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Mourning the King

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The air is chill, the harsh bite of winter hanging in the air. In the Shire, folk would be busy stacking firewood by the cord into neat stacks for the winter, would cook stews to stave off the winter chill. Here, at the foot of the Lonely Mountain, firewood is gathered to feed the bone-pyres that still blaze.

 

Dwarven grief is wordless though not silent. It is harsh as hammer-blows and leaves Bilbo reeling, and even the ravaged valley offers more comfort than the great halls of echoing stone.

The King is dead. He lies beneath the mountain with its shimmering heart upon his shattered chest.

 

When Bilbo lifts the knife, he thinks for a moment of simply setting it to his throat. It would be easy, for this is a Dwarven blade, honed so sharp a single pass from left to right would suffice. No, he thinks. The ground at the foot of the mountain has drunk enough blood, both foul and innocent. Instead, he lifts the knife higher still, and grasps a tuft of his hair with his free hand.

Thorin had told him of how the Dwarves would tear their beards in mourning. Bilbo has no beard, could scarce grow whiskers even if he wished. "So this will have to do," he breathes, and flicks the knife.

He looks at the strands for a moment, the curls clasped tight in his fist, and remembers Thorin's wide hands combing through his hair gently. When he uncurls his fingers, his hand shakes. The locks scatter as an icy breeze shimmies along the plain, and his hand is left empty. As empty as his heart. Oh, it still beats in his chest, but it is a hollow beating, a flutter fit only to keep him on his feet.

Raising his hands again, he resumes his cutting, hacking at his curls without finesse and feeling the hilt of the knife knock against his head at a particularly graceless pass of the blade. Each handful of hair is tossed to the winds, left to scatter, and for each cut he thinks of setting the blade to his throat.

When he is done, he simply drops the knife. It glances off a stone by his feet, and the ringing of steel on stone echoes too loudly. His eyes burn with unshed tears, and he turns his face skyward to keep them at bay. His battered body aches as the cold winds sink their claws into him, but the greatest ache of all is in his chest.

Hobbits can pass unseen by most if they choose, and so it is that when dusk creeps in, Bilbo Baggins of the Shire sits alone still, unmoving among burned earth and shattered shields with his shorn head now bowed low not in sleep but sorrow.