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Thorin Oakenshield removed the last of his garments and laid them on the floor outside the door. He turned to face the half - the hobbit - the Sentinel - his Sentinel - Bilbo. Two grey eyes pinned him in place. He almost felt that he was lost in a zone, as if he was the Sentinel as he stared into those captivating eyes, which darkened and brightened to a deep blue as Thorin watched.

Bilbo approached the dwarf, his Guide, a singular Guide just for him, never had a hobbit had such a thing in all the years since the Wandering Days. Lovely dark eyes, dark beard threaded through with strands of silver, long braided hair also shot through with an occasional silver section, muscular, tall (to a hobbit), lovely, just altogether lovely.

Bilbo knew he was supposed to do something , he knew they couldn’t perform a full bond, he blushed at the very thought, but Bilbo was so unsettled, his senses were so focused on this dwarf that he doubted he would even be able to hear fireworks going off elsewhere in the room. His spirit owl, Zirandas, perched on the back of Thorin’s spirit horse, whom he heard him call Habkel in the corner of the room and they seemed to be waiting for Bilbo to do whatever it was he was supposed to do.

Bilbo knew that other races had one to one relationships between Sentinels and Guides and that they bonded and that the last step to the bonding was a sexual one. But he barely knew this dwarf, but he was his Guide, it was - he was - oh Bilbo wanted to but it wasn’t proper and there was so much they needed to settle and the dwarfs had come here because of the quest and were on a timetable of some sort and Bilbo knew he was supposed to do some sort of pre-sexual early bond but he didn’t know what to do, if he should but Thorin was his Guide but oh it was so improper but Bilbo wanted it so much.

He just wanted to devour the Guide with his eyes and push him to the floor and take him and mark him and claim him as - no! This was his Guide and he would be a gentlehobbit. Although the fact that he was a Sentinel with a singular dwarven Guide rather belied the whole concept in the first place. But Bilbo was raised to be proper and though most counted him out due to his status, he wouldn’t shame his parents, even if no one who would care (but Bilbo) would know about it.

Bilbo took his courage in his hands and whispered, “I don’t know what to do. Too much needs to be settled before we - before I -” the hobbit licked his lips as his eyes roamed down the fit body bared before him, snagging on the cock nestled in the lovely thick hair between Thorin’s legs. “I’ve read about pre-bonding and platonic bonding but I don’t know what it actually means you see. Hobbits - we do things differently with Sentinels and Guides and in this I need your guidance, my Guide.” Bilbo smiled shyly.

His Guide grinned, his teeth white and gleaming in Bilbo's sight as his dark eyes sparkled in lust filled delight. “I can teach you many things, Sentinel mine, guide you in many ways.”

Bilbo growled deep in his throat, startling himself. “I - oh - I look forward to it, Thorin, Guide, my own Guide. But now is not the time. I need to settle so we can settle this quest of yours. What do I do?”

Thorin’s grin changed to one of slight chagrin before he sighed. “You need to imprint all of your senses on me. And while you do so I will open my empathy to you and you will begin to nest within my shields which will wrap around you and within you. Come, Sentinel, know your Guide.”

Bilbo stepped forward and laid his hands on Thorin’s face, stroking his cheeks, running his fingers over where his beard began, lightly tracing his eyes and nose and eyebrows. His hands continued their journey, tangling in his beard and hair as Thorin groaned and shook at the intimate touch. And as his hands learned touch, his nose took in the smells that categorized the essence of his Guide, those smells that had been clinging to each member of the Company and had so fascinated Bilbo.

As Bilbo’s hands roamed lower to shoulders and neck and chest and arms and hands and hips and thighs and calves and feet and back and ass, kneading it lovingly, Thorin's shields opened to the Sentinel and all that embodied the very being of Bilbo became pulled into Thorin’s very essence, to protect and keep safe from all harm, internal and external. By the time Bilbo allowed himself the luxury of learning the cock that so fascinated him, Thorin was wrapping his shields in layers around Bilbo, shields to keep him centered, to keep him grounded, to keep others out, to keep each sense centered on Thorin first. Bilbo finished his exploration of touch and scent.

Bilbo, bolder now that he could feel his Guide within him so intimately, moved in close and began kissing and licking the dwarf, delighting in his taste and wishing he could taste the very essence of his Guide but savoring what he could for now.

Bilbo savored and revelled in every groan and moan he drew from the dwarf who belonged solely to him and who Bilbo belonged to in return just as much, just as singularly. He memorized the lovely rhythmic heartbeat and the sound of his Guide’s lungs as they drew in the breath of life. He glutted his senses on this wonderful gift from the Valar and as he completed his final imprint, Zirandas and Habkel rushed at them and entered within them, binding them together in spirit as much as in body and in emotion.

 

 --

 

Bilbo sat next to his Guide on his Great Aunt Pansy’s divan, while the rest of Thorin’s company of dwarfs brought the chairs from the dining room into the sitting room and used them. Bilbo had retrieved the big person’s chair from the bedroom that his mother Belladonna had made just for Gandalf’s use and which Bilbo had never converted after her death and the wizard gladly used the correctly sized furniture for his size, though he still brushed the ceiling when sitting, the smial not being sized for Men.

