It was very good to be home, Bilbo thought, even on that first night when he hadn’t gotten quite all of his furniture back yet. His bed was still there, and at the moment, that was the important thing. He fell into it, and it was so soft compared to the bedroll he’d been making do with for so long now that he didn’t even mind the slightly musty smell.
He had confused dreams that night, about dragon fire and snow falling to cover a field filled with dark shapes he didn’t think he wanted to take too good a look at.
But that was all behind him now, he reminded himself, when he woke up to the gentle fall of light through the window and not to the cheerful call of a dwarf or the grumpy mutterings of a wizard whose blanket was not nearly long enough. It was very good to be home, he thought, and he was even more sure of it this time. The Shire might not be as grand as some of those other places he’d seen, no, but it was warm and safe and his in a way those other places hadn’t been. There were a hundred small comforts he hadn’t even thought to miss, and they were all back now - fresh baked bread and sweet preserves, cool cream and fresh fruit, tea and just the perfect amount of honey -
Hmm. Perhaps he should make breakfast before attempting to list the rest of the Shire’s virtues.
Yes, it was good to be home, he thought to himself as he padded to the kitchen to see what he could scare up. Very good, he thought, once he’d found the tea.
Although it would be even better when he found out where all his silverware had gotten off to.
That thought persisted throughout his long pursuit of his missing furniture and chairs. He had his books and his chair once more, and all was right in his world.
. . . Except perhaps in his silverware drawer, for he could have sworn he’d had more spoons than that, but never mind that now.
No, all was well. Bag End had never been cleaner, his pantry was stuffed with freshly baked treats, he’d written an entirely new song just this morning -
Actually, technically it was still morning.
Bilbo looked around and realized that maybe, just maybe, he was the tiniest bit bored.
It just needed time to settle, he was sure. He still had all of his books and maps, and surely now he could read them with new eyes now that he had actually seen some of what they talked about.
Just a little more time. That was all.
It was just - quiet, yes, that was it. He had guests, of course, even if they did have a tendency to treat him as if he had gone a bit odd, and he did his share of visiting, but it wasn’t quite a quest, now was it? They’d all stuck together then, they’d had to, and there’d been barely a quiet moment. There’d been singing and stories - and grumbling too, of course, though somehow it seemed less than sporting to think of that now. For all the grumbling moments, there had been happy ones too. Why, he remembered one song in particular that Fili and Kili had -
He stopped his pacing and sagged a bit at the thought. They had been older than him, of course, strange as it was to think, but still. They had been far too young to lose.
But the quest hadn’t been all loss, he reminded himself firmly, and he absently rubbed at the ring in his dressing robe pocket. No, a dragon was dead and a mountain reclaimed, and perhaps it wasn’t so surprising after all of that that his feet felt a little urge to wander still.
And, well, why not, really? Why not do just a bit more wandering? Not nearly as far this time, but just a nice little stroll . . . A small taste of adventure so he could wean himself off . . .
He’d been trying to go west. He’d never seen the ocean before, and it had seemed a good enough reason to pick a direction and head there. If the journey proved too much, he could always turn around.
Which had all seemed good enough in theory, but somehow, despite all his care, he’d ended up going south instead. Not even southwest, which might do well enough, but southeast, and while he supposed he would still run into the ocean eventually that way, he had no intention of making another trek across the continent.
Sighing, he corrected course. It would be fine, he told himself determinedly, and to cheer himself up, he began to sing.
When the song ended, he noticed that he had once again drifted more than a little to the south.
He might have a small bit of a problem.
It was like Mirkwood all over again, he realized, even though this time there had been no path to lose. There was still food at least and water enough but -
But he was starting to have the terrible feeling that between his feet’s inclination to head south and his attempts to get back on course that he was ending up going in futile circles.
And at that thought, he couldn’t quite stop himself from just plopping down and glaring at his traitorous feet. At least while he was sitting down, they couldn’t get up to too much trouble.
He needed help, he realized rather hopelessly, but where could he possibly get it? He was just a silly little hobbit, lost in the wilds all on his own with nothing but his pack and his ring.
The wind shifted and started coming from the west.
With it, came the clattering sound of wheels and ponies.
“Ahoy there!” a cheerful voice called.
Bilbo looked up incredulously to see three wagons being pulled by ponies.
And Bofur was driving the very first one.
“Bofur!” he called, getting up immediately, incredulous joy spilling through him. “What are you doing out here?”
