“You were found by a tree,” The story would always start out. Bilbo was pretty used to this part. He’d been told it all of his life. Bilbo had to lean closer to his father, the dwarrow who had raised him, to listen to a story so old he could recite it word for word. “You were the smallest thing we ever saw. We almost mistaken you for a bundle of blankets left behind by some traveler. You cried something fierce when we lifted you up. We knew that Mahal had blessed us with a son after all. We knew our prayers had been answer. We had a son, and we call you Bilbo. And you are the most perfect son Mahal could bless us with.”
The story starts the same and ends the same. Bilbo was found, Bilbo was given to them by the Maker, Bilbo was their family, and no one else’s. It didn’t matter that he loved things that live more than what you could mine. It didn’t matter that he couldn’t wear boots because it hurt his overgrown feet. It didn’t matter that, in his rush to make Bilbo, Mahal gave him his beard on his feet. He was perfect in their eyes. The best a baker and his wife could ask for.
Bilbo sat by his father’s bed, not worrying as much as his adad was, about the man’s illness. The healer had already been by and claimed that Bombur, his father, had already been on the mend. Bombur was worrying for no reason, as far as Vala and Bilbo were concerned. But the lad needed a list of ingredients for purchase and had suffered his father’s self-pity and an old story. Bilbo looked down at his hairy feet and scoffed at his father’s dramatics. The rotund dwarf heaved mightily and sighed pathetically, lungs still rattling.
“Father, the ingredients,” Bilbo encouraged. Bombur looked over at his eldest son (as he and Vala had been able to have children of their own after all).
“Ah, well, let’s see.” Bombur hummed and Bilbo shook his head in light exasperation. “Arrow root flour, eggs from Arzun, maybe four dozen, three bags of yeast, we’ll need the copper pots from the smith. And make sure there are no flaws, we need to make the sugar pan this coming day.”
“Is that all?” Bilbo asked, standing up and fixing his cloth themistokles and grabbed his gauntleted gloves.
“Well, that’s all we’ll need for tomorrow. Yes, that’s all. Tell your brother I need water, please.” Bilbo rolled his eyes as his father fell back asleep. The water could wait, no matter how much Bombur pretended to be more ill than he is.
Bilbo made his way down the rickety wooden steps and into the main room where his younger siblings played. Mikhelh, the eldest behind Bilbo, was loading up a basket of breads. He was on delivery today and Bilbo decided not to ask his busy brother. “Adnzeth, I have to get some supplies, father wants some water. And make sure the wyrm doesn’t follow me again, please.”
The request was unspoken but the eldest daughter, the third oldest, stood up immediately and went to get the water pitcher. Laz, Biuri and Doka, the triplets, sat dressing up the mischievous red wyrm again. Bilbo was still unsure who was who since Laz, the only boy of the three, began dressing like the girls on some days and the other two would dress as lads the others. It was aggravating enough that they seemed more identical as they grew.
Bilbo gave the triplets kisses on the head, patted Adnzeth’s shoulder as she passed by trying not to tip the pitcher or drop the clay cup, and followed Mikhelh out the door. The eldest son of Bombur ignored the begging calls of his most precious pet from inside their house. He smiled, knowing that the triplets certainly would keep the little thing occupied until his return.
“Is father still sick?” Mikh asked his older brother as they walked side by side for a bit to the stables.
“Even if he is, he’s milking it for all he’s worth.” Bilbo smiled at his brother who shook his head. “I think mother and he are fighting again.”
“She wants to change the recipe for the lion’s bread, she thinks the heels burn too much when baked and the jam is too runny.” Mikh didn’t struggle with the burdened basked as Bilbo would have at his age. For as much as the Maker had given him to his parents, he was decidedly not-dwarf in some areas. And there were all sorts of mean dwarflings out there who willing to hurt him because he was different. And that, in turn more than anything, made him strong. He didn’t have the strength most did at his age, but he was lean, still thick with muscle as he is a baker like his father, hefting sacks of flour as big as he had made him strong.
“It’s a recipe that great grandfather had made. Father’s not going to change it readily.” Bilbo offered in defense of their father.
Their mother, Vala, was a sweet enough lass when she wanted to be and she too was a baker’s child. So she brought with her family recipes, too. Vala’s version of lion bread had a softer crust and the jam in the middle was more like a thick paste. Where Bombur’s family’s lion bread had a tougher crust and when the heels were sliced off you could dip it into the gooey jam and let it sop in to the harder crust.
