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Ushmar Mukhas

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Chapter 3

Thorin departed for the Shire 2 days later, in the early days of October. Bilbo had drawn him a very detailed map of the Shire, and had written down instructions on how to get to Tuckborough, where the Thain lived. Bilbo had drawn and numbered landmarks on the map, and numbered and underlined the landmarks in the written instruction for comparison. If Thorin discovered a landmark in his travels that wasn't on the map, he had traveled too far, not far enough, or it wasn't actually a landmark.

It took a good week and a half to reach the Took family smials. The whole time he traveled through the Shire, Thorin found himself marveling at how much squash and other late season produce was still in the fields. There were so many in numbers, size, and different varieties! The dwarves were lucky if they got any of the plants they planted to last until mid-July.

"What do you want?"

Thorin, and the pony he was riding, startled at the sudden voice. Getting his mount under control, Thorin looked around and spotted a male hobbit with a single long pheasant feather in his hat. Thorin didn't know this hobbit's name, but he did know that he was a Bounder, the hobbit's version of militia that mostly kept an eye on the Old Forest on the eastern end of the Shire, but did a few other things as well. The hobbit was giving Thorin a critical look, having followed the dwarf ever since he had entered the Shire's boundaries 5 days ago.

"I am here to speak with the Thain of the Shire." Thorin replied, not feeling nervous about the critical look he was getting since he got them from the race of men… a lot.

Isengrim III, Gerontius Took's 32 year old, and firstborn, child looked Thorin up and down again. The faded and worn clothes, calloused hands, and gaunt face, was a good indication of why the dwarf wanted to see his father. To trade for food. But he had to get passed Gerontius Took's inspection first. Despite his jovial nature, the Old Took was very serious about his duties as the Thain. He had turned down several trading propositions because the traders were attempting to take advantage of him.

"Follow me." Isengrim instructed, and turned down the road.

Isengrim led Thorin on the path that Bilbo had mapped out for him. The dwarf felt his heart lift a touch at the prospect of possible food for his people, but he squashed it down. To many times he had gotten his hopes up, and every time they had been crushed, so it was best to not let it happen in the first place. Not too much longer, they reach the Tuckborough Family Smials. Thorin marveled at the sight of all the healthy hobbit children running about as their families worked in the fields. He truly wished that his sister's-sons would be able to do the same one day.

Isengrim looked over his shoulder at the dwarf. He was surprised to see the soft look in his eyes as he watched the kids, and the hidden longing underneath, having heard that the dwarves were greedy and didn't actually care for the wellbeing of the other races of Middle-Earth. Maybe they had been wrong about their northern neighbors.

"Father, there is someone here to see you." Isengrim called once he was within earshot.

Gerontius Took turned his head to see his eldest son leading a dwarf on a pony towards him. Sweet Yavanna! He was so gaunt, so skinny! Most folk who wanted to trade with the Shire had chubby bellies, thinking that if they looked and acted like the hobbits it would endear the little folk to them. Gerontius had sent them all away with sore bottoms, seeing only people who made themselves fat and leaving others to starve. All the hobbits in the Shire had plenty of food to eat, that being the only reason they were all so chubby at times.

"Thank you son." Gerontius nodded.

Isengrim bowed his head and left to head back to his post at the northern border. Thorin swallowed, suddenly not knowing what to say. He was desperate for this to work, but his social skills were… flatter than a pancake, as Dís and Balin liked to say. He needed to produce food for his people from the Shire-folk, and if he failed…

Taking a deep breath, Thorin pushed his fear down, and opened his mouth.

~

Bilbo had mostly remained awake during the early morning and late evening hours, and slept the remaining time. Óin said that was normal for a deer, most active at sunrise and sunset, but it also might have to do with his wound. Once the king was gone, many of the dwarves that were living in Tumunzahar had crowded outside of Thorin's home, believing that the Ushmar Mukhas would bring them good luck if they were to see him, and that it would triple if they touched him. Dwalin, Balin, Víli, Glóin, and several other guards/volunteers kept a watch rotation until the novelty of Bilbo's presence wore off, and people stopped trying to sneak into the house.

