Actions

Work Header

What is Needed

Chapter Text

 

TA 2978

“I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing you until late tonight?”

Fili, fumbling over the buttons of his shirt, glanced over his shoulder at his consort.

“Most likely.”

He noted the tiredness of consort’s tone, and looking at him, it was as if he’d aged several years overnight. White curls were unusually limp and the crinkle around his eyes deeper and the lines of his mouth harsher than the day before.

Finished dressing, Fili approached the bed and sat down beside him.

“I’ll try to find some time to go with you to see him,” Fili promised. “Maybe around lunch time?”

His consort nodded and patted him on the cheek like a child. It used to bother him but he’d gotten used to it. Gotten used to not being the one.

He cradled his head in his hands to gently bring their foreheads together and got a tug on his mustache as thanks. A final peck on the nose, he made his way out the door to perform his duties.

After he’d left Bilbo released a shaky breath and crawled out of bed. 

 


 

It was passed the lunch hour and Fili had sent someone to let him know he couldn’t make it.

So, wrapped in his warmest clothes and cane in hand he left his and Fili’s chambers and moved down the hall with his old knapsack on his back. He bumped into Dori along the way, the dwarf’s arms filled with half a dozen fabrics. They chatted briefly, mostly about how the shop was going and Nori’s behavior.

Ever since Ori had set out with Balin and Oin to reclaim Khazad-Dum, Nori had been stirring up more trouble than he could handle. His most recent venture had landed him in a cell and Dori was saying he had every intention of letting him sit there and think about it for a while before bailing him out again.

“He’s plenty rich now,” Dori grumbled, “No need to pilfer the pockets of nobles.”

Bilbo chuckled. “Well, perhaps he just needs a distraction.” With that, they parted ways. He hadn’t seen most of his old friends in a while and he missed them something awful but he’d made peace with it. He knew most of them were thriving in Erebor, some more than others, but otherwise happy and healthy.

He did wish he would be around long enough to see Balin, Ori, and Oin again, but he supposed that was hoping for too much.

As he hobbled down to the deeper tunnels, having to light a few of the lanterns on the walls as he went, the air began to chill.

Finally he stood before a large block of stone, four feet wide and five feet high, decorated with a series of beautifully engraved illustrations depicting a long, treacherous journey and a battle with a great, ugly dragon. In the very center of it all, however was a scrawling, uneven epithet.

In the forty seven years Bilbo had lived in the Lonely Mountain, he counted himself one of the blessed few outsiders allowed to learn the language of the dwarves.

Here lies Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, Son of Thror, of the line of Durin.

It was rather plain, but Bilbo knew Fili had never truly forgiven his uncle. For abandoning him and Kili in Laketown, for falling to the gold sickness, for dying.

It gave the tomb character, he supposed.

“Happy anniversary, then,” Bilbo said cheerfully. He gazed at the tomb, head tilted and pretending he could see passed the stone at Thorin himself.

“It’s been a most dramatic year, if I say so myself. Kili managed to marry himself off to that Firebeard from the Iron Hills and she’s already expecting. They’re absolutely disgusting together if you ask me.” He smiled fondly. 

“Dís is beside herself, more than ready to be a grandmother. She’s determined that it’s going to be a girl, says she feels it. Already commissioned a whole wardrobe for when the wee thing is born.

“Bofur and Bombur were well, last I say them anyhow. Bombur’s working in the kitchens of course, and his little ones aren’t quite so little anymore. It’s astounding, Bodor is only thirty years younger than I am and still acts like he’s in his teens. Brombi and Bundir are much more mature though, I’ve seen them running errands for the weaving and jeweler’s guilds lately. Apprentices, and all.”

Bilbo shifted on his feet and dropped his knapsack on the ground.

“I’ve taken up smoking again, I know, I know, Rifgar told me I shouldn’t with my health as it’s been but I doubt it truly matters that much anymore. We finally grew a good batch of pipeweed, after all these years, too. The soil in the Greenhouse wasn’t good enough. We had to grow it outside.”

He packed his pipe and lit it, puffing a few times and releasing a smoke ring that made him quite pleased. “Tried to teach Kili how to do that, all he managed to do was choke.”

With his free hand he pushed aside the contents of the bag and pulled out a small, smooth rock. “Bifur’s gone and taught me how to polish rocks. It seemed awfully silly at first, polishing a rock, truly, but it’s become quite fun.”

Bilbo place it in front of the tomb and decided to sit down. He was already aching all over just from the trip down the tunnel. His back chose then to twinge painfully.

“Confound it all,” He murmured. “I do wish you didn’t have to see me this way. I’ve gone stale and moldy these last few years. I haven’t been able to get out of bed without help most days. Fili has bore it with such patience. He’s been too good to me, considering…”

Back against the tomb, he fiddled with his pipe.

“I always wondered what you might think of how things turned out. I don’t think you ever would have imagined Fili would take your words quite so seriously. I certainly didn’t expect it. I still don’t know if it was the right choice. I do think of the Shire quite often. I’ve known I wouldn’t make the trip again since I returned from the last time.

“Primula and Drogo have made good use of Bag End, though, filled all those rooms. Nothing like the quiet, empty, smial I used to haunt. Frodo’s a charmer too, reminds me of you even. Dark hair, blue eyes, sweet talked the Gamgee’s boy into a romp through the woods. Not quite something I had wanted to walk into, but young love is rather senseless.”

Bilbo puffed another ring.

“I’ve arranged everything already, so it shan’t be like last time where I left everything a mess and everyone was floundering. A letter, on Fili’s writing desk, you see.

“He’s been awfully busy lately. There’s been a lot of interest in forming a trade caravan, what with most of the dwarrow here having been born on the road, they find they miss it. The trouble is figuring out the route. If the elves are willing to guide them through the Greenwood, there and back it shouldn’t be too much of a problem.

“I told you before, didn’t I? The forest has healed greatly this last decade. What with Sarumon’s outing and the ring being dealt with. Thranduil has been insisting people stop calling it Mirkwood.”

He stopped and snickered.

“My apologies, Thorin. I know better than to mention him by name to you. I suppose you’ve turned over in there.” Bilbo took another huff.

“Well, that’s what Fili’s been up to for the last season or so. He hopes to have it organized for next summer. They want to travel all the way to Hobbiton, if you’ll believe it. Maybe even as far as Ered Luin but I told them they’d best plan for mid Spring if that’s the case. Otherwise they’ll be getting back in the winter months which simply won’t do.”

“It will hit him hard, I’m sure,” Bilbo commented suddenly. “Fili’s been pretending it’s not real for a while now. He’ll have a niece or nephew to look after soon enough though.” His expression turned conspiratorial. “But you know what? My gut is telling me twins. Dís is expecting one granddaughter but I’m betting on two! Don’t tell anyone I said so though. I’d like for it to be a surprise.

“Not that anyone comes down here for a chat. I don’t understand you dwarrows. Fili says it’s pointless, that you’ll be busy in Mahal’s Hall and won’t hear me over the hammering, but I say that’s codswallop. You hear every word I whisper in your ear don’t you? I’ll be angry if I find out you’ve been ignoring me when I take the time every year to come tell you about everyone.”

Bilbo leaned his head back against the tomb and stared at the shadows flickering on the ceiling of the tunnel.

“Fili’s worked tirelessly to do what you wished, you realize.” His voice was wavery whisper now. He must have been up for several hours now. He hadn’t been able to go more than three hours without a nap in a few years.

“He could have taken it as ‘make sure Bilbo get back to the Shire safe’ but I think he became a bit too attached after everything that happened. He’s made a terrible decision though, falling in love with an old hobbit who can’t love him back.”

He sighed.

“All those days being stuck in bed hasn’t made me a good husband at all these last few years. I’ve been cranky and restless, but he’s been so patient with me. So patient. I would have given up on me a long time ago. If he had, he would have been happy. I think he gets that from you, to be honest. Not letting go until the very end…

“I do miss the Shire, something terrible,” Bilbo admitted softly. “Rivendell too. And Lorien. I’ve only been there once but it was absolutely stunning. Excellent hosts too. Not that the events surrounding the visit were particularly pleasant but I digress…”

Bilbo was feeling quite cold now and tugged his coat out of his bag and gingerly put it on. He was panting by the time he’d clasped shut it but felt much better. He took one more shaky puff on his pipe before setting it down, blowing a final, wobbly ring.

His eyes were falling shut.

 

“I think I’m ready for my next adventure." 

 


 

Their chambers were cold and dark when Fili returned that night. A sharp pain in his chest and a lump building in his throat. His writing desk, usually a mess, had been tidied up except for an envelope in the center of it.

He approached the desk and bit his lip, a shaky hand picking it up.

Fili distinctly felt the desire not to open it, wishing to go in search of his consort, but his fingers were already pulling a single sheet of parchment from the fold.

Scanning the words, his vision grew distorted and tears rolled down his face. His breathing hitched.

