Bilbo Baggins breathed on his hands and rubbed them together, his breath forming ice crystals that disappeared like smoke, along with the heat that came with it. It was bitterly, miserably, arse-clenchingly cold, and Bilbo was indeed miserable. His father’s old cloak was positively moth eaten now from the years of wear and tear since Bungo had faded following the death of his mother, Belladonna.
The dwarves may have liked to think that the calamity of the fire drake, Smaug, was a tragedy unique to their race, but for the Hobbits living in the shadow of the lonely mountain, the pain was all too real. Thousands had died in the initial attack, with survivors fleeing to the town on the lake- hoping that all that water would stay Smaug’s ire- but with the retaking of the kingdom some years later by King Thrain and his three children, the dragon’s wrath had been visited on Laketown tenfold, with only a few hundred refugees managing to escape.
Most had scattered to the winds, running to allies in the west and south. At the time, Bilbo’s mother had been too sick to travel to their cousins in the west, so they stayed in their new home, on the borders of the Greenwood Kindom, its elvish inhabitants long since departed from these lands. Bilbo couldn’t blame them; he would gladly have swum to… wherever those legendary vessels sailed to if he’d known that he’d be here today.
“Remember you, I want that entire basket filled!” nagged a voice inside his head, that sounded suspiciously like his Aunt Camellia. In fact, it was Aunt Camellia. He had hardly gone a few meters away from his hom… hou… accommodation, and she was already shouting after him. It was already this cold too. He didn’t look back. He knew that Lobelia, his cousin, would be grinning smugly after him, wearing all the fur coats and scarves she could find.
Bilbo carried on, trudging through the thick snow, making his way along the unmarked path towards the Greenwood. If he ever met that blasted king, he would give him a piece of his mind- where was he supposed to find apricots on New Year’s Eve…?
(Earlier that day) King Thorin was bored. He yawned and looked out of the window. It was snowing again, he could barely see outside at all. He growled irritably.
“I hate winter.” The king fixed his tutor with a steely glare. “Can’t you do something about this blizzard?” Gandalf the Grey turned away from his algebra lesson and said cheerfully
“It is snowing, my king, and it will continue snowing until the snow is done.”
“I forgot you were one of those useless wizards…” grumbled the young king, burying his head in his folded arms for a moment before standing suddenly, causing his chair to topple over, scaring the shi-life out of two guards. “Anyway, how dare it snow without my permission, I am King Under the Mountain!” Gandalf sighed.
“Neither of us can control the weather my lord but let us instead focus on what the season at hand has to offer.” He hopefully passed the king a book about botany. The sable haired grump took the book, flipping the pages roughly, stopping at a watercolour of some round yellow fruits.
“There, that’s what I want.” The Wizard chuckled.
“Your Majesty, those are apricots. They can only be found from April onwards, and as you know we are in late December. Now how can it be possible for you to have apricots at this time?” Thorin coloured, puffing out his chest.
“If I say I want those berry things, then that is what I will have.” He shouted for his captain, the elf- maid Tauriel. She arrived silently, with Thorin silently hating her. “Go and bring me some apricots!” He ordered imperiously. The elf was shocked. Even with her abilities she could not summon the fruit at this time of year. “If you can bring me a basket of apricots for dessert course of the feast on New Year’s Day, I will promote you to General.” Here, the king smiled devilishly. “But if you cannot you must leave the mountain, never to return. That is all.”
There. That should do it. He had always hated the female, and this was one of his best schemes yet to be rid of her, and he could do so while putting the old man in his place. He waved her away imperiously and grinned smugly at the wizard. It was good to be the king.
Tauriel halted her mount at the ruins of Laketown, looking back at kingdom that she had called home for the last ten years. She knew she would never see it again after tomorrow night. Resigning herself to her fate, she trotted toward the Greenwood. Surely there was some dwelling left empty by her brethren. Just as she was contemplating about how she was going to survive the harsh winter, a little ‘ahem’ drew her attention down.
“Excuse me.” Tauriel was again shocked. A halfling this far out in the wilderness? It was wringing its hands terribly and looked as though it was wrestling with a conundrum. Tauriel greeted the small creature, and to her surprise it gave a polite “mae l'ovannen” back. “Excuse me my lady,” it began again “but I was wondering if you perhaps needed any aid? My… Aunt’s house is not far from here.” It pointed at a ramshackle old building oven the brow of the hill. While Tauriel was captain of Erebor’s guard she didn’t know how long for, so she was grateful for the halfling’s help, and made him aware of such a sentiment. At this, the creature wrung its hands again. “Actually, my lady, we prefer to be called hobbits, if you don’t mind. Halfling is a name given to us by men. We are half of nothing you see.” It shuffled its bare (!) feet in the snow. Tauriel couldn’t help but be charmed.
“I apologise my new friend, I did not mean to give offense.” The hobbit, which she guessed was probably a male from his introduction of himself as Bilbo Baggins, brightened and took her horse’s reins to lead it down the hill. If she’d have known the trouble such a creature would bring she would have braved the forest, and its wargs and spiders and bears. (Oh My)
Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and her mother Camelia had just cut themselves two large slices of seedcake and waited for the boy to return and fill the teapot again. The door creaked open. “Shut that door!” They screeched. It wasn’t enough for the boy to be late with the firewood, did he also have to chill them to the bone?!
Then they noticed his companion, taking account of her (potentially; one could never tell with elves) polished armour and regalia. The two bobbed a curtsey, reminding the elf-maid of those two dwarves who pushed the wheeled device along the tracks of the mine. Tauriel stifled a smile and introduced herself. The two she-hobbits made her welcome with some bread. It was a little stale but otherwise fine.
She told them of her plight, about the king and his unreasonable demands. At this point a plan started to float around in the otherwise empty recesses of Camelia’s brain. It was two cups of tea and a hot buttered scone for the three of them later that Camelia spoke again (maybe the thought needed to bump into the sides of her mind first.)
“I’m sure the boy can find some apricots, he’s in and out of that place all the time!” Shoving her least fine basket at him, the hobbitess felt very clever indeed, she would surely receive a great reward from this mighty elven warrior, even if she did wear trousers like a male. The young male gazed mournfully at the empty plate that had held the slightly buttered bread. Tauriel suddenly had a horrible feeling that it had been meant for her new friend’s supper. But the two hobbit ladies were pushing him out of the door and calling after him with such confidence that Tauriel couldn’t help but feel as though everything was going to be alright.
And so, Bilbo Baggins, a mere hobbit armed with nothing but a small wicker basket, set off into Mirkwood in search of a fruit that wasn’t there.
*This is almost a quote from the film, where Dori asks Gandalf to do something about the rain, and the wizard is just as patronising.
Elvish- Mae l'ovannen- ‘Well met’ (polite form)
Notes: Apricots are in season in April, who knew?
The ancient forest was dark and not a little bit scary. At other times of the year Bilbo loved this place, he often walked through the trees to gather ingredients, and to get as far away from his aunt and cousin as he could before needing to return to make their supper. But not in the dead of winter during a veritable blizzard.
While he couldn’t help but feel betrayed by the elf captain, he knew that anger wouldn’t do anything to warm him up, so he continued through the storm, bracing himself against the wind. The hobbit could barely see his hand in front of his face as snow whipped at his bare shins, the hair there giving little in the way of protection. The wind rushed at him, finally pulling his cloak from his shoulders entirely and spiriting it Yavanna knew where. He chased as best he could after it, starting to cry from the cold and pain of losing his last connection to his father, tears freezing on his cheeks.
Suddenly, the bank beneath him gave way, sending him tumbling down into a snow drift. Spluttering and spitting out frozen leaves Bilbo took in his surroundings. Down here it was quieter. Eerily so. It almost seemed as though there wasn’t a storm raging above him at all. The snow had settled like icing sugar, the moonlight making it shimmer. It didn’t seem as cold either, but he still mourned the loss of his father’s cloak.
Just as he got up to brush himself down, he realised the basket that Aunt Camelia had given him had survived the fall. Well of course it had. Typical. Bilbo thought about running away from here entirely. But then he remembered Tauriel, and how the only friend he had made in a long time needed his help, even if it was impossible. Even so, he had to try.
Just as he was worrying about how get back up to the path a bright warm glow from further into the forest permeated the trees, bathing them in gold. It looked like… a fire! Perhaps the owner would allow him access to it even for a moment. With that thought Bilbo made his way through the pristine snow toward what he hoped was a friendly face.
Brushing aside coniferous branches heavy with snow, the hobbit stepped into a clearing. There was a huge lake, as round as the moon itself, the pale light reflecting off its perfectly calm surface. And there, at the end of a roughly hewn stone pathway, leading to the very centre of the lake, was the fire. Bilbo stopped. There seemed to be a dozen cloaked figures all sitting around it. With any luck they would be kind enough to let him share the blaze. It was after all New Year’s Eve, goodwill to all men and all that. He only hoped that goodwill extended to hobbits too.
Bilbo approached the figures, from their beards he assumed they were men, but as he drew closer they stood, and the hobbit could see that they were in fact dwarves. Twelve of them. He hardly saw dwarves these days; they preferred to stay locked away in their mountain, especially in the dead of winter. The shortest of the dwarves had a long white beard that seemed as soft as fresh snow and looking as old as the Old Took had before the second coming of Smaug, it was he that addressed Bilbo first.
“Good evening to you, child. This is a poor night indeed to be out in the forest alone. Won’t you take a seat among us and warm yourself by the fire.” His voice was smooth and gentle. It reminded Bilbo of his mother’s father, Gerontius Took, and realised that he hadn’t felt this at home in years.
“Yes, indeed sir, thank you very much.” Replied Bilbo, shuffling between the old dwarf and his much larger companion who had black ink on the dome of his bald head. Who by the way was twice as tall as Bilbo even while sat down. (At least that’s how it felt to the tween.) “But I’m not a child, if you p-please sir” tried Bilbo, his teeth chattering despite the welcome heat of the fire “I’m a hobbit, and I wouldn’t be out in this weather if I didn’t have to be.” The first dwarf stroked his beard thoughtfully.
“I apologise lad. I had no idea there were any… hobbits did you say… left in this part of the world. Though you may be no child surely you were not sent out by your mother or father in the storm?”
“Call me Balin” said the old dwarf, his eyes twinkling in the way that all grandfathers eyes do. Perhaps it was the weight of all that they had seen giving them leaky tear ducts?
“Mister Balin. I’m afraid I have no parents. They died some time ago now.” The twinkling suddenly became much waterier.
“I am sorry to hear that lad. Is there nobody in the world that can look after you?” “Y…Yes… but…” The larger tattooed dwarf rumbled at him,
“What are ye doin’ out on a night like this then?” Bilbo chuckled bitterly to himself.
“In truth have been sent in search of apricots.” He prepared himself for the laughter, and it came quick and fast. By the time the circle had ceased their merriment enough to speak over, a young dwarf with a much shorter beard than the rest piped up gleefully.
“Don’t you know that there are no apricots this time of year?” he said between chortles. “There won’t be apricots until at least April!” And so, Bilbo relayed the elf captain’s and, by extension, his tale, and the dwarves grew quiet and solemn. The youngest looked to the eldest with an expression that could only be described as pleading, and Balin twinkled some more, turning back to Bilbo.
“I believe we may be able to help you there my lad. Or rather young Kíli here will.” Then, from somewhere in the dark recesses of his maroon cloak he pulled a large blue stone. It emitted a bright light that seemed to be made of moonlight and something not altogether of this world. For a moment Bilbo wanted to go and snatch it from Balin, but then he remembered his father’s lectures on hobbity manners and folded his hands back into his lap. Balin smiled softly at this display, but then to Bilbo’s horror, he strode straight into the fire!
His fellows seemed perfectly calm at this, which was the only thing preventing Bilbo from attempting to rescue his new friend from the flames. Well that, and the axes strapped to his neighbours back. Balin began chanting. It was a harsh language, that made Bilbo’s knees shake in terrors, but he was suddenly filled with such a sense of familiarity that his heart leapt. Either way he was probably going to start crying.
Just as suddenly as he’d started Balin ended his chant, holding out the beautiful stone to the younger one. Kíli accepted the stone dutifully and took Balin’s place in the middle of the fire. He too began to chant, but this time it was much lighter, and dare Bilbo say happier that the song that came before. It made him think of lambs, snowdrops, and fresh spring air. He could almost smell the clean scent of the little white flowers- but wait- he… no, he actually could smell them now, and didn’t it seem as though it was becoming warmer?
He turned to the east to follow the burst of warm, bright sunshine, and there, on the far eastern banks of the lake, it seemed for all the world as though for those twenty yards or so that it was springtime. In late December- well now the dawn of January- still at night! The young dwarf, Kíli, then took him by the hand, and with Bilbo still in a daze, led him to the place where tender shoots of grass and the promise of new life grew. He steered him through all manner of flowering shrubs and blossom filled trees, until they came to a much smaller tree that was about Bilbo’s height. Shaking the cotton wool from his head, Bilbo stared in awe. Clinging to the branches in haphazard rows were the most incredibly fragrant apricots!
“Well,” grinned the youth “fill your boots master hobbit! Take as many as you’d like! They’re not allowed on the table anymore because Dori says they look like little arses. Well, actually he says that they look like somebody bending over, but I know what he really means.” He said all this with a conspiratorial wink that made Bilbo’s heart ache for those spring jaunts with his cousins. But he did as the young fellow bid him, and filled the basket (only half full, he did not wish to appear greedy after all.) Taking Kíli’s proffered arm, Bilbo found his voice again.
“H-how exactly…?” The raven-haired lad beamed even brighter.
“I’ll let Balin explain it, he always tells the best stories!” Kíli held one side of the basket and chatted to Bilbo cheerfully as they walked back across the frozen lake. When they had reached the fire and the other eleven dwarves he was ushered onto a seat hewn out of polished jet-black stone, his feet swinging nearly a foot off of the ground. Balin laid a hand on his shoulder.
“I’m sure you have many questions, but first allow me to introduce my brothers.” He motioned to his companions.
“Brothers!” exclaimed Bilbo, “Goodness, there are a lot of you!” Balin chuckled.
“Not by blood, my lad, but by occupation. For we are the twelve months, with knowledge of every natural thing throughout the world.”* Somehow, not a shred of doubt entered into Bilbo’s mind. How could he deny such a thing when he had been shown the bounty of spring in the middle of winter? His silence must have seemed disbelieving, so Balin introduced his fellows in turn.
“This is the spirit of March.” The mountain of a Dwarf sat up straighter and nodded gruffly to him, the crisscrossed leather straps across his chest creaking with the strain. “April, who you have met already.” Kíli waved gleefully at the mention of his name. “His brother May.” Another young dwarf this time, but with golden hair and beads in his moustache. He was more sedate than Kíli but didn’t look displeased at his brother’s arm around his shoulders.
June and July came next. June sported a big bushy beard that was deep red and braided intricately with silver beads. It was a truly glorious beard even by hobbit standards and June seemed to know it too, as he stroked it when his month was called. July however caught his attention for another reason entirely; this being that he was the largest person he had ever seen, almost spherical. If Bilbo had been a been a proper hobbit like his aunt and cousin, he would have been tempted to fall at the dwarf’s feet. Even so, a blush started to creep up his neck at his very attractive proportions.
“August, our most respectable month, and his brothers September and October.” The first dwarf’s silver hair and beard were immaculately braided, as were the other two, but he seemed older than they were and held himself with such an air of dignity that Bilbo was reminded of his grandmother Adamanta. He had to stifle a laugh when August began straightening September’s clothing; it took him right back to being caught by the old biddy for a good tidying session. September looked suitably mortified at this, and Bilbo felt a pang of sympathy, in part for the mothering, but also for that horrendous bowl cut. October however frightened Bilbo as March had done, but this time it was for a reason that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. There was nothing overly intimidating about the dwarf, but still…
“February.” When nobody stepped forward Balin called out again. “February? FEBRUARY!” An older fellow jumped at the shout, fumbling with a burnished copper horn that he caught after a time and held up to his ear, looking confused.
Then November and December had their turn. November seemed like a cheerful sort. He tipped his hat to Bilbo and puffed on his long pipe, causing tendrils of smoke to curl up into the night sky. December however… Bilbo didn’t know quite what to make of this dwarf; when he had first entered into the dwarves’ company, he hadn’t paid all that much attention, being more focused on the fire. Now he could see that December had a large weapon protruding from his head. He looked half-feral, with his salt and pepper hair and beard all tangled like he’d been dragged through a hedge backwards. (#)
That only left January, with Balin introducing himself as such. “And that completes the year.” Frankly, Bilbo was too stunned to do anything other than stare. He found the courage to speak up when November gave him an encouraging grin.
“So… why did you help me? I don’t wish to seem ungrateful, but are you sure it’s okay to just change the season like that?” His worries were allayed when June tugged on his beard again and boomed:
“Not at all my wee lad, we were glad to be of service to ye! Why, ye remind me of my own son-”
“Yes, alright brother,” huffed the dwarf with the ear trumpet, “the hobbit doesn’t wish to be deafened with your stories about the boy,” here he gave a conspiratorial wink, “and I should know.” The scuffle that ensued coincided nicely with Kíli bounding up to Bilbo like a spring lamb and pressing a small piece of metal into his hand.
“This is for in case you ever need us again. The last time we had a visitor was ages ago, and he never came back. I know we’d all like to see you again, it can get quite lonely with just the twelve of us.” Bilbo felt that pang of sympathy once more, but this time it was a deep longing ache. Kíli brought his attention back to the object in his hand. It was a small golden ring, nothing all that grand or ostentatious about it. Bilbo immediately took a shine to it.
“Just throw the ring, and say these magic words:
Roll along, roll along ring, pass through the gates of Spring, pass though Summer pass through Autumn, over the carpet of Winter without any fear, roll up to the door of the waiting New Year.” *
Bilbo watched in awe as the fire crackled and spat all the colours of the rainbow. Once it had calmed down, back to the nice gentle fire it had been when he first stumbled upon it, Bilbo took up his basket, put the ring safely in his waistcoat pocket, and turned to the twelve months.
“I’ll come back, even if I don’t need anything; I could hardly call myself a hobbit if I didn’t return the-” Bilbo didn’t have time to finish before he was thoroughly hugged, back slapped and even licked on the cheek (possibly by December) by his new friends, before being waved off on his way.
