"Well, that's that," he said. "Now I'm off!"
They went out into the hall. Bilbo chose his favourite stick from the stand; then he whistled. Three dwarves came out of different rooms where they had been busy.
"Is everything ready?" asked Bilbo. "Everything packed and labelled?"
"Everything," they answered.
"Well, let's start then!" He stepped out of the front-door.
It was a fine night, and the black sky was dotted with stars. He looked up, sniffing the air. "What fun! What fun to be off again, off on the Road with dwarves! This is what I have really been longing for, for years! Good-bye!"
-The Fellowship of the Ring
Hobbits aged too quickly.
Dwalin trailed after Master Baggins, who merrily spoke with Bofur and swung his walking stick rather than use it for walking. Bofur occasionally ducked, with the stick hitting his hat once, but the other Dwarf never stopped smiling. If the Hobbit’s grey hair and worn face bothered him, it didn’t show.
Ah, Bofur wouldn’t let it show, anyway. He would smile with Bilbo and tease him and then grieve quietly later, a pipe in his hand, knowing that soon their Company would be less one more member.
“Do get that look off your face,” Nori murmured, and one day, Dwalin would follow through on his threat and strike the other Dwarf for sneaking up on him. “He is not dead yet, and for a Hobbit, he has aged well.”
Up ahead, Bilbo began to sing and Bofur joined him, bright, cheery songs. Dwalin could not blame Bilbo for being cheery. He did not know how the Hobbit had lasted in that quiet land as long as he did. The Shire was no fitting place for a burglar.
Still, he wished they would be a little quieter.
“You do not sound pleased by that,” Dwalin murmured back. He kept one hand on his weapon at all times, eyes not as sharp as they used to be but still sharp enough and sweeping the area. The area around the Shire was peaceful, but all knew the peace everywhere was eroding. The Orcs grew brave and the Wargs grew numerous. A war brewed, of the likes he had not seen since the Battle of the Five Armies. He feared this war would easily surpass that grievous battle.
So of course the Hobbit would decide now would be a good time to journey from the Shire.
“One more adventure,” Bilbo had informed them, gaze soft and wistful. “Very possibly my last.”
If this was truly to be their burglar’s last adventure, he would not go alone. Thorin would arise from his tomb purely to hunt Dwalin if Dwalin even considered it.
Had Thorin known about the age difference between Hobbits and Dwarves? Dwalin would never know.
Nori hummed and looked around, as well. “Possibly nothing. Let’s see if he wants to start his adventure in Bree. I need a pint.”
Dwalin almost called him on his lies, but then Bilbo turned and smiled at him, and Dwalin’s harsh words faltered. He nodded solemnly at Bilbo, who nodded back, and then the Hobbit turned back to Bofur and Bofur’s tales.
Aye, Hobbits aged too quickly, but at least they hadn’t lost their burglar yet.
Even if it had been a while since Dwalin had traveled with the Halfling, it was not nearly the first or fifth or tenth time they traveled with Bilbo from the Shire.
Unsurprisingly, Nori started it. In 2942 TA, the Company of Thorin Oakenshield was broken, their king and his heirs dead and entombed in the very mountain they had reclaimed, and their burglar had returned home to his peaceful plains and rolling hills. The remaining Company was nigh untouchable under the rule of Dain, even as that title chafed at them so. A part of Dwalin always blamed Dain for their Halfling leaving them. He didn’t think Dain cruel or harsh to Bilbo, but as Bilbo had declared simply to Dwalin the night before his departure, “I shall only have one King.”
It was Nori who discovered Bilbo being named Elf-Friend by the tree-shaggers, and it worried the Company that Rivendell was far closer to Bilbo than Erebor was. With Gandalf’s assistance, Balin was the first to leave Erebor to remind Bilbo that, no matter the distance, he would always be a member of Thorin’s Company. Soon after, all the other members of the Company managed to travel to visit Bilbo in the quiet Shire and coax him away when they could. Of them all, Balin kept the closest ties until several years prior, when he took Ori and Oin to reclaim Moria. Once his responsibilities toward their burglar were done, Dwalin planned on joining him.
If he could not do right by Thorin in life, he would do right by him in death, even if all he could do was remind Bilbo that he was a Dwarf-friend first.
Nori’s role in keeping an eye on their burglar was perhaps one of the few things which kept Dwalin from cutting off the thief’s head through the years. Even now, the thief sat quietly in the dark, assessing the room as Bilbo and Bofur enjoyed their pints.
“Ah, how do Hobbits fit all of that?” Dwalin wondered, watching Bilbo eat yet another meal. Gamely, Bofur tried to match him, but the years hadn’t affected Bilbo’s appetite in the slightest.
Nor the twinkle in his eye. “I better enjoy it now. All I will be eating for the next several weeks will be roasted rabbit!”
Bofur roared with laughter, and Dwalin flushed. “All the Men had scared off the bigger game…” He took a swig of his own ale and saw Nori watching them out of the corner of his eye. “ ‘twasn’t my fault.”
Bilbo just grinned and Dwalin imagined him with a crown of jewels on his head and ornaments in his curls to light up his face. “He will be a good Consort,” he had whispered to Thorin in the dead of the night, Erebor just over the horizon.