 

The letter fell from his hands and he turned to the door.                  


Chapter Text

 TA2942

The winding path leading to the stones gates of Ered Luin was by far the most well kept that he had traversed since splitting from the East West Road near Bree a week ago. That decision had extended his journey a few days but had been worth it, for if Bilbo Baggins had seen the Shire, he may not have been able to part with it again so soon.

A grubby looking guardsman stared openly at him the whole fifteen minutes or so that it took him to reach the mountain’s entrance. It was his fellow, an older dwarf with grey peppering his dark beard, that confronted him.

“‘Lo there, what business ‘ave you?" A leer. "Yer folk don’t oft travel this far west, eh?”

Or at all, was implied by the wiggle of the his furry brows and the tilt of his shaggy head, as if Bilbo were a faunt caught sneaking out of the house passed his curfew. It was undoubtedly meant to fluster him but he had camped down with and battled beside dwarves long enough for such jibes to roll off him like water on a ducks back.

“I am Bilbo Baggins. I come bearing news of Thorin, son of Thain, son of Thror and those whom he travelled with.” He gave the dwarf a stern look, the previously amused expression having turned to something a bit more sinister at the mention his people's leader.

“I have been directed to Dís by her son, Fili. She should have been made aware of my impending arrival a few weeks ago. If she hasn’t, I have a letter.” He looked at them expectantly. “Do wipe that look off your face, Master Dwarf. I am hardly threatening enough to warrant such constipation.”

He was, perhaps, saved from the older dwarf’s indignation by a shout from a window above the gates, a guardhouse most likely.

“Let him in already, Grangor!” The dwarf above had pushed nearly their whole body outside, waving a slip of paper about wildly. “We’ve got confirmation right here!”

Grangor grudgingly allowed him entry and slammed the gates shut behind him as soon as he was inside, grumbling something in khuzdul that Bilbo hadn’t any hope of understanding. The dwarf with the note clambered loudly down the stairs and gave him a sweeping bow.

“Yoril, at your service Master Baggins.”

“And I at yours,” Bilbo replied politely and declined to bow back, his pack having grown exceedingly heavy in the last few days of his journey.

“I’ve been instructed to bring you to Dís immediately upon your arrival, so if you’ll follow me …” Yoril was already off, setting a quick pace that left Bilbo a tad breathless and without even a moment to take in the city around him.

Soon enough, they were away from the crowd that overtook what could be a market and were trekking through a more or less empty hall.
Yoril led Bilbo up an inordinate number of stubbly steps, almost hasty in their construction though certainly well worn, and passed through an arched doorway that separated the outside from the inside of what could be considered a fairly modest manor house. Certainly not what Bilbo would associate with royalty, but the line of Durin hadn’t sat upon any throne in more than a hundred years so he shouldn’t have been surprised.

So distracted was he, that when a dwarf entered from a side door, raven haired and broad shouldered with a distinct nose and sky blue eyes, he nearly choked on his own spit.

“Dís, as you’ve instructed, Master Baggins here-,”

“Leave.” Her voice was deep, not as deep as her brother’s but it chilled Bilbo nonetheless. Yoril, looking a little hurt a the dismissal, nodded and left them as swiftly as-...he? She?...they had entered.

The space separating the dwarf and hobbit was gaping, and Bilbo was reluctant to approach an individual with such a likeness to one he no longer knew. However, it seemed Dís would be just as content to stay where she was, staring him down. A sigh escaped his lips.

“Dís?” He inquired softly. “Perhaps we could seat ourselves for this conversation.” He was greatly worn, to be honest. He’d barely had a moment’s rest since he’d left Gandalf in Rivendell and his already dry throat was beyond parched.

The dwarf tensed but nodded, gesturing for him to follow her into the room she’d entered from. It was a kitchen, large and well used with a lonely, too big table in the center of the room. Like everything else, it was made of stone. The benches around it too, though there were five purposely positioned cushions to soften them.

Dís took the far end of the table and Bilbo, refusing to play such games, took the seat directly to her left, trying not to think about who it may have belonged to in the past.

They sat in silence for a moment before Bilbo cleared his throat and reached into his knapsack to pull out a letter. Dís’ eyes snapped to it but he drew her attention back when he spoke.

“Fili told me he would only send you the barest of news. Just, the reclaiming of the mountain and to keep an eye out for a hobbit traipsing about in dwarven clothes, is this true?” She nodded, her mouth drawn so tight it seemed sewed shut.

“You will be pleased to hear, then, that both your sons are, for the most part, whole and hale. Kili was still confined to bed rest when I left, though he was certainly far more energetic than Oin was prepared for.”

Dís raised a hand to her face and nodded, relief glazing her eyes in a way that tore Bilbo’s resolve.

“And...my brother, Master Baggins?”

Swallowing hard, his voice failed him and he could only shake his head. The wail that slipped passed Dís’ lips startled them both and he felt tears well in his eyes. But Dís had shut hers. Her back was ramrod straight and the hand still on the table clenched and shaking. He wished to comfort her but knew he was unable.

Bilbo Baggins was no friend, merely a stranger.

Dís didn’t make a sound for the next several minutes. Her eyes were still dry, but he was uncertain if it was due to years of loss or if they just couldn’t escape with how tightly she had her eye lids squeezed together.

He hastily wiped away his own tears, shame dwelling within him. Slipping the letter back into his knapsack, he moved from his seat to look for a kettle.

By the time Dís was able to open her eyes, Bilbo was placing a cup of steaming tea before her. She downed it.

“Everyone else in the company made it out relatively unscathed,” He continued softly. “There is much more for me to inform you of but I believe it can wait until tomorrow. If you could direct me to an inn-”

“No,” Dís shook her head, as if to clear it more than anything. “You needn’t look for one. I have plenty of spare rooms…” Her voice faltered.

Bilbo nodded and sipped at his own tea tiredly. “Very well.”

It would be a long night.

 


 

Bilbo woke the next morning in a bed.

What was even stranger than that, was that it wasn’t at an inn, or his own at Bag End. It was in Ered Luin in the home of friends who weren’t there. His gut twisted.

As he lay there, staring at the ceiling with a distinct rawness that came from a bad night’s rest, he realized there was a clanging of pans echoing through the hall outside the room.

In the end, hunger outweighed nerves.

Dressing in his least filthy clothes, he left the bedroom and approached the kitchen without making a sound, wanting to observe his host before she noticed he was up.

Flying across the kitchen was Dís, beard braided more extravagantly than the day before and her mane held back with black ribbon, as she prepared eggs. Her face had paled in the night but her eyes were harder. She glared passed the pan on the fire and her mind seemed far off.

Bilbo would have returned to his room until called, but his stomach chose to growl just as the noise had settled down. Dís whipped around to face him and, after a moment of hesitation, waved him in.

From his new position, seated again at the large, empty table, he could see a familiar grace in her movement. It was in the way she flicked her wrist and how a single step was made to seem so planned and perfectly balance. Not liking where his thoughts were going, he chose to distract himself with a loose strand of his tunic.

A few minutes later she brought him a plate laden with eggs, three rolls and a heaping pile of bacon. Her own plate was incredibly modest in comparison and when he tried to deny the massive portion, she refused him.

“You’ve travelled so far, Master Baggins, and I offered you nothing last night. It was incredibly selfish and ungrateful of me.”

“Not at all,” Bilbo argued. “It was a trying night. I should have held off dropping such ill news on you until today…”

In the end, Bilbo’s stomach was unable to hold all the food he was presented and he was forced to stop half way through the plate. It felt terribly bad mannered but he was fit to burst.

“Do hobbits not eat several meals a day?” Dís inquired, genuinely curious and a little disappointed. “I heard your people require a great deal of food.”

“Yes,” Bilbo admitted, somewhat embarrassed. “I’m afraid so much travel has left my stomach rather shrunken. I’m certain my old neighbors would be quite alarmed to see me now.”

With his waistline depleted and his appetite so poor, they’d think him sick, though they would likely call him mad when he got back. He could here Lobelia already. Traipsing off with dwarves of all folk and starving himself in the wilds! What would his dear father have to say about his mad Took of a son!

The morning soon passed and once the dishes were clean, Bilbo insisting he help her in this endeavor, they seated themselves again.

“You mentioned there was a good deal more that happened on my brother’s quest,” Dís said after they’d stared into their own palms for a dozen or so minutes. “Would you tell me now?”

Her eyes were resigned and her posture flawless. She had pulled the pieces of herself, jostled as they were the night before, back together and not a crack showed.

“Of course.” Bilbo sipped his tea and thought where to start.

“I suppose it’s best start with the beginning, or at least, where it began for me.”

He did not tell her of her brother’s rudeness, nor of his hurtful words. He didn’t go into detail about the goblin caves, mostly because he was not with the dwarves throughout the majority of it, and he glossed over the battle that took place at the base of the Lonely Mountain and the events that preceded it.

