Actions

Work Header

We Have Been Sealed in Amber

Chapter Text

It is well known that different hobbit family clans are famous for different temperaments. For instance, Brandybucks are known for jovial, wild spirits and wholehearted acceptance of the oddest of friends. Gamgees are known for patience, concern for wellbeing, and loyalty. Tooks are legendary for utter unpredictability, yet begrudgingly are also known for being stalwart and loyal to a fault. Everyone knows that the Baggins family is known for one thing: respectability.

There are many hobbit clans, as numerous as the many fauntlings in most hobbit families. To make a family tree even more confusing, it is not uncommon to have marriages between different family clans. The ensuing fauntlings often take after the temperament of the like gender parent, but not always. Several Baggins fathers have had to be strict with sons that have shown less than respectable traits.

Hobbit temperaments are well known and widely discussed as far away as Bree. It is not uncommon to hear of a betting pool forecasting the traits of a mixed clan marriage’s first fauntling. What is not well known, and rarely spoken of, are the abilities associated with each family clan. These abilities have been strengthened by generations of careful breeding, with the resulting hobbits carefully guarded by the Rangers of the North and Lindon elves. After all, the Thains could hardly begrudge Denethor II and Elrond a few promising fauntlings in exchange for such protection.

One Thain, the Old Took had once rebelled, after Denethor II took his third son for his gift of luck. The Fell Winter had then claimed more Took clan lives than any other. Ranger help had not come to his district until the lives of the rebellion were snuffed out. For the Old Took had wed his most gifted daughter to the most talented of the Baggins clan’s sons. Only one pair of twin sons was produced before the young couple was lost to a wolf attack.

The hobbits well learned the lesson. None spoke a protest when Gondor claimed the younger twin for his luck, and the elder was whisked away by Elrond himself for his foresight. Took luck is the best thing to ensure the safety of gold caravans. The foresight of a Baggins far exceeds the brief glimpses of the future that Elves are gifted with. The lords should have been happy with the results of their intervention. Did they both not get an excellent, gifted, spirited hobbit? Was the Old Took not brought under control by grief?

It was a shame that such measures had needed to be used, but rulers often made hard decisions. Hobbit abilities could not be diluted by unsanctioned mixed marriages, especially of the most gifted of those lines. It was a far worse shame that neither ruler realized that not all hobbits have hobbit spirits. The younger twin ran away from his first caravan, straight into the arms and protection that marriage to a dwarven caravan owner provided.

The elder twin was then summarily dismissed from Rivendell, though he was well trained in his art. The elves said that he had shown little aptitude past his initial promise and should settle down with a Baggins wife, to try and rectify his diluted abilities. There was no mention made of the fact that the dwarf was a noble held in high esteem by the dwarven king in exile himself.

----

“Gandalf, I need an army, a well-trained army. I do not need a simple burglar.” Thorin hid his ire behind a scowl. Gandalf was a wizard of some repute. It would not do to lose such a resource. He had become king to a people whose army had been decimated at Moria. Years of hardship had prevented the building of a new force, had made Erebor’s rightful heir become a wandering blacksmith.

With a price on his head, Thorin knew that he would have no choice but to march on Erebor and defeat Smaug. He could not risk the threat of orc and goblin attacks on Ered Luin. The thought of the families under his protection was the only reason that proud Thorin, son of Thrain would now beg and practically grovel at the feet of the other dwarven kingdoms for help. Thorin needed Gandalf’s help as well if he was to have any chance of keeping his people safe.

“With luck, stealth, and a burglar you will succeed, Thorin Oakenshield.” Gandalf was showing far more enthusiasm now than Thorin felt at the best of times.

"Should I also beg the Steward of Gondor for a hobbit? I may as well hand Ered Luin over to Elrond.” Thorin slammed a fist down on the table. Try as he might over the last century, Gondor would not make any trade agreements that included using hobbits to safeguard dwarven caravans. The only hobbits that dwarven caravans had access to were wild and unpredictable Took that the Thains hired out for outrageous sums. Thorin could count on one hand the number of luck hobbits sheltered at Ered Luin that could be trusted with valuable cargo caravans. None had potent gifts.

“I do have a few connections,” Gandalf smirked annoyingly. It was clear that Gandalf had indeed been planning on using a hobbit as the company burglar.

“My idea of stealth does not include telling the Shire’s protectors. The elves will stop a quest before it even begins.” Thorin could foresee many more arguments in the future with this wizard. “Elrond will not let a dragon eats one of his precious pets."

“Tell the Shire’s protectors what?” A small figure appeared at the table to Gandalf’s right and took a seat between them.

“Thorin Oakenshield, may I introduce Ambrosine, son of Bofur. He is Captain of the Shire Guard.” Gandalf looked thoroughly amused at Thorin’s face when he looked over the hobbit.

“And I know who you are, Majesty. Brosi is my name.” the hobbit took a decent swig of his ale and met Thorin’s gaze with a grim smile that Dwalin would be proud to bear.

Thorin slowly looked over the hobbit. He was tall for a hobbit, but not short for a dwarf. His appearance did not indicate his being a dwobbit in physical features. The usual mishmash gamble of shared features was not present. Curly auburn hobbit hair was grown long and bore distinctly dwarven family and marriage braids. Large hobbit feet were hidden in soft moccasins. The overall dress was a dwarven style of clothing complete with a sword.

“Ambrosine founded the dwobbits of the Shire guard…” Gandalf began.

“My name is Brosi. The Bounders do not trust mixed blood, so we made our own Guard.“ Brosi cut in. Thorin liked this fellow already. “We have families just like anyone else that need protecting. Dwobbits will not stand to have our children less protected. Most of my boys have hobbit wives and several fauntlings each.”

“I recall a commission for weapons.” Thorin could sense that this was no earth child, but a stone child.

“I teach my boys to take the best of their heritage. Hobbits are loyal to family, as are dwarves. But dwarven forges make the weapons that will keep them alive. We of the Shire Guard report to the Thains Council as the Bounders report to the Rangers. No part of the Shire will be more vulnerable than any other.” Brosi had a quiet fury in his eyes.

“You are the Took that outwitted Denethor.” Thorin nearly smiled, then remembered. “We were all grieved when news of Niriel's caravan came to us.” Brosi looked like he had been physically struck at the mention of Niriel.

“Are you alright, Ambrosine?” Gandalf watched with concern as the hobbit managed several deep breaths.

“This was a bad idea, wizard. My regrets, Majesty, but I must be returning to Hobbiton. My boys are expecting me back.”

“Ambrosine, Thorin will need at least one hobbit on his quest. You must make the Thain, your uncle, see reason and give him what he needs.” Gandalf put a hand on Brosi’s shoulder to keep him seated. “Call upon your grandfather, the Old Took, if you must.”

“You are my grandfather’s dearest friend, Gandalf. That is the only reason I’ve left the Shire at all.” Brosi shook his head. “He is very old, and the death of my mother all but broke him. My uncle Isengrim was chosen as the next Thain specifically because he will not tolerate underhanded deals such as this. What you ask for will have the Shire Guard disbanded!"

“The price on my head will bring more than wolves to the Shire, Halfling.” Thorin lost what little patience he had. “If Gandalf says that my quest will need a hobbit, then you will get me one.”

Brosi looked at Thorin and waited a moment before speaking with a calm fury. “Do not call me halfling, Majesty. You may be of Durin’s line, but you are far from having a secure hold on Erebor.” He turned to Gandalf.

“You will need a Took for luck. Perhaps two Tooks, and a Brandybuck for moral, and a Gamgees is always a good idea for weather. Such use of hobbits cannot be hidden from Rivendell very easily. Never has an army used hobbits in such a way.” Thorin noticed that Brosi didn’t mention his uncle, the Thain, being a problem.

“Majesty, do you have the gold to hire such a troop of hobbits?” Brosi reluctantly turned to Thorin. “With a dragon at the end, and orcs after your head, the Thain Council will want payment in full at the journey’s start. If they agree, and if they can find hobbits skilled in the needed arts who will volunteer to come.”

“For now we should concentrate on how many will follow Thorin on this quest, Ambrosine.” Gandalf interrupted. All three knew that any extra gold that Thorin’s people had would now be going to fortify their defenses if orcs were going to come calling. “Take this time to talk to your brother and uncle.”

“I would be honored if you or your Shire Guard would join this quest.” Thorin saw the perfect hobbit sitting at their table. Brosi was a rare hobbit who could defend himself and not be a liability on a quest across Middle Earth.

“My boys will be needed in the Shire now more than ever. But I thank you, Majesty.” Brosi nodded respectfully and got up. “Gandalf, I will await news of how many will be going.”

“Can I trust him, Gandalf?” Thorin did not miss the irony of his just having met the wizard himself. “I will not gather an army just to fight the elves.”

“Ambrosine has no love for elves or the men of Gondor. Neither does the Thain. Isengrim Took lost his sister to the wolves of the Fell Winter. You will get everything that can be obtained, for  hobbits are quite resourceful.” Gandalf watched Brosi leave, then turned back to Thorin. “No, do not worry about acquiring a hobbit, Thorin Oakenshield. It is your task to convey a council of your kin and raise that army!”

----

“Good morning, Gandalf.” Bilbo coughed on his pipe smoke, yet managed to beat the old wizard to his own words. “It’s a good morning to confuse a wizard instead of a hobbit, is it not?”

Gandalf eyed the grinning hobbit before answering. It was an old game of theirs, even if Gandalf only made rare appearances these days. Besides, one shouldn’t mess with another’s pipe in the morning. Finally, he spoke with a broad smile. “It is good to see that you have not let your talents go to waste, my good Ambrose.”

“What can I do for you today besides offering a cup of tea, wandering wizard?” Bilbo did not have the fear or reverence of the Istari that most Middle Earth denizens had. Gandalf had been a great friend of both his grandfather and his mother, dropping in and out of his life since he was born.

“I have news for Ambrosine. Is he in today?”

Bilbo’s smile turned to a scowl. It was an old argument. “Call us Bilbo and Bilon if you please, Gandalf, as I’ve asked you countless times before. A respectable Baggins has a proper hobbit name. It’s bad enough that Bilon hasn’t used either of his given names in decades.”

“Ambrose, son of Bofur, is as respectable a name as Bilbo Baggins, son of Bungo Baggins. Your mother preferred Ambrose if I’m not mistaken."

“What are you in need of, Mithrandir?” Bilbo switched to Sindarin. “Does an elven delegation need to be supplied before they head back to Rivendell? As to Brosi, he has weapons training with a recruit. He will then be on patrol until after dark.”

“You have been arguing again.” Gandalf seemed very displeased with this idea.

“Brosi came home an emotional wreck, speaking only in his beloved Niriel’s Iglishmêk for over a year as he sat in his room waiting to fade away or whatever. Now he struts around like he is Captain of Bag End as well as his Shire Guard therapy project.” Bilbo spat out the last sentence with disdain.

“Ambrosine lost Niriel and most of the caravan’s dwarves. He was the luck hobbit in charge of their safety. Grief is a hard load to bear. Guilt is an even heavier load. Do you still have no compassion for your brother’s loss, Bilbo?”

“We have all had losses, cruel losses, Gandalf. I took care of Brosi for years when he wanted to die. I used all of my contacts to find Bifur and bring him here to help Brosi when all else failed. I came up with the idea of organizing this crazy Shire Guard as a last-ditch effort to get him to talk. Having Brosi get out of the house was a miracle in and of itself.” Bilbo huffed and crossed his arms, his pleasant mood now utterly ruined.

“Bilbo, surely…” Gandalf sigh. Dwarven stubbornness was one of the wizard’s pet peeves, and Bofur had given both of his sons a decent dose of that same stubbornness.

“When I was sent home in disgrace I had no one.” Bilbo was not finished. “I wrestled control of my father’s assets away from my relatives. I made the Baggins of Bag End prosperous again.”

“I will speak to Ambrosine when I return tonight.” Gandalf gave up on the conversation. He had no time for arguments and little time to get necessary things done. “Here is the list of supplies that my elven friends will need, Bilbo.” Gandalf smiled, but it was a forced smile.

“Your dwarven friends are welcome to stay the night. I will arrange for their supplies to be ready in the morning.” Bilbo exchanged his stubborn expression for one of disbelief as he read over the list. “A hobbit is going with them all the way across Middle Earth?”

“Yes.” Without a word of explanation, Gandalf turned around and went on his way.

----

Chapter Text

Brosi finished praising his newest recruit for his dedication as they concluded the weapons lesson. He wore a broad smile as he smacked the youngster on the back, about to invite him to join the evening patrol if he was not too tired. The sight of Bilbo coming down the path to the Shire Guard training field turned the pleased smile into a resigned grimace. A sudden feeling that Brosi would not be on patrol tonight angered him.

“Marcus, tell Lt. Adler that you will be replacing me on guard patrol tonight.” Brosi had to hold a neutral voice to not yell at the eager recruit. It was not the boy’s fault that Bilbo was a stuck up pig.

“Yes, sir! Captain, sir!” Marcus did not miss the tension in the air, nor the sight of Bilbo Baggins coming near. Everyone in Hobbiton knew of the Baggins brothers’ animosity towards each other. He sheathed his sword, hefted his spear, and took off at a trot towards their headquarters building.

“What do you want that has already ruined my afternoon, brother?” Brosi always took each recruit on their first patrol. Now he would have to miss that and have Marcus replace him as well. The Shire Guard leader must be accountable and act responsibly.

Bilbo ignored the way Brosi slurred brother into bother. He handed Brosi a pile of papers. “I have a requisition for outfitting a hobbit with travel gear.”

“A dwarven caravan with a cargo of ‘royal attachments‘?” Brosi looked over the travel manifest. “What kind of crap language is that?”

“The cargo is not your problem. Your task is to outfit a hobbit that will accompany this group. I also want you to check the gear while you wait for the supplies to that are to be delivered." Bilbo once again cursed the dwarves that had taught his brother such lousy manners. Being forward and honest was one thing; rudeness would get them put out of business as caravan and convoy suppliers.

“Needed tomorrow at sunrise, I suppose,” Brosi muttered as he looked over the list. Both knew getting the supplies ready himself when it was a last minute order was the only way to ensure that no mistakes happened. Bilbo was the head of the family business that funded the Shire Guard, and he could make Brosi do what was needed for their business to operate smoothly. Brosi just wished that Bilbo would have some respect for his boys; being called a “therapy project” was disheartening at the best of times.

“Yes, to be ready at the stables an hour before sunrise." Bilbo gave Brosi a powerful look that had once cowed him into submission. Now the look only made his brother see red. “I still need to arrange the mounts for this caravan. Finish your business, and get it exactly as ordered, then be home for dinner on time. I have invited Gandalf and the dwarves to dinner.” Did Bilbo have to be so bossy? Brosi reported to the Thain Council. There was no reason for his brother to be so insufferable. Being ordered around like a raw recruit just because Bilbo was in a hurry grated on Brosi’s nerves yet again.

“Are we putting them up for the night as well?” Brosi lifted his nose and acted stuck up. “How gracious of you to allow ruffians to grace the halls of our home.”

“I invited the dwarves to stay for your benefit. I politely invited them, Bilon.” Once again Bilbo had now had it with Brosi‘s Took attitude, which never failed to bring out the Baggins half of Bilbo. Everything he tried to do for his brother’s benefit, Brosi managed to throw back in his face as an insult.

“Don’t you dare lecture me!” Brosi tried to take a swing. As always, Bilbo knew to step aside, letting Brosi’s charge send him into a heap on the ground.

“Get the equipment to the stable tonight. Be at home on time for dinner. If you are not on time, acting perfectly polite, I will talk to the Thain Council about your disrespect. Our guests and customers might I add, are far from ruffians. Do you understand, Captain?” Brosi’s ranks would have been scurrying to obey the familiar sharp tone.

“Yes, sir.” Brosi picked himself up and stormed off to the Shire Guard Armory. Bilbo had gone too far; he would pay for the indignity of threatening Brosi’s position.

----

Bilbo was tired and worn out when he arrived home to Bag End. Arranging all of the supplies needed this early in the spring had not been easy, or cheap. A long-range caravan or convoy had unique needs of food and supplies. This caravan’s need to be unnoticed meant that they would have to be self-sufficient. It was too early in the season to be able to forage as they traveled. Game would still be in poor shape from winter’s starving hold.

The only advantage to such an early departure was the availability of horses. Bilbo’s supplier business specialized in tailoring supplies to each caravan or convoy’s unique and specific needs. He had a hard-earned reputation for being able to provide for unexpected or unforeseeable needs, with many paying good coin for this advantage. The correct horses were the most critical part of being a supplier in Bilbo’s opinion; he had given Gandalf’s group the most reliable and experienced horses from his private herds.

It was disheartening to see all of the grocer’s baskets left on the pantry shelf. Bother! There would be no help or appearance from Brosi tonight. Bilbo barely had time to set out his own quick dinner when the doorbell rang. Pushing away his untouched food, he went to greet his first guest. With luck, it would be Gandalf, who could play host while Bilbo ate a quick snack.

“Dwalin, at your service.” The tall, grim dwarf waited for a reply from the stunned hobbit. Instead, the creature just stood staring up at him.

“Was I invited or not, Ambrose? I have come a long way, and Gandalf assured us that the invitation came with the promise of lots of food.” Dwalin folded his arms, displaying impressive knuckledusters and tattoos.

“Of course you were invited! I just had not expected you, Khaaz.” Bilbo quickly recovered with a huge smile and practically pulled the now startled dwarf inside.

