The Shire was a lovely place, full of laughter, love, and endless rivers of fauntlings begging for treats. Bilbo was currently at the mercy of two of them, lovely identical twin girls, their raven hair pulled back in curly pigtails. Their only distinguishing factor was the color of the ribbons in their hair, blue and red respectively.
“Please Mister Baggins!” they cried, smiling their best smiles, bright eyes the color of the Shire’s hills. No taller than his waist and always quick to help, in his eyes, there were no better fauntlings in all the shire.
Bilbo sighed dramatically, an amused grin sneaking onto his lips even as he pulled out another muffin. “This is the last one, ladies. You mother will have my feet if you’re too full to eat your second breakfasts!”
They both squealed in delight, splitting the muffin evenly and beginning to eat even as they ran down the hill from Bag-End. “Thank you Mister Baggins!” they yelled in unison, their giggles following them around the bend.
Settling his empty basket on the bench beside him, Bilbo sat in front of his smial with a contented smile and watched the Shire go about its everyday life. His previously dirty blonde hair, now a lighter medium blonde after being in the sun all summer, glinted in the sunlight. He lit his pipe, glad to have remembered it, and closed his eyes, blowing smoke rings as he did so. He never needed to see them to know they were perfect. Through his calm, he felt as if he was being watched. Opening his eyes, he saw the unexpected visitor on his doorstep.
“Gandalf!” He cried, standing up and immediately embracing the much taller visitor who had arrived. Sure, hobbits were not generally fond of unexpected company, but for this one in particular he could make an exception. Surprised, gruff laughter emitted from the gray-clad wizard, who clearly had not been expecting such an excited hobbit upon his arrival.
“Bilbo! What a lovely meeting,” said Gandalf, ending their hug and moving the basket on the bench so they could sit together. “I had surely hoped you would remember me, despite it only being a couple decades since I was last here.” At this he pulled out his pipe and began to pack it, intent on joining his companion in smoking.
“Of course I couldn’t forget you or your wonderful fireworks,” laughed Bilbo, a smile gracing his softer features. “What brings you to the Shire? I’ve only recently returned from Rivendell myself, you see. I’m glad not to have missed you!”
Gandalf quirked an eyebrow at that, unaware that his dear Belladonna’s son was still visiting elves at his age. No matter, he mused. Perhaps they have taught him something that will be of use for this journey. At least he hasn’t become stuffy like so many of his kind do.
“Well, my friend, there is something I have come to see you about. I am looking for someone in search of an adventure.” Here he paused to light his pipe with a match, giving a few experimental puffs to make sure it was going, before checking Bilbo’s reaction in the corner of his eye. In all honesty, the hobbit looked torn. A light frown pulled at his brow.
“Ah. I see…Do you need help delivering fireworks across the mountains or such? I’m sure there are some Tooks across the way that would be more than happy to assist –“
“Excuse me! Do you not remember who I am? I am no simple firework maker!” At this Gandalf puffed his chest a bit, clearly insulted by the unintended slight. Bilbo closed his eyes to hide the fact that he was rolling them. Clearly he was being a bit too gentle with the hint. “I am a wizard, Master Baggins, and don’t you forget it!”
“Of course I remember that. I do remember one of our chats in Rivendell long ago.” He scoffed at the idea of being able to forget he was friends – if mostly through his mother, Yvanna rest her soul – with a wizard, of all people. “It’s only, I was hoping to get at my garden soon. You have to understand, it’s grown quite wild with me gone. Not that I would ever pass up a chance to see the young Estel, alas, my tomatoes are hardly in the shape to win this year. Also I have plenty of others that need –“
“Yes, yes,” Gandalf sighed, waving his hand dismissively. “I’m sure your vegetables are in dire need of attention after such an absence. However, there is a much bigger plan at hand, one that I believe you will be interested in.” He paused, contemplating the pond beneath them as he took another drag from his pipe. Bilbo sent a smoke ring that was quickly joined by a moth flapping through it, and he chuckled, clearly amused by the wizard’s antics. After a few minutes, their conversation continued.