Instead he told her of her brother’s loyalty to his company, his daring and strong will. He told her of how he avenged his family and his people.

Bilbo did not tell her that he had loved him.

Chapter Text

 

Bilbo climbed up the steps leading to the Durin’s home feeling a great deal lighter than he had earlier that morning, after his talk with Dís. He had set out around noon to visit Bombur and Gloin’s families, bringing word of their safety and bearing a letter from each.

It was with great surprise and delight that the hobbit had been swarmed by a horde of dwarflings after being invited into Bombur’s home. The dwarf whom Bilbo assumed was Bombur’s wife was similarly round in shape and warm in nature, welcoming him into her home without question. Unlike her husband, Hebon was loud and sociable, her laugh was mighty and seemed to shake the whole house, carved from mountain as it was. Bilbo found her a pleasure.

The six children, four boys and two girls, were a raucous bunch, especially when Bilbo explained that he had travelled with their father and uncles. They’d all sat themselves around him, wide eyed and excited while he answered a near a dozen questions about hobbits, such as why he had all his hair on his feet instead of his chin and why he didn’t wear boots, giving Hebon a moment to read the letter privately before she had to share.

Bilbo’s initial reception at Gloin’s family home was quite different. One knock and the door had been torn open by a firebeard, eyes fierce, and hands on her hips, she’d demanded to know what exactly he was bothering her for and would he be quick about it? She was busy.

After a few stuttered words, Ulram decided she could make time for him. It was rather remarkable meeting the dwarf Gloin had been gushing over for so long, even more so when his son, Gimli, came storming in through the front door, raising up a fuss over the lack of skill in the arenas these days. He was quite alarmed to find a funny fellow like Bilbo sitting at his mother’s table sharing an ale, but a swat to the back of the head and news of his father turned his wariness to boisterous comradery.

“That such a tiny thing such as yourself would be invited to go where I was deemed unfit is disheartening,” Gimli whined at first. “But I suppose you did well enough if you’ve returned to tell the tale!”

He’d left them with Gloin’s letter, a great deal more cheerful than how he’d set out that morning.

But standing in front of the archway again, looking into the cold, empty space, the weight on his heart slowly beared down again. Guilty as he was for feeling it, he couldn’t help but be impatient to leave this place, and Dís, behind...if only for a little while. However, there were still things to be discussed and prepared before he could finally go home.

It was getting to be well into the evening, and if had any hope of getting to the Shire by the end of the week, he’d best get to work.

He found Dís in the rocker by the fire in her family room, staring into the flames and body too tense to rock. Though she shivered every few moments..

Bilbo approached with a small cough, keeping enough distance that her startled jump didn’t knock him back.

“We have a few things to discuss,” Bilbo said quietly. “Concerning the move.”

Dís’ face tightened and with a grim quirk of her lips, she rose and directed Bilbo to a small study. While it certainly appeared to be the most lived in room that Bilbo had seen so far, it didn’t necessarily seem to be used. It was dusty but papers and scrolls and books were strewn about the desk, an ink well and quill at the ready, maps adorning the walls with circles and squiggles in charcoal. Sitting down in the chair opposite the desk, he noticed several framed and pocket sized portraits on the edge, very clean and the metal frame recently polished.

Dís was rummaging around in the drawers, pushing this and that aside and, by the sound of it, breaking a thing or two in the process.

“Where did he keep them...blast it all…”

Bilbo’s heart sank. It made sense then. The dust, maps, general untidiness...He stared at the portraits and realized that, while he did not recognize two of them, the other three were undoubtedly Fili, Kili and-.

“Aha!” Dis pull out a fresh roll of paper from the drawer and sat herself in the great chair behind the desk. She removed the stopper from the ink well and dabbed the quill inside a few times before looking up at Bilbo expectantly.

He tried to forget that it was the same look he’d been given by another shaggy dwarf, once upon a time, as they sunbathed in the meadows a short distance from Beorn’s cottage.

“Erebor is expected to be capable of housing any who desire to return to her in five months,” he explained. “We had already begun some of the restoration of the living quarters and such before I left. I suspect a caravan of thirty to fifty dwarves, supposing every three or four could keep to a single wagon, would be capable of arriving in two.”

He was about to tell her of his estimates on the amount of food they would need to supply on but was surprised to hear her chuckling. When he asked, she bit her lip but kept on smiling at him.

“Thirty to fifty, you say? Master Hobbit, I do expect a great deal more than that to wish to return to The Lonely Mountain once more.”

“How many would you guess then?”

“Two Hundred, my friend, at the fewest.” Bilbo tilted his head to the side with a frown.

“Really? How interesting…” When Dís inquired, he explained, “Well, after living here so long, isn’t there a chance many feel more at home here?” But Dís just shook her head at him and gave him the ‘you are certainly no dwarf’ look he’d received at least three times a day on the journey to Erebor.

“I have no memories of my time in Erebor,” she stated, quietly. “But I have always felt the pull on my heart, the way my brother and my father did, leading me back home.”

They left the matter at that.

“Then we can estimate a five or six month journey,” Bilbo said, tapping his chin. “Perhaps, we shall have two caravans, the second one leaving a month or so after the first? It would be best if we arrive before the chill of Fall.” Dís looked at him in surprise.

“We, you say? Are you not returning to the Shire, Master Baggins?”

“Bilbo,” he said lightly. “You may call me Bilbo. And I will be, but only for a short time. I suppose it shall take three to four weeks for everyone here to be ready for the journey and I have a few affairs to settle in Hobbiton. I believe it best we meet in the village of Bree come mid spring.” He pointedly did not look at the confusion that twisted Dís’s face, the question, ‘why?’ etched so plainly there.

“In any case it would be best to bring livestock along with us. The road we take shall be grassy and plentiful. We may be able to convince a few of the Rangers to travel along side us as far as Rivendell.” Dís snorted and Bilbo rolled his eyes.

“Yes, yes, I know, weed eaters, the lot of them. While I would prefer to take shelter there for a night or so, I also know about you dwarves and your opinions.” He gave her a snooty glance.

“Right,” she said with a mighty inhale. “Well, we won’t need any help from Rangers, I’ll let you know. We’re more than capable.” Bilbo couldn’t disagree. Every dwarf he’d passed had been incredibly muscled, far more than himself even now.

The rest of the details would be fleshed out once they knew exactly how many dwarves would be making the trip to Erebor. Dís would make an announcement the next day, and draw up a list of those wished to join the caravan. If there were too many, they would be broken up into parties.

“We have been a travelling people for a long time, Master Baggins,” Dís reminded him at one point, exasperated. “Most here were born on and lived on the road, including myself.”

Bilbo ceased his fussing from then on and after a small meal, they both retired for the night.

  


 

Even Dís’ estimation had been somewhat understated. A whopping three hundred and fourteen dwarves had signed on for the journey, forty-two of which were children.

It was decided that rather than two groups, it would be best to make it four, and the second pair would leave in early summer. This peppering of dwarves would make it not only easier to travel, but also faster. The last group would hopefully be arriving just before the Fall season turned chilly.

Another change of plans, was for the first two groups to go through the Shire, picking up Bilbo along the way.

“We can’t have four lines of wagons trucking up the Andrath Greenway,” Dís had argued. “There’s too much time for scavengers to catch a whiff.”

He didn’t even bother to argue, seeing the truth in her words. He could only imagine the horror on his neighbors faces at the prospect of more dwarves. He managed to convince Dís to settle for just outside of Hobbiton.

With plans in motion and preparations being made, he was able to set out the next day. Dís attempted to get him to stay one more night, saying he looked rather peaky, but Bilbo knew staying would only make him feel worse. The return trip to Erebor would be far harder on him than the journey West.

After a forced smile at Grangor at the gates and an hour of walking, there was a skip in his step again. The sun was bright and the early spring air warm enough to enjoy but cool enough not to overheat.

It would be a two day walk to the Shire if he made good time, and he had certainly intended to spend the night in his smial come day two.

 


 

It is said, in Hobbiton, that when Lobelia Sackville-Baggins swaggered inside the smial on the end of Bagshot Row in the Spring of TA2942 with Grubb, Grubb and Burrows to begin the auction of Bag End, she was met with the pointy end of a large, wicked sword and Bilbo Baggins, eyes glowing red, snarling for everyone to remove themselves from his smial post haste.

Even after he left, the nickname ‘Mad Baggins’ stuck and during his Springtime vacations back in Hobbiton, only the Gamgees dared visit him for tea time and elvensies.

Chapter Text

The last of handkerchiefs safely tucked into his bag, Bilbo straightened up to survey his front hall.

His mother’s glory box, all of it’s shoddily knitted blankets and unsuccessful attempts at embroidery still intact, sat beside two similarly sized chests that had once belonged to his father and now carried an assortment of books, maps, and a mathom or two he had been particularly fond of.