Dwalin would never admit to being accosted by a mere hobbit. Bilbo did not tear his cloak and weapons away to put them up, nor propel him into a seat in the kitchen.

“It has been a long time, lad.” Dwalin finally returned Bilbo’s smile as his plate filled, food pouring out of grocery baskets.

“Ages.” Bilbo agreed as he set out platters and plates. “Forgive me, but my business ran late tonight.”

“You look soft.” Dwalin poked Bilbo’s generous belly as the hobbit reached over the table to pass a platter. Bilbo clucked, having a pronounced belly was a source of pride and was an expected part of being a respected gentlehobbit.

“Not that soft, nor weak. I train my own herd of luck horses.” Bilbo‘s voice was full of pride at the thought of his horses. He had developed several strains of horses from the elven stallions that he had brought back from Rivendell. The horses and ponies excelled at many uses and roles due to their exceptional intelligence.

“What about your sword arm?” Dwalin had forged Bilbo’s first sword as a fauntling and given him his first lessons.

“More potatoes?” Bilbo flexed his muscles and smiled cheekily. One test had been for him to take Dwalin’s war hammers.

“Do not give your Khaaz lip, lad. Or I will have your Barufunh see to you!” Dwalin grinned and tucked into another helping of smoked ham.

“Baru is coming as well? You are both going on this journey?” Bilbo was shocked and delighted. Balin had never mentioned plans to leave his position as royal advisor to the exiled dwarven king. “Did not Baru have an apprentice scribe under his tutelage?”

“Ori?” Dwalin waved a forkful of meat around as he considered the question. Was his uncle trying to downplay something? “He gained his journeyman status some time ago. He and his family are also coming.”

“Nori is coming? Nori, the famous thief who….?” Bilbo smirked again. It was evident that Balin had failed to tell his younger brother about his not so well known title of Watchmaster, under whom Nori served as a Watcher. Balin had gleefully mentioned in one letter how Dwalin, as Captain of the Guard, had never caught the sly thief. Dwalin slammed his fork down.

“Dori is very, very respectable, Ambrose. Do I make myself clear?” So Dwalin was trying to get on this Dori’s good side. Interesting. Bilbo fought a smirk as he filed the information away for later use. He also made a mental note to coax a few stories out of Balin about how he continually kept Nori a step ahead of Dwalin.

“Yes, sir.” Dwalin was one of the few people Bilbo allowed himself to be answerable to. One's family was precious, and one’s elders were to be treasured and treated with respect, even if they were not above being teased. Dwalin would have a time finding Grasper and Keeper.

“Khaaz, how is it that the king has released you from your service?” It was impossible to believe that Dwalin would abandon his post and duty for an adventure.

“It is Thorin’s journey that Balin and I are joining, lad. I will not abandon my king.” Dwalin spoke gruffly, but softly. Any other person would have their head removed for questioning Dwalin’s loyalty to Thorin. Bilbo was only curious and would never believe such a thing so that he could ask and live. Having hidden Dwalin’s war hammers were also good life insurance.

“What is the ‘royal attachment’ that your group will be transporting, if I may ask, Khaaz?” Bilbo refilled Dwalin’s ale mug and took a seat.

“Something that Thorin himself will be carrying. Do not let any of the other members of this group know of this item. Do you understand, Ambrose?” Dwalin had put down his mug and spoon and was staring intently at the hobbit. “We are a small group, short on battle experience, and we will be more vulnerable than I like.”

“Only the Thains and Brosi have seen the manifest. All of the paperwork that Gandalf gave me is in code. He has taken every precaution that I offer with my services; that includes my personal attention.” Bilbo’s face scrunched up with disdain at the thought of carelessly handling a caravan.

“What of the unforeseen needs of our group?” Dwalin was not satisfied, not when his king’s safety was his responsibility. “How can you know those needs if you did not even know your Baru or I was coming on this trip?”

“I try to consider every situation that a caravan may encounter. Gandalf also left a list of characteristics of the group. Again, for safety, names are never used on the paperwork.” Bilbo would not back down from Dwalin’s challenge to his competence.

“How long before the others in our merry group get here, then?” The challenge just became that much harder.

“Eight are at the Ivy Bush, having the last round. They have just let half of Hobbiton know that they are going on a grand adventure.” Bilbo grimaced more at the security risk he would have to compensate for now more than the sharp pain in his head and hands.

Dwalin let loose a few choice words in Khuzdul before waving his hand to continue. “And the others? Where is your brother as well?”

The mention of his brother would have customarily broken Bilbo’s concentration entirely, but several things drew his sight across Hobbiton and held it firm. “Brosi is at the stables, looking over the horses, equipment, and supplies. There was a mix up with the supply deliveries, and he will be delayed, sorting everything out.” Relief was evident in Bilbo’s voice; Brosi had not been late in defiance. This night might pass without an incident between them.

“Those prissy elf ponies will cost Thorin good coin that he can not spare, lad. It is best that you use good, sturdy Bracas steeds bred by dwarves. That kind of beast will not let you down.” Dwalin did not dare say more about Brosi. Bilbo got touchy enough using his foresight; he did not need a furious hobbit on his hands. It was too bad that Bilbo was now quite angry.

“I will consider that comment a part of your investigation of my competence as a supplier, Uncle.” Bilbo would have screamed in outrage if this person of horrid judgment were anyone but family, and the splitting headache that would only be worsened by such a ruckus.

“Continue.” Dwalin waved his hand languidly as he speared a potato with his fork.

“Gladly.” Bilbo was not about to explain his choice of horses. It would show a lack of confidence in his ability to judge a group’s needs. “Two luck wearers are nearby, ambling through some flower gardens. One is quite gifted and partially trained, the other is younger…”

“Fili is nearly as gifted as his uncle. Kili has shown no talent, nor interest.” Dwalin was barely interested. “Where is your Barufunh?”

“The younger is the most gifted luck wearer that I have ever encountered, Khaaz.” Bilbo’s eyes closed tight as he fought the pain of encountering unharnessed luck.

“You have not met Thorin Oakenshield yet, lad. He is the most talented luck wearer of the Durin line since Nain.” Dwalin’s voice was full of pride, well-earned pride from the strident tone of warning. Only that well-remembered tone and its consequences kept Bilbo’s mouth and temper from saying something that he would regret.

“Baru is with your king. They have just found the bridge to cross over the Brandywine River. The king talented and well trained, but the youngest luck wearer is the strongest of the three.” Bilbo opened his eyes to find Dwalin’s face a mere hand span from his.

“You are playing a joke on your old Khaaz.”

“No, Khaaz. The youngest one is the most talented of the three. A fourth luck wearer is a moderately talented, but well trained, luck wearer in the main group; they’ve left the Ivy Bush and will be here shortly after the young pair.”

“Where is Thorin?” Dwalin only let his eyes show his disdain for Nori for a moment before focusing on his primary concern.

“Your king will arrive after the others finish their meal. He should listen to Baru regarding asking for directions. I will have to set their meals aside for them.” Bilbo gratefully broke all connections to the world outside of Bag End as the teapot began to whistle.

Dwalin sat back in his seat, meal forgotten, as he watched the hobbit scurry around the kitchen to get ready for the other guests. “I will need my weapons back, lad. I should go out and escort Thorin here myself.”

“The Shire Guard and Rangers have already caught three groups of intruders trying to scout out the Shire this month. Brosi has sent a patrol to escort the king here once in the Shire proper. Rangers have been watching out for him since he came into their patrol grounds.” Bilbo finished setting out the food. “Khaaz, help me move the furniture in to make room for everyone.”

“Why the Rangers? You have no control over them.” Dwalin felt more alarm than relief for some reason, though Bilbo was not worried. Hobbits had long been used to the Rangers' captive protection.

“Did the Dwarves really think that Elrond would not notice a meeting of all of the dwarven kingdoms?” Bilbo smiled as the ringing bell cut off any more questions. His knowledge and competence as a supplier were faultless. Why else would Gandalf the Grey chose him?

----

Chapter Text

Over the centuries Balin had witnessed countless wonders, accomplished many things during his long lifetime. This fact did not stop him from still having questions for which he would never have answers. Questions such as why had he volunteered to go to the meeting with Thorin? Why had he let the clueless king have the blasted map? Why did he not just ditch the stubborn dwarf and head to Bag End himself? Balin was too old for this foolishness.

“Curse that wizard and his lousy directions! This map says that we should be on the bridge by now.” Thorin frowned as he tried to see the map in the fading daylight. The scribe in Balin cringed as the map tore a bit more in the frustrated fists.

“Thorin, we crossed over the bridge just before sunset.” Balin began patiently for the eight hundred thousandth time since Thorin was born.

“Then we need to take a right at the next path’s intersection.” The map was being held upside down.

“We took a left at that intersection just after sunset.” Once again, Balin asked himself why he had listened to his father and became a scribe and royal advisor. He could have become a weapons instructor like Dwalin, but no….

“Useless wizard.” The map lost the battle to Thorin’s temper, and he threw the pieces on the ground, storming off down the wrong trail yet again.

Balin froze instead of picking up the tortured map. “Thorin, someone is coming this way.”

“They have been following us since sunset.” Thorin did not stop. “It is the Shire Guard.”

“Then we should inquire about directions.” Balin counted the eight hundred thousand and first time he began as the patient, ever loyal advisor. More than once, Balin wished that Thorin would tell said advisor what the king, as a luck wearer, sensed long before Balin did.

“I read the map. It is down this path.” Thorin disappeared around a copse of trees.

Balin loved Thorin like a son, but he had a son waiting for him serving up delicious, hot, unmatched Hobbit delicacies. There were also clueless dwarves like the Two Terrors who would gobble it all up without a thought for such things as taste. Balin even knew exactly where he was: Thorin was headed for Tuckborough, the luck hobbit habitation unconsciously drawing the luck wearer in him to it. Would Dwalin mind so much if Thorin found a Took party instead?

The approach of several figures in armor carrying spears saved Balin from his temptation. “Are you Master Balin by chance?”

“Yes.” Balin recognized the leader. “Corp. Frondon, is it not?”

“It has been a few years, sir. It is Lt. Frondon now.” the dwobbit swelled with pride as he saluted smartly. “We were ordered to keep an eye out and escort you to Bag End, but you kept getting away.”

“My thanks for your thoughtfulness.” Balin thanked whoever just saved his reputation from his stomach and went to collect the lost and bellowing Thorin.

----

Bilbo nearly collapsed when a wave of unfettered luck hit him as he opened the door.

“Fili…” “and Kili…” “at your service.” Two young dwarves bowed smartly and stepped inside. Anything after that was a blur. Bilbo could recall weapons thrust into his hands, and a few indignant remarks about his mother’s glory box, but not much else.

“Snap out of it, lad.” Dwalin thumped Bilbo on the back. This action spilled weapons and making his head spin; though he had to admit that it worked well at clearing his head. Dwalin merely grunted and grabbed Kili to help move more furniture.

“Are you alright, Mr. Baggins?” Fili stayed a moment. He touched Bilbo’s head, concentrating. The last of the dizziness passed instantly as the dwarf drew the luck into himself. “There is an unbelievable amount of loose luck in this Shire of yours.”

“Yes, quite alright.” Bilbo nearly sighed in relief at the touch of a trained and restrained mind. “I should be used to it with my Took cousins always dropping by.” Bilbo’s younger Took cousins, and the luck that they dragged everywhere, were often found daring each other to “visit” Bag End and catch Bilbo and his foresight unawares.

“I do apologize. I find myself rather tired after our journey and…” Fili did look sorry for the now disgruntled hobbit.

“You are not the problem. It is your brother and his totally out of control ways. Why was he never trained to at least…..” Bilbo was cut off.

“Kili has no talent, Mr. Baggins.” Fili hissed as he looked around, hands shushing Bilbo’s tirade. “I must have clocked you worse than I realized.”

“I sensed the talent of both of you long before you arrived. Every hobbit in the Shire with a bit of Took blood in them could tell that Kili has a powerful, untrained talent, Master Fili.” Bilbo sat back on his heels, crossed his arms, and glared at Fili.

“Kili will not cause any more trouble.” Fili now looked panicked. “I will do a better job of watching him. Do not mention this to anyone, and it is Fili.”

“As you wish, Fili.” Bilbo smiled calmly and motioned the dwarf to the table to eat. Bilbo was a supplier, not a problem solver. He had already spoken to the head of this caravan’s security about Kili. Beyond that was not his concern.

----

Brosi was delighted when he came home to a pile of dwarves blocking the doorway. Gandalf stood behind them, ever the innocent looking troublemaker.

“What have you been up to, Gandalf?” Brosi helped an older, doting dwarf pick up another dwarf barely of age.

“What, no hello for your old man?” A dwarf in an odd hat clamored out of the pile and grabbed Brosi in a hug that lifted the hobbit off of his feet.

“Adad! I had no idea that you were coming.” Brosi ignored his shocked brother. “Uncle Bombur! Uncle Bifur! This is a surprise.”

“Apparently, I am up to family reunions.” Gandalf shoved his staff and hat at Bilbo to remind the Hobbit to breathe.

“Quite so.” Bilbo murmured and wandered off to put all of the weapons and cloaks away. Gandalf did not miss how Brosi ignored his brother as he ushered all of the dwarves off to eat.

“Bofur is your father, Bilbo. It would not hurt you to greet your family, family that you rarely get to see.” Gandalf collided with the chandelier, but still followed the reluctant hobbit and helped him to hang up the multitude of cloaks.

“You can see that family relations are strained around here. Let us just get through the evening. I have prepared this group’s provisions and horses to be at the ready first thing in the morning.” Customers or not, it would not be too soon when these dwarves took their leave.

“Ever the respectable Baggins, down to business.” Gandalf made a face more at Bilbo’s expression than at blobs of food that began to sail across the room.

“Are they having a food fight…in my dining room?” Bilbo dropped the remaining weapons in Gandalf’s arms and ran off to bring order to the place.

Just as Bilbo reached the table, Kili slapped him across the back. “Excellent party, Mr. Boggins.” After that Bilbo’s memory was a blur, when he had come to his senses the dwarves were singing a song about cutlery for some reason.

“My brother does not know his own strength.” Fili steered Bilbo away from the dwarves putting the dishes away. He once again drew the confusion out of Bilbo’s head.

“Quite right. Have you seen Master Balin by chance?” Bilbo looked around at all of the bodies drifting by. Just how many dwarves were in his house anyway? Gandalf had promised only thirteen, but they scurried around looking at everything like overeager fauntlings on their first spring outing. They were also a good deal louder with ale in hand and roaring laughter at the ready. Brosi had better be happy to have had such company. Of course, he would be happy; Bilbo was miserable.

Balin went with Thorin. They are late; Thorin must have gotten ahold of the map. Bifur grunted in came up, grabbing Bilbo in a bear hug. He put Bilbo down to continue his grunted Khuzdul and furiously signed Iglishmêk. Why are you and your brother still at odds?

"Hello, Uncle Bifur." Bilbo sighed as he reluctantly used Khuzdul and Iglishmêk. Bifur missed nothing when he was coherent, which was more often than people thought.

“I will be off then.” Fili ran off to rein in his brother just as Kili slapped Gandalf on the back. The wizard had the most incredulous look on his face as Brosi helped him to sit down. Fili thankfully grabbed Kili before he could slap Bilbo again.

Bifur, Brosi is bored. He desires more excitement than the Shire has to offer. His heart wants to join the rest of the world again, to regain the thrill that traveling across Middle Earth once gave him. Bilbo ended with a sign that meant he would discuss this no further. Bifur groaned and shook his head, but any more conversation was interrupted by impatient pounding on the door.

----

Chapter Text

Dwalin was a fierce fighter. Dwalin was a proven warrior. Dwalin had no weaknesses. Dwalin sigh and knew when he was kidding himself; a warrior had no place in his life for illusions if he wanted to literally keep his head. As for figurative heads, well… Dwalin sigh again as he acknowledged that he always lost his head for common sense when it came to cookies.

Dwalin had felt that it was his duty to accompany his king and brother to the meeting of the seven dwarf families. Balin had felt that it was his duty to keep Dwalin far from Dain II, Lord of the Iron Hills. Balin had won out in the end, convincing his brother to head to their meeting place first. To persuade Dwalin had been easy, just mentioning that Bilbo had many assorted sweets waiting, including cookies, had the grizzled warrior helping Balin to convince the ever-skeptical king.

Thorin had not been easy to convince, but to refuse Balin was to say that the mild-tempered, yet fierce and cunning, warrior and fellow veteran of the war in Moria was not worthy to accompany Thorin. He also had to acknowledge that there was bad blood between Dain II and Dwalin after an unfortunate episode with one of Dain’s beloved boars. Thorin needed Dain’s support, not a blood feud over a pig roast.

Dwalin had made certain to get to Bag End first, as part of his job he could argue. The side of him that liked his literal head attached admitted that he could finish dinner first, and have first dibs at the desserts. After seeing everyone else seated, Dwalin began to search the kitchen and pantries, freezing when he saw not one, but ten jars full of a variety of delectable cookies. Ignoring the slightly tight fit, Dwalin eagerly reached into the first jar and began to munch on the oatmeal raisin sweeties in crumb filled bliss.

-----

Fili felt terrible for poor Mister Baggins. Gandalf had called him Bilbo, a proper hobbit name if Fili had ever heard one.

