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Burned To A Cinder

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Bilbo was halfway to his cozy hobbit hole when he saw the shadowy figure occupying his usual spot under the willow tree at the top of the hill. He paused midstep and almost tripped over an exposed root, catching himself with one hand on the Gamgee’s fence. The other was wrapped tightly around his basket of apples he’d received from the King’s head chef for his pie trials. He glanced down to check that none of the perfectly crisp red apples had fallen loose before looking back up to watch the shadow. It looked like someone was in his yard, sitting on his bench and smoking from a pipe. Bilbo squinted to get a better look but with the setting sun he couldn’t make heads or tails of who it was.

Figuring it was probably just Hamfast Gamgee making use of the large tree that bordered both their properties to sit for a minute and have a smoke in the cool evening atmosphere, Bilbo continued to his hobbit hole with nary a suspicion.

Then, just as he was opening his gate to step onto his porch, he saw something sparkle out of the corner of his eye. Looking back up the hill he saw the shadowed figure move to refill their pipe and as they bent forward the sun’s rays danced off the shimmering metal of a large sword planted in the ground next to the bench and also the gleaming silver of chainmail decorating the sleeves and chest of the figure’s outfit.

‘That was no hobbit!’ Bilbo thought in alarm. A hobbit had no use for weapons or hauberk. Even though they had been occupying the valley outside the great gates of Erebor for hundreds of years, the sharpest of tool any hobbit household held was that of a pair of pruning shears. 

Clutching the basket tightly against his chest, Bilbo crept around the side of his hobbit hole and snuck quietly through his small garden and up the hill towards the figure. With their back towards the hobbit whoever it was didn’t see Bilbo take up arms, too focused on watching the sun set on the far distant horizon.  It was too late to do anything as Bilbo fisted one of the perfectly red apples in his hand and lobbed the fruit at the intruder’s head.

Bilbo’s aim was true, hitting the trespasser square in the back of the head with a deafening smack in the silent evening. With a loud curse in Khuzdul the dwarf jumped to his feet, took up his sword, turned and snarled at Bilbo.

“Who dares attack me!”

Bilbo shrunk back a few steps. In his eager attempt to run the intruder off his property he hadn’t thought that they would brandish their weapon at him.

Gathering his courage, Bilbo squeaked, “M-me! Who ar-are you to trespass on my land?” Bilbo caught sight of the barrel of pipe weed beside the bench and took notice of the familiar insignia on the side. “And steal my property!” He yelped in outrage. He had caught someone not only trespassing but stealing from his property; he would call the dwarven guards and have the dwarf arrested if he didn’t explain himself soon. 

The tall dwarf, for he was tall even among his own kind surely, slowly lowered his sword back into his scabbard as he looked the hobbit over with a disbelieving eye.

“You are a hobbit,” the dwarf stated, looking confused.

Putting a hand on his hips, Bilbo glowered. “Of course I am, you are in the Shire, where hobbits reside. Now explain to me before I call for the guards – why you are on my property and smoking my pipe-weed?”

The dwarf bent over and picked up the apple Bilbo had pitched at him. “Is this what you hit me with, an apple?”

Frustrated not to get his answers and with the weapon put away, Bilbo ignored the dwarf’s bewildered growling and stomped forward. He didn’t think he’d thrown the apple so hard as to knock a few things loose in the dwarf’s head, but without an answer being forthcoming he was growing more annoyed.  

Thinking the dwarf was stunned from the hit, Bilbo swiped the bruised apple from the dwarf’s large hand without thought. “Look, I will overlook the theft if you get off my property right now.”

Theft! You think of me as a burglar?” The dwarf barked in outrage.

Bilbo squinted at the dwarf’s face, trying to discern if the dwarf had defective hearing. In the fading light he could see a handsome face, sharp nose with hard silver eyes, a beard braided in a tight plait of black hair about four inches long that ended in a gold clip; shorter and neater than other dwarves Bilbo had seen. His hair was thick waves of black with two braids on either side of the strong face, gold and blue jeweled beads twinkled amongst tresses in the fading light. Now that he was standing up, Bilbo could see the full length of the dwarf’s body, tall with broad shoulders and thickly muscled arms. The blue cloth and fur trim of his outfit, along with the silver chainmail, only made the dwarf’s stature even statelier than Bilbo had originally assumed from behind.

He looked like a perfectly fine specimen of dwarven reflection to the hobbit’s standards, but not all disadvantages we’re apparent to the eyes.

Bilbo thought the dwarf a simpleton, even with his regal appearance, and felt his anger cool.