Fíli's favorite place to hang out was quickly discovered to be by Bilbo's deer tummy. The lad loved the soft deer fur that kept him warm. Bilbo's hadn't minded, and always positioned himself so his legs would curl around the lad and keep him tucked safely next to him. Víli had been jealous for about a day, until Dís pointed out that Fíli only did that when he was getting sleepy. Kíli also liked to be near Bilbo, somehow knowing that the hobbit-dear had rescued and cared for him during a brief time.

As the weeks went by, Bilbo spent even more time sleeping. The only time he woke for an extended period of time was they day Thorin returned in early November, about four weeks after his departure. It had shocked Dís when Bilbo hopped out of Thorin's bedroom in the middle of the day, but his swiveling ears had her remain silent as Bilbo listened to what was going on. Instincts had played an important role in keeping the dwarrow alive for as long as they had, and maybe Bilbo's would help them branch out into other areas that would keep them safe.

"Thorin's back." Bilbo smiled. "And he has company."

Dís scooped up Fíli, who had been playing with some wooden toys made by Bofur and Bifur on the floor, and headed out the door. Kíli was dozing on the… what was being used for a sofa, and Bilbo would watch him while his mother was out. Bilbo smiled and settled next to the fireplace in the living space. It wouldn't be wise for him to hobble outside right now. Óin would be really mad at him for over-exerting his leg, and there were too many germs and overly curious dwarrow who still wanted to get close to him.

Dís passed Fíli to Víli, once the dwarf caught up with his wife, and the two quickly made their way to the market square, where the wagons were being parked and unloaded. Thorin was in the first wagon with Gerontius Took. The Thain of the Shire was happy to help their neighbors, and was also curious about Bilbo, simply because no hobbit had turned into a Guardiano del Cervi since their Wandering Days of the Second Age. With them were several more wagons filled with food, and driven by a dozen or so hobbits of the Took family. And of course, the Tooks were singing one of their infamous inn/tavern/beer songs.

"Hey-Ho! To the bottle I go,
To heal my heart and drown my woe.
Rain may fall and wind may blow,
But there'll still be… many miles to go.

Sweet is the sound of the pouring rain,
And the stream that falls from hill to plain.
Better than rain or rippling brook,
Is a mug of beer inside this Took."

Bilbo's ears twitched as he heard the song, and softly sang along before he chuckled and shook his head at the silliness of his relatives. He then found himself wondering if the hobbits or the dwarves would be drunk under the table before the Took's stay was over. He was personally betting that it would be the dwarves that would get well and thoroughly smashed, and that the hobbits would only be mildly buzzed before proceeding to beat anyone who wasn't drunk that wanted to play at darts or poker against them.

"They're certainly lively." Víli commented. "Not like most of the hobbits I see."

"That's because the hobbits we see are the ones all about maintaining their respectability, or are their country's guardsmen who keep the peace with the outside races." Thorin told his brother-in-law as he stepped down from the wagon, Gerontius hopping off the other side. "The Tooks and Brandybucks are much more open with visitors."

"What did you get?" Dís asked as she tried to peek over the wagon edge.

"Each sack in this wagon is bushels of wheat, half of the sacks in the second wagon are bushels of potatoes, and the other half are bushels of onions." Gerontius launched into an explanation. "The third wagon is filled with fruit and vegetable preserves of all shapes and sizes, carefully wrapped so the glass jars don't break. The fourth wagon has more bushels of wheat, and half of the fifth wagon has more bushels of wheat, and the other half is bushels of potatoes."

The wagons were quite large, something Víli would have expected a family of the race of men to drive, and were nearly overflowing with the goods they had. And yet the ponies that were hitched up to them were still wanting to go-go-go! Eyes looking over the wagons and the goods that were being unloaded, Thorin knew that this would get his kinfolk threw the winter okay, and would last well into next summer as long as they were careful.

"Now, I do believe there was someone you wanted me to speak with." Gerontius turned serious.

"Aye." Thorin nodded his head and looked to his sister. "Dís?"

"He's back at the house." Dís replied, knowing her brother was speaking of Bilbo.