Fili had talked to one or two of the few luck hobbits at Ered Luin. All were Tooks, all had long and impressive names such as Everard and Isengrim IV, all proudly mentioned how they were related to this famous and grand Took, who was usually referred as a Bullroarer Took or merely The Old Took. Unlike them, Bilbo was as simple as his name and simply respectable.

Fili could not think of another word. Mister Bilbo Baggins was a respectable Baggins, of Bag End none the less! And all of these dwarves had overrun the poor hobbit’s domicile like a band of orcs over an anthill. Fili grimaced behind his ale mug as Kili hit the poor hobbit and shenanigans ensued at his expense.

The other hobbit, was he a dwobbit? He did not look like one of those that had followed Fili’s group from the Ivy Bush, though he was dressed like them in some uniform. The miner, Bofur, had picked up this hobbit and proudly announced to everyone that Brosi was his boy, and Captain of the Shire Guard at that!

Fili waited for Bofur to embrace Mister Baggins; the two hobbits had to be related, they looked so much alike. Bofur and Bilbo just turned away from each other, though Fili did not miss the pain in Bofur’s eyes and the fear in Bilbo’s. Bilbo even called Mister Bifur uncle! Something was going on, Fili would have to wait to see it played out.

Stop staring at what does not concern you, young prince. Bifur grunted in Khuzdul as he turned from the pounding door. Bring Dwalin, the king is finally here.

"Right away, Mister Bifur." Fili went off to search for the suddenly elusive dwarf. Though it was falsely rumored that the goblin ax was still embedded in Bifur’s head, the damaged hero’s temper and his erratic behavior were well-known facts. More than once, Fili and Kili had felt those massive fists box their ears for dwarfling shenanigans involving the overprotective dwarf’s family clan. How such meat hooks could carve such intricate toys was beyond Fili.

After a quick search, Fili found Dwalin in a secluded second pantry of all places. It was also beyond Fili's understanding as to why the gruff dwarf was sitting on the floor with several empty glass jars surrounding him. A growl at Fili was softened by a sigh as Dwalin took a bite of yet another cookie.

“Can I have one, Mister Dwalin?” Fili reached for the last full cookie jar. ”Sugar cookies are my favorite, which is fortunate for you, as you will want me to keep silent about this….”

“You and your daft brother can have the dessert that Mister Baggins serves you. These are all mine!” Dwalin grabbed the jar of sugar cookies, just to have it end up hanging off of his hand.

“Who is calling who daft?” Fili lamented the now broken cookies as Dwalin struggled to get his knuckledusters free of the jar’s mouth. That did not stop a wide grin appearing. “By the way, Dwalin, you are wanted out front. Thorin is here.”

Dwalin growled in outrage. He had what he wanted in his hand, yet he could not have one. He also had one of the infuriating Twin Terrors smirking at him. This was too much, and an insult to every pride filled bone in Dwalin’s body. Now Thorin himself would see Dwalin’s shame; he could not ignore his king’s arrival.

Dwalin was a realist, the embarrassment of a cookie jar was far less than the shame of slighting one’s king. Even the loyal and dedicated Dwalin must admit that Thorin Oakenshield was an arrogant bastard no one dared to slight. But to have the embarrassment be lowly cookies of all things?

This quest was not starting out on a favorable foot. Would everyone’s weaknesses be brought to light? And why had Bilbo not warned him of the sneaky jars, or put the cookies on plates like decent Dwarf matrons did? Dwalin would forgive his nephew, after he freed his hand, and made more of Dwalin’s favorite oatmeal raisin cookies. He had also better put pecans in them to soothe his old Khaaz’s pride. Sugar cookies could never be a proper favorite kind of cookie. Bah! Fili was a foolish dwarfling.

----

When it began to rain, only a sprinkle really, Balin gave up. Not even an honorable dwarf like himself could take any more. Rather than letting the Shire Guard escort them to Bag End, Thorin had to be, well…Thorin. The King of the Longbeards, a direct descendant of Durin the Deathless (had he been as directionally clueless as well? Balin would have to research the history of the affliction in Erebor’s library. Thankfully, he and Dwalin had been spared the defect, and the well known Durin pride Thorin was showing as he bellowed).

“I’ve had enough.” Balin felt the raindrops hit his nose and left Thorin in the care of the luckless dwobbits. Were none carrying Took blood and its inherent luck? Obviously not.

When Balin knocked on the door of Bag End not a minute later, an unhappy Bilbo opened the door. Balin came face to face with a room full of dwarves that were apparently expecting someone else.

“Baru!” Bilbo cried out in obvious relief and hauled the old dwarf inside. “Come in out of the rain. You must be soaked.”

“It is just a sprinkle.” Balin somehow breathed out as he was crushed in a surprisingly strong embrace. He ignored Brosi’s lowered voice and Bofur’s stare.

“Where is Thorin?” Kili sounded almost like he was whining. Fili just cuffed his brother across the back of his head.

“It is good to see you again, Balin. Did the trip go well?” Fili inclined his head towards Balin, who returned the gesture.

Ah, Fili. A proper prince and heir. He also apparently inherited more from his non-Durin side of the family. Kili…well…he wasn’t Balin’s problem.

“Thorin is discussing the map’s accuracy with our escorts. He will discuss the details of our trip.” Balin’s face fell.

“I saved you your favorites.” Bilbo forgot about the nervousness of meeting the dwarven king. His Baggins side easily pushed his disappointed Took half into a corner and went all out with hospitality to cheer his Baru up. Balin could not find it in him to feel bad about abandoning Thorin, he had been with the Shire Guard had he not? It was also bad for an old dwarf’s health to be out in the cold rain.

Balin did not have to try very hard to convince himself to believe this as his rain cloak was hung up and a warm blanket found its way around his shoulders. Soon Balin was seated next to the warm hearth in the kitchen with the table spread with all of his favorite foods that Bilbo had kept warm in the oven. It was too bad that a gruff voice broke through Balin’s gorging, reminding him of his duty.

“Where is Thorin, brother?” Dwalin stood glaring. The rain was no excuse for this overbearing dwarf. Maybe Dwalin had inherited more of the Durin afflictions than Balin had realized.

“Brother!” Balin got up and traded a thunderous head tap with Dwalin.

“You’re shorter than when we last met, and wider….” Dwalin began, looking at Balin expecting an answer. One did not lose their king like a sock lost in the wash. One also did not underestimate a hobbit bent on comforting someone.

“Be still Khaaz! You saw Baru barely a month ago before he left for the meeting. And what did you do with all of the cookies?” Bilbo herded Balin back to the table and settled him back in with a hot cup of cocoa and a plate of oatmeal cookies…with…pecans.

"What happened to your hand, brother?" Balin cooed in Khuzdul as he shamelessly mmmmed over a sip of cocoa and a bite of cookie.

“Nothing!” Nothing was wrong with Dwalin’s free hand as he snatched a cookie, or three, from the plate.

“Here. Hold still.” Bilbo reluctantly got a plate of cookies out of the oven. The dwarf king would have to skip dessert. He was late anyway, which was not at all respectable.

“Gladly. Watch the ‘dusters, Ambrose!” Dwalin sat at the table and pulled the second plate of pecan filled treasures away from Balin’s reach. He and Balin watched Bilbo pointedly ignore Brosi and Bofur who had come and sat at the other end of the table.

“And then Grimac said…” Brosi was relating the story of his newest recruit as several dwarves around him roared with laughter.

“Brosi, go collect the dwarven king from Lobelia’s garden.” Bilbo did not look up as he managed to unbuckle a knuckleduster.

“I did not lose him.” Brosi did not even turn to face Bilbo as he continued talking with Ori. The young scribe had never heard of the Shire Guard and was writing down copious notes.

“No. It is worse. The Shire Guard that you trained lost him! All the money that I pour into their training and supplies cannot make them better guards if you are slipshod.” Bilbo’s gentle and patient face was turning an angry red. Dwalin grunted as Bilbo yanked a bit too hard on a buckle. “The dwarf king is our guest. Go. Get. Him.”

Bilbo had not meant to be cruel, but the way that Brosi just slighted the dwarf king, in front of his subjects, none the less. This did not even cover respectability and how one was polite towards one’s guests. Even Gandalf seemed shocked that Brosi had been so rude. Bilbo knew that the pain in his hands and his returned headache were not helping, but Brosi could be a little more understanding. Bilbo did not seek out unbidden glimpses of the future or the pain that came with them.

Brosi was anything but understanding, as he had instead decided to turn a bright shade of purple. All joy at the familiarity of dwarves and seeing his family was gone. Brosi was still angry at Bilbo’s behavior earlier in the day. He could not believe Bilbo’s incredible rudeness front of family as well as guests. This was too much.

“You are living in an unrealistic daydream, a forgotten, crumbled cookie left at the bottom of the jar.” Brosi marched over and threw the newly freed jar onto the floor, glass shattering everywhere. “If anyone tries to extract you from your delusions, then you make certain that their hand is stuck in the jar. I can say that I am truly sick of being stuck with you. You are so unchanging that you are moldering.”

Dwalin was not fazed by this behavior. He had plenty of experience with both having a brother and managing dwarflings. He shoved the last cookie in his mouth and slid the plate over to Balin before getting up and buckling his knuckleduster in place.

“Ambrose, I will go with Brosi. Clean this mess up. I will also be expecting another plate of those cookies when I get back. Let’s go, hothead. The name Lobelia never brings good things to mind.” Dwalin grabbed Brosi by the collar and dragged him off.

----

Chapter Text

Thorin had to admit that Lt. Frondon was well trained in military bearing, or he was half Baggins. Was a hobbit marrying a dwarf respectable? Thorin would ask Balin after dinner, if he ever found the elusive place called Bag End.

“I cannot comment on a map that was not given to you by me nor is it still in your hand.” Lt. Frondon began for the tenth time as Thorin argued about faulty directions and the maze of roads around Hobbiton.

“The map is no longer in…pristine condition.” Thorin looked around. Surely Balin had the map. Where was Balin?

“Balin?” Thorin spun around. Great, no map, no advisor to help him with stubborn guards, and it was raining.

“Sir, you do not need a map. We have orders to escort you to your destination.” Lt. Frondon tried yet again. He would curse the dwarf and his obtuse race, but his own father was a dwarf. The guard could only be thankful that he took after his hobbit mother, from whom he had learned how to deal with difficult people. A patient woman she was, with six faunts, and a stubborn dwarf husband.

“How do you know me and my destination?” Thorin continued to look around. How had he misplaced his advisor? How did these people that he did not know have knowledge of his business?

“Mister Baggins requested that we bring his guests directly to his house for dinner. You are the only lost dwarf that we have come upon, Sir.” Lt. Frondon would have laughed if the dwarf did not wear such a scowl. Thorin was torn between searching his person for the map, twirling around to look at the landscape for Balin, and trying to appear imposing as he interrogated the Shire Guard.

“How do you know of my business? How much do you know?” Thorin was getting angry. It was Balin’s job to handle stubborn idiots with his silver tongue.

"He looks like a lost fauntling.” The new recruit, Marcus quietly snickered in Sindarin. Both Frondon and Thorin turned on him in fury.

“You are dismissed to quarters, recruit!” Lt. Frondon barked.

“But, Fro…“ Marcus broke down with a sob, frightened as the dwarf tried and failed to grab him. The other two guards placed themselves in between them as Frondon tried to keep Thorin’s attention.

“You have my sincerest apologies for my recruit’s behavior, Sir.” It was just bad luck that Marcus was on his first patrol when a rare dwarf who knew Sindarin came about. This dwarf obviously disliked elves, so why did he know one of their  languages? In any case, Frondon could not let Thorin kill his little brother. That would be his job in the morning, if Capt. Brosi let Frondon keep his own head.

“You are dismissed, recruit!” It was hard not to put the commanding edge to his voice as his little brother openly cried. Marcus gave Frondon one more beseeching look and shrank back as Thorin tried to grab him again. He dropped his spear and ran off down the lane.

“What is the meaning of this?” There was now nothing funny about Thorin’s manner.

“THAT is a fauntling, Sir.” Frondon was at the end of his hobbit patience as it lost to his own dwarven protective streak. “This was his first patrol. He will be dealt with in the morning. Mister Baggins insists that we learn Sindarin to deal effectively with elves that he has regular business with, not to belittle others. You have my sincerest apologies, Sir.”

Thorin watched Marcus disappear, then turned and looked at how all of the Shire Guard were glaring at him. Frondon had the air of a protective older brother, something altogether too familiar in Fili. He hid a small grin at the memory of some antics of his nephews over the years and took a deep breath. “You are well trained in diplomacy, Lt. Frondon. I do not know this Mister Baggins, but he is wise.”

“You are Mister Baggins guest if you are headed to Bag End.” Frondon wished that he was his father, with his impatience and battle ax. Neither Barlo, nor Alber wanted to deal with this Dwarf either. Let Capt. Brosi deal with him in the morning if he wanted to cause trouble.

“That is where I was headed.” Thorin nodded, oblivious to the fact that three dwobbits were deciding on whether anyone would notice if they accidentally brained him with a spear or two before depositing him at his destination.

“We have orders to escort you to Bag End. Please come with us, Sir.” Frondon’s voice was monotone, hiding his fury.

“I seem to have lost my advisor.” Thorin would not be surprised if at least one dwarf father wanted a “word” with him in the morning. Not for the first time did Thorin curse his Durin temper.

“We have a patrol to commence. When you are ready to proceed to Bag End, any of our patrols will gladly escort you there.” Frondon obviously lied through his teeth. No one wanted to help this dwarf after the fiasco with Marcus. The boy was barely of age for goodness sake! If they did not already know of a dwarf’s devoted love from their own fathers, they could easily call the dwarven race cruel by hobbit standards.

“Oh, bother.” Thorin now only felt ashamed and foolish as the quickest way out of the rain deliberately vanished down an unseen path through some hedges.

----

Ori did not know what happened. One minute Brosi was patiently answering his questions about the Shire Guard, interspersed with hearty laughter at tales of this recruit or that. The next moment Brosi turned into a purple ball of fury, smashing a jar on the floor.

“What happened? Did I say something wrong?” Ori turned towards Bofur, who was pale as Dwalin dragged Brosi away.

“He just turned on poor Mister Baggins.” Ori could not believe the anger directed at such a mild mannered person, especially a hobbit.

“Do not mind him, Ori.” Dori patted his brother’s arm in reassurance and went to find a broom. He was long used to Nori’s outbursts that cropped up only when Ori was not around. “I will help Mister Baggins, then he can answer some of your questions. He is not wearing any shoes; the glass will cut him.”

Ori was not convinced and turned to Nori who was seated in a corner of the room watching everything. He just nodded to Ori, but did not smile.

“Brosi has his mother’s fire, and her temper, he does.” Bofur found his mischievous smile and voice again before taking another tankard of ale, but his hand shook as he downed half of it in one gulp.

“A Took is unpredictable, and Belladonna Took was one of the most memorable.” Gandalf spoke, startling everyone but Nori. He had sat in plain sight, enjoying the festivities, yet had blended into the background as he watched Brosi and Bilbo. “They are also the most stalwart of friends. Belladonna was one of the best friends that I ever had the honor of knowing.”

“Did you know her, Mister Baggins?” Now intrigued by more information to add to the quest’s chronicles, Ori turned to Bilbo, who was puttering around collecting cookie ingredients in cupboards.

“I did not hear you. Sorry, what did you say, Ori?” Bilbo had been hustled into the kitchen by Dori, who was now muttering mother hen things as he swept glass shards into a dust pan. Ori was so young looking that Bilbo thought it would embarrass the dwarf if he addressed him as mister.

“Did you know Belladonna Took?” Ori was not certain about hobbit aging, though Bilbo looked middle aged. He would have to ask Nori later before adding a side note in the quest log.

“Belladonna was…” Bofur and Gandalf began together. They stopped, red faced. Ori made a mental note to question each further later on about this Belladonna Took. He had a feeling that she would take up a chapter, not just a line or two.

“We are related, but she died when I was very young. Gandalf would be able to tell you much more about her.” Bilbo glared at both in warning. His face softened as he glanced over to Balin.

“Where is Chroí? I have not seen him tonight.” Balin smiled brightly and changed the subject.

“Chroí.” Bilbo called. “I forgot all about him with all of the hustle and bustle today.” He put a tray of cookies in the oven and raced past the hunched over Dori. “Watch your head under the table, Mister Dori.”

“Watch for glass, Mister Baggins. I have not gotten this last little bit.” Wham! Dori was so intent on Bilbo that he smacked his head as he straightened up.

----

Everyone cringed even as they laughed uproariously at the loud bang. Bilbo just shook his head; even a dwarf with mothering tendencies had to be looked after. How were they going to survive a trip across the continent with a leader who could not even show up?

“Chroí, it is time for dinner.” Bilbo opened the back door. A large black and white bird ran inside.

“You are late.” The bird followed Bilbo to the kitchen. It took off and landed on Nori’s shoulder, picking at his elaborate hairstyle. “Pretty shine!”

“Hey! Give me back my bead!” Nori grabbed for the bird as it ran under the table with a bead in its beak.

“Is that a raven?” Oin looked around his boots, trying to see the bird clearly.

“It is a magpie; you are deaf, not blind.” Gloin punched his brother in the shoulder.

“I do not see any pie. What kind is it?” Oin looked around hopefully.

“I bought a few pies as well.” Bilbo offered loudly as Chroí hopped onto his arm.

“The feathered thief stole my bead.” Nori got up, one braid unraveling. Dori laughed a Hah! from his seat.