He wished he could bring more but knew it was best to travel light. Maybe he’d even get to visit. A chat with Fortinbras, the Thain, had his second cousin, Drogo, inheriting Bag End and it’s contents as soon as he was ready for it. As far as he knew, the boy hadn’t anyone he was particularly fond of, but perhaps in the next decade or so he’d have need of halls as big these. As long as none of his mother’s spoons wound up in any of the Sackville-Bagginses’ grubby hands, he was fairly certain he could manage.

Just outside his smiale was a small wagon and a pony, which he’d had to walk all the way to Michel Delving to get a hold of. He’d built the wagon with Hamfast’s help, his dear friend scrubbing at his face the whole time and proclaiming loudly that he didn’t know how all that dirt was making it’s way into his eyes. Once they’d finished and were admiring their work, he’d been drawn into a tight, quick hug and Ham had headed home with a ‘dun forget to send word, yeh hear, Mister Baggins?’.

So now, alone, he packed his few belongings onto the wagon, leaving a cozy little niche that he fully intended on sleeping in rather than roughing it on the lumpy ground.

He had packed his belongings after lunch the day before and settled in to sleep a bit earlier than he normally would have, hoping to start this arduous journey well rested. Unfortunately, he’d woken after a few hours and had been unable to doze back off.

Bilbo had been packing and unpacking things since, but now the sun was peering over the hills and trees and his time to dilly dally was over. He’d just about flicked the reins to get the pony going before he realized he’d forgotten something.

“Blast it all,” he griped, and climbed back down and off the wagon. Dashing inside, he headed straight to his study and peered about anxiously. Beneath a half a dozen maps, which he’d been going through trying to decide which were most pertinent, was a small pile of letters.

He’d been in direct correspondence with Dís for the last three weeks, discussing the route and formation they would be taking as well as what markets they may be able to hit along the way. Bilbo had only been help as far as Bree, but she’d thanked him for his insights nonetheless.

Fili had been in contact as well. A single letter carried by an ruffled looking raven to confirm he had arrived safely and that a course, that they dare not put to writing, was set.

‘Mother hasn’t sent me word yet, how did she take the news?’

He had stared blankly at the line for a long while before setting it down to be ignored for the rest of his time in Hobbiton. The envelope sitting beside it was still unwrinkled, and unopened, Fili’s scrawl across the front, in what he presumed to be Khuz-dul, addressed to Dís.

Bilbo hadn’t intentionally denied Dís news of the development, at first. He had merely forgotten. He had, however, decided it was a sign to hold onto the letter thereafter.

It had been awful idea, to tell your own mother of such a thing in a note. He told Fili, he had, it had to be done in person, by Fili, and after she’d had the time to process everything else.

And if a part of him hoped Fili would change his mind by the time they arrived in Erebor, he was keeping it to himself.

A ray from the steadily rising sun burst through the window right into his eyes, reminding him that he had no such time for lollygagging, and he swept all of the letters into a pile and hastily left the only home he’s ever truly known for the last time in a very long while.

 


 

He saw them before they could ever hope to spot him. It was a lot easier to find a train of seventy or so dwarves with a fleet of wagons, carts, and half a dozen cattle than a lone pony and hobbit winding down the road at dawn.

Bilbo could scarcely believe this was only a quarter of the dwarves returning. And if what Dís had admitted believing was true, there could be twice as many on the road or in other settlements who would want to come back to Erebor once they caught word of it’s revival.

Driving up beside the lot of them, earning a number of curious, or irritated, stares. He finally caught sight of Dís and, when she caught his eye, a smile spread on her lips and she called out to him.

“Thought you might have changed your mind!”

“I’m afraid you’re stuck with me, madam.” Bilbo replied weakly, trying to erase the image of Thorin, grinning broadly at him as the stood upon the carrock and got their first look at the Mountain, from his mind.

“We’re ready to go then. You’re up front with me, it’s been some time since I’ve travelled these roads so you’ll have to guide me a bit.”

They pushed through the crowd as the other dwarves formed a winding line down the path taking their position in the lead and, as one, the whole caravan moved forward.

As they set a pace, Bilbo refused to look back and watch Bagshot Row shrink in the distance, he amused Dís with a few of Bofur’s antics on the journey, as well as Nori’s hobby, which involved moving Dwalin’s knives to different places when he wasn’t looking.

It made her laugh and it comforted him, as Thorin had never outright laughed.

They didn’t pass a single soul until dusk. It was a peddler from Bree, one that Bilbo was quite sure he had seen numerous times on his walks in the last few years, and he stared at the hobbit then to the dwarves, and back to the hobbit for the longest time as they approached until they were passing one another.

“Safe travels,” Bilbo merrily wished the man as Dís snickered into her scarf.

“We’d best set up camp soon,” Dís admitted once they were out of earshot of the peddler.

“Any darker and we’ll be sitting ducks.”

The wagons were brought into a protective circle, and a dozen fires lit. The animals were tethered but free to pasture and the handful of children were dutifully helping their parent to lay out bedrolls and fix dinner.

Bilbo himself was content to munch on his jerky and konk out in his wagon but was drawn into the deep hum of song that started up amongst the group. Slowly, every dwarf joined in and Bilbo felt the vibration numb him as he too hummed. He knew this song. More like a dirge.

Beside him Dís’ hum wavered and was cut short, her face appearing stricken and she swallowed hard as if her throat had shut itself.

He excused himself once the song ended and, laying in bedroll and staring at the stars, he found he couldn’t sleep.

Chapter Text

The first three weeks of travel were unhurried. The sun shone warm as an embrace but was accompanied by a crisp and cooling breeze just strong enough to tousle Bilbo’s too long hair into his eyes. He would curse irately, push it behind his ears and turn back to the road ahead only for a playful wind to send it cascading into his face again. After several days of enduring this, a mollified dwarf offered him a spare hair tie.

“Reign it in, would yeh Master Hobbit? Even if yer not going to maintain it properly, at least show some dignity, a’ight?”

Bilbo flushed something awful and stammered, “I know, I know, I need to get this mop sheared soon as I can-”, and was instantly made aware of his mistake.

“Not a word of it Master Hobbit!” Cried and indignant dwarf just behind him. “Those curls are spun gold in my books, it would be a travesty!”

“Why, you’d be bare as a lamb,” one dwarf put in, a napping dwarfling on he-, their shoulder as they tottered a bit to his left. “It’s about all the hair you’ve got!”

“I will have you know,” Bilbo told them with great indignation. “I will have you know that I have all the curls any self-respecting hobbit would need on my feet, thank you very much.”

There was a bark of laughter as Dís, having slowed to check in with those in the rear of the caravan, sidled up beside Bilbo’s cart on her pony.

“I am quite sure no self-respecting hobbit would be caught dead leading a group of dwarves across the whole of Eriador, much less planning to vacation in the mountains east of Rhovanion!”

Yes. Vacation.

He had told Dís this was his intention, as well to study and record the rebirth of the dwarven culture in Erebor. She’d glowed with pride and Bilbo couldn’t help but promise himself that he would actually follow through with that, regardless of whether Fili’s plans fell through or not.

“Right, well. I suppose I’m not all that respectful anymore,” He conceded, but he kept his nose tilted up a bit. “Consorting with all you dwarves has left me quite unpopular in The Shire. I suppose I’ll be all anyone can gossip about over tea for the next few months.”

How curious, that something could have been so horrifying just a few months ago could now be hardly worth a moment's care. He even felt a glimmer of pride.

“In fact,” he realized aloud. “the next generation of shirelings may all grow up hearing about that Mad Baggins and his dwarves and wizards and uncivilized adventures.”

“Well,” Dís said with bewilderment, even as a crooked smile graced her lips. “Once the story gets around, I haven't a doubt the next generation of dwarflings will be taught of the heroic quest of the Sons of Durin and their hobbit to reclaim their legacy.”

She leaned over and patted him hard on the back, winding him, before moving on to inquire on the condition of the livestock a few carts back.

Bilbo caught his breath and looked back after her a moment, contemplating. He had been concerned about meeting Dís long before even setting foot in Erebor for the first time. Fili and Kili would tell raging stories of their firecracker mother, chasing them down for getting out of line or setting their uncle straight whenever he, ‘started getting ideas’.

It was a blessing and a curse she’d been unable to talk him out of what came to be his grandest idea.

Nevertheless, once he and had Thorin had come to some sort of agreement and Bilbo had begun to appreciate some of his finer qualities, so far as to dream of a happy ending with the two of them together in some fashion. More than a few times, he was startled awake after being hunted and swallowed whole by a vicious lady dwarf with a twisted face and gnarled claws.

But Dís was nothing at all like he had imagined and hardly the devil her sons made her out to be. She was incredibly composed and the air of nobility and importance hung about her just as strongly as it had her brother but was more invested than standoffish and her overall personality was quite gallant.

If he were not so lost and broken he may have been charmed by this dwarvish maiden. Alas, he was shattered and the shards would never quite come back to a whole for him.