As he left the mystical figures, the impossibly round lake, the clearing, and eventually the woods, Bilbo realised that the loss of his father’s coat didn’t sting quite as much as it did earlier. He had found something even better.
* Quotes from Twelve Months (Mori wa Ikiteiru) on YouTube. Accessed: youtube.com/watch?v=MnnW7IKmnhg
The chanting is based on the Russian 1956 version, which can also be found on YouTube.
(#)- This was my parents favourite way to describe my messy hair when I was younger. It’s quite a good simile, more people should use it
Chapter 3: Chapter Three- Lions and Bluebells
Tauriel was worried about the little hobbit. He didn’t look anything over thirty, and she had allowed him to be sent on a fool’s errant on the coldest night of the year. Dread and guilt crawled up her legs spiders as she imagined all the horrible things waiting for a little creature like Bilbo Baggins in the depths of the once green wood. The two lady-hobbits- now abed- seemed unperturbed by the late hour and had merrily gorged on cake and drunk tea laced with brandy as though their kinsman were not undertaking a such a perilous journey. And it was solely for her benefit too. If the young hobbit did not return there was no way she could return to the mountain, even if by the grace of the valar she did manage to find some apricots before this evening. Evening.
Without her realising, the black of the night had given way to rich hues of orange, yellow and blue as the sun began to rise. Just as Tauriel was considering going out to find the hobbit (and depending on what she found to shave all her hair off and run away in shame) the door clunked upon with a rusty ‘thunk.’ There, with a rosy glow in his cheeks more suited to a winter celebration than a frosty trek through dangerous terrain, was Bilbo Baggins. As he approached her in her seat by the fire- she was quite frozen from the shock- he held out the basket he had been sent off with.
“Here you are my lady, I hope your king will be satisfied with these.” Before Tauriel could appreciate how the hobbit kept his voice low in deference to his no doubt sleeping kin, she took in the sight of the golden orbs half filling the wicker basket. Absolutely stunned, she had to touch one to make sure it was quite real. Once her doubts had been put to rest, she looked down at the male that barely came up to her waist.
“How…?” Bilbo only smiled.
“It’s a secret, captain, I’m sure you understand.” He gently put the basket into her hands and looked at the mess left from the night before. “If you don’t mind, I’ll just be clearing away and making breakfast now. You would be more than welcome to join us.” Tauriel politely declined as she didn’t wish to take up any more of this kind soul’s time. Still in a daze, she left the shack, after leaving her profoundest gratitude with Bilbo, and a begrudging thank you for the hospitality of his aunt and cousin. Tauriel couldn’t believe that he had managed to find apricots during the turn of the new year. But the valar worked in mysterious ways, and if they saw fit to grant such a gift to the kindly creature of the east, who was she to argue.
It was mid-morning by the time Tauriel had returned to the mountain, and the king was preparing to entertain the neighbouring king of Dale. Loud protests against non-dwarves staying in Erebor helped Tauriel to track down his majesty. She found him in the royal kitchens, giving highly specific orders, checking dishes off his mental list, and generally making a royal nuisance of himself. When she entered the preparation area King Thorin sneered at her.
“So, are you ready for your banishment mistress elf?” Tauriel did not rise to the insult against her rank, instead she placed the basket on a free surface and watched as the smug look on the king’s face turned to shock, then slowly developed a red pallor, though whether this was from rage or embarrassment Tauriel could not tell. “I don’t know how you did it” said the king venomously “but you should consider yourself fortunate that I gave you so long. My next task for you will not be so easy.” With that, he flounced (albeit very regally) out of the kitchen, and the kitchen staff crowded the victorious captain and flooded her with questions about the yellow fruit.
But Tauriel simply smiled and said that she had simply had a little help from a friend. A friend who would be repaid tenfold if she had her way. It had been two weeks since the incident with the apricots, or The Time When King Thorin Threw The Axe of Nain The First Into The Face Of The Statue Of Thorin The First.
The rumour mill had hardly a chance to breath before another incident occurred, this time over the visit of Bard, the king of Dale. Apparently, the stay of the ambassadors from Dale had been extended another week, and the king was not happy. He rarely was these days, but this dark mood was almost tangible, causing guards to quake in their boots when he passed them and several nervous breakdowns among the servants. The king stalked the hallways like a dwarf possessed by the spirit of a great angry bear.
When are these freeloading men going to leave? He thought angrily. King Thorin would tear out his beard if he had to sit through one more diplomatic meeting- not even a useful one about trade or their respective armed forces, just sitting, drinking tea (because it was a social drink, not because he ale made him overly honest.) It wasn’t that he disliked King Bard, it was just that… Thorin didn’t like him much either. They had very little in common. Bard had three children whom he doted on, had a profound admiration for elves, and spent his free time fishing. Thorin on the other hand liked sparring, blacksmithing, riding war-rams, and his best friend was his axe. He had no family in Erebor to speak of since cousin Dain had begun his reign over in the Iron Hills. King Bard was just too… good. Too decent, too boring!
The king under the mountain entered the royal kitchens, hoping for a snack before his next babysitting duties started. The head of the kitchen staff, Bilbir… Hilbir... Brildir? Something like that, anyway, the cook was the one with the duty of approaching her monarch. The rotund dwarrowdam, whose name was in fact Broidir (daughter of Sumir) put on her best 'dealing with the upper classes' smile.
“What can I do for you my lord?” Thorin was about to snap at her but remembered his father’s wise and age-old adage taught to him by his grandfather, and his fathers before him: don’t piss off the people who feed you, boy.
“Do you have anything with apples in?” This was more of a demand than a request, but for the king this was polite.
“I’m sorry, your majesty, our supply of apples ran out just last week. I can offer you some bread pudding? Or sweet dumplings?” Broidir offered hopefully. Thorin grunted. He didn’t want anything too… wintery. All that suet and stodge would just make him fall asleep during meetings, and he’d had enough of lectures from his advisors on the subject of not paying attention. He was really in the mood for something sweet and light. Thorin was about to leave the kitchen to see if there was a nearby guard he could spar with and/or beat up when he saw a small basket in the corner of the kitchen. Well why not? He could do with a bit of fun. He motioned for a runner that appeared from some dark recess or other.
“Fetch General Tauriel,” King Thorin said, looking more pleased than he had in a month, “I have a new challenge for her.”
Tauriel was understandably miffed. Not only was her position in Erebor threatened again by that little twerp of a king, but he did so in front of the entire court, including the visitors from Dale! Including Ba- King Bard. The newly appointed general found herself blushing at the memory of the man’s sympathetic looks. She urged her horse onwards, with any luck she could reach the cottage before nightfall.
It was nice of Tauriel to return the basket, thought Bilbo. But did she have to come right before dinner again? He barely had time to snatch a mouthful of bread and stew before his Aunt and cousin practically catapulted him out of the door, locking it behind them in case he ‘had any ideas about sneaking back in without the goods.’ Eugh. Well, at least that meant he had been accidentally given leave to visit his friends for a second time. Now if only he could remember the way. …
By the time Bilbo had reached the ruins of the elven settlement that had once stood tall and proud among the trees, he knew that a. he had gone too far, and b. he was shit-scared. If those were how big the cobwebs were, he thought, watching the glisten of frost covered silk, he didn’t want to know what their creators looked like. The crunch of dead branches made him spin round, basket at the ready to… put over what it was’ head? Honestly, what kind of weapon was a basket, he should really have taken a knife or hatchet with him.
The new moon meant that there was even less light than there had been two weeks earlier when he had first met the twelve months. Still, there was enough light for it to be blocked out when a shadow leapt on him from above, Bilbo’s hobbit reflexes giving him precious seconds to escape.
The spider was enormous, something out of nightmares only real. Bilbo knew that a bite from those jaws mean eternal sleep, and he still had chores to do. So, he ran through the trees, weaving in and out, hoping that spiders weren’t as deadly over long distances. But he was out of luck as well as breath as he finally reached the clearing with the perfectly round lake. The ice of the lake was no doubt unstable, but what choice did he have?
The spawn of Ungolient was hungry and wanted hobbit for tea. Bilbo waved the basket at it trying to look menacing. He stepped back, his weight cracking the ice under him. Trapped. He could run, but it would be on him in a moment. He could stand still and simply let himself be eaten while enjoying the warmth from his pocket- wait what? Then Bilbo remembered the ring. He shoved the basket at the spider, and it’s pedipalps grabbed it while the pincers dripping with venom gnawed at the tough wicker. Bilbo took his chances and sprinted to where he thought the rocky pathway had been under the ice and began the treacherous journey over the slippery surface.
About halfway across the hobbit removed the ring from his pocket and threw it (gently) across the lake, shouting the magic words.
“Roll along, roll along ring, pass through the gates of Spring, pass though Summer pass through Autumn, over the carpet of Winter without any fear, roll up to the door of the waiting New Year.”
The spider by now had completely shredded the basket and was starting to make its way towards him across the ice, its eight legs slipping out from under it occasionally. Bilbo would have found it funny, but the high-pitched noises of excitement coming from the creature had him frozen in fear. The noise soon became a short-lived squeal of pain as a long sword was brought down on the spider’s head.
Bilbo turned around to see Balin, and almost wept in relief. Balin’s grandfatherly countenance had turned vicious for the slaying of the terrible beast, but once the last of the death throes had ended, Bilbo was grasped by the shoulders in a way that was awfully familiar.
“Are you alright laddie? You almost had us scared to death at your call.” At this Bilbo really did cry, both with shock and the uncommon concern showed towards him.
“Yes, I’m fine… I just… That was so scary, I thought no one was coming.” He said through his sobs. The elderly dwarf dried his tears with a handkerchief embroidered with scarlet B.F letters.
“Now now, none of that my lad, of course we’d come for you.” Bilbo sniffled and nodded wetly. It was then that he noticed his legs were quite warm. The fire from the New Year was back again, only this time it was a deep red that flickered dully in the cold. A squishing sound behind made Bilbo want to throw up. He almost did when Balin returned with his weapon. The strange sword had a hole at the end with three spikes on the outside which were currently covered in bits of spider. Balin cleaned off the blood and possibly brain off on the snow and hilted it, hiding the weapon from sight under his long robes.
They sat for a while at the fire, which Balin was using to brew some tea- when the kettle had made an appearance Bilbo didn’t remember, but he took a cup when it was ready anyway. “Our August says that tea soothes all ills.” A fond look crossed the old dwarf’s face, but Bilbo could see sadness too. Before he could ask his friend and rescuer what was bothering him he was beaten to it. “What can I do for you lad?” Bilbo hesitated. He didn’t wish to appear rude by asking outright for something when Balin was so clearly in distress.“Come now master hobbit, as wonderful as your company is, I don’t think you came all the way out here at this time of night just to see old January. Especially” Balin nodded toward the remnants of the spider “since the night is home to creatures that would quickly snatch up a morsel such as yourself.”
Bilbo swallowed his tea, holding the warm cup between his cold hands. He licked his lips and took a steadying breath. “I’m sorry to take advantage of your kindness Balin” he began “but I need a month that can help me find some apples. Apparently, the king has got it into his head that the best the royal kitchen can offer isn’t good enough, and is threatening my friend’s job, so…” Balin smiled, all twinkly again.
“Say no more, lad. I’ll fetch May, you remember- Fíli?” Although he had seen it during the New Year, Bilbo still had to stop himself from leaping at the sight of Balin walking into the fire. As Balin chanted with the beautiful stone lifted high above him, his face seemed to be getting smoother, and his hair blonder. His robes faded and then merged into a dark green, the colour of spring leaves. Before Bilbo could say what in the name of Yavanna is going on he was stood face to chest with the month of May, Fíli.
The younger month looked nothing if not delighted, not in the same way as his puppyish brother, but a quiet, dignified happiness which translated into a wide smile. The blonde strode confidently out of the flames, as though he were stepping out of his front door and not in the middle of a raging inferno. He clapped Bilbo on the shoulder in greeting and once the hobbit had picked himself up, Bilbo returned the sentiment. It was nice to see someone his own age- or at least someone who looked around thirty; for all Bilbo knew, Fíli could be older than old gaffer Gamgee, who was very old indeed.
“Hello Fíli” said Bilbo cheerfully. Just being around this bright young dwarf made Bilbo feel warmer than he had been in weeks. “I see you’ve been busy.” Said Fíli, nudging the bludgeoned spider with a steel-capped foot. At Bilbo’s shudder, the blonde looked deeply into his eyes, the way nobody had done for a very long time. “There is no shame in being frightened, little one.” Bilbo readied himself to be insulted at the ‘little one’ comment. After all, the dwarf was hardly the tallest tree in the orchard, but he could see his point.
Bilbo peeped over Fíli’s arm at the grotesque creature, preparing himself mentally for the terrible fangs and awfully spidery legs. But instead, he saw that the spider was all curled up, just like the house spiders that Bilbo had no choice but to swat with a newspaper when his aunt and cousin were about to break the chairs by standing on them. It looked far smaller than Bilbo remembered, and not nearly as scary as when it had been intent on making Bilbo its dinner. He could almost feel sorry for it. He went forward for a closer look, when Fíli stopped him with a well-meaning arm across the windpipe.
“You don’t want to get too close Master Boggins. Even dead, spider venom can paralyse and eventually necrotise that soft flesh of yours.” Bilbo blanched, both at the image of rotting hobbit flesh and the nickname.
“Erm. Thanks. For that. But my name is in fact, Baggins. Better yet, call me Bilbo.” At this, Fíli gave him another slap to the back, which Bilbo thankfully dodged the worst of.
“Very well Master Bilbo, what have you come to steal away from the month of May?”
The rhyme made the hobbit chuckle before replying, “Steal? Me? Never,” he said playfully, “just a few apples will suffice. It seems that my friend the elf-captain (or should I say general now) is in trouble again. That king under the mountain of hers deserves a right good talking to, and if I ever get the chance to meet him, I’ll be sure to pull his ear for such a stunt!” Fíli couldn’t help but laugh at the tiny being, and the image of a mighty dwarf-king being cowed and bossed about by a hobbit barely reaching his shoulders.
“Aye, I’m sure you will get your chance soon enough. But onto more pleasant things- apples, I believe you said?” The subtle warmth of spring to the south-east of the lake was somehow dampened by the light rain that showered them in their crossing. “Sorry about the drizzle,” Said Fíli, “Kíli didn’t get around to filling his quota, so I’m stuck with pulling the slack.” Beside the dwarf Bilbo’s stride became almost joyous.
“It’s no trouble at all! I’ve been waiting ever such a long time for spring rain, it’s so nice to be able to have it early.” He proclaimed. Fíli looked sideways at him thoughtfully.
“Even so, at the risk of sounding like Dori- that’s August by the way- we’ll have to make sure you’re dry before leaving; it’s still snowing back in January you know.” Bilbo nodded in agreement. He could definitely see the merits of warming himself by that lovely fire before going home in the cold. He could also see that Fíli was certainly the older of the two brothers and was used to taking care of people. Bilbo cautiously snuck a hand into the crook of the blonde’s elbow in thanks for his concern.
May’s section of the wood was just as vibrant as April’s. It was bursting with new life, and despite the light shower, all was green and yellow, as dandelions blossomed. Bilbo wished he could spend more time admiring the verdant meadows, but he knew that time was of the essence.
“Any kind of apples will be fine. If the king can’t be content with what January has to offer, then he can have any old grainy apples.” He grumbled. Fíli patted him on the back comfortingly, sending Bilbo tumbling into a patch of bluebells.
“I couldn’t let you go without the finest my month has.” Fíli gestured gently in that quietly reserved way of his towards a small glade where the sun shone through tall trees, causing patchworks of light to dapple the grass beneath. There, in the brightest patch, was a tree with apples coloured red and sun streaked with the colour of butter. Their serrated almond shaped leaves rustled slightly in the breeze, and the rain- which had stopped now- had left a glistening sheen on the fragrant orbs.
Memories of picking the fruit with his mother pervaded Bilbo’s mind along with the sweet scent. It reminded him of lazy days and spring cleaning in reward for the last apple desserts of the season. For the most part they picked the fruit in silence, stopping a moment to admire the faint rainbow formed against the now blue sky.
“These are royal gala apples, aren’t they?” Bilbo asked once their task was complete. Fíli looked up from covering the basket, surprised that he would know such a thing, yet again underestimating this small creature.
“Yes, I thought they would be appropriate, given the circumstances.” He said with a shy smile quite unlike his brother’s. As they walked back to the fire, the basket was far heavier than it had been when apricots were requested for the royal table, but Bilbo found that he didn’t mind the extra weight.
Just as Bilbo finished saying his goodbyes and was about to set out into the snow again, Fíli stopped him, and presented the hobbit with a single violet bluebell. A drop of water from the rainfall earlier had made it back through whatever and wherever the magical fire and stone took them, and had frozen in the frigid night air, looking for all the world like a tiny white pearl.
“For you.” The spirit of May announced softly. “Something to remind you that spring will always come. I hope to see you again Master Baggins.” Bilbo was suddenly stuck by how regal the young dwarf was, and as the latter stepped back into the flames to return to his rightful month, Bilbo almost imagine that the roar of the fire was another more majestic beast entirely, with a golden mane and kingly air.
(Later in the Royal Dining Room)
“This is truly astounding your majesty.” Bard of Dale complimented, scooping the last of the apple and raisin strudel into his mouth, completely forgetting that he too was a king. Thorin tried to keep the scorn from his voice in his retort.
“If I couldn’t procure such produce for my honoured guest, what kind of king would I be?”
“What?” Bard leaned back in his chair slightly.
“How did you manage to find such a bounty at this time of year, when all the apple stocks are all but gone?” Suddenly King Bard did not seem like such a weakling with no head for politics. This was a diplomatic trap with spikes that Thorin was not going to fall into.
“Well-” Thorin began, but then realised he had no idea where the fruit had come from, only that the elf had completed her task again, much to his disgust. Luckily, he didn’t have to give her a grander title this time. The smug look on the tree-shagger’s face was bad enough, without having to bestow another honour upon her. But now he may have to lower himself to ask how she got the damn things! He sent for his new… eugh, general.
Ozirum menu seleku…*₂ he thought as the red headed nuisance floated across the room to bow to him. Little sycophant. What he actually said was: “Daughter of the Forrest, the King of Dale would like to know where you found those apples from.” He arched his fingers underneath his chin, aiming for intimidating but actually got disturbingly coquettish, not that anyone would be telling him that. Tauriel rose from the bow and stood to attention.
