“Tell me about her.”
Bilbo chuckled at Frodo’s demand, ruffling the boy’s hair. “You already know her. That’s Miss Lily Belle. She gives you cookies because you’re a greedy boy. Come now, Frodo. You’ve known her for years.”
“But I want a story about Miss Lily Belle,” Frodo insisted, casting puppy dog eyes at Bilbo. He sighed. He’d never been able to resist those big eyes. But-
“I don’t know any stories about her.”
“Make one up then.”
“Well, I’ve got a better idea,” Bilbo said, lifting Frodo from the bench. He gently patted the boy’s back. “Why don’t you go ask her for a story?”
“But I want a story from you,” Frodo pleaded. He was pouting now. Bilbo sighed again, lifting Frodo back up onto his lap. He began to spin a tale about how Miss Lily Belle was the daughter of a rich merchant far to the south and how she had run away with a travelling caravan because she was in love with one of the boys who tended the horses, settling here because she was away from the clutches of her wicked father.
He knew the truth: Miss Lily Belle was actually the daughter of Barliman, the innkeeper at the Prancing Pony. She sold cookies during Market Day in Bree because she loved to bake and figured she could fetch a better price in the open market than in her father’s tavern. But Frodo liked hearing the fanciful tales and Bilbo knew that Miss Lily Belle didn’t mind him coming up with stories about her life. She’d told him many times that she enjoyed hearing about them whenever Frodo would, inevitably, share them with her.
It was a game that he and Frodo always played when they came to Bree. Once they had completed their business, they would sit on one of the benches lining the main road and Bilbo would tell Frodo stories about the people that passed by. They were often fantastical tales that Bilbo came up with on the spot though he would sometimes give Frodo the true story if the truth was stranger than the story.
While they often traveled to Bree just to attend the Market Days, today they were in Bree on a special mission. They were there to pick up a birthday present for one of Frodo’s little friends, Merry Brandybuck. Frodo had managed to get Bilbo to agree to a few stories though they had to leave soon if they wanted to make it to Merry’s party in a week. Their full plan was to stay in Brandy Hall another few weeks following the party to let Frodo see his cousins, as he was so rarely able to.
Bilbo finished up his tale and sent Frodo off to go beg cookies from Miss Lily Belle. He smiled fondly as he watched the boy run off.
“You’re very good with him,” a gruff voice said from nearby.
Bilbo turned to see a dwarf tying up his pony at one of the stalls. He smiled politely, standing to greet him. “Thank you,” he replied. The dwarf moved closer, surprisingly light on his feet for a dwarf. From this distance, he could see the familiar crest of Durin’s line on the dwarf’s surcoat. “You must come from Erebor,” he commented, gesturing at the crest before he could think.
He didn’t often admit to his knowledge of the Lonely Mountain, preferring the anonymity of a nameless hobbit. Ever since Balin had visited him, he’d known that the name Bilbo Baggins was not met with derision among the dwarves, rather admiration of someone who’d stand up to a dragon, but he didn’t like to claim that fame. That fame belonged to a different Bilbo Baggins, one who had held the heart of a king.
The dwarf seemed pleased if a little surprised. “Oh you know of Erebor?” he asked.
Bilbo inclined his head. “A little. More since King Thorin took the throne. You pick up on things during the Market Days here.” Well, it may not have been the full truth but it wasn’t a full lie either.
Shrugging, the dwarf accepted his answer. “You’re half-right at least. I do come from Erebor though I won’t be returning. I’m going home to the Blue Mountains.”
Bilbo wrinkled his nose. “That seems unusual. Most dwarves I’ve met are trying to make their homes in the Lonely Mountain, not away from it.”
“Erebor is wondrous but I missed the simplicity of the Blue Mountains. There’s a lot of politics in Erebor, lad.”
Snorting softly, Bilbo nodded. He knew a little of politics as the head of his family line. He could only imagine how much worse it must have been for Thorin’s court. “You must have been close to the king to know so much about the politics.”
The dwarf chuckled. “You could say that,” he admitted. “I was meant to be- an advisor, of sorts. But the king wanted someone different in my place.”
Bilbo laughed along. He knew how stubborn Thorin could be. He thought Thorin must have made this dwarf’s life miserable if he was taking the place of someone Thorin wanted around instead.
The dwarf shook himself suddenly. “Where are my manners? My ma would have my head if she knew what I was doing.” He bowed slightly. “Marin, at your service.”
Bilbo returned the bow. “Bilbo Baggins at yours.”
He steeled himself for the shocked admiration, only rolling his eyes a little when Marin’s jaw dropped. “Mahal,” he breathed, an odd gleam in his eyes. “You’re the burglar.”
Nodding, Bilbo gave a sheepish shrug. “I am. Sorry I didn’t say anything.”
Marin waved him off. “I completely understand. You pulled off a remarkable feat, to taunt a dragon and walk away with his treasure. Any dwarf would be pleased to meet you, perhaps a little overpleased. I’d want a bit of peace and anonymity myself.”
Never before had Bilbo met anyone who grasped it quite as quickly as Marin had. “Yes,” he said pleased, “that’s- that’s it exactly.”
“The legends didn’t say you had a son,” Marin said, glancing over at Frodo.
Bilbo laughed. “Oh, Frodo? No, he’s not my son though he’s as good as. Frodo’s my nephew. I’ve been looking after him since his parents died.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Marin said, sounding truly sorrowful. Bilbo only shrugged.
“It was a long time ago and I can’t say that I’m not grateful it brought Frodo to me. Leaving Erebor was, well, difficult for me.”
Marin hummed noncommittally. He looked like he wanted to reply to that but Frodo was running back toward them, each fist clutching a cookie. “That woman spoils him, she does,” Bilbo muttered. “I’m terribly sorry, Marin, but Frodo and I have to take our leave. We have places to be. It was good to meet you.”
“And you,” Marin replied with another small bow. “Truly, it was an honor.”
Bilbo smiled. Somehow, coming from Marin, it didn’t feel like gushing adoration. “I’m sorry it didn’t work out with you and Thorin,” he added as he began to walk away.
“I don’t know about that,” Marin protested, a private grin on his face like he knew something Bilbo didn’t. “I think it worked out exactly the way it was supposed to. I think the king will be very pleased with his decision.”