 


 

It had been about four weeks since Bilbo had left the Shire, only the second time in his life, when the messenger from the second caravan rode into their camp.

“Four chickens,” the messenger told Dís. “Four of ‘em. And one of them cows too. Gone. Over night.”

Dís stroked her beard, eyes narrowed. “And you’re sure they didn’t just wander off? Someone searched the area?”

The messenger shrugged. “Dunno, but the owners say they heard a ruckus outside their wagon that night. Thought t’was a few rowdy dwarflings out fer night’s mischief, ‘til mornin came and they were out a cow and some hens.”

The lady dwarf sighed. “We’ll keep camp tomorrow. Tell your group to do the same and we’ll sort this all out. Are you staying the night?”

The messenger had arrived just before the sun dipped behind the trees, spooking those setting up camp and bringing dozens of dwarves to arms before recognizing their compatriot. Any remaining light had long since left the sky and the rays of the quarter moon barely touched world outside their circle of fires and lanterns.

“Aye, you can be sure of that!” The messenger snorted. “Now what ‘ave you lot got going fer supper?”

The dwarf idled off in search of a group willing to take them in for the night and their pony shook its mane and followed suit.

“What do you suppose happened?” Bilbo asked Dís, fiddling with his waterskin. “It might have been a couple of children, or it may have been a theft. If there’s one, there’s likely to be more.”

They’d been careful not to linger around Bree when passing through two weeks back, but the exodus was sure to be noticed by someone. A few dwarves had been delegated to run for any extra or last second supplies the caravan needed in town and they had been on their way again within the hour. Regardless, few children of men found dwarves on their doorstep, even with the travelling trade they had done since Smaug had taken their home.

Even here, on the East-West Road, they had been met with a great deal of foot traffic as vendors travelled to distant markets and the weather permitted leisurely travel for just about anyone with an adventurous streak.

Bilbo expected they would cross the Hoarwell River by the end of their next day of travel. Well, he hoped they would be crossing it.

When the Company had crossed it previously the bridge had been near collapse, it’s single remaining arch straining, and while they had managed to cross safely it was unlikely it could stand a few hundred dwarves, wagons and beasts crossing all at once.

Gandalf had informed Lord Elrond of the state of it when he’d coerced Thorin into seeking shelter in Rivendell. The Elf King had appeared mildly surprised at the news but promised to have it fixed once winter passed.

On Bilbo and Gandalf’s return trip, he had mentioned in passing that they’d drawn up a new design to ensure it’s stability, gathered the necessary materials, and would begin renovations not long after they left.

If it were unfinished, they would be stalled a good few days and set back several weeks, as the next best crossing, hardly worth mentioning, was a good many miles south. Such a delay would open them to attack by bandits and thieves, even the villagers of nearby towns, spooked by what must appear to be an army of burly dwarvish men setting up camp so close to their homes.

“I fear it may be a bigger problem then errant dwarflings,” Dís finally admitted, jolting Bilbo from his thoughts. “In any case, an investigation of the area will be necessary. No need to get everyone upset if it isn’t anything serious.”

“I could go for you,” Bilbo offered. To be honest, he was growing increasingly bored, spending everyday sitting up on his cart. His feet were itching to walk and his mind could use a challenge.

“No,” Dís grimaced. There were great shadows cast upon her face by the flame and it was Thorin who turned to him and said gravely, “My people have need of me and I shall not abandon them.”

It was dramatic and almost snooty in how noble it sounded, but Bilbo kept that to himself.

 


 

With his only real friend whisked away for the day, Bilbo meandered around camp, seeing how everyone was faring and offering to help with the numerous tasks that keeping a camp of this magnitude running would require. He was waved off each time, and felt rather insulted by their low opinion of his capabilities.

By noon time he’d given up and found a nice tree to climb and have a bit of lunch. He nibbled sullenly on a bit of jerky he’d tucked away before leaving Bag End and contemplated the likelihood of the bridge being finished.

Bilbo had no clue what the new design entailed, but assuming it wasn’t terribly extravagant he imagined carting the supplies necessary to the location may take a week at most and the actual repairs could take anywhere from two to three weeks.

He recalled the crumbling stones that made up the railing, the base, and even the pathway of the bridge.

The elves may have chosen to just completely clear the old bridge away and rebuild it. If so, the renovation would likely be a two month project and there was a fifty-fifty chance that it was completed.

A pine cone landed in his lap, startling him. He picked it up and examined it in amusement for just a moment before tossing it uncaringly and was about to settle in for a short nap when-.

“Yeowtch!”

Bilbo froze where he was seated. That was not the deep resounding voice of a dwarf. Rather, the tenor a young adult belonging to the race of Men. Slowly scannng the forest below him, it wasn’t hard to find the man in question. His hair was a muddy blonde and worn in a bowl cut that was rather unflattering to just about anyone besides Ori and he appeared lanky even for a human. Currently he was rubbing the top of his head and scowling about, looking for a fight if his expression were anything to go by.

Just as he was about to look up, and straight at Bilbo, a light wind knocked a dozen more pine cones from several trees in the surrounding area. The man snorted and kicked Bilbo’s tree in anger before storming off.

Bilbo would have shrugged it off if he hadn’t noticed something rather odd.

The man had an unusually wide and very well made looking leather vest on and very shiny, too big boots on his feet, which he seemed to have a hard time walking normally in. His pants, in comparison, were absolutely ratty and its patches had patches. His shirt was the same, and it all clashed very suspiciously.

He supposed it was time to prove his worth as a Burglar. Sort of. It depended on where the man was headed and what Bilbo would find there.

 

 



Chapter Text

Bilbo shredded the trunk of a yet another tree at his eye level and cautiously tramped to the next one.There was enough brush spread across the forest floor to keep Bilbo relatively well hidden. Once or twice he had snapped a twig or tripped over a rock loudly enough for the odd man he was following to cast a wary glance over his shoulder, but the hobbit was able to duck into some leafy foliage and even dived into a felled and hollow tree trunk at one point before being spotted.

Half a dozen times Bilbo found his fingers dipping into his pocket for a ring that was no longer there, cursing the strike of fury and panic that shot through his heart at its absence.

He reminded himself he didn’t need it, no one did, and it was much better off where he’d hidden it. What was important was ensuring he would be able to find his way back to the camp.

Bilbo peered over the top of the boulder he was crouching behind and squinted. The man had stopped in front of a small, misplaced, hill. The man seemed to be looking for something, feeling around with his hands until he peeled back the side of the hill like a blanket.

Perhaps Bilbo had knocked his head a bit too hard the last time he’d taken a stumble.

The man entered the hill and pulled the cover back over. If he had not seen the man pull it open in the first place, there would be no way of telling there was anything out of the ordinary.

Until the man left the hill, he would be unable to investigate. So Bilbo resigned himself to a long wait, settling his head on arms and shifting his legs into a more comfortable position in the dirt.

The sun had shifted since he started to follow the stranger and the light pouring through the trees was warmer than it had been previously, casting an amber haze across the forest. Bilbo figured they had walked a little less than two miles so, as long as the man left within the next hour so, he was quite certain he could sort this all out by dark.

As expected, the man emerged from the hill with an hour or so before the sun would set completely, looking much more at ease, with a large empty sack tossed over his shoulder.

Out for a night of pillaging no doubt.

The man made sure to cover up his hill and stomped back in the direction from which they arrived and right towards Bilbo’s hiding spot.

The hobbit shuffled down and edged around the side of the boulder as the man passed.

“Jus’ a few more hens an’m golden, I reck’n,” the man muttered. “Redmann’ll be pleased wi’ me, he will…”

Redmann, Bilbo thought, glancing thoughtfully at the hill. Must be the boss, or something of the like.

Once he was sure the man was long gone, he hurried to the hill and struggled to pull the blanket of netting away. It was a lot heavier than it looked. He squirmed into the small opening he had made and was met with the dead eyed stare of, what he was willing to bet was, the missing cow. She groaned down at him and sidled off to the other side of the dwelling.

Where there just so happened to be four chickens in a wood crate.

Even in the dim light cast by a single hanging lantern, most certainly a fire hazard, he could tell that the dwarves were missing quite a bit more than they were aware of. There were pieces of ancient armors, a random assortment of tools which Bilbo had a nagging feeling were for smithing, and a bucket full of the second most finest jewels and beads he had ever seen.

Various satchels and sacks of food and clothes were stashed in a corner and a rickety, hobbit-sized table held an assortment of ivory brushed and combs. All in all, it was a very cramped little hill that truly offended him.

Honestly, this was what leads to those silly rumors of hobbits living in dirty little holes in the ground and Bilbo simply couldn’t stand for it. So, he took a breath and prepared himself to deal with the scoundrel responsible.

 


 

“Lemme down! Lemme down you li’l shite!

