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A Fairy's Tale

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Once upon a time, according to rumors and legend amongst certain hobbit families, there lived a hobbit with a fairy wife.

This was in in ages past, before the hobbits embarked on what would be known as the Wandering Days, when the Fae existed in more than fable.

They were rarely seen, but it was well known they existed, in the woods, empty valleys and lonely moors. They danced with the wind between the branches of towering trees, chattered with the birds as they flew and ran with the deer and foxes.

They were wild…and they were hunted.

The Fae, though related to the elves, were not immortal. They did, however, possess lifespans so long that, to other races, they might as well have been. This in and of itself would not have resulted in the Fae becoming prey to the darker powers of Middle Earth had it not been for one, unique, aspect. Magic. The Fae were, by nature, magical creatures and their magic filled them so utterly that it overflowed, radiating outward to affect those closest to them. Those who lived near them experienced lives far longer than any of their race ought to have had. They also tended to enjoy great health and abundant crops.

Sorcerers, Necromancers and others sought them, binding the Fae with spells and dark rituals in attempts to extend their own lives or stripping them of their magic to augment their own. This action resulted in the death of the Fae for magic was as much a part of them as the blood in their veins and they could not survive without it. The Fae, for their own safety, were forced to either hide themselves or seek refuge and safety from the elves.

It was rare, therefore, too see one even when they did exist in great number and it was rarer still for one to fall in love, marry, and choose to live with their spouse in the open. Such situations, generally, invariably, ended in tragedy.

Such was ultimately the fate of the fairy who bound herself to a hobbit…but that was the end of her story and before it came she and her husband enjoyed many years of happiness.

They had many children and grandchildren, in whom the blood of the Fae ran strong. It continued in the veins of her descendants, passed Age to Age long after her own story had passed into legend and myth.

The descendants of the fairy were different than the rest. They were a little bolder, a bit more prone to adventure, slightly more reckless. As time passed they stepped to the forefront and took up leadership positions. Eventually this bloodline adopted the surname of Took and, as the Ages passed, they grew to be one of the oldest, wealthiest and most respected of families.

And the strangest but never too strange and they were regarded so highly that most of the unusual things they did were simply written off as eccentric or as the whims of the wealthy.

For the most part anyway.

Fae blood, after all, was every bit as wild as the fairy who had once carried it and, every so often, it would flare up. When this happened a child would be born in the line who, for all intents and purposes, was more fairy than hobbit. In the earliest days of the world, when the hobbits were so young a race they had not yet dreamed of a place called the Shire much less lived there, many of these children were forced to leave their families to live amongst the Fae. They were not full fairy and did not possess the same level of power the Fae did but they were still powerful in their own right, still lived long lives and lengthened the lives of those around them. For this reason they were endangered as much as any fairy and if they failed to leave on their own it would not be unusual for them to vanish one day, never to be seen or heard from again.

Eventually the Fae, weary of the world, fled for lands safer to their kind. With their passing the blood settled in the veins of the Tooks and though the occasional child would still be born with a slightly stronger adventurous streak than was usual even for a Took there were no more fairy born in Hobbit flesh. Time passed. The Hobbits left the lands they had called home and began the Wandering Days. This time lasted untold years, so many in fact that it became all they knew, the time before it fading until it was almost entirely lost. Eventually the Hobbits settled in a new home, one that came to be called Shire, and here they found peace and comfort.

By this time tales of such things as fairies had faded into myth and lore and, as is often the case with such things, much of it became exaggerated and twisted. Instead of fairies being in danger they became the danger, sorceresses and sorcerers, workers of dark magic who brought evil and mischief wherever they went. They became the creature hiding under the bed, the thing lurking in the shadows waiting to carry off misbehaving children. Parents would gather their children about on stormy nights and regale them with tales of hideous creatures with horns, sharp teeth and pointed claws, of heroes sent out to wage war against them and wrench forth victory from the practitioners of black magic.

It was into this setting, sometime in the Third Age, that Bilba Baggins was born. It was impossible to tell why the blood of that ancient fairy decided to act up with her birth. Perhaps the magic laying nearly dormant within the veins of her mother was somehow angered by the way fairies were portrayed, perhaps there was some higher reason or purpose behind it or, perhaps, it simply was for no reason at all.

In any event, Bilba was born, the first and, as it turned out, only daughter of Bungo and Belladonna Baggins, previously Belladonna Took, and from the beginning it was clear she was quite different.

She was born with brilliant violet eyes, so bright that, at times, they almost appeared to glow Her ears were larger than normal and came to a sharper point while her hair, once it started to grow was brown and ash blonde, with brilliant streaks of deep orange and red like the changing leaves on a tree in autumn. It grew in thick waves, falling all the way to her feet. Her mother tried repeatedly to cut it only to find it grown back almost overnight. She finally gave up and simply began tying it into a braid as thick as her arm that swayed and danced as the girl moved. Bilba always seemed to have flowers worked into it, though no one ever saw her pick any, and as long as they stayed in her hair the colors remained vibrant and alive.