“Helping this lot over to Erebor, of course,” he said, pulling the ponies to a stop as he drew closer. “People have been coming in fits and starts, so I came back to help some cousins and the like get there.”
Curious dwarves were poking their heads out from the wagon now, and Bofur immediately started cheerily introducing him before cutting himself off. “But what are you doing out here, Bilob? Surely you didn’t know we were coming through?”
“Not at all.” Bilbo admitted. “And apparently I’m more off course than I thought. I’ve gotten rather lost, I’m afraid. I don’t suppose I could ride with you a little ways until we’re a bit closer to the Shire?”
“I’ll take you all the way there,” Bofur offered. “It’s not that far out of our way, and it’s only fair besides. You got us to our home; we’ll see you back to yours.”
Bilbo expected at least a few protests to this planned detour, but this started off an impromptu cheer.
Bofur grabbed Bilbo’s arm and helped him up onto the seat beside him. Within moments, they were off again, a song rattling the boards of the wagon.
So things didn’t turn out badly at all really, but still. Obviously, it would be best it he remained a little closer to home, Bilbo decided. It was one thing to go trekking far and wide when you had companions with you, but journeying alone had proven that his sense of direction was not nearly as good as he had thought it was.
But surely it would be alright if he stuck a little closer to the Shire?
The first time he caught himself drifting a little too far to the South, he promptly turned himself around and marched right back to Bag End.
There was a tight knot of fear in his chest, but he pushed it down as ridiculous. He had gotten distracted, that was all. This was nothing like Mirkwood, no matter what he might have thought last time. He just needed a touch of tea, that was all.
He rubbed absently at the ring in his pocket and hurried to make up a nice pot of his best tea.
Yes, a bit of tea, a bit of cake, and all would be well.
His feet started itching again a few weeks later, but this time he held firm. He’d had his adventure, and one adventure was more than enough for any hobbit. If he was meant to have more, he was sure Gandalf would show up to shove him out the door again. Until then, it seemed he was cursed to get horrifically lost if he tried, so it was better just to stay in the Shire where he could follow the carefully trimmed roads and be sure of not drifting too far in any direction.
The wanderlust grew, but he built up a protective wall of little comforts and dug his heels in behind it. Adventures were uncomfortable things, and he was getting on in years now, even if he didn’t look it. He deserved his little comforts.
His books weren’t quite the comfort they used to be, though. All the descriptions seemed a bit stale. He could do better than some of them, surely.
And - Well, why not? He had been on an adventure, hadn’t he? He had seen things worth talking about, yes?
And he had friends worth remembering too. If he couldn’t seem to manage to go visit them again, he could at least manage to write the whole thing down.
Then there was Frodo, and adventuring while he was still a lad was utterly out of the question. Maybe once he was older . . . but Frodo loved the Shire, and he could hardly ask him to leave it just to go get lost for the sake of a silly old hobbit.
He told Frodo to be careful lest the road come and sweep him off to who knows where. He never did tell Frodo exactly what he meant by that.
The wanderlust grew and grew until at last he gave up and made plans to try it one last time. He wouldn’t go alone even if he couldn’t take Frodo; he had learned his lesson there. Bombur’s son and his friends were returning home from their own journeys. He would go with them.
One last journey. One last road.
And, at Gandalf’s insistence, this one he would take without his ring.
The journey took more out of him than he had thought it would. Aches and pains settled deep into his bones, and for the first time, he truly felt his age.
Still, he counted this journey as a definite success.
Rivendell was only a day’s walk away now, and never once had his feet drifted south.
He had planned to go further than the Last Homely House, but his old bones had flatly refused to go a step further, and Elrond had seemed so concerned at the thought that it had not taken much to convince him to stay. There were so many garden paths to wander here, and so many books that could take him further still. And the singing, of course - at night, as he sat in the Hall of Fire, the elvish music carried him away until he could swear he saw things farther away than his feet could ever have dreamed of taking him.
It was all very nice, and then Frodo was there, which was even nicer, even if Bilbo was very concerned about the wound the poor boy had gotten.
And then there was the business about his old ring.
When Frodo had gone, Bilbo settled down with the map he had found and carefully traced a path to the south.
Mordor, the map read, and the very name made him shiver.
At least, he thought, remembering his old days of wandering farther south than he should have, at least poor Frodo wouldn’t have to worry too much about getting lost.
(There’s one more journey after all, as it turns out. West, not south, and he finally gets to see the sea. And not just to see it - to go farther than any hobbit has before.
It will be, he thinks, a very great adventure.)