“My Lords, I would be glad to tell you the origins of the fruit from which you have partaken, yet I fear I could never do the story justice.” Thorin’s eye’s narrowed. He would not be made a fool of in front of an important- if annoying- diplomatic guest.
“Then bring me the one who can.”
The hobbit set the glass with the bluebell in it on the window sill above the sink. At least his aunt and cousin would be less likely to ‘accidentally’ knock it off the table up here; Yavanna knows that those two wouldn’t even come near the sink for fear that they would be infected by the desire to actually wash something up.
In the middle of kneading the day's bread there was a knock at the door that near splintered the forty year old wood. Bilbo answered the door with floury hands and a sweet frilled apron. Upon seeing a group of dwarves armed to the teeth and sporting the royal regalia, he huffed.
“I told your captain I would take no payment.” The soldiers looked unimpressed at the unimpressive being. Surely this was not the brave creature that his captain- now general- had spoken of. Finally, the one to wear the red armour of a lieutenant rumbled
“Err. Mister Boggins?”
“That’s Baggins if you please. Now what can I do for you master dwarf?” The dwarf shuffled his feet awkwardly. “Erm. That is… our cap-general Tauriel has sent us to bring you to the mountain. The king wishes to see you.” At this Bilbo went into the kitchen to wash his hands, removed the frilly apron, and upon returning to the front door promptly fainted.
* Fun fact: in the ancient Egyptian tarot May is associated with the Prince of Swords. (A happy coincidence)
Fun fact #2: The Royal Gala apple was cultivated first in New Zealand and is one of the only apples I could find to fit the season. Coincidence? I think NOT!!
*₂ Ozirum menu seleku = “You couldn’t forge a spoon”
Chapter 4: Chapter Four- The Halls of the Dwarven King
Bilbo cracked open his eyes slowly, expecting to be blinded by harsh light. Instead, he was met with a dim grey gloom. Bilbo heard a rumbling noise behind him not unlike the great tusked oliphaunt that he had seen at the travelling circus he went to with his parents as a child. At first, he thought he might be riding on the beast’s back as he had done all those years ago, but upon reflection he was sure that the oliphaunt did not have thick copper-red hair and smell vaguely of spiced cherries. He tried to struggle, but then the not-oliphaunt started grumbling at him.
“Settle down master hobbit, we’ll be at the throne room soon enough.” So, it was the dwarf from before then. Bilbo was both relieved and disappointed at the same time. He’d have liked to see Big Humbo again. Wait. The throne room? Then this must be…
All of a sudden, the rumbling stopped, and the two were thrown into the pitch black, as what Bilbo assumed was a door closed behind them. Bilbo unconsciously clutched the dwarf carrying him closer, still not liking the dark despite his adult brain knowing that the dark couldn’t harm him. But what’s hidden in the dark can whimpered his child brain.
They carried on, how far Bilbo didn’t know, but then the dwarf beneath him halted, and the hobbit could hear the jangling of metal. Keys perhaps? The tell-tale sound of a door being unlocked (at first with the wrong key if the quiet swearing was anything to go by) told Bilbo that with any luck the darkness wouldn’t last forever, and he remembered what Fíli had told him about being scared and having courage.
But when the door opened Bilbo knew that there was no reason to be afraid. They were travelling along a barely lit corridor, but Bilbo wasn’t interested in that. To the left of him, over the side of the barrier was a huge hollowed-out cavern. It could have fit the entirety of Laketown in it twice over with room to spare! As far as Bilbo’s hobbit eyes could see there were dwarves. All sizes, shapes, colours, and probably smells too! A bustling metropolis all the way under the mountain! Such colours, the geometric blocks of colour forming the tents of food vendors, the silver and black of the guardsmen scattered around, and the multicoloured walls of the cavern itself!
Bilbo could have spent hours just watching the hustle and bustle of the thousands of ant-like dwarves as they went about their daily life, and he had just clocked onto a funny little dwarf wearing red and white robes with sky blue trousers, hunched over a cane and fumbling with his hat, when they passed through another door and veered off to the right. Yet another passageway, this time wider and more heavily guarded, with rows of armed and uniformed dwarves lining the long walkway. At this point the lieutenant let Bilbo down, and for the first time he could appreciate how truly small he was next to the former. They approached a large set of doors, which was decorated with crimson disks. Bilbo couldn’t help but stare. What were they made of? Ruby? Garnet?
“Dragon scales.” Murmured the young lieutenant. Bilbo didn’t think he’d said anything out loud and sent a questioning look to his right. The dwarf shrugged. “Loads of people want to know about the doors. King Thrain used the beast’s hide to protect the throne room and Erebor’s entrance. He also gave each family a scale to put on their door, as a reminder of the old days and to remember those we’ve lost.” The lieutenant rubbed his chest thoughtfully, and was about to speak again, when the guards at the door halted their progress. A quick word in some guttural language and the doors parted.
Bilbo would have time to think about the majesty of the royal throne room later, and how the walls glistened with rivulets of gold running through them like veins. He would have time to think about the green marble beneath his bare feet and how it felt oddly warm to the touch. But for now, he had other things to worry about. Like how all eyes were on him as they made their way toward the end of the room. And how his own eyes were drawn towards one figure in particular.
A dwarf, older than the lieutenant, and certainly Kíli and Fíli, but nowhere near as old as Balin. He was- for want of a better word- thought Bilbo, positively edible. Bilbo had never really found beards attractive, but this one made the dwarf look rugged, and not at all decrepit. His fine mane of raven hair was braided in silver and although Bilbo could see a few more… organic, shall we say, silver strands at his roots, they in no way detracted from the overall image. This dwarf was all muscles and fur and armour and blue eyes you just wanted to dive into… And then the god-made-flesh opened his cakehole.
“So, this is the halfling.” King Thorin sneered somehow majestically. “I was expecting a grand adventurer rather than a simple grocer.” Bilbo saw red. He took a step toward the annoying monarch.
“Well, I was expecting a king that could show basic manners, but we can’t always get what we want now can we?” Bilbo snapped, hands on hips. The stunned silence that followed was deafening. The courtiers, the guards, the servants, even the royal hounds by Thorin’s feet looked puzzled by the bluntness of the hobbit. The king however, simply blinked and continued, as though the idea of such a creature speaking this way to the rightful ruler of Erebor was so far-fetched that it couldn’t possibly have happened.
“You are the one that procured the unseasonal fruit, are you not?” Bilbo’s feathers settled.
“Yes, that would be me, your majesty, were they not to your liking?” he queried, trying to be civil.
“Where did they come from, and how were you able to get them?” Bilbo glared. This king was really getting his back up.
“Magic.” He said bluntly.
“But how exactly were you able to perform such magic?” The king rubbed at his beard thoughtfully. It was said with such a disbelieving tone that Bilbo almost lost his temper again.
“It is a secret my lord, one that I alone have been entrusted with.” Bilbo replied, as if to say sod off, it’s none of your business, you prat, which secretly, and most importantly, inwardly, he was. Again, the king looked contemplative, staring down his rather attractive long nose at Bilbo.
“Then you will work for me and live in Erebor. You will be given a suite befitting your station and perform such miracles upon request.” That was that. King Thorin began to gather up his robes, papers, and various dogs as if to leave now that business had concluded, when a polite clearing of the throat brought him back to the tiny creature.
“Ahem. Thank you, that is very kind of you, but I must decline.” The silence was again palpable. Thorin stopped, and for the first time really looked at the fuzzy footed man before him. He snorted in disbelief.
“You would refuse a permanent position in the royal kitchens?” The sheer arrogance in the fellow’s voice made Bilbo want to slap him. But since the arsehole was a king he couldn’t, so he settled for the next best thing.
“As I said before your majesty we can’t always get what we want. Good day.” And with that, without so much as a by-your-leave, the hobbit and, by extension, his mortified lieutenant friend swept/cringed out of the throne room, leaving a shell-shocked court and king under the mountain in their wake.
Bilbo fumed the entire walk home. His new friend, who did tell Bilbo his name, but it was promptly forgotten amidst thoughts of that rude, spoiled, brat of a king, had given up trying to get him on a pony (which Bilbo had not forgiven him for kidnapping him on earlier). He was scurrying a few paces behind him, cursing his underestimation of the halfling, both in temper and speed. How in the name of Mahal could such a small legged thing be so quick, and for so long. Dwarves were much better, the lieutenant thought, over short distances, very deadly indeed.
Luckily when he got home, Bilbo found that Camelia and her daughter had gone out, presumably to gossip and buy an extra hideous hat or coat that Bilbo would no doubt have to clean. However, this allowed him to invite the young dwarf in. It was so nice to have company of his own again that he brought out the fineish china (not the every day earthenware, but not his mother’s Westfarthing china either) and they sat down to some tea and a rock cake. He thought the dwarf would like the rock cakes, them being so… rocky. To Bilbo’s credit, the lieutenant wolfed down four of his raisin and lemon rock cakes and a piece of jam covered toast before it was decided that he really should get back to the mountain.
No sooner had Bilbo finished clearing away the plates than his aunt and cousin practically kicked the door open. They were almost frothing at the mouth in excitement.
“Isn’t it wonderful, Bilbo!” ejaculated Lobelia. Bilbo gawped at her. Was Lobelia being… not awful? He wondered what miracle could have occurred for this change in mood. Whatever it was he hoped it was permanent. “We were in town and just looking around at all the hats, and I saw that weaver man’s daughter wearing a similar bonnet to mine, you know the one with the green feathers and pink trim and I saw her and I said to mother, she’s wearing a similar bonnet to mine- didn’t I mother? About the weaver man’s daughter-”
“Yes yes my darling,” interjected Camelia, interrupting the flow of drivel, “it was a very similar look. I expect you to create a new design by our next outing.” This last bit was directed at Bilbo, and he made a mental note to make the bonnet as ugly as hobbitishly possible. Not that Lobelia would notice, but it would make him happy. It was a shame really. How could such a sartorially challenged woman be named after such a lovely plant? All the different shades of pink, yellow, white, red, blue. Blue like the dwarf ki- well now enough of that Bilbo my lad.
“Is that it then?” Bilbo said quickly, and carefully too, really wanting that to be it. “A new bonnet?”
“NO~!” cried the younger hobbitess, virtually giddy with glee. “You tell him mother!” Camelia glared pointingly at the teapot as though it would magically brew a pot itself, until Bilbo got the picture and filled the kettle obligingly. His aunt sat in the comfy chair by the fire, and began her tale of marketplaces, hat shops, a kidney pie stall, the creation of species, and eventually the subject which had riled Lobelia so.
“Just as we were leaving Mrs Petty’s tea rooms who should we bump into but Drogo Baggins.” Bilbo perked up at this. Another Baggins- one of his family line! Bilbo wondered if this new Baggins knew his mother and father and other things besides, quite drowning out Camelia for the time being. “…And so, you should prepare for our guest within the next month. He will be staying for a week.” Darn, thought Bilbo. Another mouth to feed and clear up after. Well, perhaps it wouldn’t be so bad.
On February the first their houseguest arrived. On February the thirteenth he was as arrived as ever. Drogo Baggins was by far the most handsome hobbit Bilbo had ever seen. He was surprisingly tall, with dark curly hair and lovely blue eyes. Perhaps not the loveliest, but no-one was perfect. But Bilbo didn’t immediately fall for Drogo as his cousin had done. Maybe this was due to the fact that they were second cousins, but it was also because Drogo, despite his perfect manners and gentlemanly air, had made so much more work for Bilbo that there simply wasn’t time to sit and admire him. Lobelia on the other hand had no such limitations.
“Isn’t Drogo wonderful…” she would sigh longingly. Bilbo hummed in agreement, trying in vain to sweep around and under her feet as she dreamily dunked a ginger biscuit in her tea. She held it there for a few seconds too long, and the edge broke off into the now lukewarm beverage, sinking like a ship into the brown waters of the earl grey sagar. Bilbo decided not to tell her. It would serve her right that at the end of a perfectly good cup of tea she would be met with the squidgy detritus of her own folly.
Abandoning the cleaning for now, Bilbo saw the opportunity for a quick break and was just returning to his room with a piece of stale carrot cake when he was accosted by his aunt at the threshold. So close and yet so far, thought Bilbo.
“Boy, I require a romantic bloom with which to woo.” Bilbo stared in shock. Surely a woman of her age was not planning to seduce Drogo Baggins? The image alone was almost too much to handle without losing his second breakfast. As though sensing her nephew’s disgust, Camelia led him further away from the kitchen where Lobelia and the unwary Drogo were. “It is of the utmost importance that my daughter and young Mister Baggins become more intimately acquainted. He is the middle child, but his elder sibling is a girl, so any inheritance- what little of it there shall be- shall surely fall to the male offspring.”
Bilbo took this with as much grace as he could muster under the circumstances. Imagining Camelia and Drogo in a fond embrace was vomit inducing but replacing the mother with the daughter came a close second. Poor Drogo. “Go into the forest and do that… thing. The thing that you did for the elf-gel. I want something with a certain, oh I don’t know, je n'ais se quoi!” Camelia clapped her hands and smiled simpering at the image of her daughter’s imminent betrothal before turning back to him with a stern “I expect you back by this evening, not gallivanting out all night.”
She took the plate from his hands and glissaded into the kitchen, aiming for elegance but getting constipated duck instead. On his way out, Bilbo grabbed an old blanket in place of a cloak and sighed in annoyance. Yet again he would have to depend on the kindness of others when there were perfectly good irises and violets available in their window boxes. The squeal of disgust from the kitchen as mouth found biscuit graveyard almost made up for it though. He snickered as pleas for a teaspoon went unanswered.
The slog through the forest during the day was far easier than in the dark, but the leftover snow was now pretty slushy. Bilbo was happy to walk through snow; it was only a little cold, and his thick soles insulated him against the worst of it. But this was wet and mushy, soaking into his foot hair and short trousers.
Bilbo was inordinately happy to reach the clearing and approached the fire gladly. He warmed himself for a moment and then took the golden ring from his waistcoat pocket.
“Roll along, roll along ring, pass through the gates of Spring, pass though Summer pass through Autumn, over the carpet of Winter without any fear, roll up to the door of the waiting New Year.”
He was expecting some sort of change, even a flicker of the fire, but the lake an it’s surroundings remained motionless. Bilbo cleared his throat, searching the area for a stocky bearded figure. He retrieved the ring from where it had skidded a couple of meters out on the still frozen lake and threw it, this time with a little more force, and began to repeat the words a bit louder.
“ROLL ALONG, ROLL ALONG RING, PASS THROUGH THE GATES OF-”
The fire spluttered into life, the deep purple hue reflecting off of the ice, causing violet coruscations to dance along the wind-polished surface. A grumpy voice followed.
“Alright, I heard you the first time, no need to shout!” February jumped out of the fire, staff at the ready. “Where’s the trouble, lad?” Bilbo couldn’t help but cringe. Obviously, his ineptitude at self-defence had made the rounds.
“There no trouble Master February, I just needed a little guidance.”
“Eh? Fly dance? Don’t tell me you want insects in this cold?” The older dwarf tutted “Well, if you insist, I’ll do my best-”
“NO!” corrected Bilbo quickly, “I said guidance.” February put down his staff.
“Well why didn’t you say so laddie, tell me what seems to be the problem.” They sat on the rocks set around the fire and Bilbo explained. “My aunt is set on marrying off my cousin to another cousin of mine, and is adamant that the flowers available in your month are not nearly grand enough for courting. She wants romance and ‘pizzazz,’- though why she couldn’t settle for a nice blue violet is totally beyond me…” February chuckled, a deep throaty laugh that rumbled up from his belly.
“Aye, I see your point, but it must be said that my month is not the most welcoming to young love, no matter this new-fangled Ystävänpäivää these young ones insist on celebrating. *” The grizzled dwarf resettled himself like a disgruntled parrot. “In my day we didn’t go around giving card and presents willy-nilly, we put our heart and soul into our courting gifts, the more personal and well-crafted the better.” Here he sighed. “I weep for the younger generation. No romance in their souls.” Bilbo sat up.
“So, are you married Master February, if you don’t mind my asking?” he asked delicately. February snorted.
“Nay lad, my craft has been my one true love, healing those in need was always far more rewarding. No, I was never married, but my brother on the other hand! If I had a gold coin for every time I had to sit through a speech about his wife and son, I’d be as rich as Thror! But I’ll wager there’s none more qualified to help with your predicament than he.” Joints creaking and clicking, February stood up with the aid of his staff and hobbled into the middle of the fire.
Bilbo thought that the purple flames looked terribly inviting, but held back from leaping into them, after all, hobbits were not exactly fireproof, no matter the magical qualities of said fire. Withdrawing the shiny blue stone from the recesses of his dark grey robes, February chanted, much the same as Balin had done to summon Fíli. Just as he completed the chant, he turned back to Bilbo.
“Oh, and ye can call me Oin. Because it’s me name.” He clarified awkwardly. Bilbo gave him a wave as the elder disappeared. He liked the old dwarf, despite his hearing impediment, and hoped to visit him again before the month was out. Before he could plan his next excursion to the frozen forest, Oin was replaced by almost the exact antithesis of the sombre dwarf. This new month was big and loud, and Bilbo recognised him as the one Balin introduced as June. Rushing to meet Bilbo, June holstered the magical gem inside his sleeve pocket.
“How are ye laddie?” He boomed. Similar to Fíli, the pat on the arm as greeting nearly sent him flying, but he covered his imbalance with his own fist to the bicep that he was sure merely tickled the grand warrior-like dwarf. “The name’s Gloin, I see ye’ve met me brother!” Bilbo then realised that most of those he had already met were siblings. Fíli and Kíli, the three brothers August, September, October, and now Oin and Gloin. He wondered if the rest of the months were somehow related too. “I believe ye needed help of a sort.” Bilbo fiddled with edges of the blanket he’d brought.
“Yes. Well. It’s silly really.”
“Not at all lad, not at all! It’ll be a pleasure to help ye out. Why don’t ye tell Uncle Gloin what the trouble is!” Uncle Gloin, was beaming down at him in such a way that Bilbo couldn’t bear to disappoint him.
“The problem, you see… in so far as there is a problem…” Bilbo stuttered “is that my Aunt is wanting an unseasonal romantic flower for her daughter to court with. Don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with pursuing a courtship, but her motivations are far from respectable. But I’ve been tasked with finding a suitable bloom by tonight, so I am down the Celduin without a paddle.” Gloin roared with laughter.
