When Bifur woke up, he knew it would be a good day. The air smelt blue, maybe even sapphire-blue. The birds were having loud conversations, boasting about the worms they had eaten. The sun smiled from the sky and the little laughing water sang its song. Blue days were rare and sapphire-blue days like this one were even rarer. Perhaps something special would happen. Bifur smiled.
He crawled out of his bed roll, started the fire and went to the laughing water to fill the kettle for root coffee. He hummed as he began making breakfast. Some anvil oats for all of them and the yellow Shire flowers for him. Bifur decided that since today was such a blue day, making bacon for Bofur and Bombur as well would not be much of a problem.
Bacon sizzling in the pan and anvil oats boiling in the pot, Bifur sat down to work on his next toy. The fair would be that day, but it would not be the only one. There was always demand for more of their toys, especially in the Shire.
Cogwheels, pivot. Death. The pully-thing, the winch. Pain and screams, so many screams. Attach it all to the frame, make sure it is well fastened. Burning flesh winding its way into his nose. Give it a turn. The legs move.
“Not another white day today, ey?” Bofur asked smiling. He took the pan of sizzling bacon off the fire.
“Why do you call them white days? Why not black days? That’s what other people would call them.”
The blank canvas of their wagon, memorised in countless hours. The white rush of a waterfall, clogging his ears, muffling the world outside. Cobwebs with pieces of wool catching in them, denser and denser. No way to blow them away, push them inside. The taste of ashes on his tongue, choking him, suffocating him, making him gag. The fog creeping up, filled with orcs and worse, thoughts.
“They taste white.”
Bifur smiled back at him. “Khagalalnâs’aban.”
“I hope you’re right about that. Breakfast smells delicious, by the way.”
Bombur joined them, sleep still drifting from his ears. He sat on the big stone, eating his porridge from a big bowl, sweetening it with bee milk. A fly flew past just as Bombur took a sip from his mug of root coffee. Bombur spilled a few drops onto the stone as he chased the fly away.
A wolf, as white as the snow on the ground. A rain of arrows and blood on the stone. Triumphant shouts of hobbits, lean as winter, with bows no sturdier than twigs. The stench of fear.
“Well, I’m sure the sales will be good today,” Bofur said. “This kind of weather will have the hobbits flocking to the summer fair. Of course it’s a shame we don’t also sell drinks. I’m sure all the drink vendors will make a fortune, as hot as it already is this early in the morning.”
“Okay,” Bofur agreed. “We’ll put the rain toys out in time for the afternoon thunderstorm. But all the summer things should be at the front of the stall this morning.”
When they had finished breakfast, the three of them began setting up the stall. Summer toys at the front of the center, tree bone animals and infant toys to the left and Bifur’s moving creations to the right. All the other toys stayed in their crates until they were needed. Bifur put down the last little cart with wind-up horses and smiled.
Carts faster than Bifur could imagine, the horses missing. The smell of millions of tiny, ancient animals burning to ashes.
Bofur must have seen his frown. “What is it?”
/One of the impossible things,/ Bifur signed. /I saw the strange iron carts without the horses again./
Bofur frowned as well. /Are you still trying to figure them out?/
/Sometimes. They puzzle me when I see them and I want to know how they work. I thought they might run on a big wind-up, but then they wouldn’t smell like tiny dead animals burning. And they are too fast for that. Maybe I should ask the elves when we next meet some./
/I’m not sure that’s a good idea. You know how elves can be about technology, and they won’t be any happier about it if it’s a dwarf that’s asking./
Bifur shrugged. /I would just like to find out how it could be done or if it is really impossible./
The first customer arrived, a hobbit lady trailing half a dozen duckling hobbits behind her.
Prefered tomatoes over chocolate, would win the prize for the largest pumpkin seven years in a row, knew the best place for hiding spinach, had nearly died at birth, liked pinching her younger brother when her mother wasn’t looking, would one day become Shirriff. And the little pea in its pod, the one that even its mother didn’t know about yet, would like the same sapphire-blue Bifur did.
Bifur smiled. Bofur had become engrossed in talking sales as the hobbitlings chose their toys. The mother paid and the hobbitlings beamed as they were given their new toys. Just as they were about to leave, Bifur handed her a bright blue crib mobile. She looked at him in confusion, but took it and thanked him.
/What was that for?/ Bofur asked when she was gone.
/For the little pea in its pod,/ Bifur replied.
Bofur frowned. /Maybe you shouldn’t do that. People think it’s creepy./
Bifur shrugged. /The little one will like it. It’s a blue day. I want others to be happy too./
/Maybe you should stick to giving things to people others also know exist, just to be on the safe side./
Bifur decided to work on a few more toys at the back of the wagon while Bofur sold things and Bombur wrapped things. People-talking was Bofur’s job and Bifur couldn’t talk to the hobbits anyway. The common words were still locked up, rattling about in their box and not finding the lid to break free.
