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Child of the Earth and Sky

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Somehow, Gandalf had managed to persuade Thorin to stay another night in Rivendell. How he had accomplished this was a mystery to Bilbo, but he was thankful for the extra day of rest all the same. The Dwarves seemed content to stay in their allocated wing, but Bilbo thought this a ridiculous inclination. He simply could not fathom how the Dwarves could have time to spare in a place like Rivendell and not want to go exploring. One day Bilbo would find out precisely why Elves and Dwarves were so at odds, but for now he had a whole day of exploring ahead of him, and the prospect of stumbling across Rivendell’s library, wherever it may be.

Bilbo spent most of the morning wandering through sunlit halls, each beautifully decorated with intricate, flowing architecture and wall murals. Often the house would open up to colonnaded vistas, quiet garden courtyards or spectacular views of the river, and Bilbo would have no choice but to pause and take in the view for a while. He was thoroughly lost, but he was so enthralled by what he saw that he didn’t much mind. If this really was Elrond’s house then it was more like a manor than any house Bilbo had known, so large and endless did it seem. It was also slightly eerie – Bilbo had yet to see an Elf on his travels that was not a guard, and he wondered if they were all hard at work elsewhere. By lunchtime, he knew it was time to ask someone for directions, but he didn’t want to bother any of the stern-looking guards.

From one moment to the next, Bilbo found himself in a large hall with a wondrous wall painting. As Bilbo drew closer he realised he was looking at the depiction of Isildur at the moment of his triumph over Sauron, which would make the broken sword behind him...

‘The shards of Narsil,’ said a soft voice from behind him. Bilbo let out a startled yelp and spun around, hand going to his sword automatically.

Lord Elrond was standing a few paces away, a light smile hovering around the edges of his mouth. Bilbo relaxed and slipped his hand away from his sword, but his heart was racing. He hadn’t even heard a whisper of Lord Elrond’s approach, and Bilbo wondered how long the Elf had been standing there without him even noticing.

‘Good morning, Bilbo Baggins,’ said Elrond in his steady voice.

‘Good morning, my Lord Elrond,’ Bilbo replied politely, wondering if he should bow or not.

‘You seem to have wandered far from your Company,’ Elrond went on, saving Bilbo from his internal dilemma over niceties.

‘Yes, I’m sorry, it’s my first time in Rivendell, you see,’ Bilbo hastened to explain, ‘and I wanted to see the library and just...ended up here. I’m sorry if I’m intruding.’

‘Not at all. You are welcome to wander wherever you please within these walls, but if it is the library you are looking for, it’s in the other direction.’

‘Ah,’ said Bilbo. He could feel the tips of his ears turning red.

‘But I would be happy to escort you, if you like.’

‘Oh, no! I wouldn’t want to be a bother, I’m sure you have better things to be doing!’

‘It’s no trouble,’ Elrond assured, ‘I would not be a very good host if I let my guests get lost not once but twice. Please, follow me. The library is a particular point of pride for me, and I welcome any chance to boast about it.’

‘Well, then, if it really is no trouble. Thank you,’ Bilbo said, and hurried to keep up with Elrond’s long strides. To Bilbo’s dismay, it seemed he had not been far off his goal – he might have even walked past it once before. The sight of the library, though, was enough to sweep any embarrassment from Bilbo’s mind.

‘I take it, then, you are fond of books,’ Elrond said behind him, amusement lacing his tone. Bilbo barely heard him – he was staring in wonder at the large circular hall that had opened up in front of him, light falling from the huge glass skylight above, illuminating the two stories worth of bookcases. Here and there Bilbo could see other Elves drifting in and out of the rows, or sitting with great tomes in front of them on the wooden desks that filled the middle part of the hall.

‘I think I could spend a thousand years in here,’ Bilbo admitted quietly.

Elrond came to stand next to him, chuckling at Bilbo’s enthusiasm. ‘I think that was the reaction I was hoping for. The librarian will be able to assist you with anything you wish to find. Just try not to get lost,’ he said with a teasing smile.

Bilbo smiled back. He was sorry he did not have more time to spend in the library – Thorin would almost certainly demand that they move out tonight, or tomorrow morning if they were lucky.

‘Forgive me, Master Hobbit, but I think there is something that marks you out from other Hobbits I have known,’ Elrond said, snapping Bilbo out of his musings. Bilbo found himself at the centre of the Elf Lord’s attention, fixed with a keen, steely gaze, as though Elrond were searching for something, some sign to be found in Bilbo’s features.

‘Perhaps it is that I am in the Company of Dwarves?’ Bilbo said lightly.

