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Bilbo Baggins arrived home late one afternoon in the middle of the week and the entire west Farthing is still talking about it.

Poor Mister Baggins. He was doomed to be a nine-days wonder no matter what he did and is it any wonder after a year-long adventure? Even the Tooks haven’t the influence to hush that up, but Mad Baggins (as they call him these days, but only in hushed conversations well out of his hearing) seems to have managed to silence every tongue in the Shire on that subject which would be awe-inspiring ...if not for the way he’s decided to go about it.

Hamfast Gamgee is the first to notice the freshly turned earth in Bilbo’s back garden and as well he should, he’s only been the Baggins family gardener since before dear old Bungo passed away.

“Master Bilbo,” says he. “Whatever are you doing in the rear garden this time of year? The earth’s been turned over, but I’ve seen no seedlings in your windows and it’s not yet time to start the vegetable patch. Tell me so that I can be of service. Your family has always trusted the grounds at Bag End to me and mine.”

“Forgive me, Gaffer.” Mister Bilbo says to him and pats his right breast pocket, which is something he’s been observed to do often of late. “I would if I could. You know I only hold the greatest respect for you, but we’re meant to sow our seeds alone.”

“Oh!” says Old Hamfast. “I see! Yes, of course. You’re correct. I’ll leave you in peace then, my boy.”

Hamfast Gamgee is as good as his word, but his sons are terrible gossips. It’s a failing many of the Shire share and so it doesn’t take long for word to get around that Bilbo Baggins is gardening.

‘About time!’ some say, most of whom are old and like to see the old family names stay in the proper sort of hands. What would Hobbiton come to, after all, if the Sackville-Branch ever got out of Hardbottle? There’d go the neighborhood.

‘It this wise?’ others whisper. It’s no secret that Bilbo Baggin’s Tookishness got the better of him and his sort are usually happiest when they’re fresh home from a good long ramble. The Tooks enjoy a good adventure, but such things settle those wild-blooded types. Mister Baggins doesn’t look like he had a good ramble at all. In fact he’s come back odder than ever before; sad, almost.

‘Never mind all that,’ the rest demand. ‘What we want to know is: when’s the wedding?

In truth, there will be no wedding.

There is no blushing bride helping Bilbo Baggins turn the good earth behind his house nor is ther any obliging widow. He works alone and if it’s not from inclination then his neighbors have no way of knowing.

He plants rosemary in his front yard two weeks after his return home next to clary sage and the little white flowers called Weeping Martins in their part of the Shire, which is the sort of subtle understatement that the Baggins are so well-known for.

After that people stop wondering about weddings. Mad Baggins has all but announced that he’s in mourning and while some would question his choice to start a garden now, well… he wouldn’t be the first Hobbit in memory to want something living to remember a lost loved one by.

Old Hamfast waits until the Moon is right and then visits Mister Baggins’ back yard while the owner is busily enriching the soil there with all the sorts of things one needs in order to reap healthy fruit.

It goes against tradition, but Bilbo does not stop his work when Hamfast approaches. He keeps turning the soil with the bronze tools he had to ransom back from Lobelia Sackville-Baggins for twice their value.

“It’s a bit odd, tilling stones into your field.” Hamfast observes at length. “…but perhaps it’s different, when sowing a dwarf.”

Bilbo’s hands falter and he finally stops his labors with a sigh. “I think so.” He admits. He looks a bit glad, perhaps because someone has guessed and that means he doesn’t have to explain. “The old stories say the first Dwarves were carved from the living stone. It occurred to me that one would be happier, growing among the rocks.”

…and not just any rocks. Hamfast has never seen stone like the broken and jagged chips that Bilbo Baggins has plowed into his garden. It’s green and striped all the way through with darker bands of color. It’s certainly not the good gray granite found in the West. Bilbo must have brought it from abroad, although to what purpose Hamfast can only guess.

“You’ll be needing a good mulch.” Hamfast decides aloud. The rest of it can wait and may never be his business. “To keep the earth from going hard; one wants loose soil for thing like this. My boys will bring you a parcel of pine straw in the morning.”

“Thank you, Gaffer.” Mister Baggins gives him a tired, but grateful smile. Poor lad. Normally a Hobbit would have their parents around for advice at a time like this, but Mister and Missus Baggins died long before the urge to plant seedlings ever fell upon their son. Hamfast feels he owes it to the boy to be his friend in a time like this.