“I propose a trade then.” Bilbo smirked as he held out the bead. Nori always had to be Nori. “Shall we trade one shiny bead for one shiny box? I believe that you have something of mine.”

“Very well, I will trade a shiny for a shiny.” Nori grinned at Bilbo as he handed over a silver trinket box that he stole every time he visited Bag End. A now embarrassed Dori yanked Nori into the seat next to him, beginning a lecture as he repaired the braid.

“You have my apologies, Mister Baggins.” Dori began.

“It is nothing that my young Took cousins have not tried. Chroí has been trained to watch for…sticky hands.” Bilbo gave Chroí a strip of meat and reached to pet him fondly.

“Apologize, Nori.” Dori smacked Nori’s head. Bilbo stiffened as if he himself had been struck.

“It is no bother, Mister Dori. No harm done. Please forget the incident.” Bilbo managed to say through clenched teeth. Chroí climbed on his shoulder and snuggled close.

“As you wish, Mr. Baggins; nothing else will go missing.” Dori glared at Nori, who looked sheepish. Nori still could not figure out how the bird had seen him from outside. He eyed the feathered fiend warily as it eyed his hair beads again.

“How is it that you have a magpie, Mister Baggins?” Ori held out a hand tentatively. Bilbo smiled and let Chroí climb up Ori’s arm.

“A trader who lost most of his goods due to a capsized boat bartered for enough supplies to get home. Chroí was barely a day out of his egg when he fell out of the nest. The trader fed him and he imprinted on dwarves.” Bilbo let Ori feed Chroí who was now singing in Khuzdul.

“You traded valuable goods for a common bird?” Gloin roared in indignation. No wonder Oin had gone deaf!

“This variety of magpie is uncommonly intelligent.” Bilbo stopped and rubbed his head as if it pained him. He took Chroí from Ori.

“Sorry, Ori, but Brosi needs a bit of help.” Bilbo went to the back door. “Protect Brosi from Lobelia.” He whispered in Khuzdul before saying louder in Westron. “Bring Brosi home for dinner.”

“Chroí is hungry.” The bird sigh as Dori brought out the pie for Oin.

“Bring Brosi home quickly then.” Bilbo launched Chroí into the air and stared out into the night.

“Is everything alright, Bilbo?” Gandalf joined him. “I know that your cousin’s wife likes to use his position to cause trouble.”

“The night is still young, Gandalf, and full of trouble.” Bilbo now wished that his foresight had warned him about the trouble that Gandalf’s dwarves would bring. He would have gladly passed on the business to a competitor.

----

This is Chroí as a chick.                                                                         

source: projectnoah.org                                                                       

European Magpie

 

This is the adult Chroí.

source: discovermagazine.com

 

Chapter Text

Dwalin and Brosi were halfway to Lobelia’s house when Marcus ran up from a hidden path and plowed into Brosi. Both of their hearts were wrenched in pain as they saw the tear-streaked face.

“Marcus, what happened?” Brosi was pale. “Where is your brother?” Dwalin watched him barely control his own emotions.

“Just breathe a moment,” Dwalin spoke kindly to Marcus, but a hand squeezed Brosi’s shoulder. The hobbit and dwobbit both let out a huge breath.

“A mean old dwarf…Frondon tried and tried to be polite…” the dwobbit’s lip quivered, and he sniffed.

“Go on, lad.” Dwalin could see that the boy was terrified of him by the way that he clung to Brosi. But he trusted his Captain and answered in a shaky voice.

“I did not mean to say something wrong or disrespectful. The dwarf was just so funny. Now that dwarf will be mean to Frondon.”

“You were dismissed for speaking Sindarin.” A faraway look passed over Brosi’s face.

“He is going to hurt Frondon.” Marcus no longer cared about his dismissal, or his forgotten orders to go home. He had headed straight for Bag End to get Brosi.

“Where is your spear, Marcus?” Brosi concentrated on his recruit. Why had the dwarf king given him such a time? Marcus only wanted to better himself so that he could win the approval of his sweetheart’s parents.

“I…I…dropped it.” Marcus now stood at attention, waiting for his punishment. “I also failed to follow orders to go home.”

“You did well to find me. It was the right thing to do, and I could not be prouder of you for thinking for yourself.” Brosi was going to have a word or two with Thorin, king or no king.

“It was?” Marcus looked stunned, and then smiled with Brosi.

“As for the elven comment that started this, you need to learn to think before you speak.” Now Brosi put on the air of the Captain of the Shire Guard. Marcus’ lip trembled until Brosi gave him another reassuring smile. “You also need to learn to behave politely at all cost while in uniform.”

“Yes, Sir.” Marcus nodded, body held at attention.

“Go home and get a good night’s sleep. At dawn, you are to report to Postmaster Cotton, in full formal uniform.” Brosi had a faraway look. “Most of the boxes of seeds and trays of seedlings ordered from Gondor are coming in this week. His assistant is sick. You will report to him and be his assistant who delivers each and every box and tray.”

“Every box, Sir?” Marcus visibly wilted.

“And every tray. You will also be carrying your spear, so you will want to bring a cart to aid in your task. If your mother is agreeable, you may bring one or two of your younger siblings to help you. It will be good leadership training for you, Marcus.” Brosi patted his shoulder. “Go now.”

“Will we still have weapons training this week?” Marcus was visibly relieved at bringing extra hands to help.

“I must arrange a new schedule with one of the lieutenants. I will be detained for other matters for some time to come.” Brosi gave a sad smile as he watched Marcus drag his feet home. His father would not be as calm as Brosi had been.

“You handled the lad well.” Dwalin stepped forward again and followed Brosi as they continued. “It can be hard to teach a lesson without crushing their enthusiasm so early in training.”

“Marcus is one of only a handful that inherited a hobbit temperament. Most of my boys would have a fit at the idea of delivering seedlings. Beneath their dwarven heritage, they would say. That kind of attitude keeps our headquarters clean, and the weapons in the armory sharpened when farmers do not need help with repairs, chores, or harvesting crops.”

“It does.” Dwalin gave a gruff laugh. “I would prefer handling cocky recruits any day over Balin’s job of putting up with Thorin.”

“Your brother left at a bad time. Now we have political problems.” Brosi was not looking forward to recruit problems and Lobelia within minutes of each other, not at all.

“How is that?” Dwalin instinctively reached for his axes to find them still at Bag End.

“Otho Sacksville-Baggins is the hobbit liaison to Rivendell’s appointed Magistrate, Licas. He is a 2,000-year-old prude who does not like being a ‘Shire babysitter’ Lobelia makes more than good use of her husband’s influence. If your king has angered her and the Bounders or Shirriffs get the Rangers involved, your quest may be to see the Steward of Gondor.” Brosi switched to Khuzdul.

“The elves run things, and the men do the dirty work, huh?” Dwalin was not surprised.

“Elves never get their hands dirty.” Brosi looked around as a large black and white bird circled overhead. “Bother! Bilbo does his best to remind me who is in charge.”

“Chroí protect Brosi.” Chroí landed on Brosi’s outstretched hand. No matter his attitude, he still stroked the bird gently. “Chroí hungry. Bring Brosi home for dinner.”

“Not yet, Chroí. Go to Lobelia’s. Protect.” Brosi launched the bird before it could complain. “We will let Chroí do the dirty work for us. Then Lobelia will be ready to talk if she has found your king.”

“I doubt that a bird will still Thorin’s temper or his tongue.” Dwalin picked up his pace. Bilbo had better have lots of cookies made when he got back.

----

Thorin thought that things were looking up when the rain, sprinkles really, finally let up. He was not even wet; his cape had kept him dry. The problem was that he was alone in the dark that challenged even a dwarf’s night vision. There was also no sign of Balin, the Shire Guard, or any of the multitudes of hobbits that had been on the paths. Thorin suspected that word of his confrontation with the Shire Guard had spread like wildfire and everyone was avoiding him.

What had set Thorin off? He started to brood as he wandered yet another side lane. Thorin had decades of practice at being polite to the rudest of men. Was it that he was spoiled, letting Balin take care of most dwarven ire? Or was it this soft land with its equally pudgy and soft inhabitants that shied from the sight of his weapons?

Thorin chuckled. Was he jealous of those who had everything and had never had to fight for any of it, given a luxurious life by the elves? No. Thorin’s kind was hewn from the stone of mountains, made for a life that they created for themselves. Few dwarves settled with the hobbits for the promise of numerous offspring. It would have been nice not to have to fight for every scrap that Erebor’s refugees had; now it was all in danger because someone wanted Thorin’s head.

Reminded of the meeting with the other dwarf families, Thorin hung his head as he plowed through more hedges on yet another side trail. No matter how skilled Balin’s tongue, no matter how Thorin had swallowed his pride and plead for assistance, none would come. None would see the wisdom in retaking Erebor.

All of the delegates had had pleasant smiles and pledges of assistance for Ered Luin’s defense. Only Dain’s delegates held no smugness in their eyes at seeing Durin’s Folk groveling. None realized that something evil was amassing, that wanting Thorin’s head was the tip of the iceberg. None realized that the fall of the Longbeards would only be the beginning of the end for the dwarven race. Gandalf knew more than he was letting on, but the old wizard was right. They could not wait for whatever this evil was to take the first step. Thorin would not let his people fall.

Thorin stopped plodding along when his cape started to strangle him. The path had ended, and he had walked right into several large rose bushes by a round yellow door. This early in the spring there were no new leaves or blooms, but there were plenty of thorns that had caught his clothing. Bother! Thorin reached down to untangle himself.

“Go away! Go away, you mean dwarf!” Thorin was attacked by a broom when a hobbit shouted an unintelligible threat in Hobbitish Westron.

“Hey!” Thorin easily grabbed the broom and pulled it out of a young hobbit’s grip. “I was just lost.”

“Mama!” the boy only screamed bloody murder.

“Threaten my child, will you!” An unpleasant voice screeched, accompanied by a solid hit to Thorin’s head with something much harder than a broom. “Get the Bounders, Lotho.”

----

“Kili, sit back down. You are my taste tester.” Bilbo pointed to a chair and used his best authoritative voice.

“Fili gets to crack the eggs,” Kili whined as Fili showed off yet again, cracking open an egg into a bowl with one hand while stirring the batter with the other. Ori was reading a cookbook while pouring other ingredients into the bowl.

“I want to be the taste tester.” Bombur did not whine as he took yet another tray of cookies out of the oven. He was consigned to taking mixing bowls from Ori and scooping out cookie-sized lumps onto the pans.

“Dori, please keep Nori away from the silver cutlery,” Bilbo called as he set a plate in front of Kili. After yet another backslap, Bilbo was firm on knowing where the menace to luck hobbits was at all times. Relieved of Kili watching duty, Fili had become a bit overenthusiastic in helping Ori. Bilbo did not care, as long as Kili stayed put.

“Nori!” Dori slapped Nori’s head with a flour covered hand.

“I was making pie crust!” Nori howled in outrage. Neither bird nor hobbit had let him get away with anything. Bag End must be Dori’s dream come true.

“I saw that twitch of your hand and eyebrow. Now roll me out a dough circle that will cover this pie.” Dori finished putting berry filling into a waiting pie pan.

“I see that you have changed your mind about your guests.” Gandalf smiled as he roamed the house and saw dwarves assigned to various duties. Oin and Gloin were changing bed linens and setting out blankets and pillows on all available couches and settees. Bofur and Bifur were washing and drying baking pans, bowls, and utensils before they were once again put to good use making pies and cookies.

“Dwarves are industrious and hardworking, if properly motivated.” Bilbo shrugged as he glared at a Kili who was half standing. Kili just whined and plopped back down as another plate of cookies, and a piece of pie was pushed his way by a morose Bombur.

“The song they sang after the pantry's pie was all gone?” Gandalf relieved Kili of the pie slice.

“I hope Khaaz has a belly ache. It is not my fault that he ate everyone’s dessert.” Bilbo did not even try not to look smug. When a group of grown dwarves began to bang cutlery on the table and chant “We want pie! We want pie!” he had taken matters into his own hands.

Luckily, the tired and hungry dwarves had realized that all the assigned chores were for their benefit. Each tray going into the oven contained either a batch of cookies or a pie that was a particular dwarf’s favorite. All of them could also see the wisdom in a comfortable place to sleep as well, so things had gone without incident after they grew impatient at Thorin’s nonappearance.

“Where is Master Balin? Surely he wishes to help make his favorite pie or cookies?” Gandalf looked around, yet managed to smash his head on the chandelier yet again. Bilbo caught his pie plate before it fell to the floor.

“I will not taste test another piece of that pie just because Gandalf dropped his slice,” Kili called, and then groaned as Dori helpfully placed another cup of milk in front of the stuffed dwarf.

“Baru is in my study pouring over the supplies list. There is a stack of invoices to check and double check as the scribe for this Company. I do not want anyone disturbing him, as I would like to get paid a fair amount and Baru does not want to pay too much.” Bilbo began cleaning up the ruined pie off the floor.

“Here. Help yourself.” Kili rushed in with another plate for Gandalf, with two types of pie on it.

“Why thank you Kili.” Gandalf eyed the pie. “But I cannot eat blueberries.”

“KILI!” Bilbo just managed to avoid another backslap. Did the dwarf have to be so friendly?

“Sorry, Gandalf, I have to get back.” Kili quickly ran back to the kitchen, Bilbo hot on his tail.

“This adventure will be most amusing for me.” Gandalf chuckled as he went to pawn off the pie on Gloin or Oin.

----

Chapter Text

Thorin was not knocked unconscious, dwarves were made of sterner stuff than that. The very idea of being knocked out by a screeching little hobbit woman was distasteful. He could, however, fall and get impressively stuck in the rose bushes. As his vision cleared and the ringing in his ears lowered its volume, Thorin found that he could not get up.

“Calm yourself, ma’am. We will sort this out.” Voices surrounded Thorin. Lanterns were set down, lighting up the area as two Bounders knelt by the stuck dwarf.

Thorin idly wondered if mentioning Brosi would help in this situation; the Bounders had not tied him up. Both were busy cutting branches, working the thorn-covered menaces out of his clothing. It was clear that the Bounders had freed people from these bushes before; little was left of them when they threw away the last branch.

“Calm myself? How can I calm myself when that brute attacked my son? You will arrest him immediately.” Thorin would have been smashed in the head again with the shovel if yet another hobbit did not appear and grab the shovel.

“What is the meaning of this, Lobelia? What has happened?” This hobbit was dressed in silken clothes of elven style. Thorin groaned. Great, he had found the Magistrate’s Liaison.

“Otho, have the Bounders arrest this menace and haul him away. He attacked your son.” The voice got shriller as the hobbit embraced his wife.

“I did no such thing.” Thorin half rose and fell back down, hissing as the Bounders pulled thorns from his hands and a dozen other areas.

“Are you alright, Master Dwarf?” The two Bounders got Thorin free and hauled him to his feet, but kept a secure grip on him. Thorin would have laughed; normally he could easily lift both hobbits with one hand. At the moment, the world was too busy spinning wildly on its axis to focus on anything clearly. He flinched as he pulled the last thorn from his side, the symbolic irony not lost on him.

“Bombs away!” An odd voice cried out from above as rocks rained down from the sky. The screeching, now screaming, female hobbit ran into her home as a black and white blur flew over, doing its best to peck at her.

“Otho, do something. Kill that blasted bird once and for all.” Lobelia pulled her son inside and slammed the door shut.

“Bombs away!” More rocks were pelted at the Bounders, but their feather tipped hats sheltered them.

“Let go! Let go!” Chroí landed on Thorin’s shoulder. “Protect.”

“I assume that you are Mr. Baggins’ lost a dwarven guest.” The suddenly amused Bounders let Thorin go as Chroí pecked at them.

“I was invited to Bag End, yes. I have important business there.” Thorin freed his cloak with a loud rip. The bird that had inexplicably landed on him holding on for dear life as he almost toppled over again.

“Chroí hungry. Feed Chroí.” The affectionate pile of feathers actually rubbed its head against Thorin’s cheek before pecking at a Bounder who reached to steady its perch.

“What has happened here?” An authoritative voice rang out. The hobbit, Brosi, in Shire Guard uniform appeared with a furious looking Dwalin.

“All of you get away from him, you clods!” Dwalin roared as he shoved the Bounders aside like rag dolls. He steadied Thorin and looked him over as Brosi spoke with the Bounders and the Liaison.

“I do not care what you want to do. There will be no investigation, no mention of this in your weekly report to the Steward. This is Shire Guard business, not something for the meddling Bounders to get involved in.”

“Captain Brosi, Mrs. Sacksville-Baggins will not let this rest.” The senior Bounder, by his three hat feathers, looked miserable. Anything involving Shire Guards, especially Brosi, got Bilbo Baggins personal attention. No one in the Shire wanted a confrontation between Lobelia and Bilbo.

“Brosi, his head is cut open.” Dwalin held up a blood covered hand. Usually, the warrior would have ripped off a few heads by now, but Thorin held him off. They watched Brosi try to handle this discreetly. They both knew that the quest must be quiet and unnoticed.

“Otho, we will handle this as family business.” Brosi glared at his cousin in warning. Otho had the authority to dismiss the Bounders. Otho did not want a second confrontation this year between Bilbo and his wife.

“I do not want my wife brought up on charges of assault.” Otho actually did not want the new dam confrontation brought back up in his home. No Ranger would dare arrest the Liaison’s wife. Elves did not like to get involved in petty quarrels, which was just about everything Hobbit related to this Magistrate.

