Bilbo watched curiously as Óin worked at his little stone pile. It was something he'd noticed Óin doing every night as they made camp – he found seven stones of different sizes in the nearby area and piled them just so, smallest on the bottom and everything else balanced on top of it. Camp was never really made until he'd done it, and only once the tower of stones was pronounced stable did Thorin order the fire lit, the ponies cared for.
It was obviously some sort of ritual, but Bilbo wasn't entirely sure what the purpose of it was. It didn't actually seem to do anything, but all the Dwarves waited however long it took Óin to find the stones and balance them. There'd even been one time, a couple days back, when the pile of stones Óin had compiled had fallen over in the middle of Glóin lighting a fire – and immediately Thorin had ordered the camp relocated a couple miles.
It was only one of the rituals Bilbo had observed in his first week as a member of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield. Most of the Dwarves had personal rituals too.
Kíli had a carved flat stone he flipped in his hand every morning, and depending on the outcome he either looked merry or grim – occasionally he also found a large stone on the ground and balanced the flat stone and if it tipped over, he would be wary and watchful for a while. Fíli and Thorin shared a ritual of finding stones around the camp site and throwing them in the camp fire, and depending on the outcome they either looked satisfied or not. Óin had another ritual for every morning where he found the roundest stone around, and then cracked it open with a hammer against a bigger rock nearby – and then he went to confer with Thorin and depending on the rock's insides, they decided their route for the day.
Sometimes, any one of the Company might find stones on the ground and pile them up in a tower, seven high – though unlike Óin's more special towers, theirs went from biggest to smallest. It was seemingly done for no particular purpose, but there was one night, when one of the ponies started limping and threatened to go lame, when almost every Dwarf did it. They slept surrounded by little stone towers that night.
There were other personal rituals, quicker ones. Bofur juggled seven stones every morning with a determined look on his face, Bombur had a round, shiny rock he dropped into his cooking pot before he started preparing food, Bifur started every carving with a fancy looking stone blade before switching over to a metal one, Glóin, like Kíli, had a stone he flipped, but he also had flint and steel that everyone seemed to be jealous of, and which seemed to be the reason why he was the one who always lit the fire. And so on and so on. Every Dwarf had something they did.
It made sense to Bilbo that all Dwarven rituals – if that was really what they were and not just habits – included stone. They were stone workers after all. But he couldn't figure out why. Why so many and what was the purpose of it. And he wasn't quite sure how to ask. So he watched and occasionally jotted the little rituals down in his journal for further contemplation later.
It was the watching that eventually got him his explanation. Óin glanced up at him from piling the stones in his nightly upside-down tower and harrumphed. "It's for protection," he said, piling the stones one by one, smallest on the bottom, then the next smallest, and the next, until the biggest one came on top. "I'm asking for Mahal's protection for the camp and for the night. If the tower holds, the camp is protected – if it tips over, it isn't safe."
"Ah," Bilbo said, frowning. He hadn't even considered that it might have to do with gods and such, but it made sense. "That's why Thorin had us switch camps a few days back."
"The place didn't have Mahal's blessings," Glóin said, coming to his side and watching as his brother finished the pile. Like always, there was a moment of silence as they waited for the tower to settle – it stayed up standing and didn't as much as wobble.
"The ground is solid and the tower stands firm," Óin said and stood up. "We'll be safe here tonight."
"Hmm," Bilbo hummed, as Glóin headed off with his special flint and steel, to make the fire. He wasn't sure what he thought about it, but he supposed he liked having Mahal's blessings. It was still a little queer to him all the same. "May I ask?" Bilbo said, turning to Óin. "Why is it always you, who does this? Why not Thorin?" it made sense to him that such an important ritual would be carried out by the most important person in the group.
"Closest thing to a priest," Óin shrugged and brushed his hands clean after handing the rough stones. "If I wasn't here, it would be Thorin, sure enough. But I'm a healer. Worker of the Transformed Stone. It's not quite as good as a Stone Blessed, but better than nothing."
Bilbo blinked after him as Óin walked off. Worker of the Transformed Stone? What did that mean – or Stone Blessed? Frowning at nothing in particular, Bilbo took out his pipe and eyed the pile of stones. Dwarves were far more complicated than he'd thought they were.