She was small, even by Hobbit standards, her frame delicate and refusing to put on the curves or plumpness that was common to their race no matter how much she ate. When she walked she seemed to glide and if one were to pass by later it would not be unusual to find flowers and grass cropping up in her footprints. She had a melodic voice and when she laughed it was almost musical, the sound enough to draw a smile from even the most hard hearted soul.

It was not, however, just her looks that were different.

Weather appeared to have no effect on her. She always wore thin sundresses regardless of it being the height of summer or the dead of winter. Animals had a tendency to appear near her, foxes and deer, a wolf a time or two and a wide assortment of birds. There were those that insisted they had seen her talking to them and even witnessed the creatures obeying her commands. If she were near a garden for any length of time it was guaranteed to produce twice as much, and twice as big, and indeed her mother’s pumpkins began to win contests every year after Bilba was born.

Many also noticed that Belladonna and Bungo never seemed to look any older, or grow sick, after their daughter’s birth. Others who were ill also reported feeling better simply by being in her presence though the girl would often complain of fatigue after being around them and would retire early to bed.

All of those things were certainly odd, garnering speculation and rumor, but perhaps the strangest thing about the young girl was her propensity for dancing.

She danced almost constantly, whether she was going to the market or simply playing in the large fields behind the hill where her home sat. Sometimes, particularly when the moon was full, she could be seen dancing through the fields and streets of the Shire. Some swore the wind itself was her partner, swirling about her and following her movements as she leapt, spun, twirled…and occasionally disappeared altogether.

The disappearances didn’t happen all that often, maybe a few times a year, and never more than a day or two at a time. When she would reappear it would be with her hair unbound and flowing wildly around her, her eyes gleaming. She would claim she had no idea where she’d been or why she’d gone and no one ever reported having seen her while she’d been gone.

Most of the adults dismissed the majority of her oddities. Bilba was the most gentle and kind soul any of them had met. She cried at the slightest sign of suffering or pain in another living being and was open and friendly to all who knew her. She was a Took most said nodding their heads sagely, and the daughter of Belladonna, a woman known for being eccentric and doing decidedly un-Hobbit like things. It was understandable her daughter would share many of her traits and as for anything else that was odd, well, it was clearly misunderstanding, deceiving eyes or exaggeration. They were adults and not prone to believing in silly things like legends of Hobbit sorcery and, even if they were, the girl looked nothing at all like the monsters in those tales and, therefore, could clearly not be any such thing.

Such stories were for children and, as such, it was the children of the Shire who ended up believing in them. They had been raised on such tales and heard their parents discuss the oddity of the Baggins girl, just the tiniest hint of doubt in their voices as they dismissed anything overly unusual about her.

To the children, the decision that Bilba must be one of the sorceresses of legend was a natural one. They lived in a world where magic, though rare, did exist and the thought of seeing it up close was exciting. That the stories they’d heard told of a being capable of dark magic and mischief added an air of danger and bravery for those willing to dare interact with her.

Girls would dramatically scream and run when they saw her coming, often throwing themselves into the arms of nearby boys they held interest in. The boys, meanwhile, would dare one another to approach her, some would challenge her, trying to make her the villain in their own story. When Bilba never reacted they became bolder, often bullying or taunting her. Girls would approach her to ask for love potions or hexes for those they felt had wronged them. When she insisted she couldn’t do such things they refused to believe her and turned on her, spreading cruel rumors and lies about her.

During one incident, when she came near a group of children they all began to scatter, running from her in all directions. One small boy tripped and fell and when he sat up his arm was bent at an unnatural angle and he cried from the pain, giant tears welling in his eyes. Bilba immediately went to him and knelt to take the arm. The little boy later reported that his arm glowed with light and when she released it, sagging in exhaustion to sit beside him, his arm was whole and unmarked.

The adults dismissed the story, insisting the little boy’s arm had clearly never been broken in the first place. They went back to their lives and continued to ignore anything that suggested their world was not exactly as they desired it to be.

Among the children, however, the incident proved to be a dividing one. There were those who believed the boy’s story, and feared her as a result. They began to avoid her, convinced she really would cast a spell or hex on them in revenge for past wrongs. As they grew they became superstitious, convinced every negative thing that happened was a result of Bilba acting against them. They even coined a phrase, “Bilba must be having a fit” to explain bad luck.

Others dismissed the boy’s story as the adults had and never changed their ways. As they grew their bullying changed into sullenness toward her, or cattiness in the case of some like Lobelia Sackville. She had never forgiven Bilba for refusing to create a love potion that would force a young man she’d had her eye on to fall in love with her.

A third group of children, however, believed the boy’s story and, for the first time, actually bothered to truly look at Bilba. They found a small girl who laughed constantly and trusted absolutely, even when she shouldn’t. A child who rescued spiders, put out food and water for stray cats and often carried around a three legged fox she’d once befriended in the woods.