Bilbo tutted patiently and spared the fellow a glance from where he was tying the final knot of of his makeshift harness on the cow. The lantern he’d drug out of the hill was even weaker outside, where the darkness seemed to eat the pitiful light it provided.

“No need to be rude, I’m merely retrieving what was taken from my dwarves the other evening.”

The man struggled and cussed him out, but was incapable of much else hanging upside down as was. The massive quantity of rope Bilbo had found in the hill had been put to good use between the cow and his trap.

He had loaded everything he could into the various satchels and cut a large section of the hill’s net covering with Sting to fashion a sort of sled. With the crate of chickens he’d been forced to heft one the bags onto his own back and was quite glad he’d spent nearly the whole of the last year doing just such a thing, or else it would have been unbearable.

“Please!” The man begs, “Please, I need it! If I dun have enough they’ll kill me, they will!”

“I assume it’s this Redmann you're talking about?” Bilbo inquired. “Usually thieves of your standing would prefer work together but you’re out here alone. Why’s he got you doing all the dirty work yourself?”

“I won’t say no more! If yeh want me ta talk, you’ll have ta let me down first!” The man swayed to emphasize his point but Bilbo snorted, amused.

“Hardly.” He pulled Sting from its sheath and eyed it casually. “I have other ways to get what I want.” With a swagger he approached the flailing man and let the blade catch the dim light.

“Sting and I have gone through quite a bit.” He explained. “I once felled an army spiders, the size of horses, with this sword. It’s quite easy to slice tendons at my size, you know?” From where he stood, behind the man now, he saw a shiver run down his body. He lifted Sting to the back of his neck.

“I’ve never had the opportunity to decapitate a man before.”

“Alright! jus’ put tha’ away now, would ya!” Bilbo fought the smirk that pulled at his lips and sheathed Sting.

“Redmann came inta some money lately, see?” sweat was visibly trickling down the man’s face and into his hair now.

“Found a whole cave of gold jus’ passed the bridge over the Hoarwell, it used to be a troll hovel o’ somethin’ but they was turned ta stone just outside. Then the bleeding elves came along and Redmann sent me ta keep the business runnin’ this side of the river ‘til they leave.” A bit of pride snuck into his voice towards the end.

Bilbo processed this for a moment. The elves mustn't be finished with the bridge yet. But there was more to address. “You said ‘they’ before, who else is there?” The man squirmed uncomfortable.

“About five or six others,” he admitted when he heard Bilbo draw Sting out again. “Jus’ grunts, like me.”

Bilbo rolled this new information over in his mind. The man would undoubtedly tell his leader about this and it may stir up trouble. While he had little doubt that his dwarves could handle a few bandits, he would rather they didn’t have to. He also knew he would rather not sully his hands with anymore blood.

He made his way over to the tree trunk and climbed up to where he had fasted the rope. “Tell you what! Since you’ve been so cooperative, I’ve decided not to test how decapitation suits you and I’ll even lend you a hand in getting down.”

With a few sawing motions with Sting, Bilbo was satisfied. “I’ve cut the rope a bit for you, so if you work extra hard, you might be able to break it before a bear comes along and breaks you.”

Bilbo slid down the tree and reached up for a good hold on the cows harness with one hand and nabbed the dim lantern with the other. “It’s quite warm for a Spring night,” he mentioned to the still hanging man who was gaping at him. “Good luck!”

He tugged on the harness and the cow stepped forward, hauling the netting-sled and chickens and armor and all else he could manage behind her. She mooed and the bell around her neck rang.

 


 

It was near dawn by the time Bilbo approached camp. It was awfully lively for so early and he couldn’t imagine why. He could see that Dís had returned, possibly sometime the night before, and was searching beneath wagons and in bushes while yelling at anyone who wasn’t doing the same.

The cow gave shake of her head, tossing the bell back and forth, and picked up the pace. Bilbo figured she must be happy to see a familiar bearded faces.

Everyone had stopped their searching at the sound of the cowbell and stared in sleepy dazed confusion as Bilbo entered the camp.

“What’s all going on? Did someone lose something?” He was only half joking. There was little doubt in his mid that a dwarfling would manage to walk off for a bit of fun without a word to their parents. Reckless, the lot of them, he thought fondly.

Dís stormed up to him after recovering and gave him a light smack to the back of the head. “What have you been up to!? I’ve been looking for you since I got back you rotten thing you!” But she was smiling now. “And what’s this!” She gestured at the cow and her load.

“Well,” Bilbo grumbled, rubbing the back of his head where it was throbbing. “I came across a funny fellow in the woods who was quite curious about hobbits. We talked for a while, had him hanging on my every word of course, and when we were about to part ways he found himself quite overcome and insisted I take all this in memory of our meeting. What a curious fellow indeed.”

The cow groaned and bumped her head against Bilbo. “Funny, isn’t it? I believe we were missing a cow and few hens somewhere weren’t we?”

“Yes,” Dís chuckled. “We were, and what a coincidence that while I was with the other caravan, they realized they were missing bits and pieces here and there as well. As a matter of fact…” She went around to examine a chest piece amongst the armor. “I do believe this looks exactly like Old Barmi’s. Won’t he be ever so excited?”

Bilbo smiled politely. “I suppose I’ll leave this to you then, won’t I? I’m quite exhausted so I think I’ll go take a short nap before we proceed.”

“Why of course, Master Baggins!” Bilbo was almost afraid Dís’ face would split with how wide a smile she shot at him, but he was truly very tired and made a beeline for his cart. Along the way he got a fair number of pats on the back and was even given jolly hug by one passing dwarf as everyone seemed to hide away to get a little more sleep it was time to go.

Curled under his blankets, Bilbo pushed aside any concerns over the bridge and Redmann’s bandits and fell into a light sleep.

Chapter Text

They were ready to head out again just before the sun was at it’s peak in the sky. Everyone was a bit rough after a night of hobbit hunting, and even after his nap Bilbo could still feel the grit in his eyes.

Dís had assigned the stolen belongings to a lone dwarf, who had neither family nor attachments to look after, to wait for the other Caravan while Bilbo had been asleep.

“Are you sure that’s wise?” He’d asked with concern. “By his-err, themself?”

She had smirked at his fumble and, to his frustration, hadn’t corrected him. Honestly, he knew that she knew he could use a bit of assistance. She waved her hand dismissively.

“Yoni is a skilled warrior. Knows to keep away from the road and be cautious. Plenty capable.”

She mounted her pony and joined the front of their delegation, leaving Bilbo to prepare his cart.

The going was slow, mostly because one of the wagons got caught in a freshly dug hole that most of the dwarves merely went around but neither ox nor driver took notice until it was too late. Weighed down as the wagon was with the belongings of a grand total of eleven dwarfs, it took more than a dozen pairs of hands pushing, pulling and lifting to get it right side up again.

The mood had soured a bit by then, as tired dwarves hurried to regain their pace. It had Bilbo fidgeting up on his cart as he began to recognize a tree here and rock formation there. A rippling of water jetting downstream grew louder, until a curve in the beaten path had them exiting the pines and overlooking the Hoarwell.

Bilbo stared in awe.

The Last Bridge was no longer a crumbling stack of loose stones. As he released a breath of relief, there was roar of disgruntled murmurs.

“Blasted elves,” an elderly dwarf grumbled not out of hearing distance. “What are they doin’ round these parts…”

And elves there were. On the other side of the river they appeared to be having a bit of a dance amidst the trees.

Their caravan had come to a stand still, Dís refusing to move onward. She was a bit too far off to call to her so Bilbo leapt down from his cart with a growing sense of irritation, handing the reins off to a rather round, tired looking dwarf with a smatter of gray in their blondish beard.

“I think I’ll walk a bit, why don’t you get a bit of rest?”

He was off before the dwarf responded, apologizing and excusing himself through the crowd. When he finally came upon the flanks of Dís’ shaggy pony, he discovered her expression withdrawn and the corners of her mouth pulled tight.

“Dís,” Bilbo called. “Please Dís do not let prejudice cloud your sight. Not now.”

When she didn’t appear to hear him, he reached his hand as high as could on top her own that clenched the reins with great strength. She startled and looked to him sharply.

“What was that, Master Baggins?”

“Let us continue across this bridge and onwards before nightfall. We have been delayed enough today as it is.”

“How can we trust them not to...to…” She could find no words to explain her objection.

“They are here on my request,” Bilbo admitted and at her betrayed look he hastened to add, “to fix bridge! It was on the verge of collapse on our first journey to the Mountain and while passing through Rivendell, we made sure to notify Lord Elrond. He promised me a few months back to get it back in tip top shape before our crossing!”

And it seemed they must have finished only recently as he could faintly see the remaining supplies the elves must have brought as well as numerous tools.

“I don’t trust them,” Dís maintained, jaw set stubbornly. We’ll set up camp here tonight.”

The hobbit bit his lip and chose not to point out that it made no sense to set up for the night so close to the elves’ campsite if she didn’t’ trust them enough to pass by them. Instead he took a deep, calming breath.

