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Apple of My Eye

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When Bilbo Baggins was born, people lined out the door of Bag End to catch a glimpse of him. His auburn curls nestle like a halo around his head and his eyes, a bright green-blue, shine brightly and charmingly. Only a few hours old, he was already winning hearts. Within the day’s end there had been numerous offers from families- offering their own children for marriage. They give Belladonna and Bungo bouquets of Alstroemeria, of Apple Blossom, of Gloxinia.

Belladonna waves them all away.

“Nonsense,” she says to her son, rocking him in her arms, “you’ll do better than some Hobbit whose garden in their greatest achievement. No, you are destined for greater things, little one. I just know it,” she sighs.

“I would rather he wasn’t,” Bungo utters unhappily, coming to sit beside her. He smiles down at Bilbo. “I would rather him live a long and happy life with no strife or trouble… and there is nothing wrong with having a good garden,” he adds, his brow furrowing.

Belladonna rolls her eyes. “Would you really be pleased if he were to marry Fatty Bolger?” Bungo pulls a face, making her laugh. “No one will be good enough for him,” she continues, voice soft. “Not our boy.”

“No,” Bungo agrees, smiling at her. “No one will.”

Bilbo just coos and reaches up to grab her hair and tug happily.

 


 

 

When Thorin Oakenshield was born, they had a week-long feast to celebrate. Men and women toast to his health and happiness- they cheer to Mahal for allowing such a gift to be brought into the world. Marriages were talked about in a tactical way: long, arduous conversations about families and bloodlines following.

Frerya sighs and shifts her newborn son in her arms. “I do not wish for us to decide his future for him.”

“He is the heir to one of the greatest kingdoms in Middle Earth,” one of the many advisors declares now. “It is important he marries well.”

“I believe you said the same to my husband, Druro,” Frerya remarks dryly, “and you insisted he married someone with more of a title than I. But he did not.”

Druro falls silent.

“We will consider all offers,” Prince Thrain announces now, putting a hand up to silence the room. “But we will make no choices until our son is old enough to consider them also.”

Frerya is pleased.

 


 

 

Bilbo goes on many adventures as the next few years pass. He trawls through mud and dirt in the forests, getting sticky and dirty, leaves and sticks tangling in his hair. On one such occasion he appears out the far side of the forest, near the paddocks where the larger farms are, and blinks his pretty eyes up at the Big People passing by, wooing them immediately. The Rangers take him on their horses, bringing him home, much to the delight of Belladonna and the anger of Bungo.

The neighbours whisper about it for weeks.

Bilbo learns to swim, with the help of Saradoc Brandybuck, who everyone calls Scattergold. He lives in Buckland where the Hobbits grow stranger and enjoy the water. Scattergold waxes poetical about Esmeralda Took, and Bilbo allows himself to be dragged off to help his friend spy on her.

She catches them and laughs, skipping off happily with her brother.

“I’ll marry her one day,” Scattergold announces, and Bilbo believes him.

When a Brandybuck says they’re going to do something, they’ll certainly go through with it.

That year at the dance, Scattergold picks her a Viscaria from the gardens around the Party Tree and tucks it into her hair.

Bilbo has so many Viscaria’s by the end of the night he can make himself three flower crowns. His mother tells him not to brag about it.

 


 

 

Prince Thorin does not like Princess Ruuda. And Princess Ruuda does not like Thorin.

Thorin puts a mouse into Princess Ruuda’s soup as a joke. She screams, and he laughs for an hour afterwards, even when his parents scold him.

In reply, Princess Ruuda gets Prince Frerin to help her sneak a toad into Thorin’s room. And he does not scream when he finds it. He does not.

The next time she visits, Thorin gets Dis to help him put draught into her ale that makes her hiccup for two days straight. She sneaks into his room and cuts holes into his favourite tunic.

They are meant to be married. At least, that is what is being discussed, but Frerin is besotted by her, and insists that if Thorin is betrothed to her then he will duel his brother for the right to her hand.

Thror busts into laughter while Thrain just rolls his eyes.

Thorin does not, in the end, become betrothed to Princess Ruuda. Frerin follows her like a warg pup for a year and a half before she becomes sick and dies.

They do not play pranks for a long while after that.

 


 

 

Bilbo is ten when he sees Elves for the first time. He hides behind his mother’s skirts and listens to them speak softly and kindly, and when he is finally coaxed out into the open they sing to him and pat his hair and cheeks.

They are so big, and Bilbo is so small, and he watches them with wide, awed eyes as they move with ease and grace.

He tries to copy them, but only ends up falling over his own feet, and their laughter (though a little upsetting) is light and tinkling, like the sound of chimes. It reminds him of stars winking in the night sky.

One even lets him ride their shoulders, and he delights in being so tall, if only for a short amount of time.

Bilbo cries when they have to leave, but the Elves give him puzzle boxes and books and poems to keep him entertained, so he does not feel so bad.

He tells Scattergold all about it, and Hamfast Gamgee, as they sit at the edge of the river, swinging their legs, trying to catch fish.

“They can’t be that beautiful,” scoffs Scattergold, head held high in the air. For one so young he looks remarkably mature when he makes that face. He calls it his ‘adult face’.

Bilbo thinks it’s very good. He wishes he had an adult face, but the most he can do it frown. His father frowns a lot, but Bilbo’s not sure if that makes it an ‘adult face’.

“You’re only saying that because you love Esmeralda,” Hamfast says, before sighing far too wistfully for a ten-year-old. “Elves.” He shakes his head. “Can you imagine it?”

Bilbo doesn’t need to.

 


 

 

There are whispers about his grandfather. Thorin doesn’t like it, but when he voices that his mother just pats his head affectionately and tells him not to worry about it. She’s got a serious look in her eye that Thorin doesn’t understand, but he does what she asks anyway, and tries his best to push it from his mind.