With a nod of thanks, Thorin led the way back and stopped short when Dwalin ran passed, chasing yet another dwarf away from his home. But the dwarf that was running away was limping awkwardly, as if someone had kicked him in certain areas. Getting to the door of his house, which was partly open, Thorin pushed in open to see Bilbo was cooing at Kíli on the 'sofa'. The baby dwarf was giggling at Bilbo's silly faces, and the sight brought a smile to Thorin's face, and Gerontius' as well.

"Bilbo." Thorin called softly as he and his hobbit guest stepped inside, getting his attention. "There's someone here to see you."

"Hello Thorin, it's nice to see you again too." Bilbo replied, a little bit sarcastic, but mostly amused. "I'm doing well, thank you for asking."

Thorin's jaw dropped at the rudeness, but Gerontius doubled over in laughter. He had said nearly the same thing to his family members whenever they didn't say "Hello" and inquire about his health. Thorin shut his mouth and cleared his throat. He had been a little rude to Bilbo, so the hobbit-deer had been a little rude back. It had been so long since someone who wasn't a close friend of family member had snarked at him. It was actually a good feeling.

"Greetings Bilbo." Thorin said most graciously and a bit over the top. "It is wondrous to see you after my long and hard travels. May I inquire your current state of health?"

Bilbo wore a blank face as he stared at the dwarf, and raised an eyebrow. Gerontius fell to the floor in his laughter. Thorin looked back at Bilbo with an impassive face, but the humor in his blue eyes was obvious. Bilbo's lip twitched, he snorted, and that set both the hobbit-deer and the dwarf off in rounds of laughter.

"You didn't have to be so dramatic." Bilbo said once he got his chuckles under control.

"Go big, or go home." Thorin smirked. "And since I was already home…"

Bilbo snorted again and shook his head. Thorin noted that when Bilbo snorted, it sounded more like a deer snort than a human/hobbit/dwarf/elf snort. Interesting. Gerontius finally managed to get his laughter under control and got back to his feet, a few chuckles escaping now and then. Taking a deep breath, the hobbit calmed down and went to his business side, the side that was needed to keep his kin safe and healthy.

"Now let me take a look at you." Gerontius said smiled as he cast a critical eye over Bilbo's half-deer body. "I was quite shocked when Master Thorin spoke of you. None of our people have changed to this form since we settled in the Shire."

All Bilbo could do was shrug with a somewhat helpless look on his face. He didn't know how he had changed to this form, nor did he know how to change back. After Thorin helped Bilbo get to his feet, the Thain examined Bilbo's antlers, ears, legs, (tsk'ed at the arrow wound), and hoofs, making sure that he truly was healthy. He kept looking into an old book he had brought with him, which most likely was the hobbit's only book on the subject of the Guardiano del Cervi. With a hum, the 74 year old hobbit finally stepped back with a pleased look.

"Aside from the arrow wound, you're as healthy as a… as a deer." Gerontius shrugged, not wanting to say 'horse'.

"That's good." Bilbo sighed. "Though I think Óin will be mad that I kicked someone below the belt."

So that's why that dwarf had been limp-running.

"Mad that you kicked, or mad that he has to treat that area?" Thorin inquired.

"That I kicked." Bilbo clarified. "Don't know who it was, but they broke in while I was the only one here, save Kíli. Dwalin ran him off after he screamed like a girl because of the pain."

"You were defending yourself." Gerontius waved his hand dismissively. "This Óin will probably be mad that your injury was aggravated, but also thankful that you can still kick someone who deserves it in the balls."

Bilbo blinked as he started at the hobbit who had once been his grandfather. He had never heard that sort of talk come from him before. Then again, Grandma Adamanta Took née Chubb probably had something to do with that. During his last lifetime, The Old Took had died 3 years before Bilbo turned 33, at age 130. Currently at age 74, Gerontius still had 56 years to go before he passed on to Lady Yavanna's Gardens.

"Does that book say how we change forms?" Bilbo asked.

"Nope." Gerontius shook his head. "That was passed down by word of mouth. Something about a king's plant and a night's shade as an infused drink. Then you could change back and forth at will."

