Every mother, Belladonna supposed, believed that their child was something special, something different and unique. Especially when it was their firstborn. But Belladonna wasn’t every mother; she was the eldest of the Old Took’s daughters. She’d traveled alone and unafraid far pass the boundaries of the Shire, had danced and sung and broken bread with Elves, Wizards, Men – and once, even Dwarves. She’d seen enough of the world to recognize magic when she saw it.
And her firstborn, her Bilbo, was marked by it.
He never cried, not even the first night he’d come into the world. He simply watched everyone and everything with eyes that seemed to know far more than a babe should. Brown eyes were not unusual in the Shire, especially not in the Baggins line or even her own – but Bilbo, Bilbo’s eyes were so bright and rich they seemed like polished amber. Unlike other children, her Bilbo seemed content to rest on her hip and chew on his tiny fist, watching the goings on around him with a sort of reserved curiosity.
Her husband, Yavanna love him, did not see it. He was simply pleased that they had such a well behaved fauntling boy. A true Baggins, he would say cheerfully. But Bungo had come from a far smaller family then her own and in the crowded halls of the Great Smial, Belladonna had spent more than her fair share with some cousin or niece or nephew balanced on her hip growing up.
Bilbo wasn’t a well behaved fauntling, he was…wrong.
As he grew closer to his second year, the oddness of his development seemed to grow even more precise. He walked and spoke sooner than his age fellows and learned to read earlier as well. In fact, there was little that Bilbo didn’t do first. But there was no childish glee of discovery, no unbridled intensity that so often was coupled with the curiosity of youth.
The other mothers were jealous, often seeking her advice on how to tame and inspire their own children, but Belladonna was just off put. She tried to ignore it, tried to ignore the fear it put into her. But as the years rolled by, she found she could not and she sent a letter out with one of her eldest brother’s best trained crows, Rokr, in the hopes that it would find Gandalf the Grey, a dear family friend who had guided Belladonna through various parts of her life.
And when he finally did arrive, two days before Bilbo’s fourth birthday, standing at her garden gate with wide smiles and an armful of gifts, Belladonna was so relieved she burst into tears.
4 Lótessë, 2941 SDR (Steward's Reckoning)
Bilbo Baggins had walked this earth a total of eight times in his past. And of those eight times, only once did he even remotely make it to what could be considered ‘middle age.’ He had died in many different ways, though most could be traced back to the evil hands of Melkor or his lieutenant Sauron (for it was almost always a dragon or orc or some other horror he created that seemed to end Bilbo’s lives) and there was one horrible time he’d drown days before his sixth birthday.
Perhaps it was because he’d only spent a handful of days as that cheerful, happy Gondorian girl that he remembered her life and death better than most. He did remember them all, in some form or another, though he could rarely recall names or faces, or very much detail about their lives at all.
He always remembered their deaths, though.
And he always remembered how it was someone – a well-meaning Wizard, for instance – that had shown up and enticed or blackmailed him away from his home and family to go off and die for the good of the world.
Much like what was happening now.
Gandalf the Grey stood before him, much unchanged as he had been throughout Bilbo’s lives, and leaned heavily on his staff as he gave the young Hobbit his fiercest frown of disapproval. It was matched by his own expression, face dark and closed off as he stared the Istari down from behind his rickety garden gate.
“Best be off to Bree or Buckland if you like, Tharkûn, for you won’t be finding any adventurers here.”
“It is your responsibility-”
Bilbo’s eyes flashed, darkening until it was the color of molten gold. “Seven, seven. And a terrible end to them all. I believe I have paid my dues. Good day, Master Gandalf.”
He turned on his heel, shoulders a straight line in his fury and stalked to his front door – but the Wizard would not be silenced. “You cannot hide from this, Bilbo Baggins.”
He felt his lips pull back in an ugly sneer that would have absolutely titillated his neighbors had they seen it, spat out an ugly "watch me,” and then slammed the door.
Bilbo sighed wearily, running a hand through his hair as leaned on his fireplace, and tried to calm the frantic fear that had gripped his heart and belly like a vice. He is right, a voice whispered in his mind with the slow, gentle pattern of Sindarin, the pact must be fulfilled. The Debt must be paid. Bilbo winced. The Pact. The Debt. How he ever dreaded those words since Gandalf had first used them. He had no memories of the time before he was born into mortal bodies, of the time when he had been Ulugwin the Grey, Ulugwin the Beast of Gondolin, the raging daughter-dragon of Ancalagon.
All he knew was that had some point she had grown tired of the violence of wars, of the cruelty of servitude to Melkor. Her madness had shifted from coveting gold to craving the freedom she observed in the free races. Somehow she had entered into a pack with Manwë, King of the Valar, and shed her dragon body forever. She would be reincarnated; have a chance to be free of the evil hold of her master and father and live and love as a mortal being. But she would always be a dragon at heart, nothing could change that. No matter what form she took, Ulugwin would have the soul and blood of a dragon.
And in return for this chance to live as one of Ilúvatar's children, she would always have to serve, strive to make up for the destruction and death she'd wrought. No matter what was asked of her, if it was demanded she must take up arms and defend Middle-Earth. Often this involved killing dragons; more than once had Bilbo died under the claws of the ones he had once called kin. Sometimes it meant going to war, of endless battles and death so similar to what she'd tried to escape. But no matter what happened - if she was called upon, her current form must answer. The Debt had to be payed.
Seven. Seven lives lost before he'd ever had a chance to live them.
Had he not just changed one life of servitude for another? And the ways that he died; Bilbo shuddered. He was starting to believe he would forever be in the red. After everything - after Gondolin - would he ever be allowed to be left in peace? The Hobbit eyed the locked – always, always locked – trunk that rested tucked away in the corner of his sitting room. It had once belonged to Isengrim III, one of his last lives and the Old Took’s brother. His own grandfather’s brother. This was why Bilbo did not allow himself to dwell on the madness that was reincarnation.
The Hobbit scoffed, pushing the thought of Isengrim and his horrid, slow death from his mind as he went into the kitchen. He did not think of the days of starvation down in the dark caverns of the Barrow-downs, nor of the ancient evil he’d faced and sealed away there at Gandalf’s bidding. Instead he ate his sandwich slowly, savoring each bite and sealing his resolution that nothing – come hell or high water – was going to pry him from the comfort of his home this time.
Of course, the Baggins Heir should have known that wasn’t the end of it. But for a few hours, when Gandalf did not break down the door to Bag End or force his point, Bilbo had thought he had. After all, seven lives – and deaths – was more than enough. But just when he’d begun to settle in for the night, making a snack of fish and bread, there was a knock on his door.