“What do you know of Dwarves?” Gandalf asked carefully.
“Well,” Bilbo pulled on his pipe a few times, debating on how to answer. “I know that they travel through here and Bree on business, as Ered Luin is not too far from here. I also know,” puff, “That they are a very secretive race, and when I try to ask them anything, will simply glare at me and move along their business. So not much at all, really. Though not by my own will,” he insisted with a raised eyebrow, poking in the direction of Gandalf with his intricate, vine-wrapped pipe. “Why, is there a damsel in distress? I’m sure the Ered Luin dwarves would be more than happy to help. I’ve heard tales of a dwarrowdam named Dis, who seems quite intent on making sure her people are protected at all costs.”
Gandalf raised his eyebrows in surprise, eyes wide, barely managing to catch his pipe before it fell from his mouth. “And where did you learn such things? Names such as hers are not common around these parts.” Bilbo merely shrugged.
“Bree. You’d be surprised at how easily Dwarves talk after a few pints and the illusion of security in a crowded inn,” he grinned at Gandalf, clearly unashamed of his eavesdropping.
“Ah, I see.” Gandalf smiled and was intent on his pipe, perfectly happy with letting Bilbo wonder for a few more minutes while simply enjoying the Shire. Of all the places in Middle Earth, none felt quite as peaceful to the wizard as the lands of these small gardening peoples; even if they could be insufferable at times with their gossip. Bilbo, on the other hand, was someone who learned as much as he could and kept it to himself. The Took blood was strong in him, and Gandalf thanked his lucky stars for that.
“I would prefer you to hear the story from them, not me. It is quite the tale, my dear Bilbo.”
The hobbit rolled his eyes at a nearby tree, sighing in exasperation. Bloody wizards, always being so mysterious and vague. For once, I wish he would just out with it.
“Very well, Gandalf. I will meet your companions on this quest. But!” He exclaimed with a sniff, “I will decide for myself whether or not I accompany you! I am loathe to leave my home, especially so soon after returning. And as you know, big adventures are nasty things, make you late for dinner.” The last sentence was said in jest, a deadpan that Gandalf caught with a wide smile.
“Well, that settles it then! I will be by in two days’ time for dinner, along with my traveling companions. I will see you then!” The wizard quickly stood and walked off, leaving a sputtering Bilbo in his wake, choking on smoke and therefore unable to comment against it. How dare he run off without telling me how many to expect? I suppose I will have to prepare a small feast just in case….clearly, this is quite a deal to him. If it was something small, he would be sure to tell me. Grumbling to himself and straightening his red waistcoat while his pipe sat loose in the corner of his mouth, he shuffled off towards his round, green front door. First I will need to check the market, make sure I have plenty of ale, and of course there is the matter of packing, despite the slim chances of me running off before the final summer vegetable contest…
Having reached the inside of his smial, he puttered about the doorway, still fretting over all that needed to be done. As he did so, a scratching sound came through his door. Looking through the window beside it, his steel blue eyes lit up from the outside light, he saw Gandalf walking off down the path. Bilbo huffed and went towards the kitchen, irritated with the wizard for messing up the appearance of his door. This had better be interesting, at least. That paint job cost me two bushels of onions.
There were many things Bilbo Baggins was talented at, and one of them was being a gracious host. As a Baggins, he had been taught from a young age the importance of a good meal and even better manners. “No matter how they act, you should always keep your composure and make sure your guests are happy,” Bilbo’s father had always said. His mother, Belladonna, was known well throughout the Shire for being quite the hostess herself, and while she could be as gracious as any, none could stand up to his father’s charms. “Never underestimate the worth of a good meal,” she would say, putting about the kitchen while his father set the table. These were important lessons for young hobbits, and Bilbo would never forget them. If anything, after his parents’ deaths, he became much more hobbit-like. Rarely would he run off on adventures anymore, and the most he ever got up to were his summers spent in Rivendell, learning very un-hobbity things.
