as she came to terms with the fact she was a) part Dwarrow, and b) had even more family she didn’t know she had. She was so distracted she missed the Ur’s slipping back into Khuzdul to discuss something before turning to discuss something with Thorin. By the time she had shaken herself from her stupor, the Ur’s were once again beside her.

“If you wanted to lass, we would be honoured if you wore our family braid and beads. We actually have Uncle Baldur’s beads with us,” Bombur offered quietly. Billa’s emerald green eyes widened in shock as she looked from the Ur’s to Thorin who simply sent her a half-smile – she wasn’t sure he knew how to smile properly to be honest – and then back to her Dwarrow relations.

“It would be my honour Cousins,” she responded formally, earning a cheer from the Company that was so loud it disrupted the melancholic ballad that had been being sung much to the Elves surprise. Elrond and Gandalf both appeared beside the Company in interest even as a few of the Dwarrow apologised – much to Billa’s pleasure – for the disruption.

“What is going on here?” Gandalf asked with an amused smile.

“Oh, Grey One. You knew Grandfather as a lad, didn’t you?” Billa said

“That I did, why?”

“The song I sang was one of the few taken from ‘The Meeting of Orchid Took and Baldur Baruldurul’ and when I was explaining how Grandfather was the son of Baldur but raised as the son of Fortinbras Took the first, we’ve had a happy little discovery,” she explained.

“Oh? And what might that have been,” the Istar asked honestly surprised. He had known that Gerontius was what he had affectionately coined a Dwobbit, but to find out more about the Dwarrow who sired him was quite the surprise.

“He was the elder brother of Bombur, Bofur, and Bifur’s Fathers,” she answered.

“Ah, well that is a surprise,” Gandalf said.

“Congratulations on your discovery Ivanniel,” Lord Elrond said kindly.

“Thank you, Lord Elrond,” Billa replied with a sunny smile, “I must also apologise for causing such a disruption to the evening’s festivities.”

“Not at all my dear, think nothing of it,” the Elf-Lord said before taking his leave with a quiet farewell.

“I take it you have accepted being known as kin?” Gandalf asked the hobbit-lass.

“Indeed, I have, and I will have to send word back to Fortinbras to tell the family of the news,” she responded smiling at Bifur and Bombur, as Bofur had scurried off to get the beads.

“Well my congratulations as well my dear Bilbo, I suppose I was correct in saying that this adventure would change you,” he said sharing a knowing look with the hobbit-lass.

“Of course you were, Gandalf. Every time I step out my door I return changed in some way, if for the knowledge I have gained or the people I have met,” she replied with a sly grin before she shooed the laughing Wizard away before turning to the Company, “if you would prefer this to be a private event might I suggest we return to the Guest House?”

“You are quite right, that might be for the best,” Balin said before rounding up the Company and ushering them out of the Hall with Dori’s help. Thorin, meanwhile, went and said a few words of farewell to Lord Elrond before he joined Billa as she followed the Company out. It didn’t take long for the Company to bump into Bofur, who easily fell in with them as they headed back towards the Guest House.

Once they reached their suites, Thorin was the one to lead the Company out onto the secluded courtyard balcony where the Company went about sitting themselves on the scattered stone benches and upon the plush floor cushions. Bifur had gently caught Billa’s hand as she slowed – unsure of what she was to do – and pulled her along behind him to where his younger cousins had sat down leaving space between them for Bifur. Nori approached after a moment with a floor cushion for Billa to sit on, earning him a thankful smile from the hobbit-lass as Bifur took the cushion and set it in front of him once he had sat down. The hobbit-lass easily sank on to the cushion facing away from Bifur to allow him access to her unbound curls; as he was the head of the family he would be the one to braid the family braids into her hair.

Billa wasn’t sure who started humming as Bifur began to braid a section of hair just above the braid Nori had given her, but soon all the Dwarrow had taken up what sounded like a Hymn sung in Khuzdul. The song came to an end just as Bifur clasped the ends of the braid with a bead and clasp combo crafted from blackwood inlaid with copper. As Bifur dropped the braid to her shoulder the beads clacked against one another and against the copper bead clasp Nori had made her.

The older dwarf grumbled something in Khuzdul, half of which Billa could make out and half she could not so she was glad that Bofur translated it for her, “Bifur says ‘Welcome t’ the Family lass’.”

“Thank you, Bifur,” she responded.

“He also noticed ye have been claimed as akrâgbaraf, and would like to know who by,” Bofur said.

“I have,” Nori said approaching the four after the braiding had been done. Bifur studied the Thief who comfortably sprawled next to Billa on the cushion he had dragged with him. He rumbled a few words at the redhaired Dwarf who responded in common for the hobbit-lass’s benefit, “I have known her for twenty years and looked out for her for fifteen. Honouring her as my akrâgnana’ has been something I have considered for ten and planned to do for five.”

“You didn’t mention that,” Billa said bumping her shoulder against his.

“I didn’t think it was important mimzardûna,” he responded, turning marsh green eyes to Bifur as the older Dwarf rumbled something else.

“I may have claimed her first, but she is of your blood. If anything, I hoped that we would be able to share that right,” he said.

“Share what right?” Billa asked, although she had a feeling from what she had been able to work out from fragmentary Khuzdul it had to do with courting.

“Bifur was jus’ askin’ Nori here if as he claimed you as kin before we even knew of our relation, he was planning on solely dealin’ wit’ any suitors who may or may not ask t’ court ye,” Bofur offered.

“– and I don’t see why I would stop them when I certainly could use the help,” Nori responded slyly, teasing the hobbit-lass who as predicted blushed at the insinuation.

“What suitors Nori? I don’t see you having to beat them away with your mace,” she retorted, cheeks pink, “it’s not like I’ve had many courtship offers to begin with. I’m not exactly what you would call attractive.”

“Now who’s told ye tha’ lass,” Bofur asked with a frown, his kind brown eyes studying her closely.

“Try half the Shire,” Nori grumbled under his breath, catching the hatted Dwarf’s attention.

“Ye can’t be serious?” he said, looking between the hobbit-lass and the Thief. Billa’s cheeks darkened with a blush as she averted her gaze away from her male kin.

“It may have been said once or twice that the only thing truly attractive about me, is my estates and wealth,” she murmured, tying not to flinch at the sudden unanimous shout of outrage from Bifur, Bofur, and Nori. Bombur was wearing a frown but said nothing, although he did pat the hobbit-lass on the shoulder reassuringly.

“Who said that?” Nori demanded, “if it was those Mahal-damned Sackville-Bagginses…”

“Who else would it be?” Billa answered quietly, “Guido Proudfoot is perfectly happy with Angelica Bunce, they are getting married just after the Harvest Festival. Cousin Flambard is only really in love with himself but is married and has a tween son Adelard. Cousin Herugar is now married to Jessamine Boffin with a fauntling. Just because Otho married Lobelia last Spring once she had come of age, doesn’t mean he or his mother have forgotten about Bag-End. He only married Lobelia because Primrose Bracegirdle was very good friends with Aunt Camellia and Lobelia received quite the inheritance when her Mother died and will again if her Father passes.”

“Is this wha’ ye meant earlier about ye feet lass?” Bofur asked.

Billa nodded with averted gaze. “There are several things that factor in, although size of feet, and thickness of foot-hair are highly determinant of attractiveness among Hobbits.”

“What other factors mim-zê?” Bombur voiced softly. Billa was beginning to wish she hadn’t said anything, or that this conversation was at least happening somewhere else and not in front of the whole Company.