The puzzle tree was easier than words. Seven bird pieces with their right places in the tree. If they all fit, flowers sprang from the tree. Great forests, trees as deep as seas. A spring for one of the flowers. Strange, unsettling people in the forest, hunting monsters more terrifying than orcs. Fix the spring to the bolt. And the next flower. Changing shadows, waging war on the unsettling people. Connect the spring to the bolt. The strange people scared him, but he knew they needed to win. Fasten the flowers onto the springs. Two birds touching beaks. The red and the yellow birds onto high branches, the black and the green birds onto the low branches. The blue bird onto its nest. One twist to the nest and the flowers sprang from the tree.
Bofur smiled and put the puzzle tree into one of the crates.
Crates piled high onto the wagon. The air tastes heavy, like one of the strange soups from the south. A turn of the snake road and the mountains hide behind their backs. Before them lies the water of all waters and Bifur does not think it will ever end. They stop the ponies where the water keeps its collection of tiny pebbles. Bofur is laughing and Bombur is afraid of the water. Bifur runs to greet it and it greets him with licking tongues like a dog. In a small rock lake, they find little fish and tiny pink water trees waving their branches. There are stars in the lake too, and Bifur thinks this is what Durin felt like at Kheled-zâram.
That had been a sapphire-blue day too. The sea had often returned to him in his sleep, showing him things he had not seen that day.
Bifur took a piece of wood. Find the shape. A triangular body. Fins at the top, back and the sides. Bulging eyes. Two orcs daunting a prisoner, small slashes of a sword. The jaw was the complicated bit. Take out the jaw. Hollow the body. The prisoner tries not to cry as they kick him. Put in the spring and secure it with a hatch released by a button. The prisoner is little more than a boy. Fasten the jaw to the spring. Tears streaming down his face as blood clumps his light-brown hair. Two thin pieces of leather connecting the jaw to the body. Push the button...
Bifur froze. The boy crying and cowering from the orcs was here. He should not be here, he should be in Bifur’s head together with the axe.
Making sure he had his knife, Bifur put the toy aside and followed the sounds of the crying boy and the laughing orcs. He did not need to look long.
The hobbitling cowering behind the stone Bombur had sat on during breakfast was younger than when Bifur had seen him before, and luckily not as hurt. The orcs had hobbit faces and were shoving the younger hobbitling back and forth, pulling at his hair.
“Khazâd ai-menû!” Bifur shouted, running towards them.
The orclings stared at him in horror for a brief moment and then ran as fast as they could.
The hobbitling looked at him with wide eyes. Wide eyes, facing a pack of warg-riding orcs, standing over the king. A short sword held clumsily in front of him.
Bifur smiled at him and held out a hand. “Shamrûnu id-uzbad.”
The hobbitling smiled back uncertainly and took his hand. “Bilbo, at your service.” He bowed clumsily and wiped at his eyes.
Bifur could not remember meeting a hobbit this young that knew the polite introduction. He bowed in turn. “Bifur,” he said, pointing at himself, “ai azu.”
“Thank you for helping me, Bifur,” Bilbo said. He looked around to make sure the orclings were gone and his eyes fell on the Shire flowers. “I could make you a dandelion wreath as a thank you gift. Would you like one?”
Bifur nodded. He watched as Bilbo picked the yellow flowers and looped their stems into each other with obvious practice. The flowers growing on Erebor’s higher slopes were blood-red little stars. Bilbo set a flower crown on Bifur’s head and then made one for himself. None but the dwarflings paid them any heed and they were too short for making chains, but they loved braiding them into their hair and growing beards. Bifur let the buzz of the market drift over him, mostly calming gossip as Bilbo made Bifur a flower necklace. The Shire flowers smelled delicious and Bifur picked one from the grass and began eating it. The other dwarflings laughed when Bifur decided to try eating one of the flowers. It was sweet and juicy, that first flower Bifur ate. Bilbo giggled and tried one himself, pulling a slight face at the bitterness, but quickly deciding to try another.
“There you are, Bilbo!” A hobbit woman with hair like Bilbo and smelling like bramble-berries ran towards them. “Where have you been? What happened?”
“Bifur saved me from Mat Sandyman and Basso Noakes.” Bilbo quickly told the bramble-berry women what had happened.
“Thank you so much, Master Bifur” she said when Bilbo had finished. “I hope he wasn’t a bother to you?”
The words rattled around in Bifur’s head, trying to break free from their box. He wanted to tell her that Bilbo had been the opposite of a bother, but the axe continued to block the lid of the box.
Instead, Bifur smiled and shook his head. “Ya harmu.”
“He speaks funny,” Bilbo explained.
Bifur beckoned them to follow him. He took the puzzle tree out of the crate and handed it to Bilbo.
Bilbo beamed. “Thank you!”
“We are the ones in your debt,” his mother said. “I don’t know...”
“He likes giving gifts,” Bofur piped in. “Don’t worry, he was glad to help.”
“Well, thank you very much!” She said. “I’m afraid we are already running late to tea with this little interruption. May your beards grow ever longer!”
“Farewell, Bifur!” Bilbo waved at him.
“Mahal tadnani astû, sanzigil tamkhihi astû!” Bifur replied and waved as the hobbits hurried away.
“What happened?” Bofur asked.
“Naddun rakhâs,” Bifur spat and quickly explained what had happened in Igleshmêk.
/He is going to be a burglar,/ Bifur concluded, beaming after the hobbitling. He wasn’t quite sure why, but that thought made him blue, sapphire-blue even.