Under the tutelage of Elladan and Elrohir, Elrond’s twin sons, he quickly learned Sindarian and became fluent (reading and writing) by the time he was twenty; a record amongst non-elves. His mother had been very excited and always encouraged him, reminding him that though most of his race were alright with staying in the Shire for their entire lives, the world was a very big and exciting place. His father rarely accompanied them in Rivendell, preferring to stay at home and tend to the smial, along with the garden and the necessities of everyday life. Not to say that he disliked the elves; on the contrary, he enjoyed their company and their singing even more. However, he was a simple Baggins, and while his wife may have been an adventurer, he felt the pull of home and disliked leaving more than once every five or so years.
Thus, Bilbo knew quite a bit about elves and their customs. Dwarves, however, were an entirely new area. He quickly scanned through all his books, reading all he had to offer on the secretive race and finding very little. After many disappointed sighs, he gave up searching through his books and continued with making dinner. It was the second day since Gandalf left, and he had little time before his new guests would be arriving.
A few hours later, satisfied with the small feast he had laid out across the table, he rocked on his heels and nodded before heading off towards the bathroom. He bathed, being sure to scrub all the dirt off of his skin and out of his hair, before drying off and heading to his bedroom.
Minutes later he stood checking his appearance in the mirror, his red waist-coat over the yellow shirt and light brown pants, hiding his suspenders, and he figured he was as presentable as any other hobbit of the Shire. Making his way to the door of his bedroom, his mother’s jewelry box caught his eye, and a mischievous look passed his face as he went over to it. Opening the polished dark wood lid, he sifted through a few necklaces of his mother’s before finding what he was looking for: a single gold ear cuff with many entwined vines, adorned with a small garnet. This should make them think twice he thought, quite excited about the idea. A hobbit with ear jewelry – only my mother was ever that bold. Pride swelled his chest, emboldened by Belladonna’s spirit.
As soon as Bilbo finished hooking the cuff around the side of his ear (accentuating the soft point to be found above it), a heavy knock sounded throughout his home. Taking a deep breath and smoothing out his clothes, he headed towards the foyer with confidence and a slight bit of trepidation. Opening the door, he found a thick dwarf who seemed to be carved out of the very stone his people were known for loving. A heavy axe was across his back.
“Dwalin, at your service,” the dwarf said, bowing to Bilbo. Bilbo smiled, determined to be the perfect host.
“Bilbo Baggins at yours,” and returned the bow. The dwarf’s eyes rested on his ear, and a tiny nudge upward of his left eyebrow was the only tell that told Bilbo his jewelry had been noted. “The food is down the hall, help yourself to whatever you need.” He took Dwalin’s cloak and weapons, setting them down before quickly shuffling down the hall and getting his guest ale. “How many of you are coming?” he asked casually as he sat the wooden mug in front of the dwarf. Dwalin ignored him for a few moments, downing the ale quickly and clumsily, before slamming down the tankard. “Another! Thirteen.” At that he quickly dug into the food, allowing Bilbo a moment to himself while retrieving the ale.
So many, he thought with surprise as he fiddled with the barrel. No wonder Gandalf didn’t say anything. Probably afraid I’d run for the hills the moment I learned of the true number of dwarves I’d have inside my home.
As soon as he placed the tankard in front of Dwalin, another knock sounded. “That’ll be the door,” growled Dwalin through a leg of chicken. Bilbo inclined his head towards him, before stepping out to answer it.
A short, older dwarf with white hair was in front of him. Red robes adorned him, and Bilbo couldn’t help but admire the color.
“Balin, at your service.” A bow accentuated his words.
“Bilbo Baggins at yours. Good evening!” Bilbo bowed back, having caught on that this was some sort of dwarvish tradition.
“Yes, yes it is,” was the dwarf’s reply, “Though I think it might rain later.” The second part was said with concern. “Am I late?”
“No, not at all!” Bilbo marveled at the dwarf’s accent and tried to imagine a language where such rolling sounds were needed. “In fact, you are quite early. One of your company has already arrived and is eating.” At this, Balin stepped in, handing Bilbo his outer cloak even as his eyes roamed and met those of Dwalin, who had come to see who was arriving and decided to attempt taking advantage of the cookie jar on the mantle: despite the fact his hand could not fit inside.