His name, they came to learn, was Sir Reginald.

These children felt guilt for their actions, realizing Bilba was not an object to feature as the villain in their make believe. Regardless of what she could, or could not, do she had never shown the slightest hint of cruelty toward anyone and had never treated them with anything but kindness, no matter how badly they treated her.

These few changed their treatment of her and, for the first time, Bilba had friends. They would rush off and spend hours playing in the woods, often coming back with stories of speaking to animals, riding about on trees that moved and spoke to them, and of dancing with the wind. Their parents would pat them on the head, brag to their friends about how creative and imaginative their children were, and go on about their lives.

And so life continued, much as it always had, and much as it always would have…had it not been for the winter of Bilba’s twenty-first year.

At first people assumed it was simply a normal winter as with any other. As the days passed, however, it grew colder, and colder still. The Brandywine froze and word began to spread that white wolves, and worse, had crossed over and were attacking those who lived on the outskirts of the Shire. Crops froze and, as time passed, starvation set in. Many began to die, the cemeteries of the Shire growing faster than the frozen ground could be broken to make more room.

In Hobbiton the effects of what would come to be called the Fell Winter were not as harsh. There was never any sign of a wolf or goblin and though crops froze they did so slower, the fruits and vegetables proving hardier than one might expect. The fish in the lake also proved almost unnaturally hardy while the ice simultaneously was weak, allowing those brave enough to venture out and fish for food for their families.

Bilba’s friends thanked her, believing it was her doing that kept the worst of the Fell Winter at bay. Those who felt differently, however, who were already used to blaming their woes on her, grew angry. Whispers of a Sorceress of great power living in Bag End began to spread outside Hobbiton.

Some dismissed it.

Some did not.

Strangers arrived, shady looking characters who asked for the location of the supposed Sorceress. Belladonna and Bungo hid their daughter and, when asked, insisted she was no Sorceress and was currently visiting distant relations.

One day Bella and Bungo found themselves facing down a particularly dangerous looking Man who was not at all inclined to take their answers for the truth and leave. Just as they feared he would force his way inside to search for the so-called Sorceress a sharp voice called out. The Man looked down the lane, blanched, and departed with great haste.

Belladonna saw a tall elf walking up her lane, next to an elderly Man with a staff. He, she recognized, though she had not seen him for many years, since well before Bilba had been born. She’d heard he’d returned, along with the Rangers, to help them in their time of need but he had stayed on the outskirts where the suffering was the worst and had not ventured into Hobbiton.

Now, as he and the elf strode up her steps Belladonna straightened, put her hands on her hips, lifted her chin and declared, “She’s not a Sorceress, Gandalf. Leave her alone.”

Gandalf gave her a bemused look in response and replied, “I simply want to meet the child, Belladonna. Won’t you bring her out?”

She started to deny him, to say that Bilba wasn’t home, but then, as if she’d been summoned, Bilba’s voice spoke up from behind her.

“I’m here. Who are you? Oh! Are you an elf? I’ve never seen an elf before!”

Belladonna tensed but there was little she could do as her daughter ducked under the arm she was using to block the doorway and stood in front of her.

Bilba barely came up to Belladonna’s chin, a pixie in more ways than one. Her eyes were guileless and her smile brilliant as she happily invited them both in for tea.

The elf looked stunned for a second and then, to Belladonna’s surprise, a delighted smile crossed his face. He took a step forward and crouched down to put a hand on a slender shoulder.

“Hello little cousin,” he said gently. “My name is Elrond, and I am very pleased to meet you.”

Bilba, as was her custom to anyone she met, positively beamed in response.

 

***

 

It was Elrond who explained, to both her and her parents, what she truly was. Not the twisted, dark creature of myth or legend but a figure of light, peace and harmony. Hobbits, he pointed out, were themselves peaceful and gentle souls so wouldn’t it make sense that if one had taken a fairy wife it was due to them having at least somewhat similar natures?

He offered to host all of them in Rivendell for the duration of the winter, until the rumors died down and the Rangers could make it clear that strangers entering the Shire to harass its residents would not be tolerated.

Belladonna agreed at once, excited at the prospect of her daughter being around those who understood her and could teach her more about her heritage.

They turned Bag End over to Gandalf and the Rangers, giving them a location from which to better aid the rest of the Shire, and more directly deal with anyone looking for Bilba. They then packed up and set out for Rivendell. For anyone else the journey would have been dangerous in such conditions. For them, with Bilba along, it became little more than trying.

Bilba loved Rivendell and the elves and they adored her in turn. They had mourned the passing of the fairy and were pleased to have one of her kind back in their midst, even if she was technically a Fae in Hobbit flesh as opposed to a fairy in truth. They understood her, showed her what her powers truly were and how to harness them, taught her to recognize, and control, her nature. They taught her, too, about the times she disappeared. The elves loved the water and the stars, fairy in turn loved the wind and in times when she vanished it was due to her nature getting the best of her and whisking her off to wherever the wind wished to take her.

