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A Walk In The Woods

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Bilbo woke up quite early one spring morning. So early, in fact, that the birds had only just begun to wake themselves. Long before first breakfast! He carefully snuck out of his bedroom and down the hall, careful not to wake his parents as he passed by their bedroom door.

It was dark inside Bag End, but not terrifyingly dark. It was the kind of dark that anticipated dawn and make Bilbo feel excited about the new day. And it was going to be a beautiful day, he could tell. Prefect for an adventure!

He made his way into the kitchen and quickly made a little food bundle of bread, cheese, and two little oranges. Along with a little water skin, he wrapped the food in a tan and green checked cloth. Satisfied with his little bundle, Bilbo crept into his father's study and found a small scrap of paper on which he wrote a note.

"Gone on an adventure to see the elves! Home for supper!-Bilbo"

With the little note tucked into his father's notebook where he was sure to find it, Bilbo left the smial, grabbing a fauntling sized walking stick along the way. He was going to see the elves!

...

He had not found a single elf.

It was late afternoon and Bilbo was starting to get tired. He had eaten all but one orange, and his little water skin was dry. The trees started to look bigger and bigger the more the sun grew closer and closer to the horizon. Bilbo sat down on a comfortable looking log for a moment to think.

He had looked around as many trees as he could, and in as many dales, and by little creeks, and near rabbit holes, and he just couldn't find any elves. They were out there! He had heard their songs before when he had gone walking with his mother one afternoon. But now he heard nothing but the rustling of leaves, the chattering of squirrels in the trees, the twittering of birdsong, and someone crying...

Someone crying!

Bilbo got up and ran as quickly as his little legs could carry him toward the sound. He got closer and closer before he found a sobbing boy seated on a little rock outcropping by a little spring. The boy was bigger than he was, but the sound of his voice was young, so Bilbo scampered over the loamy ground to the boy's side.

"Are you OK? Are you lost?" He asked quietly.

The other boy startled and jumped up, turning around to face Bilbo with tears in his eyes. He was so tall! And he had a scruffy little beard... He must be a dwarf!

"Who- who are you?" The boy stammered through his sobs.

"I'm Bilbo," the little hobbit replied. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his slightly rumpled handkerchief and held it out to the boy. "I was going on an adventure to find the elves, but I found you instead! I've never met a dwarf before."

The other boy frowned, but took the handkerchief and began wiping his red rimmed eyes.

"Why would you want to see the elves? They aren't very nice. They look down their noses at you and don't come when Adad asks them for food."

Bilbo frowned. Then, reaching out his hand slowly, he pats the boy on the shoulder.

"Well, then I guess it's a good thing I didn't find any elves today. But if you need food, I've got a bunch where I live. You can have some, if it will make you feel better."

The boy seemed to brighten a bit.

"But you never told me your name! Or why you are out in the forest!" Bilbo remembered.

The other boy flushed in embarrassment, by straitened and gave a small bow.

"Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, at your service." He straitened and relaxed a little. "I was looking for mushrooms in the forest and got lost. My Adad and Dís and Frerin are probably worried about me. I get lost a lot." He mumbled, running his hand through his dark hair.

Bilbo took Thorin's hand and started guiding him out of the woods towards the Forest Road.

"That's Ok, the trees here like to confuse you by all looking the same until the sun moves, and then everything looks different. Mr Gandalf says that these trees are nicer than the trees in the Old Forest-"

"Gandalf- Tharkun- the wizard? You know him?" Thorin interrupted as they made their way up a little rise.

"Oh, yes!" Bilbo exclaimed. "He always visits for my grandfather's birthday and brings his whizpoppers! My mother even went on adventures with him before I was born." Bilbo helped Thorin up over the little ditch that lined the Forest Road. Once they were standing in the middle of the path, Bilbo looked both ways.

"Do you know which way you came from?" Bilbo asked. "That way leads to Hobbiton, and that way leads all the way back to Buckland."

"We we heading west." Thorin says shortly.

"Well then, come with me to my home. Hopefully we will meet your family on the way."

They ambled down the road, sharing Bilbo's last orange, to Thorin's delight. As the sun slanted more and more through the trees, Bilbo saw a familiar figure walking up the road to meet them.

"Mum!" Bilbo exclaimed as he and Thorin rushed forward to meet her.

"Where have you been all day? Your father is terribly worried, thinking you were halfway to Buckland." Belladonna glanced over at her son's companion and smiled. "And who is your friend?"