 Resisting the desire to run away, she looked down at her lap as she spoke. “Well aside from our feet, how rounded we are is usually the next thing considered; and one of the most important to Gentle-Hobbits. So, the fact that I eat only between three and four meals a day as opposed to seven means that I am considered even more unattractive than those who have no choice but to eat as such. I am too thin, if many didn’t know better they would say sickly,” she answered, “then there is the fact that I often wear men’s clothes, even when I’m not travelling. Not to mention my height, I am considered far too tall for a respectable Hobbit lass. Far too tall for a respectable Hobbit, what with being over four foot four. Then of course when it comes to assets, I am a bit too… ah… well-endowed for most Hobbits to find attractive. The list goes on.”

“Tha’s plenty ridiculous!” Bofur exclaimed, sliding down from the stone bench only to nudge Nori half off the Thief’s floor cushion so he could sit directly in front of the hobbit-lass and take her fidgeting hands in his calloused ones. Billa observed the Miner through her eyelashes as he continued to speak, “all what ye have jus’ said is exactly why us lot will be beatin’ suitors back once we reclaim Azsâlul'abad. Many would be well enamoured wit’ ye lass.”

“That’s of course not to mention those who have already tasted my mace,” Nori commented lightly although his eyes belied his satisfaction.

“What?” Billa and Bofur said in unison, brown and green eyes staring at the smug Thief.

“Bilbo. Half the Dwarrow lads back in Nartumunzahar wanted you for your ‘exotic’ looks. Of course, I stepped in when some got a mite too close to dishonouring you,” the redhaired Dwarf said, “and they would’ve. Half just wanted to have a quick tumble, while the other half wanted to possess you like some sort of exotic trophy.” Bifur grumbled something gruffly, patting the Thief on the shoulder in what looked like gratitude.

“Aye, we should be thankin’ ye Nori f’r keepin’ th’ creeps at bay,” Bofur added. Billa simply glanced between the three males before turning to look pleadingly at Ori who was sat beside Dori on the nearby bench.

“Is this normal Dwarrow overprotectiveness?” she asked the Dwarrowdam who let out a laugh and grinned at the hobbit-lass.

“It will only get worse Billa, just you wait,” the sweet-faced ‘dam said.

 “Ye stuck wit’ us lass, ye best get used to it now,” Bofur said patting her shoulder as he grinned.

“Yes, there is no escape from us now Bilbo,” Nori added teasingly.

“Mother help me,” she groaned burying her face in her hands as the Company laughed.

Chapter Text

"Khuzdul"

"Greenspeech"

"Sindarin"


 

The Company had been in Rivendell just over a week and Billa had taken to enjoying walks through the many gardens of the Last Homely House, when she wasn’t being forced into weapons training by Dwalin or answering Ori’s never-ending questions about Hobbits. She would spend time in the Library occasionally when she had a free moment, though it wasn’t only the Dwarrow that were keeping her busy. Several of her elven friends and acquaintances also did their best to manage some of her time.

The copper-haired hobbit-lass found it rather strange in some respects, as while she was used to always being in high demand as Chennad this was a different kind of demand. Genuine popularity was a new feeling for her. Shaking her head, Billa continued down the garden path she was wandering down with a light chuckle. Her solitude was once again interrupted by a call of her name.

“Aunty Billa!”

A grin pulled at the hobbit-lass’ lips as she turned around just in time to meet the eager embrace of a dark-haired human boy. “Estel!” she cried back, joyously returning the ten-year-old’s embrace, “how are you dear?”

“I’m good Aunty Billa,” the boy said as he pulled away from the hobbit-lass.

Billa took note of the height difference between her and the dark-haired child. “Look at you!” she said with a proud smile as she studied the growing boy, “you’re taller than me now!”

“Mother says that I still have a way to go, apparently my Father was over six foot,” the child said excitedly.

The hobbit-lass laughed. “Yes, Estel. I believe you will continue to grow like a weed, you might even end up taller than the Twins,” she said indulgently, enjoying the excited grin that lit up the child’s face, “now what brings you out here? I thought you still had classes for the day?”

“Erestor has let me go for the day, and Mother said that you were wandering the gardens again,” Estel answered with a sunny smile, “I wanted to walk with you this time.”

“That’s very kind of you dear, why don’t you tell me what you’ve been up to since my last visit to the Valley?” she said, smiling gently as she took the boy’s hand in hers as they continued down the path. Billa listened avidly as the child of man regaled her with dutiful recounts of his lessons and training, and amusing tales of mischief. The two spent the greater part of the afternoon together, with Estel having begged for a story or two in return for his recounts which Billa had amusedly told. A quick check of her pocket-watch had the hobbit-lass sigh.

“Well it’s time for me to return to my suites. I am sure my Companions are wondering where I am,” she said, smiling apologetically at the boy.

“That’s okay, I’ll walk you back to your Guest House Aunty,” Estel said with a determined look, Billa stifled a laugh at the adorable gesture of the child and simply accepted.

“Thank you dear, how very gentlemanly of you,” she said, allowing the boy to lead the way back to the Guest House her suites were located in. After several minutes they reached the Guest House, and Billa was surprised to find Kíli sat upon the steps as if waiting for something. The dark-haired Dwarrow looked up on their approach and smiled at them, getting to his feet with a fluid grace.

“Ah Billa, I was wondering when you would return from your walk,” he called out to her with a cheeky grin, “and I see you’ve brought a friend.”

The hobbit-lass chuckled lightly. “More like Estel here brought me,” she answered as they reached the stairs, “he wanted to walk me back.”

The dark-haired Prince-in-Exile studied the lad a moment before grinning at him. “My thanks young Master for returning our wayward Hobbit-lass.”

“You’re welcome Mister Dwarf,” Estel giggled.

“I’ll be sure to tell your Mother just how grown up you’ve become Estel. Thank you for walking me back,” Billa said kissing the boy’s cheek, “you should run along now, no doubt she will be looking for you.”

“It is nearly time for Dinner,” the boy agreed.

“That it is, off you go then. Say hello to Gilraen for me, and tell her I will see her soon,” the hobbit-lass said shooing the boy off, smiling warmly at his giggles.

“Okay. Bye Aunty Billa,” he said waving, before he shot off towards the Main House. She was joined at the bottom of the stairs by Kíli just as the boy was out of sight.

“Now who was that young lad,” he asked curiously.

“He is Lord Elrond’s foster son. His name is Estel, although it is not his true name. He is one of the Dúnedian, his Father was killed in an Orc attack on their village when he was but a babe so his Mother – Gilraen – sought sanctuary here in Imladris,” she answered, a sorrowful look crossing her face.

Kíli tilted his head to study her slightly. “True name?”

“Mm yes,” she sighed, “Estel’s name is really Aragorn, son of Arathorn, Isildur’s Heir. However, it was both Gilraen and Elrond’s wish that Estel be raised in peace and safety and so he was given a new name to protect him.”

“He is of the line of Isildur?” Kíli breathed.

And Anarion. The lines converged in 1940 of the Third Age with the union of Arvedui, King of the Arthedain, and Fíriel of the line of Anarion, daughter of King Ondoher of Gondor. He is the True Heir of Elendil, and as such the Thrones of Gondor and Arnor.”

Kíli was stunned silent for several beats. “I now understand why he needs to be protected.”

“There are many who would seek to hurt him,” Billa agreed, “either by killing him or using him for their own means. I fear he will have a very difficult road ahead of him when he finally comes of age.”

“You are very fond of him,” the dark-haired Dwarrow observed.