Besides, it’s been too long since Bag End heard the sound of tiny feet.

Bilbo takes to sleeping out of doors after that and when someone finally asks, he has to tell the story of coming outside to find one of his cousins (he won’t say who, but people can generally guess) putting noxious things in his irrigation trough.

Rumor has it that the unnamed cousin tries a few other nasty tricks, but eventually gives up arriving in Bilbo’s garden one time too many only to find the owner waiting and sharpening the Elven pig-sticker that he brought back from his time abroad.

It’s a blustery morning in early November when Bilbo finally puts the wreath out on his front porch. His neighbors wait until he’s closed the front door before they hurry out their own to see the news …and what news it is!

There’s only one cluster of holly berries, which is a shame, but few in Hobbiton are still holding out for the possibility of a new Missus Baggins at this point. More important than that, Bilbo Baggin’s holiday wreath has juniper berries on it this year –and not just one bunch! There’s two!

“Oh! How delightful!” His neighbors murmur to each other. “Twins!”

It’s Solstice-tide when Hamfast Gamgee looks to his employer and says to him, “It’s time.”

“Yes.” Bilbo agrees as he feels the earth underneath the sumptuous vine that shelters it. There are shapes under the earth. They rise and fall under his hands in a steady rhythm that bodes well for the harvest. “I think you’re right. Gracious me. I’ll have to get the bunting out of storage. Should I have new banners made for them, do you think?”

“It’s good luck if you do, I hear.” Hamfast takes a puff of his pipe and examines the broad diamond-shaped leaves of Bilbo’s vine. “Me old Mam used to say that white spots on the underside of the leaf meant a boy.”

“That’s an old wives’ tale.” Bilbo disagrees. “I saw my wee cousin Prim’s vine and it hadn’t a single spot, but now they’ve little Frodo. It has something to do with how much sun the vine gets, I’m told. Still… I shan’t mind all boys. I’d love daughters just as much, but I’m not sure I’d know what to do with one.”

“You do what you’d do for any child; feed them, cloth them, soothe their hurts, teach ‘em to read and dig the earth. Then when they’re older you stand back and hope for the best.” Hamfast sighs. “We all play the hand we’re dealt.”

Bilbo’s banners arrive not a moment too soon. No sooner was he hanging the grand swashes of blue satin out on his fence then he noticed his vine start to shake. “Bless my soul!” says he and hurries over to start clearing away the pine-straw shielding his little faunts from the sun.

The first part of his eldest son that Bilbo ever lays eyes on is a wee little nose, already hooked and hawk-like, sticking up from dark loamy soil. The nose is joined shortly by a set of fingertip and then a little mouth. The nose and mouth go still for a bit, just resting and breathing this new air.

“Come now, dearest.” Bilbo urges him, fists clenched before him. He wants very badly to go digging, but it’s bad luck and said to result in weakness for the fauntling later in life. “I’m here and waiting for you. You can do it!”

“Mmmph!” There’s a heave under the soil, then another and Bilbo’s firstborn sits up in the loose dirt with a little scowl of frustration that is so familiar that Bilbo’s heart would break all over again if it weren’t already overflowing with joy.

“Hello there, little one.” Bilbo chuckles at his son clambers out of his little hole on legs every bit as shaky as those of a new born faun. He’s stubborn though and does not give up on trying to stand until he’s free of the soil and Bilbo scoops him up into his lap. “Oh my sweet one, you are just like him.” Bilbo holds him close and murmurs into his silky black hair.

His eldest squirms a bit, but doesn’t seem dissatisfied with being held. Rather he’s looking back at the ground he came from and on an adult Bilbo would call that expression as ‘impatient’.

“Don’t rush your sibling.” Bilbo croons as he wraps his son up into the warm folds of his jacket. “Now, perhaps you can tell me already; what is your name, my love?”

The child blinks at him and then burrows his face into Bilbo’s throat rather than speak.

“Ah, shy are we?” Bilbo chuckles. “That’s all right, my love. We have all the time in the world.”

 “Mmmph!” Is his eldest’s only comment.

Bilbo’s second son is born somewhat later in the afternoon, by which point his older brother has gotten bored with all this waiting and has fallen asleep cradled in their father’s lap.