“Look…”

The dwarf glared harder and refused to give his name when Bilbo paused for it.

Shrugging, Bilbo continued, “…I understand you are angry I hit you, but you are in my backyard, smoking my pipe weed. You are lucky I didn’t call the guards first and have you arrested before giving you a chance to explain yourself.”

“There is no fence or sign stating I had to stay off this land. The mountain and the land around us belong to the dwarves, I am not trespassing if the land does not belong to you.” The dwarf picked up his abandoned pipe and shook the dirt off, his continence getting surlier when he found he had accidently stepped on it and broke the end.

Bilbo huffed. Dwarves. Thinking just because they owned the mountain that they owned the land around the mountain, too. Thrain I had allowed the hobbits to settle in the valley outside Erebor around the same time the dwarves themselves had settled in the Lonely Mountain, providing protection and lands to the hobbits’ in return for food and trade (long before the Men of Dale established themselves farther down the river). In all truthfulness hobbits and dwarves got along rather well, though their interests rarely crossed. Sometimes a hobbit lass would marry a dwarf lad or vice versa and their children could follow in either parent’s custom with little disdain from the other, but sometimes the dwarves liked to hold themselves above hobbits because of their possession of gold and jewels.

“Now you are just being ignorant.” Bilbo glanced towards the horizon and took note of the fallen sun. It was getting dark fast and while he wasn’t scared of the strange dwarf, it wasn’t safe to stay out late at night. “You could be King Thrain II himself and I would still be angry at you for trespassing. Just because you are a dwarf doesn’t give you right to take things without compensation.”

The dwarf gave Bilbo a peculiar look. “You want me to pay you for resting on your bench and watching the sun set?”

“Oh, stop being silly. I’m talking about my pipe-weed!”

The dwarf looked over at the barrel Bilbo pointed to. “Ah. I thought that was for everyone’s use. The training grounds are just over the hill and I assumed one of the guards had placed it there on their watch.”

Which was true, in the afternoon many dwarves took practice in the fields behind Bilbo’s and the Gamgee’s properties. It was sometimes a bother, the dwarves were loud and destructive, but since it wasn’t their land the hobbits had little say about what happened on it. King Thror had purchased the small area of land back from Bilbo’s father long ago because of its closeness to the mountain, wanting a place for the dwarven warriors to practice outside that was hidden from foreign prying eyes. The bench had been placed there long ago though, and the dwarves were hardly worried about a hobbit watching them practice.

“Well, it’s not,” Bilbo stated.

The dwarf straightened, placing his broken pipe somewhere in his jacket and patting his sword against his hip. “I don’t carry any coins with me tonight. Unless you will take other payments as reimbursement, I will be in your debt?”

“Like what?” Bilbo was suspicious, hobbits had little use for things other than coins from dwarves.

The dwarf pulled at one of the beads from his hair, pulling out a large blue jewel surrounded by polished silver in an intricate design, and neatly placed it in Bilbo’s hand.

The hobbit sputtered. “I can’t take this!” Eyes widening as he caught sight of how big the jewel was. Even his mother’s wedding ring had been of a lot smaller size compared to this and her ring had been considered ostentatious around the Shire.  

“I did not know pipe-weed would be so expensive, unless trespassing calls for expensive reimbursement also?” The dwarf asked in confusion.

“No! No, I just… this is too much! It was only a little bit of weed and I could buy barrels of the stuff with just this. I think you’ve overestimated the transgression against me here. Take it back and return tomorrow with a few coins and that will clear everything up.” Bilbo knew how dwarves were about honor and debt, but giving him a large sapphire in return for using a little bit of pipe-weed without permission was ridiculous. 

“First you are angry at my theft and now, when I offer to pay, you won’t take my payment. Is it not to your satisfaction; is it too little?”

Bilbo resisted throwing the bead at the dwarf and just running away. This dwarf seemed like more trouble than he was worth now and he wished he’d never snuck up here to chase him off. “Oh gosh,” Bilbo moaned. “This has gotten so out of hand. It’s late and I’m tired, you certainly look tired, and no one’s thinking straight. How about we just forget this ever happened. You know not to come here without permission and I now know throwing apples at people isn’t a way to solve my problems. Take this back and go buy a barrel of your own pipe-weed.”

Bilbo tried to shove the jeweled bead back towards the dwarf but the dwarf just crossed his arms against his chest and sniffed haughtily back at the hobbit.

“I will not take it back. I owed you a debt.”