“Ahh, yer a funny one!” he chortled, wiping tears from his eyes. “Now let me think.” Gloin turned to the south east, the same direction as Fíli’s area but the sight that met Bilbo’s eyes was truly breath taking. From even this distance Bilbo could see the beginnings of summer and how beautiful it was. He had grown sick of the cold, white landscape outside his window and longed for his garden- for it was he that loved it most- to shed its winter coat and burst with life again.
Gloin plucked Bilbo from the ice and put him onto his back, as one would a kitten. Bilbo refused to admit it, but he probably mewled like one too as he was manhandled onto those broad shoulders. Secretly he liked that he didn’t have to trudge through slush, but he couldn’t help but feel that this was all too familiar. The piggy back he had received from the young lieutenant earlier felt almost identical; even the cherry scent, which Bilbo found out from the dwarf was oil for his hair.
This distracted Bilbo from the heavenly vision of greenery, and he wondered if there was any relation between the two. But then the crunch of snow ended and so did that train of thought.
Up close June’s domain was absolutely stunning. It put the greatest artists to shame with its vibrancy and sheer number of colours. Bilbo didn’t think he’d be able to name even a fifth of the plants there. But the ones he could were exquisite. Magenta cosmos and plum coloured alliums were interwoven with pretty white violas, and poppies every colour under the sun flowered, basking in the warm air. Bilbo would have been glad to accept any of these gorgeous flowers.
However, Gloin carried him through the June grounds, up a gravel path, before letting him down. The heady scent of roses assailed them, almost overwhelming in their sweetness. The rose garden was protected by an ornate black iron wrought fence that instead of culminating in sharp points, grew perfect metal replicas of the flowers from the tapering tips of each rail. It was stunning craftsmanship, a testament to the skill of dwarves that they could produce a metal rose that seemed just as alive as its organic counterpart. Bilbo could imagine for a moment that if he were to press his nose to one, it would carry the same distinctive scent.
They entered through the gate and made their way through the varieties of rose bushes. The classic red rose was a little risqué for an invitation of courtship, while simple yellow roses could be misconstrued as overly friendly. Enormous floribunda roses four inches wide gave the impression of targets, with light outer petals and bold splashes of mauve in the centre were particularly striking.
There was even a striped rose, a perfect blend of scarlet and cream, but yet again the plant was judged inferior. White- no. Peach- no. Orange, fuchsia, delicate pink the colour of kitten’s noses, all refused. Then, Gloin stopped dead in his tracks, causing Bilbo to bump into him. In the corner of the garden, tucked away and quite inconspicuous, was a bush that sat half in the shade.
The bloom itself was almost beyond description. At first glance, the flower was pure white, but when Bilbo looked closer he could pick out the lilac hues graduating outwards from the centre. After brushing aside an overhead ash branch, the most delicate shifts in pigment were brought out, with the darker pink edges of petals appearing as though they had been dipped in ink.
“Love at first sight.” Bilbo breathed. He glanced back to where Gloin had been frozen. The dwarf beamed at Bilbo’s knowledge of the meaning of the lilac rose and while he cut a few of the choicest specimens invited him to sit at the small round table crafted in the same style as the fence, with roses creeping up the legs. Bilbo tried to make friendly conversation as he breathed the blends of powerful and subtle perfumes in the air.
“So, Master Gloin, your brother mentioned that you are married?”
Gloin paused snipping stems for moment.
“Aye. My Masthusla. We had a son.” For a dwarf reputed for lengthy speeches on his family, Gloin was surprisingly quiet. Bilbo left the conversation there, not wanting to make things more awkward than they already were. Just as he finished tying the small bunch of roses with a lavender coloured ribbon, Gloin spoke again, but there was a heaviness to his voice that didn’t suit him.
“I haven’t seen my one and my boy for a long old time now. My lad may be all grown up with a family all his own…”
Bilbo now saw Gloin’s over eagerness for what it was. He was perhaps a little bit lonely. It sounded like being away from his wife and child put a great strain on him emotionally, and not really having any company into the bargain must have only multiplied such emotions. Bilbo really couldn’t help it. He had to tell Gloin of his theory, even it if was a wrong one.
“I think I’ve seen your son Master Gloin.” The month of June personified gawped at him in shock. “I think he’s a lieutenant in Erebor. He has red hair like yours and has an axe that’s quite similar too, now that I come to think about it. His name was… oh bobbins, I think it was something like-”
“Gimli.” Gloin whispered hoarsely.
“Yes! That’s it. Gimli.” Bilbo was a little concerned as Gloin grew misty eyed. “Erm. I think he’s doing very well. He’s under a very nice general at the moment and is being sent out on missions and the like. I’m sure he’s thinking about you every day,” here Bilbo paused to clear the lump from his throat, “and hopes with all his heart that if you could see him now you’d be proud of him.” The normally cheerful month took to weeping at this, and Bilbo seized the opportunity to wipe his own eyes while the dwarf wasn’t paying attention as he thought about his own lost parents.
Then Gloin grasped him by the shoulders as he brought his forehead into contact with Bilbo’s. There was no escape. Bilbo tried to brace himself for impact, but the headbutt nearly made him black out, white lights flashing behind his eyes.
“I thank ye, lad.” Gloin was still sniffling slightly at this point, but he mostly had himself under control. “I’ve not heard hide nor hair of my little star in such a long while. It’s wonderful to know he’s doing well for himself. Nothing could make me prouder…”
“I could pass on a message if you like…?” suggested Bilbo, but the emotional dwarf straightened up and composed himself again, quick as whip.
“Nay lad! We shouldn’t have contact with the other world, it’s against the rules. Besides, if I broke this one, then we’d all be out there searching fer our families and not keeping up with the Great Work. Why, if Bombur decided to go off, I dread to think how long it’d take to find his brood!” Gloin said this resignedly, and it saddened Bilbo to know that there truly was no hope for reconciliation between father and son. But maybe, just maybe, Bilbo could do something to ease their suffering.
Bilbo’s time in June was up, and they walked back together this time, the hobbit declining to be carried in fear of squashing the roses. Once a slightly tearful goodbye was said, Bilbo left the clearing quickly, wanting to give Gloin some privacy. It must have been at least five o’clock, as the sun was beginning to set in the February sky. He was cold again, but at least he had spent an hour in the sun, and maybe Camelia would let him keep one of the roses for himself. Yeah, right.
The door was unlocked when Bilbo arrived home. A quiet commotion was going on behind him as he tried to close the door without it squeaking. Lobelia was weeping into a handkerchief and Camelia was attempting to comfort her. They adjourned to his cousin’s bedroom without a hello or instruction given concerning the flowers.
Bilbo decided that a tactical retreat was best and joined his second cousin when he found him hiding away in the parlour. Drogo gave a weary nod and smile as Bilbo sat down next to him in the old rocking chair. The former rubbed at his mouth, obviously in distress. The glass of brandy in his hand also gave Bilbo somewhat of a clue. Drogo worried at his bottom lip some more before pouring Bilbo a glass for himself and sat back with a sigh.
“Miss Lobelia is upset with me.”
No shit, Bilbo was itching to say, but waited for Drogo to continue.
“I’m afraid I rather gave her the wrong idea when I agreed to stay here.” Bilbo stared at him, confused. If Drogo hadn’t come to court the heir to the Sackville family, then why had he subjected himself to such tortures as Lobelia’s nightly poetry readings?
“There’s a new settlement. In the West. I’ve been tasked with locating the families of those who were displaced by the dragon so that they may be invited to make new homes there. It’s beyond the Misty Mountains, and Rivendell, and is protected by the great Brandywine river. It’s a place where we hobbits can be safe, and build our families without cause for rationing or hardship. I had only explained up to here before Mistress Camelia struck.” Drogo wiped his brow, remembering the traumatic experience. “I only meant to imply that the Shire – as the land is called- will be a perfect place for young ones but I think my meaning was… misconstrued. Truly, Lobelia is a…lovely girl-” Bilbo snorted, unable to hold back against the bare faced lie, but returned to listening patiently, “but in truth my heart belongs to another. We have been courting for almost two years now and entering the final stages of our romance, yet when I attempted to explain myself- why it was as though dropping a match into the firework man’s cart.” Drogo drained his glass.
Bilbo could imagine the extent of the fireworks let off in Bag End, having witnessed first hand the waterworks. His aunt could be utterly vicious when she didn’t get her own way.
“Ah.” He said understandingly. Bilbo removed the lilac roses from his blanket, taking care not to crush their delicate petals. The firelight of his father’s study set a warm orange glow over them, but their ethereal beauty could not be denied. Drogo set his drink down, licking his lips free from the amber liquid, and separated one of the roses from its sisters. An expression of terrible guilt crossed his face as he realised where Bilbo had been all day, having been told/bragged to about Bilbo’s feats by Camelia. Bilbo patted his hand, accepting the unspoken apology. But Drogo was not about to let the matter go.
“You are an exceptional person, Bilbo Baggins. I am honoured to share a name with you.” A blush worked its way up Bilbo’s neck, turning his cheeks rosy. Drogo gazed at the de-thorned flower thoughtfully, before reaching out to cup the younger male’s chin and tilt his head up slightly. Velveteen petals kissed Bilbo’s temple as the rose was slipped behind his ear.
The blush intensified tenfold and remained even after Drogo had bid him goodnight and sojourned to the guest room.
Once Lobelia and her mother were taken care of and abed, Bilbo finished the washing up. Carefully slotting the rose next to his bluebell in the glass and topping up the water, Bilbo immediately began dreaming about this new land, and what it could mean for his future if he did decide to make a home there. What with elves, fruits, flowers, dwarves, and grumpy dwarf kings, in the past couple of months, it was wonderful to be able to relax again. Yes, the worst is behind me, thought Bilbo as he readied himself for bed. And the entire universe thought back:
King Thorin unconsciously ground his teeth as he hammered away at the glowing steel. Something wasn’t quite right with the half-molten metal today. He snarled, practically throwing the unfinished sword into cold water, the steam rushing up to meet his face. The hammer was swung back onto its stand and he stalked out of his personal forge, wiping the sweat from his face and chest with his tunic before chucking it into the corner of his quarters for the servants to pick up later.
Why couldn’t he stop thinking about the hobbit from earlier. His advisors had urged him to send men after the brazen creature, to return him into the custody of Erebor and force him to work for the crown. But then Thorin remembered the fire in the male’s eye, how he’d challenged him in way unheard of for the King Under the Mountain, but achingly familiar to Thorin. So he’d spared the halfling, for now at least. Yes. For now, the king would be merciful. But he would not forget the creature with golden curls and oversized feet.
Seriously, he thought, what was up with those feet! Thorin would have considered them grossly undwarvish, had they not been so adorable...
I hope you enjoyed this chapter, it's honestly the longest thing I've ever written. Phew!
* Ystävänpäivää- Valentine’s Day in Finnish (It seems to work for Khuzdul- if anyone knows the actual neo-Khuzdul for this holiday or its equivalent please let me know!)
Additional note: Lilac roses are real, and they're beautiful. You can look them up on google images.
Chapter 5: Chapter Five- What a Load of Cobblers
Thorin won’t be in this chapter, but he’ll be in most of the others- don’t worry, you’ll get your fix of King Groucho in a couple of weeks at the most!
By the way, if it’s unclear, I tend to use capital letters for emphasis or to imply how characters feel about something, I’m not just terrible at grammar :D
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Following the upset of the previous night, on February the 14th, Drogo made the decision to return home. With a little light begging Bilbo managed to persuade him to stay another day, and so Drogo Baggins spent Valentine’s Day with his second cousin, chatting about this and that long into the night, skipping stones across the lake, and thoroughly enjoying the remainder of his time in Bag End. On the fifteenth, Drogo saddled his pony- causing quite the scandal amongst the ladies of the house- loaded his belongings and left the shadow of the mountain for the green lands of the Shire.
How Bilbo wished he could have gone too. But if wishes were fishes our heads would be full of fish, leaving no room for brains, as his father used to say. Bungo Baggins was full of nuggets of wisdom like that. Bilbo used to roll his eyes at Bungo’s quips. Now he wanted nothing more than to be lectured on the importance of manners, respect, and a good stilton just one more time.
It’s funny what you miss when it’s taken from you.
Drogo had been a welcome distraction from his chores, and had acted as somewhat of a relative repellent, since Lobelia and Camelia were both too offended and weepy over the perceived slight. So, Bilbo had been left to his own devices for that perfect day with Drogo.
The sting of rejection still hadn’t abated even when Drogo had been gone for a week, meaning that Bilbo was pretty much left alone and only bothered by the merest requests. What bliss.
After that his aunt and cousin had bounced back and returned to ordering him about as though he were that maiden in the dwarvish fairy tale that slept by the forge and got all dirty. Cinderbellows, that was it.
A couple of weeks later Bilbo was busy stitching a big pink bow onto Camelia’s lurid polka dot hat. He was bemoaning the lack of taste that clearly ran in the Sackville bloodline, when there can a tap at the window. Bilbo nearly filled his trousers at the unexpected sound, and jumped in shock, pricking his finger on the haberdashery needle. A huge black bird was staring in at him through the glass, knocking its beak on the pane. Bilbo sucked at the gaping wound and glared at the bird. He opened the window, hoping to scare it off, but much to his surprise it flew in and perched on the globe of Middle Earth that used to be his mother’s. Bilbo stood there, dumbstruck. The demon-bird screeched at him, waving its talons threateningly.
Bilbo was about to get the broom, when the creature put a foot down on Rohan, spinning the globe, causing it to lose its balance and land on the floor in an undignified heap. He couldn’t help but feel sorry for the bird, after all, it went down with such a thump. Thankfully, Camelia and Lobelia were having tea in the parlour at this particular moment and wouldn’t be able to hear anything over the sound of their own masticating jaws.
Bilbo cautiously approached the fallen bird. It squeaked pathetically at him, and Bilbo’s heart melted. He gently picked it up and, cradling it on its back, stroked its head softly. The feathers were silky to the touch, and when Bilbo took the bird toward the window the waning sunlight gave each black feather an oily sheen. Bilbo could make out a rainbow of colours, blues, purples, even greens.
The bird put up with his attentions for a minute before flapping its wings in frustration. Bilbo let go and it flew onto the window sill. It gave a squawk that Bilbo could have sword sounded like…
Bilbo blinked. He must have imagined it. Of course birds couldn’t speak.
“Bag-ins.” Right. There was a bird. That could speak. On his window sill. Bilbo did the only thing he could do under the circumstances.
“Y-Yes?” He said, voice gone all wobbly. The bird jumped up and down, obviously delighted with his reply. It balanced on one leg and proffered the other. Bilbo saw that there was a small box attached to the appendage, and he obliged the creature by untying it. After working out where the opening was he unscrewed the top and out plopped a slightly soggy piece of paper.
He unrolled it with the greatest of care and read the contents.
1st March 2922
‘My dear Bilbo,
It brings me great joy to tell you that I am to be married! The very morning after I arrived back in Hobbiton my Primula proposed to me! She practically bowled me over into my mother’s crocuses. But I digress- Bilbo, our wedding is set for the end of the month, on the 31st. The journey only takes a couple of weeks, please say you can come; it would mean the world to me and to Prim. I’ve told her all about you, and she says that it’s a good thing we were courting before you meet her, otherwise she may have taken up with you instead, my good fellow! What do you say to that!? Of course, the invitation extends to Camelia and Lobelia as well, and please thank them again for me for my stay in Bag End. Just think, you can also come to see where you might like to live if and when you decide to move to the Shire!
I mustn’t make this letter too long otherwise the rook won’t be able to carry it. I hope it arrives safely, there have been storm clouds reported over the misty mountains. (Well that explained the waterlogged parchment.)
If you would be so good as to feed the rook, you can put your reply back into the cannister and send her back to me. (Her name is Dora, Primula named her.)
Awaiting your RSVP with bated breath,
Drogo and Primula (soon to be) Baggins'
Well well, Drogo was going through with it was he? Good for him. Excessive usage of exclamation marks aside, Bilbo was happy that Drogo had written to him. He had been afraid that his cousin would forget all about him.
Although Bilbo wasn’t looking forward to telling his aunt and cousin about the upcoming nuptials surely, they wouldn’t pass up the chance for a holiday? To get away from this cold, desolate place for a week or two even if it meant travelling further than they’d ever gone before. He drifted off for a moment, thinking about green rolling hills and cheery new faces.
The bird- Dora- had pecked at his hand impatiently. Bilbo regarded the thing. A rook, eh? The only bird he had seen like it recently was the blackbird with a white tail feather that he’d fed over winter.
Dora winged her way onto Bilbo’s shoulder. The rook was surprisingly heavy, but he managed to bring her into the kitchen to look for some scraps for her. She hopped up onto the window sill above the sink began nibbling at the lilac rose. It was strange, neither the rose nor the bluebell had withered yet. Even his hobbity skill at plant care didn’t explain how the latter had survived almost two months in a glass, with the frozen raindrop still clinging to the stamen. Both flowers looked as fresh as the day they’d been picked. Bilbo supposed that the same magic that had allowed them to be taken from their respective seasons had something to do with it.
He searched the pantry and cold storage for any spare food that the rook might like. The hobbit re-emerged with some leftover bacon and bread, both of which were on the turn. While he fried the rashers, Dora watched with rapt anticipation, head on one side. Bilbo cut the bread into four slices for him and crumbled another slice into manageable pieces for the rook. When the bacon turned crispy he cut off the fat from each rasher and put them along with the breadcrumbs into an eggcup. Dora ate with gusto, pushing her whole head into the cup to get every last morsel.
Bilbo observed this with amusement. He dipped his sandwich in tomato sauce and munched away happily in the companionable silence. When they were both finished, Bilbo took the crockery to the sink to wash them up. Now he had to find a way to tell them about the wedding and failing a positive response to ask his aunt whether he could make the journey alone.
Dora perched on his shoulder again and fussed at his hair. He giggled at the tickling sensation and made his way toward the parlour, which was at the other end of the house. As he entered the room Lobelia screamed at the sight of the rook.
“Mother! Bilbo’s brought another wild animal into the smial!” Aunt Camelia, who had been dozing after their large meal, jolted awake and glared at Bilbo and Dora as though they had wiped their nose/beak on her best tablecloth during flu season.
“Take that creature outside this instant Bilbo Baggins! I’ll not have you messing up the place with disgusting animals, Eru knows you do previous little to keep it clean in the first place.” Bilbo gritted his teeth.