"Athelas, aka kingsfoil, and belladonna mixed together as a tea." Bilbo translated easily.

"The frost just killed all the plants, even in the Shire." Thorin shook his head. "You're going to have to wait until spring or early summer."

"I'll live." Bilbo replied.

Thorin then excused himself to help with the unloading and storage of the food. Gerontius sat himself down in a chair and studied Bilbo more critically. Bilbo's ears went flat against the back of his skull, feeling like a fauntling with his hand caught in the cookie jar. He did not like that look, not at all.

"How old are you?" Gerontius asked.

"40." Bilbo replied.

"I don't know who you are." Gerontius admitted, making Bilbo swallow heavily. "I do know that there were no Bilbo's born in the Shire 40 years ago. And your information about where Master Thorin should go was too detailed for one who had never been visiting, yet none can recall your presence. Who are you?"

"My name is Bilbo Baggins." Bilbo admitted. "I was born in 1290 by Shire Reckoning, 26 years from now, and died in 1422 as an old hobbit. The Green Mother and her husband, the Stone Father, came to me as I died, and begged me to save the dwarves of the Line of Durin. I woke in the forest by the mountains several months ago, my memories of the future faded, save for certain details, and have done my best to do what has been asked of me."

Bilbo had some odd dreams while Thorin had been away. But the main point was that he had been able to figure out that the Green Mother, (Lady Yavanna), and the Stone Father, (Lord Aulë), had been the one so plead with him to save the Durin's. And honestly, who was going to tell a Valar 'no'. Not Bilbo, he wasn't that crazy.

Gerontius leaned back in his chair while he processed what he had been told. That he hadn't been expecting. He had been betting that it had been a hobbit lass that had mated with a non-hobbit, (man, elf, or dwarf, he didn't know), and then ran off after discovering she was pregnant, Bilbo being the result of that union. But that wasn't it. The Green Mother had chosen Bilbo, taken him from his own time and placed him here to protect these dwarves.

"That's that then." Gerontius nodded his head.

"Really?" Bilbo asked, completely bewildered.

"My Great-Great-Uncle Bandobras 'Bullroar' Took was chosen by the Green Mother to protect the Shire when invaded by goblins before I was born." Gerontius replied with a one shoulder shrug. "When the Green Mother chooses us for a task, there is nothing we can do but complete what we have been instructed to do."

Bilbo hummed, and smiled. That made things simpler. Here he had been worried that he would be forced back to the Shire 'for his own good'. At least the hobbit who had been his grandfather was willing to not push where it was not needed. With a small groan, Gerontius pushed himself up off the chair he had been sitting in.

"Now, I don't know about you, but I'm going to go see how well the dwarves fare against my granny's homebrewed moonshine." Gerontius grinned, making Bilbo roll his eyes.

Of course.

~

Gerontius stayed with Thorin, Dís, Víli, Fíli, Kíli, and Bilbo while he was in Tumunzahar. The Old Took made sure that the food was stored properly, and corrected them when stored improperly. He was very concerned about the food going bad before it could be eaten, and didn't have any more to spare for the northern neighbors. When the hobbits weren't storing food, they were looking over the fields the dwarves had made, to see if there was any advice that could be offered to make the food they attempted to grow better.

A shout of disgust from Gerontius himself had the dwarves running to see what happened. The hobbit had come across a black fungus that was buried around 2 feet under the soil. He had seen in before when he was young, and knew how bad it was. The mold sucked the nutrition and moisture out of the soil it was in, and gave back an oozy slime that the plants used to grow instead. The wheat or whatever else was growing became infected, and any very few actually survived to full maturity. And if they did, the infected food would infect those who ate it with all sorts of illnesses and other problems, like poor fertility rates in male and female alike, and failed pregnancies.

An all hands in the field call went throughout Tumunzahar, the dwarves bringing shovels, wagons, buckets, tin tubs, and whatever else they could get their hands on. Bilbo kept his eyes on the children under age 30 with the help of Dís, which consisted of the 30 year old Bombur, 21 year old Bofur, 27 year old Nori, 2 year old Ori, (despite Dori not wanting anyone else to take care of his brothers, he was needed in the fields), 5 year old Fíli, and 1 month old Kíli, while the older dwarves shoveled out the mold and contaminated soil. The polluted contents were taken away in wagons to a few miles away, where it was all dumped and burned. Any wheat or other produce that the dwarves had managed to grow was taken away and burned as well.