Bilbo’s senses were steadier than he had ever known them to be, he wasn’t spiking or close to zoning or dulled at all. It was exhilarating to the hobbit. His hand was curled around Thorin’s as he waited for the conversation to begin.

Predictably, it was the wizard who started them off. “Bilbo, I want to apologize to you. I realize that I misjudged your reactions this morning to my offer of an adventure. I believed that you had simply allowed your Baggins respectability to overcome your Took heart. I felt that an adventure would do you good. I had no idea you had come online as a Sentinel. I would have never even thought of offering this quest to you if I had known.”

Bilbo nodded his acceptance. “Thank you for the apology, Gandalf. I came online during Fell Winter. When - when the wolves - we were nearly out of food and my father was ill and most of Hobbiton was starving and we were making our way to Took Hall for help and well - we thought that by going in a large group the wolves would be too wary - but we were wrong. We were nearly there when a pack attacked. Mother was always fierce and her adventure with you prepared her in ways most hobbits wouldn’t be. She had a knife and killed two of the wolves before - I don’t remember anything beyond seeing her fall beneath the claws and jaws of more wolves. I came online in that moment and I was feral. I killed the rest of the pack, some with my bare hands, evidently. I only know what the others in the party have told me. Of the sixteen hobbits that were with me that day, we lost three in that attack, including my mother. The rest had minor or no injuries. I led them to Took Hall and once safe, I was overcome and - the grief - I - well, two days later I led them back to Hobbiton with supplies of food and wood and medicines. But my father, he didn’t last much longer, without my mother, he - well, yes, so I’ve been a Sentinel since then. Not at all the respectable Baggins that my father imagined I would grow up to be.” Thorin wrapped his arm around Bilbo and rubbed his shoulder in sympathy.

Kili sat forward, his face scrunched. “Wait, Gandalf, why wouldn’t you want to invite Mr Boggins along if you knew he was a Sentinel? Even a hobbit Sentinel would help our journey. Any online Sentinel would help.”

Gandalf shook his head. “No, I’m afraid this is a cultural difference, Kili.” Ori pulled out a bound book and a pen. Gandalf smiled at the young scribe. “It isn’t a cultural secret. It is simply a difference. In most of Arda, Sentinels and Guides are treated much the same. They come online and learn the same things, look for their match, work together as bonded pairs for the good of their race or the good of all of Arda. Hobbits are different. Nearly every hobbit is a Guide. But they aren’t like the Guides you know. Mostly. Their Gifts are more specialized and rather than focusing on empathy towards people, their Gifts manifest in understanding of the Earth, plants, trees, fields, even occasionally animals. Those of you who are Sentinels may have felt a bit more relaxed than you might normally do since you set foot in the Shire. This is because the entirety (nearly) of the race of Hobbits constantly use their Guide Gifts to saturate the area. It provides a buffer for the land and creatures here. And it provides a haven for that rare, oh so rare, being - a Hobbit Sentinel.”

Balin strokes his beard. “So, hobbit Guides never shield their Gifts?”

“Only those rare few whose Gifts include empathy as you know it and they are even more rare than hobbit Sentinels. And the last hobbit Sentinel, before Bilbo, was before Erebor fell to Smaug.”

“And did - did that Sentinel bond to a hobbit Guide?” Ori spoke up, shyly.

Gandalf shook his head. “No. Hobbits do not believe in a singular Guide for a Sentinel.”

The Company, bar Thorin, gasped nearly as one. But Bilbo sat forward a bit. “Now, Gandalf, that isn’t quite accurate. It isn’t that we don’t believe they exist, hobbits simply don’t do that. Men, elves, dwarfs, that is fine for them but hobbits simply find the idea - well - repulsive and constrictive for the most part. I suspect it has to do with the differences between hobbit Guide Gifts and the rest of the Guides in the world.”

“So, laddie, you don’t believe in one on one bonding, then?” Dwalin nearly growled the question while glaring at Thorin’s arm around the Sentinel.

“I never truly considered the matter until tonight, Master Dwalin. I had no reason to do so. Hobbits are fairly insular and I’ve rarely seen a big person in my life unless I went to Bree, which is rare for me. And since no hobbit with Guide Gifts would do such a thing, the point was moot, I’m afraid. But I think hobbit Sentinels have no impediment from forming such a bond if a Guide was compatible. The last hobbit Sentinel before me was Bullroarer Took. And after he defeated the goblins with the use of his Gifts, he eventually retreated, isolated himself to control his Gifts. He didn’t have a happy life after he came online. His wife - well, she stayed behind when he moved to Long Cleeve as did most of his children. His second oldest son, his eldest daughter and her family, and his second youngest son and his wife, moved to Long Cleeve to support him as did a handful of others but for a hobbit community it was very small (at that time) and very isolated and cut off from the rest of the Shire. He only lived a bare handful of years after coming online, died in his sleep (according to his family) though rumors insist it was actually a zone out that they couldn’t shake him from. He was just too isolated and there were too few hobbits there.”

Fili frowned. “But wouldn’t that have been a good thing? Away from too much stimulation to control his senses better?”