"This is Thorin. He got lost from his parents, but I invited him for dinner." Bilbo explained. Belladonna smiled at the tired looking dwarfling and wrapped her arms around both boys and guide them along the road. "Come among then, let's get home for supper!"

By the time they made it back to Bag End, it was completely dark. The warm lights of the smial beckoned them in from the gathering darkness. As they opened the door, they were met with a variety of smells: fish, pork, roasted vegetables, sweet fruits, and fresh baked bread.

"Bungo, we're home!" Belladonna called as they stopped to take off their cloaks (and in Thorin's case, shoes) and lean their walking sticks against the wall. There was a small thud and grumbling from the kitchen.

"The bread is just out of the oven!" Bungo called back. Thorin looked around with wide eyes as the journeyed farther into the home under the hill.  When they reached the kitchen, Thorin stopped in shock.

"Are you having a party?" He asked quietly, worried that he was interrupting something important. There was just so much food everywhere!

"What? No, I have just been baking all day since my son decided to leave before sun up with only a two line note explaining that he had gone to find elves! How was I to know he wasn't halfway to Rivendell?" Bungo chattered as he set three loaves of bread on the table next to a pat of butter. "Sit, sit! Fill your plate!" He shooed the two boys to their seats.

Once they were all seated and begun to eat, Bilbo started pointing out his favorites to his new friend.

"The salad is very good with the oranges on top. It makes the leaves sweet! Oh, and you can put the pork on a piece of bread with a little butter and tomato! It tastes very good that way!"

Thorin was mostly silent through the meal, watching with wide eyes as the three hobbits completely decimated the meal set out in front of them.

"Now, Young Thorin," Bungo said as he finished his meal and sat back in him chair with a satisfied sigh. "It is getting quite late and I'm sure your family is looking for you frantically, but I think it would be better for you to stay the night. I'll send some letters down to the Inn and stables in case they stop there looking for you, but you look like you're about to fall asleep."

"I'm not tired," Thorin protested as he struggled to stay sitting up at the table.

"Come on, Thorin!" Bilbo said grabbing the dwarfling's hand and pulling him out of the chair. "You can stay with me tonight so you don't get scared." Bilbo led the sleepy dwarf down the hall while the two older hobbits looked on fondly.

"That boy is far too thin," Bungo said quietly once the sound of Bilbo's door closing could be heard echoing through the halls. Belladonna hurried over to the table and poured herself a cup of tea.

"Bungo, I think something horrible has happened to his family. He mentioned his siblings and his father heading West, but look at the state of him. Thin, fine clothing that is too small and threadbare, the look on his face when he saw our table laid out. What do we do?" She asked as she drained her tea.

"Well, you'll help get the boys to bed while I run down to the inn. Tomorrow you and the boys can go 'exploring' and see if you can find his family. They are almost certainly traveling to Ered Luin, are they not? I'll send some messages out to the other Bagginses and the Tooks, why, that covers a great deal of the Westfarthing." Bungo got a far off look as he started thinking about the letter to compose. Belladonna reached across the table and kissed her husband soundly before she got up to follow the children and make sure they hadn't fallen asleep before washing up.

"What was that for?" Bungo asked, cheeks red and flustered from such an unexpected display of affection.

"For being a wonderful hobbit and to keep you on your toes!" Belladonna teased over her shoulder. Bungo smiled to himself.

"I have the best wife in all of Hobbiton," he said to himself proudly. Then he hurried out of the room to begin writing his letters.

......

"What do we do, Adad?" Dís asked tearfully as she clutched to her father's hand. "He never came out of the forest and we can't leave him! You know how terribly he gets lost." She sniffed.

Thrain looked over at the small group of his people that still traveled with them: young Balin and Dwalin with their father Fundin, a handful of old miners and metal workers to had not wished to settle in any of the cities they had passed, a healer her apprentice, and several guards with no desire to depart from their king. He looked at the black forest before them and sighed. There was no use to go searching tonight. They would have to wait until morning light.

"We camp here tonight," he said to his people, who relaxed at his pronouncement. "Tomorrow we will find a local familiar with these woods and begin a search." He bent over and touched his forehead to his young daughter's. "Your brother will be fine, little princess. Rest tonight, so that you may have energy to find him tomorrow."

They settled along the road and were soon eating a meager dinner and falling asleep under the stars and the shadowed canopy of the trees.

.....