Bilbo preferred their father’s, because of the sopping jam-crust, but liked the jam paste mother used with other breads. He just would never tell them that. It was a constant battle for Bombur to keep making the lion breads his way rather than mother’s.
“But it’s such a petty argument. They could just make both and sell them separately.” Mikhelh had always been the diplomat.
“I suppose they could. Imagine something like the Flour War again, though.” They both shuddered.
“Ah! I hear there are soldiers here from Erebor! We should go to the tavern later before they leave.” Mikhelh was at least a decade younger than Bilbo and the elder brother refused to begin to think about the trouble he would be in if he brought Mikh into the tavern again. He wasn’t even old enough to be in there. Bilbo ruffled his head before disinclining and taking off inside the stables to get the pony and cart, promising to be back for dinner.
“Coward!” Mikhelh called out before cursing for dropping the basket of breads.
Bilbo mentally reviewed his list of items he needed and cursed when he realized that he was forgetting to get his pet something to eat later this week. He pulled out his purse and counted coins and tallied the favors he’d done for Rignak. He should have enough for his growing wyrm, the beast steadily needed more and more food as the days lingered on. Sighing heavily he turned the pony and cart around and headed to the Blind Ogre Meadhall.
It wasn’t that far of a journey, the travelers’ halls were wide enough in Moria when descending down that Bilbo didn’t feel too awkward dragging the pony behind him.
“Bilbo!” A rough dwarrowdam’s voice rang out through the halls. The non-dwarf shuddered when he recognized the black haired girl.
“Hullo, Nazin.” Bilbo dragged out as if in pain. The taller girl wrapped a meaty arm around his shoulders as he pulled the reins on his pony. She was a soldier in training and was always wrapped carefully in livery, Bilbo thought she smelled like a stockyard most days.
“I was wondering why we hadn’t seen you around lately.” Nazin tried for a sweet voice, “Gilb and I have missed you!”
Nazin was his friend, and so was Gilb, on most occasions. When they weren’t with the rest of the trainee’s, they were actually very nice. But around their other friends they were really rude and crude. Bilbo didn’t mind it; he was usually too busy working with his family to care about them.
“Did you know that they have an open on all dragons? Gilb and I were going to go hunting for one out in the Wilds when we get our transfers.” Bilbo didn’t bother to tell her that their transfers were most likely going to send them first to some small fort before they are sent to the dangerous Wilds. “We’re going to sell it for hundreds of pounds. We’ll split it with you if you come with us. Gilb’s always fancied you, you know.”
“I wouldn’t let that weedy dizzy-eyed codpiece touch me with a ten foot stick when he is in a mood. He’s got all the manners of a cockered pox-marked wagtail if you ask me.” Bilbo said resolutely.
He had been witness to just how much of a fumbling flap-dragon Gilb could be when trying to woo someone. He’d also been on the receiving end of his panty-girdle pulling hands on one too many occasions when they snuck a barrel of mead from Rignak. Gilb was foul with his words and mouth when he though Bilbo would let him ‘ride him out’. That was another reason why he hadn’t minded when he and his friends started drifting. That and he happened to have a dragon living in his house.
Drakes had, long ago, been the friends of kings, before evil entered their hearts and corrupted the creatures. Since then they had been hunted to near extinction. So when Bilbo found that what he thought to be a large rose quartz he found in the mines one day hatched into a dragon, he’d been constantly worried that the little wyrm would grow to be one of those evil sky snakes. But it was apparent that the little beastie had no such compunctions to razing homes and eating dwarves.
Not unless you count the triplets’ dolls and houses.
“Ease your anger, Bilbo. I wouldn’t want you going off into the Wilderness anyways. You’ve got no training and can barely even lift a sword.” Which wasn’t true, if he could lift over one-hundred pounds of flour then he could definitely lift a sword… problem was, he never knew what to do with it once he had one. His grip was too soft, his movements clunky and without a warriors finesse. He also tripped while walking normally, he shuddered to think of how he would fair in a sword fight. “Besides, Gilb’s got himself a pretty dame that gives him what he wants. I think he’s forgotten how you broke his nose the last time he tried bedding you.”
