“Gandalf?” Bilbo’s high voice shook as he wrung his tiny hands nervously. “You can fix this . . Right?”
Only moments ago he was his perfectly (mostly) respectable self at a comfortable middle age of fifty years. Now he was standing in the midst of a bunch of speechless dwarrow as a much less respectable (and very uncomfortable) faunt. At least his clothes seemed to have shrunk with him (thank Yvanna for weird magic), but it didn’t make him any less eager to change back.
Gandalf stroked his beard as he eyed Bilbo in thought (and possibly a hint of amusement). “I’m afraid, my dear boy, that this spell is semi-permanent. There is nothing I can do to reverse it.”
“P-p-p-permanent?!?!” Bilbo shrieked. He swayed on his feet as he put his hand over his mouth, fighting the rising panic welling up in his chest.
“Are you saying he’s stuck like this?!” Thorin stomped up to the wizard.
“I said ’semi’-permanent, as in it is not a spell I can reverse. It should, however, wear off in its own time.”
“Should?!” Thorin and Bilbo spoke at once.
“Well, yes. As I was not the one to cast the spell, it is hard to say just how long it will take. Perhaps if you had better reign over your nephews this mishap would have never happened.” Gandalf challenged the exiled king.
Thorin sent a glare full of promise to his two nephews who cowered at the gaze.
“Until then, it would appear that you have a faunt to take care off.”
“Faunt?! No, no, no, no, no.” Bilbo shook his head vehemently. “I can’t continue the quest like this! I . . I could barely manage it as an adult!”
“I agree. He will only be even more a burden than he was.” Thorin concurred. “Bree is not that far behind us. We will send him back.”
“You will do no such thing!” Gandalf straightened menacingly. “The success of your quest depends on your burglar! If you send him home now, you may as well admit defeat and save yourself the trouble.”
Thorin sent a scathing glare at the wizard, but he simply brushed it off. “The Hobbit will be staying. Besides, I’m sure the spell will wear off by the time we get to the mountain.” Gandalf guessed in that confident tone he usually used when he was spouting hot air.
Bilbo swayed looking far paler than any healthy faunt should. “I . . just . . Nope.” He plopped softly to the earth as he didn’t have far to fall.
He woke up to a comforting floating sensation and a whole lot of noise. A couple of the voices sounded awfully close.
“See what you’ve done?! You’ve scared the poor thing! Bad parenting if I’ve ever seen it!”
“Tha’s right! We won’t be havin’ ye bullyin’ the wee thing!”
“If he was my wee Gimli, I’d have you’re beard for this!”
“Move aside! Let me see ‘im!”
Bilbo finally opened his eyes at the gentle prodding of rough hands. “What?” Oin seemed to be giving him a quick on the spot check up. As he looked around more to figure out what was going on, he realized he was several feet off the ground. He quickly looked at himself and up to find that he was resting in the arms of Dori.
“P-p-put me down!” He squirmed and arched until Dori finally set him on his feet
He looked up at the (really tall) dwarrow and discovered that Bofur, Gloin and Bifur had all taken up defensive stances around him.
“Ye all right there, Bilbo?” Bofur asked kindly.
“Yes. W-what happened?”
“Ye fainted, lad. Did the wizard do it?” Gloin almost growled as if he was just looking for a reason to start a fight.
“W-what? N-no, I . . “
Gandalf’s chuckled cut him off. “Well, it seems like there won’t be any issues after all. Now I suggest we get going. We have already lost time to this little . . accident.”
“Move out!” Thorin barked because it was his job to give the orders around here.
“What?! But-but I can’t ride a pony like this!” Bilbo could feel the panic coming back.
“Sure you can!” Kili walked Myrtle over. “It’s not like you really drove her before. You just rode while she followed, so nothing’s really changed.”
“Th-that’s not what I . .”
Fili picked him up without waiting for him to answer and plopped him on the pony.
Bilbo immediately fell forward and gripped the saddle in a death grip. When Myrtle shifted beneath him, it was the last straw. “Putmedownputmedownputmedown!” He squealed.
Several of the older dwarrow came running, even Thorin arrived looking concerned. “What are you doing?!”
“We were just putting him on a pony!” Kili defended.
“He’s too small for a blasted pony!” Dori rescued the whimpering faunt. “His legs aren’t long enough to grip the saddle properly and it’s too wide for him to sit comfortably!”
“Very well. Hand him here. He can ride with me.”
Every single one of the dwarrow turned on Gandalf with a harsh glare for the suggestion.