Billa smiled, meeting the dark brown eyes of the Dwarrow. “That I am. I have known him since he was small, and I care for him very much.”

“I see now why he calls you Aunt, if he has known you his entire life,” Kíli said after a moment.

“I suppose so. He always has, I imagine it was at the encouragement of GIlraen, and Elrond,” the hobbit-lass said with an amused tilt of her lips. Glancing at the Dwarrow beside her out of the corner of eye, she asked, “so what brings you out here? You looked like you were waiting for something.”

Her eye’s widened curiously as Kíli’s cheeks flushed pink beneath his barely-there beard. “Ah, about that…” he began trailing off slightly.  Clearing his throat, he continued, “well since we’ve been here, I - we’ve barely seen you,” he said averting his eyes slightly.

“I’m sorry for that,” Billa said, choosing to ignore the dark-haired Dwarrow’s correction. “I will admit that I am rather surprised by how popular I seem to be this time. I am not used to it.”

“I suppose if you usually travel alone, that it wouldn’t seem the same as you would not have companions seeking your company as well,” Kíli commented accepting the apology with a crooked smile.

“Perhaps that’s it,” she agreed with a half-smile, “was there something you needed me for?”

Kíli’s cheeks pinked again as he answered sheepishly, “not as such, I just wanted to make the most of our respite and get to know our Burglar better, and perhaps – if you were amiable – see about seeking a new bow for you?”

“A new bow?” she queried turning to face the sheepish young Dwarrow.

“Aye. I was hoping we might be able to maybe have a little competition or two,” he answered.

Billa let out a delighted laugh, smiling at Kíli warmly. “I think that could be arranged,” she responded amused.

“Really?”

“I don’t see why not, Elladan and Elrohir will be able to help us seek out a new bow for me,” she said, “and likely would be happy to join in on our competitions if you’d like.” Kíli grinned widely at her response, and Billa turned her head to hide the blush that had spread across her cheeks at the sight. She was beginning to become rather suspicious of just how often that occurred.  “As for getting to know me better, you are more than welcome to join me at any time,” she said demurely.

“I’ll remember that,” he responded, a grin still pulling at his lips and dark chocolate eyes gleaming.

Billa’s cheeks heated further and she ducked her head slightly to hide behind her curls, coughing to clear her throat she spoke, “well I guess we should go find the others, as Estel said earlier; it’s time for Dinner.”

Kíli chuckled lowly. “That it is, shall we go?” he asked offering an arm to the flustered hobbit-lass.

“Ah, of course. Thank you,” she said, gingerly taking the proffered arm and fighting the blush that coloured her cheeks. Kíli badly stifled another chuckle with a cough, as he smirked. “Oh, shut up,” she reprimanded embarrassed.

“Sorry, sorry,” Kíli said, laughing, “it’s not often I get to see you flustered.”

“I should hope not,” she retorted “it’s unbecoming of a Baggins.”

“Well Miss Baggins, I’m afraid you’ll have to take the time to explain just why that is,” the young Prince-in-Exile said cheekily, surprising a laugh out of the hobbit-lass as the two entered the Guest House to join their companions for the evening.


 

In the days leading up to Midsummer’s Eve, Billa found that for several hours each day she was in the company of the youngest Dwarrow Prince-in-Exile. It seemed he had taken up her offer and often joined her on her walks or in the Library when he wasn’t whisking her off for archery competitions with her new bow – eagerly supplied by the Elvish Terrors, who at times also joined them.

In that time, Billa had in turn gotten to know the young Dwarrow archer better. From learning that both he and Fíli were taught to cook from a young age and that he was the better cook, to why he took up the bow, to more menial topics such as favourite foods, colours, and such. In return Billa had spoken when asked about her childhood in the Shire, and about her time working alongside her mother. She answered questions pertaining to her own favourite things from food to flowers to gems and told stories about her cousins. It had surprised Billa to find out that the two of them shared more than a talent in archery in common, with several shared interests coming out in conversation; namely their shared enjoyment of music, and their shared dislike for being idle – although while Billa turned to books or needlework, Kíli turned to mischief.

As it was, on the day before Midsummer’s Eve Billa found she was not at all surprised to find Kíli awaiting her in one of her favourite gardens – a beautifully tended clearing of wild flowers adjacent to one of the many waterfalls of the Valley.

“Billa!” he called in greeting, a happy grin upon his face.

“I should’ve known you would be here,” she called back as she entered the clearing adorned in an elven tunic and trouser set, with copper curls loose and cascading down her back and over her shoulders.

“Since you showed it to me I have found myself returning every so often,” he answered sheepishly from where he was sat at the base of one of the large oak trees close to the edge of the cliff.

Shaking her head with an amused half-smile, the hobbit-lass wandered over and sat herself opposite him, a few feet away among the wildflowers. “It’s rare to see you idle. What is it that has you out here alone and not causing mischief with your brother?”

“I’m hardly idle Billa,” he said, raising the book in his hand, “I’m working on my Craft the only way being on the road allows.”

“Your Craft? You are sketching and planning out jewellery pieces?” she asked.

“I am. Gudni – Gloin’s wife – has done an incredible job teaching me to be a jeweller with our limited access to precious and semi-precious metals and gems. Once we restore Erebor everything will be different of course. I’ll actually get more chance to practice for starters,” he answered with a crooked grin.

“I can imagine that would be mighty helpful,” Billa responded with an amused smirk as she began to gather some of the flowers from around her in her lap; white and yellow Haradrin Daisies* (* African Daisies), Baby Blue Eyes, Cornflowers, Dog Violets, Foxgloves, and Primroses.

“That it will be. Gudni says with some proper practice I will likely be able to complete my Master Piece within a year or two. I would be one of the youngest Dwarrow of the Sigintarâg in five hundred years to complete my Mastery before I am eighty!”

Billa smiled at the obvious excitement that the young Dwarrow was exhibiting as she set to weaving the stems of the flowers together into a crown, her green eyes focused on the Dwarrow before her.  “That would be an amazing achievement,” she said genuinely, “one I can only see you being successful in accomplishing.”

“You really think so?” he asked.

“I do. You have an incredible energy Kíli. One of which, when you set your mind on something, is the driving force of your ambitions. I can only see you succeeding in your goals, once your heart is set,” she answered sincerely with a gentle smile.

“Thank you Billa,” he said with a delighted smile. A comfortable silence fell over the two of them as Kíli went back to his sketching and Billa settled into her task of crafting flower crowns. A while later, the dark-haired Dwarrow glanced up from his Craftbook to study the hobbit-lass sat before him. Billa had taken to humming quietly to herself as her fingers nimbly weaved the flowers together, the midday sun setting her copper curls aflame, and turning her milky complexion radiant.

After several minutes of watching Billa weave the flowers into a crown, Kíli broke the silence to ask, “do you suppose being one eighth Dwarrow you might have a Craft?”

“What?” Billa asked stunned, the question having caught her completely off guard.

“Well it was just a thought,” the Prince-in-Exile answered bashfully, “I mean you are very talented at cooking, not to mention the needlework you have demonstrated over the journey so far. I was just wondering if you might find you have a craft.”

Billa paused for a moment and considered the question. “I could not say Kíli,” she answered after several beats, “I wouldn’t have a clue where to begin. I have never been particularly drawn to anything, many of my talents have been learned out of sheer necessity rather than desire.”

“But that does not necessarily mean you don’t have one,” he said.

“That is true enough, I suppose,” she agreed.

“Perhaps that is something we could discover over the course of our quest?” he suggested.