He takes his time with wiggling free of the dirt, stopping often to rest, and is still sleepy-eyed when he finally crawls out of his own little hole and directly into his father’s arms.

“Welcome to the world, little ones.” Bilbo says as he carries them inside for the important business of their very first bath, soon to be followed by first breakfast, and first clothes.

The boys don’t think much of the bath, but they make a good showing at breakfast where Bilbo feeds them both thick sweet porridge with soft ham. However, it isn’t until he’s wrestling his eldest into a light nightshirt that one of them finally says his name.

Already the twins are jealous of Bilbo’s attention and he can tell that he’s going to have a job keeping them both assured of his affection, while still maintaining order. His youngest, especially, seems annoyed with his place in the birth order which means that his brother gets things like baths and meals and shirts first, even if Bilbo suspects his eldest would gladly give up the privilege.

Isengrim.” He announces to the world at large just as his older brother manages to get his head through the collar of his nightshirt.

“Gracious!” Bilbo smiles and transfers little Isengrim onto the stool in front of him, while his brother clambers onto one of the great wing-backed armchairs in front of the fire. “That’s a grand old Took name. My mother’s family will be very pleased with you.”

Isengrim hums happily and sticks his arms up so Bilbo can drop the shirt right over his head then nothing will do but he curl up next to his brother by the fire. Bilbo has an idea about starting a pot of tea, but it’s difficult to leave the room without his little faunts starting to whine for him.

He’s starting to get an idea why people don’t generally do this without a husband or a wife around. He just doesn’t have enough hands to go around.

His eldest doesn’t introduce himself until the sun has set and Bilbo is settling them both into bed. Isengrim is already asleep, sprawled out with arms and legs akimbo taking up more than a third of the bed.

D-aah!” He breaks on a yawn and blinks, trying to fight off sleep as he holds onto the front Bilbo’s shirt. He tugs Bilbo’s ear down to his level and whispers a name, soft and secret-like, just before he nods off for the night.

“What a good name.” Bilbo praises him. The name sounds familiar, but he can’t remember where he’s heard it before. Still, it’s a good strong Dwarfish name. “I’m very pleased to hear it.”

Bilbo sits up that evening with a pipe and blows smoke rings into the dusky air. If he sheds a tear or two then it makes no difference. There’s no one there to see.

The next morning he records his sons into the Baggins family book of names. He smiles at the shape the words make in Hobbit script. They have good names, both of them, albeit weighty ones for such wee faunts.

Hobbiton seems to agree and Bilbo’s boys become Grim and Bobbin before they’re even six months old.

They’re good boys (for the most part) and run in a little herd of Took and Brandybuck cousins, who terrorize the neighborhood and go scrumping in Farmer Maggot’s orchards with wild abandon.

Grim is more aggressive and at the same time lazier than his brother Bobbin, who is an old soul in a young body with unfortunately soft feet. There has been more than one tiny war fought over Bobbin’s sandals among the neighborhood children. Bilbo suspects, but cannot confirm that the Sackville-Baggins’ noxious offspring (named Lotho, but better known as ‘Pimple’) and his crowd have been trying to bully Bobbin, which is something his brother and cousins take extreme umbrage to.

Things come to a head one summer during the sun festival. Bilbo is not privy to the details, but it ends with Pimple lashed to the miller’s water wheel and convinced he’s about to drown even though he never getd more than chest deep into the water before the miller wades in to rescue him. Rumor blames Grim’s little war party of boys, but Bilbo noticed at the time that Grim, Merry, Pippin, and Frodo were slack-jawed as anyone else. Bobbin was the one standing in Bilbo’s shadow with a secret satisfied smile.

In any event, it’s a while before he hears anyone call his eldest ‘Tenderfoot’ again.

When the boys are eight years old or so Drogo Baggins takes his wife out for a day of boating –and sadly never returns. There’s some back and forth between Bilbo and the Master of Buckland about who should take Frodo, but in the end there are simply fewer children running around Bag End.

So that is why Bilbo Baggins has three small faunts underfoot the day Gandalf the Gray returns to darken his door once more.

“Gracious!” The wizard’s bushy eyebrows soar as the boys scoot past him, intent on escaping Bilbo’s study and the school books inside in favor of the sunshine outside. “Nephews, Bilbo?”