Several of the Tooks departed back for the Shire immediately to get some new soil, and lots of animal manure for compost, for the dwarves. Thorin was simply floored that these hobbits would do all that for them. First they were willing to trade food and let them sell their wares in the Shire, and now they were helping them remove a disgusting fungus from their fields, and also to prepare them for the next growing season. The hobbits worked quickly, and it went even faster with the dwarves shoveling the soil and 'compost' into the spots that the hobbits directed them to.

It was late November by the time they finished. The snows had held off, but wouldn't for too much longer. On the day that Gerontius, the Tooks that had traveled with him, and several dwarves that had offered to guard them, left the mountain city, he offered Bilbo a chance to go back to the Shire with them. Bilbo smiled, but shook his head. He was considered an abnormality in those green and rolling hills. As much as he wanted to visit, it was better to wait until he could change back. Even then, Bilbo knew he wouldn't stay in the Shire to long. He had his dwarves to keep an eye on and keep safe, especially the mischievous Víli, Fíli, and Kíli. Gerontius understood, and promised to come back in the spring to look the fields over again.

"They're nice people, those hobbits." Dís comment later that evening.

"There's a bad apple in every bushel." Bilbo replied as he tickled Fíli's tummy.

"Hm?" Víli glanced over from where he was on nappie duty with Kíli.

"I think Bilbo means something along the lines of, 'there's one bad sword in every armory'." Thorin mused from the front doorway, where he was smoking his pipe.

"If that means there are bad people in every family/city/kingdom/race, then yes." Bilbo agreed.

~

With the new food properly stored away, Thorin led a couple wagons filled with food northward to their sister city, Gabilgathol. The Firebeard clan was very happy to receive the goods; their harvest had been very poor as well. The dwarf king and his guard were held up for a week by bad weather before they were able to return to Tumunzahar. It was mid-December by the time Thorin was back to stay for the rest of the winter. But those few weeks was enough time for Thorin to notice that his family and kin had more color and fullness to their cheeks, and not the pale and gaunt looks that had become normal over the last few decades.

Bilbo had awoken shortly before Thorin's arrival, like when he had come back with the hobbits, and was able to exchange brief pleasantries before going back to sleep. The next time Bilbo woke that evening, he explained that his deer side wasn't getting any nutrition. And since he couldn't change back to his hobbit form, he slept more to balance out the lack of steady green grass during the winter months. 4 months after his arrival in Tumunzahar, in early February, Bilbo awoke briefly in time to hear Óin proclaim his leg healed  and could begin to walk around fully on it. Bilbo tried, but he was just so tired, so he didn't really move around that much.

It was a great relief to all when spring finally arrived 2 months later. Bilbo gained more energy as the days grew brighter, hobbling around on all four legs and occasionally stumbling as he gained his strength. Once approved by Óin, the hobbit-deer fully embraced being outdoors again, and stayed in the woods for a couple of weeks to regain his strength. Dwalin stayed close by in case of wolves or orcs. The day Bilbo re-entered the Thorin's Halls, he had a splitting headache caused by the shedding of his antlers. His old pair fell off, and a new velvet pair came in full-sized instantly. Bilbo brought the shedded antlers back for Bofur's father to make into some toys, and then proclaimed he was taking a health day, do not disturb until he initiates contact.

Thorin honestly found it a bit amusing.

Gerontius came back with several of his relatives, and more bountiful Shire soil and animal manure. Gerontius admitted that these first few years would be spent trying to get the soil content to a healthy level to grow food, and that the crops planted were there, while they could be eaten, were too simply to help hold the soil in place. The dwarves would still need to trade for most of their food until then, and that was totally fine with Thorin.

"How is Bilbo doing?" Gerontius asked his first afternoon back.

"Wonderful now that he can be in the forest and 'actually have the energy needed to get through day-to-day life without taking an 8 hour nap'." Thorin replied with a somewhat sarcastic tone. "His words, not mine."