Billa smiled at the dark-haired Dwarrow. “Perhaps so,” she responded. Glancing down at her now finished flower crown, she stood up and sat down closer to the tree – and the Dwarrow sitting underneath it - and offered the adornment to Kíli. “What do you think?”

Kíli affected a faux-serious expression and theatrically examined the piece humming and ‘ahhing’ over it, eliciting giggles from the copper-haired lass. “The Craftsmanship is simply superb! The joins are invisible, and look at the choice of colour! Splendid!” he said dramatically before stating sincerely, “truly fit for royalty.”

“Then perhaps his highness would like to model it?” she asked with a giggle turn full belly laugh when Kíli did just that. Obnoxious poses, pompous expressions, and all.

“How do I look?” he asked in an exaggerated snobbish tone.

“Simply marvellous, your Highness,” Billa responded through her laughter. It didn’t take much for Kíli to lose his composure and joined her, their combined laughter ringing through the clearing. Once they caught their breath Billa considered what she knew of Dwarrow. “Out of curiousity regarding the previous subject, do you think I may also have inherited other Dwarvish traits?” she asked after a moment.

Kíli turned to look at her in interest, the flower crown still perched atop his dark hair. “Like what?”

“Well the ênâd'ebnel for example,” she offered.

“You know about ênâd'ebnel?” he asked in surprise.

“Kíli I’ve spent half my life among Dwarrow, it would be odd if I didn’t know somethings,” she answered with an amused smile.

“I suppose that’s true,” he conceded, “it could also be possible. I mean have you ever felt drawn to a specific gemstone?”

Billa took a moment to consider the question. “Well maybe? I mean I remember when I was only very small, Father had a beautiful jewellery set commissioned for Mother. Black Onyx and silver. Father had bought the gems from New Belegost and I believe commissioned the jewellery from New Nogrod. When I first saw it, I stole one of the earrings and wouldn’t give it back. Eventually Mother finally managed to take it off me and I cried for hours, I was inconsolable.”

“That certainly sounds like the discovery of an ênâd'ebnel,” Kíli responded, “so Black Onyx?”

“Yes, I suppose so,” she said, “between Black Onyx and Emeralds I rarely wear anything else.”

Kíli studied Billa for several beats, dark brown eyes analysing. “I think you could pull of both Sapphires and Rubies if you wanted to.”

“Sapphires? I already wear one of the Royal gems, you would have me wear both?” she laughed.

“Why not? I think you would look good wearing them. Your colouring suits both gold and silver too,” Kíli commented with a smirk.

“Are you using me as inspiration for your jewellery practice?” she queried with eyes narrowed playfully.

Kíli’s eyes widened theatrically. “What a fantastic idea!” he exclaimed, pulling another laugh from Billa.

“Kíli,” she chided playfully.

“What? You were the one to say it,” he said.

“Shouldn’t your Mother or your One be your inspiration?”

“Probably,” he agreed, “but seeing as Amad isn’t here and I have yet to find my One, no one would berate me for using a close friend as my muse.”

Billa blushed, cheeks turning a rosy pink. “Well if you say so,” she conceded.

“I do.”

Before Kíli could tease Billa about her blush, Ori, Nori, and Bofur trooped into the clearing. “Oi. So, this is where ye two have been. Thorin and Gandalf have called a meetin’ of th’ Company,” Bofur called over with a waggle of his eyebrows beneath his odd leather and wool hat.

“A meeting?” Kíli asked, completely forgetting about the flower crown on his head.

“Yes, it is likely about preparation for leaving after the map is read,” Billa commented glancing at Nori who nodded in confirmation. “We will need to plan out our journey, as well as how we plan on leaving should the Elves try to stop us. Although I can only think of a few reasons why they might,” she said thoughtfully.

“Regardless, th’ meetin’ is in half ‘n hour so we should best get goin’,” Bofur stated.

Billa got to her feet gracefully before offering her hand to aid Kíli, once he was standing the sound of Ori giggling drew the hobbit-lass’ eyes. “What is it Ori?”

“That is a rather lovely crown you have Kíli,” the Dwarrowdam commented in between giggles.

Kíli’s cheeks flushed pink at the reminder that he was still wearing the flower crown. “Ah… Billa made it,” he said by way of explanation.

“Did she? Do any of these flowers have meaning?” the ‘dam asked the hobbit-lass who considered the crown. Nori had immediately tensed up upon noticing the crown.

“Well the Haradrin Daisy is a symbol of ‘endurance’ due to how it survives in various conditions and can grow anywhere; Baby Blue Eyes mean ‘success everywhere’; Cornflowers denote ‘riches’, while Dog Violets generally mean ‘modesty’, ‘faithfulness’, or ‘simplicity’; the positive meaning of Foxgloves is ‘wish’. Primroses have several meanings from ‘I can’t live without you’ to ‘young love’, to ‘diffidence’,” she said, “although I didn’t really pay much attention to that when I made it.”

Ori appeared fascinated while Nori seemed to tense further. “Really? If you were to derive a meaning what would it mean?”

“I suppose it could be considered a wish for success, riches, simplicity, endurance, and love for the wearer,” Billa said after a moment’s thought, sending a strange look at Nori who had let out what was a sigh of relief.

“How lovely,” the ‘dam praised, ocean green eyes taking note of the deepening blush on the dark-haired Prince-in-Exile.

“What you are trying to say is often determined by the choice of flowers,” the hobbit-lass said, “for example; if it had been only a crown of Primroses, it would generally denote the meaning ‘I can’t live without you’. On the other hand, if it was a crown or bouquet of both Baby Blue Eyes, Foxgloves, and Cornflowers, one could derive the meaning ‘a wish for success in riches’.”

Nori seemed to relax even further. “Well as fascinating as this is, perhaps it’s time for us to go?” the Thief suggested.

“Good point Nori,” Billa said, “if you have any more questions Ori, I’d be happy to reconvene at a later time to answer them.”

“Thank you very much Billa.”

“Right, well, as lovely as the crown is, perhaps it would be better worn by a hobbit-lass?” Kíli commented gently removing the crown and offering it to Billa, who smiled as she accepted it back.

“I have a better idea,” she said, “we could leave it as a gift for the Mother and let it return to her sweet earth as a prayer for a successful venture. What do you think?”

“Is this a Zantulbasn thing?” Nori asked sceptically.

Billa laughed. “I suppose so, it is a version of worship that has long been deemed redundant by most though. During the Wandering Years, often Hobbits would gift bouquets, wreaths, or crowns for the Mother in hopes of receiving her blessing. It is a form of silent prayer, as it is a message conveyed by the language of flowers.”

“You said that the flowers you used could mean ‘a wish for success, riches, simplicity, endurance, and love’ is that what we would be asking for should you gift it to Kaminzabdûna?” Ori asked having already grabbed out her notebook and scribbling down the new information.

The hobbit-lass nodded with a smile. “Yes, that is generally how it works. It requires a very simple ceremony to bless the place in which you plan to leave the gift, and then you simply leave the offering say a short invocation and it’s done.”

“I don’t see why not then,” Kíli said after a moment, “it only takes a few minutes to get back to the Guest House anyway, and if we are a bit late we can simply use the excuse it took you a while to find us.”

Nori groaned but sighed. “Alright let’s get on with it then, what do you need?”

“I’ll need a few stones to create a circle – seven to be precise – then I just need to recite the blessing, then say the invocation of Yavanna and that’s it,” she explained.

“That’s simple enough,” Bofur commented already searching the clearing for stones, “do they need t’ be a certain size or shape lass?”

