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Honour Among Thieves

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“Freya Belladonna Baggins, you come back here this instant!” Billa is uncomfortably aware of how sharp her voice is, how harsh she sounds, but it isn’t as though she has no cause.

She knew this would happen- the envoys of Erebor reaching the Shire, members of the company leading them on their way. The Shire in recent years has become a waystation for those who would travel between dwarf settlements in Ered Luin and The Lonely mountain, and the roads surrounding it are thick with travellers.

Three of her former companions she’s seen so far, and only just managed to keep Freya and herself from their sight.

for dwarves above all are proud and greedy creatures, covetous and jealous of their rights in love as in all other things

But her daughter is of Durin’s line and has all the stubbornness of her royal father, that dwarvish obstinance some might mistakenly call Tookish. And by some, Billa is in no way thinking reproachfully of the Sackville Bagginses, whose acid tongues have been particularly active since Billa returned to the Shire two years ago.

And before that- the Arkenstone, Thorin’s fury when he discovered it in her pocket, Gandalf finding her on the road towards Mirkwood after the battle, the time they spent at the house of Beorn before her belly swelled too much for secrecy, the dreamlike urgency of their flight across the mountains, birthing Freya in Imladris in the black of night, screaming and begging for her mother, for Thorin, for anyone to help her….and no one came.

Freya was but a babe in arms when Billa had reclaimed Bag-end, but already so like her father that Billa’s heart ached to look at her. And never more so than now, she thinks ruefully, watching her tiny daughter shuffle along the endless row of wagons and reach determindedly for a beaded leather strap hanging loose from one of the baggage carts.

“I want!” Freya protests loudly when Billa finally catches up to her- and yes, there it is, that look in her eyes of unalloyed hunger that Billa wishes with all her soul she could reach into her daughter and snatch out, and bear it far away.

Durin’s line. Durin’s sickness, Durin’s weakness. Things that gleam in the darkness, and fester in the heart.

It’s dark now, getting darker as Billa squats in front of Freya, whose lip is beginning to jut as her mother tucks the strap away up out her reach. “I want!” she protests, fat tears sparkling in her round childish eyes.

Billa pulls her child to her, stroking her dark curls and remembering what it is to want something for yourself that much, though her wants were rather different in their nature. “So did I, sweetheart. So did I.”

Freya’s warm cheek is pressed against her neck and Billa remembers another warmth, an altogether needier one, the scrape of his beard against her nape and chin, the feel of rough smith’s fingers holding her tightly against a much larger, stronger form.

“Oh…oh, oh please…” she’d cried out in protest when his mouth left hers, hands fisting in his furs, overwhelmed by Thorin’s weight against her as he pressed her back against the tree- she is anchored to the world by him and the trunk, and yet she felt weightless, perhaps because her feet have yet to touch the ground.
Thorin had her hips gripped tightly in his hands, digging into the curve of her pelvis and leaving bruises blotched black and brown and purple, a tapestry of acts committed in the dark, and she opened herself to him, cradling him against her with the split of her thighs and the arch of her neck…

“I have wanted too, my love.” Nothing will quiet a child like a new idea, she has discovered, and Freya sniffs once as the threat of tears passes. Billa might have relaxed, but for the new threat she senses a few feet away as a shadow falls over their crouching forms.

“What’s this then?” A quiet voice, with hints of many tongues and places on the edges of the words.

Billa looks up, keeping Freya held tight against her even though the little girl attempts to squirm round to look at the stranger. Well, dwarves used to be strangers in these parts. Recently, not so much. It is their right now, to range and journey far and near under the newfound power of Erebor.

The dwarf in front of her is thinner than most, and tall as not many are. His face is thin too, with a sly sharp look that Billa knows comes from years in the cities of men pursuing one dubious line of work or another. His eyes are hooded by thick brows and almost eclipsed by the odd peaks of his reddish hair, which sticks out in different directions, pointed beard and braids that trail down from that dark, shrewd face.

“Hello, Nori.” Billa says, and the words feel tart on her tongue. There’s never hope of keeping Freya immobilised for long and she can tell without looking that her daughter that she has turned her keen blue gaze on the gaunt figure before them.

Still, Billa keeps her arms clasped around Freya as the child stares at Nori with all the fascination of a two year old and Nori stares back the exact same inscrutable way he used to.

There are things that will never change and Billa knows that better than anyone, but that doesn’t stop her from returning Nori’s solemn gaze once he has looked his fill at the only treasure Billa Baggins saw fit to bring home from the lonely mountain, where she once would have flinched away.

