The first Ris noticed of the strange creature, he was hunched against the wall of the birthing room, eyes wide. Then another contraction took her, and she forgot about the creature for the pain. As the contraction left her, she remembered, and looked for him. Did she suffer some delirium in childbirth? Gruna had not seemed to see him; of course, the midwife was rather occupied between her legs. The next wave overtook her, and Gruna encouraged her to push. The babe was close now. As she pushed, she met the eyes of the small thing. He seemed a child: naked, with strange hairy feet and wide eyes. She pushed, and she looked into the strange hallucination’s eyes, and in that way her first child, Thorin, was brought into the world. Then the midwife turned to clean Thorin, and screamed; and Ris realized she was not hallucinating after all.
Bilbo’s first travel occurred when he was five years old. He was in his bed, waiting for sleep, then he was in a dimly lit room, all rock, no windows, with a funny panting lady on the bed. It was a funny dream, he thought; the lady on the bed had a beard like a man might, or a Harfoot! Her stomach was huge, and at first Bilbo thought she was just fat, but then he remembered how Saradoc’s mother had got fat before the new baby came. So maybe it wasn’t fat but a baby instead. Saradoc said sometimes mamas did that: got fat with a baby. The other lady bustled about with the sheets and checking (in between the lady’s legs!) and didn’t see him, but the first lady did. She didn’t say a word, though, just looked; and then she closed her eyes and groaned so loud. It was a bit scary, this dream, Bilbo thought. And then the bustling lady was very busy and bossy, and the panting lady panted and groaned a lot more, and looked at him so he couldn’t look away but must look back, and then the bustling lady turned around with a small something in her hands. She screamed when she saw him and she scared him; so Bilbo screamed too, a little.
“Your highness,” she said as she backed away from him, “you must not move; I will hand you the babe and call for the guard.”
“He is hardly a threat, Gruna,” the panting lady said. “Look at him; he is a naked child. There is no need for a guard; I think we shall be able to defend ourselves if necessary.” Even lying down on the bed, sweaty and trembling, she was like a queen in one of Mama’s stories. The bossy lady had even called her ‘your highness!’ “Attend to my babe, if you would. But first, tell me: prince or princess?”
The bossy lady swallowed. She still looked scared of Bilbo, but she looked at the little thing (a baby, it was a baby!) and said, “A prince, your highness.”
Her highness: she had said it again! This dream was interesting, Bilbo decided, not scary after all.
“Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror,” her highness said. “Now clean him, and bring him to me.”
Bilbo watched it all from his place against the wall. The bossy lady bustled again with the baby, wrapped him up, and then brought him to the queen. She looked just like a mama as she held him, even with the funny beard. After a while she gestured to Bilbo.
“Come here, child,” she said. He went to her bedside. The baby looked squashed, and he told her so.
“But he is a prince, so maybe he will grow out of such a funny face,” he told her. “Princes in mama’s stories are always handsome.”
The queen laughed. “Where do you come from, strange creature? Will not your mother miss you?”
Bilbo shook his head. “No, because I am dreaming,” he told her. “Ladies don’t have beards, only men and sometimes a Harfoot; though a Harfoot beard is never so thick as yours.”
“I am not sure you dream, little one,” the queen said. “For then I dream as well, the same dream as you.” Bilbo thought about that.
“It’s like magic,” he said. “It really is like one of mama’s stories.”
“And while ladies where you are from may not have beards; I am a dwarf, and often our ladies do,” she said. “I ask again: where is it that you are from, and what are you?
Bilbo laughed. “I’m a hobbit, from the Shire,” he said. “There are dwarves in mama’s stories, sometimes; they all do have great beards! But I never heard of a lady dwarf.”
The dwarf queen laughed too, a little tiredly. “And I,” she said, “have never heard of a hobbit.”
And then, without any warning, Bilbo was back in his own room; and he would have thought it a dream after all, but he was naked on top of his covers, and his pajamas were neatly tucked in beneath the blanket.
Ris had dismissed the hobbit’s presence at Thorin’s birth from her mind. She and Gruna had agreed that practical Thrain need not be bothered with news of the fae visit; and though she watched for a while, she did not see the hobbit again. It was nearly two years later, and Ris was alone, nursing Thorin in his little room, when the hobbit came. As before, he was nude; and he seemed not to have aged. Ris had admitted to some curiosity about hobbits after Thorin’s birth; she had visited the Erebor library to read the journals of travelers to far away lands. The Shire did exist; it lay near ancient Belegost in the Blue Mountains, and it was populated with a people called hobbits: small but well-fed, with bare, hairy feet but no beards. They must wear clothing though the child had not, else such a curiosity would have been written of. It was a strange magic that had brought the young hobbit from so far away to her birthing bed; but it had not happened again, and Ris was not fanciful. She did not worry about what did not occur. But here he had appeared again.
“Child,” she said. “Hobbit. You are back.” He had been curled in a ball on the floor, but now he looked at her.
“It is my dream again,” he said. “From last month.”
“It has been two years in the Lonely Mountain,” she replied. Did time pass so differently in the Shire? Nothing she had read had mentioned such a thing. He stood, and looked at her diffidently. He seemed unconcerned with his nudity; perhaps he was too young for body shyness. “Tell me your name.”
“Bilbo Baggins, your highness,” he said, with a clumsy bow. “At your service.”
The second time Bilbo travelled, he had been playing Frogs and Rocks with his cousins, and then he was not. He had gone back to the dwarf queen. She held her baby to her breast, rocking and cooing at him, as he gripped her beard tightly. The baby was not a squashed-faced newborn any longer; but a fat and happy baby, the kind that could sit up and laughed when you played cuckoo with it.
“Child,” she called him, and asked his name, and he bowed like a knight.
“I never met a queen before,” he told her. There weren’t any in the Shire.
She laughed. “And you still have not,” she said. “For I am not queen yet. My husband’s father, Thror, is king of the dwarves in Erebor.” Bilbo thought about that.
“Are you a princess, then?” he asked.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Good,” he said, “Because I never met one of those either.” He looked at her. “You’re just like mama’s stories of a princess.” She was, too; she wore such beautiful clothes that shone and sparkled, and a crown on her head. He dared to step closer.
“The baby is bigger,” he said.
“It has been two years,” she said.
“He’s not squashed anymore,” he told her. He thought she would be glad to know that.
She smiled, a little funny smile. “Thank you,” she said. “Would you like to see him closer?” Bilbo nodded.
“You said he was a prince, too,” he remembered.
“Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror,” she said.
“That’s a nice name,” he told her. She held the baby up so he faced Bilbo. “Hello, Prince Thorin,” he said. “What a big fellow you are!” He was big, compared to hobbit babies. He had blue eyes and dark curls on his head.
“Cuckoo!” Bilbo said, covering his face with his hands, then peeking out between them. Prince Thorin laughed and reached out to grab Bilbo’s hair. He was strong; and when he pulled, it hurt! The princess laughed again and helped pry Thorin’s hands away from Bilbo’s curls.
And then Bilbo was back in the Shire, sitting on top of his clothes, and all his cousins were staring.