They also told her about her healing powers and how lucky she had been when she helped the boy with the broken arm. Her magic, as they explained, did not know the difference between an injury that had just taken place and one that had happened years ago, nor did it recognize injuries or illnesses that were beyond its power to heal, and those did exist. It was far too easy for a fairy to inadvertently drain themselves of magic in the course of healing, to the extent their own life was placed in jeopardy. To this end it was vital that Bilba take great care in who she chose to help to ensure she didn’t die herself in the process.

Bilba listened intently to all they had to say and when Gandalf returned for her at the end of the long winter he found a young woman somehow wilder, and yet more grounded, than the one he’d met so many months before.

They all returned to the Shire together, along with a number of elves determined to make sure their little cousin came to no harm.

She did not. In her absence her friends had spent much of their time pointing how foolish it was to think she was so powerful she’d created a winter that, according to travelers passing through, was affecting land all the way from the Blue Mountains to Rivendell.

At the same time the Rangers had dealt with a number of strangers who’d wandered into the Shire to cause problems and word had quickly spread, as they intended, that the Shire was off limits to ruffians and unsavory folk. The fact that no sign of the supposed Sorceress was ever seen or felt also helped quiet down the rumors and unwanted visitors.

It was to a quiet and peaceful Shire they returned, one damaged by the winter but that had survived and was working its way slowly to recovery. Bilba visited every garden in Hobbiton, ensuring they produced twice as much to help make up for the food shortages. She wanted to try and heal people but her mother refused to let her, worried about Bilba’s health in the process as well as word getting out that she had the ability. Elrond had explained the kind of danger Bilba would be in if word got out about her for practitioners of black magic still existed and would seek her for their own use if they knew about her. Belladonna also knew her daughter well enough to know that, if she allowed it, the young woman would run herself into the ground trying to help every single person who asked.

And so Bilba did what she could and returned to her quiet life with her parents in Bag End.

And so it continued for a year until shortly after Bilba’s twenty-second birthday when things changed.

Yet again.

 

***

 

Bilba had been staring at him for close to ten minutes before she realized it.

She sighed, her shoulders slumping as she took in her surroundings. She was crouched in the rafters of what appeared to be the Prancing Pony Inn in Bree. Her hair was in a tangled mass about her body and her bare feet were caked with mud and dirt.

She’d gone and gotten lost again. Her first thought was to wonder how long it had been this time and to hope she hadn’t left soup on the stove again. She’d ruined her mother’s favorite pot the last time that had happened. Her mother had been less than pleased.

Her second thought was about what exactly it had been that had called her back.

Usually it was exhaustion or hunger and though she did feel a little tired it was nothing so extreme that would have called her back. A few other times it had been the elves, who had all developed an overprotective streak since learning of her existence, but she didn’t sense any in the vicinity.

She focused on the room again, in the direction she was already facing, and barely suppressed a start of surprise.

There was a Man sitting in a booth in the far corner. He was dressed all in black with a staff leaning against the wall. It looked almost like the one Gandalf carried but shorter and oddly twisted. She could feel power radiating from it but it felt…wrong somehow and she wondered if he’d perhaps cut a branch off a sick tree and that was what was causing the problem. Was he perhaps a wizard in training and didn’t know any better? Did they even do that sort of thing? She’d never spoken to Gandalf about it and had no idea how he’d come to be a wizard.

He hadn’t been what had caught her attention. She’d been looking next to him, at the person standing, barely, next to the table. He was stick thin, the rags he wore barely hanging on his skeletal frame. His hair and beard were matted and dark with filth and the rest of his body was streaked with dried sweat and mud. Through rents in his clothing she could see evidence of welts and other wounds, possibly even infection and the way he held himself suggested an injury to a leg, possibly his spine as well.

Her eyes went to his throat and the thick collar locked around it. A chain led from it, the end laying on the table.

She didn’t understand. Was he a prisoner? But, if so, why was he allowed to be in so poor a condition? What crime could he have possibly committed that would warrant such a thing?

And if he wasn’t a prisoner then what was he? A captive?

She studied him, trying to make sense of it. He was shorter than a normal human but the beard meant he couldn’t be a child. A dwarf perhaps? She cast about and found a handful of other dwarves in the Inn. Several of them were casting angry looks toward the Man but they made no attempt to approach. No one, in fact, was doing anything, giving the Man and his captive a wide berth instead.

Why? Bilba wondered. Why did no one help?

As she watched the Man finished his food and stood up. There was no food present for the dwarf and he didn’t seem to expect any. He stared blankly ahead at nothing, his eyes empty.

He had blue eyes, Bilba noted, strikingly blue, an odd contrast to the rest of him. At the moment they were dull and lifeless and she found herself trying to picture what they had been like when he’d been free, if he, in fact, ever had been.

Dwarves were a proud and honorable people who took great pride in the bodies gifted to them from Mahal. They also took great effort in the care and upkeep of their beard and hair, the mess his was in would be considered a great dishonor to both his bloodline and race.

