The sun dripped in through the foggy glass window as Bilbo Baggins stared down at the crisp document in his hands. The boldly printed letters that sat in unmoving black ink spelled out, if anything, the end.
THE LAST WILL AND TESTAMENT OF BELLADONNA TOOK-BAGGINS
“So that’s it, then?”
Gandalf, who had up until then been taking a long drag from a cigarette at the window, turned around to look at Bilbo, who lifted his head to meet Gandalf’s gaze. “My dear boy, what do you mean?”
“She left me everything, Gandalf. Everything. What on Earth do I do with it all?” There was another question beneath the one he asked, but Bilbo didn’t ask it, and Gandalf didn’t press him for it.
“I can handle as much of the will as you would like me to,” Gandalf turned and closed the window, tapping his cigarette ash into a tray on the desk that separated them. “But I fear that there are a few things that you need to do.”
Bilbo sucked in a shaky breath, and he could feel the will crinkle between his fingers. Perhaps it was wrong that he felt so violently opposed at having anything to do with his mother’s will, but the pain was too real, the grief too sharp for him to do more than back away and try to clear his wild head. “What do I need to do, then?”
Gandalf gave him a sad smile and he slid an envelope across the table. “How do you feel about a trip?”
“Yes, Dro, Erebor,” Bilbo stared down at the open suitcase before him, his arm crossed as he frowned at the bulging, garish red bag that lay spread-eagled over his unmade bed.
“Isn’t that a city?” Drogo’s voice was filled with heavy skepticism and Bilbo couldn’t help but laugh.
“I thought so too, funnily enough. But no, it’s a country—albeit, a small one—between Australia and New Zealand.”
“There’s a country between Australia and New…? No, hang on—” There was a thud as Drogo placed the phone on the table, and the distant sound of him calling for Primula was enough to make Bilbo smile.
He looked back at his suitcase, dusty from disuse, and the smile slid from his face. He had been packing and unpacking the same bag for the last eight days, and it still felt wrong. He had never traveled without his parents, and even then they only went for the occasional sheltered trip to resorts in any country with a hot climate and good food. His most memorable experience was going horseback riding in Cuba, and even that was tainted by age and a distinct dislike of horses. There was a muffled sound as the phone was picked up again, and the voice on the other end changed.
“Bilbo Baggins, how dare you think Erebor is a city!”
Bilbo huffed a breath, tossing a wrinkled shirt into his bag and then immediately removing it. “That was your husband, Prim, not me.”
“You know, I don’t care who it was, the cultural history of Erebor goes back centuries, and if you’re going to go there without even knowing the colours of their national flag, then I will be sorely disappointed in you.”
“It’s blue, isn’t it?” The groan on the other end of the line made Bilbo try for a hasty recovery. “Dark blue? Black. Is there silver in there somewhere?”
“All of the above,” Primula replied, with the air of an International Relations major who was being forced into a conversation with someone who didn’t know the first thing about Erebor… oh wait.
“I don’t need to be able to pick their flag out of a lineup to enter the country, Prim. I only called to ask about what I should pack,” Bilbo stared at his bag, feeling a sudden urge to dump its contents onto the floor and start over. Again.
“It gets quite hot during the summer, so bring the essentials for summer weather. That being said, you’re meeting with people, so a few button-ups wouldn’t go amiss. Other than that, Bil, you shouldn’t worry too much.” Bilbo could feel Primula’s mother hen instincts kicking in, and he could picture her settling upon the couch, her fingers tapping lightly against her swollen stomach, brow knitted in concern. “You need some time away, Bilbo. Drogo and I will be here when you get back, and hopefully we’ll have someone else by then. Your job will keep, your apartment will keep, and your garden is well tended to by Hamfast. You need to get away, Bil, London is suffocating you.”
Bilbo sat down on the edge of his bed, staring absently out the window at the buildings, distant flags snapping in the breeze. “I know, Prim.”
“Good.” She sounded so sure of herself that, for a moment, Bilbo believed her. “Now I know you’re sitting on your bed staring forlornly out your window, but you forgot your toothbrush in your bathroom.”
Bilbo chuckled, ducking his head and standing obediently. “What would I ever do without you, Prim?”