“Indeed, and when that position is available for me to give, I shall ask him.”
Thorin did not live long enough to ask Bilbo.
Instead of teasing Dwalin about his still visible flush, Bofur nudged Bilbo. He did it gently, like Bilbo would break, but he had always been physically gentle with Bilbo, even when teasing him hard enough to make a gentlehobbit faint. “And you had best enjoy your dainties while you can. Shall I hide some handkerchiefs for you for the road? Some napkins and doilies, perhaps?”
Decades ago, it would have been Bilbo flushing, but now the Hobbit only laughed. He was indeed a far different creature than whom left his Hobbit hole all those years ago. “I would not mind! I could use them to muffle the sound of your snores at night!”
“I’ll have you know I sleep like a babe!”
“Indeed! Waking everyone up every two hours on the hour!”
Even as Bilbo laughed, Dwalin watched him glance at Nori in the corner. Their eyes caught for a moment, and Nori graced the Hobbit with the barest of nods. Bilbo nodded back and then turned to Bofur, laughing and teasing once more.
Truly not the Hobbit whom left the Shire with Thorin’s Company all those years ago.
Dwalin swigged his own ale. Now if only they could convince him of the true nature of those leaf-eaters, and they would have done well!
“I miss the mountains,” Bilbo said, in a way which made Dwalin regret ever allowing the Hobbit to leave in the first place. So they insisted their Hobbit travel to the Blue Mountains and Ered Luin and introduced to the kin who had not traveled to Erebor. Bilbo sang for them and won over many a Dwarf with his sharp tongue and culinary skills. Nori whispered to Dwalin, late in the dark, that Bilbo had quietly asked for stories about a younger Thorin. Dwalin bade him to shush and soon they took Bilbo along their old roads, places from before Thorin met Bilbo.
Bilbo was no longer fast enough to outrun a Warg pack, but he was swift and spritely enough that Dwalin relaxed. He knew little of Hobbits but he knew enough of this particular Hobbit to know he liked his stories and exaggerations. Surely this would not be the Hobbit’s last adventure.
Yet sometimes Bilbo’s eyes traveled and Nori whispered “The Shire,” and other times Bilbo’s gaze wandered to darker lands and Nori went quiet and still. Nori refused to explain those times, even when Dwalin demanded it.
In those moments, Bofur always distracted Bilbo, and Dwalin wondered how much the Dwarf knew.
“I do not look old,” Thorin heard Bilbo whisper to Bofur, when even the moon was dark, “but I feel it.”
Bofur would respond with stories of Thorin and how the Shire wasn’t the first time Thorin became lost, and for the moment, the shadows would leave Bilbo’s face.
For all of Bilbo’s dreams of mountains, he never asked about Erebor, and no one offered that journey.
Bilbo journaled and sketched at odd moments during the journey. He would sketch Nori and Dwalin and Bofur and apologize for not having Ori’s ability. Journal on his knees and a pen in one hand, he often looked beyond their camp to something far away, eyes distant and shadowed, and Dwalin would see sketches of familiar dark eyes in Bilbo’s books later.
Toward their journey’s end, Dwalin sat with Bilbo and studied his latest drawing. “You would have been a good Consort, you know,” he said, and he wished it was Nori or Bofur saying it instead of him, but he didn’t know if they knew Thorin’s plans. He thought they did. Thorin could be obvious in such things, and they all knew that he had no plans to let their Halfling go.
In the end, Thorin wasn’t there to convince Bilbo to stay.
Bilbo laughed softly and finished sketching Orcist. “Bah. I would have been terrible and we both know it. Still, I don’t think any Dwarf would complain when I started everyone on seven meals a day.”
Dwalin smiled a little. He could admit, only to himself, and Balin once or twice, that he imagined Thorin as King Under the Mountain and spirited Bilbo at his side as Consort. They truly would have entered a new reign with that pair.
“He was going to apologize to you and have you keep the Arkenstone as a wedding present,” he offered.
Bilbo snorted and shook his head. “He would have been a great King, but he always had little sense. I would have thrown that thing in with Smaug’s remains and set off another war.” He smiled into the fire. “Our relationship would have been a war from start to finish.”
Dwalin nodded and sat quietly with them. That night, he let Nori hold him as he rarely did, Nori whispering in his ear about how Bilbo would have also terrorized the Elders from start to finish. On the other side of the fire, Bofur clutched Bilbo as the Hobbit slept, knowing their time was running out.
They left Bilbo at Rivendell, with the Lord Elrond waiting patiently for Bofur to let Bilbo go. Dwalin watched and resented the Elf fiercely. He would never say it to another soul, but he resented Thorin, too, for dying on that battlefield and not only taking Kili and Fili with him but their burglar, too.
He would take that resentment with him to his grave.
Bilbo waved at them as they left, and Dwalin swore that would not be the last they saw of their Hobbit. One day they would find him again and prove to him that his adventuring days were not yet done.
In the meantime, he turned with a solemn Nori and a weeping Bofur and headed home to Erebor.
Their King waited for them.