“How about I go talk to them and bring one over to tell you about the bridge?”

She didn’t reply but her shoulders relaxed a bit. “Fine. But if I don’t like what they have to say, we’re not budging until they’re gone.”

The stubbornness of Dwarves.

Bilbo straightened his waist coat, and marched his way down the rest of the path towards the bridge.

 


 

He’d hardly gotten half way across the bridge before he was surrounded by half a dozen elves, beaming brightly down at him.

“Why, Master Hobbit,” The one directly in front of him spoke. “Would you be the esteemed Mister Bilbo Baggins?” Bilbo flushed something awful.

“I cannot be too sure of ‘esteemed’, but I assure you that I am indeed Bilbo Baggins, at your service.” The last bit tumbled from his mouth out of habit and he smacked his palm to face. The Elves around him all smiled and looked to each other in delight.

“Master Baggins, we’ve been expecting you and your-” The elf glanced in the distance where all the dwarves seemed to be settling down to break for lunch, Dís now standing with her arms crossed and glaring heatedly in their direction. “-friends…”

“We were uncertain that the bridge would be complete before your arrival, but it seems we were right on time.”

“It’s quite impressive,” Bilbo admitted. “Last I saw it, it was a crumbling wreck. Truly an improved design!”

They all seemed to preen. He wondered if they were a bit younger than most he’d met in Rivendell. Though, it would be terribly rude to ask.

“But why do your companions hesitate, Master Baggins?” Asked a bright eyed elf maid, fiddling with her long braid as she watched them from afar. “Have we made offense?”

“No!” Bilbo rushed to explain, “Not at all! It’s just, they are rather concerned.”

“Concerned?” Asked the first elf.

“Yes, you see...They’ve got all they own on their backs or in their wagons and are quite concerned the bridge, knowing the shape it was in before, won’t be up to the task.”

Looking up at the elf he continued, “Perhaps you could come assure them and explain how it’s been improved, Master-...”

“You may call me Lenwë, Master Baggins, and of course I will assure them. I shall retrieve the designs from my bag and accompany you.”

Lenwë returned to their camp while a few of the other elves made themselves comfortable on or against the bridge’s stone railings, asking questions about why he left the shire and how he managed to earn Lord Elrond’s good graces.

Bilbo smiled politely and couldn’t help but tell the story, leaving a number of details aside, and while his audience enjoyed his story, he observed them.

None of them wore the fine draping cloths that the elves in Lord Elrond’s home adorned and the small amount of dirt on their tunics made them appear almost slovenly in comparison. Amongst them there were three brunettes, a silvery blonde and one russet haired elf. Lenwë’s own hair was a dark blonde. Needless to say, none of them held themselves remotely like any elf Bilbo had met in the last year.

Lenwë skipped back across the bridge towards them, looking put out that his companions had been having a good deal of fun without him.

“Let us reassure your friends, Master Baggins.”

 


 

“Dís,” Bilbo said cautiously as they approached. He’d been gone less than an hour but the dwarves had made themselves quite comfortable, mostly lying in dwarrow piles and napping. Dis however, stood firmly, her posture stiff, arms still crossed, and a suspicious glint in her eyes.

“I would like to introduce you to Lenwë. He’s brought the design for the bridge and says he would to explain how it’s been refurbished.”

“Master Dís, I, Lenwë, am at your service.” The elf’s tone was just within the realm of respectful but otherwise entirely playful. He either hadn’t noticed the scowl beneath Dís’  beard or had chosen to ignore it. He bowed deeply.

At ‘Master Dís’, the dwarf’s beard twitched, Bilbo fretted whether it was a good twitch or a bad twitch, and bowed back.

Lenwë must have taken this as a good sign as he led her away to discuss the designs. Left to his own devices, Bilbo went in search of his cart.

He discovered it pulled off the main road, like most of the wagons, in the shade of a looming pine. The dwarf with whom he had left it, was absent. He frowned in disappointment but he really shouldn’t have expected someone to take care of his own-.

A retching sound reached his ears. Rounding the cart he found the dwarf a short distance away, doubled over and heaving.

“My word! are you alright?” Bilbo moved to keep his feet planted a good distance from where the bile pooled but rubbed the dwarf’s back sympathetically.

“M’rn’n sickness…” came a gruff, hoarse groan and Bilbo blinked blankly for a moment.

The dwarf, she, as Bilbo was pleased to be able to confirm with confidence, was ill several more times and once she seemed done, Bilbo guided her to sit in the back of his cart and poured her a mug of water from his pouch.

“My thanks, Master Hobbit,” she tilted her head respectfully. “Bromoubelyn Brightbuckle, at your service. You can call me Brom.” She pulled a filthy rag from her pocket and wiped her brow.

“Bilbo Baggins, at yours.” He stared at the rag with horror. No. Just, no.

“Hold on a moment.”

He climbed aboard the cart and rooted through one of his bags until he found one his mother’s handkerchiefs. Well, his grandmother had made it, along with six others when his mother had found herself pregnant.

“Here,” he folded it neatly and wiped away the imaginary dust and handed it to Brom. “That rag seems quite unhealthy.”

Brom smiled weakly and accepted the handkerchief, running her calloused fingers over the soft delicate embroidery. “Thank you once more, Master Baggins. I’m afraid this journey may be especially difficult for me and your kindness is much appreciated.”

“It’s no problem at all.” Bilbo insisted and looked to the smatterings of dwarves down the way. “Who would you be travelling with?”

She shook her head. “No one, Master Baggins. My husband’s staying in the Blue Mountains until the last Caravan leaves. He’s in charge of the Mines, can’t just walk off.”

Bilbo nodded. “Well, whenever you need a rest, you come find me and you can ride along.”

“Master Baggins,” Brom drew herself up. “I am quite capable of looking after myself, despite my condition.”

“I have no doubts about your capabilities, but I have made the trip before. It is most unpleasant regardless of one’s health.” He fidgeted a moment. A very old memory resurfaced, of cold and hunger and tears.

“I’ve had a bit of experience with soon to be mothers in less than ideal situations. If I can of assistance, I will do what I can.”

Brom appeared hesitant but nodded.

A glance in the direction Dís and Lenwë headed told Bilbo they wouldn’t be going anywhere for a while, so he released the pony from the cart and set her out to graze.

“You are a mess, and we’ve not even gotten half way there yet.” The pony snickered at him and he gave her rump a pat, sending a cloud of dirt into the air.

Time passed slowly. Some dwarves began collecting wood to start fires and it seemed the elves had a similar side across the river.

As the sun began to set, there was a rush to refill water skins and barrels and Bilbo brought the pony with him as made to refill his own pouch. After the pony gulped down her fill and they made their way back to the cart, Dís called everyone to her.

In the warmth of the setting sun, her smile glistened and her eyes glowed.

“We will join Lenwë and his companions for the night. Come, my friends, let us rejoice!”

Cheers of excitement and relief sounded all around and Bilbo found the mood catching. He trotted his pony back to his cart and got her strapped back into the harness.

“We leave, so soon?” A sleepy Brom asked, whiskers stuck in her mouth.

“No, my dear, we are going to have a party!’

She was asleep again before he climbed into the driver’s seat.

 

Chapter Text

The sun was just peeking through the trees and the sky was dim, birds chirping and squirrels beginning to chatter. Some might consider this all the makings of lazy morning but when Bilbo awoke it was with a racing heart and Redmann searing through his mind.

Sitting up he took note of the elves who were already skipping about the camp, cleaning up their mess and preparing for the day’s journey back to Rivendell. Meanwhile, his dwarves were scattered about the bank of the river, snoring and whistling in sleep. He spotted Dís, snug beneath a blanket of furs beneath a wagon, and a snort of amusement smacked down his rising panic.

Bilbo took the opportunity to wash his face and refill his waterskin, knowing he would need it after their night of merriment, and searched out Lenwë.

The elf was securing a very empty barrel to his cart when the hobbit approached, and smiled brightly at him when he neared.

“I must return these to the village of men a short trek from here,” he explained roguishly. “They were quite surprised to see an elf in their meadery, so surprised they allowed me purchase of a whole barrel without recommendation. I’d best return it to them quickly lest they view us as swindlers!”

Bilbo nodded, biting the inside of his cheek. “That you should, however, might I ask a favor of you?”

Lenwë’s brows rose.. “Ask you may, though I can give no promises, Master Baggins.”

“I have heard,” Bilbo began, “from a possibly unreliable source, that there is a troupe of scavengers amongst the Trollshaws just northeast of here along the East-West Road.” Lenwë’s face grew dark.

“Scavengers? I heard mention of looters for sure during my visits to Bruentry but I’d not thought long on it. Have you fear they may lay siege upon your caravan?”