“Brosi, his ear is bleeding, profusely.” Dwalin hollered and growled at the Bounders.

“Your guardsmen abandoned your dwarf, Brosi.” the senior Bounder glared back at Dwalin.

“This is still Shire Guard business, with the Thain Council in charge of us, not your Rangers. I will handle my men and report to the Council myself.” Brosi dare not look at Dwalin and Thorin as he focused on Otho.

“Cousin, give us reparations now, and this is over.”

“Reparations! What are you talking about, Brosi? Your men…”

“Dismiss the Bounders, Otho.” Brosi got a look on his face that Otho had only ever seen accompanied by Bilbo rushing to contain whatever reckless behavior his brother had learned from dwarves. There were also two very angry dwarves, one of them injured under suspicious conditions by his own wife.

“No mention of this will reach your superiors, the logs, or the Steward’s ear.” Otho dismissed the Bounders with an elven flourish of his hand. “The Magistrate has no time for family quarrels.”

“The dam business was hardly a…” The junior Bounder was astonished. “There’s been an injury here!”

“You have your orders, Grimel.” The senior Bounder bowed to Otho and dragged away from his peer. He had no wish to face the Magistrate personally ever again. No one did after one meeting.

“Excellent, Otho.” Brosi had no qualms about using Bilbo’s influence when the situation called for it. “Now go inside and bring me out two luck hobbit talismans and the paperwork.”

“Brosi!” Otho was shocked. His elven snobbishness was forgotten, even if Brosi talking to him like a raw recruit was highly disrespectful. “Only the Magistrate can…”

“He is here because Elrond cannot stand the prude. Everyone knows that Licus cannot be bothered with hobbit affairs. Two injuries equal two talismans. Do not forget the proper seals. I know that you handle them.”

“The Took Thain must approve of all luck hobbit assignments, Brosi.” Otho would not be so easily bullied over such a prize. Frequently three large chests of gold would be handed over for just one luck hobbit talisman.

“I have both my grandfather’s and uncle’s permission for two hobbits of this dwarf’s choice, based on my agreeing as an experienced luck hobbit.” Brosi shoved a document at his now wary cousin. The Shire Guard Captain was visibly itching to draw his sword.

“I do not play games, Otho.” Brosi snarled in a way that made Dwalin proud. “Get me what I want, now. Shut your infernal wife up so that no one hears of this again. Do what I say, and this problem will melt away.”

“Very well, though I will not be responsible for any trouble resulting from this blackmail.” Otho looked over the paper and went inside, defeated. No one could go against the Old Took when he so rarely involved himself in Shire business. Even Licus was wary of him.

Right now Otho was terrified of the remnants of Brosi’s temper. Otho had seen the last victim of Brosi‘s anger at a disciplinary hearing. A rowdy group had refused to leave the Ivy Bush Inn, engaging a Shire Guard patrol to boot. A new recruit had nearly been stabbed with his own spear, with Brosi easily disarming the drunken dwarf. It had taken all of the other guardsmen to pull their Captain off of the dwarf.

The poor sod would have a pronounced limp the rest of his life, but Brosi had shown no remorse at the hearing. The still enraged hobbit had tried for the dwarf a second time when he saw his recruit walk into the Thain Council room with a bandaged head. Otho would never forget the sight of a dwarf with two broken legs trying to get up and run away.

A few minutes later Otho came out and shoved a sealed envelope at Brosi. “Do not open this until you are well away from here. All favors that I owe you or your brother are paid in full.” Otho glared at Brosi’s grin and slammed the door shut to deal with his screeching wife.

Brosi tucked the envelope out of sight in his uniform and finally forced himself to face the dwarves. “How is he?”

“He will live,” Dwalin smirked as Thorin shook off his supporting arm.

“A touch of luck will mend you up until you have better, Majesty.” Brosi felt Chroi land on his shoulder and soothe him.

“Chroí protect Brosi. Brosi bring Chroí home for dinner.”

“We will go home for dinner.” Brosi agreed as he took whatever Bilbo had attached to Chroí and used it to shore up his near panicking mind. With a deep breath, he felt the false calm that he would experience for just long enough to get home.

“Let us see to your head, Majesty.” Strengthened, Brosi reached up to seal Thorin’s wounds.

----

Balin took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. He had had no worry of being cheated or of Bilbo making a mistake. Yet, Balin had gone over the supply list three times, and it terrified the warrior in him more than the price did the scribe in him.

There was no faulting Bilbo on the provisions that he had provided. It was precisely as Balin had hoped for: a well-provisioned group that did not have to stop for some time in towns or villages. The provisions would be packed so that two dray ponies could carry them; the Company would not be weighed down, as speed was of the essence.

What scared Balin was that Bilbo could sense the urgency of the quest. No one had told his son of the details of the journey, yet Bilbo knew. If Bilbo’s foresight could detect the nature of the quest, then so could Rivendell’s elves with the help of their bonded foresight hobbits.

Balin would have to speak with Thorin on this matter. They had a hard-earned home in the Blue Mountains. Surely Thorin would not risk over a century’s worth of struggle for an arrested at best, suicidal at the worst mission. What could have been so dire to have forced Thorin’s hand?

----

Chapter Text

Thorin was happy to sit down on a patch of dry ground. Without Dwalin’s help, he would have crashed to his knees. He did not know why a simple crack in the head was so disorienting. Small hands tugged on and wiped one ear gently.

“The amount of luck in the Shire is a bit overwhelming to you, Majesty. Perhaps it is the sheer number of luck hobbits overwhelming the luck wearer in you. A fair group of them can cause noticeable disorientation to those not used to it. Many a luck wearer has ended up in Tuckborough by mistake. A few of my less than polite cousins there have contests of who can spot the most luck wearers first.” Brosi held up the lantern that he had taken from a Bounder and examined Thorin’s head as he spoke.

“It was that rose bush that did me in.” Thorin would have chuckled if he did not just then feel a touch of luck and popping noise. He would have bolted upright if Dwalin was not holding his shoulders steady.

“Another luck wearer will have to help with this ear, but the bleeding has stopped.” Brosi was too pale even in the lamplight. He exhaled forcibly before wiping the blood from a gash behind Thorin’s ear.

“What are you doing?” Thorin roared and managed to knock over Dwalin and himself after a cold dart of luck sealed his head wound. It felt like a sharp icicle was being forced into the wound.

“Hold still, Majesty.” With more strength than Thorin would have attributed to him, Brosi pulled the angry dwarf king back down. This time a soft handkerchief was the only thing he felt when the last traces of blood were cleaned from his head and face. “I apologize, Majesty; most luck wearers do not feel the cold.”

“It is a hobbit, Thorin, not an orc,” Dwalin smirked as he grunted his approval of the tended cut.

“I would choose Oin stitching me up any day.” Thorin got up, the disorientation gone. Instead, he felt a sense of controlled panic nearby and a faraway annoyed feeling mixed with something indescribable.

“We should get back before we draw more attention. I do not want my boys in a confrontation with the Bounders.” Brosi picked up the lantern and motioned for Thorin and Dwalin to follow. They could hear several bodies dressed in armor following them at a discreet distance.

Of course, Brosi’s men would not leave their Captain unattended. Dwalin smirked again at the thought of Otho avoiding a Bounder vs. Shire Guard skirmish over Thorin. That would have almost been worth the price of their quest coming to light. “Draw more attention? The place is crawling with nosy and gossipy hobbits. You are more aggravating than any amount of cookies could allay, Thorin.”

“Hobbits,” Thorin growled and had to trot to catch up to Brosi. He was sick to death of the annoying creatures. Morning could not come too soon.

----

“Bilbo, how again is it the cookies and pies are done in minutes?” Bombur handed Kili the last plate of cookies to taste. No matter how Bilbo explained it, the idea of using luck as insulation to cook things faster never made sense.

“No more. No more.” Kili covered his mouth and ran for the washroom.

“Luck is all that a good cook needs, Mr. Bombur,” Fili smirked as he took his plate of sugar cookies. “Right, Ori?”

“Hmm?” Ori sat at the table with his favorite pie. “Oh, yes. Delicious.”

“Do not talk with your mouth full, Ori,” Dori mumbled around his own mouth full of walnut crowned snickerdoodles.

“Baker’s secret, Uncle Bombur.” Bilbo was happy that ten dwarves were happily and quietly seated as they finished their desserts.

“Everyone, I know that you plan on filling the evening with song and good cheer, but do get a good night’s sleep. Your ponies will be ready to leave an hour before dawn, so we will be eating breakfast the hour before.” Bilbo did not miss Fili’s groaned Khuzdul curses and the rather crude Iglishmêk signs that Bifur chose to use.

“I will have breakfast ready in plenty of time.” Bombur glared at any unhappy faces. He was used to rousing his own sleepy brood each morning. Even Bilbo nodded and acknowledged that Bombur was firmly in charge in the morning. Having kept his uncle away from the taste testing would ensure that everyone was up on time as he cooked his sorrow away with a hearty breakfast.

The boy is too smart for his own good, manipulating us to get what he wants. Bifur signed curtly to Bofur, yet pride gleamed in his eye. His student had learned all that he had taught him.

“You are horrible.” Bofur punched his cousin’s arm, but he had no smile as he watched Bilbo leave the room.

----

“Kili, are you alright?” Bilbo knocked on the door of the washroom. Hurling noises followed by groans answered.

“I am not coming out until every trace of pie, every crumb of cookie is gone.” There was a click as the door locked.

“Understood.” Bilbo chuckled and continued on to the next door and knocked.

“Baru?” The door was halfway open, but he still waited until there was an answer.

“Come in, Ambrose.” Balin was sitting by the fire, the papers on the desk forgotten. Alarm rose in Bilbo; Balin only used his dwarven name when there were pressing matters to discuss.

“Barufunh? Are you ill?” Bilbo hurried over, sorry that he had not checked on Balin earlier. The last thing that the old dwarf had needed was to get soaked in the rain after a long and tiring journey.

“Your Baru is not so old or decrepit yet, Bilbo. You are a good son who has taken good care of me.” Balin motioned him to join him with a half sad, half proud smile.

“Is there something wrong with the papers, Baru? I know that I was in a hurry…” Bilbo felt like a fauntling again, trying to learn Khuzdul or Sindarin under Balin’s patient tutelage.

“No. You still use my system of organizing, I was proud to see.” Balin turned to the fire. “It is the price.”

“I see.” Bilbo waited patiently, a hard-learned habit.

“The food is pricey, but your costs were high as well, I imagine. I see the supplies as fairly priced for the season and on such short notice. I doubt Gandalf gave you much time.” Balin seemed to be leading into a sensitive subject with his diplomatic skills. “The horses are the problem. We could afford one or maybe two luck ponies, but you have equipped the entire Company with them.”

Bilbo could read past Balin’s calming smile. “The ponies can be returned at the end of the journey if you do not want them. The invoice just lists their value for if such information is needed. They belong to you now. You know that I would never hesitate to give you what you need.” He would never shortchange any of his family with less than the best that he had to offer.

“Ambrose, tell me what you know of this journey. Even the two dray ponies are one of your luck pony breeds. How you have equipped us has me concerned.” Actually, Bilbo giving away any of his ponies alarmed Balin.

“There have been stories this past winter from the Rangers of orcs raiding farther into men’s lands than ever before in recent memory, yet it was a mild winter. I hosted a luck hobbit cousin a month ago who lost half of his companions while traversing the Misty Mountains. Goblins are far bolder than any have ever seen. A few men have even whispered in taverns in Bree about a sighting or two of trolls far from their northern home.”

“We have heard much the same this past winter. Still, Bracas steeds would do for us. We are a small group, Ambrose. Luck horses would also stand out.” Concern filled the fire’s reflection in Balin’s eyes.

“All of the Shire horses that leave with caravans now have luck pony clips.” Bilbo shook his head, terror at an unknown welling up. “It was an effective way to stop horse thieves stupid enough to think that a luck pony can be stolen.”

“Bilbo…” Balin tried once again, seeing his son in such pain tore his heart.

“I have no words for the danger that this group faces, Baru. If you insist on going, you will need those ponies. Please trust me. Take all that I try to offer you.” Bilbo began to weep and wrapped his arms around Balin. “I will not lose my family. I will not.”

----

After all of the fuss to actually get Thorin to Bag End, his arrival was almost anticlimactic. Yes, the Company came to heartily greet their king, but Dwalin snorted at Thorin chiding Gandalf over his lousy directions. Then there was yet another fussy hobbit to deal with before he could even have dinner. Did the Fates wish to torment Thorin the entire time that he was in the Shire?

“Lost.” Dwalin harrumphed as the annoying hobbit spoke of cookies and shooed the suddenly overeager dwarf away to the kitchen. Brosi, well…the only hobbit with some dwarven common sense disappeared into another room with the sound of a slammed door.

“So this is the dwarf.” the hobbit who had opened the door smirked in a purposely rude way. Thorin could see right from the start that this hobbit hated him. Could he sense a feeling of righteous anger coming from the creature as well? What had Thorin done in his lifetime for the entire Shire to hate him on sight? Even the blasted plants had it in for Thorin, as the multitude of stinging cuts reminded him.

“Bilbo, Thorin is your guest, your freely invited guest if you recall,” Gandalf warned, but Bilbo was long past being a patient and polite host to his dwarven guests.

This insufferable dwarf was the reason for Brosi coming home just now with his emotions in ruined tatters. This dwarf was the source of all of the danger that he could sense. Bilbo’s head ached terribly just at the sight of Thorin, let alone his hands that had been hurting the entire evening since Balin had arrived. Something was very, very wrong here.

“He looks like…” Thorin circled Bilbo, obviously unimpressed and not above rudeness after the hobbit‘s precedent. There was no way that this hobbit was the burglar that Gandalf had in mind.

“For your information, that is exactly what my occupation is, a grocer. I have outfitted your Company for your travels, good Sir.” Bilbo was not above throwing Baggins’ respectability into the mix of taunting remarks. It was the Baggins in him that wanted to push this dwarf away from the Shire, far from his family.

“What is your weapon of…?” Perhaps this hobbit was a burglar; his temperament was feisty enough, as was his resemblance to Brosi. Maybe they were close kin, and thus both useful to Thorin. He smirked at that idea as he circled the hobbit.

“…choice? Ax or sword? Neither really.” Bilbo made certain that Thorin could feel a pressing heaviness of luck charged with anger. He made certain that the dwarf could feel Brosi’s emotions battering at Bilbo as his brother fought to bring them under control. Bilbo was a master at making one’s abilities into disadvantages, especially a luck wearer who was currently wearing and being affected by both Brosi’s and Bilbo’s luck.

Thorin easily flicked aside suddenly conflicted emotions aside; he had survived countless times by ignoring distraction. When Gandalf interrupted the hobbit’s thought train with another useless warning, Thorin grabbed Bilbo’s hand. No one could hide the signs of daily life that were found on one’s hand.

“Let go.” Bilbo whimpered and fell to his knees as he felt his own assault slam into him. He desperately grabbed at Thorin’s ability to push distractions away, barely managing to not cry out in pain as the dwarf king studied his hand.

“Bother.” Thorin shook his head. It did not help; his vision was being affected by his head injury. One moment Thorin noted calluses speaking of hard work, the next moment his vision was blurry, the hand soft and unmarked. Bilbo Baggins was a useless gentlehobbit if anything. Thorin had no doubt that the rude hobbit had done nothing more than order his lackeys to scrounge up supplies as he sat by a warm fire drinking tea.

“A grocer indeed.” Thorin laughed with a few of the others and went in to finally have dinner. He smiled as he handed Kili his cape and listened to his nephew’s complaints about dessert.

“Bilbo, you are as infuriating as Thorin,” Gandalf growled as he stormed off, to collide with the chandelier once again. It was promptly yanked free from the ceiling and tossed aside.

“Gandalf, you will fix that. Why you…” Indignation caused Bilbo to forget the pain as he took off after yet another destructive guest. No wonder the meddlesome wizard liked the dwarves, they shared infuriating habits.

----

Chapter Text

Bilbo collected his scattered thoughts as he watched Thorin settle down for dinner. With his head injury making his stomach queasy, Thorin had asked for stew. Bombur worked his culinary magic, making some with the remains of the meal and the timeliness of a Took influenced oven.

It had been his own fault that Thorin’s grip had hurt him so severely, Bilbo grumbled as he rubbed his head. Only a fool forgot the traits of the one they were trying to influence, or in this case, torture into leaving. It had been his own fault that he had been distracted enough to let Thorin grab him.

This was not a good night, no it was not. Everyone was making fundamental mistakes. Was the dwarf king strong enough to affect everyone so?

Bilbo peered at Thorin more closely, and felt remorse wash over him as the dwarf only ate stew. He carefully sorted through all of the impressions that had been shoved into his head. The elven trained part of his mind made a mental list of injuries and treatments. The injuries were not serious, but Bilbo would need a luck wearer to help him.

“Is Dain with us?” Dwalin’s voice brought Bilbo out of his musings. He was looking at his brother with crossed arms. Balin sigh and refused to meet Dwalin’s questioning gaze. Bilbo just managed to not rush to his father’s side. It would not be proper to interrupt now.

“They will not come. We will be alone on this journey. It is ours and ours alone. We will only have each other.” Thorin avoided the looks of betrayal in the older dwarves faces and the outrage in the younger ones. His appetite was gone, but he forced more stew into his mouth for a reason to not look up. Then a strange feeling had him glancing sideways.