Ori had a stamp made of stone, Bilbo noted to himself while watching the young Dwarf jot down the day's event on the record he was dutifully keeping of the journey. The stamp had an angular symbol carved on it, and before ever picking up a quill, Ori would touch the stamp on ink and mark the corner of the page he was about to write in with it.
Bilbo had thought that he was using it to mark the days, or that it was his signature, but why put a signature before the writing – or better yet, why put a signature at all when the whole book was writing in your own hand? Surely one stamp at the start or the end would've been enough for it?
"May I ask, what is that?" Bilbo asked carefully, nodding at the stamp.
"Oh, this – it's, uh," Ori fumbled with the stamp a little and got his palm ink stained. "It's a prayer rune," he then said, a little shy and a lot defensive, as if he thought Bilbo was going to mock him for it. "I know it's a little childish, but I don't care – I don't feel right writing anything before I've had the chance to stamp the page with my thanks."
"I don't think that's childish at all," Bilbo said as kindly as he could, even though he didn't understand it in the least. "So it's a prayer for thanks?"
"For how well the day went, yes," Ori said and then, after a moment of hesitation, he took out a roughly carved stone case from his shoulder bag and opened it, showing Bilbo a whole array of little stone stamps. "I've one for losses and grief and such too," he said and showed one of the stamps. "This is for if we lose a member of the company – my wish that they find shelter by Mahal's forge. I'm… I'm not good at prayers so I have stamps – but that doesn't make me a child."
"Why would it?" Bilbo asked, confused. "May I?" He then asked, holding a hand out for the stamp. After some hesitation, Ori put the prayer for the dead down and instead held out another stamp.
"This is well wishes for a departing member," he said shyly, placing the little stone stamp in Bilbo's palm. "If the company goes separate ways, I will use this one."
Bilbo lifted his eyebrows at that and then looked at the stamp curiously. Judging by the looks of it, it was very old. The edges on the top, where one held the stamp while using it, had been worn smooth and polished by use in the way only regular handling did. The stamp itself was carved meticulously into the stone, an inverted rune of some kind which Bilbo had no hope of reading, but which looked very complicated.
"They're beautiful," Bilbo said, handing the stamp back.
"They were our mother's – she couldn't write, you see, and couldn't afford anything special so, she had stamps," Ori said softly and gently put the stamps back into their stone case. "Dori says she made them herself."
"You must take good care of them then, heirlooms are special," Bilbo said, nodding, and Ori smiled happily at him.
Written prayers, Bilbo soon found, were also a thing Dwarves did. Not in actual writing, aside from Ori who wrote every day – but in their equipment and gear. It took some careful observing, but after a while Bilbo figured out that the markings on their armours and weapons wasn't just decorative – there were words inscribed in all stone and all metal in their possession. And most other possessions too, it turned out.
Thorin's arm guards and belt, Balin's vest was fully inscribed, Glóin and Óin both has runes embroidered all over their clothing, Nori's belt and knifes, Dori's coat and sword sheaths, and so on and so on. There were runes on their backpacks and small items, even their cups and spoons and eating knives had runes on them. And then there was Dwalin.
Dwalin had things tattooed on his skin. Not all of them were runes – the tattoos on his head seemed to be more for decoration than anything. But his hands had runes on them and one time when they got a chance to wash some of their clothes by a clean brook, Bilbo saw Dwalin's bare arms and they were tattooed too, and quite extensively. He had a feeling that the tattoos went all through his body.
"Never seen ink before, Master Baggins?" Dwalin asked.
"I have, but not quite as elaborate as yours," Bilbo said thoughtfully. "Does it mean anything – or is it rude to ask?"
"It ain't rude," Dwalin said, and flexed his bicep – proudly showing off the band of runes there. "They're mostly for luck and strength but also for protection and duty – and some things that weren't to be."
"How do you mean?"
"Before Erebor fell, our folks had plans for me," Dwalin shrugged. "I was Stone Blessed, would've gone to the Brotherhood, but later it wasn't to be. Our folk needed proper warriors more than it needed priests."
Dwalin shrugged carelessly as if it wasn't a complete antithesis of all Bilbo knew of the big Dwarf. Stone Blessed – that was the term Óin had used for the Dwarven priests, right? Dwalin, of all people, a priest? It was far too confusing to consider.
"Are you… would you have liked to be a, uh, Stone Blessed?" Bilbo asked carefully.
"Don't rightly know – never got more than a few years of the training done," Dwalin said with a shake of his head. "Don't much like the few I know from the Blue Mountains, though. Stuffy lot, from first to last," he then mused and patted his axe at his side. "This is much better, for me."
