Billa Baggins used to find her feet to be her most attractive feature. They were large and particularly hairy—both features making them quite enviable by Shire standards. Naturally, over the course of the journey, she’d had to sacrifice some of her usual routines but, when they had arrived in Erebor, she’d still had her long thick curls.
Waking alone in her medical tent, she stared at the feet she no longer recognized. After battling Smaug, she hadn’t had time to think about her appearance—even her feet. As she stared at the hairless appendages now though, she didn’t recognize them. Not that I recognize much of myself anymore, she reflected. For, as Gandalf had warned, she certainly was not the same Hobbit who had run out of Bag End all those months ago.
Alone and feeling quite overwhelmed by it all, a tear rolled down her cheek, and then another. Soon, great gasping sobs issued from her, and a concerned healer sent for the Grey Wizard who had brought the battered hobbit in.
“My dear Billa,” Gandalf ducked into the tent and Billa frantically waved at him to leave—embarrassed by her total lack of propriety. Instead, he sat down on her bed and stubbornly refused to leave. Meddling wizards, she cursed internally.
“I’m so dreadfully sorry,” she sniffed as he handed her a surprisingly clean handkerchief.
“Whatever for?” he asked sympathetically.
“I just don’t know what’s come over me, and do I feel so dreadfully silly,” Bilba hiccuped, wanting to bury her feet under the blankets—if only to stop herself from looking at them. Gandalf, however, caught the direction of her gaze.
“Oh,” he said, looking at her rather worse-for-wear feet. Indeed, in addition to being hairless, they had numerous sores from when they’d been singed while running from Smaug and several newer cuts from all of her running about during the battle. “Well, you have been through quite a lot, facing down a dragon and then surviving a battle. I am certain that you will make a full recovery,” he comforted her—or tried to.
Thinking about the battle, Billa promptly burst into tears once more. She had tried her best with the Arkenstone, but in retrospect, she had really just made more of a mess. For a moment, the tent around her faded and she was back on the battlements where Thorin was lunging at her while shocked Dwarrow hastily pulled her away, only to send her on a rope over the side of the battlements. Not only had it been humiliating, but in a matter of minutes, Billa had also lost her family—and her future.
“I suppose though I ought to be leaving before anyone finds out I’m still here,” she murmured.
“Leave?” Gandalf blinked. “But, my dear, you’re still healing, and I have had quite a few demands to know where you are.”
“Then I have to go,” Billa cried in alarm, and the wizard frowned outright as she tried to scramble from her bed. “I’m exiled, after all, Gandalf, and I don’t fancy surviving all of this just for—”
“Oh you dear but silly hobbit,” Gandalf had the audacity to sit there and chuckle at her, and at least momentarily it stole the wind from her sails. “The Company aren’t looking to hunt you down. They’re terrified that something’s happened to you. They keep pestering me about your safety, not to enact some horrible punishment,” the wizard smiled.
“Well, you could have started with that,” Billa huffed, trying to ignore the sudden flare of hope in her chest.
“Yes, well, can you forgive an old man?” he looked at her with those bright blue eyes, and for a moment, with his long grey beard, Billa had to acknowledge he did look old.
“How are they?” she asked instead; not quite able to bring herself to forgive him after everything he’d put them through. “Was anyone hurt?” her heartbeat jumped in her chest. She herself had only woken, and she had not had a chance to ask about them. Then, of course, she’d also seen her feet and become dreadfully distracted.
“They’re all alive, there’s some healing to be done, but they’ll be fine,” Gandalf assured her.
“Oh thank Yavanna,” Billa murmured, feeling almost light-headed with relief.
“Now, about some visitors,” Gandalf pressed, but far from cheering the hobbit, her cheeks flushed, and she started to shake her head only to stop abruptly as a round of nausea washed over her.
“I’m feeling rather tired, perhaps later,” Billa heard herself saying, and although it was true, she also wondered how she could possibly let anyone see her like this. Gandalf, did his best to hide his look of confused disappointment and stood.
“Well then, I’m sure you’ll feel up for it later,” he offered her a smile which Billa couldn’t bring herself to return. Instead, she pulled the recently-freed blankets over herself, finally hiding her hideous feet, and curled up on her cot.
She pretended not to hear the crowd of voices all demanding to know what Gandalf had done to her and why they couldn’t enter. Her Dwarrow had always been so protective to her, but she couldn’t bear to let them see her; not in this state.