“No, Bofur. They all just need to be relatively close in size, exact isn’t necessary here.”

Within a few minutes the five of them had found seven suitable stones and Billa set about arranging the circle in a cleared area at the base of the Oak tree, invoking the blessing in the Green Tongue. “Seven stones here we place, to make sacred this earth we face. Seven stones here by mark, this ring altar of Nature’s Monarch. Beneath the sky, among the wind and rain, and upon the earth we build our sacred rings of stone. Giver of Fruits, Trees, and Grains, we beseech thee, bless this circle. By the All Father’s will you are our eternal Mother, and into your Gardens we return. Seven stones here we place, to make sacred this earth we face. Seven stones here by mark, this ring altar of Nature’s Monarch.”

Bofur, Ori, and Kíli found themselves awestruck by the lyrical yet rough language as Billa easily fell into it. Nori however was far more interested in the slight greenish glow that each stone took on as they each were placed. Once the circle was set, Billa glanced at the Dwarrow explaining the next step. “With the circle set and blessed, I am now going to use one of the simpler invocations asking for the Lady Yavanna’s blessing before placing the gift in the centre of the ring. If the offering is accepted the flower crown will disappear and the flowers of response shall bloom in its place.”

“And if it’s rejected?” Nori asked.

“It will simply wilt, let us hope that does not happen,” she said before turning back to the stones and invoking Yavanna as she placed the flower crown into the centre of the circle. “Lady Mother, we beseech thee to accept our gift of your sweet flora, woven with skill, and offered with willing and humble hearts. Eternal Mother, may you find us worthy to receive your blessings we humbly pray.”

The gathered group of Dwarrow and Hobbit-lass watched with bated breath as the green glow that had once been soft brightened. “She’s weighing the gift,” Billa informed them reverently, her green eyes glued to the circle. The glow of the stones continued to brighten until in a flash of light, the flower-crown had disappeared only to be replaced by a garden of Bell Flowers, Begonias, White and Pink Heather, Monkshood, Proteas, a Rose bush without any Roses, and Spirea.

Kaminzabdûna accepted the gift!” Ori exclaimed delighted, scribbling in her notebook. Billa studied the flowers with a concerned frown.

“What does it mean?” Kíli asked quietly pulling her from her musings.

Billa glanced at him for a moment before answering. “Well Bell Flowers can mean gratitude, or they can be a warning. Begonia urge caution, Heather means good luck, Proteas; courage. Monkshood means ‘beware a dread foe is near’ while Rose leaves mean ‘you may hope’. Spirea stands for Victory.”

Kíli frowned slightly, before asking, “and how do you interpret Kaminzabdûna’s response?”

Billa studied the garden of plants the Valier had blessed them with once more. “She is grateful for the gift and is in turn cautioning us about the journey ahead. Still she wishes us luck, and despite the deadly foe she warns of, says that with courage there is still hope for victory,” she answered after a moment.

“Confirmation of what we already knew then,” Nori commented drily, when Billa turned to look at him she noticed the tension he held in his lithe frame.

“Perhaps,” she agreed but a small smile pulled at her lips when she considered the Proteas, Heather, and Rose Leaves. “But I think it is also enlightening, the Lady wishes us luck on our venture and believes we have a chance at victory. I have never heard of the Lady ever saying something she does not mean with her whole heart.” Billa smiled more fully when Nori looked at her, studying her with marsh-green eyes. She watched as the tension slowly bled from his shoulders, not entirely but enough to show he had taken heed of her words.

“This is fascinating, not even the Priests and Priestesses of Mahal can do such feats,” Ori stated still scribbling in her notebook completely oblivious to the tension that had overcome the other four. Billa laughed and glanced at Kíli who still looked slightly concerned.

“You sound like Kíli, he said something similar back with the Trolls,” she said, successfully breaking the tension.

Kíli blushed. “You were glowing. What else was I supposed to say?”

“I suppose you didn’t say something silly like think I was a fairy or something,” Billa agreed with a sly smile at Nori’s uncomfortable cough.

“I still don’t see why you had to tell her that Ori,” he complained.

Bofur laughed at Nori’s discomfort. “Mimzardûna suits ye actually,” he said with a gentle smile towards Billa who blushed slightly.

“I wouldn’t say I agree but thank you Bofur.”

“Now, before we get too carried away,” Nori inserted, interrupting Ori before she could assault Billa with questions, “we have a meeting to get to.”

“Almost forgot about that,” Kíli commented sheepishly, “Billa surprised us, I guess. But yes, we should get going.”

“She does that a lot,” Nori grumbled under his breath glancing behind him to study the still subtly glowing circle of Yavanna as the others began to make their way back to the Guest House. “It worries me.”


 

Since Billa had facilitated the meeting between Elrond and Thorin and their advisors, she was happy to note there had been a marked difference in the tensions between the Dwarrow and the Elves.  The revelation that at least regarding the Elves of Rivendell and Lothlorien, that help was offered and rebuked by their own King saw the wariness that the older Dwarrows had harboured dissintergrate to be replaced by a shy interest. Billa was incredibly smug when the only insults she heard murmured anymore were those of a teasing lighthearted nature from the Dwarrow. It was a different matter with some of the Elves. But she found herself not too concerned by it, as she knew it would take time before the feud would truly end. The first steps had been taken, all that was left to do was to wait and continue to foster friendly relations.

This difference of opinion had been rather notable during the meeting to plan out the next step of their journey. With several of the Dwarrow stating their disbelief that the Elves would stop them if the situation was properly addressed. Billa and Gandalf had shared amused looks over the topic before Billa had intervened.

“While what you say is most true Glóin, and Lord Elrond would likely support our venture it is not him that Gandalf, Thorin, Balin and I are worried about,” she said placatingly. “There are others in Middle Earth who would not agree with us and would seek to stop our progress here. Some of whom Lord Elrond would have no choice but to adhere to their ‘advice’ as it were.”

“Who could stop Lord Elrond?” Ori asked curiously, her fingers twitching in eagerness to get a pen in her hand. Billa looked at Gandalf pointedly, this concern was his, so he should be the one to express it.

Gandalf pulled a few more drags on his pipe in procrastination before answering. “There is the matter that Lord Elrond and I are members of the White Council, the protectors of Middle Earth. While the Lady Galadriel is unlikely to have a problem with our quest, I am afraid our leader and the head of my order Saruman the White might disagree.”

“But surely majority would rule out his opinion?” Bofur hedged.

Billa shook her head. “Saruman the White is the leader of the White Council Cousin, and it is he who holds the power to make decisions.”

“So, we must prepare an escape plan in the event that the White Wizard entertains the idea of detaining us,” Thorin finished.

“It is unlikely that Lord Elrond would actively pursue us, even if requested,” Billa commented, “so we won’t need to factor in liberating the ponies. They would only hinder us if we are to take the High Pass.”

“Indeed,” Balin admitted, “we will need to prepare ourselves for departure then. What are we going to do about supplies?”

Billa considered the question before letting her eyes settle on Kíli and a sly smile pulled at her lips. “Leave that to me, Kíli, and Fíli,” she said her green eyes sparkling with mischief. The Elven Terrors would likely enjoy her plan too, she mused.


 

After the last few details had been hammered out, Billa led the Princely Terrors in search of their Elvish counterparts. After recruiting Elladan and Elrohir, the five of them planned out a liberation of supplies. Within an hour of the meeting the five of them returned to the Guest House victorious, and with the Twins sworn to secrecy until after they’d left all was well underway.