“This is a messenger rook, Aunt. She’s come with a letter from Drogo. He’s to be married and wishes for all three of us to attend the wedding.” He held out the letter for it to be snatched up by the older hobbit. As she read, her lips moved. When she had finished she daintily placed the letter on the table and with excruciating care lifted her teacup to her lips and chugged the contents.
“My dear,” she said to Lobelia “we will go to this ‘Shire’, and I will find you a husband if it is the last thing I do. There’s bound to be a rich, unattached hob at the celebration.” Addressing Bilbo, she added “Our dresses will have to be updated tomorrow. We leave Thursday.”
Thursday. That was only a full day away. How would he have time to redesign and sew new outfits, wash and pack his things, ready them all for travel, and cook up or store the food in the pantry? He would have his work cut out for him, but if he planned to the last detail he might manage it.
“Oh! Boy? We must bring a token to the celebrations, a small mathom, silverware, china, that kind of thing.” Bilbo felt his stomach drop to his knees. Please, not his mother’s china. Then Lobelia piped up.
“I know mother, why don’t we bring something that nobody else will have thought of? A pie!”
“Silly child! A pie wouldn’t even last to the mountains let alone the Shire. Unless…” Camelia’s face took on a sly countenance and she turned to Bilbo with a simpering smile “Bilbo my dear, would you be a lamb and-” Oh great, thought Bilbo, another trip into the forest to take advantage of my friends. Fantastic. “-get me some blackberries? I know there’s none growing right now but you can find some, yes?” The wheedling tone was getting on Bilbo’s nerves. She was only nice to him when she wanted something.
“I don’t know if I’ll have time, Aunt.” He said pleadingly, “I won’t be able to get everything prepared for travel and the food and the dresses-”
“That’s no bother” Camelia interjected, “Lobelia, you will help Bilbo tomorrow and that will leave the boy with enough time to fetch some blackberries.”
“But Mummy,” whined Lobelia, “you said that the pie wouldn’t last the whole way.”
Camelia tapped the side of her nose. “No, but the blackberries will if we cover them with snow and ice and transport them in a barrel so that the pie can be baked over there.” Bilbo had to admit it was a clever idea, but he was dreading the extra work he had to do tomorrow.
Dora squeaked in his ear comfortingly after he said his goodnights and had left the pair to their own devices. He would have to start cooking up rations tonight if he wanted to get everything done by Thursday morning. He sighed and remembering Dora went back into his father’s study to write a reply to Drogo. It was going to be a long night.
It had indeed been a long night. Bilbo had only gotten a few hours of sleep before being pestered awake to start the terrible twosome’s wedding ensembles. By four o’clock in the morning he had made:
Jars of soup, stew, pickled fish, pickled eggs, pickled onions, hard biscuits, tack biscuits, dried meats, boiled eggs, jugged hare, jugged oysters, a dry porridge mix for mornings, and this morning’s breakfast. He had almost fallen asleep twice while hemming Lobelia’s orange taffeta gown, and without Dora there to keep him company there was no one to wake him up.
Lobelia had mysteriously vanished following her mother’s command to aid Bilbo, so he was stuck doing all this work on his own. Just as he had completed the last herringbone stitch on Camelia’s chintz bodice, the lady herself loomed over him.
“Oh good, you’re finished. Now that you’ve completed our dresses you can go out and find the berries.” Bilbo wanted to scream. Nonetheless he did as he was bid and picked up the old blanket and basket, thankful that most of the snow had already melted. His own party clothes were left unfinished in the corner as he made his way into the Greenwood.
(Tales of Xillia OST- Rampant Malice)
Despite it being March, the trees were still mostly bare, with a few evergreen exceptions. Further into the forest the pine trees grew thicker and thicker, until Bilbo could barely move through them. He was quite rumpled by the time he found the clearing, so he stopped to brush himself down at the edge of the lake. A great crack startled him from his grooming. He looked all around, trying to find the source of the noise, keeping a finger on the golden ring just in case it was something that would find him a tasty hobbit-sized snack.
The thunderous sound echoed again through the clearing, causing birds to fly and Bilbo to become quite frightened. He rushed over to the frozen lake and began his journey toward the fire pit. The ice felt different somehow, more… squishy. Bilbo tested his footing by bouncing a little.
Suddenly, the loudest snap yet rang out, and Bilbo heart hammered in his chest. What on earth was going on? He put a tentative foot forward again, only for it to shoot straight through the ice and into the frigid waters below. Ah, the ice was melting. All Bilbo had to do was lift his foot back out and continue on slowly and carefully. He did so, but the next time he took a step the other foot landed in the water too. Luckily the water was still partially frozen underneath, resembling the cold syrup covered treats he used to get in Laketown with his parents.
As he tried to move, Bilbo broke through more and more top layer ice, plunging him calf-deep at one point, and the more he panicked he thrashed about the deeper he sank. He lobbed the basket away from him and after yanking the ring from his pocket, he threw it towards the fire pit, the band of gold bouncing off a log. Teeth chattering, Bilbo repeated the magic words.
“ROLL ALONG, ROLL ALONG RING, PASS THROUGH THE GATES OF SPRING, PASS THROUGH SUMMER PASS THROUGH AUTUMN, OVER THE CARPET OF WINTER WITHOUT ANY F-fear, roll up to the door… of the… waiting… New Year…”
By this point the water was almost at his chest, and Bilbo was beginning to lose his tenuous grip on the icy surface. His feet kicked out against the thawing slush, acting as though they were under quicksand. Bilbo desperately tried to take a breath, but the ice and water pressure constricted around his ribs and squeezed his lungs. Oh Yavanna, he was going to die-
A shadow fell over his head. Gasping for breath, Bilbo looked up at the extended hammer, using all of his strength to hold on for dear life as the dwarf on the other end began to pull. At first, Bilbo thought he was stuck fast, but after a second or two that felt like a lifetime, the soupy mixture released his lower body with a sickening slurp.
Bilbo lay there on the thankfully more solid ice for a good minute, sucking in deep gulps of air. He shivered in the bitter cold, the wetness sapping all the warmth from his body. All of a sudden, he was pulled up roughly by the back of his shirt and cradled like an infant. He snuggled closer by instinct, relishing the reprieve from the biting air. Spring my arse, he thought miserably.
The sodden hobbit supposed the dwarf must have carried him back towards the centre of the lake because the heat from the fire began to lick at his toes, an almost painful contrast to the icy water. His teeth began chattering uncontrollably.
“S’good.” Came a rumble from above. “Yer warmin’ up.” Bilbo stretched his head up to greet his rescuer. The mohawked personification of March met his eyes with a steely gaze. “What did ye want.” This was more a statement than question, and before Bilbo closed his eyes, he couldn’t help but think of raven hair and blue irises.
By the time Bilbo’s eyes flickered open again the midday sun had begun to melt into a pool of orange and pink. He jolted up, painfully aware of the time, but was strangely unable to move. The arms wrapped around him tightened their hold as he struggled.
“Yer alright.” Once he stopped thrashing about like a fish, Bilbo was released onto the obsidian ground, slipping out of March’s hold onto his knees.
“Thank you,” he said breathlessly, “I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t-”
The dwarf grunted and removed his shoulder mantle to fling it over Bilbo’s head. “S’alright. Why’d ye come?”
Bilbo felt a bit silly to be honest, not only because he felt like a child playing peek-a-boo. Having to be rescued from a watery death and all for the sake of a few berries? He bet that his aunt and cousin would only notice him gone when they ran out of food. And that could have taken weeks considering all the work he done last night. But Bilbo had the feeling that this dwarf would not take kindly to waffling, so he was as direct as his respectably hobbitish manners would allow.
“I came because my Aunt has requested summer fruits to give as a gift at a wedding.” March frowned.
“Why didn’t ye tell her piss off?” The bluntness was like a sledgehammer to the face, but Bilbo could see his point.
“Because she has custody of my parents’ house until I come of age, and by extension, me.” The terrible truth had been weighing on him for many years now. Until his birthday this year, he would have no control whatsoever over his own life and inheritance. Camelia and Lobelia had done their best to find the legendary Baggins fortune, but failing that, they turned their attentions on the recently orphaned Bilbo. When it became clear that he and Lobelia would not be a match made in Valinor, they turned to spending as much of Bilbo’s available inheritance as they could. Should he deny his Aunt, he would be left homeless, best to wait it out until September, that’s all he had to do. Just wait.
(Wall. E soundtrack: ‘Define Dancing’- Thomas Newman)
Unaware of Bilbo’s inner turmoil, March had stood and walked into the fire, extracting the magical jewel that seemed to control the seasons. The flames danced timidly around the dwarf’s ankles, this time a muted turquoise that when the fire began burning brighter and hotter, became a luscious red, the colour of watermelon flesh.
Without warning, the burning logs collapsed, sending up thousands of burning embers that whizzed through the air like fireflies, causing Bilbo to have to shield his eyes from the unexpectedly fierce heat.
When Bilbo felt that his eyebrows were no longer in danger, he peeked at the newcomer. Oh. Well. Goodness. It was the one that Balin had introduced as July. Bilbo could hardly forget such a fine figure of a dwarf. Who was currently attempting to extract his personage from the splintered wood.
Bilbo hurried to give the rotund fellow a hand, and it was accepted gratefully. The dwarf patted at his slightly smouldering beard and gave Bilbo a cheery smile.
“I think you wanted my help Master Baggins?” he asked almost shyly. The hobbit became a little bit tongue tied as he tried to explain his situation to the dwarf who was hugely attractive in more ways than one. He ended up stumbling over his words and making a bit of a tit out of himself, but the redhead simply placed a hand on his back and they strolled together to the south, where July was in full force.
“Oh,” began the dwarf, gesturing to the fur coat, “you may wish to take that off.”
If Bilbo thought that Gloin’s garden was particularly fine, then this place surely was paradise. Bursting with all kinds of flowers and shrubs and, most importantly in Bilbo’s book, fruits and vegetables.
From behind rows of lettuces, the pale blue flowers of tulip shaped chicory peeped out. Bilbo loved to roast chicory root when he wanted to save on coffee beans during summer, its rich flavour being a perfect substitute when ground into a fine powder, boiling water poured over it and a little milk splashed in.
Large red clay pots decorated with tiny pieces of glass held the most fragrant chilli peppers, their scent alone giving an indication that they packed some serious heat. Bean plants of all kinds hung in the same way, but in great long rows that stretched from one end of the bed to the other.
Asparagus and marigolds were nestled together, the tangerine blooms offsetting the green shoots both aesthetically and functionally. This garden clearly belonged to somebody who not only loved food but also cared about their ingredients. If Bilbo didn’t know any better, he would have said that a hobbit lived here.
Bilbo could have stayed here all day, marvelling at the scale and variety in the garden but time was precious, both for him and surely for July.
“If it’s not too much trouble Master July, do you have any blackberries here?” he said, with the same mentality that he used for ripping off bandages. The portly dwarf clapped his hands over his not insubstantial stomach.
“I do indeed Master hobbit, and it’s Bombur if you please, I would hope that we are friends, or if not at least kindred spirits; I see the way you’re eying up my radishes.” He said cheekily.
“I have never seen the like outside of my own little garden, you should be very proud!” Now it was Bombur’s turn to blush, the colour clashing horribly with his auburn hair. But Bilbo found it strangely endearing.
“Nobody’s ever complimented me on my produce before.” The rotund dwarf seemed somehow smaller “They all call it food for elves and just toss it about without even tasting it.” Bilbo felt a pang of consternation for this hobbit in dwarven (eugh!) boots. He laid a comforting hand on Bombur’s forearm.
“Well I would never toss about your food. It is an honour to grow and cook with Yavanna’s bounty, to waste it is akin to sacrilege!” Bombur beamed at him and appeared to double in size as his chest puffed out in pride. Bilbo nearly had an aneurism as the gloriously corpulent dwarf put a hand to his cheek, which at one point brushed over the tip of his right ear.
“Oh, I do like you Mister Baggins.”
“Bilbo, please.” Was it hot out here or was it just him? “Erm… you have lovely greengages, Bombur.”
“Thank you, I was worried they would be sour but so long as you wait for them to ripen properly they are quite sweet, I was surprised.” Ah yes, Bilbo was now back on safe ground.
“Yes, they’re like plums that way, aren’t they?” This conversation carried on in the same vein until they reached a wall that was practically bursting with balls filled with juice. (Bilbo thought that this imagery was a little bit iffy but decided to roll with it anyway.) They walked a bit further along until the blackberry bushes came into view.
They both began picking, taking care not to squeeze to hard and cause the dreaded purple fingers of doom that plagues both amateur and professional harvester alike.
It was only when Bilbo had almost filled up his little basket that he noticed Bombur was also adding Blackberry leaves, cherries, redcurrants and blueberries to his basket. Bombur caught Bilbo’s questioning glance and explained.
“I thought we might do a spot of baking, if you have the time that is?” Bilbo couldn’t bear to leave his newest friend, especially not when dessert was on the line.
“Certainly,” said Bilbo brightly, “what did you have in mind?”
“A pie perhaps?”
Bombur didn’t quite understand why the hobbit began laughing at this, but he took it as read that he was all for a nice summer berry pie.
While they chopped, they chatted about this and that, but mostly about cooking, swapping techniques and promising to write recipes for the next time they saw each other. Bilbo was overjoyed. He hadn’t felt like this in the kitchen in years. It reminded him of he and his mother readying a treat for when his father came home.
Bilbo was enamoured with Bombur’s kitchen. It only had two walls and was sheltered from sun and rain with a cream coloured canvas tied down with what were described to him as sailor knots. However, the open air did wonders for Bilbo’s mood; it made a change from being stuck in the same underground kitchen hour after hour. A terracotta oven stood pride of place, giving out the most glorious heat in the early evening, and he found himself imagining what he would do with such a device. Flat breads with tomato sauce and cheese, garlic knots, proper bread… Bilbo’s appetite was truly whetted.
While they waited for the pie to bake, Bombur whipped up a summer salad of lettuce, broad beans, thick slices of juicy beetroot, thinly grated carrot and three different types of tomato. Bilbo busied himself with the dressing with a dark sticky vinegar, spicy mustard, lemon juice, a little honey, garlic, and salt and pepper. Both males were glad to find that they both had a taste for heat.
After forty-five minutes the pie was done. The juices from the fruit bubbled up through the steam hole and brought the most delicious smell to their noses. Waiting for the dessert to cool down enough to eat was pure torture. When at last it was deemed fit for safe consumption Bombur cut them thick slices, and eschewing cream and custard entirely, they munched away happily. Once Bilbo and Bombur had finished their third and fifth slices respectively, they sat back in a pie-created daze and contented themselves by watching the garden and how the sunset kissed each leaf and fruit goodnight.
Speaking of which, as much as Bilbo wanted to stay in July forever, he knew that he had to go home. After all, he had Drogo’s wedding to look forward to and the long journey with his aunt and cousin to dread.
Bombur and Bilbo said their sad goodbyes, the cold air a soul sucking contrast to the blissful heat of July.
“I’ll see you again soon, I promise.” Bilbo vowed. Bombur shook his comparatively tiny hand.
“Likewise, Bilbo. Oh, by the way, March’s name is Dwalin. I don’t think he told you earlier. Between you and me, I think you scared him falling through the ice like that. He’s normally very friendly- in his own way that is.”
Bombur gingerly made his way into the centre of the fire again and waved his farewell. The hobbit waited for March to return. He didn’t have to wait long and the fire crackled turquoise yet again. March stared for a moment, confused, and then barrelled over.
Bilbo wasn’t looking forward to the walk home after toasting himself in the exotic July heat.
He didn’t even have the blanket anymore; it was lost to the hyperborean waters. Bilbo motioned to give the fur coat back to the stoic dwarf.
“Thank you so much for earlier-”
“Keep it.” Dwalin grunted. Bilbo wasn’t going to complain. But he still wished to repay March for saving his life earlier.
“Again, if there’s anything I can ever do for you…?” he prompted.
The mountainous dwarf stood stock still for a moment, contemplative. Then, he reached into a pouch in on his belt and drew out a folded piece of paper.
“For September. When you see him.” Was that a faint blush on Dwalin’s cheek? In any case, Bilbo didn’t have time to see properly, as the larger male nodded gruffly and trudged back to the fire, and just as quickly disappearing.
Bilbo hefted the basket of blackberries into the crook of his elbow. What a friendly fellow, I think not.
(Two weeks later)
The journey to the Shire took an age. Two even. Bilbo thought he had undertaken the journey to Valinor and been reincarnated several times over all in the space of twenty days. Rivendell was a welcome reprieve, and he would have liked to have spend more time speaking with Elrond and Arwen, but frankly he was so tired from the journey and making sure that Camelia and Lobelia didn’t commit any terrible faux pas against their hosts that all he wanted to do was sleep. Maybe when he came into his inheritance he would return to Rivendell alone to practise his Sindarin.
It was funny. Bilbo had spent his while life in and around dwarf lands that to suddenly be surrounded by beings that were easily double his own height and perhaps half of him again was overwhelming. The world seemed so much bigger now than the smial, Esgaroth, and the fields where his mother and father used to rent in order to grow crops for Erebor.
He had to leap onto his bed and scrabble for purchase on the bedclothes if he wanted to go to sleep. The sheer drops and lack of balconies in certain areas made him giddy. The cutlery made his hands look freakishly small and babyish.
The three only stayed in Rivendell for a night and day, in order to restock and rejuvenate. It was odd though. The blackberries should have been a soggy mess by now, or at least thawed out, but they remained as perfectly fresh as ever, even when the snow packed in around them in the barrel began to melt. Bilbo thought back to his bluebell and rose. It must be magic, Bilbo decided. After all, if his friends were able to lend him their time for him to pick the things, perhaps the magic would stay, if only until the next time the same month turned. He would have to ask one of the months about it the next time he was there.
By the time they reached the lands of the Shire, they were dirty, tired, and grumpy. But seeing the lush green pastures immediately brought a smile to their faces, even Camelia.
Houses just like his were already being excavated in the multiple hillsides, but what Bilbo liked the best were the people that were building them. The hobbits. Being stuck with the same two hobbits for the past eight years had taken a greater toll than he’d thought, and the friendly faces that automatically greeted him despite his status, despite his appearance, was… wonderful.
His little furry feet felt like they were about to drop off when he heard a shout from his left.