“Oh! Evening brother,” Balin said as he slowed his pace, bouncing low on his feet as his face lit up in a wide smile.
“By my beard! You are shorter and wider than last we met.” A playful smile on the broad dwarf’s face as he set the cookies down, momentarily forgotten.
“Wider, not shorter. And sharp enough for both of us,” Balin said with a wink. Dwalin put his hands on his brother’s shoulders and Balin’s covered his forearms, before they brought their heads together with a loud crack that surprised Bilbo. Goodness, I’m surprised they didn’t hurt each other,” he mused, even more curious about his rough visitors.
Balin and Dwalin headed to the back, catching up and eager to get back to the food. Bilbo hung up Balin’s cloak beside his brother’s, and had barely finished that small task before the door rang again. He opened it this time to two much younger dwarves.
“Fili,” said the blonde on the left, “And Kili,” the brunet on the right, before bowing in unison while saying “At your service.” “You must be Mister Boggins!” exclaimed Kili, excited.
“Indeed I am,” Bilbo said with a smile and a bow, not bothering to correct him on the pronunciation of his name. Bilbo stepped back to allow them in even as they began taking off their weapons. Their confidence intrigued Bilbo even more. Was the blond one…swaggering?
“Be careful with these,” said Fili, “I’ve just had them sharpened.” He unloaded his weapons into Bilbo’s arms, entrusting him to put them in safe place. Kili did the same, though he paid less attention to his host and more to their accommodations for the night. He ran his eyes over the solid wood arches, taking in the intricate designs and signs of master woodwork. “It’s nice, this place. Did you do it yourself?”
Bilbo smiled at the compliment and indulged the young dwarf. “No actually, my father built it for my mother as a courting gift.” Bilbo missed the new way the dwarf looked at the smial, in wonder and no small amount of surprise. By the time he finished showing them to the kitchen, his bell was ringing again. He sat the weapons on the chest in the hall before opening the door, curious to see how many visitors were showing up this time.
As he opened the door, a large group of dwarves fell inside, and he barely managed to jump back in time to avoid being crushed by them. Stunned, he reached out a hand and helped a few of them up before making eye contact with Gandalf. The old wizard eeked out a pained half-smile, clearly expecting the hobbit to be upset about the turn of events. Needless to say, Bilbo was merely amused at the dwarves currently struggling to escape from under their fellows. Once Gandalf saw his true feelings on the matter, he smiled, glad to see his friend was not over-encumbered by the clumsy dwarves. Bilbo took all of their weapons and gestured to the coat rack when one of them, a smaller red-head, asked where to put his cloak. He introduced himself to the company and bowed, instructing them on where to find the others. After they hung up their cloaks they all introduced themselves, and afterwards Bilbo was left with his head spinning from all the new names he had absorbed. Well, it will certainly take awhile to learn all of them, he thought, excited by the challenge presented. Not that I’m going for sure, he checked himself. Mustn’t get too ahead of myself now. Think of the tomatoes!
Once all the dwarves were seated and eating merrily, Bilbo stepped out to the kitchen in order to grab a new plate of biscuits. All the ones he had put in the dining room had already been ate. As he came back to the dining room, he paused in the doorway, hearing Dwalin (who had finished eating already due to him being there earlier than the others) talking with Gandalf. The former was leaning against the doorframe of the dining room, and the latter standing in front of him.
“We appear to be one dwarf short,” Gandalf said, frowning.
Dwalin, clearly content from being filled with warm food and mead, assuaged his fears. “He is late, is all. He traveled north to a meeting of our kin. He will come.” Gandalf sighed, not happy with the answer but accepting there was nothing he could do about it.
Interesting, thought Bilbo as he brought the biscuits into the dining room. Fili jumped up and reached for the plate immediately, giving Bilbo an appreciative smile and head nod. Sitting down in Gandalf’s temporarily forgotten seat, Bilbo pondered on the missing dwarf. As if his thoughts had something to do with it, a few loud knocks echoed throughout the smial, and all talk quickly diminished to silence, the only voice speaking up being Gandalf.