"It does make a difference." Bilbo agreed as he came over, holding onto two little giggling bundles in his arms.

Fíli was making faces at the 6 month old Kíli, who was trying to mimic the looks back to his brother. It was just so cute that the adults couldn't help but smile. Fíli had recently turned 6 years old, and had been over the moon about his new big boy bed that his father and uncle had made for him, no longer having to use an old shirt stuffed with hay as his sleeping mat.

The dwarves had finally gotten use to the Ushmar Mukhas walking about in the village and fields, and stopped trying to touch him, (more specifically: his antlers), without his permission. They understood that Bilbo was intelligent and actually challenged their own thought processes to find new ways to do old tasks. Many of the dwarves had sworn off eating venison ever again, and other tried to not eat any meat… period. Bilbo had stopped that shortly after it started, stating that while venison was probably off the menu, he didn't have any issues if they, (or himself), ate pig, chicken, fish, cow, goat, sheep, turkey, or most other wildlife.

"So what are you going to do now that you're all healed up?" Gerontius asked.

"I've got my hands pretty full." Bilbo grinned back, pointedly looking at Fíli and Kíli.

Gerontius chuckled while Thorin rolled his eyes, and then frowned. That same question had been plaguing him for a while, but he had never asked it. He didn't want Bilbo to leave, having gotten use to the Ushmar Mukhas' presence in his home, but it wasn't his place to demand that Bilbo stay. If Bilbo wanted to go, that was his choice.

"These dwarves wouldn't know the right end of a hoe or a pea plant if it wasn't for me." Bilbo commented, bringing Thorin out of his morbid thoughts. "And someone needs to make sure the fields grow and flourish. If they'll have me, that is."

"Of course." Thorin replied.

Bilbo smiled brightly at Thorin again, and Gerontius snickered behind his hand. The poor fools were so besotted with each other, and they didn't even realize it. Maybe some nudges in the right direction once Bilbo was a little older, in about 20 years. Could he wait that long? After watching the two sneak glances when the other wasn't looking, Gerontius knew that he would have to.

~

Translations

Tumunzahar = Khuzdul for: Hollow-Building/House. Tumunzahar is more commonly known by its Sindarin name, Nogrod, which means: hollow-bold, 'bold' being an Old English word that means house/home.

Ushmar Mukhas = Khuzdul for: Guardian Deer.

Guardiano del Cervi = Italian/Hobbitish for Guardian Deer.

Gabilgathol = Khuzdul for: Great Fortress. Like Tumunzahar/Nogrod, it is more commonly known by its Sindarin name, Belegost, which also means: great fortress.

~

Previous chapters EDIT! As it turns out, many of the dwarves settled in Tumunzahar/Nogrod after Smaug took Erebor and the Battle of Azanulbizar, where Thorin built Thorin's Halls atop of the old ruins of the city, (according to the LOTR Wikia, not sure what their citation was… any-who). So this chapter and the previous chapters have been edited to reflect that.

On another note, we don't actually know if it was the Broadbeam clan or the Firebeard clan who settled in Tumunzahar/Nogrod. Tolkien never specified that detail. So, my head canon says, 'Broadbeams in Tumunzahar/Nogrod, Firebeards in Gabilgathol/Belegost'. Live with it.

~

And so the male and female voices who were begging "SAVE THEM!" back in Chapter 1 are revealed to be Lord Aulë/Mahal and Lady Yavanna/Kaminzanbdûna. How many of you guessed that? Honestly.

~

Bushel of wheat = 60 lbs.

Bushel of potatoes = 55 lbs.

Bushel of onions = 57 lbs.

~

Bilbo is currently 40 years old, and that means that he looks and is considered to be age 20 for a normal hobbit. He needs to age for 26 more years, (and be 66 years old), before he will be considered of age in the Shire.

~

The ages of the dwarves I got off of the LOTR wikia. Or, I got their birth year off the LOTR wikia, and did the math. So the ages are 'accurate', but (to my knowledge) are not officially recorded in any of Professor Tolkien's notes about the dwarves.