‘No,’ said Elrond, and his previous kind smile had slipped from his face. Gone was the Elrond of moments before, the Elrond of quiet smiles and the warm demeanour that complimented his rich, soft clothing. He now looked more like the Elf Bilbo had first seen on the steps to Rivendell, the one cloaked in armour, with orc blood staining his gloves. Bilbo tried to resist the urge to back away.

‘No,’ said Elrond again, as if confirming something to himself at long last, ‘you, Bilbo Baggins, are the first Hobbit I have ever met that has the mark of Manwë on your being, alongside that of Yavanna.’

Bilbo frowned. ‘I do? I’m sorry, but I’m not quite sure what you mean by that.’

‘You have spent some time with the eagles, have you not?’

‘I have.’ Bilbo saw no harm in confirming this.

‘I was informed of this by Mithrandir, but I did not believe it until this moment. The eagles do not make friends easily, Bilbo. It is almost unheard of for them to accept one who is not of their species. But against all the odds....they have declared you an eagle-friend.’

It was not a question. Bilbo could only nod hesitantly, unsure as to where this was going.

‘Mithrandir has no knowledge of this – or, he suspects but has not yet had it confirmed, but I can see it as clear as day, now. It is a remarkable thing.’

‘But...I thought Gandalf was an eagle-friend?’ Bilbo gave a small, self-depreciating laugh, ‘there’s nothing remarkable about me.’

Elrond’s smile returned, softening his previously stern countenance.

‘On the contrary. Mithrandir may be a friend of the Eagles of Manwë...but tell me, Mister Baggins – did the eagles give you a First Name?’

Bilbo could only stare at Elrond in shock. He had never uttered a word of this to anyone. He felt as though Elrond’s sharp intuition had pierced him straight through to his very soul, and it was a deeply discomforting thing. Elrond seemed to sense his unease and waved one hand as if to banish it.

‘I will say no more if you do not wish me to continue,’ he said, ‘but know that this is unprecedented. Take hear t in your Naming, Master Hobbit. There is power to be found in names, and you will need yours, I fear, for the road ahead.’

‘Thank you, my Lord,’ said Bilbo in hushed tones.

‘I will leave you to enjoy our library, and speak not a word of this to anyone – you have my word. I am sorry to have brought up such a subject, but I could not hold back on my curiosity,’ Elrond said with a wry smile.

‘Not at all. Thank you for your hospitality, sir.’

Elrond inclined his head and turned to leave. Bilbo took a great breath to calm himself, but then Elrond paused on the library’s threshold.

‘Bilbo...’ he started, but then trailed off. Bilbo thought the Elf’s eyes looked a little distant, as though he were not looking at Bilbo at all. He seemed at once to be very old and very sad, and Bilbo was suddenly struck by how many Ages the being in front of him must have endured.

‘My lord?’ Bilbo prompted. Elrond was giving him such an achingly sad look that Bilbo could feel an echo of it inside his chest. Then Elrond blinked slowly and whatever was troubling him passed like the clouds being swept aside to show the sun, and he shook his head.

‘No, Mister Baggins, it is nothing,’ Lord Elrond said, and left Bilbo alone in the too-quiet library.

 

 

The encounter with Elrond had unsettled Bilbo. No one knew about Bilbo’s Naming. Bilbo hadn’t even said it out loud to himself, nor had he written it down – it was far too private to risk it being put down on paper. How on earth had Elrond known? The sense of peace he had gathered while on his wanderings around Rivendell was gone, now, and he hadn’t even been able to properly enjoy the library. He was too consumed by questions to feel anything more than a distant pleasure in running his hands along the spines of the books on the shelves. The librarian had been helpful and welcoming, but Bilbo left after barely an hour, too wound-up by then to settle into the library and enjoy the atmosphere. Perhaps he would come back one day, and not leave the library until someone dragged him out.

He made his way back to the wing that had been allocated to the Company for the duration of their stay. A quick check on the Dwarves confirmed that they hadn’t left without him, and so Bilbo took himself to a wide, open balcony not far from where they rested. Here, he had every intention of practising his swordplay until the restless itch just under his skin had been worked out of his system.

He drew out the blade, taking care with the grip, this time, and not just grouching about the fact that it wasn’t his spear. He took a few experimental swings, testing the balance and weight of it, when he became aware that someone was approaching – he could hear the distinctive tread of one of the Company stalking down the corridor that lead to the balcony, and could even identify who it was just from the sound of their footsteps. They came to pause on the threshold, and suddenly Bilbo had a spectator.

He decided to ignore them, instead focusing on his footwork, trying to puzzle out how to block and parry with the sword. If the onlooker wanted to talk, then that was up to them, but until they broke their watchful silence, Bilbo was going to carry on with what he was doing.