“He is here.”
Quickly, all of the dwarves stood up and practically ran, gathering around the door. Gandalf opened it, and a tall dwarf in a sky blue cloak stood on the other side. “Gandalf,” the unknown visitor said, a smile easing across his face. “I thought you said this place would be easy to find. I lost my way, twice. Wouldn’t have been able to find it at all, if it hadn’t been for that mark on the door.” At that, Bilbo pushed his way past Dori and finally got a glimpse of the dwarf in his home. So that’s what the scraping was about, Bilbo thought. A homing beacon of sorts. Walking to stand beside of Gandalf, the wizard began introductions.
“Bilbo Baggins, let me introduce the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield.” Bilbo turned from Gandalf, just as Thorin looked at him. Thorin made eye contact with Bilbo, shoving his coat onto Kili without even a glance. A shot of something rippled through them both. A few in the company shook themselves, unsure of the sudden chill that ran down their spines. Thorin, on his part, briefly looked as if he had been struck before it faded to amusement. He moved forward without his own volition, feeling an inexplicable tug.
“So. This is the hobbit,” he said, crossing his arms as he spoke. Mirth narrowed his eyes, and a grin tugged at his lips.
Striking, thought Bilbo. His eyes. He was shook out of his short reverie by Thorin asking a question, that grin still plastered across his face.
“Tell me Mister Baggins, have you done much fighting?” Thorin began circling Bilbo, looking him up and down. Bilbo muttered, “Pardon me?” still too off balance to think of anything proper to say. “Axe or sword, what’s your weapon of choice?” A bright grin lit Bilbo’s face as he turned his head to his left quickly, in order to keep the raven haired dwarf in his sight. He blushed slightly, noting where Thorin’s eyes had been.
“Well, I do have some skill at knives, if you must know.” Bilbo puffed up even as he looked Thorin up and down, as blatant as one could get without being rude, taking in Thorin’s large bearing and trying to not appreciate it. Pulling himself up to his full height he continued, “But I fail to see…how that is relevant.”
“Thought as much. Still, he looks more like a grocer than a burglar.” Thorin’s grin evolved to a full-shit eating one at that, and he moved away only to be stopped by Bilbo’s voice behind him.
“I don’t need a ridiculously heavy axe or sword to deal with my enemies, Master Oakenshield.” Thorin turned, clearly surprised at being talked back to. Bilbo smirked and crossed his own arms, pleased to have the upper hand. He had been insulted in his own home, propriety be damned. “Hobbits are not fond of overcompensation, you see.”
The company muttered around them, clearly shocked at his words. Thorin himself took in the hobbit again with new eyes. Striking blue landed on the jewelry around Bilbo’s ear, and Bilbo could swear he…felt, Thorin’s gaze. Thorin’s eyes were somewhat hooded, his face alit with new curiosity. He stepped heavily towards the hobbit and Bilbo became nervous, afraid that he might be challenged to a duel of some sort. You never know what to expect with these rough types. And I did challenge him…oh dear.
“Is that so, Master Baggins?” His voice was quiet, deeper, and with an underlying hint of danger. Bilbo had never been so affected by a voice in all his life. Determined to keep that little fact to himself, he nodded, daring to take a half step closer to the dwarf. Thorin continued: “Just so you know, ‘overcompensation’ has nothing to do with the size of our weapons. They are simply the ones that suit us best.” His head was tilted down, looking directly into Bilbo’s steel blue eyes, and on his last sentence his voice dropped an octave, “You can trust that.”
Bilbo blushed, properly chastised and embarrassed at the slight innuendo, though not enough to give ground. Thorin turned on his heel and headed into the kitchen. The company followed close behind, most shooting Bilbo various shocked looks as they passed, and their volume stayed low.
Well. Wasn’t that interesting? Bilbo thought. He turned to look at Gandalf, who was staring at him with an unreadable expression upon his face. Some odd mix of surprise, shock, and something else he couldn’t name. Bilbo extended his arm towards the other dwarves. “After you.”