Bilbo woke in the middle of the night when his feet began to get rather cold. He rolled over and realized that his entire blanket had been commandeered by his bed mate. The little dwarf was rolled up within the confines of his fabric cocoon, smiling and nestled down like a happy bunny in a warren. Bilbo tried stealing a bit of blankets back, but the result was Thorin rolling nearly on top of him instead. Bilbo didn't want to wake him, so he just lay back down and fell asleep, slightly warmer and very squished.

.....

When dawn approached, Thorin woke expecting to hear his brother nagging him about oversleeping. Instead he quickly realized he was warm, laying on something soft, and his stomach wasn't in knots trying to eat itself from hunger. He opened his eyes and peered around the room, memories of last night with the hobbits surfacing gently. He looked down at the little hobbit, who had somehow managed to get tangled up in the blankets underneath him, and felt happy at having made a new friend. Even if only for a little while.

After a short moment, he untangled himself and cautiously climbed out of bed. Tiptoeing to the doorway was hard, but he managed to make it without waking the slumbering hobbit. Once out in the corridor he followed the dim glow of a lamp to find the kitchen.

"Ah! Good Morning, young Thorin," the older hobbit, Bilbo's father, greeted. "Come sit! I'm packing food for your little excursion today to find your family."

"Thank you," Thorin said shyly. "For everything."

"You are quite welcome. Now, come help me pack the little bundles. I've got sweet bread stuffed with little bits of pork and apricot jam, cheese and pickle sandwiches with hot mustard and peppers, apples, oranges, and little bags of nuts and seeds mixed together." Bungo pointed to all the little individual packages on the table. With Thorin's help they soon had three bulging bundles and some leftovers for breakfast. Belladonna yawned As she entered the kitchen wearing sturdy walking pants and a tunic shirt belted at the waist.

"Where is Bilbo? We need to leave soon if we wish to make it to the East Road by mid-morning." She sat down at the table and grabbed a roll and a spoonful of butter. Thorin jumped up and stammered, "I'll go get him!" Before he ran out if the room.

Belladonna looked down at her clothing and back up at her husband.

"Did I scare him?" She asked as she added honey to her buttered bread.

"Who knows," Bungo answered. "Eat up so you can hurry home soon." He said as he walked into the pantry for more ingredients. "I'll be baking until you return home." He called from down the stairs.

"Breakfast!" Bilbo cried as he ran into the room. "Then we can help Thorin find his family!"

Belladonna nodded with a smile and slipped a few extra sandwiches into her pockets for the road.

.....

The journey down the road was quiet as the three travelers walked. Not many hobbits were out and about, though smoke could be see rising from kitchen chimneys and all the windows were open in the bakery when they passed by, smelling the heavenly smell of fresh baked bread and sweet fruit pies. Outside of Hobbiton Bilbo decided to teach Thorin a well known hobbit walking song, which helped pass the time. After the walking song came a song about flowers in the spring, and after that came the song about sheep. By the time they made it to the East Road, Thorin was singing along to the frog song with a the smile. They had only just started down the road when they heard a young voice shouting.

"Thorin! Nadad!"

"Dís!" Thorin shouted and sprinted down the road, Bilbo and his mother following as fast as they could.

"Thorin!" Dwalin called as he ran toward him with Dís on his shoulders.

They nearly collided in the middle of the road, Dwalin stopping just in time as Dís threw herself at her brother, chattering away about how much they had missed him and how she and Dwalin and Balin had gone on ahead while the others were searching backwards along the road.

"You wandered so far!" She said as she hugged her brother tightly.

"I'm glad to see you haven't been eaten by wolves or ents while you ran ahead of me," Balin huffed as he skidded to a stop and breathed heavily.

"You are such an old man!" Dís giggled. Balin just rolled his eyes and looked over at the two awkwardly standing hobbits. He took a deep and steadying breath before he bowed formally at the waist. "I am Balin, son of Fundin, and cousin to Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror. I thank you for your assistance in seeing my kin to safety." Belladonna bowed deeply in return.

"Belladonna Baggins, daughter of Gerontius Took, at your service. And this is my son, Bilbo." Bilbo bowed awkwardly with an embarrassed flush.

"Wait!" The older hobbit said, her eyes widening in realization. "Thror, as in the King of Erebor?" She looked at the four dwarves who all suddenly stilled. "Whatever are you doing so far away from your home?"

After a few moments of silence, Thorin spoke, so quietly he could barely be heard over the sound of chirping birds and rustling leaves.