“Why don’t we just consider me injuring you as payment?” Bilbo remembered how the dwarf had rubbed his head like it had ached.

“I will not take punishment as a repayment for my transgressions like some child, nor am I a burglar or intruder. I owe you a debt that I’m honor bound to pay for.”

Bilbo had to set the apples down at his feet so he didn’t lose any as he flailed. “But this is more than what was owed me!”

Understanding seemed to dawn on the dwarf. “Ah, so that is the problem. I have paid too much and now you owe me in return.”

Bilbo froze, and in the now brightening silver moonlight of the night he felt a shiver go down his spine at the dwarf’s tone. “W-what?”

Waving at the bead in Bilbo’s hand, the dwarf smirked. “If it is too much you can pay me back with however much coins are owed me…”

Bilbo felt his heart sink. The jewel looked very expensive to the hobbit. And while the Baggins have always been a rich and well-to-do family by hobbit standards, he had no idea what the settlement would be and it might be way more than his family had saved up to live off of.

“… Or you can allow me and my men use to the bench and pipe-weed from now on without further assaults against our persons.”

“Oh!” Bilbo sighed with relief. That didn’t sound too bad. The dwarves mostly practiced in the late afternoon and if he got the new job in the kitchens like he wanted he wouldn’t be around to be bothered by the strange company sitting on his bench and helping themselves to the pipe-weed he’d set out there.

“I guess that would be okay.” It still sounded a little uneven to him, a big jewel for the use of a bench on a hill and some pipe-weed, but Bilbo was tired of arguing about it. He just wanted to get out of the evening chill and inside to get started on his trial pies. He would think of some later deed to make up for the debt he now owed his intruder. Oh, how things had turned on their head for Bilbo.

The dwarf nodded in satisfaction, most likely pleased to have made amends and secured a good resting spot for his men after their practice, maybe even unknowingly tricking Bilbo into his debt instead.

“Good. Now, do you need me to escort you to your home this late at night?”

Bilbo caught the moan of distress before it left his throat and offended the dwarf. “That’s alright, my door is just around the corner. I will inform Mister Gamgee of our arrangement so he doesn’t try to chase you or the others off, and hopefully we will meet on better terms next time.” It was best to be polite even if one felt like pulling their hair out because of exasperating company.

“I am pleased.”

Whatever for Bilbo had no clue, because he was rather frustrated now and hoped it somehow wouldn’t translate into his cooking.  It would be just his luck to burn his pies and ruin all chances he had at getting the job he wanted in the mountain kingdom. Stooping to pick up his basket of apples, Bilbo gave the dwarf one last look. The other just stood there awkwardly staring at the hobbit, looking unsure to what he should do now.

“W-well, good night.” Bilbo gave a small nod and turning on bare feet made a quick exit down the hill and around the corner to his hobbit hole. He resisted looking out the window once he was inside to see if the dwarf was still just standing there, and instead wandered into the kitchen to set his burden of fruit down on the nicely polished counters.

Much too frazzled to start cooking right away he wandered the house, picking up scattered knickknacks and setting them on the shelves, straightening the papers at his desk, and even finally getting around to moving some of his mother’s extra decorative dollies into the chest his late uncle had made – all to keep him from drifting to the window to stare out like nosy Lobelia Bracegirdle to see if the dwarf had left. It took some time, but cleaning calmed him enough that when he sat down he could pull the bead out of his pocket and study it without feeling very anxious.

It really was very pretty. He hadn’t been able to see the detail earlier, but in the fire light he could see the tiny designs weaving through the silver. Beside the large blue jewel centered in the middle of the bead there was what looked like small runes spelled out in Khuzdul along one edge and a tiny mountain in blue along with a crown with seven stars hovering over it. For such a tiny thing it was very elaborate and Bilbo wondered at the skill needed to make such a thing.

Wondering if the dwarf had made the bead himself, Bilbo sat back in his chair and thought about his encounter with him. It still unsettled him how things had been handled.

He would keep the bead, in case the dwarf somehow figured it still too much for what he owed Bilbo. If the dwarf came back and asked for it or even exchanged it for a few coins, Bilbo would happily return it. He felt like he’d somehow cheated the simpleton and hoped the dwarf’s family wouldn’t seek him out for retribution.

Better safe than sorry.

Bilbo walked to his room and emptied the small box he kept next to his bedside of the extra brass buttons he kept in there and placed the lone jeweled bead inside. It would be safe there and close at hand if he ever needed it.

With one last sigh of a heavy burden lifted, Bilbo felt better about starting on his baking now.

 

 

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