Gandalf frowned. “For hobbits, I’m afraid the reverse is somewhat true. The way that hobbits use their Gifts, constantly, provide a - well - a shield for Sentinels. It keeps them from zoning too hard or long or deeply. Mostly. But if surrounded by many hobbits, a Sentinel, even if deeply zoned, will be able to be brought out of it with minimal difficulty by nearly anyone. And I do mean any Sentinel surrounded by many hobbits. So if a hobbit Sentinel left the Shire…”

Bilbo nodded. “When I was a fauntling, I dreamed of going on an adventure like my mother had when she was young. I would wander the woods and hunt for elves. But once I came online, that dream died. If I had gone beyond the Shire - being so accustomed to the shielding provided by the Shire, I would have zoned within hours, maybe a couple of days if I was lucky. Even going to Bree is difficult for me now. Or well, before Thorin. There are hobbits living there but it is mostly a town of Men. I could manage but it took constant attention from Zirandas to keep me from zoning and I needed to have my pipe lit almost the whole time.”

“Your pipe?” asked Bofur?

“Yes, there is a special pipeweed that can dull senses. It is mostly used for surgery, and in greater and stronger quantities than I use. But for me, it assists me in not extending my senses beyond what I mean to. It was truly wonderful when I first used it. I had already heard and seen several things that I wish I never knew. I smoke several times a day. Though, I suppose now, I won’t need to, at least not with that pipeweed. But I would miss my pipe if I gave it up altogether. I used to love a pipe of Old Toby as a youngling.”

Thorin cleared his throat. “I would like to address something Gandalf said when he apologized. You said that Bilbo turned you down this morning ?”

Gandalf huffed into his beard. “Ah, yes, well, that is true.”

Thorin turned to Bilbo. “When did Gandalf first ask you on this quest of ours, my Sentinel?”

Bilbo frowned. “This morning. I didn’t even quite recognize him as a matter of fact. The last time I saw him was when I was a faunt - a young child.”

Thorin growled, “Gandalf, you told me weeks ago about this hobbit burglar who would join us!”

 

--

 

Bilbo had his walking pack on the bed and was slowly filling it with essentials for a trip. He packed several of changes of clothing, mostly his old gardening clothes and one fine suit which he wrapped in waterproof wrapping to protect it. He had examined the map of Thorin’s and looked over the planned route. The journey would take a considerable amount of time and wandering through many terrains.

Bilbo dug into his closet and pulled out warm flannel undergarments, a heavy woolen hat with ear flaps, two types of gloves: a thick woolen almost mitten and a glove that was mostly used in gardens and kitchens in the Shire which had a leather coating on the fingers and palms; and a thick woolen scarf as well as foot pads.

Hobbits didn’t wear boots but in the coldest weathers they were known to don thick sock-like material on their feet. Foot pads weren’t socks, in a formal sense that other races would wear. They were thick soles with wool padding around the top of the foot and toes and wrapping up the leg. The soles were designed to protect the foot from the intense cold of snow and ice but not restrict the connection which the hobbits felt from contact between their feet and the earth. The material wasn’t rubber, it was a blend of fabrics that were treated to harden and stiffen them.

Bilbo added his treated waterproof jacket and his traveling coat, called such as it contained many pockets, both on the outside and inside on the jacket, as well as hidden places within the seams to hide valuables. Finally, Bilbo took out his thieves belt. It would pull double duty, both as a normal belt and also to place money in the inside. It was unlikely that a normal thief or pickpocket could rob him, as a Sentinel Bilbo was constantly aware of his surroundings, but his coat could be lost along the journey.

It was always wise to have plans within plans within plans when living your life. You never knew when it would take a turn and change entirely, Bilbo had learned this harsh lesson during Fell Winter and now with Thorin’s arrival, it had happened once more.

Bilbo tried to anticipate issues and problems their journey could bring and pack accordingly. He glanced around his bedroom and went over the plans in his head for the first step in the journey. The dwarfs and Gandalf would set out in the morning and take the road towards Tuckborough before heading east towards Bree once beyond Hobbiton. Meanwhile, Bilbo would lock up and walk to Bree. It was a bit early in the season for his supply trip to the mixed race town but it wasn’t too outside of the timeline, only a few weeks. Once near Bree, Bilbo would reunite with Thorin and the Company and continue on their way, bypassing Bree where Bilbo would be recognized. It would be over a week before those in Hobbiton would expect to see him again and that would give them a sufficient head start to avoid trouble. By the time anyone found the letters he would leave behind prominently, they would be well on their way.

Bilbo might not have been considered respectable due to his status as a Sentinel but that same status made the hobbits possessive of him. He had used his senses numerous times over the years to help, from warning of storms or floods or bandits to finding lost faunts or animals that had wandered away and gotten lost. They would not be willing to allow him to leave the Shire, especially not upon learning that he had bonded with a singular Guide of another race. He had heard many hobbits talking of trying to stop him from even his bi-annual trips to Bree.

One of the worst was his nemesis, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. She had been a bit of a bratty faunt, a terrible tease as a tween, and a miserable hag after marrying Otho. She was one of the loudest and most vocal about restricting Bilbo from going far from Bag End. She pushed people to consider that he couldn’t take care of himself and that she and her husband should be appointed his caretakers and occupy Bag End with him so he didn’t zone and no one know. The fact that he had never zoned that badly was used as a way to smack her down. Plus, everyone in Hobbiton wanted to keep the Sackville-Baggins away from this side of the river. They all knew that she just wanted access to Bag End and didn’t care a jot about Bilbo or his possible zones.