Bilbo nodded, still eyeing him with something like astonishment. Dwalin and priesthood didn't really match up at all in his head, but… well, Hobbits had no such thing, so what did he know. The priests of Men were all humble and pious and whatnot, according to the stories and histories, but these were Dwarves. Humble and a Dwarf did not go well hand in hand. Even young and occasionally shy Ori was everything but humble.
Then there were the Trolls. The whole event, while startling and utterly horrible, wasn't quite as interesting as its aftermath, Bilbo thought to himself. For one, Thorin and Óin both gave Fíli and Kíli the sermon of their lives for breaking the boundary of protection. Apparently, by straying too far from the camp they – and Bilbo along with them – had not only left the area within Mahal's protection, but broken it for everyone else. They attributed the whole event almost solely on that – it was apparently extremely bad luck to break protection once the pillar had been made.
It had, Bilbo found out later, tipped over and broken almost immediately after they'd found the Trolls – which was why Thorin and everyone had rushed into battle and then, one and all, gotten captured.
Then the finding of the treasure demanded a whole bunch of rituals – everyone was giving their thanks to Mahal, judging by the looks of it, and Thorin had to actually move aside to balance his new blade on top of a tower of seven stones to make sure he could use it. Only once he was sure the blade was balanced well and firm on the tower of stones did he accept it, and strap it to his side.
In the meantime, Óin cracked a stone on top of the treasure chest they found in the Troll cave, and only once he'd pronounced it safe, did anyone dare to take coins for themselves. Most of the Dwarves made small piles of the coins as they did – as they filled their purses, they all left behind small towers of seven coins, thanks for the bounty they'd found Bilbo assumed.
"Aren't you going to take any?" Bofur asked, as he flipped one of the coins in his hand, checking the face that came up every time. Flip, check, flip, check, seven times in total.
Bilbo hummed and shook his head, taking out his pipe instead. He didn't feel all that happy about taking the blade Gandalf had found for him, and he wasn't entirely sure what he would do with the coins if he took them. The Dwarves avoided any and all settlements they came across, so it wasn't as if he could buy anything anyway.
"Is it bad luck?" Bofur asked curiously.
"No, I don't suppose it is," Bilbo said, stuffing weed into his pipe and then, balancing the pipe in his teeth by the mouth piece, he took out his flint and steel to light it. "I just have no use for it, I don't think."
"Hm," Bofur said, watching him light his pipe thoughtfully. "I suppose you Hobbits don't much need money."
Bilbo arched an eyebrow at that as he puffed on the pipe in small, quick breaths to spread the light. The soothing tang of the weed clung to his throat pleasantly and he sighed, satisfied. "We don't use much of it in the Shire, that's true," he agreed then and blew the smoke out. "Most trading is done with things, exchanging food for food and so on – only in the Great Smials and near the settlements of Men do they really use coins to facilitate purchases."
"Right, right," Bofur said and then looked up as Óin marched towards them.
"Here," the healer said, holding out a hand, and Bilbo accepted it. "We found it in the treasure, figured it would be more use for you."
Bilbo blinked and looked at his palm. It was a walnut, a little dusty and stained but otherwise whole, the shell unbroken. Puffing on his pipe to hide his confusion, Bilbo turned it in his hands and then looked up at the Dwarves. What use did he have for a walnut?
Óin was looking at him very seriously, though, very grimly, so Bilbo looked at the walnut again, trying to figure it out. "Hm, I wonder how it ended up in the treasure," he mused a little awkwardly, turning the walnut in his hands again.
"Should we leave you to it?" Bofur asked.
"Um," Bilbo said, glancing between them, utterly at a lost on what they were expecting of him.
"Come, laddie," Óin said, clapping Bofur's shoulder and drawing him away from Bilbo's side. "Glóin's burying the rest of it, might as well give him a hand."
So Bilbo was left alone, with pipe balanced on his lips and walnut in hand, completely baffled by the whole thing.
Soon after the treasure was buried and marked with a single round stone on top of the hiding place and the Dwarves picked up the little gold towers they'd made with them – but they did not add them to their purses, Bilbo noted. Most of them put them in their boots instead, for some reason. Maybe to hide them – or to get them closer to the ground? Who knew.