After a few more swings of the sword, the Dwarf did just that.

‘That is the worst sword-stance I have ever seen,’ Dwalin informed him.

Bilbo sighed, and lowered the sword’s tip. He turned to Dwalin and said, ‘thank you for that helpful piece of advice.’

‘No, truly,’ Dwalin said, ‘I’ve trained plenty o’ swordsmen in my time, and that one really takes-‘

‘Is there a reason you came here? Other than to insult my swordsmanship?’ Bilbo interrupted, giving Dwalin a look. He wasn’t in the mood for the Dwarven brand of helpful advice at that very moment.

Dwalin might have smiled under his bushy beard – Bilbo couldn’t tell.

‘Nah, it’s not that bad,’ said Dwalin, coming forward to stand in front of Bilbo, ‘you just need to shorten it a bit. Look, mirror me,’ he said, and mimed holding a sword in front of him, placing his feet into position. Bilbo copied him.

‘Better,’ grunted Dwalin, and then, without warning, he drew one of the ever-present axes from his back and lunged at Bilbo.

Instinctively, Bilbo shifted back and raised the sword above his head to block the blow. Although Dwalin had been clearly holding back, the force of it still shuddered through his arms. He stared at Dwalin.

‘Is there any reason why you’re attacking me?’ he asked of the Dwarf, ‘was my stance really that bad?’

Dwalin withdrew the axe. ‘You’ve got to learn somehow. Not bad, for your first block, but can you counter?’

And the axe was lashing out again, this time an upwards diagonal swing. Bilbo blocked this, too, catching the axe just below the hilt, pushing it away with as much strength he could muster, and lunging for Dwalin when the move opened up the Dwarf’s body for attack. But Dwalin recovered quickly and blocked the stab with his axe, knocking the sword aside. All at once, and without another word between them, they were fighting out-right. Dwalin did not draw out the other axe from his back – something Bilbo took offence to, but the Dwarf proved himself to be fast enough with just one axe that Bilbo didn’t complain aloud. Privately, he could admit that he needed this. The sword may not be his weapon of choice, but he would almost certainly need it for the road ahead.

Dwalin was fast with his axe, and Bilbo was unused to his sword, and so the first few steps of the fight were heavily in Dwalin’s favour. But Hobbits can be adaptable when they want to be, and Bilbo even more so, and he quickly adjusted to the sword, forcing himself to concentrate on the weapon in his hands, rather than one whose length he could change at will just simply by shifting his grip closer or further apart.

They clashed and danced and weaved around each other – Bilbo kept Dwalin at a distance, though the other kept trying to corner him, but Bilbo ensured that the axe swings, when they came, could be easily knocked aside by the tip of Bilbo’s sword. Bilbo knew he could not win this impromptu fight through strength – Dwalin’s blows almost certainly could not be stopped physically by Bilbo, but he could change the axe’s direction enough to leave room for his own counter. Not only that, but Bilbo took full advantage of his size and agility; Dwalin was fast with his swings, but moved slowly, and Bilbo took every opportunity he could for quick, darting attacks that would have him retreat to a safe distance before Dwalin could properly counter.

Bilbo’s brow was beginning to break out in sweat.

‘Not bad, Halfling,’ Dwalin told him as Bilbo skilfully dodged a blow aimed at Bilbo’s stomach with the butt of the axe.

Bilbo grinned at him, enjoying the fight more than he would care to admit, ‘what’s with all this Halfling rubbish?’ He blocked a vicious upswing, turning it aside, the axe would have fallen dangerously close to his body had he not leapt away. ‘I’m not half of anything!’

Bilbo punctuated that with a jab to Dwalin’s unprotected side, which Dwalin had to dodge. The Dwarf grinned, and suddenly the pace increased, the tempo speeding up and Bilbo with it, until Dwalin struck out, lightning-fast, hitting Bilbo’s wrist and then twisting the sword away from his slackened grip.

There was an axe to Bilbo’s throat, resting at the junction between throat and neck. Dwalin stared down at him, triumphant.

‘Not bad, lad,’ he said, ‘but you’ve lost this one.’

Bilbo smiled and said, ‘no, I think this one’s checkmate, actually.’

Dwalin became aware of the hunting knife pressing against his stomach, ready to gut him at any moment. He stepped back, releasing Bilbo and barked out a laugh.

‘Not bad at all,’ he told Bilbo, resting the axe against a wall. Inwardly, he was trying to work out how Bilbo had managed to get the knife out so quickly. He hadn’t even seen Bilbo’s hands move.