How humiliating must it be for him to be here? Where other dwarves, and members of other races could see him?

She hated it. His obvious suffering twisted her stomach, made her limbs feel weak and start shaking, brought on severe nausea. It was the same any time she witnessed pain. She simply couldn’t handle it.

The Man headed toward the door. He’d picked up the end of the chain and, as it grew taut, the dwarf obediently moved after him.

Bilba dropped down from the rafters, landing silently on top of an empty table. No one saw her, she didn’t want them to so they didn’t.

She hurried out after the two. Outside it was raining, the wind cool but not biting.

The figures she was watching were vanishing from her sight, out the gates of Bree, and she darted down the steps, flinching as wet mud splashed up her calves, and ran after them.

The Man and dwarf left the gate and began heading up the road, into the wild beyond Bree.

Bilba shivered, her arms crossed over her chest. The rain wasn’t particularly cold but that didn’t mean it was comfortable. It had already soaked through her clothing, plastered her hair to her body, and even then was running in rivulets down her face, pattering in drops on her head.

She chewed on her lower lip for a second, then made a decision and followed after them. She had no idea what she planned to do but the dwarf was suffering and she couldn’t stand turning her back on him.

The Man traveled the rest of the day and well into the night before finally stopping and making camp. By that time the rain had stopped and the clouds parted, revealing bright, glittering stars overhead and a fat moon. It had been painful to watch for Bilba to watch the two travel. The dwarf was not capable of more than a slow, shambling walk but the Man had been merciless in his trek, often causing the dwarf to fall, only to be wrenched back up and forced forward once more. Several times Bilba had nearly given herself away by crying out, tears in her eyes at the horrible treatment.

She still didn’t know what to do and spent most of the night watching and worrying over it, climbing a tree to settle down and watch the distant camp fire. She could probably get in and get the dwarf out but, if she did, the Man would notice the next morning and the dwarf was far to injured to be able to travel quickly.

The solution finally came to her just as dawn was beginning to break over the landscape, a simple answer she really should have thought of earlier. She reached a hand into the pocket of her dress, curling it around a small coin pouch. She never knew exactly when she would end up losing herself to her fairy side, or how far she would go, so she’d started carrying a substantial amount of money with her to use to get home. Surely she had enough to tempt the Man to sell her his broken down captive, right? He’d certainly be able to move much quicker with money instead of an injured dwarf.

She moved forward and quietly got down from the tree. She pulled the pouch out, holding it in one hand, and started to walk toward the camp, resolute.

She barely made it a few steps before a hand caught her wrist.

“Bilba, what are you doing?”

Bilba spun to see three figures in a semi-circle behind her. They all towered over her but that wasn’t so surprising, thanks to her fairy blood even other hobbits were taller than she was.

She grinned brightly at the three and held the pouch up, balanced on her palm. “I’m going to go ask to buy that dwarf.”

Elladan, the one who was down on a knee, holding her wrist, gave her an incredulous look. “That’s…not a good idea Bilba.”

Bilba frowned. “Why not? I have plenty of money and he can’t be attached to that dwarf, not with how he’s been treating him. He’ll probably be happy to have the money instead of the dwarf.

Behind Elladan, his brother, Elrohir, looked confused. “Why do you want him, Bilba? Do you know him?”

Bilba shook her head. “He’s in pain.” It was a simple answer, and enough of one in her book. He was in pain, she had the ability to stop his pain. That was it.

She tested Elladan’s grip on her wrist, tugging lightly, but he simply raised an eyebrow and held on. Bilba was mildly irritated she hadn’t felt their presence. There always seemed to be at least one elf nearby, keeping watch over her, and she was so used to it that it simply hadn’t registered. She had no idea how they always knew where she was and they refused to tell her for fear she’d use the information to dodge them, which she would of course but that was entirely beside the point.

She focused her attention on the third figure, the adopted brother of Elladan and Elrohir, Aragorn. He was a Man and, hopefully, more reasonable.

“Aragorn, would you please tell your brother to let me go?”

“I don’t think so,” the young man replied. “You can’t go in there, Bilba.”

So much for being reasonable, Bilba thought. He’d undoubtedly been around elves far too long.

Behind her, she heard the sounds of the Man beginning to move about, preparing to leave. She was startled at the stab of pain that raced through her at the thought of the dwarf being taken away. She locked eyes with Elladan, her lower lip beginning to tremble and her vision blurring.

“Elladan,” she asked, her voice just barely wavering, “please? You know I can’t stand it. Please?”

He sighed and stood up without releasing her wrist. “I never said I wouldn’t get him for you. I said just it wasn’t a good idea for you to do it.”

Bilba gasped and gazed at him hopefully.

Elladan snorted. “Don’t give me the sad little waif look. I already said I’d do it.”

He nudged her over toward his brother, while gesturing for Aragorn to come join him. “Stay with Elrohir, Bilba. We’ll be back.”