As Bilbo folded a few handkerchiefs and laid them on top of his pack and another in an outer pocket of his traveling coat, his gaze fell upon his mother’s jewelry box. It was a beautiful artistic thing that his father had carved himself while courting Belladonna Took. Inside lay both the Baggins heirloom jewelry (a lovely pearl necklace with three strands and a pendant of green stone that came from the mountains during the Wandering Days) and Belladonna’s personal jewelry (her wedding ring, two pairs of earrings, one of pearl and one simple gold studs, and a necklace with a locket which had a snip of Bungo’s hair and a snip of Bilbo’s hair from when he was just born).

Life could change in an instant, Bilbo mused once more. And it could easily end just as quickly. This was not a simple journey to Bree for new pots or clothing. This was a journey through the Wilds, over mountains, through untamed forests and vast plains. There would be encounters with wild animals for certain, wolves and possibly bears. There was the chance of worse encounters with goblins or orcs. And at the end of the journey: a dragon. Bilbo realized that he may not survive and decided to write out a will to leave behind with his letters to the Thain, Holman Greenhand, his gardener and caretaker, and his grandmother Laura Baggins.

Bilbo sat at the small desk in his bedroom and began making a list of who he wanted to have of his possessions when he thought on Bag End itself. Bilbo may be a Baggins but the house was built as a dower house for his mother, a Took. It wasn’t entailed to the Baggins clan but rather should return to the Took side of his family. Certainly it would never pass to Otho Sackville-Baggins, regardless of Lobelia’s mutterings. Mercenary female! Bilbo tried to determine to whom he wanted to leave in charge of Bag End should the worst occur and Bilbo not return.

As this thought was pondered, another one overtook it in his mind. Even if Bilbo and the Company survived the journey and the dragon, even if they were unable to retake the mountain but retreat with their lives intact, Bilbo wouldn’t be returning to the Shire. His Guide was not just a dwarf but the leader of his people, a king among the dwarfs. There was no way he would be able to make a home in the Shire, living with Bilbo in Bag End. And if they retook the mountain and somehow defeated the dragon, Bilbo couldn’t return to Bag End when his Guide would be taking his place as King Under the Mountain. This was not just a journey to defeat a dragon, it was a quest to retake a home and no matter the outcome, whether that home was Erebor or Ered Luin, it wouldn't be Hobbiton. His plan - his thought to avoid the possessive nature of some of his fellow hobbits regarding himself and his Gift wasn’t feasible. It was cruel in the light of his realization.

 

--

 

Bilbo told Thorin and the Company of his realizations of his future, which they agreed with, and his decision to inform his relatives (some of them) of this future rather than sneak out, which for the most part they disagreed with. Bilbo had told them of hobbits like Lobelia and the Company worried that they would need to use violence and force to remove Bilbo if he insisted on lack of stealth.

But Bilbo was insistent. “We are going to my cousin and informing him of my changed circumstances. He needs to know or I’ll always worry about things left behind and undone.”

Kili piped up, “Isn’t your cousin the one who wanted to move in here?”

Bilbo sighed, “Not that cousin. That was Otho and Lobelia Sackville-Baggins. I mean Cousin Fortinbras. He is the Thain and can oversee everything properly.”

Thorin tilted his head, conflicted but knowing he was going to cave to his Sentinel. “Thain?”

Gandalf smiled into his wine glass as Bilbo explained the place and job of the Thain in the Shire. “The Thain is the master of the Shire-moot and-”

“Shire-moot?” interrupted Ori in a low voice.

“The Shire-moot is a gathering of hobbits called by the Thain, mostly in times of great emergency. They are called to be the hobbitry-at-arms. He also informally is in charge of the bounders which patrol the Shire and its borders.”

“So, a general?” asked Dwalin.

“No. Not as I understand the term. He doesn’t lead them like that. Hobbits, we’ve not had what could be called a proper army since the Fall of Arthedain. But the Thain was then the military leader. I suppose, then general would have been the close term. But now, the Thain calls the hobbits to arms when necessary, which hasn’t happened in quite some time.”

“But why would a leader of soldiers, so to speak, be the arbiter that you are so sure would make sure your things are appropriately handled?” queried Balin.

Gandalf chuckled into his chest and Bilbo glared at him. “I’m not exactly used to talking to other races, Gandalf. You could help if you felt so inclined. Blasted wizard.”

Gandalf just shook his head. “You’re doing fine, Bilbo. And you need the practice, I’d say.”

“Hmph. Very well. So, well, it has to do with other duties which the Thain is in charge of. The Thain handles the courts, not exactly a judge but the final one to appeal to if a decision goes against you.”

Thorin’s eyebrows rose. “So, a Thain is in ultimate charge of both the hobbit military (when it exists), the hobbit constabulary which you call the bounders, and is the final say in matters of judgment within the Shire? Does he also handle relations with other races?”

Bilbo nodded. “Moreso than most, I suppose.”

The Company had caught on to Thorin’s thought process as he spoke and almost as one their jaws dropped. Kili was the one to break the silence, bar Gandalf’s soft laughter. “Your cousin is the hobbit king?”

“No!” snapped Bilbo. “Fortinbras is the Thain. Hobbits don’t have a king.”