Bilbo sheathed the knife, retrieved his sword and placed that back in its sheath, too. Like Dwalin, he was a little out of breath, and came to stand beside the Dwarf and lean against the balcony railings.

‘We’ll make a swordsman out of you yet,’ Dwalin told him, and reached into his tunic to draw out a small metal canteen. He uncapped it, took a swig, and offered some to Bilbo.

Bilbo took it without a word and knocked back a sizeable gulp. It was alcohol, which Bilbo had expected - its taste was decidedly earthy with a hint of honey. It was so strong it burned the inside of his mouth and throat as it went down. Bilbo did not react to it, and Dwalin’s eyebrows rose. He had obviously been expecting Bilbo to choke, cough, splutter or any manner of embarrassing things. But if he thought this was strong, then Dwalin had clearly never tried Hamfast Gamgee’s moonshine.

‘You’re a strange one,’ Dwalin remarked. Bilbo waited for the ‘but’, expecting it to follow, but Dwalin seemed content to leave it at that.

‘Says the Dwarf who cuddles his axes at night like a child would a teddy bear,’ Bilbo quipped back.

‘Nothing strange about that. Perfectly natural.’

‘If you say so,’ said Bilbo lightly, taking another sip of the canteen – smaller than his first, now he had nothing to prove – and handed it back to Dwalin.

‘You’re alright, Halfling,’ said Dwalin.

‘Is it really so hard to say Bilbo? I know you can do it,’ Bilbo said before he could stop himself, irritated that Dwalin seemed unable to say his name.

Dwalin gave him a side-long look and then said, very deliberately, ‘you’re alright, Bilbo.’

Bilbo snorted indelicately through his nose, ‘there we go. I knew you could do it. You’re alright too, I suppose, Dwalin. For a Dwarf.’

Bilbo was hoping that Dwalin would pick up on the teasing tone, and thankfully he seemed to. Bilbo’s previous anxiety had been all but beaten out of him. He felt tired, and he welcomed the feeling. Tired meant he might get a decent night’s sleep that night, and that he might not think too much of troubling things before then.

There was a question on the tip of his tongue, waiting to be asked. Bilbo hoped that as he and Dwalin had shared a watch or two together and had now sparred, Dwalin might be amenable to Bilbo’s curiosity.

He never managed to answer the question, though, because just as Bilbo turned to ask it, his ears pricked up. He could hear another Dwarf approaching, and he knew exactly who this was, too. His body tensed up from its previous loose sprawl on the balcony.

‘Dwalin. What are you doing?’ Asked Thorin of his friend, completely failing to acknowledge Bilbo’s presence. Thorn had apparently been on his way back to the wing, and had probably heard the clashing and banging of their fight all the way down the corridor. Dwalin turned around to look at him.

‘Just giving the Hobbit-‘

‘Bilbo. Bil-bo.’

‘-Bilbo a few pointers on how to handle his sword,’ Dwalin gave Bilbo a nudge, his voice laced with insinuation that Bilbo immediately picked up on. He glared at Dwalin, and tried not to blush, though his traitourous ear tips were probably failing him on that front. From the thoroughly unamused look Thorin was now giving Dwalin, Bilbo could guess Thorin had caught the innuendo, too. Dwalin had the gall to look amused and pleased in the ensuing awkward silence.

It was a silence Bilbo decided he’d had enough of. He resisted the urge to make a quip about all the noise they’d made, but he thought better of it in Thorin’s presence. Instead he merely said, ‘I have no need of any pointers on swordplay anymore, Dwalin, so I’ll be off-‘

‘No no lad, stay,’ Dwalin pressed a heavy hand against Bilbo’s shoulder, all but pushing him to the floor, ‘this was your spot to begin with, after all, and swords are more Thorin’s area than mine. Maybe you can give him a few tips, Thorin?’

And with that, he left, probably chuckling to himself all the way.

Thorin’s glare at his friend’s retreating back promised retribution. Bilbo tried not to shuffle his feet. This was the first time in a while that he and Thorin had both been alone together, and while Bilbo had not been actively avoiding him, he had been glad that there had been very few occasions in which Thorin could demonstrate his dislike of Bilbo on a one-to-one basis.

Thorin seemed ready to bid Bilbo goodbye and follow Dwalin out, but Bilbo was suddenly gripped with the urge to talk to him. Kíli and Fíli had been insistent that Thorin was a good Uncle. Sure there was a side to Thorin Bilbo had yet to see? Perhaps if they could just talk civilly for once, then the journey ahead might be made a little easier.

But of course, the first thing out of his mouth was not an insightful observation bound to spur on conversation but instead the utterly inane, ‘are you liking our stay here in Rivendell?’