Bilba nodded. “Okay. Oh,wait,” She stepped forward, offering the pouch. “Don’t you need this?”

Elladan gave her an innocent grin. “Don’t worry. We’re going to try a different tack. I’m sure he’ll be very open to listening to us.”

“Will you be alright with just the two of you?” Elrohir asked and Bilba frowned, confused. Why wouldn’t they be alright?

“We’ll be fine.” Elladan said. “We aren’t petite fairies who get blown away by the smallest gust of wind.”

Bilba stuck her tongue out at him. Elladan laughed and then turned to head into the campsite, Aragorn at his side.

They’d barely been gone when Bilba felt a prickling at the edge of her consciousness, a familiar sensation though not one she’d felt in a while.

“Oh, she said, spinning to look behind them. “I need to go over there.”

Without waiting for a response she headed in the direction, flitting over the ground so fast it almost appeared she was flying.

“Bilba!” She heard Elrohir hiss in exasperation, but she ignored him. She wasn’t going far and she was going away from the Man after all.

She found her way into a small clearing and stopped, studying the area. A flash of bright red fur drew her attention and she headed that way, dropping to her knees before a small fox. The animal was caught in a trap and was huddled in a small ball that was a mix of pain and shame. He’d most likely been following her and hadn’t paid attention to where he was going. He only had three legs and with the one trapped, and clearly broken, he was unable to stand. The animal whined deep in its throat, eyes focusing on her.

“Oh, Sir Reginald,” Bilba said. “I’m sorry.” She reached down and gently freed the animal before scooping him up to settled on her lap. She took a deep breath and placed her hands lightly on the injured leg.

Immediately glowing white light shone from her hands, spreading out to cover the small animal. Bilba didn’t know much about the anatomy of a small fox, or anything else for that matter, but her magic didn’t need her to. All she had to do was direct it to heal and it obeyed her, spiraling through the fox and fixing not just the damage it currently had but any lasting damage it had ever had. She hadn’t seen Reginald in a few months and, as usual, he had managed to pick up quite a few injuries along the way. She felt as his ear reformed, a chunk torn out some time ago filling back in, broken tail straightening once more and the leg under her hands straightening out, the torn flesh and broken bone knitting together until the leg was stronger than ever. She couldn’t replace the leg that was gone, she didn’t know why. It had been gone when she first met him and not even her magic could make it grow back. As Elrond had said, her magic had limits. It was depressing but nothing she could change.

The light faded and she sagged back, fatigue tugging at her. The fox jumped up and stood on its hind legs to lick her face in thanks. Bilba laughed and patted it. “Be careful, alright? I may not be close by next time.”

The fox gave a short yip of agreement and bounded off, vanishing into the underbrush.

“Is that the same fox you had before?” Elrohir asked from where he was leaning against a tree. “Don’t foxes only live a few years?”

“Some can live longer,” Bilba said shortly, refusing to comment further.

Elrohir raised an eyebrow but didn’t comment. It had started to become increasingly clear over the years that Bilba had inherited the fairy ability to extend the lives of those around her and the elves worried over what would happen when others started to notice. It was one of the reasons they had started trying to convince her to come live permanently in Rivendell, a notion she had stubbornly resisted.

The Shire, and Bag End, were her home and she wanted to stay. So far they had respected her wishes enough to not mention anything to her parents but she imagined the day would come where they would say something and then she’d undoubtedly have to deal with the elves and her mother and father pushing her to return to Rivendell, permanently.

Footsteps had Elrohir pushing up and turning just as Elladan strode into the clearing. He had his sword out, strangely enough, and was wiping the blade down. As soon as he saw her the cloth vanished and he sheathed the blade.

Behind him came Aragorn. He held a chain in his hands and, at the end of it, stumbled the dwarf.

Bilba gasped and scrambled to her feet, rushing over to stand in front of him. Up close he looked even worse. He was covered from head to toe in what appeared to be layers of grime, filth and dried blood and gave off a smell so sharp it burned her nostrils. She could see every bone in his body and the few cuts and the injuries visible under the grime were brutal, many of them edged in the puffed flesh suggesting infection had set in. His clothing had probably once been trousers and a tunic but had fallen apart to the point where they barely provided him modesty much less any protection from the elements. He was barefoot and she could see evidence of broken toes and damage from being forced to walk in such a manner when, as dwarf, he wasn’t built for it.

His left leg was bent up, barely any weight being put on it, and he leaned to the left as if his back was damaged.

Bilba looked him in the eyes, seeing absolutely no acknowledgment, no sign of there even being a soul present.

“There’s some kind of spell laid on him,” Elladan said gently. “I don’t know what exactly it’s done to him but he appears only capable of obeying commands and little else. He showed no signs of recognition that we’d rescued him, simply followed us when we told him to.”