An unexpected interruption came in the arrival of a messenger, a Ranger who was brought to the Guest House by Lindir where the Company had been lounging in the courtyard as they had taken to doing.

Upon spotting the Ranger, Billa slipped off the balustrade where she’d been sitting in surprise. “Calder?” she called out inquiringly.

The tall ragged man, with dark hair and equally dark eyes turned to her at the call, a barely-there smile forming on his sun-weathered face. “I suppose I shouldn’t be too surprised to see you here little Spider,” he greeted.

“No, you shouldn’t,” she responded amused, “but you on the otherhand willingly entering civilisation? Now that is surprising.”

The Ranger laughed lowly, before quietly thanking Lindir and entering the courtyard. “An understatement Bil, but it was at the request of Lady Dis that I personally bring her missives to you. Something about being able to trust me.”

Billa immediately narrowed her eyes slightly, before glancing over at Thorin. Thorin nodded before turning to speak with Balin.  “Well let’s not bore the Company with gossipy catch up letters,” she said lightly as she crossed the courtyard and took the Ranger by the arm, “come along Calder lets get you some food, you look like a twig.” Leading the man out of the courtyard, Billa did not speak until they were safely ensconced in her rooms.

Calder narrowed his eyes at her as soon as the doors were shut. “What is this about Billanna.”

“Ooh, you’re pulling out the full name, are you?” she asked amused, before conceding to his glare and answering, “the missives you carry are unexpected but also highly confidential Calder. Only a few members of the Company are aware of their true nature, and for the moment it needs to remain that way. So, while we wait for the others to join us, lets see about getting you some food. I wasn’t joking when I said you looked like a twig.” Bustling away from the door, Billa called upon one of the elven maids with the bell pull located next to her bed. A short time later a light knock sounded and Billa ordered Calder some food with the young elleth. Once the food had arrived and the elf maid dismissed, another more complex series of knocking came at the door. Calder raised an eyebrow at the knocking pattern even as Billa answered the door and ushered Nori, Balin, and Thorin into the room.

“Have you opened them yet?” Nori asked.

Billa rolled her eyes at the theif. “Of course not, Nori. That would have been impolite,” turning to Calder she held out her hand, “I assume there is more than one missive?”

“Yes, there are two addressed to you,” he said digging into his coat to fish out the leather file that protected the missives, before handing them out to their recipients. “One addressed to his Majesty, and another addressed to Nori. Nice to see you by the way.”

Nori accepted his missive from the man with a smirk. “Same to you as well Calder.”

Billa rolled her eyes as she cracked the seal on the first missive, that indicated it was from Dis. Letting her green eyes filter across the parchment, a frown pulled at her lips as she read.

Dearest Billa,

You are right. I am not surprised to find you somehow caught up in Thorin’s quest. As for the matter regarding keeping the assassinations from you, Nori and I were concerned about the bounty that was to be placed on your head. Please believe us that once the matter had been looked into, we did plan to tell you.

I followed up on your advice and had the little birds keep their ears out for whispers about the mine collapse, after I initiated an official investigation into the matter. You were right, it wasn’t an accident. Some one had deliberately set charges into the structurally unsound sections of the mine. So, when the miners used their low-grade demolition charges it set off the chain of higher-powered charges causing the mine to collapse. I have a trusted mining technician studying what is left of the other charges to see if we can identify who crafted them, or at least find out where the materials originated.

Your little birds have been incredibly useful during this investigation and word has reached them of a new player in the Underground. At the moment many refer to him as the Binakhrâm'khî – the Nameless One. He has been known to keep his identity hidden during all face-to-face encounters and it is likely that he is linked to the mine collapse. It is difficult to find any information on Binakhrâm'khî. It’s as if he doesn’t exist.

On the matter regarding a new sponsor appearing. You were again right. Lord Návur son of Nádur – a Firebeard Lord has moved into Nartumunzahar. He and his mother have entered the court of Thorinuldûm and have become incredibly well known for their philanthropic exploits. Návur says he’s come down from Nargabilgathol in search of a wife and as far as your older birds have been able to discover it’s true. I don’t trust him though. He is of a similar age to what Frerin would have been, and he is only now looking? While not all Dwarrow, especially not courtiers, wait to find their One. It seems odd that he is only now searching for a wife. It unnerves me to say this, but it is not an endeavour that I would imagine he would struggle with. He is incredibly attractive, and already several of my ladies in waiting are eager to catch his eye. The matter is concerning but it will do no good to appear suspiscious of him simply based on what looks like simple coincidence. I have my eyes and ears on him though. I will send further information if anything changes.

Thank you for looking out for my boys. The second letter addressed to you is for them, could you please make sure it gets to them?

Take care of yourself Billa, and I pray to Mahal and his Lady that your journey is successful.

With Love and Affection, your friend,

Dís, daughter of Arndís.

P.S As for the matter of the orphanages, all has been arranged. Gratitude must also be offered in regard to the extra resources you sent, we would be struggling if not for your forethought and genourous heart dear. Hopefully you haven’t killed Thorin yet for his obstinacy, but I am hopeful that you will succeed in curing him off his stone-headedness. It is not a good look for a King, look at what happened to our Grandfather. Please do try and send word whenever you can dear, even though I am busy with ruling Nartumunzahar I worry about you and your Companions.

Best of Luck and Mahal’s Blessings be with you Billanna Baggins. You are truly are the jewel of all jewels my dearest friend.

“What did Dís have to say?” Nori asked quietly having already read over his much shorter letter.

“She confirmed several suspiscions I had. The mine collapse was no accident, it was sabotage and there has been a new philanthropist appear at court,” she answered lowly, “there is also word of a new player in the Underground.”

“Yes, Vestri sent me a more detailed letter about the Binakhrâm’khî. Vigg has apparently been investigating what and who they have been associating with, from the list the two sent it is incredibly concerning if this person is associated with the the mine collapse. They have some incredibly dangerous associates,” he responded, showing Billa the letter.

Reading over the list, Billa’s eyes widened. “Connections to Moria?” she whispered alarmed.

Nori nodded grimly. “We may have determined who leaked the information, but the question remains who they are, and how they got it.”

“It seems you were correct Miss Baggins,” Thorin spoke up having read through is equally long letter. “It was not a member from the company. Is there anything more you can tell me about this Binakhrâm’khî?”

Billa and Nori shared a worried look, but the hobbit made the decision.  “Only that he has connections to some very dangerous individuals, Thorin. Some of which may explain what happened in Bree and the Orc Pack.”

Thorin’s face grew dark as he glowered. He began pacing. “Why didn’t we know about this person before?” he demanded.

“You must remember Thorin, that Dwalin and the Guards were investigating the assassination attempts,” Balin said reasonably, “they were doing all they could, but they were constantly meeting dead ends.”

“It isn’t hard to understand why,” Nori commented drily. “The Underground is known to have insiders in the Guards. I wouldn’t hazard to guess how many.”

 “Not helping Nori,” Billa sighed as Thorin began cursing in Khuzdul.

“I could give a short list of a few I know about, but I wouldn’t expect it to be all of them,” the Thief said after a moment’s thought.

“You can give it to Dwalin, as the Head of the Guard he will find it most useful,” Balin said.

“Why must this begin to surface so close to our opportunity to reclaim our homeland?” Thorin raged. Billa glanced at the silent Calder, she had almost forgotten he was there.

“Ah. I now understand the secrecy,” he murmured to her.