Thorin took hold of Bilbo’s hand and used his Gift to calm his Sentinel’s feelings. “Bilbo, for most other races, what you described are the duties of a king. To the dwarfs, to the men, to the elves,” the last said with a heavy sneer and layered with disgust, “your Thain would be considered the hobbit word for King.”

“Hobbits don’t have a king. It wouldn’t be proper. The hobbits swore allegiance to the king of Arthedain. We wouldn’t presume to appoint a king and violate those oaths.”

“Bilbo,” Balin sat forward earnestly, “Arthedain fell over a thousand years ago. There is no King of Arthedain anymore.”

Bilbo hummed under his breath and bit his bottom lip, glancing to the side and not meeting anyone’s gaze. “The Thain is at best, the hobbit chief. That’s what the word means. Or well, meant when they took to calling the leader that.”

Thorin sighed. “How is the Thain made the Thain, Bilbo?”

“It usually passes in the male line father to son, though not always.”

Thorin nodded and gestured for him to continue, “Who was Thain before your cousin Fortinbras?”

“His father, Isumbras.”

“And before him?”

“His older brother Isengrim. Neither of them were Thain for long, they were quite old when they took the post. They were the sons of Old Took. That is my grandfather, Gerontius Took. He is the oldest hobbit ever recorded, you know. He was Thain for seventy-two years when he died at one hundred thirty.”

“The oldest hobbit only lived to one hundred thirty?” asked Ori, aghast.

“Well, yes. The average lifespan for a hobbit is around one hundred. It is considered quite lucky and good fortune to reach your eleventy-first birthday. I know the elves are practically immortal if not killed but what age is average for dwarfs?”

“Dwarfs usually live to well over two hundred years, barring accident or battle.” Thorin explained. “I am currently one hundred ninety-five.”

Bilbo’s eyes widened. “Really? I knew that dwarfs were longer lived than hobbits or men but not by so much. I mean, hobbits tend to live longer than men but less than the other races.”

Gandalf nodded and finally poked his nose in, “Yes, indeed. Barring outliers like Old Took, or death by misfortune of some sort, like Belladonna, hobbits are the second shortest lived race in Arda. Men tend to live shorter, harder lives than the hobbits and so come of age sooner as well, around eighteen to twenty. Hobbits come of age at thirty-three. Dwarfs at seventy and elves at around one hundred, though they are still considered quite young until they reach the age of one thousand.”

Thorin jerked his head to his Sentinel. “Bilbo, how old are you?”

“I’m fifty, Thorin. I’ve been online for almost three decades now.”

“Only fifty,” gasped Dori. “You’re just a child.”

Bilbo turned to the upset dwarf. “I’m no child, Master Dori. Gandalf told you, hobbits come of age at thirty-three. We live approximately half the length if not less than you dwarfs. By the age of seventy, most hobbits are considered elders and have grandchildren, if not great-grandchildren.”

“I’m not the youngest anymore!” cried Kili. “Bilbo’s fifty and I’m seventy-seven!”

“Not in years, Kili, but in maturity, it isn’t even a contest,” muttered Fili.

“Hey!”

Ori sat forward to see around the fussing princes. “I’d - um - just like to clarify. For the chronicles. Um - so Bilbo, your grandfather was the Old Took, the longest lived hobbit and Thain for over seventy years?”

Bilbo nodded, “That’s right. My mother was the ninth child and oldest daughter of Gerontius Took and Adamanta Chubb.”

“Ninth?” gasped the majority of the Company, save Fili and Kili who were still mumbling insults to one another and Bifur who only spoke in Ancient Khuzdul.

“Yes. Isengrim, Hildigard, Isumbras, Hildigrim, Isembold, Hildifons, Isembard, Hildibrand, my mother Belladonna, Donnamira, Mirabella, and Isengar.”

“That’s - that’s twelve children!” exclaimed Balin.

“Yes, the Tooks have always had fairly large families.”

Ori put up a hand, one finger raised. “I’m sorry to interrupt again. But, if your grandfather was Thain, and your mother was his eldest daughter, then does that make you a prince?”

Bilbo sighed and lowered his head into his hands, “Hobbits don’t have a King. No royalty.”

“But - are you in line for the Thainship?”

Bilbo sat up and sighed, “Very, very, very far down. My cousin, Fortinbras, has a son, though he’s not married yet. And many of my uncles have sons, as well. The hobbit population would need to be fairly decimated for me to be in line directly. And of course, not only am I a Sentinel but I am leaving the Shire in the company of my singular Guide who happens to be the King of another race. So, no, for many reasons I would never have and certainly now never will be considered for the position of Thain.”

Kili, finally paying attention once more chimed in, “But you are a prince if your grandfather was the hobbit king even if you’re not near the throne.”

“Aggghhhh!”

 

---

 

Bilbo led the way to Took Hall’s main hall where his cousin was waiting for them. There was no throne or anything even approaching it but the Tooks tended to large families and in order to eat together or even just socialize all at once, a large room was needed. The room he led the Company to was a good size and had a large oval table in one section of the room, for dining, and the other section, set off by decorative screens made by the elves for the family after Belladonna’s adventure, was filled with sofas and chairs and ottomans and small tables grouped around a central fireplace.