The rude hobbit was peering around the doorway, spying on him. Thorin would happily throw his bowl and a few Khuzdul curses at the irritant, but the hobbit’s expression was one of grief, even remorse. Thorin felt odd for a moment as someone used luck to push away his nauseous feeling. Then Gandalf began his expected presentation of something wizardly. The Istari did so love to spring a surprise at the lowest of times.

“Bilbo, bring a lamp if you would be so kind.” Gandalf pulled out an ornate key, and the show began.

----

“You want this useless puffball to be our burglar?” Thorin wondered who was more suicidal, him or Gandalf.

“Me as what?” The hobbit was in agreement with Thorin for once; clearly, Gandalf wanted them all dead.

“He will do just fine.” Kili was his usual forgiving self. How could the boy so quickly be taken with a useless hobbit? Especially one who had tortured him with desserts of all things. How was that even possible?

“I agree with you, brother,” Fili spoke up, deliberately meeting Thorin’s stare. “Mr. Baggins will do very well as our burglar.”

This was indeed a surprise. Thorin had carefully drilled into Fili’s head how to read a person and size them up. They had never had such a difference of opinion on first impressions before. Perhaps Thorin had missed something important while being stuck in a bush.

“You do not have to consider yourself responsible for my safety. It is clear that I am not a fauntling.” Bilbo leaned in to get a closer look at the map as Thorin tried to discreetly tell Gandalf something eerily similar. Thorin had definitely missed something earlier, actually, several somethings, as his mind just now recalled their first conversation.

“Give him the contract.” Thorin took the scroll from Balin and used it to push Bilbo out of his way. He had definitely missed several somethings if the amused expression on Gandalf’s face was a clue.

“Hobbits are light on their feet, nearly invisible if they so chose to be…” Gandalf began.

“Why should I care if a dragon has never smelled hobbit before, Gandalf?” Bilbo admirably kept from screeching out the words.

“Please read the contract, Bilbo.” Gandalf merely kept smiling at Thorin. Yes, something was definitely amiss with this hobbit.

“What are you trying to sneak into my Company, wizard?” Thorin growled.

“Sounds fair…Lacerations…Incineration? Gandalf!” Bilbo’s full wrath turned on the wizard.

“It is a fair contract, Bilbo.” Balin interrupted. “It includes funeral expenses, remunerations, payment upon delivery.”

Thorin was amazed to see the change in the hobbit as Bilbo turned to Balin, fury forgotten as worry filled the hazel eyes covered by dark curls. “As favorable as a contract for a suicidal mission can be, Master Balin.”

“Watch your tongue, lad.” Dwalin of all people chastised the hobbit. What exactly had Thorin missed in the time that he was late?

“It is Smaug the Terrible.” Bofur of all people joined in. “Greatest travesty of this age.” He began expounding on incineration in great detail. Thorin would stop him, but the hobbit was eying him instead of Bofur. The dwarven king was surprised when the hobbit began to hyperventilate.

How was that possible? Thorin could somehow feel amusement from the weird little creature. Was this an act? Yes. Bilbo had the same expression that Kili would wear when he lied through his teeth about breaking something.

Bilbo could not believe his luck. Bofur of all people was helping him. There was no way that the dwarf would be pleased that his own son was afraid of facing a dragon. No matter their broken relationship, Bilbo ran with this opportunity. He did an impressive swan dive to the floor, he was proud to think. The pride made up for the rather painful whack to his head; the rug was not as thick as he would have liked.

----

Thorin got up, but Dori sat him back down with a firm hand. The dwarf had become fond of the hobbit and took charge of seeing to Bilbo being put in a chair with calming tea to recover. Thorin observed the hobbit; he could swear that he could still feel amusement wafting from the prone figure. Nori, who had been commandeered to help move the hobbit, gave Thorin an amused smirk and a wink. It was all a ruse, but what for? Thorin felt suddenly cornered.

“You will want to have someone look at that ear.” Bofur tapped Thorin’s shoulder for the third time. “Your head has a nasty gash as well.”

“What?” Thorin felt his head and could not deny that the bleeding had begun again. Brosi had said that his touch of luck would work only until they got better. What was better? Thorin started to look around for Oin.

“Would you come with me a moment, Thorin?” Balin helped Thorin to his feet. Thorin had to remind himself that he trusted Balin; the old dwarf was as much up to something as the hobbit had been.

“Let’s go.” Dwalin “assisted” Balin in “escorting” the now alarmed dwarf into a room that appeared to be a study. Thorin was sat on a chair at a desk.

“Where is Oin?” Thorin tried, but he knew he was well and truly caught.

“We will have you fixed up in no time.” Balin then fled the room.

“Here we are. Nori brought in towels, a basin of water, and a sewing kit. The idea of Nori being involved in any way did nothing to help Thorin’s anxiety.

----

“Bilbo Baggins, you have sat quietly long enough.” Gandalf puffed himself up for yet another dramatic speech.

“Tell me all about it if you would, Gandalf.” Bofur appeared. “A parent knows to accept advice from a wise friend.”

“Bullroarer Took is an impressive ancestor to have.” Bilbo let Bofur take his seat, looking expectantly for the wizard to continue.

 “Why I, Bofur…”

“Come come; tell me what my son has been up to.” Bofur had a firm grip on Gandalf’s sleeve as the wizard’s eyes followed the escaping Bilbo.

----

“Anything else you will be needing?” Nori gave Thorin an evil grin as the hobbit came into the room, apparently suffering no ill effects of any kind.

“Dwalin…” Thorin eyed his seemingly useless bodyguard and supposed friend.

“Just sit there and brood.” Dwalin actually glared at Thorin. “Bilbo just took the attention off of you, to save your pride. Unless you want to tell a certain story about a bush.”

“It scares me when you are working with Nori, Dwalin.” Thorin glared at Bilbo, any swan dives to save Thorin’s pride going unappreciated.

“Dori.” Bilbo did not hesitate. “Thorin does not trust me in the least. Ori will also need Bombur and Bifur’s help to keep Fili and Kili occupied. Have them go look at the horses in the stables.”

“Fili is the stronger luck wearer.” Nori looked Thorin’s head over carefully. “That ear will be tricky.”

“Fili does not have your experience. He may even panic since Thorin is afraid.” Bilbo began parting Thorin’s hair to see the wound.

“I fear no measly hobbit.” Thorin got up, to have Dwalin pin him back in his seat by his shoulders.

“Get Dori and let us finish this,” Dwalin growled. “Sit down, Thorin, and let the hobbit fix your thick head.”

“What is wrong? Oh, dear.” The mother henning Dori soon became the Dori who was the strongest member of the Company as he helped Dwalin to pin Thorin to his seat.

“What is the plan?” Nori soon returned. “Fili will not feel a thing at the stables.”

“You will feel it,” Bilbo warned. “We will fix this ear first. Oin can then sew him up if he gives us too much trouble.”

“Just do what you need to.” Dori gripped Thorin even tighter.

“Do I not get a say in this?” Thorin winched.

“You may leave at any time.” Bilbo stepped back. “Oin can stitch up your head, and you can enjoy vertigo for the next three months as your ruptured eardrum heals. I can say with certainty that orcs would be thrilled to meet you in a skirmish. I do hope that you do not mind delaying your trip while you go back to the Blue Mountains to heal up.”

“Brosi fixed my ear.” Thorin knew it was a lame excuse. Bilbo crouched down and stared intensely into his eyes.

“Brosi does not have the training to fix your ear, just to patch it up. Your patch is gone, and the wound needs to be repaired, unless you would prefer having a ruptured eardrum. This wound is your own fault anyway, Master Dwarf.”

“My name is Thorin.” The dwarven king stared back just as intensely. He saw compassion and worry, all traces of hatred gone. It was clear that the news that Thorin brought grieved the hobbit as much as any of the Company. “Call me Thorin.”

Bilbo turned away without comment on the friendly overture. “Nori, can you sense a good tune?”

“Aye, a good one.” Nori gripped Thorin’s hands and began to hum about misty mountains and gold. As Bilbo’s humming joined the tune, Thorin’s mind became a vast canvas, the song painting a vivid picture.

When Thorin looked around, he was no longer in the study. He was standing by a fireplace with a pipe, singing the song that still reverberated in his bones. The other dwarves were standing or coming into the room, adding more detail to the vivid picture in his mind.

----

Chapter Text

Brosi sat with Chroí for some time, feeding the bird bread and meat that Bilbo left at the door without a word. He stroked the iridescent feathers, calming himself as he concentrated on the simple act of breaking bread and meat into chunks one by one.

When Chroí was finished, Brosi forced himself to get up and gather clothes and things for a bath. He and Bilbo had learned long ago that concentrating on mundane and predictable routines gave one a much needed sense of control. Control was something that Brosi had felt less and less of over the past months as he grew bored, but worse yet, had watched Bilbo grow angrier and angrier.

Brosi did resent Bilbo’s heavy handed ways, but he had to admit that Bilbo loved him dearly. Brosi also knew the headaches and grief that Bilbo faced head on to protect Brosi from the brunt of the Shire’s politics. He saw the emotional pain the day that Bilbo somehow had his disciplinary hearing dismissed. He saw the physical pain that Bilbo endured daily to provide for Brosi and his boys as the hobbit tried to get the best fees for supplying travelers.

The best fees were only secured when Bilbo outfoxed other Baggins companies that had sprung up after relatives saw the money to be had. Bilbo had to foresee to identify potential customers and meet with them before others did. Brosi winched at the memories of Bilbo struggling home to collapse in bed after competing with those unencumbered by cursed elven bands.

“Why does he do it, Chroí?” Brosi looked over his discarded armor, armor bought with pain. “Why do I protect those who do not care a thing for us?”

“Chroí pretty bird.” The now full Chroí simply roosted on a bookcase and tucked its head under a wing to sleep.

“We all need a purpose.” Brosi easily recalled Bifur’s often repeated mantra. “Bilbo needs to care for me, and I need to care for my boys. The Shire Guard gives my boys opportunity without having to go to Ered Luin settlements for work.”

It was a shame that short sighted hobbits often refused to employ such dedicated, hard workers for fair wages, if at all. Dwobbits were not as stout as dwarves, but they were stronger than any hobbit. Brosi had had no trouble finding volunteers to help organize the beginning corps that eventually became the dedicated and proud Shire Guard.

Brosi shook his head of memories and collected his things for his bath. There were dwarven guests to drink and make cheer with. Having his father and uncles all here as well was also helping pull Brosi from his emotional state. Bifur would be worried, wanting to talk to Brosi in depth later. He did not mind; Bifur was one of few here in the Shire who could relate. One of the things that angered Brosi the most about Bilbo was that his older brother was not infallible like he was supposed to be. Bilbo could not relate to Brosi’s loss and the horrors that he had been through. He could only send for their uncle when Brosi was in his darkest time.

I miss you, Niriel.” Brosi whispered in Khuzdul quietly as he heard a commotion in the kitchen. “My love, I miss you so.

----

Thorin did not move one bit as Bilbo tied the last suture. The dwarf king’s eyes were clouded, as clouded as Nori’s as they sang the haunting song. Dwalin and Dori carefully stood both up and led them from the room. After they left, Bilbo collapsed onto a chair, head between his knees.

Bilbo cursed the bands as he caught his breath and sat up. The dwarven song reverberated in him as all of them began to sing in another room. What was going on?

No matter, Bilbo had responsibilities to take care of. The bands stayed; Elrond had warned him that with the Shire’s luck and his Took half that Bilbo would go insane without them. There was also a wedding tomorrow; cousin Daisy was getting married to another distantly related Took, one born and raised in Gondor. Bilbo pulled out papers to transfer ownership of the colt that he was giving them as a wedding gift.

“Bilbo, you should go with them.” Brosi came in to the study, untangling wet hair. He hid his alarm at how pale Bilbo looked. The sight quelled any regret that he had over what he had done.

“Steal from a dragon, no less?” Bilbo put his papers down and picked up the contract that someone had so thoughtfully put on his desk. It was probably Bofur; his father hated him for more reasons than Bilbo could count.

“The Shire is killing you, brother.” Brosi looked over the contract. He had heard the last part of Gandalf’s presentation from the tub. “You have handled the Thains for years, but you are not the only successful Baggins’ business anymore. The Thains only wait for you to miss one step; a step Lobelia almost made you take.”

“Lobelia got a pittance of foresight from a Baggins great grandmother and even less weather sense from her poor Gamgee grandmother that was forced into a marriage to that awful Olin Bracegirdle.” Bilbo had hated Lobelia on sight the day that Licus brought her as Otho’s new bride. The feeling was mutual after Lobelia tried and failed to get Bilbo involved in her farming ventures.

“Otho has come into his own as the new Magistrate’s Liaison.” Brosi knew that even an older faunt could read what would happen this summer. “Licus trusts him as he has trusted no other. More and more farmers are going to Lobelia for advice on planting their crops.” Brosi talked as he picked up more papers and read them.

“Otho is fair, and he is our cousin.” Bilbo yawned and laid his head on the desk.

“Lobelia is his wife, and he loves her more than he loves trouble causing relatives.” Brosi made himself remember the anger that had him get the papers earlier today from the Thains. He had gotten the decree out of anger, and anger was easy to bring up to block regret.

“Brosi, I do not have the energy to argue. Besides, we have a merry band of guests tonight. Go out and enjoy yourself.” Bilbo could hear cheers as another barrel of ale was opened and a hearty song begun in Khuzdul.

“Bilbo, do not to forget to sign the transfer of ownership for the colt.” Brosi stuck the contract under Bilbo’s nose, concentrating as he had not done in years.

“Thank you, Brosi.” Bilbo barely lifted his head and scrawled his name. “I will wake you in plenty of time to get ready.”

“Thank you, Bilbo.” Brosi quickly put the colt’s papers in Bilbo’s hand as he yawned and stretched. He stuffed the now signed contract into his shirt.

Forgive me, Niriel.” Brosi silently asked for forgiveness from the only one he would ever seek it from. Niriel had been softhearted, kind, almost naïve, honest to a fault. Brosi comforted himself with the knowledge that Niriel would never let Brosi stand by and let his brother come to ruin over a pile of mud.

----

“We have lost our burglar.” Balin watched Bilbo leave his study and go to his room without speaking to anyone. He did not know whether to feel relieved as a father, or disappointed as a warrior. Balin’s family had served the Durins for generations; he and Dwalin were even Thorin’s cousins. It hurt that his son would run off and not even speak to him of his refusal.

Thorin looked up from where he had been leaning against the wall, studying his carefully bandaged hands. “We have a group of dwarves with honor, loyalty, and a willing heart. I can ask for no better.”

“You do not have to do this, Thorin.” Balin’s tone change drew Thorin’s eyes away from Bombur watching the hobbit go by. “You have built a home, a place of peace and plenty, for us in the Blue Mountains.”

“Yes, I do.” Thorin held out the priceless key. “From my grandfather, to my father, this key has come to me. I cannot fail, Balin. I have no choice.” Thorin thought of the families in Ered Luin that had been called to arms, called to protect their people because of him. The memory of the Black Speech note made him cringe.

“Is not our new life of peace and security worth more than all of the gold in Erebor, Thorin?” Balin echoed Bilbo’s worry one last time. This would be a quest that others would sing about in lore and legend, but one that they would probably never live to enjoy the fruits of.

“It is for that life that we venture on this quest, Balin.” Thorin had only told Dwalin and a few others of the price on his head. He thought that it would demoralize the quest volunteers, or worse yet, panic their people. Thorin had learned long ago that nothing in life could be done exactly as you wished.

Balin watched Thorin’s face grow sad and thoughtful as he answered. “Then I will be with you, laddie.” He had not used that term of endearment for over a century. “You are not alone, Thorin.”

“I will go, Majesty.” A quiet voice spoke as Brosi came around a corner. “May we speak in private?”

“My old bones are off to bed. Morning will come too soon for all of us.” Balin looked around and spotted Dwalin with ale. He knew his little brother; Dwalin was hardly drinking it, he was guarding Thorin. Balin would just go and get a hold of him and find out what was happening.

“Majesty, this way.” Brosi waited for Thorin’s nod before leading the dwarf into the still candlelit study. They sat in stuffed chairs by the fire and smoked their pipes.

“So, you wish to go after all.” Thorin could only once again feel awe at another trusting him in such a fashion.

“I would like to offer my services as a luck hobbit as far as Laketown.” Brosi turned to face the fire.

“Laketown? Why?” Thorin’s deep voice warned of wariness and suspicion.

“After you retake Erebor, I will be proceeding on to Dain’s court in the Iron Hills. I received a letter that I need to take care of some inheritance that must be dealt with or lose it to less than honorable relations.”

“Niriel was lost eight years ago?” Thorin had no time to hold to niceties. He watched the now pained Brosi carefully.

“Nine years in four months, yes. I wish to pass on Niriel’s property and holdings to whom Niriel would want it to go to.” Brosi concentrated on making a perfect smoke ring.

“You were to get me a hobbit as a burglar, not offer services for half of the journey.” Thorin had half a mind to dismiss this hobbit.

“I do not play games, Majesty. I merely inform you of my limitations up front, yet you still underestimate me.” Brosi pulled out an envelope and a wadded up scroll. “Do you accept my services or not?”

“I can hardly refuse.” Thorin took the bundle. “Alright, services as a luck hobbit as far as Laketown in exchange for an escort to Dain’s court.”