“Yes, quite nervous, in fact. I’ve been led to believe that they’re being led by one called ‘Redmann’, I’m not sure-”

“Redmann?” Lenwë tested the name. “Redmann, yes, there is a name I’ve heard the Dunedain speak of. I believe they were beginning to gather in Bruentry for a meeting about him. Though, I’ve not much contact with them myself, aside from relaying messages to and from Imladris.”

“Dunedain, there are Rangers in this Bruentry then?”

“Indeed, perhaps they would be of better assistance. My friends and I,” here Lenwë made a sweeping gesture to the other elves, enjoying their breakfasts and teasing one another a short distance away. “We are capable of defending ourselves but we are no warriors. I would not favor our odds if confronted by a large group.”

Bilbo understood. Lenwë continued, “One question I have for you, my friend. Why not tell you dwarven companions? I am certain they’ve enough skill to fend off these ne'er do wells themselves.” Bilbo stared up at him, startled. He’d not even taken the dwarves themselves into consideration. Again, going behind his friend’s backs. A clamminess took him over then.

Sensing Bilbo’s disturbance, Lenwë patted him on the shoulder and left him to his thoughts.

Dís is not Thorin , he reminded himself.

An hour passed and the sun now peeked over the tops of the trees, prodding a few of the dwarves to wake up, nursing the heads from the night’s festivities. Dís, however, remained asleep. Bilbo had spent this time bringing himself back to the present and had finally bucked up the courage to discuss Redmann with the dwarf herself.

Crawling beneath the wagon, he gave her a gentle shake. “Dís,” he hissed. “Dís, wake up, for the love of- no. It is time to wake up, do not glare at me like that, thank you very much!”

Dís groaned and swatted, but Bilbo managed to get her up by trying, and failing, to drag her out by her feet. “Bilbo Baggins!” She’d snarled and hauled herself out. “I’ll have you know I was having the most pleasant dream and you’ve gone and ruined-.”

“There are bandits.” Bilbo blurted. Dís stared at him.

“I mean, there are bandits ahead, along the road. I’ve heard word of them the other day. Just where we encountered the troll caves on the first trip.”

Dís was rubbing her face tiredly. “Alright,” she grunted. “And?” It was Bilbo’s turn to stare.

“And,” Bilbo repeated slowly. “There is no and, why would there need to be an and? The ‘and’ is the whole bit!”

She was patting him on the head. “Master Baggins, we discussed the possibility of thieves and bandits before you left the Blue Mountains, yes?”

“Why yes, but-.”

“And do you really think that I wouldn’t assign a number of skilled warriors to each of the caravans?” Bilbo frowned, suddenly embarrassed that he’d not thought as much.

“If we encounter them, we shall smite them. Simple, that.” She gave him a whap to the back of the head and left to fetch some water.

Bilbo stood, looking after her.

Definitely not Thorin. Still, it did not end the tightness in his chest.

The caravan was ready to go before the sun reached the highest point in the sky. Lenwë promised to try and contact the Dunedain once he reached Bruentry and wished them luck.

“We may see each other again in Imladris,” the elf said as they parted, the caravan continuing on the East West Road and the elves on a less travelled road toward Bruentry..

“I hope so,” Dís chuckled as she approached. “I do very much wish to witness your skills with a mandolin.” Bilbo watched in confusion as the two bowed to one another.

“Mandolin?” He asked Dís. She smiled.

“Of course, Master Baggins.” and rode off to the head of the group.

Dwarves.

The road was clear ahead of them, something Bilbo was almost certain to be unusual for this time of year and it was as if all the wild life had gone silent. The guards that Dís had scheduled for the day held their weapons careful and eyed the shadows beyond the trees. None of it looked familiar to Bilbo, so he had no idea how close they may be to the trollshaws, and just because Redmann had supposedly built his fortress around the cave did not mean that he nor his followers would confine themselves to it. The could be lurking in trees or behind boulders, ducking low in the grass and surround the caravan.

Bilbo gave his head a little shake and patted his face to bring himself back to reality. No sense getting stuck on ‘if’s when the worst could be right under your nose, so he put himself to work, keeping a sharp eye out from his vantage point atop his cart.

 


 

Two days passed, and almost every adult dwarf had been put on guard at least once, but there were no attacks, no suspicious characters, and nothing had been reported missing. It would be another three until they reached Rivendell, though, and plenty of of time for things to get messy.

Two night’s after parting with the elves found Bilbo squabbling with a frizzy, dark haired dwarf over Sting.

“Naught but a toothpick!” The dwarf hooted and gave him a prod in the ribs that left him thoroughly outraged. “A paddle for misbehavin’ l’il ones it is!”.

No number of tales told or fearsome swipes he displayed made them think otherwise, in fact, it only seemed to encourage their mockery.

It was when his irritation grew to anger and he reached into his pocket to feel it empty that he felt his entire being turn numb and let the sword drop, uncaring of those around him.

Bilbo hadn’t felt the need to prove himself to anyone in months, not since he’d whisked his companions from their cells in Thranduil’s palace. Not even when sent on his task to search the treasury had he felt the need to please. The journey to Erebor had been hard and long, his loyalty earned and returned.

He owed these dwarves nothing and they had no reason to believe him anything more than odd little hobbit.

So Bilbo left them to their raucous laughter around their fire, let them believe they’d won something and a time would come when he would show them who he was.

Sting returned to its holster, he sought out Dís. She had made herself quite comfortable at the edge of the camp, gazing over the tops of the forest where the sun was still setting, and smoking her pipe.

“What have you?” he asked, pulling his own out of a satchel.

She glanced, smirking, at him and blew two rings. Bilbo smiled fondly as one passed through the other. “Southern Star,” he muttered fondly. “Not seen that in a long while.”

He gratefully accepted the bag she offered him, readied his pipe, and took a puff.

“Tell me a tale, Master Baggins,” Dís murmured.

“Any one in particular?”

“Fili.”

Bilbo choked but recovered quickly.

“Right then, allow me a moment.” After several, he smacked his lips on his pipe.

“Twas a few night before Durin’s Day, when Fili proved himself braver than I ever imagined.”

“Is that so?”

“Yes, most certainly. I had thought him brave for following Th-. For standing so defiantly by his Uncle’s side through the worst of our journey. For holding up under the responsibilities thrust upon him when he is in true nature, barely hardly less mature than I-. Don’t you look at me like that, I know you dwarves and your silly thoughts of those beardless. I am in my prime, I’d have you know.”

Dís snorted.

“I’d thought him brave before,” Bilbo said, glaring half heartedly at her. “But it was when he abandoned his Uncle and his campaign, that was when I saw his true strength, his character, and his loyalty. After our soujourn in Laketown we were restless, that which we sought was in our sights and it blinded each of us. But not Fili. When given the choice between legends of old and family, he chose that which called to him more.”

He could feel Dís’ eyes piercing him, but the sun had sunk behind the trees and he could only see their wetness.

“Before reaching Laketown, we were set upon by orcs, not for the first time. Kili was struck by a Morgul arrow, poisoned. In our haste, we failed to see him well, but Fili did not. I’ve never had brothers or sisters and I cannot imagine the bonds they hold, but I feel I was able to truly understand them for that moment. Even as I feel shame for my own inattention.”

A hand landed on his shoulder and squeezed. Dís’ voice was thick and croaky.

“I would not blame you, Master Baggins. My people have always raised our children to bare the pains of this world. We’d have perished long ago if we had not. Perhaps in our own mountain we may teach a new generation to rely on one another more easily.” She took a shuddering breath that rattled Bilbo’s ribcage. “But I admit my relief that my boys stand together, even as they followed my fool brother’s errand. Above all, I raised them to act with the best intentions.”

And Bilbo’s heart broke. Intentions that he’d still not dared utter. How could he? How would he ever tell her now? He’d grown accustomed the easy friendship going on between them, lied to himself , that all would sort itself out and Balin may talk sense into Fili. Sitting here now, Bilbo realized there would be no such ending.

“Dís, I-.”

“SCAVENGERS! BANDITS! SPINELESS COWARDS!”

Whipping around towards the camp, illuminated by the fire stood a tall man ragged hair gleaming in the red, flickering light. In one hand was gleaming blade against the throat of a dwarf, held up off the ground, with legs kicking.

He and Dís scrambled closer, keeping low in the grasses and quickly realized the caravan had been surrounded.

Any grief Bilbo had been suffering moments ago was replaced with severe, prickling irritation. “Don’t worry Bilbo, we prepared for this Bilbo, it will all be fine Bilbo!” He hissed at Dís, the firelight just barely showing the grimace on her tear streaked face.

“Oh shut it!”

“We’ve got hostages!” The man in front of the fire yelled, voice confident. “Throw down your weapons and we might not gut them, or you!”

The men began closing in, four other holding struggling or unconscious dwarves at knife point. Staring hard, Bilbo felt a chill up his spine.

One of the hostages was Brom.

Chapter Text


(My art blog is cleggie-draws.tumblr.com if anyone would like to follow me there)