"A dragon came to Erebor and stole our home from us," the little dwarf said with a frown. "Many did not make it out of the mountain. We have been wandering across the land, some of our people setting in towns and cities as we pass them by. My grandfather has gone to find supporters to help him reclaim the mountain, but no one wishes to face a dragon. My father brings us to the West to see if we can find a home with our sea side kin." Thorin paused. Bilbo blinked at the outpouring of words, the most he had ever heard Thorin speak all at once. "We are a small group now, but many of our people will come when my father calls them."

"Was the dragon scary?" Bilbo asked quietly. Thorin nodded. "I've never seen a creature as big in all my life."

"Well, all this talk of traveling is making me hungry." Bilbo's mother said to change the solemn mood. "Why don't we break for an early luncheon and then we can all travel the road together to meet your family."

The children all nodded and at down on the grassy embankment along the road. Dís and Dwalin both dropped their mouths open when they saw the food in Bilbo's pack.

"That's a lovely spread of food," Balin said courteously as Bilbo passed him a wrapped sandwich.

"I think Mum's got some extra sandwiches in hers," Bilbo said offhandedly as he tossed an apple to Dwalin.

"You've got more food?" Dís asked in awe as she clutched an orange.

"We've got three bags," Thorin said proudly as he handed his whole pack over to Dwalin.

"My Papa is baking today while we are gone. Mum! Can Thorin's family come over for dinner tonight?" Bilbo asked excitedly. Belladonna looked over at the curious dwarves in their well-worn finery and the gaunt look on their faces.

"Of course!" She said. "As long as Thorin's father says it is OK."

After that they all ate their lunches cheerfully, Dís telling Bilbo stories about her brothers, while Thorin denied everything and Dwalin laughed uncontrollably. Balin settled next to Belladonna and watched the younger dwarves.

"Thank you, for all of this." He spoke solemnly and quietly. "Watching the younger ones go hungry has been torturous. They never complain, but you can see the hunger in their eyes when they try to fall asleep."

"You can't be far removed from childhood yourself," she commented softly.

"Aye, I've only been walking this earth a few decades, but I'm the oldest of the younger generation. I must look after them while our parents are on guard or looking for food or work along the path. Life has not been kind to us, my lady."

They sat in silence for a while and watched Bilbo and Thorin teach Dís the frog song with a smile.

"We've got enough food in our pantry to feed a family of three hobbits for three months." Belladonna said quietly. "If I send word to my father, he can send us a few more wheels of cheese and salted pork. It would be enough for a small host if dwarves for a few days."

"We would never be able to repay you." Balin said seriously without looking away from the younger children.

"I'm not looking for gold or gems. Do you see my son over there, smiling?" She nodded to the curly haired hobbit singing and waving his arms in the air. "He doesn't get on with the other fauntlings his age, except for his Took cousins, and even then, none of them have the same interests or sense of adventure. He found Thorin in the forest while looking for elves." She said pointedly. "Hobbits have the same dislike for outsiders that dwarves seem to possess. Many thought my husband crazy when he married me. I have always loved to travel and have learned Sindarin and met all manner of elves, men, and dwarves along the way. Most hobbits are not like that. They don't understand the urge to wander, to see new places. My worst fear us that something will happen and drive that sense if adventure away. If his new friend makes him happy, I will do anything in my power to keep him that way."

Balin looked at the hobbit with new eyes.

"Then, on behalf of my people, I, Balin, son of Fundin, accept your invitation to remain in your home for a time and enjoy your hospitality."

Belladonna smirked.

"You're going to make a great diplomat one day."

Balin smirked.

"One can only hope. With this lot, I'm surely going to need to be good, if not great."

"Wait! Why are they green AND speckled. Couldn't they be brown or grey instead?" Dís asked loudly. The older hobbit sighed.

"Let's go clean up luncheon before Bilbo starts lecturing them on the best types of wood to make floating logs for frogs. If we make it home before too long we can give my husband enough warning to get dinner going before dark."

And so they went.

.........

Years later when Bilbo got up from his dinner to find his old friend Dwalin on his doorstep, he nearly laughed in joy.

"Let me guess, that meddling wizard sent you my way," the hobbit said as Dwalin carefully placed his boots and weapons in their designated hanging rack by the door.

"Aye! The daft wizard didn't even know we knew ye. Though why he keeps calling you a Burglar, no one can figure out."

Bilbo rolled his eyes.

"Wizards! Now help me move this table so we can all fit. It has been quite some time since our last unexpected party!"

The two laughed as another hand raised to knock on the door.

"Coming!" Bilbo called with a smile. This was turning into a lovely evening indeed.