“That goatish crook-pated whey-face deserved it. I don’t think I’d ever let anyone touch me like that. I didn’t like it with you and I definitely wouldn’t like it with him. No offense, Nazin.” Bilbo apologized to the dwarrowdam.
It was true they had experimented in their younger years. Which dwarf wouldn’t? But Bilbo found sex to be too unappealing for his taste. Perhaps he just needed a different partner with no hang-ups like his friends. Gilb was practically a rent-boy, he’d sleep with just about anyone and Nazin was too forceful in bed to find pleasure in her body.
“I know what you mean. Someone told me that he has warts. I wouldn’t want him to touch you either.” Nazin said more softly. Bilbo shuddered to think of catching an illness like that. Now he was happier for being able to push off his drunken friend on too many nights. “Well, I know you’re busy and I’ve got to head to the Blind Ogre before the soldiers leave. I hear the prince is actually marching with them.”
She waggled her thin eyebrows and curled her sideburns suggestively. Bilbo scoffed at her no doubted lewd thoughts rolling through her head. “I have to head to the Hall too; I’ve got favors to collect from Rignak.”
“By and by, Bilbo, you’re lucky about being able to be the anvil to his hammer, even if you probably didn’t like it. (You’re so frigid that way.) I’ve heard that he doesn’t just let anyone into his bed.” Nazin inspected the dirt under her nails as the honey-haired non-dwarf stuttered.
“I-I should say! I did NOT sleep with that old fobbing idle-headed dwarf. I only baked his niece a cake while he ran the tavern! He was behind on his rents and loans that he couldn’t pay me so I- YOU!”
If Bilbo could have, he would have tackled the dwarrowdam to the ground and given her what for. She sniggered at the rude jest and shrugged into Bilbo’s punch to her arm. He laughed with her after settling down a bit and his pony, Axen, whinnied nervously behind him.
“Your braids are nice today, Bilbo. I like this new one.” She pointed to the one dangling on the side of his head; a copper bead weighing it down to swing with his every step.
“Mother gave it to me, said I could start wearing hers as it seems I’m not willing to find my One.” Bilbo played with the bead in his left hand; she watched as he fingered the cheap adornment favorably and smiled gently. “And father said I should just grow my hair and wrap it around me if I couldn’t grow a proper beard like him. Sigh, I think the Maker could have at least taken a bit more time on me than he did. I would give anything to grow a beard.”
“Oh, no! You look too pretty like this without a beard. You don’t know how many dwarves Gilb and I’ve had to beat back. They kept thinking you were prettier than me!” Nazin said with such honesty Bilbo had a hard time finding it offensive.
He didn’t like being so ‘pretty’ and he doubted that he was found that attractive by most. If anything, his lack of beard kept him looking too young. He let her know of these insecurities and she ‘hmm’d about them. They were silent the last two blocks until she darted off ahead of him without even looking back.
So it came to it that she was back to ignoring him. He appreciated her friendship when he had it but hated how quickly she would abandon him for more of any other dwarrow.
Bilbo spit his long braid out of his way when it slumped over his shoulder. He tied his pony to a post and tightened the cloth over his cart before stepping foot in to the rowdy Hall. The Blind Ogre was a mead hall which boasted the best drink this level in Moria. Closer to the forges and mines, the Blind Ogre got all the rowdiest and unruly of dwarves. But today, he found that it was true that the Ereborean soldiers were here.
They had their scale mail hanging to their knees, thick wool tunics embroidered with richly threads of their family colors. Their hair was wirier than the Moria lot, thick and thin braids more intricate and tight than here. They, all of them, were more regal than Bilbo could ever hope to be. Their cloth more softer looking, their mail and belt buckles shined like the brightest of jewels polished to reflect, their hair and beards thick and braided. Well, not that one. He had no hair on either side of his head and a row down the middle that stood straight up for a hand and a half. Bilbo wondered how much bear grease was holding up that soldiers’ hair. For as young as a soldier as he looked he already had warriors markings. There were tattoos around his scars, blue and fresh looking. And the dwarf that he was talking to had the most beautiful hair and braids Bilbo had ever seen.
The dwarf’s beard had two silver beaded braids on either side of his chin, two at his temple and the most piercing of sapphire eyes he’d ever seen – although he hadn’t seen too many sapphires that were as bright as his eyes. Bilbo felt all the more alienated that he didn’t have a beard like everyone else here. He played with his fingernails, peeling them from his cuticles and dropping the filings on the peanut shelled floor.