“He’ll ride with one of us.” Dori declared.
“We’ll let Bilbo decide who ‘e wants to ride with.” Bofur suggested.
“Well? Who’ll it be, lad. Ye’ll have to ride with someone.” Gloin prompted.
Bilbo looked around at all the expectant gazes, vaguely aware that he was being carried again but too comforted by it to care at the moment. “O-Ori?” Ori was a gentle soul. He would be the safest to ride with . . probably.
Some of the dwarrow grumbled while Ori looked shell-shocked. “I-I’ve never carried a babe before!” He said with a hint of panic.
“I’m not a babe!”
“It’ll be fine.” Dori talked over him. “He’s not so young that he can’t hold on. You just have to support him.” He instructed with a experience of a parent. He had practically raised his brothers single handedly, after all. “Get on your pony and I’ll hand him to you.”
Ori climbed up and Dori set Bilbo in front of him side-saddle style. “Now just put that arm behind him for support and drive with your other one. If he falls asleep, grip him to you just hard enough to keep him from shifting or slipping and you’ll be fine.” Dori instructed.
“I will not fall asleep! I-I am not a faunt! Only my body has changed! I am still very much an adult, thank you very much!” Bilbo protested loudly.
“Of course you are.” Dori patted his head indulgently.
Bilbo huffed and scowled as Dori went back to his pony. He would not be treated like a child just because he looked like one! He was a grown hobbit, for Yavanna’s sake!
He continued to pout and fume as the dwarrow steered their ponies back on the road.
They continued down the road making decent time, now that they didn’t have to accommodate a halfling that couldn’t drive a pony. Thorin rolled his eyes at the sound of cooing behind him.
“Aww. Look a’ the little fella. He really did fall alsleep.” Bofur loudly whispered.
“He’s so tiny.” Fili gently stroked a tiny hand in awe.
“And so cute! Are all hobbit babes this cute?” Kili asked.
“Aye. He ain’t much bigger than my wee Gimli when he was born.” Gloin reminisced.
“Hobbit children are known for being especially ‘cute’ among the children of the world due to their small size, curly hair and cheerfully energetic dispositions. Bilbo, however, was especially attractive as a child and was the envy of hobbit mothers throughout the Shire.” Gandalf bragged as if he was his own.
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?” Thorin glared accusingly at the smirking wizard as his dwarrow continued to coo over the hobbit.
“I find it harmless enough.” Gandalf made no effort to hide his smile.
“And will you find it harmless when we encounter orcs on the road?” Thorin questioned harshly. This quest was no place for a child! He would not see a babe harmed on his watch, even if he wasn’t really a babe! He should have insisted they send him back. He rubbed his beard in anxiety over the dangers he was bringing a babe along to encounter.
“Oh, come now. It’s not as if you expected him to be helpful in such a situation. At least now he will be easier to keep on hand. Besides, you may be surprised. Hobbit children are know for their many . . talents. He may prove far more useful than you expect, perhaps even more so than he would be as an adult.” Gandalf murmured the last part to himself.
Thorin glared at the wizard suspiciously. The cooing still hadn’t stopped and it was starting to grate on his nerves. “Enough!” He shouted back at his company.
Bilbo jolted awake at Thorin’s bellow and stared sleepily at the dwarrow in front of him. As one, the dwarrow froze and held their collective breath.
After a few moments, Bilbo’s eyes began to droop again and he fell back to sleep. The majority of the company turned to Thorin with a disapproving glare.
“Are you mad?!” Dori whispered loudly. “Never wake a sleeping babe!”
“Ye’d be better off wakin’ a dragon.” Gloin mumbled knowingly.
Thorin huffed and turned back to the trail feeling thoroughly chastised but needing to save face. “You would do well to follow your own advice and keep quiet.”
The dwarrow fell silent while Gandalf chuckled beside him. He sent the old wizard one more glare for good measure. It was all the blasted wizard’s fault!
Bilbo awoke from his amazingly refreshing nap with a yawn and a stretch. Maybe that whole quest thing had been a dream after all. He opened his eyes and was met with a grinning hatted dwarf.
“Mornin’, sleepy head.”
Oh. Bilbo sprang upright with a blush. “I-I am so sorry! I don’t know what came over me.” He turned to Ori.
“It’s okay. You must have needed the rest. . . Don’t worry about it.” Ori added when Bilbo’s alarm didn’t subside.
“I am so sorry. It-it won’t happen again.”
Some of the dwarrow chuckled while the more experienced ones scoffed at the promise.