“What have you done, girl…” Billa knows it’s not so much a question as a reproach, and as she rises to her feet, still holding Freya against her in futile protection, she realises she’s shaking. She’s braver than she was, but if her journey taught her anything, it is that bravery and fear walk hand in hand.

I should’ve been more careful. By all the Shire, why wasn’t I more careful. She’d been foolish, beyond foolish to make the journey back from Buckland by this road.

It seems Nori is in the same kind of shock, because he says again: “What in Durin’s name have you done…” That in itself is odd, she’s never known him to say or do the same thing twice. It’s a testament to how much wrong she’s done, that this thieving dwarf, an outcast even amongst his own, could look at her as though she had pocketed more than her share.

It’s true, of course. But something being true doesn’t change her convictions, those she holds deep down and are far more Baggins than Took. Freya is hers, her blood as much as Thorin’s. And maybe that’s why she replies as she does.

“Nothing he didn’t do first.” And doesn’t she sound bitter, Billa chastises herself ruefully as Nori’s face splits into a kind of grim acquiescence.

“Aye, there is that.” He nods.

Billa is absurdly grateful all of a sudden that it was Nori- sly, untrustworthy Nori- who discovered them in such a situation that left little doubt as to the identity of Freya’s father. The other dwarves of the company who are even now passing through the Shire in Thorin’s name, who she’s been hiding from for the past month, would have made things so complicated.

Better him, certainly, than Dwalin, who would carried the information- and her daughter, no doubt- back to the king under the mountain no matter if Billa begged on her hands and knees. Better by any degree than Bofur, who would have made it all so much worse by being nice to her when she didn’t deserve it.

And infinitely better than Kili, who would have done both those things but topped it all off by actually being happy about that fact that a hobbit burglar had borne his royal uncle a half breed daughter and lied through her teeth about it to anyone who so much as looked in Freya’s direction.

They didn’t understand, Billa tells herself. She was a burglar, always had been, more than she herself had known. None of them did, not even Nori, who she can at least rely upon, in his own not at all honourable way, to mind his own business.

He could at least understand that, when it comes to thieving, she has taken something far more precious than the Arkenstone. And something which might to far more damage to the honour of Durin’s line.

It’s the kind of honour people like them have no place in.

Thieves. Burglars. Billa almost wants to laugh at that thought- had Gandalf known, she wondered, known how it would end when he carved that rune into her door?

She is struck, suddenly, by the kind of lonliness that comes from returning to a home that no longer seems one’s own. She knows she has gone where no other being can follow- she is not truly part of either world.

And yet she misses them, all of them, not just their proud stubborn prickly king who she loves, still, more than anything except the child he gave her- she misses Kili’s laughter and Fili’s easy nature, Bofur and his deadpan japes, Ori’s earnest smile, Dori mother-henning over every little thing, Bifur and his unintelligible mumbling, Gloin’s stories about his wife and little son. Oin’s ridiculous ear trumpet, Bombur and wooden spoon he’d smack her fingers with whenever Kili and Fili persuaded her to steal extra food for them.

Well, maybe not quite so much the wooden spoon…

Those of them that are here, now- well, that makes it all the worse. Because despite her fear that they’ll take Freya, her precious one from her, shame her even more than she has been already, they are so close she can almost sense them, and yet they have made no attempt to find her.

It’s not as though Bag-end is out of the way- they could seek her out if they wanted to. That’s what she tells herself, but underneath she knows- either Thorin has forbidden them from going near her, or they really believe she meant them ill when she took that thrice damned glittering rock. And that they, like him, his royal idiocy under the mountain, never want to see her again.

And it hurts so much she feels as though she’s screaming, screaming louder than she ever has in her life without making a sound because it has to stay a secret, the cracks she feels inside and out. Billa Baggins, the hobbit who never should have been anywhere or done anything, is paying full score for her curiosity.

“I was never here, you see.” Billa says carefully, tucking the loose side of her shawl (Thorin son of Thrain son of Thror had peeled it away from where she’d clutched it round herself and laid her on the ground, tugged at the laced bodice of her dress until it came loose around her breasts “Now, little one, what could you possibly have to hide from me…”) around Freya, conscious of the bite in the wind.

It’s uncommon cold for these parts.

“If no one asks.” Nori agrees, stepping back to let her pass. As if she was just another hobbit with a child whose bedtime had come and gone, not the spurned lover of his liege lord, not a traitor flung unceremoniously out of Erebor’s great doors with a bastard in her belly.

“Best you get on home, lass.”

She knows in her heart, because her heart is Thorin’s and so she knows what is in his, (what would be if he knew and he can never never know) that really she is no better than the dragon.