“Hello there!” A hob smoking a pipe greeted them. He wore a dark green frock coat and the same short trousers favoured by most male hobbits. “You must be the Bilbo Baggins and family.” He strode forward to shake them warmly by the hand. Camelia sniffed.
“I am Camelia Bracegirdle, and this is my daughter, Miss Lobelia Bracegirdle.” The older male hobbit had on the same expression that most people had when meeting Camelia for the first time: a frozen smile that didn’t quite reach the eyes as they tried to make sense of this ball of self-important bonnet lace.
“And you are welcome too.” Saved the hob, though only just. He turned to Bilbo with a hopeful expression. “Fosco Baggins, father of the groom.” At this Camelia perked up, the scent of money and status causing her to go straight for the man like a shark scenting blood. Bilbo was not privy to the undoubtedly one-sided conversation that came next as he was promptly spun around and hugged to within an inch of his life.
“Bilbo! I’m so glad you could make it!” Drogo exclaimed. “Are you alone?” Bilbo searched his immediate area for his non-immediate family. Evidently Lobelia had been a big brave girl and retreated to her mother’s skirts, leaving Bilbo and Drogo alone, which was how they liked it.
“I’m sure Camelia and Lobelia are around somewhere, I think they’re talking to your father, poor soul.” Drogo chuckled and slapped him on the back.
“His pain is our gain then. Come, let me introduce you to my family.” As they traipsed through the emerging town, they stopped intermittently to greet random hobbits and in return they offered some piece of advice or innuendo laden quip about the wedding night. The latter group were Tooks, Drogo had explained, and blushed pink at the lewd comments.
By the time they reached Drogo’s family smial Bilbo wasn’t sure he could remember even a third of the people introduced to him. The house in the hill was perfect in every way. There was a round door and low build windows- essential for curtain twitchers- and even a little flower garden in the front that was protected behind a shallow fence. It was simply enormous.
Just as Drogo held the cherry wood gate open for Bilbo, a gaggle of tiny hobbits scurried through to meet them. Drogo continued up to the house, unlatching the door from the outside and calling for his mother to come and meet Bilbo Baggins.
Ruby Baggins (nee Bolger) was a plump and cheerful looking person, who appeared for all the world like any other grandmother. She had even had a set of eye glasses perched on top of her pristine white cap. Grey curls peeped out from under the ruffles and her apron was the most delicate pink, tied around her waist in a neat bow.
“RIGHT YOU LOT, LEAVE THAT POOR BOY ALONE OR THERE’LL BE NO CAKE FOR TEA!” Drogo nearly jumped out of his skin when his dear sweet mother bellowed like that, but when he turned around to introduce Bilbo he understood why.
Bilbo had been surrounded by at least seven fauntlings, and they had him pressed against the fence as they stared up at the newcomer’s face, which was to say the least looking a bit awkward. At the shout, the young things, with lips aquiver, scrambled over one another like puppies inside the smial in search of cake, leaving Bilbo dazed and confused.
“Sorry about that,” Drogo apologised “they’re just excited to meet new people.”
“As am I.” chortled Mrs Baggins, embracing Bilbo in the motherliest hug he had felt in a long time. He relaxed into her bosom like it was a pillow and for a few seconds all was right with the world.
“It’ lo’ry t’ m’t you Mi’s B’ggins.” Bilbo said, somewhat muffled. When he was released and took a deep breath of blessed fresh air, they entered the smial. The inside was much like his own, clean and tidy with winding corridors and networks of rooms, only these were surely filled to the brim. Bilbo gawped at the sheer scale of the place- it could surely have fit his own home three times over and Bag End was nothing to be sniffed at.
The herd of children were sat obediently at the kitchen table, legs swinging and faces newly scrubbed. A few more had been added to the bunch.
“These are my eldest’s children.” Said Ruby, gesturing to six of the faunts. Bilbo would have guessed that they were between the ages of fifteen and four, with the youngest sat up in a high chair. “And these little ragamuffins are mine.” For the most part, the five gestured to were older, in their early tweens and therefore not the ones who had accosted Bilbo earlier. However, the fifth and youngest was definitely a member of the gang, and at around sixteen- putting him at ten in mannish years- he was surely the leader of the group.
This red haired little ragamuffin patted the bench next to him and Bilbo obliged (once he had submitted to the mandatory hand and face wash) and broke bread- and cake, and tarts, and pie, and fudge- with Drogo’s enormous family. Having been an only child, Bilbo had never had a large family, so how could he be nostalgic for something he had never even experienced?
As he sipped at his tea, he thought of all the other lonely people out there, and whether they felt the loss of times never spent just as keenly…
(Bridge of spies: Homecoming - Thomas Newman)
The next five days leading up to the 31st were some of the most joyous and fun-filled days of Bilbo’s life. He and Drogo went on walks together, he baked with Ruby, he played princess and dragons with the fauntlings (he was the princess of course) and eventually met Primula. Bilbo found out that the bride to be was also related to him, this time on his mother’s Took side, as her mother was Mirabella Brandybuck, nee Took. What a small world this Shire was. When Bilbo really thought about it however, it made sense that there be few but large interrelated families, the hobbits that hadn’t been killed were scattered after the attack of Smaug, and those that lived had a smaller gene pool to work with.
Bilbo first learned about this kind of thing from his father when he was around eighteen. Bungo warned him about the dangers of marrying too close to home, poor Esme ‘Twelve toes’ Bandyfoot being repellent enough at the time. That being said, at least Primula and Drogo were distant cousins by marriage. That could have been awkward when it came to the speeches and table placements.
Primula was as delightful a hobbitess as one could ever hope to meet. Privately she confided in Bilbo that she hadn’t been sure about marrying Drogo, but the moment she clapped eyes on him when he came back from his journey Prim knew that there was nobody in this world that she would rather be with. They also had a lot in common too, both enjoyed a good pipe and the odd adventure to boot.
In truth, Primula reminded Bilbo of his mother. He wondered what she would have thought of the Shire and his new friends. He thought that Belladonna would have loved it here; plenty of green things, with Rivendell only a few days away, and whole swathes of Tooks and Baggins to get to know. Perhaps if Bilbo decided to move to the Shire permanently he would set up a memorial to his parents. Somewhere sunny and full of life, as they had been when Bilbo was young.
But for now, it was the night before the wedding and Bilbo had magical pies to bake.
Bilbo was rudely awoken at the crack of dawn on March the 31st by an all too familiar tap tap tap on the window. He rubbed the sleep from his eyes and unfastened the latch to allow the rook in. Dora nuzzled at his fingers as he removed the letter from her carrier. He read the scribbled note:
Please come to Bobard’s shop as quickly as you can.
Oh dear. There must have been a problem with Drogo’s wedding outfit, although why he was being dragged out of bed Bilbo had no clue. He got dressed in record time and sent Dora ahead to confirm that he was on his way.
Bobard’s shop had everything a fine young hob could wish for in the sartorial sense. Everything except paisley, which Bobard was violently opposed to for some reason.
As Bilbo hurried in, still doing up his braces, the elderly hobbit looked him up and down appraisingly.
“Yes, I believe I’ve got it right.” Bobard took Bilbo’s wrist in a surprisingly firm grip and led him toward the changing rooms where Drogo was waiting with a broadsheet. When he saw the two enter, he folded the newspaper and drew Bilbo in for a hug.
“Sorry it’s so early, cousin, but this was the only time available.”
“Not a problem, Drogo, what’s the matter? Is it your sleeves?” Drogo laughed softly.
“No, Bilbo, just go with Bobard, he’ll show you.”
Well now. A deep burgundy coat with a cream shirt and starched collar. Calf length brown trousers that turned up smartly at the ends. Braces embroidered with tiny daisies were the final touch to the ensemble.
Bilbo wasn’t sure of the last time he’d worn something as fine as this, and he loved it.
“Are you sure?” he asked hopefully. Drogo held him by the shoulders as they looked at Bilbo’s reflection in the mirror.
By the end of the ceremony most of the guests were in tears. Primula and Drogo’s vows were simple yet beautiful, as was the setting. The two were wed under the watchful branches of a massive oak tree that had been bedecked in ribbons of all colours by each guest. Bilbo’s ribbon had been pink, having swapped his green one with a grumbling fauntling who felt his masculinity would be under threat through the mere presence of the hue. But Bilbo didn’t mind; pink was a perfectly lovely colour.
As was Primula. Not a colour, though her blushing cheeks were certainly rosy. Her dress alone made half the female congregation sigh in envy. Bilbo had been there when Prim went for her final fitting, but on the day, she looked even more stunning. The ballgown didn’t look all that out of place at such a casual affair, which Bilbo thought was due to the three-quarter length sleeves that lent an uninhibited air to the bride, which complimented her personality wonderfully. The red rose in her mousy hair also paired nicely with the slightly golden edges to the dress, which caught the fading sunlight like a dream.
Bilbo passed his spare handkerchief to the hob next to him as they clapped and cheered the new couple.
“Thank ye kindly.” The fellow straightened himself out and wiped away several tears. He cleared his throat. “I allus cry at weddin’s, my wife says I’m a soft bugger, but I can’t help it. I saw those two grow up you know, it’s as though they were my own.” The hob began a new round of sobs. His aforementioned wife leaned across to Bilbo.
“I don’t mind that he cries, not enough cryin’ hobs round ‘ere if you ask me, but he does go on. Bell Gamgee, and this wet blanket is me ‘usband Hamfast.”
Bilbo shook hands with the pair and again with the young infant Bell had cradled on her lap.
“And who’s this little fellow” he cooed, tickling the squirmy child under his chummy chin.
“This is Sam, my youngest.” Bilbo awed in appreciation of pure cuteness and politely asked how many children Bell had.
“Five so far, I’m currently working on the sixth.” Bell motioned to her ever so slightly rounded stomach.
“Congratulations!” exclaimed Bilbo, “that must be a lot of work!”
“Yus indeedy.” grinned Bell, in the tone belonging to mothers everywhere. “But I can’t imagine life any other way.” Bilbo would have continued the conversation further, but the call rang out for the buffet to open and he had duck under the table for fear of being trampled by rampaging hobbits.
The festivities were first rate. Early spring greens had been transformed into salads. A whole hog had been roasted and carved up to be stuffed into freshly baked buns and slathered in the twenty different condiments that were available. There was food of every kind, all homemade, that could feed a medium sized army for a week.
That was to say nothing of the libations on offer. Dark, honey rich ales and light bubbly ciders flowed like water, and the adult hobbits sensibly took advantage of such a bounty. Camelia contented herself with many small glasses of sherry, which by the end of the evening added up to several large ones, and as a result she had fallen asleep in her chair, snoring quietly into her bosom.
A hob wearing an orange frock coat with purple and lime frills was gazing at Lobelia, who fluttered her fan coquettishly, managing to hit herself on the nose in the process. But the young fellow didn’t seem to notice- the fan nor his cousin’s hideous fashion sense. Bilbo sipped his drink. No accounting for taste he supposed, but love is blind.
He bounced baby Sam on his lap while Bell and Hamfast danced a jig together, rubbing his cheek against the soft baby hair. Oh, how he would like to have children of his own someday. Perhaps when he moved to the Shire he could babysit for Drogo and Prim.
There was a commotion over at the buffet table. Evidently the desserts had been uncovered and there was a scramble to be the first to sample each confection.
Bilbo waited until there was a lull in the fighting before attempting to make his way over. He had barely reached the end of the queue, when Drogo jumped at him, face flushed with giddiness and alcohol.
“Bilbo! There you are! I’ve been looking for you everywhere! Here!” The slightly tipsy groom tried to hand Bilbo a bowl but as he was currently holding Sam it was a little awkward.
“Hang on, lets go back to the table.” Bilbo suggested.
When they arrived Bell and Hamfast had sat down to catch their breath and Bilbo returned the now very wiggly child back to his mother for an overdue feed. Giving Bell some privacy, he and Drogo walked up to the upper table and shared a chair to eat their desserts.
Both agreed that it was the best pie they’d ever tasted.
The day after the wedding was quiet. The morning was spent in bed, sleeping the night before off, but later on everybody helped tidy up the party field and take home the leftovers that had simply been covered over the night before. Drogo and Primula had left for their honeymoon, but not before kissing Bilbo on both cheeks (though to be fair, Drogo was decidedly pissed at this point) and bid him farewell should they not see him before he left for Esgaroth.
The morning after that Dora was squeaking happily as she dove into some lemon cheesecake. She couldn’t remember when food had been this good. Bilbo laughed at the silly bird as he finished packing his clothes, taking care with his fine new party clothes not to wrinkle them too badly.
It was time to leave. He carried his pack to the threshold of Mrs Baggins’s guestroom. Dora flew onto his shoulder and he turned his head awkwardly to kiss her goodbye. But she remained there until Bilbo met with his Aunt and cousin. Then, she flapped away into a nearby tree and squawked at the two females. Bilbo waved, and having said goodbye to everybody the previous day, they set off for home.
They had almost reached the Brandywine river when a blue and rust coloured blob came barrelling after them.
“Wait! Please!” It cried. It came to a stop a few paces behind them, out of breath entirely. Lobelia gasped. It was the hob she had been speaking to at the wedding.
“Otho,” she said softly “what is it?” Bilbo had never heard that tone of voice coming from his cousin before.
“I love you.” Otho wheezed, hands on his knees. “I love you Miss Lobelia and I don’t care who knows it. I know we’ve only known each other a couple of days but I can tell that without a doubt you are the one for me!” For somebody who loved the sound of her own voice it was strange to see Lobelia speechless. The hob continued.
“Don’t go. Stay here, with me, and I’ll court you, even if it takes me ten years, I’ll do it. Just… stay.” Camelia drew herself up, preparing to unleash all manner of motherly carnage upon the young upstart. But then Lobelia spoke, barely audible.
Camelia visibly deflated. She stared at her daughter, opening and closing her mouth like a fish.
“Lobelia!” she said, scandalised. “You hardly know this hob- I hardly know him, how do you expect to make a pair just like that!” Almost apoplectic with rage, Camelia turned on Otho.
“And you! What do you mean by accosting us in such a manner when we are on our way home-”
“It’s not our home, mother.” Lobelia interrupted calmly and pointedly. To her credit, Camelia did not make eye contact with Bilbo at this statement, but instead rounded on her daughter.
“If you do not come with me now you will not come back at all I will no longer have a daughter- Do I Make Myself Clear?”
“Yes, mother, you do.” Lobelia went to stand by Otho, who was still breathing heavily, though whether this was from exertion or exhilaration it was unclear. Camelia harrumphed and began walking briskly across the bridge separating the Shire and the world beyond. Lobelia handed her pack to Bilbo apologetically.
“Here, I don’t think I’ll be needing it anymore.”
As Bilbo hurried after his surprisingly nippy Aunt, he took one last look round. Lobelia had taken Otho’s hand and they were brushing their heads together like a pair of lovesick fools. Which of course they were. Although Bilbo was over the moon for Lobelia, it did mean that he would now be stuck with his furious Aunt on the road for the next twenty days and then forever more. Oh, cobblers.
- The name of the chapter may be confusing to those non-English readers (I assume there are a few) ‘What a load of cobblers’ is a shortened piece of cockney rhyming slack meaning ‘what a load of cobbler’s awls’ which when translated into non-rhyme becomes ‘what a load of balls/ testicles.’ This may be more familiar, as balls in this instance means rubbish/garbage, implying that what’s been said is false or exaggerated. For any American/ish readers you’ll know that cobbler is also a dessert made with berries, a bit like the British crumble dessert, so that’s a lovely homonym for you! That concludes the lexicography lesson nobody asked for.
Chapter 6: Chapter Six- Blended Cultures: Part 1
Progress is slow but steady, I hope you're enjoying the story so far.
The journey back from the Shire wasn’t nearly as bad as Bilbo thought it would be. Camelia seemed to have retreated into herself and without Lobelia there was no aimless chatter while they walked/hitchhiked. Bilbo was able to engage a few rangers in conversation as the men travelled with them as far as Rivendell. Their group was visiting Elrond as well, although for what purpose was kept tightly under wraps. It was just as well; hobbits, for all their fine qualities, were well known as gossips, and Bilbo couldn’t bear it if something happened to the kind lady and her son on account of his big mouth.
The woman, who introduced herself as Gillian, was greeted by Elrond as an old friend, and her son- called Estel- was equally made welcome. That is not to say that Bilbo and his Aunt were made less welcome, though it was clear that they were not the guests of honour this time.
Bilbo and Camelia were left mostly to themselves, which was just as well, since Camelia seemed to be in no mood to entertain. Bilbo was almost glad to leave Rivendell the next day, there were only so many excuses that could be made for such antisocial behaviour.
They were accompanied by Elrond’s two sons, and they helped to make the time go faster, and provided some much-needed conversation for Bilbo. Elladan and Elrohir were charming young ellons, if a little mischievous, but they detracted from the boredom of travel so well that by the time they reached the Shire, Bilbo had regained his high spirits.
The same could not be said for Camelia. As soon as they reached home she locked herself away in her room, without unpacking or saying goodbye to the boys. Bilbo thanked the pair and apologised profusely, before lugging their belongings inside and starting to get the house back in order.
He thought it best not to disturb his aunt, and busied himself putting away clothes, hanging up his party clothes carefully in the wardrobe and set about cooking an early supper. They had caught some fish in the lake earlier- well, the elves had, Bilbo wasn’t going anywhere near the water, thank you very much! Bilbo made a quick fish pie, cobbled together from the thin carp from the lake and only slightly mouldy potatoes and onions from the pantry. No sooner had he left Camelia’s plate outside her room, and returned to his own meal, then there was a tap on the window.
Bilbo opened it, a huge grin grew on his face as black feathers settled on the countertop.
18th April 2922
Prim and I arrived back from our honeymoon on the fifteenth, and what a palaver met us on our arrival! Why did you not write that Lobelia had begun courting Otho Sackville Baggins? The whole town is agog- I don’t think there has been this much gossip mongering since Prim’s brother, Rory, married the Goold girl, I think her name was Merenella- It was Menegilda, Bilbo- Is nothing private anymore! Can a hob not misname his wife’s family in peace without being interrupted! Honestly Bilbo, you’re lucky you don’t care for this marriage lark, it’s not all honey and ham sandwiches with the crusts cut off… The crusts are good for you; they make your hair curl. I’m only joking of course cousin, but seriously, don’t worry about finding anyone just yet.