Bilbo blushed but made it his goal to stay awake for the rest of the day . . which he did. Ori handed the faunt back down to Dori when they stopped for the night and Dori set him down near where the fire was going to be while everyone did their part in making camp.
Once the fire was made, Bombur sat down to work on dinner and surreptitiously keep an eye on the faunt while everyone was busy.
Bilbo twiddled his thumbs feeling even more useless than before. At least as an adult, he could gather sticks for the fire. Finally, he couldn’t take it anymore. “C-can I help?” He walked up to Bombur shyly. He hadn’t really talked much with the quiet dwarf before.
Bombur looked at him surprised at first before giving him a smile. “Of course. Do you like cooking?”
“Like it? Hobbits live for food! Though I admit I enjoy eating it more than cooking it.”
“Then you and I have a lot in common. As you can see, I’m quite fond of eating myself.” Bombur chuckled as he rubbed his generous belly.
“You’d make one fine hobbit, Master Bombur.” Bilbo giggled. “A big belly is the sign of a healthy, wealthy hobbit, they say.”
“Just Bombur is fine. And if that’s the case, we must work harder to fatten you up. You could do with a little more plumpness.”
“While I’m like this?! Good luck!” Bilbo laughed. “Faunts are near impossible to fatten up. They burn through energy much too fast. There’s a reason we grow so much food in the Shire: we have to to satisfy our ravenous faunts.”
Bombur laughed along and they chatted while they cooked. Bilbo helped with everything he could, but mostly got stuck with stirring the pot. Dori sat nearby watching approvingly as Bilbo seemed to be enjoying his time with Bombur.
When dinner was finished, Bombur spooned up a large bowl to the brim and sat Bilbo down with it. The bowl was so large that it looked huge on the faunt's lap and some of the dwarrrow snickered at the sight.
“Ye trying to drown our Hobbit, ey Bombur? We might just lose ‘im in the bowl.” Bofur chuckled.
“Aye. There’s no way the lad’s gonna be able to finish tha-“
“That was delicious, Bombur.” Dwalin was cut off as Bilbo brought his bowl back. “You really have a way with spicing up old travel food.” He set his empty bowl down.
The dwarrow gaped at him. Fili picked up the bowl and inspected it as if it might contain a secret compartment that the soup could have vanished into. “Where did he put it all?” He asked in wonder.
“That bowl’s bigger than his head!” Kili exclaimed in disbelief.
There was a murmur of confusion and disbelief in the camp which Bilbo seemed to easily tune out as he tried to put his bedroll together.
Gandalf chuckled at the flabbergasted dwarrow. “Hobbits are only out-eaten by their own children.”
“Was it enough?” Dori asked suddenly alarmed.
“I have no doubt we will know if it wasn’t soon enough.” Gandalf answered ominously.
The group turned their eyes back to their tiny hobbit. Rather than laying it out like a normal bedroll, Bilbo was expertly crafting a small nest perfectly sized for his much smaller body. It would be far more comfortable than trying to fit into a too-large bedroll.
The dwarrow watched in fascination as the faunt made himself ready for bed before curling up and virtually disappearing into his little nest. Some of them turned to Gandalf for an explanation.
Gandalf hummed unconcerned and shrugged. If he knew, he wasn’t planning to answer.
Later that night, Bilbo jerked awake still tucked snugly into his nest. He cautiously stuck his head out. He’d heard something that had woken him from his slumber. He sat as still as possible and listened.
When the sound echoed through the night air again, he jumped out of his nest in near panic. “Wolves?!” His high youthful voice came out shrill.
“Nah. Just orcs.” Fili corrected.
“Far worse than wolves really. They come for you in the night.” Kili added dramatically.
Bilbo looked around quickly, trying to locate Gandalf. Where was that blasted wizard when you needed him?! Bilbo returned his focus to the boys at the sound of a dull ‘thunk.’
“You think it’s funny . . scaring a child with orcs?” Their uncle rebuked harshly.
“I-I’m not a child,” Bilbo interrupted the scolding. “b-but, um, . . do you mind if I sleep with you?” He grabbed his pile of a bed roll and scampered over to where the boys were sitting and resettled it right between them before climbing in and making himself comfortable again. “Thanks. This way whatever comes will have to get you first.”
Kili squawked indignantly as Bilbo covered up and went back to sleep almost instantly, feeling much safer now. Fili chuckled and even Thorin couldn’t suppress a small smirk at the halfling's cheek.
“Quite strategic for such a little fellow.” Balin chuckled.