“Yes. I would recommend you keep quiet about it,” Billa responded to him, before speaking louder for Thorin. “Perhaps it would be best for us to consider our missives and put together some responses for Calder to deliver. I have a letter here for the lads from Dís, which I need to pass on and I believe you should inform Dwalin about what has happened.”

Thorin nodded in agreement sending a cautious look towards Calder. The Ranger having picked up on it reassured the King-in-Exile. “Upon my honour as one of the Dúnedain I will reveal nothing of what I have heard to any but those in this room or to the Lady Dís. I understand that the matter requires such secrecy.”

“To your word I will hold you, Ranger,” the King-in-Exile said solemnly, “be it known that it’s only by Miss Baggins’ faith in you that I am allowing this.”

Calder glanced at Billa. “She has that effect on people,” the Ranger mused drily.

“Right, well we all have things to do,” Billa said, “Calder you should go and get some rest once you’ve finished eating.”

“You aren’t wrong,” he said in agreement.

“Well I think it’s best we all adjourn for the moment then,” the hobbit-lass said. The Dwarrow and Ranger agreed, and they group dispersed with Nori joining Billa as she went in search of the lads. “Good. When we are ready, I will come find you with our collective missives,” she said after a quick glance at Thorin who nodded. “Now I need to find the lads, I will see you all later.” Turning to leave her room Billa placed her letter deep in her pocket.

“I’ll come with you,” Nori said falling in step with her. Nodding in consent, the two left the room and went in search of the two youngest Dwarrow.

“What do you make of all of this?” Nori asked, choosing to speak in the Hobbit’s mothertongue.

 Billa glanced at Nori as they walked. “To be honest, I am not yet sure. Dís confirming my suspicions about the mine collapse makes me more uncertain. Am I making it up or is there a connection between the mine collapse and the assassination attempts? If so what and why?” she said.

Nori’s marsh green eye’s narrowed. “I don’t think you’re wrong. I think you may very well be on to something. But we don’t have enough information. Your wariness about any new faces in Nartumunzahar is not entirely silly either, whoever it was that was going to put a bounty on you certainly had coin, and a lot of it.”

“You may have a point there,” she conceded thoughtfully. “Eventually you will have to tell me what you know about the bounty, and how you kept it from me. If it is indeed connected, its curious that a bounty would be placed on a Hobbit. No matter how close to the Line of Durin she may be associated. I am an ambassador, I didn’t solely work with Dis. I often associated with several members of Thorin’s Government and Council, sometimes even the occasional Guildmaster.”

“As you say, but perhaps now is not the time for that,” he suggested, gesturing slightly to indicate the doorway to the courtyard. Billa agreed with a sharp nod, and the two fell silent as they left the Guest House for the courtyard. It didn’t take them long to find the lads and Billa handed over the letter from their mother with a warm smile and a few words.

“Just come find me when you have finished your reply, and I will send it along with mine,” she said earning smiles of gratitude from the two Dwarrow-Princes before she left, indicating to Nori to stay with his siblings for the time being. Billa had something she wanted to research, and she wasn’t quite up to asking anyone and raising unnecessary suspiscions.


 

Billa left the library the next day no closer to finding a direct answer to her queries. She should have known it was impossible to narrow down known enemies of the Line of Durin, even with the extensive nature of the Imladris Library. Frowning, and slightly cranky from the lack of sleep Billa returned to the Guest House. After bathing and dressing in fresh tunic and trousers, she felt marginally better and settled down to write a reply to Dís.

She was fairly brief in her report of the journey thus far but was sure to include the discovery that someone knew the Company was on the road. Billa also made sure to pass on her suspiscions regarding the apparent coincidence between the Orc pack pursuing them and the messenger Nori had dealt with in Bree. It was not certain that the Binakhrâm’khî did have anything to do with it, but with the little birds having discovered the connections to Moria, it was certainly suspicious. All in all, she kept her missive relatively short focusing primarily on need-to-know information. Although she did make mention of her success in allieviating some of the tensions between the Line of Durin and Imladris.

Once she had read over her letter, she secured it with wax and her seal – a locket that had been given to her mother as Chennad by Dís and now, belonged to her – before she left her room with it in search of the Dwarrow. She been forced to wave away the concerns of the Company after disappearing the day before and had brusqley moved onto other matters, retrieving the lads' letter to their mother and after speaking to Balin and Thorin taking their missives too. Nori joined her when she went to find Calder, probably hoping that she would be more forthcoming if they were alone.

“Oh. Do stop it, Nori,” she snapped waspishly, irritated by his pestering. “I am not going to tell you what I was doing.”

Nori frowned. “It has to do with what we spoke about yesterday.”

“Whether it does or does not is not the problem,” she retorted glaring at him slightly. “I am not ready to share and until I am, I will not be saying anymore on the matter. Let it lie Nori.”

Marsh-green eyes narrowed on Billa, but the Thief adhered to her wishes and the two went on in silence. After several long minutes Nori spoke again. “You should know better than to stay up all night reading mimzardûna. You resemble a cranky old hag when you don’t sleep.”

Billa sighed, chuckling wryly. “I know. I apologise for snapping.”

“I’m somewhat used to it,” Nori shrugged smirking. “I recall a fair number of instances where you have done so when sleep was lacking.”

She laughed now. “I suppose that is true,” she conceded. The charged tension that had hung over her head dissipating in the familiar camaraderie Nori showed. They found Calder not long after and following a short conversationg and the exchanging of the missives, Billa farewelled her old mentor and saw him off. He had never been one to stay in the one place, nor leave his duty unseen to for long so she was unsurprised by the sharp turnover.

As the two returned to the Company’s Guest House, Billa determined that it was probably best that she pack her bags before the Midsummer’s Eve Feast that evening. If the map reading went by without any issue then the Company could leave at their leisure. But considering the journey thus far, Billa wasn’t going to gamble on that chance. So, after telling Nori her plans she went and did just that.

To begin, Billa emptied her travels packs out completely; removing everything from the many pockets. She then went about inspecting everything from her clothes, to bedroll and blanket for any rips or tears. After taking the time to mend what she could she deemed everything to be in suitable travelling condition, bar for a few things Billa figured she would need to re-mend on the road. She was suddenly very grateful for bringing her sewing needles and a few spools of thread at the last minute. After a full inspection, Billa began to repack. This time being a bit choiceir in her decisions than she had been in the Shire.

She only packed one set of travel clothes, deciding to wear the other and leave her spares in Imladris. Her waxcloth wrapped soaps were packed in next, along with her oilskin wrapped maps, and other documents of importance. After restocking her healing kit, it too went into her pack. Followed shortly by tinderbox, whetstone and her folded blanket. She tied her empty waterskin to the side of her pack before attaching her bedroll. She then gathered up her loose odds and ends; her father’s pocketwatch, her mother’s locket, her weapons (both swords, her dagger, hunting knife, her thirteen throwing daggers, her new both and quiver), her wolf-fur lined coat, leather jerkin, boots and travelling cloak.

After a final search of the room, Billa deemed herself ready and after a quick check of the time she determined it time to begin readying herself for the feast. It had apparently taken her several hours to mend and sort out her belongings, but she supposed she wasn’t very surprised. Gathering up a robe and a towel she headed for the Baths. Twice in one day was perhaps a bit excessive, but as it would be the last chance to bathe for some time Billa reasoned it to be perfectly acceptable.