Fortinbras was seated in one of the chairs, a book open on his lap as they approached. He looked up with a smile and cocked head. Bilbo could hear his heartbeat speed up and smell his nervousness at the sight of the dwarfs but a non-Sentinel wouldn’t be able to tell through his voice or body language. Fortinbras was used to dealing with other races. Granted, it was typically men or the occasional elf, as dwarfs tended to be more insular and rather standoffish but he knew his role.

The Thain rose to his feet, placing his book to the side. “Ah, Cousin Bilbo! Welcome to Took Hall. We don’t see you nearly enough in Tookborough, cousin.”

Bilbo smiled widely. “Hello, cousin. Thank you for the kind welcome. Thain Fortinbras Took, may I present Thorin II, called Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King of Durin’s Folk and his Company, Balin, Dwalin, Dori, Nori, Ori, Bofur, Bombur, Bifur, Gloin, Oin, and Thorin’s sister-sons and heirs: Fili and Kili. And I believe you likely recall Gandalf the Wandering Wizard.”

Thorin and his company bowed to the Thain, each according to their own rank within dwarven society. Gandalf waved his hand and nodded.

Fortinbras’ eyebrows rose high into his hairline. “What company you do keep, cousin Bilbo. There is a tale here I can tell. Come sit and welcome to the Shire, King Under the Mountain.”

Thorin frowned deeper than his normal face. “Be calm, your majesty, I know my history and the leaders of the other races. And I have a strong feeling I know part of what may be happening here. Tell me your tale and what brings you to me and I may have information for you in return, if I am correct.”

The Company awkwardly and self-consciously took seats around the fire and Bilbo took a deep breath before he began, “I’ve come not just to visit but because as Thain your acknowledgment is necessary and you will need to understand what has happened. You see, Gandalf came to me offering an adventure and while I turned him down he didn’t realize why and thought I was just being stuffy so he brought Thorin and the Company to my smial to convince me. And I discovered that Thorin - well, I’ve always been unusual, even as a faunt, the Baggins inside warring with the Took and everyone made sure I knew I wasn’t one or the other but both and that I wasn’t good enough for either, but-”

Fortinbras sat forward. “Bilbo! Whatever have you gotten into your head? First off, you aren’t the only Baggins Took in the Shire and secondly, you have always been perfect the way you were, then, now, you are the perfect Bilbo. I’m not that much older than you but we used to raid Farmer Maggot’s fields together, didn’t we? And we Tooks looked to you for planning the raids. And I know your Baggins cousins looked to you to encourage the adventures of faunts. You were the best of both families, Bilbo. We just wanted you to want to be like us so you would want to identify as one of us. I’m sorry you didn’t understand.”

Bilbo smiled tearily. “Thank you Fort. I - well, thank you.”

Fortinbras smiled mistily himself, “Quite fine, Bil, quite fine.”

Bilbo blew his nose on a handkerchief and blinked several times before continuing, “Well, to get to the point, I suppose, you know of other races, as Thain you understand more than most hobbits would. And you know that hobbits are - different in how we handle Sentinels and Guides. But other races bond one-to-one, Sentinel-to-Guide, when they can find their proper match. Well, when Thorin arrived, we discovered that he is my other half and I am his. He is my Guide. My singular Guide. And we’ve bonded like other races do. And I’ll be leaving the Shire with him and his Company.”

Fortinbras sat back in his seat. “Well, not exactly the news I was thinking I was going to hear but close enough as to make no real difference. I beg your indulgence for a bit of a story time, history, you understand. The Disturber of Peace may know some of what I am to tell but well, some is considered fairly secret. Hobbit secrets. I tell you because I believe the Time has come upon us and we need to prepare if things are to turn right.

“Long and long ago there was a people of the Light with a deep connection to Nature. They had been created to care for the world down to the smallest seed. The world had Dwarfs to care for stone and minerals and mountains; Elves to care for forests and magic and the heavens; Ents to care for the trees; Men to care for the people and to stand against Evil; Wizards to maintain the balance of the world. But the smaller bits of nature were neglected, crops, flowers, grasses, such things were withering and without a race to tend them, the world would fall. So were created the race which came to be known as Hobbits.

“Hobbits are the world’s gardeners. We have a deep connection to all types of nature but our connection to the other races is - tenuous. The history between us is not altogether positive. Too many times we were neglected or abused, our talents disregarded, our people mocked and chased out. When first we came to be, we lived a nomadic life, to an extent, wandering through our area with the seasons, planting and harvesting as we went.

“But there came a time, the Dark Time, when evil swept over our lands and many were killed or taken to fates worse than a quick death at the hands of the forces of Evil. And none helped us, no race came to our aid and so most of the remaining hobbits left our ancestral home and began what we now call the Wandering Days.

“We were a displaced people, none gave us shelter, few gave us even a bit of kindness. We mourned our losses, both of family and friends as well as home. For many years we wandered, lost, afraid, alone. Always before we only had Guides, those who were even more connected to the land and to other hobbits than others, able to encourage plants to grow correctly and strong. But as we wandered, others began to appear, Sentinels, able to hear the wild animals before they attacked, able to tell when a storm was coming and shelter was needed, able to fight the enemy and keep us safe. But for over a hundred years we wandered the world, looking for a new home.