Hobbit hair didn’t grow overnight, but nearly a week later, Billa’s feet showed no signs of any hair. Healers came in and out, seeing to the wound on her head, various other scratches and burns, and of course to administer to her feet. She didn’t care as much about her other injuries, but while the healers worried about her feet, it was for all of the wrong reasons. Throughout the week, Billa stubbornly refused to let anyone in, save Gandalf—who came and went as he pleased. He alone knew the source of her upset, but even a wizard could not force hair to grow back.
A week into her self-enforced solitude, Billa received an unwanted visitor. Annoyed by her stubborn refusal to see them, Dwalin burst into her tent—apparently having feared that she was far more grievously wounded than anyone was admitting. Billa had been lying listlessly on her cot but jumped at the warrior’s intrusion before hastening to hide her feet—which the healers insisted she leave out in the open air as much as was possible.
“Dwalin!” Billa squeaked in alarm.
“Well, you don’t look to be on yer death bed,” he commented, giving her an appraising glance. “So, why’ve you not been allowing us to see you?”
“Well,” Billa started. “But,” she trailed off again, too embarrassed to explain it to him. Dwalin was such a proud warrior, and she hated having to share her shame.
“Are you scared of us?” Billa hadn’t noticed Ori enter, but there he was, and she felt her heart simultaneously swell with love for her Dwarrow and break at the thought that they had thought she was afraid of them.
Of course, she never wanted to be in a situation where they turned on her again, but they’d had every right to be upset and what had she expected? She knew their quick tempers, and if everything really was forgiven—stop it Billa, she warned herself. But, her mind had already gone there. If all is forgiven, what does that mean for Thorin and me?
“She is, isn’t she?” Billa drew back to herself to see Ori looking at Dwalin, who was looking surprisingly gently back at the scribe.
“No,” Billa interjected, “no, I am not afraid of you.” Both Dwarrow looked back at her.
“You’re not?” the hope on Ori’s face was truly heartbreaking.
“Of course I’m not,” Billa found herself soothing the dwarf, and when she opened her arms, he ran into them.
“I’m so sorry, Billa,” Ori mumbled again and again as he hugged her—or at least tried to, given the odd angle as he stood at the edge of her bed. Although Dwalin had hung back, she looked up and met his gaze.
“I failed you,” the warrior said, not beating around the bush. Ori let go of Billa and stepped back to look at Dwalin with a sad acceptance.
“Failed me?” Billa squawked, wanting to throw the blankets off and march over to the dwarf to set him right, but also unable to move because it would mean showing her feet.
“I swore to protect you, but in the end, I failed you,” Dwalin repeated. “Our king attacked you, and I did nothing to stand for you. Instead, I pushed you out of the safest place in that battle, and you ended up fighting and getting injured!” Dwalin abruptly dropped to a knee withdrawing a dagger, and Billa flew out of bed in alarm.
“Stop! Whatever you’re thinking, stop!” Billa cried, and Dwalin barely had time to drop the dagger before Billa grabbed for it—heedless of the fact that she was grabbing for a sharpened blade. “I forgive you, Dwalin, if there was ever anything to forgive in the first place,” Billa insisted. “You were loyal to your king, and I betrayed him, I know that,” she shuffled her feet and then abruptly stopped, not wanting to draw attention to them. The movement, however, caught Dwalin’s gaze and he glanced down and then blanched. Billa’s ears went red, and she retreated to the bed where she burrowed her feet under the blankets to hide her shame.
“Your feet!” Ori exclaimed, and Billa fought tears. So, even he had seen her shame.
“Lass, why’d you not say anything?” Dwalin stepped forward, reaching for the blankets, which Billa promptly held down.
“You already saw them, there’s no need to gawk,” she snapped irritably, and Dwalin withdrew.
“Those foolish Elvish healers, clearly you need Óin,” he muttered, turning abruptly and leaving the tent. Billa blinked as she stared after him.
“Oh, dear,” she muttered. She didn’t want the Company’s healer, and anyways, it wasn’t like he could do anything to heal her feet—or, rather, her hair.
“Oh, dear?” Ori squeaked, and for a moment, Billa had almost forgotten that she was not alone in her tent. “You’ve been injured so much, burned by the looks of it, and we didn’t even notice! That’s more than an oh, dear!” Billa blinked at him.