Dwarven rituals were fascinating stuff, though. Now if only he knew what they though he'd do with a walnut, Bilbo would be happy. In the end, he shook his head at the whole thing and put the walnut in his pocket and took a deeper inhale of his pipe. He'd figure it out later, he supposed.
Rivendell was an amazing place, no doubt about it, and greater than all the stories Bilbo had heard of it. His mother had visited it numerous time in her youth and had told Bilbo much about it, but even though she'd been a great story teller in her own right, the reality was far grander than her words had made it out to be.
It was just… so bright, so beautiful. Everything was graceful, from the footpaths to the arched hallways, to the courtyards, to the fountains – and there were a lot of fountains. Even the beds they were given for the night were beautiful. It was as if it was made of ivory, all of it. One could just feel the age of the place.
"I guess you'd like it here," Nori commented, as Bilbo sat on the stone steps leading to a small courtyard, adjacent to the suit of rooms they'd been given. Their accommodations actually had a private garden, which Bilbo was utterly besotted with. It didn't hold a candle to a Hobbit garden, there was far too much grass and graceful flowers and not enough vegetables and berries and fruits.
"I suppose I do," Bilbo answered, pipe in hand as he eyed the garden. Gandalf was off talking important things with the Elves and Thorin, Balin, Dwalin, and Glóin were silently fuming over being the guests of Elves. He didn't really care. "It's very beautiful here."
"For a given value of beauty," Nori scoffed and fell to sit down on the steps beside him. "Do you mind?" he then asked, holding up his own pipe.
Bilbo blinked and then shrugged and took out his tobacco pouch, holding it out to Nori who paused for a moment. When he accepted it, there was a strange look on his face.
"I thought Hobbits didn't share leaf," he commented, taking a sniff of it before taking a pinch. "I have my own, you know, I was just asking if you minded if I smoked beside you."
"Of course we share leaf – it would be terribly rude not to. And why would I mind? I'm smoking myself," Bilbo said with an arched eyebrows. "I was a little surprised, though – I figured Dwarves didn't much like Hobbit weed, since no one asked to taste it before."
"But… you're a Hobbit," Nori said slowly, lighting the pipe carefully with flint. "Isn't pipe weed special to your people?"
"I suppose it is, in a way," Bilbo shrugged. He knew well enough that no other race, not even Dwarves, smoked quite as much as Hobbits did. Indeed, he smoked thrice as much as anyone else in the party. No one had seemed to mind it though.
Nori hummed and took a slow, contemplative breath through the pipe – and then coughed it out in puffs of smoke. "What is that?" he asked, sounding horrified and fascinated all at once.
"Longbottom leaf – finest pipe weed there is," Bilbo said and arched his eyebrows. "What are you smoking?"
"Normal tobacco for the most part," Nori said, eying his own pipe in astonishment and then taking a smaller careful puff on it. "That's a really queer taste.
Bilbo blinked at him. Tobacco? "May I see your pouch?" he asked.
"Sure," Nori nodded, handing his leather pouch over while leaning back and then looked down at his pipe. "It's – it's going out already?"
"You need to keep puffing on it, or it will," Bilbo agreed, turning Nori's pouch in hand. "It's pipeweed after all. It burns hard." The leaf Nori had was very, very different from Longbottom leaf – it was dark, and shrivelled and had an odd, bitter smell to it. It smelled like the stuff added to Old Toby to make it burn better. "Tobacco," Bilbo muttered. "So that's what it's called."
"Hmm," Nori hummed and closed his eyes, puffing steadily on the pipe. "This is… it tastes strange, but now that I've gotten used to it, it's rather nice. I think I like it."
"It's nice, isn't it? Pure leaf, nothing added in," Bilbo said and handed the… tobacco over. He shook his head. "Pardon me if I don't share in yours – I think I prefer my own leaf."
"I don't blame you. The taste is awful but this is nice. This is the original stuff, isn't it?" Nori asked then, turning to look at him. He was swaying a little where he was sitting. "For ceremonies and such?"
"What?" Bilbo asked with a laugh.
"I mean I understand – it's not like most stone casting is all that special and grandiose these days, anyone can do some now," Nori said. "So it's not that strange. But I didn't think you were smoking ceremonial leaf all the time. I thought it was for special occasions."
"Leaf is for all occasions," Bilbo laughed and shook his head. "Ceremonies. Hah. Hobbits don't have ceremonies."