“Finally, the Sentinels came together in a ritual and implored our Makers to aid us and grant us a home where we could be safe. And after five days, the Valar answered. Lady Yavanna and Lord Aule and Lady Nienna and Lord Manwe and Lord Orome and Lord Irmo and Lady Varda and Lady Este appeared to all of the hobbits and they were told the Valar would grant them a new homeland but that there would be several costs. The first was that once the hobbits set foot on the new land, those who were Sentinels would lose their Gifts. And none would come again unless the need was dire and never in such numbers until the time of the second cost began to appear.

“The second cost was couched as a riddle and two prophecies. The first was a rhyme:

 

All that is gold does not glitter,

Not all those who wander are lost;

The old that is strong does not wither,

Deep roots are not reached by the frost.

From the ashes a fire shall be woken,

A light from the shadows shall spring;

Renewed shall be blade that was broken,

The crownless again shall be king.

 

“The hobbits were told that the prophecy was a double edged one with two fulfillments to come but only if the hobbits recognized the start of the Time at the beginning. If the Time was not seen, only one of the crownless would be renewed and only after much Evil throughout the Lands. But if the hobbits could come together at the beginning of the Time, then would the prophecy flower in its fullest measure.

“The second prophecy was simpler and brief:

 

In the Time to Come, the Chosen shall once more walk as One and lead the renewing of all of the Lands, from the Abandoned Mountain to the Bleak Forest to the Burnt Water and shall the People leave the Blessed Land to take upon them their Born Duties but only by Half. Look to the renewing of the Chosen and their Bonded in Great Numbers led by the First to Know and Prepare for the Time of Sundering.

 

“Over the many years since hobbits reached our promised land, now called the Shire, the leaders of our people and some others were taught our true history. For many a long year it was fair nonsense to us. We were led to this place, weary and heartsore but we were not just divinely granted the lands.

“When the first of our people arrived, a scouting group of around sixty, led by five Sentinels, they came upon a group of men, heavily beset by forces of Evil. Other races call them orcs (though most hobbits just call all such things goblins, regardless) and the group of seven men were in danger of being overrun entirely. The hobbits could not stand to see more death at the hands of Evil, even though they were men who had been so harsh to our people and as one they fell upon the Fell Creatures from behind. Hobbits are quiet and stealthy and had no need of such things as battle cries to warn enemies of their arrival. The Evil beings were taken completely by surprise and with the aid of the men, the hobbits killed them all.

“The men thanked the hobbits and when hearing their truncated story, that their people were Wandering having lost their home to such Evil as lay dead before them all, he revealed his identity as the King of Arthedain and his three sons and their personal guards. They had been hunting and gotten separated from their larger retinue and ambushed by the orcs. They would have died and with them his entire line, sending the entire region into disarray and easy pickings for the forces of the Dark.

“In gratitude for their assistance, the King granted them this area, in return for a unit of fighters and scouts and a portion of the yield of crops from the hobbits. The hobbits agreed to the bargain and in that instant, the Sentinels in the group could no longer access their stronger senses but were bound to normal senses for a hobbit. And as each hobbit Sentinel arrived in the new land, the Shire, they too became normal once more.

“And so, hobbits bent knee to the King of Arthedain and gave him and his line our oaths and still are our people bound by those oaths. For we know that the line continues, the King shall return one day, so says the first prophecy.”

Fortinbras sat back in his seat, his hands reaching for and lighting his pipe. He took a long draw and blew out the smoke. “I think the second prophecy is happening now. The Time is here. You , Bilbo, are the Chosen, a Sentinel and have bonded once more with a single Guide, a crownless king, at that. And unless I am much mistaken in my thoughts, you are off on an adventure to an Abandoned Mountain. Yes, I think the Time of Sundering is here. You must leave the Shire and when the Quest is won, our people shall join you, half of them at least. To return to our born duties of bringing health and happiness to the land. And what land needs it more than one that has been cursed by a fire breather for over a century. I thought this was coming soon. It hasn’t been spread around, people would panic but in the past three months, eight hobbits have come online as Sentinels. And I suspect more shall come online soon. They shall be needed to lead through the Wilds.”

The Thain turned to the crownless king and asked, “Will you accept my people’s aid in renewing your lands, King Under the Mountain, as the Valar foretold ages ago?”

Thorin took a deep breath, feeling the shock of his Company and even Gandalf at these revelations of hobbit history, feeling the sincerity of the Thain, feeling a sense of hope surrounding them and anticipation almost saturating the air. He shivered at the thought that they nearly left the Shire without allowing Bilbo this visit, to keep him safe, which if he understood correctly would have led to his never being King of Erebor.

Thorin rose to his feet. “I welcome the hobbits to the lands of Erebor and welcome their assistance and knowledge. By the Grace of the Valar may we all prosper.”

And the feeling of anticipation swelled and Thorin felt the joy and stronger sense of hope overlaying it all.

 

--

 

Bilbo sat with his head buried in his Guide’s cloak, his nose buried up against the collar. He wished he could burrow against his Guide’s neck but Thorin was needed to sort the treasure they had discovered.