Bilbo winced. Thorin merely stared at him. Why had Bilbo’s mouth decided that was a good question? Of course Thorin wanted out of Rivendell, and fast – he had made such a thing all-too clear from the very beginning. Bilbo hurried to clarify.

‘I mean, are you feeling well-rested? Er, enjoying the food, perhaps?’ Oh heavens, that was even worse. He was a disgrace to Hobbit-kind – Hobbits were supposed to be good at small talk, but here he was stumbling over his words and unsure of what he was even doing. But there was something about being the sole attention of Thorin’s steely-blue gaze that made Bilbo nervous without Thorin having even to say anything.

Thorin glanced in the direction Dwalin had disappeared to, and then said, as if the words were being forcibly drawn from him, ‘I am feeling well-rested. Although the surroundings could be better.’

‘And the food...it could have more meat in, I suppose.’

Thorin’s expression gave nothing away, but Bilbo could detect the slightest hint of awkwardness in Thorin’s bearing. Perhaps Bilbo was not alone in his mortification at this terrible attempt at a conversation. The observation bolstered Bilbo a little.

‘Yes,’ said Thorin, shortly, and then reluctantly added, ‘the Elves seem far too fond of greens for my tastes.’

Bilbo thought back to Glóin’s insults only the day before, and there was something in the way that Thorin had said this that rankled Bilbo. ‘Well, I suppose when you’re surrounded by greens, that’s what ends up on the plate,’ he observed mildly. The valley Rivendell was situated in seemed lush with greenery, after all, and most of what Bilbo had eaten so far had been delicious and filling.

‘I wouldn’t know.’

Bilbo stared at him for a few moments, before he caught on. ‘Oh, of course,’ Bilbo said, ‘I suppose, being Dwarves, you don’t have many things that grow underground?’

‘You suppose many things,’ Thorin said, ‘but yes, Erebor itself had no greenery at all to speak of.’

Ah. Erebor. Bilbo had no idea if they had suddenly lurched into decidedly painful territory for Thorin. As carefully and frivolously as he could manage, Bilbo said, ‘perhaps you could change that, then. When you get it back. You could redecorate the place – I’m sure there are some types of plant that would live underground.’

Nothing outwardly changed about Thorin’s expression, but Bilbo felt Thorin’s disapproval regardless.

‘And why would we want to do that?’

Thorin had apparently decided to take Bilbo far more seriously than he had intended. ‘Well, I suppose you might have to grow food to feed your people, but besides that, there’s lots of reasons for growing plants.’

‘Growing plants and crops is not the domain of Dwarves, Mister Baggins,’ Thorin said before Bilbo could expand on the uses of plants. ‘We Dwarves are more concerned with engineering, and craft.’

‘Well, yes. But plant-lore is just as important as craft. I mean, the medical-‘

‘We would have no time for such frivolous pursuits. Farming is for Men, and is highly practical, but the growing of gardens is for those who lead boring lives, and who have little talents or interest in anything else.’

Now it was Bilbo’s turn to stare. He couldn’t quite believe what had just come out of Thorin’s mouth, and in such a flippant manner. If Bilbo’s intention had been to coax a conversation out of Thorin, then he had succeeded, but the subject matter was not exactly to his tastes. Thorin’s features had lifted a little while talking of Erebor, and his eyes were lit with enthusiasm. But Bilbo took no notice of any of this, nor did he take satisfaction in getting what he wanted.

‘Now, the pursuit of minerals, of ores and-‘

‘Excuse me, but what did you say about gardens?’

Thorin blinked, surprised at being interrupted. ‘I said it was a hobby-‘

‘A hobby?’ Bilbo snapped, completely riled up, now.

‘Yes,’ Thorin’s confusion was plain on his face, ‘it is a pastime for gentle folk-‘

‘Gardening is just as worthy as mining,’ Bilbo said with gritted teeth.

Thorin huffed, as though Bilbo had said something funny. ‘Come, now, Mister Baggins, you cannot be serious. Gardening is nowhere near the level of mining.’

Bilbo could listen not a moment longer. He cursed at Thorin in the eagle’s language, naming Thorin something exceedingly rude that does not bear repeating, before storming away.

Luaithre would have been so proud.

Thorin watched him go, utterly nonplussed. He honestly had had no intention to offend, but clearly the Hobbit found something to take affront to in his words. Surely Bilbo could see the merits of creating things over...ah. Thorin cast his mind back to the Shire and recalled that every Hobbit he had seen on his way to Bilbo’s house had had a garden.

But the foot in his mouth aside, had the burglar just trilled at him?