Nori nodded and closed his eyes. He was smiling a little around the pipe. "I don't do much myself, to be honest. I flip a stone occasionally, but I don't bother to make a thing out of it or anything… Hmm…"
Bilbo eyed him warily as Nori swayed and begun to hum under his breath. So, Dwarves didn't smoke real leaf and apparently had no tolerance for it either – a few puffs, and Nori was straying off to his own world. Better keep that in mind later, if anyone wanted to share a pipe with him.
Shaking his head, Bilbo turned his eyes to the courtyard, and took another puff of his pipe. Rivendell was really a beautiful place. He didn't hold much for the way everything was just for the aesthetics – there wasn't a single edible plant in the courtyard. But it was very pretty nonetheless.
"Ceremonies," he muttered around his pipe and shook his head. "Dwarves."
Later, he planted the walnut he got in the Troll cave smack in middle of the pretty courtyard. The Elves might just remove it but, well. It looked like it could use a tree to liven it up.
It was slow going, but eventually, as they travelled over the Misty Mountains and then flew down from them on the backs of eagles, Bilbo figured it out. He mainly figured it out because he lost his tobacco pouch and pipe both in the terrible hassle of it all.
"You lost your pipe?" Thorin demanded of him, in Beorn's house when Bilbo patted sadly at his jacket and vest and came up empty. "Will one of ours do? You can have mine if it will do for you."
"I'm not going to take your pipe, Thorin, never you mind," Bilbo shook his head and sighed. "I can do without – it's just something of a bother, that's all."
Thorin shook his head and took out his own pipe, sturdy and rather angular in design like all Dwarven things tended to be. "No, take it," he insisted. "There's many dangers ahead yet and going through Mirkwood might be the worst leg of our journey. We need all the luck we can get."
"Luck?" Bilbo asked. "What -?"
"It won't do," Nori said from the side, shaking his head. "Bilbo's been smoking ceremonial leaf, not tobacco. Even with a pipe, we none of us have the right leaf."
Thorin looked at him and then at Bilbo, a look of surprise and frustration on his face. "Ceremonial leaf, really?"
"This again," Bilbo sighed. "It was Longbottom Leaf, very fine and very pure, yes, but not that special – it's the most popular pipeweed in Shire," he said and shook his head. "It doesn't really matter – I was running out anyway, I only had enough for a few more days. Now I'm just out sooner rather than later."
If anything, Thorin looked even more frustrated and disturbed by that, as did all the Dwarves and Bilbo could hear Óin asking Nori if it really had been ceremonial leaf, and how did he know – and Nori's confession of having shared some of Bilbo's leaf made many eyebrows lift in astonishment. Bilbo wasn't entirely sure, but he thought the other Dwarves looked on Nori with amazement and jealousy, for some reason.
"Is tobacco no use at all?" Thorin asked, now scowling with concern. "Not even for a small bit of good fortune?"
Bilbo opened his mouth to say that pipeweed wasn't really any source of good fortune at all – not aside from one having the good fortune of having some to smoke in the first place. Before he could, though, Gandalf stepped closer. "I have some, actually," the wizard said, and pulled out a cloth pouch from under his cloak.
Bilbo stared at it, not sure if he was surprised or thankful or dismayed. It was a full packet of leaf, bound and packed tight judging by the looks of it – a fresh, unopened packet. Feeling a little strange with all the Dwarves staring at him, Bilbo accept it and turned it in his hand. It was marked, he noted, with Longbottom Leaf's seal.
They all, even Gandalf, seemed to be expecting it, so a little awkwardly Bilbo took a pinch and stuffed Thorin's pipe with it. Then, with all eyes on him as if it was some sort of grand show or spectator sport, Bilbo lit it with his flint and steel and puffed on the pipe.
"Well?" Thorin demanded. "Is it good?"
The pipe was bigger than he would've liked, the stem shorter and the airflow was far faster and greater than he preferred – made, Bilbo mused, for tobacco and not pipeweed which needed a constant airflow. "It's marvellous," Bilbo said because the leaf at least was good, and then watched as everyone relaxed. It was all absolutely absurd, he decided, but it seemed that they felt better with him smoking, so…
As the Dwarves began to prepare for the night, Bilbo cast a glance at Gandalf, arching an eyebrow at him.
"A happy Hobbit smoking pipeweed is good luck," Gandalf said with a mischievous smile.