“You’d miss your flight, that’s for damn sure. Oh, Drogo’s just come back in muttering about Erebo—I told you it was a country, you dolt, now go make us both some lunch. That man,” Primula was tsking now, and it reminded Bilbo of when they used to visit their grandmother, who was always ready with a cookie and a snappish comment, which Primula had always taken in stride.
“I’m going now, Prim. I’ll call when I land, alright?”
“You’ll do no such thing! You land at six in the morning, Bilbo Baggins, and don’t think that I love you enough to pick up if you call me that early! Call me at noon London time and I may deign to answer.”
Bilbo laughed, grabbing his toothbrush from the bathroom sink. “Of course, of course. Enjoy your lunch, Prim, I’ll call you when I get in.”
“Hmph,” Primula paused, and Bilbo held the phone silently until she spoke. “Don’t mourn, Bilbo. She wouldn’t want you to mope around. Have a good time in Erebor. Enjoy the sunshine. We—all three of us—love you very much.”
“You’ll make me cry, Prim,” Bilbo warned, only half joking, and Primula only laughed, wishing him a good flight before hanging up.
Bilbo cradled the phone in his hand for a moment, and then he turned it off, dropping his toothbrush into a side pocket on his bag and going to find something to eat.
Bilbo had never felt more alone than he did then, standing in the middle of a crowded airport with loud, rambunctious Ereboreans running about, reuniting and hugging and jabbering away in Khuzdûl. Erebor had strict policies on travel and as if the flight wasn't already long enough—almost a full day!—the amount of waiting around and customs had taken much too long, leaving Bilbo haggard and lazy, and all he wanted to do was sleep. He adjusted his carry-on, which was hanging limply from one shoulder and pulled his suitcase—the one with the broken wheel, embarrassingly enough—towards the door. Bilbo glanced back once, catching the eye of a tall woman, her arms slung over the shoulders of two young boys, one blond and one brunet. Bilbo looked away quickly, ignoring the curious, almost pitying look she had given him and the feeling that he ought to have met someone here instead of ducking out quietly to be forgotten.
Such thoughts were the same fanciful ones that everyone had in airports, and as Bilbo stepped out from between the automatic doors, he dismissed them in favour of catching a cab and getting out of this god damned heat jesus Christ Prim had been right.
"Excuse me," Bilbo ran a hand through his limp curls as he yanked on his suitcase, approaching a cabbie who was leaning against his car, its dark blue colour matched in the paint job of every other cab circling or parked in the area. The cabbie looked up, his cigarette hanging loosely from between his lips as he smiled widely at Bilbo, stepping towards him and tipping his hat in a cheerful gesture. "Are you on duty?"
"Yes," the man nodded, pulling the cigarette from his lips and flashing another smile. "Where to?"
And Bilbo felt a sharp tug in his chest at the words, sepia-tinted memories dancing through his head of his mother, laughing as her fingers brushed the book spines that sat, end to end upon Bilbo's bookshelf, too tall for him to reach higher than the second row.
"Where to?" She had asked him, her voice full of excitement, as if they were about to travel to distant lands, far over oceans and into the night sky. Bilbo, already tucked into bed and waiting as the fairy lights around him glowed gold, would always respond in kind.
And his mother would laugh, her finger sliding the book from its place as she swept over, perching beside Bilbo, curling around him and cracking the book open, the smell of the pages swirling around them as his mother's voice painted stories in the air.
Bilbo shuddered at the memory, running another hand through his hair, pulling on it to jolt himself into saying something, into shaking the ghosts of memories long past from his head. "Yeah, sorry. Uh, I have an address, one moment."
He slipped the corner of the page from his pocket, the messy scrawl almost indecipherable to his tired eye, but the cabbie seemed to know it, nodding and sliding the paper into a pocket. "It is quite a long distance. Many miles from here."
Bilbo waved his hand tiredly, pulling out his wallet and waving a handful of bills at the man. He had come prepared. "No worries. I can pay."
The cabbie looked almost surprised, but he shrugged and opened the back door, shooing Bilbo away from his suitcase and stowing it in the trunk as Bilbo got settled. The heat really was tremendous, seeping into his skin and thickening the air like flour added to a stew. Bilbo settled back against the soft seats, closing his eyes and allowing the realisations to hit him.
Erebor. He was in Erebor.
His mother would have been so proud.