Anyway, we took a ferry trip down the Brandywine- and do you know, I rather enjoyed myself, we may make it a anniversary tradition. Should you like to join us one day Bilbo? (Not the anniversary, just the trip if you don’t mind, three’s a crown and all that.)
So, in the interest of giving you a breather while you settle back again, how are you and what are doing in the future, I want excruciating detail and possibly a map and essay on the subject!
Hoping to hear from you soon,
Lots of love,
Drogo and Primula Baggins’
Bilbo smiled softly to himself as he wrote his reply, laughing at the rook’s attempts to eat a pencil, and daydreaming about green hills and good friends.
Bilbo kept Dora until the following morning, when he dated the letter and sent her off having had some leftover fish pie for breakfast.
23rd April 2922
‘Dear Mr and Mrs Baggins,
I hope you had a lovely honeymoon, and Lobelia staying was as much a shock to me too, not to mention her mother! She’s become a snail recently, just eating and moping in her room. It’s been a blessing in some ways, but I can’t help feeling sorry for her. Though maybe we can bond over not having any close family with us. Who knows, she may become a second mother to me! I’m not holding my breath either.
As for what I am up to… not much. Probably just cook and clean and sit in my room, making no noise and pretending that I don’t exist. * I’m praying for something, anything, just a little bit interesting to happen.
All my love,
He had just finished washing up the dishes from breakfast when there came a heavy-handed knock at the door. Bilbo could guess who it was.
The red headed dwarf lieutenant- also known to Bilbo as Gloin’s son- was standing outside, having to bow his head slightly to peek through the circular doorway.
“Hullo Mister Bilbo.”
The smaller man smiled and ushered the dwarf in.
“Hello Gimli, how are you?” When the fellow loitered in the hall instead of following Bilbo into the kitchen the hobbit sighed, putting his hands on his hips. “I gather I am wanted for something?” Gimli looked as innocent as a lamb, albeit one holding a battle helmet as though he was a schoolboy in disgrace.
“Yus.” Bilbo sighed again. He thought quickly about his aunt and went to go and check on her.
He popped his head around the door after knocking.
“Aunt Camelia… are you up? Would you like a cup of tea?” No sooner had he entered the room than a screaming hell beast in a lace nightcap flew at him.
“What do you mean by interrupting my rest in such a way! I could have been INDECENT! I DON’T KNOW WHAT YOUR MOTHER TAUGHT YOU BUT IN MY HOUSE YOU WILL NOT-” Bilbo retreated like Lord Elrond from Eregion in the Second Age as a soap dish was lobbed at his head.
Shutting the door safely behind him and contemplating locking it, Bilbo went into his room to retrieve his nice party coat and then met Gimli outside the smial. When the dwarf enquired about his aunt Bilbo sniffed, chin aloft.
“She can stay dehydrated.”
The journey to Erebor was longer this time, mainly because Bilbo was actually conscious for it. At least the company was pleasant. As they walked, Bilbo stole glances at his companion. Now that he had met Gloin and seen Gimli for a second time, there was no way they weren’t related. Their noses, hair, eyes, shoulders were alike- even their walking styles. Bilbo was dying to ask about Gimli’s family, but held his tongue. After all, it may be a touchy subject and it would be a long and awkward walk back.
“So… Gimli. What am I needed for this time?” The dwarf looked so thoughtful one could almost smell smoke.
“I think they want you to get something Master Bilbo.” The hobbit’s brain did a mental recalibration so fast it would put Mandos to shame, and in the space of a second decided it wasn’t worth the trouble.
“Yeeas. Thank you.”
(Erebor- Game of Thrones soundtrack)
The gate of Erebor was even more impressive on the outside. From afar it looked like three enormous cheese graters built into the mountain, flanked on either side by even larger renditions of what Bilbo assumed were great dwarven warriors of old. There was a massive brick pathway leading up to the travellers’ entrance that had been blackened by dragon fire, but they had stood the test of time and endured the assault.
The statues and gates appeared to be calcified, their colour a blueish green, perhaps this was due to the river that roared over a small yet powerful waterfall out of the mountainside. When Bilbo came closer to the archways the markings that he had thought looked like grater holes were in fact a great number of carvings and doorways, all shut. It was odd though; the edges of the gate seemed to be a different colour to the interior- as though somebody had fitted a jigsaw piece into the missing place where the dragon attacked.
As they approached the gate, Gimli explained the gate’s history, how it was the only entrance the wyrm left useable, aside from the secret door that had been used by Thrain and his children in the retaking of the mountain. The new section of door had been painstakingly grafted onto the old, shattered one in homage to what was lost and now regained. It almost brought a tear to Bilbo’s eye, thinking about the damage one dragon could do, and how its effects were felt even now.
As before, they entered the gate of Erebor. Well, not quite. For one thing, Bilbo wasn’t slung over the dwarf’s shoulder like a sack of potatoes. But the grandeur of the inside of the mountain hit Bilbo just as hard. The market was as busy and beautiful as he remembered, he could have watched each little theatre piece play out for at least a week without getting bored. But he was hurried along by the lieutenant, who was sweating quite a bit. Bilbo would have thought that it would be cooler underground.
They bypassed the Royal Throne Room this time, opting for passing through another labyrinth of corridors and into a smaller but homelier chamber. There was a desk and a blackboard with chalk, and a map of the whole of Arda, including bits that even Bilbo with his scholarly upbringing hadn’t seen. But he was not here to stand here gawping at maps in what appeared to be a school room.
Bilbo squared his shoulders and turned to Gimli.
“Right. So. What on earth am I doing here? It’d better not be for anything pointless!” Suddenly, a great booming voice echoed throughout the chamber.
“Bilbo Baggins! I never thought I’d see the day you would be rude to a host! What would your father think?”
Great. The second time today he was being lectured about manners. He wasn’t a fauntling for Yavanna’s sake!
But this lecturer seemed somehow familiar. Long grey robes. Equally long grey beard. Lopsided conical hat. Oh goodness, it was-
“Gandalf!” Bilbo cried, rushing to shake the old man’s hand. The latter seemed bemused.
“I am shocked that you remember me, you were only a small faunt when we last met.” Gandalf held a hand to his knees to really drive home how short Bilbo had once been before growing to a more respectable three feet tall (three one if he stood up straight.) In any case, Bilbo was pleased to see the wizard again, and informed him of such while trying to stop Gimli leaching any embarrassing stories about him.
Two naked Bilbo anecdotes later and after their subject had wrestled back control of the conversation from his privates to their private business, he asked Gandalf about the reason for his being summoned. The wizard produced a long pipe from some pocket or other and puffed away for a moment.
“I have heard of your talents my boy, it seems you have more Took in you than I expected.”
“I have no amazing talents, Gandalf, just-” Bilbo glanced at Gimli, who was busy inspecting a biology book for the nudey pages, “very lucky with the company I keep.” Gandalf looked at him strangely, inadvertently forming pipe smoke into shapes of small animals. Although he seemed to know more than he let on, he said nothing but nodded sagely. Blasted cryptic wizards and their cypticness? Crypnicity?
Anyhow, Bilbo was still confused as to why he was in Erebor, so finally- after knocking out his pipe on the head of a passing page-dwarf- he explained.
“The king under the mountain is suffering from a lack of mental clarity, and as his tutor I feel it best that medicinal tea be on hand for the upcoming trade agreements with Rohan.” Bilbo blinked.
“I had no idea you had that sort of status Gandalf!” The wizard smiled at him in a grandfatherly manner.
“And I had no idea that Belladonna Took’s son would carry something so… precious with him.” The hobbit had to use all of his willpower to stop his hand gravitating to his waistcoat pocket where his magical ring was sequestered.
“Whatever do you mean by that?” he said, plastering a smile onto his face. Gandalf looked down to refill his pipe, but Bilbo’s heart still beat hard against his ribs.
“Only that there is a lightness about you where there once was a certain… heaviness.” Okay, that was one riddle too many for Bilbo, if he wasn’t careful he would reveal his secret to the wizard and break his promise to his Balin and the other months to keep their existence from the rest of the world.
“Yes, I recently met a cousin of mine- Drogo Baggins- and his company and letters have been of great comfort to me. In any case, I’m sure you didn’t summon me to sit about chatting all day, what kind of tea were you wanting me to go-right now- and get. Right now.”
Gandalf hummed at this frankly pathetic attempt at redirection but went along with the ruse anyway. Lordy, Bilbo loved social conventions.
“Any blend of tea that soothes the mind and purifies the aura.”
“Sooo… builder’s tea then?” Bilbo tried hopefully; he had the leaves for that at home. However, Gandalf in all his wizardly wisdom decided that a herbal, fruity tea was the way to go. Right.
After bidding Gandalf farewell and dragging Gimli away from the pages that had so captured his attention, Bilbo and his guide left Erebor. Gimli was to travel with him as far as the forest and wait in order to rush the tea back to the mountain. This arrangement not only benefitted Bilbo, as he wouldn’t have to slog all the way back to Erebor, but also the young lieutenant, who had no desire to go prancing through the forest like a frilly elf. He thought that merely setting foot in the Greenwood would turn his ears pointy, his legs long and willowy, and ultimately make him a little less dwarfish than before.
So, when they reached the edge of Mirkwood (Bilbo forgoing a lesson on political correctness for the sake of saving time), Gimli sat on a convenient tree stump and waved Bilbo off, sharpening his weapons and whistling under his breath.
And Bilbo, muttering to himself about wizards and their nosy noses, walked along a suspiciously clear track to where he could find the twelve months. Only, as Gimli adamantly pointed out priggishly, no respectable dwarrow would willingly drink tea or even own a cup and saucer, let alone have a encyclopaedic knowledge of the tea blends of Arda. While Gimli expressed this in less elegant terms and with more spitting, the point was well received. Which month would be able to help him this time?
- Gillian is Gilrain, having changed her name for travel, I haven’t just got her name wrong! ;D
* Yes, that is a Harry Potter reference, I shall go and sit in the corner now.
- Sorry about not posting for ages, I was busy… procrastinating. Updates may be slow because I’ll be back home for the next couple of months, so bookmark the story if you want to be updated and not have to check all the time for a new chapter!
Chapter 7: Chapter Seven- Blended Cultures: Part 2
I listened to As You Are by Will Currie and Edge of Seventeen by Stevie Nicks for this chapter, it might help set the mood. Sorry for the delay, and thanks for staying with me this far.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Although Bilbo was more than happy to see each of his friends and ask them in turn for their aid, time was of the essence. As the refreshingly light scent of bluebells contrasted with their vivid blues, whites, and purples, the hobbit breathed in the April air. It reminded him of his mother. Belladonna was fiery and bold, but despite this, her favourite season was spring; she loved to see new life emerge, quietly at first, then with a vehemence that had the earth bursting with colours and scents.
The ground was still cold and somewhat crunchy underfoot by the time he’d reached the round lake, but the ice had melted almost entirely, leaving small pieces to float like the chipped ice that his father had enjoyed in his late-night tipple of whiskey. The obsidian walkway was still cold underfoot as Bilbo cautiously made his way across to the fire pit, tapping each boulder before stepping on them for fear of being plunged into the dark waters again. Bilbo was no fool; he knew that calm water could still hold dangerously fast currents underneath.
There was even less snow around the pit than last month, so the charcoal from the smouldering fire dirtied his bare feet terribly. During hard times he used charcoal from the fire occasionally mixed with a good amount of honey to brush his teeth with, which, although it did the job, tasted foul. He wouldn’t want to use the leftovers from this fire though. It glowed a fresh green that gave the whole area a rather noxious appearance even though Bilbo found it a perfectly jolly colour normally. Deciding to ignore the unnervingly viridescent flames for now, Bilbo removed the ring from his pocket.
“Roll along, roll along ri-”
“MR BOGGINS!” The yell made several nesting birds in the trees nearby take flight in alarm. Would that Bilbo had been that way evolved. As it was, the hobbit was picked up bodily by a great big puppy of a dwarf and cuddled close. In the back of his mind, Bilbo thought that the taste of beard oil was not wholly unpleasant, but he spluttered in disagreement even so.
“Kíli! Pfft! Get off me!”
The young dwarf relinquished his chokehold to grin impishly at his friend.
“Do you like my forest, Bilbo?” he asked breathlessly, fiddling with the string of his bow. Bilbo brushed himself down. He thought about the bluebells and reawakened beauty of the area.
“Yes, Kíli, it’s quite lovely.” The dwarf looked as though he would burst with pleasure and was only prevented from giving another bone-crushing squeeze by a quick jab to the ribs by a forefinger of the hobbitish variety. Kíli wheezed and chuckled as one would at a kitten swatting at a petting hand.
“That’s good. I put extra effort into the bluebells this year, ‘cos I knew you’d be there to appreciate them!”
“That’s a big word, Kíli,” Bilbo teased, “and how did you I like bluebells so much?” At this Kíli paused and looked at him oddly, as though he were the silliest hobbit in all Sillytown.
“You’ve always liked them, Bilbo.” Before the hobbit could question this odd statement further, the dwarf pulled away from him to stand in the middle of the fire. “You have a problem?”
Bilbo winced inwardly. Was he really that transparent?
“I don’t want you to think that’s all I come here for; only, an old friend has asked with my help finding a good tea for his royal pratness.” Bilbo grimaced at the thought of that loathsome king and his stupidly broad shoulders. Groaning in half-feigned frustration Kíli pulled at his beard. Inwardly Bilbo thought that it was short enough without being yanked on, but that would have been unkind to say, so he went with:
“What’s wrong?” A flash of panic struck him about the knees. “Is there nobody that can help?” The dwarf halted in his self-epilation.
“N-No… there is someone.” Kíli slumped in the way that all teenagers do when faced with answering a question- head back, knees forward, and eyes rolling skyward. “He’s just always on my case about being ‘proper’ and ‘respectable’ and it’s so-” Here Bilbo didn’t catch what was said about this unknown dwarf that so vexed his friend, since he wasn’t even sure it was a word at all, merely a combination of a grunt, yodel and hacking cough.
Gingerly avoiding the flames, Bilbo patted Kíli on the forearm.
“I’m sorry to ask you to do this my friend, but - ouch! -” a spark had been spat at his bare leg “ it really would mean a lot to me. To make up for it, I’ll make you a nice rhubarb pie for the next time I see you, how does that sound?” An excited grin suddenly took up residence on the young dwarf’s face, and he obligingly removed the white stone from his pocket, almost dropping it while daydreaming about the sweet treat.
Bilbo on the other hand busied himself with combing through his no doubt messy hair with his fingers and straightening his clothes. After all, first impressions were important, especially it seemed with one as fastidious as this newcomer.
“Erm… Bilbo?” The hobbit paused in his grooming. “If you visit next month, can you tell my brother that I miss him?” Kíli asked, looking younger than Bilbo had ever seen him as he held his bow like child would their favourite blanket.
“Of course I will.” The dwarf visibly brightened, shoulders relaxing. Lime green sparks burst from under his heavy boots.
“Thank you.” No more words passed between the two, just a shared smile, as Kíli began to summon the dwarf that would be able to aid Bilbo in his mission.
The King under the Mountain lobbed the scrunched-up paper across the room as though it had personally offended him. He couldn’t get the words straight in his head, let alone written down. Surely his father hadn’t needed to write his own diplomatic missives; Thorin vaguely remembered a small army of clerks and advisors that stood constantly at Thrain’s beck and call in the Blue Mountains. But despite their victory, the battle for Erebor had cost them much, for no dwarf could bury the call to fight for their home whether high born counsellor or low born farmer. Sadly, that meant a great many of Erebor’s wisest and bravest had been lost and been buried themselves in the mountain’s vast network of catacombs, to re-join Mahal in his halls.
While he was nowhere near as bad off as Dale’s king- who still relied on his children and lowly tradesmen for aid- sometimes the sheer amount to do and remember made Thorin feel as though he were buried up to the neck in schist holding himself clear with only one toe on a foothold.
It was well into Ậfvalasirkha and he had not once left the mountain, let alone gazed upon the seven stars that gave the month its name. New life had set in outside he was sure. So why did he feel so lifeless?
Bilbo jumped as vivid green flames gave way to more traditional orange, and the dwarf that had been introduced as August on New Year’s Eve stepped out. Just as before, his braids were pristine, his clothes neat, but Bilbo couldn’t help taking a step back when he saw the large and undoubtedly sharp sword sheathed at his side. He was greeted with a respectful bow, which he hurried to return.
“Dori, son of Ri, at your service.” The voice was smart and clipped-but not snide like the gentleladies of Dale, who often looked down their noses at Bilbo when he did the shopping.
The hobbit gave his best imitation of his father: “Bilbo Baggins, at your service”, and bowed again for good measure. “Thank you for seeing me at such short notice, Master Dori.” The dwarf huffed good naturedly.
“I assure you Master Baggins, your thanks are unnecessary,” here August smiled warmly “yet appreciated. What I would give for my brother to have such kindly manners.” Bilbo smiled back awkwardly. He did not feel able to comment on Dori’s brother or his manners, having not met the fellow personally, so he kept any comment he might have made to himself. The other male didn’t seem to notice, or if he did, ignored the silence.
“Well then, I’m sure you did not come here to listen to me complain about my rapscallion of a brother, what is it that I can do for you?” And so, Bilbo told him, leaving Gandalf’s name out of it- after all, simply mentioning the wizard’s name seemed to bring calamity, perhaps saying it three times would summon him, much like the gold-spinning devil from the tale told to young faunts.
Dori did not appear surprised by the demands made at such short notice.
“Ah, royalty is like that. They do such important work that they cannot do much for themselves. It is a privilege to aid the King under the Mountain. P- Kíli was correct to send for me, I have a fine selection of teas. One is sure to pass muster. Please, follow me.”
Out of the corner of his left eye he could see bright light emanating from behind him. He turned from the amber glow of the fire to face southwest and nearly fell to his knees as he took in the glorious sight.
April certainly had its charms, but for Bilbo nothing compared to August. The closer they came the heat became more intense. Sunshine beat down upon them and the plethora of vegetation and flora that was ever so neatly growing in their allotted sections. At the centre of the stately garden, overlooking a large, lily filled pond was a small construction unlike anything Bilbo had ever seen. It had no visible means of support, hanging over the water. Half of the walls were made up of dark latticed wood, the gaps filled with sheets of glass, giving a perfect view of the many low tables and chairs inside the little house. The other half were inlaid with circular stained-glass windows depicting all manner of what Bilbo assumed to be dwarven tales.