For a moment, Ori sounded downright like Dori when he went into full mothering mode. She didn’t have time to say aught else though, because suddenly the tent was crowded with people. Fíli and Kíli threw themselves at her, hugging her and almost in tears as they begged for her forgiveness. The rest of the Company were also falling over themselves, trying to ask her to forgive them and she felt rather overwhelmed until she heard Dwalin ordering them away, as he escorted Óin into the tent. They continued to crowd around her, and Billa felt the flush of embarrassment return; creeping from the tips of her ears all the way down her neck.
“I hear your feet need proper tending to,” Óin said, and reached for the blankets. It was all too much for Billa, who couldn’t restrain the tears anymore. A panicked silence filled the tent as she clutched at the blankets and cried.
Luckily, it was then that Gandalf stopped by to check in on her—really, the wizard did have timing. He took one look at the situation, from the crying hobbit holding fiercely to the blankets around her feet to the concerned doctor and understood what was happening.
“Gandalf!” Dori cried in relief. He was not alone either as none of their soothing had done a thing to comfort their near-hysterical burglar.
“Perhaps, we could give her and Óin some privacy,” Gandalf suggested, and all at once the Dwarrow looked alarmed as if they’d been intruding on something.
“But it’s only feet,” Ori protested, and the Company who had turned to the exit froze. Billa, however, cried all the harder.
“What’d you have to say that for?” Nori growled at his younger brother, only to have Dwalin to take a menacing step towards the thief.
“Ah, I see,” Gandalf muttered, and Billa finally looked up. Her face was tear-streaked and quite red. Immediately, Dori hurried over with a handkerchief.
“There, there, whatever the issue is, I promise, it’s not that bad,” he tried to console her. Silent tears continued to roll out of the hobbit’s eyes, and Dori looked with alarm to Gandalf.
“If you know something, wizard, you’d better tell us, and the sooner, the better,” Glóin had appeared at Gandalf’s side, and was glaring up at the wizard.
“Well, you know how sacred hair is for Dwarrow,” Gandalf began, while Billa fought to regain her self-control. Throughout the journey, she’d managed to keep her propriety, but now, all of a sudden, she simply couldn’t hold it all together? She felt ridiculous and terribly humiliated. “Hobbits, on the other hand, prize their feet, and the hair that they grow there. Our Billa, unfortunately, has some burns and cuts on her feet from the battles for Erebor. As a result,” he did not finish—and for that Billa was grateful.
Far from shunning her, however, Billa found the atmosphere in the room had changed dramatically.
“You sacrificed that for us?” Kíli gaped.
“Well it’s not like I realized it’d happened,” Billa said thickly.
“But, that’s why you’ve been hiding from us?” Dwalin asked. Billa didn’t answer—she didn’t have to.
“An injury like yours isn’t one to be ashamed of,” Billa’s head snapped up at the sound of the voice coming from the entrance to the tent. Thorin stood there, leaning heavily on a walking stick on one side and Fíli on the other. “It shows your bravery, and it is something to be celebrated and respected.” The king finished, and Billa felt her chest expand with sudden hope. “It is I who must beg your forgiveness in particular, for the wrongs I have done you, especially considering the great sacrifices you have made,” Thorin continued.
“No,” Billa blurted. “I stole from you, after all, it’s hardly your fault for being upset about that,” she muttered, and suddenly there was a storm of protests around her.
It took some hours, and more crying, not just from Billa, but finally it seemed that the apologies had all been given and accepted. Billa sat on her bed, Thorin at her side, feeling much better than she had since before the battle. No longer was he the shell that the Gold Sickness had created, he was her Thorin once more, and she was so very relieved.
When Óin finally insisted on seeing her feet, the rest of the Company stubbornly refused to leave. Despite their protestations, Billa still felt embarrassed. Still, they were not about to leave her alone again, and part of her was relieved about that. Throughout the ordeal, Thorin set an arm carefully around her as he whispered in her ear that she was still beautiful and, she supposed, that did help.
The Dwarrow were collectively horrified at the state of her feet. She faced many exclamations and several scoldings for not having drawn more attention to her injuries. But, in the end, Óin had promised that, once her wounds healed, there was a salve used to help encourage new hair to grow. Moreover, he didn’t think that the scarring would be so bad as to keep her from regrowing a thick and even coat of hair within a few months. Billa practically lunged across the cot in order to hug the elderly dwarf who managed to catch her and simply smiled at her enthusiasm.
Of course, there were also some suggestions that they craft some sort of shoe for her, so clearly, there were still some misunderstandings. Still, Billa had time to explain to them what feet meant to hobbits and, the promise that she could re-grow her hair was all that really mattered at the moment.