“Still not enough to be useful.” Dwalin grumbled. “The wizard is full of it.”
“Would you have us abandon him?” Thorin challenged lowly.
“Nah. I’d see ‘’im back safe in ‘is home.”
“Tharkun has not given us that option.” Thorin growled. “And we can not afford to lose the wizard.” Thorin had never been pleased with the idea of taking the hobbit. But not quite for the same reasons he wanted everyone to believe. He did not wish to drag such a peaceful creature into the dangers they would face. Even if he survived, he would not be the same.
“The blasted wizard will get the hobbit killed!” Dwalin growled. “If ‘e cared so much about ‘im, ‘e wouldn’t have chosen ‘im for such a quest in the first place and would have sent ‘im home in ‘is condition.”
Thorin agreed completely. The problem with wizards is they were to wrapped up in the mine to pay attention to the veins.
The next morning the camp was in an uproar.
“What do you mean you lost the halfling?! He was with you last night!!” Dori screamed at the princes in the midst of it.
“He was!! He was right here between us! But he was gone when we woke up!” Kili squealed in defense.
“Dwalin was on watch this morning! He should have noticed if Bilbo got up!” Fili shifted the blame.
“I can’t account for every wee thing that moves! We’ll be slayed by orcs while I’m accountin’ for ever squirrel and chipmunk that fusses about!” Dwalin defended.
“Surely ‘e wouldn’t wander off on ‘is own?! ‘E’s such a wee thing!” Bofur interjected with worry.
Thorin rubbed at his temple, even without the noise his dwarrow were making the missing halfling was enough to give him a headache. “Enough!! We will split up and search for the halfling!”
The silence only lasted a moment before accusations and insults were being thrown around again. Gandalf sat to the side looking far more amused than he should be, when suddenly a small voice seemed to cut through the bickering.
“What’s all this racket about?”
The dwarrow turned as one at the sound of his childish voice. He had taken his outer jacket off and used it to collect quite an armful of foragable goodies. He stared back at them innocently with a freshly picked mushroom clamped securely in his teeth. “What are you doing?” He asked around his mushroom.
“Us! What are you doing?!” Thorin bellowed. His last nerve was quickly fraying. “You left the camp unattended and unaccounted for! You could have been warg food for all we knew!” He stomped up to the small halfling. “You are never to leave this camp or wander off without and escort! Am I understood?!” Mahal! The halfling was as bad as his nephews!
Bilbo stared up at him with wide eyes as Thorin awaited a response. A few seconds ticked by before he finally got a reaction out of the faunt, though it wasn’t the one he anticipated. Bilbo’s face started to slowly crumble adorably as his eyes started to fill with tears.
Something deep in Thorin started to panic, though he would never show it. He knew that face. That face was a promise of a coming storm. But Thorin was a king! He would not be cowed by a pouty faced child! “No! This is your own fault!”
Suddenly, Bilbo dropped his armful of goodies and the mushroom fell from his mouth as he opened it in a wail. Thorin had to step back from the sheer force of it and was almost trampled by the stampede of dwarrow racing to pacify the poor halfling.
“There, there, little one. Don’t listen to that big, grumpy dwarf.” Dori soothed.
“It’s a'right. See here? I’ll let ye wear me hat.” Bofur bribed.
“Here you go. Can’t loose such a tasty mushroom.” Even Ori chided in as he gathered up the goodies that had fallen.
A few minutes later, a pacified little Bilbo, having completely forgotten about his upset from just a few moments ago, sat surrounded by indulgent, protective dwarrow telling them all about the goodies he had found as he munched away on them.
Thorin groaned inwardly at the looks of disapproval he was receiving from the Fundin brothers. It wasn’t as if he had meant to make the halfling cry. His sights narrowed in on the wizard and he stomped over to him.
“I thought only his body had changed.” He challenged the old man. “Or am I mistaken in believing that that was not the typical reaction of a grown halfling.”
Gandalf’s eyes were lit with a disturbing sparkle of mischief. “I never said any such thing. The body and the mind are not separate units capable of operating independently. If you change one, of course the other will be effected. If you put the mind of a child into the body of an old man, do you think it will be unaffected by its new vessel? Why do you expect this case to be any different?”
Thorin stared at the annoying wizard and his round-about answers. “Being in the body of a child makes him subject to childlike impulses.” Thorin summarized what the wizard could have just said.
He rubbed a hand over his face. The halfling the size of a child was bad enough. The halfling acting like a child was another whole mess he didn’t want to have to deal with. “Mahal help us.”