He takes his lessons with Balin, and spars with Dwalin in the afternoons, and wonders why they have such an audience for such a trivial thing. Dwalin just laughs when he comments about it out loud and cuffs Thorin round the back of the head. “Moron,” he says, but it’s fond and friendly.

Thror is removed from the throne three days later, declared mad, and Thrain is crowned King. Thorin doesn’t know how to feel about it.

 


 

 

When Bilbo is twelve his mother goes on an adventure with a wizard, and does not return. His father, heart-broken, fades away like mist in the morning light and dies in his sleep days after word of her death reaches them.

The wizard comes back, however, and tells Bilbo stories of a dragon attacking a great kingdom and his brave mother, who helped destroy it. He speaks in a kind voice, with a head bowed in sadness.

Bilbo just blinks up at him and listens, his heart no longer eager for adventure like it used to be.

The Thain takes him in until he is of age to become the Master of Bag End, and Bilbo Baggins does not see the Wizard again for a long time after that.

And each year, on the day that he was told of his mother death, he receives a large envelope, delicately embossed and lined in what looks like gold, with elegant writing on the front. There is a strange rune pressed onto the back, in the wax seal, and Bilbo cannot read it or recognise it.

But inside is an invitation, from a King of all people, for Bilbo to feast in the great halls of Erebor, to celebrate his mother’s actions and the defeat of a dragon.

Bilbo does not reply to the letter.

He buries himself in books, pouring over languages and maps and history. He learns the language of the Elves, learns how to write elegantly in their cursive script. He learns their medicines and their songs. He reads about Dwarves, as well, but Dwarves are greedy creatures. They do not share their stories or their language, and their voracity for gold, gold that attracted a dragon, was responsible for taking his mother’s life. So Bilbo does not like Dwarves.

At his coming-of-age, Bilbo receives twenty marriage proposals. He is given bouquets of roses with snapdragons nestled in the sides. Letters are sent to him with Arbutus tucked into the envelopes, and Forget Me Not’s are left at his front door. Camellia’s of pink and white and blue are tied with string and wrapped elegantly around courting gifts.

He declines them all politely, and delicately strings a handful of Anemone together and hangs it on his knocker for all to see.

He feels empty, and alone, and afraid, but most of all he feels like he’s let his mother down. She always told him he’d do something important in the world, that he wouldn’t be the kind of Hobbit that hides away and does nothing with their life. But that is exactly what he’s becoming. And he can feel it closing in, the complacency. If he doesn’t do something now he may become so stuck in his ways that he never does anything at all.

Then Gandalf arrives.

 


 

 

Bilbo is twenty and shooing a wizard off of his doorstep. He never thought he’d ever do that. But Gandalf keeps coming back, each time with a curious little story that Bilbo can’t help but listen to.

He casually drops into conversation that there is an opening in Ered Luin for a translator and cultural advisor. Bilbo’s rapport has apparently impressed them, and they have sent Gandalf to offer him the position.

Bilbo is going to decline, but then he catches sight of his mother’s portrait on the wall, smiling down at him, and the words catch in his throat.

He sighs. “I do not even know what I would do,” he tells Gandalf wearily.

Gandalf smiles. “You will learn.”

 


 

 

Thorin is ninety-seven and refuses to dance with anyone during celebrations. He can dance, of course, Balin has taught him to, as is required. But he has no wish to.

Dis snorts and tells him not to be such a spoilsport, and he watches her dance around that emissary from the Blue Mountains all night. He seems a respectable dwarf, with a thick and well-kept beard, so Thorin does not object.

His father, perhaps, might. “Imagine, my daughter with an emissary!” he scoffs.

“Father,” Frerin rolls his eyes. “I would not worry about Nili. I once saw him throw an axe so hard that it decapitated an Orc, he is a good warrior.”

Thrain looks impressed, but refuses to admit so.

“Besides,” his brother goes on now, “they have only known each other for three days. You ought not worry about something that hasn’t even happened yet.”

Yet,” Thrain counters. “That is exactly my point. And I see the way he looks at her. If you see him even going to touch her, Dwalin, I trust you’ll remove his hands.”

Dwalin grunts, an amused look on his face. “Of course, Your Highness.”

“And why are you not dancing?” Thrain turns to Frerin. “Thorin insists on being unreasonable, but that is usual for him on these occasions. You usually have to be pulled off of the floor by the night’s end.”

Frerin shrugs. “I did not feel like dancing tonight.”

It doesn’t seem true, and Thorin has caught Frerin staring at one of the Dwarrowdams across the room, so he knows it is not.

Thrain doesn’t seem convinced either. “What has become of my sons,” he sighs, “that they do not want to dance at celebrations or marry?” He puts a hand on his head, kneading, as if they have given him a headache. “Your mother is probably laughing at me from the halls of our ancestors.”

Frerin grins. “That is because we are so amusing.”

Thrain just groans.

 


 

 

It does not take Bilbo much to pack his things. He has surprisingly little he wishes to take with him. His books, of course, although he knows he can’t have that much. His mother’s journal, as well, and the courting ring his father had carved for his mother among other knick-knacks. His favourite waistcoats and his trousers (minus the one with a hole in the knee, of course).

He doesn’t have any warm coats, but he figures he can always just buy some while he’s there. He ends up with two bags and a small trunk, and instructions for Hamfast to keep an eye out on his place (and his silver spoons) while he’s gone because he might be leaving but there is no way he’ll ever sell Bag End to anyone.

He says his goodbyes to his family, pointedly ignoring the whispers from his neighbours, and sets off on an adventure that his mother would have wanted him to have.