“On the condition that Erebor is reclaimed. I will gladly put a stake in this quest, Majesty.” Brosi watched Thorin’s every move as he opened the envelope.

“This is the contract.” Thorin could not believe his eyes. “As well as complete paperwork for not one, but two luck hobbits.”

“I do not play games.” Brosi smiled a wicked grin. “No one will question you now, not even the Rangers can do anything with Licus’ seal on those papers.”

“I admit that I am very impressed.” Thorin eyed Brosi, whom he now realized eyed him back with the same hazel eyes as his new Burglar. “Are you and Mr. Baggins close kin, Brosi? Am I getting two luck hobbits who will help this venture to succeed?”

Brosi smirked that wicked grin again. “Tonight was only a small mention of Bilbo Baggins abilities.” He watched Thorin rub his head.

“We shall talk more on this later.” Thorin still could not believe that he did not feel or even remember being treated. Such skill was invaluable in the wild.

----

Chapter Text

Thorin and Brosi said little as they finished their pipes. Brosi poked at the fire as Thorin sat at Bilbo’s desk, lit the lamp, and read over the paperwork again.

“Bilbo Baggins signed this contract willingly?” Thorin compared the signature with other paperwork on the table. It was identical careful script. “Mr. Baggins is giving me ownership of the horses? They are all luck ponies!”

“Mr. Baggins has done just that.” Brosi handed Thorin another paper.

“What is this?” Thorin let Balin deal with what little of the Thain Council’s correspondence his court in Belegost received. This was an official decree signed and sealed by every Thain.

“As of tomorrow morning, Bilbo Baggins will be free to leave on the quest with no worries to leave behind. The Thain Council will personally take over his business for the rest of the year. It has been strongly recommended that he accept a suitable position in the caravan of his choice.” Brosi gave that wicked smile again.

“You are playing a dangerous game, hobbit.” Thorin had not lived well over a century without learning to read people. Brosi was a luck hobbit, and the luck wearer in Thorin did not like this situation, not at all.

“I play no games, Majesty.” Brosi merely continued smiling. “Bilbo and the Liaison’s wife had a political battle this past winter. There is this dam.”

“I care not about Shire politics.” Thorin could now plainly see that Brosi was plotting something.

“It works to your benefit, Majesty.” Brosi calmly continued. “A dwobbit apprenticed with engineers in the Iron Mountains and in Gondor. The Thain Council paid quite a bit of money for his education. Drisel Gamgee is quite the intelligent and educated architect. He designed and oversaw the building of an earthen dam that will allow fertile but boggy land to be farmed this year.”

“Go on.” Thorin half listened as he went through the paperwork that Balin had approved. He did not have to take either hobbit if he did not want to, regardless of signed contracts or agreements.

“Otho Sacksville-Baggins is the elven Liaison. Lobelia is his wife. She tells farmers what the weather will be like and what the best crops to plant are, for a price. She also invests in farmers’ crops, so they can plant more, with her getting a percentage. Bilbo invests in farmers’ crops as well.”

“You bore me, halfling.” Thorin could find no fault in Balin’s notes. He looked over the horse transfer papers again.

“Ah, this is why dwarves mine and hobbits farm.” Brosi actually laughed. It had been some years since he had such a conversation with a dwarf. Their behavior was so predictable.

“Brosi.” Thorin growled a warning, followed up with a hand that closed in an angry fist.

“Alright.” Brosi pushed his chair back as the fire in the fireplace roared to life from cozy embers.

“Lobelia is predicting a bumper crop year in corn and oats. She has tried to get every farmer that she can to invest in at least a field of corn in the drained lands.”

“Mr. Baggins objected?” Thorin triple checked the luck horses’ worth. Where did Baggins get so many of them? They were supposed to be rarely sold, to the point of being extremely rare. He had bought a luck pony for each of his own luck hobbits years ago. These horses today were worth triple what he had paid for green broke, two year old geldings.

“Mr. Baggins flat out refused to go along with it. He would not invest in any crops of any farmer who had even one field in the drained lands. He went before the Thain Council, Licus, even sent a letter to Elrond himself. Bilbo Baggins thinks that they should study the dam for a year or more, as it is a design that has never been used before. Needless to say, Lobelia lost half of the farmers interested in those fields. No farmers, no investment, no percentage of the crops to get rich off of.”

“So Mr. Baggins has embarrassed the Magistrate and the Thain Council that has paid for this architect’s education. Interesting.” So this hobbit was a gentlehobbit, one with much political clout.

“Flat out called the Thains a bunch of fools and Licus a worthless prude for not asking Rivendell to foresight the dam.”

“What are you not telling me, Brosi? Baggins are known for foresight, are they not?”

“Only rarely does true foresight manifest itself, two or three per generation out of fifty to seventy Baggins related fauntlings. Most only get lucky hunches at gambling games such as betting.”

“I see.” Now Thorin turned to face Brosi, sensing something important. “Mr. Baggins is no gambler.”

“No. Bilbo wrote in his letter that he agrees that it will be a bumper crop year. He also wrote that the dam will fail due to a series of torrential rain storms. The elves response was a short note from some steward that said that this falls under Licus‘ responsibilities. A letter will be given to Elrond only if the prude writes one, which will never happen. Licus cannot figure out that his precious foresight gifted Liaison cannot see this because he is besotted with that fool wife of his.”

“Did Mr. Baggins tell anyone else of this?”

“Only he and I know. If Bilbo says anything, Lobelia will have Licus believing that Bilbo is masterminding some plot to destroy the dam.”

“So the Thain Council wants Mr. Baggins long gone to escape the anger of farmers, this Lobelia, and potentially Rivendell.”

“No, I want him long gone. You and Bilbo will be helping each other, Majesty.”

“As well as I seem to be helping you? I do not so easily believe that Mr. Baggins is worried for some farmers, his money most likely. As for you, the Shire Guard would suffer if you were implicated in any scandal.” Thorin could see that he had finally gotten under Brosi’s skin.

“The Thain Council will take good care of my boys regardless. I have had their permission to leave with an appropriate group ever since the letter came. If you do not want me tagging along, I will be leaving with a group later this spring, Majesty. As for Mr. Baggins, you have yet to sign the contract. You also have the means to acquire two luck hobbits of your choice. I will not stop you in any way. Our business is concluded, with delivery as promised.” Brosi got up and stormed out. Thorin could hear muttered Khuzdul curses and “I do not play games.”

----

Kili wished that he could sleep. Fili could sleep, why should he not? They had a room to themselves with a bed for them and a bed for Thorin. Kili knew that such a soft feather mattress would be a long forgotten luxury for the next months. Even if they retook Erebor, the place would be desolate and short on food, much less comfortable beds with clean sheets.

“Fili.” Kili shook his snoring brother. Rather than an annoyance, it had been a sort of soothing lullaby all of Kili’s life.

“What?” Fili sat up, wide awake. Dwalin had trained both of them with survival in mind. Thorin had trained them with never being surprised in mind. Their mother, Dis, had trained them by whatever strategy she thought would get through their thick skulls. Overall, Kili was surprised that neither of them were insomniacs. Though there was the year when Fili was ten that he refused to sleep alone after their mother woke him in the middle of the night in full battle armor, swinging a huge battle axe as she screamed war cries.

“My stomach still hurts. I cannot sleep.”

“Go ask Bombur or Oin for something then.” Fili collapsed back onto his pillow.

“They are asleep. Everyone is asleep.”

“Good idea.” Fili closed his eyes, instantly asleep with his next breath continuing the snoring lullaby.

Kili got up and wandered down the hall. He was unfamiliar with this unusual house layout, so was lost even with dwarven night vision.

“Hey there!” Kili met Bilbo as he slipped back into Bag End.

“Hello, Kili.” Bilbo looked exhausted and full of sorrow.

“Mr. Baggins, what were you doing out? I specifically told everyone to be in bed.” Thorin had been unable to sleep and wandered the house in the hopes of better understanding these weird hobbits that apparently had ulterior motives beyond honoring his call for volunteers.

“I have a stomach ache. Do you have something?” Kili tried not to whine as Thorin glared at him.

“Mint tea should help.” Bilbo started for the kitchen.

To bed, Kili.” Thorin was not in a good mood and being flat out ignored by both persons pushed the limit of his patience.

“Yes, Uncle.” Kili quickly disappeared.

“That was uncalled for.” Bilbo had ugly emotions in his eyes. Unlike Brosi, Bilbo’s emotions clearly shone in their hazel depths. “I will get his tea, then a bath.”

“You defied my orders.” This was not a good start to any working relationship in Thorin’s book.

“This is my home. I had business that had to be attended to.” Bilbo was stopped by an iron grip on his arm.

“Business in the middle of the night, wearing a dinner coat?” Thorin plucked at Bilbo’s odd choice of coat to ward off the cold. “Was there a lady friend involved? Is that why you are soaking wet as well? A bath in the river to cover for her?”

Thorin was livid. This Baggins fellow was an utter disappointment. They needed to be at least fully conscious as they would be trying to ride out of here quietly. Bilbo looked like he needed a week of sleep just to recover from his rendezvous with his lady friend.

“You have no idea what you are saying.” Bilbo barely whispered as he looked at the floor. Then he turned on Thorin in a rage.

“Unhand me, you cretin! I will explain nothing to such an imbecile.”

“Is there a problem here?” A wide awake Gandalf wandered in with a cup of tea. “I was just getting this tea for Kili.”

“I will have a proper bath.” Bilbo jerked his arm free. “You, dwarf king, are as pompous and demanding as an elf. If you want further company tonight, any of the trees outside will be suitable for your intimate needs.”

Thorin spluttered in rage, grabbing for a hobbit that was already down the hall and out of sight. Gandalf was no help.

“You two get along better than I had hoped. Good night, Thorin. I will just get this tea to Kili. We all have a big day with the wedding tomorrow.”

“Wedding?” Thorin roared, not caring who he woke.

“Good night, Thorin.” Gandalf muttered odd words as he went down the hall. Thorin found himself suddenly very tired, collapsing into the first bed that he came to.

----

Bilbo felt relief when Thorin did not follow him. He was too tired to let the water heat and just filled the tub with whatever came out of the pump. He made a face as he striped off his filthy clothes hidden by the dinner coat. Anger had him pulling the soiled leather laces off of his bracelets. The shine of silver with gold elven writing mocked him.

A dinner coat? Bilbo shook his head. There had been no time to see what coat he was grabbing on his way out. The groom had been frantic about the broodmare in labor. Bilbo had washed with many buckets of water from the trough, scrubbing away the filth of his failure. All of his efforts had been in vain, the foal was a loss.

The water was chilly, but Bilbo took deep breathes until he was numb and did not feel it. He scrubbed his hair, trying to clean his nails in the hair. The bracelets easily came clean as they always did. Angry at another taunt, Bilbo hurried out and got dressed in night clothes and a robe.

----

Chapter Text

Sunshine streaming in the window woke Bilbo. Migrating birds just returned serenaded the morning as they tried to find a mate. Bilbo himself stretched and wondered how he had slept so late. No matter; it was time to get up and proceed with the day.

“That is odd.” Bilbo looked in Brosi’s room. Normally his brother left it a mess as his latest annoyance tactic. Today everything was neat. The bed was made, the floor was free of armor and yesterday’s clothes. What was going on, even the fireplace had been swept clean?

Bilbo went back to his own room, where he had woke up. Had he fallen asleep there? His room was also neat, free of the little clutter that Bilbo managed each evening and put away every morning. His fireplace was swept clean as well.

“Dwarves are industrious.” Bilbo smiled as he saw the whole of Bag End sparkling clean. Thank goodness they and their shenanigans were gone. Bilbo would have a word or three for Gandalf when he returned for the Midsummer’s Eve party.

Bilbo went into the study to retrieve the colt’s papers. He had a wedding to go to, dwarves or no dwarves. Brosi was probably already organizing competitions with their cousins. He let out a cry and fell heavily into the chair when he saw what was on the desk.

There, in full view, was a decree from the Thain Council. They agreed with Brosi’s assessment of Bilbo and had taken away his business for the rest of the year. Bilbo chocked as he read that they wanted him to leave the Shire with the first available caravan traveling anywhere.

“Emotionally unstable? Belligerent? Repeated refusals to acknowledge authority figures? Causing a lack of harmony and uniformity?” Bilbo dropped the paper and put his face in his hands.

“Brosi.” Bilbo managed to whisper as he choked on a sob. How could he? Bilbo looked around; all of his ledgers were gone. Everything Bilbo needed to keep his business going, from contracts to books of contacts, were gone. The neatly dusted shelves that had been formerly rather dusty lately mocked him.

Bilbo would have broken down crying if another letter had not caught his eye. Recognizing Balin’s writing, Bilbo sat up straight in the chair and began to read.

The Company of Thorin Oakenshield thanks you for your hospitality. Enclosed is a receipt for goods paid in full to the Thain Council. We look forward to doing business with you in the future.

Bilbo ignored the copy of the paid supplies bill. He picked up a third paper written in an unfamiliar hand that was flowing, yet impatient. “I should have known Brosi was in on this with the dwarves.”

Master Baggins,

Once again, our thanks for your hospitality this past evening. I can assure you that this is a trip to the Shire that I will neither soon forget nor want to repeat. Our company looks forward to meeting up with you at the wedding of your cousin in Tuckborough before continuing on our journey. As it was a rather eventful night, I have enclosed here a copy of your contract; the contract that you signed last night. I do not have to remind you of the dwarven law of knowingly signing a legal document, and the contract specifically states that dwarven law prevails should any “inconveniences” come up.

Best Regards,

Thorin son of Thrain

“What contract?” Bilbo was literally seeing red as he forced himself to calm down and uncrumple the scrolls that threatened to self-ignite in his hand. The paper had one line of writing in Thorin’s now familiar and infuriating handwriting.

You are late, Burglar. Get going. There are penalties regarding dalliances, procrastination, and/or lateness in Section 5, Line 3 of your contract.

Bilbo knew well the dwarven law of knowing. If one entered a business contract willingly, signing willingly even if one did not read it, regardless of one’s state of mind, the contract was valid and irrefutable. Bilbo would have to pay Thorin four times the amount he had been promised as pay and compensation if he desired to void the contract. As the promised pay was a large share of one of the largest gold deposits on Arda, Bilbo was trapped.

Bilbo looked around his empty home. No doubt Brosi had signed on with the suicidal mission; he had been looking for a caravan since early winter that was heading to the Iron Hills. There was nothing here. Brosi would not be returning for months, or even years. Thorin had made certain that the pantries had all been cleared of food, even faithful Chroi was gone.

“I do have a wedding to get ready for.” Bilbo went to change and pack. He also had a brother, a wizard, and a dwarven king to strangle before the day was out.


----

An hour after sunrise, their group came upon the first Took settlement, Tookland. Several of the Old Took’s sons and their overlarge extended families joined them before finally going east to their destination. Dozens of hobbits in their best finery, minus shoes, walked along with them, chatting with and calling out to Gandalf, Brosi, even Balin.

The Tooks were mainly adults and tweens, with a few unlucky older siblings staying home to baby-sit faunts and give their parents a much needed break. There were still a few faunts begging for rides. The pack ponies even went down on their knees to allow three or four of the smallest on their backs!

Kili and Fili had faunts riding with them, as well as Bofur and, forget it! Thorin lost count when he pulled two young girls up behind him. Petunia gave him no choice, stopping at some unknown signal from the faunts grinning toothless grins up at him.

“Do not touch the axe. It is very sharp.” Thorin warned as one girl eyed his pack.

“No, sir.” Both girls instead clutched his shirt when Petunia started to trot to escape a pack of rowdy boys that got too close.

“Hey! We want a ride, too.” Several boys were nearly full grown, clearly out for trouble. Thorin gave them a hard glare and his best scowl; they just laughed.

“Cousin Bilbo said that you were not allowed to touch any of his ponies until summer, next summer.” One of the girls spoke indignantly in a motherly tone. Immediately, the boys went off to bother another dwarf, until Bifur shook his boar spear at them; his black and white pinto dray gelding of the same mind as it kicked out at them as well.

“Are you really a dwarf?” the faunt squashed between Thorin and her sister finally spoke.

“Yes.” Thorin chuckled, the rumble in his chest making her smile. “Have you not seen dwarves living in Hobbiton?”

“Mama will not let us leave Tookland. This is a special occasion.” The other faunt took special note of Thorin’s braids. “We have never seen someone with long hair besides a girl.”

“Does a girl have a beard?” Thorin relaxed. Few children had been born to his people, and none were raised in conditions that encouraged such forward observations.

“No. Only a few St...Stoo” Squashed girl stopped.

“Men hobbits descending from Stoor bloodlines would, if they did not shave.” Her sister finished for her.

“I and my Company are dwarves, and all dwarves have beards.”

“You should shave.” Squashed spoke with authority most likely learned from her mother.

“I will consider your advice.” Thorin smiled and nudged Petunia in Gandalf’s direction. The pony eyed the ordinary horse and blew her nose loudly, but set out between groups of walking hobbits and caught up. Thorin could get used to such an intelligent mount; now to give her a proper dwarven name and she would be the perfect pony for him.

“Ah, Thorin! I see that you are enjoying the Shire’s hospitality.” Gandalf was riding ahead of the walkers, without any small passengers. His horse apparently did not like all of the luck emanating from the gaggle of chatty Tooks. Its mane was already curling into knots, unlike the luck ponies who had stiff upright manes and short, thinned out tails. Gandalf eyed Squashed who eyed him critically.