He did not have to content himself with mere glimpses of the interior, as Dori held open the dark mahogany door for him so that he may enter. To say that there were many teapots would have been an understatement bordering on fallacy. Teapots of every size, shape and colour imaginable littered the place, most on shelves, accompanied by at least two sets of cup and saucer each. There must have been hundreds, all gleaming and spotless through careful use and maintenance.
Dori bade Bilbo to sit at the only table not totally overflowing with tea-related paraphernalia, taking an off-white apron off a peg and tying it around his waist with the practiced skill of one who has had no second pair of hands to tie the bow for a long time. Bilbo had truly never seen this type of café before. Usually he bought tea from a market stall in Dale or made his own from the dried flowers in his garden.
Towards the back of the room was a counter running along the entire wall. On shelves at the front were at least a hundred glass jars stoppered with wide corks filled with what Bilbo could only assume was tea. He couldn’t help but jump down from the stool he had been perched on and explore the jars. Every single one was different and numbered. Then he realised that behind the counter on the rows of shelves were all different kinds of packages and larger jars. Each one had a number on it too.
Dori had filled a bucket and poured an awful lot of water into a vast drum set into a brick alcove. He shovelled a few coals underneath it, threw in a few pieces of kindling, and used a pair of fire stones to set it all alight. Soon enough the place was filled with warmth emanating from the drum- which Bilbo realised was in fact a massive kettle- and the water began to bubble. Dori clamped the lid on tight to speed up the process.
“This is only to heat the water to a certain point so that one doesn’t have to wait an age for each pot.” He explained. “I always use freshly boiled water, it makes all the difference, don’t you think?” But Bilbo was too engrossed in reading the labels on the jars to reply. He jumped as Dori laid a hand on his shoulder, startling him out of his stupor.
“What? I mean, I beg your pardon?” The hobbit blushed when the dwarf chuckled.
“Why don’t you choose the tea you want, and I shall brew it for you to test before you give it to his royal majesty?” Furrows appeared in Bilbo’s brows. Blasted king. I bet he expects everybody to go to this level of trouble for him. Probably has a taste tester for his own reflection.
“To be honest Dori, I wouldn’t know where to start.” Cracking his knuckles in a most gentlemanly manner, the dwarf paused for thought, glaring discerningly at the little glass jars. Bilbo was surprised they didn’t crack under the pressure.
“Well, I believe you mentioned something about relaxants? That would be numbers 81 to 123. And fruit based with purificatory qualities…” Dori removed a random assortment of jars and set them on the counter. Contestants number 89, 97, 106, 114, and 123 awaited judgement. He then began a vicious culling until only five were left. “These would best suit a dwarven palate I think.”
Dori popped open the first one and held it out to Bilbo to smell. It was slightly sweet yet held an aniseed note that had the hobbit wrinkling his nose. Interpreting his expression, Dori whisked the offending blend away and proffered the next. Bilbo liked the second. It held an unmistakable aroma of raspberry and cherry, and something else entirely- mallow and safflower blossoms, Dori supplied- and it was put aside for testing.
However, the third and fourth were rejected almost immediately. One was overwhelmingly sweet smelling, a mixture of lychee and strawberry, while the other just smelt like mown grass that had been left to rot for three weeks in a damp shed. Needless to say, neither were at all suited to the refined palate of the king under the mountain. Or the hobbit in the hill for that matter.
The last one was deep and musky, almost smoky. While all of Bilbo’s natural inclinations were towards more fruity tea, this one captivated him. After the initial shock to the senses, the scent mellowed out slightly.
Dori made up two pots of tea, one made with the second fruity tea, and another with the fifth, more robust tea. Four sets of cup and saucer were set on the cleared table, two traditional with a pretty rose pattern, the other two a plain steel blue and lacking a handle entirely.
After a few minutes the first tea, number 97, was ready. The other, number 123, was left to steep a while longer. Bilbo lifted the cup to his lips, inhaling the sweet aroma. Mallow flavour exploded on his tongue, threatening to overwhelm before the freshness of the berries held it back. Bilbo for one, quite enjoyed it, but from Dori’s expression it would not pass muster for a dwarf’s palate. The spirit of August held the cup in his lap as one would a tiny bird.
“This tea reminds me of my youngest brother;” he said quietly. Bilbo recalled the young dwarf with the wretched haircut. “Marshmallows were his favourite treat. He has quite the sweet tooth. I was forever finding bags of sweeties in his pockets when he was small. Of course, not so much now.” Before Dori could become too melancholy Bilbo brought their attention back to the perfectly brewed second tea.
Copying the dwarf’s hand positions (one supporting the underside, one in front for extra balance) Bilbo slurped a little of the hot beverage. This one seemed almost bitter following the first tea, practically aggressive, totally filling Bilbo’s mouth with a perfumed flavour not unlike Kíli’s hair oil. He grimaced, while Dori peered thoughtfully into the cup.
“Perhaps it has aged badly?” The dwarf speculated. “I do my best to look after them, but some teas just don’t take well to the same treatment as others.” Again, he seemed sad, and Bilbo had the feeling he was not talking solely about the dark brown liquid. It was such a shame; he liked them so much when he had smelt them earlier. Dori sighed.
“I’m sorry Bilbo, I’m sure we can find something that is up to the task.” He began clearing away the cups, pouring the leftover tea from each cup into a single pot. Just as he was about to pour it away the hobbit stood suddenly, as though on a spring.
“Wait a moment Dori!” Bilbo exclaimed “May I try something?” The pot was released into his custody and he fetched two teacups with light blue polka dots, then carefully filled them halfway with the mixed brew. Dori did not look convinced by his methods, but for the sake of politeness took a hesitant sip. Bilbo did the same.
Well. Goodness. Instead of being overpowering, this time the mallow soothed the rough musky quality of the second tea, and once the smoky taste had abated, suddenly there was a burst of honey that built until smoothed down by the lingering aftertaste of cooked berries.
Both males seemed overjoyed with this strange new concoction. Big grins appeared on their faces as their eyes met over the table.
“I say, that’s not half bad!” Bilbo beamed. Dori hummed appreciatively in agreement, drained his cup. The hobbit followed suit. A silent agreement was reached, both cups were filled again and drained, the process repeating several times until the pot was finished.
They sat back, quite satisfied. However, Bilbo had forgotten that he was sitting on a stool and would have fallen off the back in quite a spectacular fashion had Dori not reacted with the reflexes of a cat, gripping his wrist tight and settling the hobbit safely back.
“Woops-a-daisy!” giggled Bilbo, “Thank you kindly good dwarf. You are a true paragon of friendship!” Dori’s guffaw could have travelled all the way to the Iron Hills.
“Perhaps we should retire to the sitting room. I would not care to mop up spilled hobbit.” They walked, still chortling away like school boys into the small yet cosy backroom that sported a little bed, three armchairs, and a private kettle.
Once Bilbo had been seated, Dori hurried back into the other room to brew another pot of the god’s finest ambrosia. Bilbo took the opportunity to look around. There was a box of napkins in the corner, a waist height chest, (curiously enough no wardrobe) and not much else. Dori returned with the jars and set about brewing a fresh pot. While waiting for the water to boil, he busied himself mixing a pouch of the two teas.
He presented it almost ceremonially to Bilbo, who- lacking large enough pockets- posited it on his lap for safe keeping. Dori noticed this, and Bilbo’s lack of respectable outerwear.
“Do you know, I have something that may suit you.” He got up and began rummaging through the chest. Bilbo sat back and listened to the water in the kettle bubble.
“Aha!” A triumphant cry. “I knew I still had it.” Dori reappeared from his adventures in trunk-land with a cloak the colour of a fawn’s flank. The hood was almost hanging off, and the hems needed stitching properly, but other than that it looked to be rather well made. Bilbo expressed the latter sentiment, causing the dwarf to blush underneath his neatly braided beard.
“It’s nothing really, just a little something I’d been making for somebody.”
“You made this?” Bilbo exclaimed, impressed. Dori smiled, embarrassed.
“Yes. Before… all this I was a tailor. My first love has always been tea but dwarrow aren’t exactly lining up for a cup of apple sencha before heading off down the mines. So I took an apprenticeship with the tailor’s guild and followed that path.” Shaking himself, Dori held up the cloak. “Now, stand up, and I’ll measure you for it.” Bilbo reluctantly stood and was man- or rather, dwarf handled into an appropriate position.
“I’d hate for you to go to all this trouble-”
“Don’t be silly, I’d already started it.” The dwarf’s eyes seemed to mist slightly, although it could have simply been vapour from the hot water. “The person it was for has probably outgrown it by now.”
Once they were sat down again Dori began to sew. They chatted about this and that, swapping tips for stain removal and the benefits of turmeric powder. Soon, Dori had all but finished the cloak, and the pot of tea had been poured dry.
Summoning a measure of courage, Bilbo put down his teacup, licked his lips, and made to ask the question that had been burning in his mind all afternoon.
“You were a tailor, right? So… how did you become like this? I mean, how did you gain such power over the year in such a way?” Dori snipped at an errant threat as though it had personally insulted his mother.
“It wasn’t easy.” The dwarf was silent for a minute or two. “We all decided… There was no hope… We had no idea just what the cost would be…” At the increasingly melancholic tone, Bilbo started.
“No, please, you don’t have to- forget I mentioned it.” Dori smiled weakly.
“Such a good boy.” Although he spoke at Bilbo, his gaze rested somewhere beyond the tea house and even the dark woods. The dwarf sniffled, collecting himself after a moment then gathering the fabric up into his arms and holding it out. “Come now, try it on. Let’s see if I need to make any adjustments.”
Bilbo obliged him, slipping the cloak over his shoulders. It came halfway down his calves, the soft fur lining tickling him slightly. Just as he had snuggled into the plush hood, he suddenly remembered that Gimli had no doubt been waiting at least a couple of hours at the edge of the Greenwood.
“Oh!” Bilbo cried, bundling his things together, “I’m afraid I cannot stay any longer Ma- Dori; it is getting awfully late and there is somebody waiting for me. I apologise for leaving so abruptly-” The tailor held up a needle callused hand.
“Please, think nothing of it, Bilbo. This time has been wonderful to be sure, but all things must end.” They quickly walked back to the fire, where Dori performed a last-minute tidy. He patted at Bilbo’s pockets. “Do you have everything? Tea, cloak, head, legs?” Bilbo chuckled at the grand-mothering.
“Yes, thank you so much Dori. I’ll be back soon.” They parted ways with a shallow bow reserved for good friends. Unknown to the hobbit, the fire retained its orange glow a good while after he had exited the clearing.
The darkening sky was shot through with peach and lavender shades as Bilbo took the path back to his awaiting guide/guard. It was cold, as April is wont to be, but Bilbo found that he was perfectly warm. Perhaps the cloak was not the only reason.
Actually… It was probably the several gallons of hot tea currently sloshing about inside his little hobbit bladder. I’m sure Gimli can wait a couple minutes more, he though, quickly nipping behind a tree. In his cloak pocket the blend of ingredients named 97 and 123 sat quietly together, their flavours and scents intermingling and combining to create something entirely new, and not a little unexpected.
I get the sense that Dori is the dwarven equivalent of a member of the middle class that is aspiring to be high class. He reminds me of Mrs Bennett’s character from Lost in Austen. There will be a third part to this month coming as soon as I can write it.
If you’re interested, I based my description of the tea shop on the Hebden Tea shops in York. You know you’re an adult when gingerbread flavoured rooibos is the highlight of your day. Damn, now I want a cup… (Ten minutes later: I have tea. It is delicious.)
Chapter 8: Chapter Eight- Blended Cultures: Part 3
Extra brownie points to anyone who spots the Last Unicorn and Casablanca references ;P
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
“I don’t get how you wear nothing on yer feet like that.” Gimli grimaced, watching Bilbo’s bootless feet jump from rock to rock to avoid the worst of the puddles.
“I have thick soles;” the hobbit explained “I can walk on most things, but I cannot stand getting my feet muddy. When it dries my foot hair itches something terrible.”
Erebor was almost within reach now. Bilbo took in the darkening sky. “You must remind me to bring a torch for when I go home.” Gimli looked at the ground for the moment, with an expression that in a certain light could be described as thoughtful.
“You could always stay with Amad and me for the night. That way you could go home in the morning when it’s light.” Years of politeness training kicked in.
“No no no, that’s not necessary-!”
“It wouldn’t be any trouble, and Amad wants to meet you anyway.”
“But still, I couldn’t possibly impose-”
“Wouldn’t be imposing.”
“Even so-” (The back and forth went on in this fashion for quite some time, and would take far too long to detail here, so let it simply be said that by the time the side door in the mountain was opened, Bilbo found himself accepting the dwarf’s gracious invitation.)
A rather harried looking dwarf met them at the end of a maze of passageways and antechambers. He (or she, Bilbo couldn’t really tell) wordlessly took the basket from him and passed it off to a passing dwarf dressed in green robes, barking instructions in the dwarvish language. Bilbo enquired as to Gandalf’s whereabouts and got a curt
“How should I know. He left earlier. Didn’t leave any messages. VOLUSPA! WHERES THAT-” At this point Bilbo stopped listening. He trudged back to his guide, hoping that his face didn’t betray his emotions too much.
Gimli noticed Bilbo’s dark expression straight away.
“That dratted wizard’s gone and left already! He could at least of had the decency to actually wait for the thing he asked me to get before doing his little disappearing act!”
The dwarf patted him on the back sympathetically and took him through a side door that led to a set of steps.
“Never mind that, come with me to the kitchen and Amad will make you something that’ll make you want to slap your mother silly!”
Bilbo disregarded this statement for the sheer humour in it, and they continued their way upstairs. It didn’t take long for them to reach the kitchen, presumably due to their location to the royal dining rooms- after all, royalty did not like to be served cold food.
Despite the evening meal having been served, Erebor’s kitchen was a hive of activity. Savoury broths bubbled on open stoves, dough was pounded into submission on granite worktops, and a curiously large number of meals were being ladled into metal containers.
Gimli explained, “’S for the workers on the night shift. They get a free dinner delivered at around two. Keeps em goin til six.”
Bilbo marvelled at such an idea and shuddered to think of working through the night like that. His entire meal schedule would be in total chaos. Gimli led him further through the kitchens, stopping every so often to introduce him to a friend or co-worker. Finally, they reached a smaller kitchen, that, once the door was closed, was almost eerily quiet compared to the main kitchens. A smaller, more domestic pan was on the stove, lid tinkling as the liquid inside simmered. The rich, savoury smell emanating from it made his mouth water. So distracted he was that the dwarf that enterer through a hidden door almost went unnoticed until Gimli quite abruptly tried to bash their head in with his own.
“Vemu, amad.” Gimli greeted the dwarf, whom Bilbo now realised was the guard’s mother, and therefore a lady. He bowed respectfully- as he was taught to do when addressing a lady- and introduced himself.
“Bilbo Baggins, at your service Madam.”
The dwarf lady regarded him for a moment, lifting an arm to thump her son lovingly on the back, then she said, “I am Masthusla, daughter of Evraal. At your service.” Before the atmosphere could get any more awkward there was an outraged hiss from the pot on the stove as it boiled over and onto the flames below. Masthusla rushed to rescue it and it was at this point that Bilbo really looked at this new person.
Masthusla had the darkest skin of any dwarf he had ever met (though to be fair that was less than twenty) and while her hair was nowhere near the same peppery red as her son’s, it was a deep, blood red, the colour of toasted chili flakes. For a woman with a beard Bilbo supposed she was pleasant enough to look at.
“Will you stay for dinner Master Baggins?”
“Yes please. And please call me Bilbo.”
Bilbo wondered about dwarven beauty ideals. From Gloin’s adoring gushes a few months prior he made her sound like the most stunning creature in all of Arda.
However, it was when Bilbo took his first bite that he understood Gloin’s deep affection. Had Masthusla not been married already-among other reasons- he would have proposed on the spot. The mutton practically melted in the mouth, and the suet dumplings were soft yet chewy, flavoured with rosemary and pepper, and perfectly balanced with the unctuous vegetable stew. Sweet Yavanna, what a woman!
When the meal was done, all parties being too ravenous to make conversation, and the dishes washed and dried, they retired to a most comfortable sitting room with some warm spiced ale.
Masthusla sipped her beverage in a genteel fashion while Gimli swigged his own, wiping his mouth on his sleeve that had Bilbo shuddering at the prospect of the laundry to come.
It turned out that the reason she looked so different from other dwarves was that Masthusla' s mother had been lady-in-waiting to the late Queen mother when she had travelled up from the south to marry King Thrain. By all accounts the Queen mother had been a true beauty, with long golden hair both admired and envied by all who beheld it. Masthusla, having grown up with the royal children and married to a high-ranking financial advisor, was able to pursue her dream of becoming head cook after the disappearance of the previous one under mysterious circumstances.
Bilbo found her to be a most fascinating lady, and by the way Gimli stared at her as though she held the very moon in her hands, her appeal was universal. But it soon grew late, and despite assurances of hospitality, Bilbo knew that he had to go home to his aunt, if only to be sure she was alright.
So, it was with a heavy heart and full stomach that Bilbo left the comfort of the kitchens for the vastness of Erebor.
Why the hell hadn’t he taken Gimli’s offer to at least walk him out of the mountain? Surely the stairs should be here somewhere? There was a long set earlier, but instead of leading into the antechamber before the throne room, instead it went to a set of balconies that Bilbo peered over queasily. While Bilbo could appreciate the view, he definitely couldn’t get down this way. Not unless a passing eagle could be press ganged into flying him down.
He chuckled at the image, not noticing the figure in the doorway until he was pressed against a hard chest. (Seriously, like dipped-in-cement hard. And Bilbo was sure that a body had no business smelling that good.)
“Oh. It’s you.” A rough voice rumbled, contempt ringing loud and clear. “What are you doing up here, halfling?” Bilbo now knew knew exactly who this person was. If he were blind, he would know him.
Great. Of all the balconies in all of Erebor, he just had to walk into mine. Bilbo stared up at King Thorin the second with as much venom as he could muster in his tiny body.
“I’m afraid Master Gandalf would insist.”
Hi there, I hope everyone had a lovely winter holiday (or if you're Australian, happy summer) Sorry it's been so long, I'm in my last year of Uni so not a lot of free time to write fiction (I wish there was a degree in fanfiction we could take) Anyway, hope you enjoyed this instalment, with any luck I can post more now :)