Without thinking, Bilba lifted her hands toward him only to immediately have Elladan drop behind her, wrap both arms around her waist and drag her back against his chest, keeping his arms around her in a light bear hug. “No, Bilba,” he said, his voice compassionate. “You can’t heal him, it’ll kill you.”

“You don’t know that,” Bilba said, her voice wavering. “He’s in pain.”

“It’s black magic, Bilba,” he said shortly, “and it’s still in effect even thoug--” He cut himself off at a sharp noise from Aragorn. He took a deep breath and said. “What’s been done to him took extremely dark magic, Bilba, and it may well be irreversible.” He put a finger under the dwraf’s chind and lightly raised his head, revealing a face free of lines or tension. “Does he look like he’s in pain to you? I don’t think he feels much of anything.”

“You don’t know that,” Bilba accused, “and you don’t know trying to heal him will kill me.”

“And you don’t know it won’t,” Elladan said gently, “and I’d rather not be the one to tell your parents we let you take a chance, and lost you in the process. Does their pain not matter also?”

It was a low blow and he knew it, but it was also effective. Bilba sagged in his arms. “You’re cruel,” she said, her voice soft and without heat.

Elladan squeezed her in a hug and then released her. Bilba took a deep breath and stepped forward to address Aragorn. “Can you at least take the collar off, please?”

Aragorn pulled a key from his pocket and turned to remove the collar from the dwarf’s neck.

As he did, Bilba asked, “How did you convince the Man to give him to you?”

Elladan shrugged. “We can be very persuasive,” he said simply. He nodded at the dwarf. “What are you going to do with him?”

Bilba frowned. “I had planned to help him get better and send him on his way. If he can’t take care of himself and you won’t let me heal him--” She shot a look at Elladan, hoping he’d change his mind.

“If he obeys orders he can probably be ordered to take care of his basic needs,” Elladan said, ignoring her look and her comment about healing him, “he’ll need someone to give him the orders though.” He saw the look she was giving him and sighed. “Bilba, I’m not a monster. The monster is the one who did that to him. If I knew how to help him, or if I thought you could help him, safely, I would do it. He’s in no danger of dying and I’m not willing to risk your life in an attempt to free him when, odds are, it wouldn’t work anyway.”

Bilba looked away, her shoulders falling. She hated it when he made sense.

“You have him now,” Elladan said, “You can still make his life a thousand times better than its been and, who knows? Perhaps the spell will wear off naturally and he’ll return to his senses on his own.”

“Perhaps,” Bilba agreed softly. She studied the dwarf. She felt no power or darkness radiating from him as she had with the Man’s staff. He just felt like a dwarf, a normal dwarf. “Hopefully you’re right. In the meantime, he can stay at Bag End, indefinitely if need be. There are certainly enough rooms.”

“Your parents may have something to say about that,” Elladan said, amused. “Aragorn will escort you home. Elrohir and I will need to go take care of a few things.”

Bilba darted forward to throw her arms around him. “Thank you.” She hugged the other two as well and then went to stand in front of the dwarf. “You hear that? You get to come home with me and you’ll never have to wear a collar again and I’ll get you new clothes and food and everything will be better, you’ll see.” A thought occurred to her and she said looked at Elladan. “I don’t suppose you know his name, do you?”

“He had a name for him,” Elladan said, “but I don’t think it would be appropriate to repeat.”

“Oh,” Bilba said under her breath, “well that’s not very nice is it?” She grinned brightly at the dwarf. “How about I just call you--”

“Not Reginald,” Elladan broke in dryly and Bilba glared at him.

“That was a phase.”

Elrohir raised an eyebrow. “You named everything Reginald, for an entire year.”

“Reginald is a noble name,” Bilba said primly before turning back to face the dwarf. “How about…Paladin? I’m sorry, I know that’s not your real name but I don’t want to just call you dwarf and Paladin is a nice name, right?”

“I doubt he can hear you,” Elladan repeated gently. “Most likely the spell he’s under has stolen his body and completely repressing his mind.”

“You don’t know that,” Bilba said again, the stubbornness she’d inherited from her mother raising its head, “and, since we don’t know, wouldn’t it be better to go with the idea that he can hear and see us? It would be awful, I think, to have people ignore you simply because they thought you couldn’t hear them.”

It would be awful to think he was fully aware with no control over his own body and, to that end, she found herself hoping Elladan was right and his mind was sleeping, hopefully dreaming of peace and comfort. Still, hoping for something didn’t make it reality and she didn’t want to ignore him on the off chance he could, in fact, hear her.

She reached out and gently worked her hand into his, holding it carefully to avoid putting pressure on any of his injuries. “Come on Paladin, let’s go home.”

She started to move and the dwarf obediently went with her, his steps slow and shuffling. Elladan and his brother headed off while Aragorn fell in beside her, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of his sword.

 

***

 

It took quite a long time to get to Bag End. Even without being starved, Paladin’s injuries and back issues prevented him from doing anything more than the slow shuffle she’d seen him do with the Man. Bilba had no intention of treating Paladin as the Man had and was content to match his pace, walking beside him and guiding him by the hand. She chattered as they walked, to him and Aragorn, telling them both about how things were going in the Shire. She told Paladin all about her parents and Bag End and how she was going to get him as healthy as she possibly could.