The past several weeks had been actually fairly boring and repetitive, for a journey through the Wilds, at least. They would rise near sun-up, break their fast, bathe to the extent that one could on the road when not near a river, and climb aboard their ponies (or horse in Gandalf’s case) and continue on until reaching a mid-day point for a brief break to take care of bodily needs of varying sorts. They would then continue on their way until an hour or so before sunset, at which point Bilbo would find the best spot for the night’s camp, they would dismount, set up the camp, prepare the nightly meal and enjoy time around the fire, songs and stories and just bonding as a Company before bedding down, except those on watch. The only difference for Bilbo was the nights it was his turn to take a watch.

Bilbo knew that they had left a kicked over anthill, so to speak, behind them in the Shire. Bilbo had known of the prophecies, of course, and had known the King would return but much of the more intricate pieces of the history Fortinbras had revealed, Bilbo hadn’t known, or at least hadn’t understood the implications of.

But now, the Shire would be mobilizing, the lotteries to determine those who would leave of those that had volunteered (surprisingly over three quarters of the population according to a raven from Fortinbras that found them two nights before) would be coming together. Bilbo had noticed that many families had been smaller than in years past but he hadn’t realized it was because the Shire could no longer support (due to the crop yield more than the space requirement) families of six or more children and so couples were encouraged to have but two or maybe three fauntlings. The Tooks were exceptions due to the need for a large pool of potential Thains to choose from.

But except for the unceasing rain for a solid week straight, things has been easy and quiet. Though even that was not much of an adventure. Bilbo should have known not to tempt the Valar with saying as much three nights before.

The next morning, as they were breaking camp, Bilbo heard a large crashing through the trees and everyone had gone on alert only to discover it was a wizard friend of Gandalf’s Radegast the Brown, who was even odder than the Grey Wanderer. He had shown Gandalf something from a bundle of rags on his rabbit sled (of all things!) and the old wizard had stopped him from saying anything about it after what the wizard probably considered a stealthy look at Bilbo, Nori, and Bombur, the online Sentinels in their Company. Bilbo extended his eyesight and caught a glimpse of a black sword in the bundle. The wizards had then gone off together, Bilbo following with his senses as far as he could but not learning much beyond the fact that the forest that was once called The Fair Greenwood was now called Mirkwood by men of the area and was infested with spiders the size of a horse. Which, Bilbo supposed, was useful information for the future considering the most direct route to their destination was through that very forest.

Thorin said that he felt uneasy around the new wizard but only a part of him. Bilbo asked if it might be something on his person rather than the wizard himself and Thorin had agreed that seemed plausible. Bilbo informed him of the sword but there was nothing they could do about it. Affairs of wizards were far beyond hobbits or even dwarfs, unless they were invited or thrust into them.

Gandalf had not caught up to them when they reached the time for searching for a new campsite for the night. Nor had Radegast and his rabbits (honestly, a sled pulled by gigantic rabbits, what a thing to make!). But when Bilbo extended his senses, it was too late to worry for him. He heard nearby, voices echoing from a cave, deep, raspy voices, and when he sent his sight along the trail of his hearing, he saw the three creatures belonging to the voices - trolls in their daytime lair as the sun had yet to set. Unless the Company continued on for some time they were likely to run afoul of the creatures who had almost preternatural senses about where to find meat.

The Company was about a half hour’s ride from the cave when Bilbo discovered them and he stopped them all. After a conference, it was decided to be too difficult to attempt to sneak past them or to fight them during the dark hours when they would be strongest. And they would have to travel for a good two hours further and set up camp in the dark with a heavy watch even then to avoid them. But Ori came up with an ingenious plan as Bilbo described the cave the trolls were denned in. It would require good daylight which meant the next day but it should work.

The Company turned around and traveled back down the road to whence they had come for several hours, setting up camp where they had taken a brief rest mid-afternoon. They kept a close camp and a cold one, no fires, no hot meals, no singing, the three Sentinels taking it in turn to keep watch.

Then upon waking with the sun, the Company had bolted down a hasty cold breakfast and hurried back up the road, pushing the ponies to a hard trot rather than the usual steady fast walk. The dwarfs had then climbed atop the cave, on the outside and taken their tools and carefully and as quietly as possible, made holes directly over the spots where the trolls slept inside (helped by Bilbo’s instructions based upon his sense knowledge). When noon arrived and the sun was high overhead, the dwarfs broke through the final layer and exposed the insensate trolls to the rays and turned them to three sleeping troll statues.

Bilbo had joined the Company at first within the cave to see the hoard there but even with his Guide’s assistance, the smell was too much for the Sentinel and he retreated to bury his sense of smell in his Guide’s essence that clung to his coat and belongings.

When Thorin returned, he brought a gift for Bilbo from the hoard, and claimed one for himself, as well. Strapped to the hobbit’s waist was this new accessory, though to the elf who originally created it, it was likely a dagger, to Bilbo it was a longsword, beautiful and deadly in the hands of a Sentinel. He knew it would get use during this quest and hoped his senses would be able to assist the Company in their journey and keep them safe as they had today. It was all he could hope. The prophecy said the crownless would be king and the Chosen would lead the hobbits to a new land but it said nothing about the rest of the Company.

Bilbo resolved to do his duty and keep them safe, they weren’t hobbits but they were his Guide’s people, the only ones to come at his Guide’s need and to Bilbo that made them more than family. They were his Tribe and he would protect them any way he had to.