“Just a minute, I’ll be right there. You’re here about the meat, eh?” Rignak was busy today and both his wife and niece were rushing about delivering hot plates of food and cold mead. The tall, round dwarf shuffled around and spoke over his shoulder to Bilbo.
The son of Bombur took another opportunity to scrutinize the braids and beads around him. He wished so much that he could afford a silver bead, just one. He’d thread it through his hair and hide it in his braid. Or maybe he’d find a way to thread it in his baby dragon’s furry mane. Would the fur last? Or turn to scales? Already the tuft that was initially on his belly had turned to a golden skin of a reptile.
“Hello, little one.” Bilbo squeaked and jumped when the sapphire eyed dwarf appeared directly before him. The dwarrow’s voice was deep and slightly lilting, his northern tongue accented the Moria dialect. “I apologize; I did not mean to frighten you.”
Bilbo took a moment to admire the spread of the other dwarrow’s hands as they were held up to ward off his fright. They weren’t gloved like most soldiers so there were scars on his knuckles and open palm. Bilbo swallowed thickly as he realized he hadn’t said anything in return.
“I’m 67.” Bilbo blurted out.
“What?” The black haired dwarf cocked his head in confusion, his thick brows furrowing.
“I’m 67, I’m not that young.” Bilbo picked at his nails more and realized they would start bleeding soon.
“Sorry.” The dwarf offered with a crooked smile. “But you’re still too young to be in here.”
“I can be where I want when I’m not indulging in libations.” Bilbo felt a need to pull out his largest words, the regal air on this dwarf was greater than that of the rest of the soldiers. He felt the back of his neck prickle with embarrassment at being confronted with such a cultured and cocksure dwarf. “Besides, what I do here is none of your business, soldier, as I have my own to conduct.”
“What did you call him?” The mohawked dwarf charged with two full cups of mead. Bilbo would have squeaked again if he weren’t already feeling so small with these two thick-bodied blunderers.
“Dwalin.” It sounded like an order, Bilbo thought, and it was followed by the other dwarf. He felt rooted to the spot himself when the terse voice barked at the other soldier. “I apologize for my friend. He gets a might bit unruly with his … libations.”
Great, he was mocking Bilbo. He probably thought that Bilbo was just some wild dwarfling pretending to be older than he was. Bilbo flinched when the dwarf lifted a hand to his dangling copper bead.
“I like this.” He said, tugging lightly on his braid, he rolled the oblong bead between his fingers while staring into Bilbo’s eyes. Cocky smile still on his face the dwarf ignored his friend Dwalin behind him. “It suites your color, soft and pleasant to the eye.”
Was he- was he flirting with Bilbo? No. He couldn’t be. Dwarves were usually more forward with their intentions and wants. Was it different for these more… decorous (was that the word for them? Cultured, royal –like and most likely too polite?) dwarves of the North? Bilbo heard Dwalin scoff behind this dwarf and took the opportunity to inspect the depth of color in those eyes before him.
Some parts were black, like flecks of coal, and others were light, as if the sapphire was riddled with diamonds. They shined brightly in their color and Bilbo felt jealous for their beauty.
“Do you know, dwarfling, who this is?” Dwalin broke Bilbo’s trance. But he didn’t miss how those eyes narrowed.
“OH!” Bilbo held his hands up to his mouth, covering his lips as he gasped. “You’re an officer! I’m so sorry for being curt with you.”
Bilbo apologized and Dwalin sputtered, looking all the more like a dissembling flap-mouthed bugbear. Dwalin seemed like a gossip anyways and would most likely spread word on how an officer – a general maybe – was talked down on by a lowly commoner. But his chastisement was interrupted by a bark of laughter from the officer.
“Never mind you your tongue, dwarfling.” The officer teased some more. “It’s quite refreshing to experience such brashness in someone so… comely.”
A blush appeared on the officer, “I mean- well, I apologize for my forwardness. Fondling your bead and attempting to flatter you with pretty words.”
“You call that an attempt, my dear officer?” Bilbo could tease back, though he had no idea why he felt so comfortable with the idea. “Why you’re more like an artless dog-headed harpy than a wayward tongue-waggling poet. You have no fear of flattering me.”