“One of them.” Bilbo ushers his old friend inside with smiles and a glass of wine that he had cut especially for a Big Person’s needs. It’s never been used yet and Bilbo is pleased to finally have occasion to bring it out. “The other two terrors are my own.” He ducks his head so he won’t have to see the wizard’s reaction, but perhaps he needn’t have bothered. Gandalf’s only response is a thoughtful hum.

“A shame you didn’t send out announcements.” He says instead. “I’d have gladly made fireworks for your wedding and I think there would have been guests all the way from Erebor…whether you invited them or not!”

“Hah!” Bilbo laughs. “They would at that, wouldn’t they? Dear old sods. Well, rest easy. I had no wedding and the boys aren’t yet ten. I’ll surely invite you to their first proper Birthday.”

“Ah yes.” Gandalf nods to himself with a wry smile, looking up to the heavens as though chiding himself. “I forget sometimes how things are done among the Shirefolk.”

“Clearly then you’ve been away too long.” Bilbo says and pours him some nice Hornblower red. It’s young, but perfectly acceptable as a table wine. He’s learned from experience not to share the Shire’s more complex pressings with Big Folk as they don’t seem to have the head for it. 

“Clearly.” Gandalf agrees. “I bring you word from Erebor, although you may have already heard it. They entrusted a similar message to a ranger bound for these parts.”

“I’ve spoken with no ranger.” Bilbo takes a seat and tucks his hands into his sleeves. They don’t seem to be shaking. Perhaps he’s finally ready for this sort of thing.

“Then I’ve beaten him here. He’s probably stopped in Rivendell.” Gandalf sighs. “Soon it will be ten years since the dwarves reclaimed Erebor from the dragon, Smaug. There is a ceremony of remembrance being held to honor those lost in the Battle of Five Armies, including those humans and elves who died in the fighting as well if you can believe it!”

“I can well believe it.” Bilbo says peaceably. “Dain Ironfoot was a good and fair ruler when I knew him. I didn’t expect that to change.”

“Hmmm. Yes.” Gandalf allows. “Good, noble, and fair he is indeed. All who know him sing his praises, but he has not had the Regency of Erebor for a good many years. Thorin Oakenshield rules now without aid. Time has healed his wounds, although I think his shield arm will never be the same. He asked me most cordially to persuade you to visit and attend the ceremony, since it would never have been held if you had not been there at the end.”

“I… oh!” Bilbo finds himself very glad to be sitting. He hardly knows what he might have done if he’d been standing, fainted maybe! A small mercy that. None of the boys would let him hear the end of it if he did. They’re at that age where they’ve realized their parents are not immortal and after the passing of dear Frodo’s parents, they tend to fuss.

“Dear Bilbo, bless me. You’ve gone pale.” Gandalf kneels at his side to check his eyes and whatever other omens it is that those versed in the healing arts used to diagnose illness. “Whatever is the matter?”

“You’ll forgive me, please, Gandalf, but… I was told Thorin died.” Bilbo coughs and reaches for his own glass. “He, Fili, and Kili; all dead after the battle.”

“How can you say that?” Gandalf wondered aloud. “You spoke to him yourself.”

“I did and he was grievously wounded. He said his goodbyes and asked my pardon for… things that no longer matter if, indeed, they ever did.” Bilbo’s heart is thumping in his chest, although whether from fear or some kind of desperate joy even he can’t quite say.  “Then later Balin came to tell me that they’d sent him to sleep amongst the stones. I thought… I thought he was being gentle with me. Tell me, Gandalf, did I misunderstand?”

“Yes, my dear fellow.” Gandalf doesn’t quite laugh. It’s more of a carefully timed cough, which Bilbo appreciates. “Although, I can see where the misapprehension would lay. What Balin meant, Bilbo, was that Dain’s healers felt it was safe to move Thorin into the deepest caverns of the mountain where Aulë’s influence is the greatest. There they put him into a deep slumber and tended to his wounds. It was a desperate gambit, I think, and not one anyone expected to succeed.”

“I see.” Bilbo says. “Of course. Balin looked so very old and worn when he told me. That was what convinced me. Oh, dear me. All this time…” He puts his head into his hands. “Dear me.”

“I think,” Gandalf says after a long pause, “that there is something you ought to tell me, Bilbo.”

“Tell?” Bilbo looks up and then back down at his hands. He opens them and then closes them again. “Yes. Perhaps I ought.”

That is when, of course, the window falls open under the weight of three tiny busybodies.