The scenery flew by in a blur of colours, and Bilbo took note of the lush greens and rolling hillsides that passed them, dotted with cows and waves of farmland. It was beautiful, to say the least, and his cab driver—Bofur, the man had introduced himself as—seemed to recognise just how much of a novice he was, and was giving him as good a tour as he could with how little English he knew. Nevertheless, Bilbo appreciated the effort. Bofur seemed like a kind man, all easy smiles and quick to laugh, even when Bilbo could tell he didn't entirely understand what he was saying. Halfway through the drive, Bilbo was surprised that he was still awake after the hellish plane ride, but Bofur's company was pleasant enough to keep him from sleep—so far.
"Over this corner is the ocean, you see it?"
Bilbo craned his neck and let out a soft sound as he saw the deep blue water, ebbing and flowing over itself. Bilbo half stood inside the cramped cab, staring as they drove along a section of highway between meadows and the sea. It stretched on forever, the horizon unbroken by islands or rocks, and there was nothing between it and that endless blue, so far that Bilbo could have sworn it reached to the ends of the Earth.
"It's beautiful. Our ocean isn't nearly as pristine. Not as blue." He added, when Bofur gave him a confused look.
The driver's expression smoothed into a smile. "Yes, it is very blue, I suppose. Where are you from?"
"Britain. London," Bilbo added, and Bofur's eyes widened as he began to ask Bilbo all sorts of questions about the Queen and British people until they turned down a particularly bumpy road, cutting the conversation short as Bofur tried to navigate the rough terrain.
"...And they just sort of stand there. It's mostly a tourist thing, what with the hats and such."
Bofur nodded, slowing as he turned down what Bilbo realised was a driveway. "Oh, are we here?"
"Yes, this is your address."
Bilbo leaned forward, trying to take it all in. It was small, barely two floors, and, vaguely, Bilbo hoped that Gandalf wouldn't visit, if only because he wasn't sure if the house would be large enough for the man.
As he stepped out, Bilbo took a closer look, trying to avoid the overgrown grass that came up to his knees, catching on his pants as he brushed by. The house was yellow, the paint flaking with age and exposure, yet the door remained a bright green, its colour complementing the roof, which was more or less invisible under the carpet of moss and grass that was growing from it. As Bilbo moved closer, careful of where he stepped, he realised that the roof was supposed to be covered in grass, that it blended into the hill to the right of the house somehow, a seamless wave of green frozen atop the house.
It was quite beautiful—in spite of the fact that his mother had never told him that it existed.
"You have a nice house," Bofur said softly, and Bilbo glanced over to see the cabby staring at the building, holding Bilbo's bag.
"Ah, thank you. I can take that," he added, deftly ignoring Bofur's words and reaching for the bag, which Bofur handed to him.
There was an awkward pause as Bilbo rifled through his pocket for the money, pulling it out and handing the crumpled bills to Bofur with a smile. "It's been wonderful, thank you so much."
Bofur grinned back, trading the bills for a small white business card. "If you call me, I can be here in under 30 minutes, aye?"
Bilbo laughed. "Anytime?"
Bofur's smile softened, but he nodded again. "Yes. Anytime."
Bilbo stepped back with a quick smile, moving to search his pockets for the house keys which he had clung to so tightly for the duration of the trip. He unlocked the door with a slight fumble and turned to wave at Bofur, who had started the engine already, a fresh cigarette poking out from between his lips. With a crunch of gravel and only minimal protests from the engine, Bofur waved in farewell and drove off as Bilbo stepped inside.
Bilbo leaned over the handrail of the tiny balcony, a single glass of red wine in hand as he stared out over the ocean.
The balcony was small and rickety with age, but Bilbo didn't feel as though it would collapse (today, at least), so he stood as still as he could. The wine was a vestige of his mother, no doubt. It was her favourite brand, and he had almost not touched the unopened bottles, but the ghosts had been thin and Bilbo had felt that she would have wanted him to enjoy them, so he drank a silent toast to her and enjoyed the kiss of warm wind brushing over his face.
If Bilbo closed his eyes, he could almost feel his mother standing in the same place, staring out over the water. Or perhaps she would be screaming out, laughing as her voice echoed across the ocean. Maybe she wouldn't even be on the balcony, maybe she would be gardening (surely the grass would have to be cut sometime this summer), her face red after being out in the sun all day and she would knock on their Shire door—he never pictured her in her cramped London apartment, the memory always too painful to bear—because she had locked herself out again...