The hobbit-lass took her time in the Baths, luxuriating in the hot water and devotedly tending to her red-gold curls with nourishing oils scented with mint. After scenting a few of the body lotions, she chose one that smelled of cedar and vanilla and after – regretfully – getting out of the water and drying off slightly she massaged the lotion into her skin. This time when she left the Baths, Billa felt far more rejuvenated, the pamper sessions she had allowed herself boosting her mood. Upon returning to her rooms, she almost had a heartattack when she entered to see Elladan and Elrohir along with a trio of elleth maids.

“Sweet Yavanna,” she cursed aloud as she jumped. She hadn’t been expecting anyone, and while she was robed, she didn’t feel appropriately dressed for company. “What are you two doing here?” she demanded, blushing furiously.

Elladan sent her an apologetic look. “We didn’t mean to startle you Ivanniel, we were simply waiting to pass on Ada’s request.”

“What does your Father want?” she asked, having calmed down. However, glancing at the three elleth maids, she figured she could hazard a guess.

Ada would like for you to be properly attired for this evening’s feast,” Elrohir explained.

Billa sighed. She had guessed as much. “Your Father is well aware I am fully capable of dressing alone, is he not?” she retorted with only mild exasperation. “Fine. I won’t argue, I’m sure the ladies have already been briefed anyway. I would hate to disrupt them more than necessary.”

Elladan and Elrohir grinned before excusing themselves politely. Billa resigned herself to the maids’ instruction and allowed them to dress her for the Midsummer’s Eve Feast. One was in charge of dressing her while another tended to her hair, arranging it artfully in a loose textured braid leaving her familial and akrâgbaraf braids free. The last elleth once she’d been seated at the vanity instructed her to shut her eyes and began to painstakingly paint her face; it had always fascinated her that elves had adapted to the Mannish customs of makeup despite there being no need for it. She supposed however, when she studied their finished work in the mirror, she could appreciate their skills. Billa could hardly believe the hobbit-lass reflected back was her.

Her reflection showed her to be gowned in a rich green dress with golden floral embroidery along the hems and collar, her mother’s locket hanging between her breasts. Loose tendrils of hair framed her face while the bulk of the artfully textured braid hung down her back leaving her familial and akrâgbaraf braids to fall over her shoulder, the beads catching in the candlelight. Her face had been painted – lightly – she noted, with only her cheeks bearing colour while her eyes and lashes had been lined. The elleth had managed to hide the dark circles that showed her recently sleepless night without issue. If she hadn’t known better, Billa would have thought magic had been involved. She thanked each maid individually before she then left to head for the Dining Hall.

Upon reaching the Feasting Hall and being announced by the grinning Melpomaen – who had taken over his role as Steward upon his return, although Lindir still tended to the Dwarrow – Billa suddenly felt the need to hit something. With every eye in the Hall on her as she descended the stairs she felt very – very – uncomfortable. Elladan and Elrohir unabashedly hi-fived and grinned from the High Table, where Elrond sat appearing smug not far from them. Gandalf had a sympathetic smile for her, but his blue eyes twinkled with badly concealed mirth. Thorin met her gaze stunned but offered an approving smile. Billa appreciated the thought behind it right up until he turned his head to speak to his nephews, and Kíli stood from his seat with a word to make his way across the hall at an elegant but hurried pace. Billa bit the inside of her lip to avoid glaring at the now grinning King-in-Exile as Kíli approached her. She withheld a sigh of gratitude when the Hall began to fill with conversation again, the occupants satisfied with their ogling of the newcomer.

The dark-haired Dwarrow prince bowed to her from about five feet away. “May I escort you to your seat my lady?”

Smiling at Kíli she accepted his proffered hand. “It would be an honour, Your Highness,” she responded, stepping up to his side and falling in step with him. “I would be most grateful to have a distraction from just how much I want to yell at certain individuals.”

Kíli chuckled openly as they made their way to the High Table. “I would be pleased to offer you assistance my lady,” he responded with a cheeky grin. Billa was only a little surprised to find that she was seated next to the younger Prince-in-Exile and had to wonder if that was due to her fashionably late status or deliberate planning. The hobbit-lass found she greatly enjoyed the feast and refused to deliberate more on just why the wine had tasted sweeter and her laughter had been rich and plentiful. She was skirting the issue she knew, but she was sure it was nothing important. Mayhaps a small crush on a good friend, stranger things had happened, but nothing more.


 

After the feast concluded and many of the guests had retired to the Hall of Fire, Billa joined Balin, Thorin and Gandalf in following Elrond through the twisting walkways and corridors of the Last Homely House. Finally, after several long minutes of walking Elrond led them to an open area carved into the side of a cliff with waterfalls crashing down all around them from the mountain above. Stood at the edge of the precipice below them, was a crystal podium; raw and seemingly cut straight from the earth. Elrond beelined for the podium map in hand, with Thorin and Gandalf right behind him. Billa remained at a slight distance with Balin, feeling slightly queasy – due to the wine she’d consumed or the nearness of a sheer cliff she was unsure.

“These runes were written on a Midsummer’s Eve by the light of a crescent moon nearly two hundred years ago,” Elrond began, reiterating what he had said that night two weeks ago. “It would seem you were meant to come to Rivendell. Fate is with you, Thorin Oakenshield; the same moon shines upon us tonight,” the Elf-Lord continued as the moon revealed itself from behind a scattering of cloud to shine down on the podium where the map was now spread out. Billa watched on as the rays of moonlight hit the crystalline table, which refracted the light and allowed it to flow through the map. Even at the distance she stood from the map she could still see the Ancient runes that became visible in the moonlight.

“Stand by the gray stone when the thrush knocks, and the setting sun with the last light of Durin’s Day will shine upon the keyhole,” Elrond translated, reading off the map.

“Durin’s Day?” she asked quietly looking to Balin.

“It is the dwarves’ new year, when the last moon of autumn and the first sun of winter appear in the sky together,” Gandalf explained instead turning to glance at the hobbit-lass.

“This is ill news. Summer is passing. Durin’s Day will soon be upon us,” Thorin spoke up looking thoughtful.

Elrond glanced at Thorin before shooting Gandalf a look. “So, this is you purpose, to enter the Mountain.”

“What of it?” Thorin responded neutrally.

“There are some who would not deem it wise,” Elrond warned handing back the map to Thorin, who accepted it and the warning with a surprisingly gracious nod.

“Who do you mean?” Gandalf inquired carefully.

“You are not the only guardian to stand watch over Middle-earth,” the Elf Lord responded turning to leave the balcony, Gandalf assumed a thoughtful expression before turning to gaze upon the valley. Billa had heard the unspoken warning – The White Council Will Interfere – which she knew was predominantly a warning regarding Saruman and not the rest of the Council. As he passed her, he raised an eyebrow at her inquiringly. She responded with a nod, she would be leaving with them. He nodded in reply shooting her a wink, she withheld a laugh at that. He’d known of their intention, she’d had no doubt, but he would not stop the Company from leaving. She smiled at him in gratitude even as he left the balcony.

“What was that about?” Thorin asked.

“He was asking if I would be leaving with you,” she answered.

“He knows?” Balin said surprised.

“Of course, Lord Elrond is well aware of everything that goes on in Imladris, but he will not stop us,” she answered reassuringly, before glancing between Gandalf and Thorin. “We will have to leave tonight, we must be well away from the Hidden Valley before Saruman gets here.”

“Yes, you will,” Gandalf agreed, “and I will stay to misdirect his attention.”

Thorin hummed thoughtfully before turning to Billa. “Please go and inform the others of what has happened and the need to leave. We will leave in two hours. I would like to go over a few things with Balin and Tharkûn.

“As you wish,” she responded nodding in agreement before taking her leave.