When they arrived back to the borders of the Shire they stopped for Bilba to shoo away the small animals that had started following them. Hobbits tended to frown upon her showing back up with wolves, foxes, deer and assorted birds in tow.

Her parents, as expected, were more than a little startled when she showed up with a clearly very ill dwarf in tow.

Startled, but not entirely surprised. They were more than used to their daughter arriving home with all manner of injured or in need living creatures. That she would one day show up with a person in equal need, in hindsight, made perfect sense.

To their credit they recovered quickly. They were hobbits, and compassionate ones at that, and were more than willing to help. Belladonna invited Aragorn into tea and to rest before having to return to his duties while Bungo took Paladin off to the bathroom to get cleaned up.

While they settled in Bilba started making a pot of bland soup and a second kettle of weakened tea. She doubted Paladin would be able to handle anything much stronger than that, at least not at first.

Bungo reappeared after a while, asking Belladonna to come with him and then headed back down the hall once more. It was a long, long time later that she and Bungo reappeared, this time with Paladin. Her father looked exhausted and in need of a nap but Paladin…Bilba nearly didn’t recognize him.

The layers of grime and dirt were gone leaving clean skin behind. The wounds that were still open, or infected, had been dealt with as well and sported poultices to help them heal quicker. Bungo had put some of his own clothes on Paladin and they sagged on his body but were far better than the rags he’d worn previously.

His hair and beard had initially been a matted mess, actually grown together at points so it was perpetually tangled around his throat. In the end there had been no way to save it. Belladonna had been forced to cut it until it was short spikes all over his head and she’d shaved off his beard until it was barely stubble.

Bilba winced when she saw it and approached to carefully take his hands in hers, studying his eyes. “I’m sorry it had to be cut,” she whispered. “I know how important hair and beards are to dwarves. It won’t be forever, though, alright? I promise. We’ll let it grow back and we’ll take care of it this time too so it won’t ever have to be cut again.” She released one of his hands to run her palm lightly over the stubble on his head, feeling it prickle against her skin. It appeared to be a dark, golden blond color and she tried to picture what he would look like once it had grown back in properly. As she looked at him she was surprised to find he was young, far younger than she’d initially thought.

“Come along, dear,” Belladonna said, coming up to Paladin’s side. “Let’s let your friend eat and then rest, shall we?”

Bilba nodded and helped Paladin over to the table. Once there they found that, with his hands as damaged as they were, it was nearly impossible for him to properly hold the spoon or feed himself, most likely explaining, at least in part, his malnutrition.

Without hesitating, Bilba took the spoon from him and started feeding him herself, taking it slow so he could get used to it.

As she did, Aragorn related the story of how they’d come to have him, complete with Bilba’s desire to heal him, which earned him a glare from her.

Before her parents could react she said, “I was thinking, maybe if we got him as healed as we could, maybe it wouldn’t be so dangerous?”

Bungo was already shaking his head. “Dark magic isn’t something to be messed with, Bilba.”

“You aren’t a full fairy, Sweetheart,” Belladonna added. “You have greater limitations than they did. You know how tired you get just after healing broken bones. How much worse do you think it would be going against dark magic? Especially when Aragorn is saying it probably wouldn’t even work.”

Bilba’s hands nearly itched with the desire to try and heal him but they would just pull her away and, as Elladan had said, she couldn’t stand even the mental image of her parents’ pain if she were to die in the process.

“Maybe it’ll wear off as Elladan said,” Aragorn broke in. He didn’t sound like he believed it any more than Elladan had but Bilba gave him a grateful smile anyway.

“Perhaps.” She studied Paladin. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “I truly am. I would try to free you from the darkness if I could.”

Paladin was soon finished and Bilba and her mother helped him to one of the spare bedrooms while Bungo stayed in the living room with Aragorn.

As they got him settled in the bed, Bilba asked, “Do you think he can stay? He can’t live on his own.”

Belladonna frowned, pulling the blankets up to his waist. “Don’t you think he might have family worried about him?”

“How would we find them?” Bilba replied. “We don’t know his name or age or even how long he’s been with that Man. What would we ask, or send in a letter? Is anyone missing a young dwarf, exact age unknown, with dark blond hair, no idea when he went missing or from where?”

“You have a point,” Belladonna agreed. She stood back to study Paladin. His eyes were already drifting closed, his body relaxing into the mattress. “Why don’t we just take it a day at a time, alright? There’s no use worrying about the future when we aren’t even through today yet.”

“Okay.” Belladonna left, squeezing her daughter’s shoulder as she passed. Once she was gone Bilba curled up on a chair near Paladin’s bed, studying him as he slept.

“Don’t worry,” she whispered to the dwarf. “I’m going to take care of you. I promise.”