There was more laughter from the officer and more spittle flying from Dwalin. Bilbo felt proud of himself for making the dwarrow laugh. All of a sudden there was a hacking from behind him and he realized then that the officer hadn’t removed his hand from his bead as he walked right into the hand. The other dwarf apologized and retracted his limb and Bilbo gave him a look.
“I’m sorry Rignak, I didn’t mean to ignore you.” Bilbo thought that the owner of the hall had been trying to clear his throat to gain the smaller dwarf’s attention. “I have my purse here (he dug it out and placed the heavy bag on the counter, Rignak still coughing), and I suppose I can use my credit. I have to go, father’s waiting on me.”
Bilbo grabbed the canvas wrapped beef flank and hefted it over his shoulders with ease. “If you’ll excuse me, I do have to get back. My father is, erm, sick and needs this meat. I have to get going.”
“That seems too heavy for a trip back to the residential halls. Let me help you.” The officer supplied his empty hands and Bilbo retracted quickly, almost falling.
“No! I can handle it.” Bilbo resituated the flank on his shoulder, “I have a cart and pony. I’m not weak.”
“I would never dream of accusing you of such. But let me help, please.” The officer begged and Bilbo almost wanted to comply, even if Dwalin was spilling the two cups of mead onto the floor. Rignak yelled at the soldier.
“I said I was fine. Let me be on my way.” Bilbo weaved his way through the Ereborean soldiers and noticed Nazin in the corner gaping at him.
He marched his way out of the hall, distantly aware that Dwalin had found his tongue and was cursing his officer. Bilbo shook his head at such rudeness and dropped his burden for Axen to carry. The reigns finally untied (his fingers fumbling with the simple knot he always uses) Bilbo pushed the animal back, forcing the cart to turn the way he needed to expertly and began his trek back up the travelers’ halls.
Throughout his walk, Bilbo wondered at the officer’s curious temperament. He’d been around the Lord of Moria before, but never actually having to speak with the surly dwarf, but he could bet that the officer was of better stock than the Lord. He scoffed at the idea but he remained resolute in his opinion of the-
A name, they never exchanged names.
Bilbo groaned and pulled at his hair. How could he have forgotten to ask for a name? He could have prayed to the Valar for his protection as they made their march. He’d heard, just the same as any other dwarf here, that the king was suffering from attacks by a white orc. The Ereborean soldiers had met the Gundabad orc somewhere in the open plains west of Mirkwood and chased them into the Misty Mountains. After their victory, they apparently recuperated and came to Moria for respite and to replenish ranks and supplies before marching back to Erebor.
The non-dwarf, with his furry feet gathering the coal dust he walked through, wondered just how great of an officer his was. His officer. Right. As if he knew him for long enough to claim him. ‘Claim him’, he really must stop using such words.
Bilbo turned past his family’s bakery and noticed lamp lights were doused for the night and pulled Axen’s reigns harder. He got more water from the squares’ fountain and made his way back home, water sloshing in sealed wooden barrels and skeins. Children’s screams of delight and surprise rose from his house at the end of the alley. Bilbo smiled, wondering what type of trouble the triplets got themselves, or his dragon, into.
He was no closer to finishing tying off Axen to carry in the week’s supplies when the red wyrm came bounding out, pushing out a cry of sanctuary, a doll’s dress falling off the chubby beast. Bilbo laughed and scooped up his precious and cooed at him, trying to get him to calm down. The beast cried more, sounding like a cat’s call and the whine of a dog, his tongue working on syllables sounding like he said ‘oww’.
“Oh, my baby, are they torturing you again?” Bilbo patted the small beasts’ soft scaled head and listened to Mikhelh rail on the triplets; chaos reigning in this house. “I’m sorry for being gone for so long.”
“What is that?” A deep voice rumbled through the stone alleyway. The backdoor to his house slammed closed, causing Bilbo to jump higher than when in the mead hall. “That’s a dragon.”
It was that same officer that he met in the hall. And Bilbo clutched his crying pet even closer to his chest, the dwarf soldier advancing on him in the dark.
“Do you know it’s illegal to harbor a dragon?”
“Please…” Bilbo begged, fear shaking him to his core. “Please don’t say anything.”
The officer reached his hand up, making another show of his impossibly large hands, and grabbed at Bilbo’s precious baby.