"So I see," Bilbo said, frowning a little. He had a suspicion about the whole thing, and he wasn't entirely sure what to do with it, or what to think on it. "Just out of curiosity," Bilbo said, glancing at the wizard. "Am I praying to any particular Valar here? Not Mahal, certainly."
"No of course not. You're praying to Yavanna, obviously," Gandalf said, taking out his own pipe and chuckling. "Don't you know that Hobbits are the greatest and most devout worshippers of the Green Lady ever to have existed? Everyone knows that."
Bilbo stared at him with disbelief and then at the Dwarves, bustling about and planning the journey ahead, by all appearances satisfied to have him smoking again. "Huh," he then said.
The next morning before they left Beorn's house, Bilbo took care to be seen by someone as he picked up an acorn from Beorn's garden – Óin and Bombur and Dwalin all saw him, and Óin nodded approvingly as Bilbo examined the acorn and hid it in his pocket. Dwarves were strangely ritualistic creatures, but, well, if it gave them comfort…
"I have been wondering," Bilbo said to Dori, who was having a terribly tough time in the Elven prison and obviously needed some distraction from it. "What do Dwarves think of Yavanna?"
Dori paced along the cell, nervously twiddling with his well-groomed moustache. "Tis the Green Lady, obviously," he said, distracted. "Wife of Mahal and grower of all things green and such. I'm no scholar, but everyone knows that much at least."
"I guess they do," Bilbo agreed, leaning onto the cell's doorframe, watching him and the corridor outside, just in case a guard happened to come in at that moment. "Is that all you think?"
Dori glanced at him and then away, keeping at his pacing. "Shouldn't you know more about the Green Lady than I ever will?" he asked, annoyed.
"Maybe," Bilbo said. "But I want to know what you think."
The Dwarf was quiet for a moment. "I guess I'm… hm," he shook his head. "I like tea and wine," he then admitted. "Sometimes I think maybe I should say thanks to Her, they being Her domain, tea leaves and grapes and wines. I never do, because Mahal is my maker, but Mahal married Her, She is His wife…" he frowned and glanced at him. "Do you think it's sacrilegious?"
"What, paying homage to Her? Or not paying homage to Her?" Bilbo asked, and took out his pipe – Thorin's pipe. It was heavy and big in his hand, and he still hadn't gotten over the fact that the chamber was shaped like a box. "I think either is fine, to be honest. It's the intent that counts, I think, whether spoken or acted on or not."
"Does it?" Dori asked, glancing at him. "You never stop paying homage to her, though. You're always burning leaf."
"I guess that's true," Bilbo sighed at that. He wasn't entirely sure what they thought was the ceremonial part of pipeweed. The act of burning something that used to be a green leaf, part of a living plant, Yavanna's creation? It seemed rather like a backwards way of going about things, with a Valar whose domain was the growing green things.
He could see, more or less, why everyone seemed to think Hobbits worshipped Yavanna – the Shire was very green after all, and they all planted and they all tilled and they all grew something. That, to Bilbo, made a sort of sense, that the planting and growing of things might be a little like the worship of Yavanna. But how did the act of burning leaf – which by its nature consumed and destroyed something that was once green – fit in?
"Burning leaf is informal though," Bilbo then said, rather awkwardly. "It's often a social thing. And it is pleasurable. Most do it just because they enjoy it, no symbolism to it."
"You do it for luck, though," Dori said meaningfully. "Sacrificing ceremonial leaf for Yavanna's blessing, yes? And Nori said it's special otherwise though – that it might induce visions."
"No, leaf isn't strong enough for visions, you need certain mushrooms for that," Bilbo said a little wistfully – it had been years since he had any. He shook his head. "Still, there's no grand ceremony involved. The thought is what counts, I think. So if you want to be grateful to Yavanna for tea or tobacco or, say, the grapes that went into the making of your wine, then be grateful. I think that will be enough."
He paused at that. He'd been all over Thranduil's palace and had looked over every corner and every secret passage for a way to escape and there was something about wine that now made him wonder. Wine barrels even. Now there was a thought.
It turned out it wasn't only Dwarves that thought that Hobbits served Yavanna – Men even as far as Lake-town shared the belief. While Thorin and the Company were wined and dined in the Master's great hall, Bilbo was swept away by other people because the very moment people discovered that Bilbo was a Hobbit, they asked for his blessings for their scant crops and few greenhouses.