Bilbo opened his eyes at the sound of someone knocking on the door, and for a moment he swore that ghosts were real.
Instead of ghosts, however, Bilbo dashed down the stairs and flung the door open to find two boys, one about six and the other ten, holding a truly enormous glass dish filled with some unknown, delicious-smelling meal.
"I'm Kíli!" The younger one cried, and Bilbo watched in horror as he pulled away from the dish, his older brother scrambling to grab the thing in both his hands as Kíli leapt forward and ducked down in a deep bow. Bilbo took the pan from the blond boy, who looked grateful before he, too, bowed deeply, though he seemed more serious about it than Kíli. "That's Fíli."
"Pleased to meet you?" Bilbo smiled hesitantly at the boys before he heard a shout from down the lane.
"Fíli and Kíli, I swear, if you've run off to eat that casserole, I will— oh."
At the top of the driveway stood a woman, her long, dark hair tied back in a braid that was slung casually over one shoulder and her dress a simple flowy off-white that came down to her ankles. Bilbo frowned as she came down the lane, coming to a stop between the two boys and dropping a hand to both of their heads. "Are you the new neighbour?"
"Ah, yes, I suppose. Just for the summer, though."
"You aren't living here?" The woman blinked, looking around. "But this place needs to be lived in."
Bilbo smiled at that. "I agree, but I live in London. I may visit during summers, but this was my mother's house, never mine."
The woman's face fell at the word was, and she nodded in understanding. "You should stay until September, at least. This is the Summer of Celebration and there will be events throughout the next few months."
At that, Kíli cheered, and even Fíli smiled, his stern face brightened with a handsome grin. Their mother looked down at them fondly before glancing back up. "I'm Dís, by the way."
Bilbo smiled back at her, but stopped as he looked closer. "Oh, I saw you in the airport earlier today, didn't I?"
"The air—? Oh, yes, we were going to pick up one of my brothers. He was in America for a... conference, but he's returned home for the celebrations. I would have brought him over, but he was complaining about jetlag."
Bilbo laughed at that. "You needn't bring anyone over, this," Bilbo held up the casserole which was warming his hands in the cool night air. "Is more than enough."
"Nonsense, I'll tell him to stop by later. Either way, you'll run into each other eventually. Erebor isn't that large, and we're the only two houses down this lane."
Bilbo smiled faintly, having no idea how to respond. He was suddenly acutely aware of the food in his hands that was slowly beginning to burn at his fingertips and he ducked his head down to sniff at the dish. "What kind of fish is this?"
"Smoked cavefish brandade. Family recipe. Our grandmother was the most amazing cook, though she always did it as more of a hobby than a career."
"Why? This smells amazing, even better than restaurant quality."
"Ah, we have a... family business of sorts. She was the head of the family and it didn't leave much room for running restaurants."
"Oh, what business?" Bilbo shifted the tray in his hands as Dís gave him a wry smile.
"Please, let's leave at least one topic of conversation for dinner tomorrow."
"Dinner?" Bilbo looked down at the dish in confusion and back up at Dís.
"Oh yes! I just decided it now, but we're all a bunch of shut-ins when we're staying at the house, and having someone next door is just the opportunity we need to be social. I hope you aren't too opposed."
"No, I, uh..." Bilbo rubbed at the back of his neck awkwardly. "To be honest, I didn't really think about being social. This was never really going to be a vacation, as much as my cousins wanted me to relax more. It was mostly supposed to just be dealing with paperwork and hopefully some writing."
"You're a writer?"
Bilbo nodded. "Children's books, mostly. And a few forays recently into poetry and YA."
"Well, either way it's a win-win, isn't it?" Dís smiled as Kíli began impatiently tugging at her sleeve, clearly bored.
"I suppose it is," he laughed when he saw Kíli's annoyed face. "Looks like this conversation is done."
"We'll continue this tomorrow night. Our place at 7, alright?"
"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Bilbo stepped back, adjusting the dish and waving goodbye as the two boys dragged their mother back up the drive towards their own house.
Bilbo turned and walked back inside, setting the dish on the table and staring thoughtfully out the large window which looked out upon the sea.
For a moment he simply stood there, watching the roil of the waves, capped by white foam and a deep turquoise. After a moment of silence, he turned and grabbed the phone and a fork, noting the time.
It was 7 AM back home, the perfect time for calling Drogo and Primula.
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