"Nothing much grows here," one of the old women of Lake-town said, while Bilbo was bustled into an awkward little greenhouse, stuffed full of mostly cracked flower pots. They had bell peppers and tomatoes and peas and many other plants growing there, and they were none of them doing very well. "It's so cold here, and we haven't good enough soil – the dragon burned everything and it's all half ash now, you know. But if there's anything you can do…"
Bilbo blinked, bewildered, as he was left alone with the haphazard little greenhouse. It was all very make shift, with rough walls and a glass ceiling made of old windows judging by the looks of it. None of it, neither the place nor the plants, were very pretty. And he had little to no notion on what to do about any of it.
In the end he took out Thorin's pipe, lit it, and started checking the pots curiously. True enough, there was far too much ash in the dirt they'd used, but it wasn't all that bad – mostly the problem was that everything was oversaturated, everything was wet. Most of the plants were drowning in their pots, their roots unable to get the air they needed.
He didn't much feel like joining Thorin and the others in being housed by the rather unpleasant Master of Lake-town, so instead Bilbo rolled up his sleeves, and went about doing what he could to help the poor plants along. Mostly it had to do taking the plants out of their pots, adding some pot shards and rocks to the bottom, and then putting the plants back in, to induce some sort of draining system for the poor things, but aside from that there was little else he could do.
Sadly he mused that if he ever had the blessings of Yavanna, he very much would've liked to give some of these for the poor tomatoes. He would've rather been caught dead than growing such poor, withered things.
That greenhouse wasn't the only one he visited that night – he visited a few others, tending to not just fruits and berries and such, but also too many pots with withered herbs and some where one little girl was trying to grow some carrots. With the help of her parents, Bilbo put together a proper vat where she could grow them instead, telling her how to water it properly and not too much and how to keep insects from getting into it.
By the time he returned to Thorin's Company, there was dark band of dirt under his fingernails and he felt rather like… like he'd done something good and maybe even something a bit special.
"Well?" Balin asked, sidling up to him. "How did it go?"
"Nothing grows truly well here, but what grows is resilient enough," Bilbo shrugged and took out Thorin's pipe again. It felt like an occasion to smoke for good luck on. "They are good people. Worn down and a little sad, but well meaning."
"Hmm," Balin said, eying him. "If we ever take the mountain and the Dragon is slain, farms need to be established here. Gardens and orchards too. And I don't think anyone would much mind, if the great forests grew back."
It was said pointedly, meaningfully, and Bilbo arched an eyebrow at it. "I guess so," he then said, and with a satisfied nod, Balin headed to join the others. Bilbo watched him and the others, and then inhaled through Thorin's pipe.
The journey was close to an end now, wasn't it?
They took the mountain, but not happily. Lake-town and its little greenhouses burned, and Bilbo watched it all from afar, helpless and hopeless. Smaug the Terrible took to wing and fell down, slain – and in the mountain Thorin descended into gold lust and madness. It was all of it terrible, absolutely terrible.
Bilbo sat by, eying the pipe in his hand. It was, suitably enough for Thorin Oakenshield's pipe, carved from oak, an old, old, oak, petrified and hardened by time. Who knew how long ago it had been made – the wood had been polished by use. It was still too short, it's stem too thick, the airflow too fast. But Bilbo had gotten used to it, since Thorin had given it to him. He'd gotten used to all the mystic symbolism it had somehow ended up carrying.
Looking over to Thorin, who was donning a set of gold adorned mail, Bilbo slowly put some pipe weed in. He still had plenty – Gandalf's pouch had turned out near bottomless, and while he should've ran dry a while ago now, he had not. He put far more in than he usually did, as much as he could easily smoke and then he stood.
"Glóin," he called. "Could you please light this for me?"
That caught the attention of the others, some of who drew their eyes from the gold. Glóin's fingers twitched to his pouch where he carried his fire making tools. With a serious, grim look shared with Balin, he took his special, rune carved flint and steel out and approached Bilbo.
The pipe lit easily with the first spark, a lucky sign if Bilbo ever knew one, and quickly he lifted it to his lips and inhaled through it in a couple of small puffs to light the rich leaf properly. Then the Hobbit dragged a deeper breath through the oak pipe and marched over to Thorin, who was so obsessed with the gold that he hadn't even noticed the little ritual taking place.
And, for the first time truly praying for Yavanna's kindness and blessing, Bilbo faced the King Under the Mountain – and blew a lungful of smoke right at his face.