“You should shave.” Her quiet voice was full of a child's surety.

“Hello there, Grimela and Melagrim. A wizard is expected to have a long and flowing beard, my dears.” Gandalf muttered a spell that finally set his beard straight. The luck just went to curl and knot his horse’s tail.

“Are you a wizard?” Grimela, Thorin guessed, gasped with excitement.

“Gandalf the Grey at your service.” Gandalf gave a half bow which nearly sent him out of his saddle as the rowdy tweens came too close and his horse shied.

“I like the dwarf better.” Melagrim, Squashed, continued finger combing Thorin’s hair. “Will you braid my hair like yours, Mr. Dwarf?”

“If your mother approves.” Thorin was surprised.

“She will never approve.” Melagrim sighed. “So we will have to sneak past her.”

“Spoken like a true Took.” Gandalf laughed. “You two are just like your great grandfather was at your age.”

“You are really old.” Grimela was now very impressed.

“I still like the dwarf better.” Melagrim fingered Thorin’s braids and her own locks.

“I am almost two hundred years old myself.” Thorin could not help but chime in.

“See. The dwarf is better. He is old, has braids, and a beard.” Melagrim ended the conversation on a triumphant note.

“Tooks.” Gandalf could only shrug as Thorin grinned with pride.

----

As Gandalf tried to figure out a spell or two for his hopelessly tangled horse, Thorin let Petunia wander freely through the groups of Tooks.

“I heard tell of some dwarves going on a grand adventure.” An older Took trotted to catch up with Thorin, Petunia slowed to a gambling walk on her own.

“Have you?” Thorin had heard from Dwalin how some of his group had tongues loosened by a drink or two.

“My granddaughters are a bit young to go, do you not think?” The hobbit eyed how they clung to Thorin, determined to not be unseated by meddling relatives.

“Their ride ends at the Great Smials, I assure you, Sir.” Thorin wanted no trouble today.

“I also heard that you have plans for two luck hobbits, approved by the Magistrate and all.”

“Maybe.” Thorin hummed noncommittally over the girls’ disappointed reactions.

“These girls’ father is a family man. I do not want you making my daughter a widow. My own youngest son may be a better choice; even Gondor has shown interest in him.” The Took puffed up with pride.

“I see.” Thorin could see a huge problem today. He had three luck wearers to worry about, including himself. Tooks would be throwing themselves at his Company without shame.

“Do not let any of your luck wearers go off alone with a Took, or you will have a luck hobbit permanently. Do you get my hint?” The stuffy grandfather was annoying, but also correct. Thorin had not thought of that. Even now all of the dwarves were being carefully eyed by the majority of the younger adults. They had not even gotten to the larger population at the Great Smials yet.

“Gandalf!” Thorin interrupted the Wizard as he untangled his horse’s mane. Petunia was definitely laughing at the poor horse.

“Thorin!” Gandalf was not nearly so happy now.

“How are we going to keep from being mobbed by Tooks?”

“Why, Thorin Oakenshield, I thought that you would be ecstatic! Denied luck hobbits for years and now you have your choice of any volunteer that meets your fancy. Two volunteers at that, plus Brosi Baggins himself! You will find none more qualified to be your senior luck hobbit.”

“I thought that Brosi was a Took.” Thorin now had a wariness of anything involving the name Baggins.

“His mother, Belladonna Took, was the Old Took’s most gifted daughter. His hobbit father, Bungo Baggins, was the most gifted son of the Baggins Thain, Mungo Baggins. Brosi is from two of the most respected Thain lines in the Shire. He is nephew to both the Took and the Baggins clan Thains. You can hardly do better; I do not see how you can be so upset, Thorin. Brosi does not even count for your luck hobbit papers!” Gandalf was upset at more than mane tangles now, and was clearly disgusted by Thorin's attitude. Thorin did not care if he angered even an Istari after being blindsided by a shovel wielding shrew.

“Brosi, son of Bofur is?” Thorin was nowhere near happy right now. Petunia reached out to bite Gandalf’s horse in annoyance.

“Still Brosi, son of Bofur. Your luck hobbit is a changeling, a very rare sort of changeling.” Gandalf glared a warning at Thorin and sent his horse off farther up the road.

“Changelings are not to be spoken of in proper company.” Melagrim whispered in Thorin’s ear.

“Definitely.” Grimela agreed.

----

Chapter Text

"The stallions are out of the Shire?” Bilbo asked his most trustworthy groom as he saddled his own luck pony himself. Trel was a sweet tempered buckskin that he never let others ride. He had bottle fed her as a foal after her mother broke her leg. She followed him around like a puppy and was the pony that he would always chose when traveling on business outside of the Shire.

“Eingrim started back when they did. No problems to report. They should arrive in Belegost within eight days.”

"The mares are in Tuckborough?” Bilbo sigh before attaching a pack behind the saddle. He was dressed in his finest trousers, shirt and waistcoat, but the pack held things from the armory that he would definitely need.

“Your cousins sent a messenger. The mares have been integrated with the Took main herd with little to worry about. Even old Nettle has found a friend or two.”

“Good.” Bilbo was relieved, but the next question broke his heart. “What of Tern?” The beautiful steel gray broodmare had been the apple of Bilbo’s eye.

“Resting under the old oak in the North field, her favorite spot.” The groom wiped his eyes. The Tooks that had come for the mares had helped to move the pony with their luck. None had had a dry eye.

“Do you truly want us to burn the stables, Bilbo?” The groom did not need to hold the still Trel, but pet her nose anyway.

“Dismantle it for firewood if you want. Just leave nothing but ash in the end.” Bilbo settled in the saddle with ease and took up the reins. “See that the other grooms know where to go to get their severance pay. Your contracts clearly state six months at full pay. I hope that it is enough.”

“We will show up at the next Thain meeting with them in hand. We will be fine, Bilbo. Will you ever return?”

“If I do, I will never breed horses again. Tell everyone that I said goodbye.” Bilbo set Trel off at a canter and did not look back. He had revenge to reap.

----

“Fili, I want you and Kili to stay with Balin or Dwalin at all times.” Thorin rode back to speak to each dwarf in the group in Khuzdul.

“Nori will stay with Ori and myself as well.” Dori listened in horror. Ori having to marry one of these crazy Tooks was not in his plans. Nori, well, Nori was Nori and would have to be protected from himself for his own good.

Dori was certain that he would have nightmares over the idea of offspring of Nori and a Took. The innocent looking lads riding with him gave the older dwarf plenty of ideas about what being a Took involved. With Dori’s luck, one child would be a luck hobbit and another a luck wearer, ready for trouble from the womb.

“What are those, Uncle?” Fili nodded to Thorin’s now giggling passengers.

“Children, Fili. Specifically, young hobbit girls.” Thorin wondered if luck could cause brain damage. It would explain some of these Tooks.

“But they are identical.” Kili chimed in. “They look exactly alike, except for their dress colors.”

“They are twins.” Bofur rode over with not just one set of twins, but two, between him and Bifur. One set of boys was identical, one set was a boy and girl fraternal pair, the hat wearing dwarf patiently explained.

“Men, hobbits, and even elves have twins.” Balin rode up with an older boy who had a bandaged foot. “Dwarves do not. Our kind was made different.”

“Brosi is a twin, and he has ears like yours.” One girl glared angrily. “He lived with dwarves for years. He even married one.”

“There is nothing wrong with us.” Another twin chimed in with indignation; others soon followed.

“Leave our dwarf alone.” Grimela shot back.

“You do not have to ride with them, Mr. Dwarf.” Melagrim backed her up.

“Thank you, girls.” Thorin could only smile back at them and nudge Petunia to trot past the argument now going on in full swing.

----

Brosi was cheerfully chatting with all of his younger cousins as they walked along. He had dismounted so that more faunts could ride. Trick, his dun gelding, followed him half asleep. Bilbo had bullied him into be his sole caretaker from the moment he was born. Brosi had been angry at the time for being forced out of his room; now he was still astounded by Trick’s speed and endurance.

“Are you going on an adventure, Brosi?”

“Maybe.”

“Momma says that adventures make you late for dinner. You should come over to our house for dinner instead.”

“I will be rather too busy to come for some time in the future, Rosie.”

“You can foresee when and tell Momma.”

“I might. Thank you, Marigold.”

“Brosi.” An older tween came up. “The dwarves are talking about twins; they mentioned your name. They have never seen twins before.”

“I doubt that, must be Fili and Kili. What are they saying about me?” Brosi was getting a bad feeling.

“My baby sister mouthed off how you are a twin, but have dwarf ears. I am really sorry, Brosi. It was rude of her. I will have Momma talk to her, again.”

Another tween added his thoughts. “The old dwarf said that they do not have twins. That started that argument.”

“I see. What else?” Brosi knew that he would have some explaining to do.

“Not much. The argument turned to whether identical or fraternal pairs were better to have. The grumpy looking dwarf rode off then real mad. He had not even known that Melagrim and Grimela were twins. They really like him, though; defended him to the end.”

“I see. Marigold, tell me about your new puppy.” Brosi smiled and changed the subject. He would have to speak to Grimela later to see how much the dwarf king had heard.

“Brosi, let us ride Trick.” The group of troublemakers finally found Brosi. “Your dwarf friends are being selfish.”

“They hired those horses for their journey; they are not selfish. You are just sulking juveniles, Rorinel.” Brosi had no tolerance for his youngest uncle’s spoiled sons. Having a father who retired with honor from the Steward’s service was not a license to be a scoundrel.

“We will be off to Gondor in a few years, you know that. We want some practice on a trained luck pony.”

Touch Trick or any other horse or pony and you will feel the flat of my blade on your spoiled behinds.” Brosi spat in Hobbitish Westron to make certain that there were no misunderstandings among the various faunts and fauntlings. He drew his sword without hesitation as Trick woke up and rolled his eyes.

“Our father will hear of this, Brosi! Your brother cannot protect you forever just because you are Captain of the Shire Guard.”

“Ok, everyone, the ride is over, thanks to your cousins here. Go tell your parents.” Brosi pulled reluctant faunts off of Trick and rode away to let these rascals' uncles and aunts deal with them.

----

Tuckborough was wave after wave of hobbits. The first wave was on the outskirts of the settlement. Several large herds of ponies were scattered across a plain. Hobbit tweens could be seen riding bareback amongst them without even a halter. Occasionally, a tween would whistle to a straggler as the herds migrated, the offending pony or horse almost embarrassed as it trotted to keep up.

“I had no idea there were so many luck ponies.” Thorin guessed at over three hundred. Each herd was distinct in breeding: muscular drays, sleek runners, even a small shaggy band that looked like Bracas. All had the distinct luck pony stiff upright mane and short, thinned out tail. What did Gandalf’s poor horse look like by now?

“Only that herd is the actual luck ponies.” Grimela tutted and pointed to the largest herd. This herd was unique in that it had a fair mix of all of the breed types.

“Each herd is owned by a different family.” Melagrim smiled at Thorin with more understanding and patted his arm.

“What are the other ponies called then?” Why were such simple creatures as hobbits so convoluted?

“By the name of the herd.” Grimela began as if Thorin was a dim child. “That is the Running Brook herd, that is the Underhill herd, that one over there is the…”

“What makes a luck pony if all the breeds can be one?” Thorin quickly cut in before his headache killed him.

“All fully trained luck ponies have a special tattoo in the right ear. It cannot be repli..rep..” Grimela stopped.

“Replicated.” Melagrim spoke slowly and smiled proudly afterward. “Momma helped me with that word. Gandalf figured out a spell decades ago for the tattoo. Only the Took Thain knows the ink recipe.”

“Does Brosi speak like a Took?” Thorin would throttle either Brosi or Bilbo before a week was out if they spoke like this.

“Brosi talks like a dwarf, Papa says.” Melagrim looked eager to help the confused king.

“Momma said that she would wash our mouths out with soap if we did.” Grimela glared like a mother at her sister.

“You are very polite, Mr. Dwarf.” Melagrim patted Thorin’s arm sympathetically. “Grimela likes to pretend she is older.”

“I am older than you.”

“By a day, and only because you were born right before midnight.” Melagrim looked at Thorin. He had a faraway look on his face. She nudged her sister.

“Do you have brothers and sisters, Mr. Dwarf?”

“I had a brother and a sister. As children, they often bickered as you are doing. I was the oldest and had to…” Thorin sigh and drifted off into rarely dusted off memories. Petunia felt the reins go slack and moved to an empty, quiet spot between groups of migrating hobbits.

----

The last wave of hobbits was waiting outside the hobbit infested hill that was by far the largest. Windows seemed to have sprouted on every available surface instead of trees. Thorin watched Gandalf pull up by the large front door where two young hobbits, the happy couple, and an older gentlehobbit waited.

“Ah, Gandalf!” The gentlehobbit waved a tween to take the now tangled beyond belief piebald. “It’s good to see you, old friend. Ingret will see to your horse, maybe add a few mane plaits.”

“It is good to see you, Isengrim.” Gandalf pointedly ignored the fact that hobbits sympathetically patted the unlucky Ingret on the back as he led the horse away. “A braid or two would come in handy.” Gandalf’s own beard threatened to tangle as it tried to curl again.

“Gandalf, I do not believe you have met my fourth cousin, Grimaldo, from Gondor.” Isengrim physically pulled the shying hobbit to his side.

“We are honored to have you at our wedding, Gandalf.” Grimaldo nervously shook the much larger hand in his. “This is my bride, Daisy.”

“You have grown from a promising bud to a lovely bloom since I last saw you, Daisy Took.” She blushed and giggled when Gandalf kissed her hand with a flourish.

“We are honored that you could come to the first wedding of spring.” Isengrim knew that the few hobbits not from the Shire had heard many wild and untrue, and some not so untrue, about Gandalf. Most went with the idea that any Istari should be avoided at all cost. He kept a firm grip on the young groom as Grimaldo tried to push Daisy behind him.

“I could no sooner turn down an invitation from my old friend as turn down the first sign of spring. It is the most blessed wedding of the season, and portends the harvest that you will reap.” Gandalf looked around. “Ah! The dwarves have arrived. Thorin!”

“Dwarves?” Grimaldo watched in open horror as Thorin dismounted with two reluctant faunts.

“Dwarves! How wonderful.” Daisy was ecstatic. Her wedding would be remembered for generations to come. Already, several of her female cousins glared at her; their plans for weddings later this year to match Daisy’s in ruins.

“Welcome, your Majesty.” Isengrim stepped away from the now speechless groom glaring at his bride. He gave a polished bow and waved to several tweens. “Let the grooms take your ponies for you.”

“Thank you for having us. May this wedding be the most blessed of the season.” Thorin gave Daisy his rare, suave, dashing smile and kissed her hand as he bowed. He ignored the now hyperventilating Grimaldo.

“Please, just show my Company where they can bed down the ponies for the night. They can manage.” Thorin handed his reins to Dwalin. The other dwarves were still mounted, though the faunts had been quickly claimed by outraged relations. All of the dwarves had learned two things: each had been more than won over by their mount’s intelligence, and unknown tweens were not to be trusted to be anywhere near a pony.

----

Chapter Text

Thorin surveyed the area that had been roped off for the Company by two terrified tween grooms. The ropes formed a large paddock with a lean to at one end for shelter. It was far enough away from the wedding party near the Great Smial, but close enough if trouble should arise.

Brosi and I will take first watch with the ponies. Bifur interrupted Thorin’s thoughts as he considered the same thing. They could not afford to have Took tweens steal ponies, supplies, or worse, their weapons. Thorin did not want to have to carry his axe around to keep fauntlings fingers attached.

“Two hour shifts then, with everyone meeting back here before dusk.” Thorin nodded as he unsaddled Petunia and tied her out in the paddock with the other ponies. “Fili and Ori take next shift. Kili and Dori the third. The rest can work things out as the day goes by.”

There were groans, but everyone quickly chose a shift. The Twin Terrors would be with responsible partners so that Thorin could look around and investigate without hellish nephew interference. Drinkers like Bofur and Gloin would not drink as much while pulling a later shift. Thorin did not want any problems if they had to leave earlier than planned.

“I need to see the Thain first for a few minutes.” Brosi clearly was not used to being one of those taking orders. He puffed up in irritation as the other hobbits had. Thorin would be tempted to leave him behind tomorrow if Bifur and Bofur had not whacked the hobbit up the side of his head.

“Take the honor of first shift and do your duty well.” Bofur’s head was tilted as he eyed his now deflated son. Bifur grunted something unintelligible and whacked Brosi’s head again.

“Yes, sir. I will do my best, Adad.” Brosi reluctantly followed Bifur to where their packs were piled up.

Good, there was nothing like family to utterly shred one’s pride. Thorin had learned this early on from Frerin and Dis. They were not about to let their older brother get as stuffy as their grandfather.

----

“Have you seen Ambrose?” Dwalin had followed Thorin around as they surveyed the area. “He should be here by now, going south instead of with that directionless wizard.”

“Ambrose?” Thorin turned around, almost stepping on a string of screaming faunts that ran between them just then.

“Our burglar.” Dwalin sigh as he liked to when he wanted to annoy Thorin.

“I have not seen Master Baggins, nor this Ambrose that I apparently missed meeting last night.” Thorin wondered if the useless butterball even got up at a decent time each day. He had certainly been up late last night.

“These hobbits have addled your brain.” Dwalin looked in disbelief a moment, before cracking a wide grin that was definitely at his cousin’s expense. “Fine, I will let you figure this one out yourself. It is a great way to start Nori wagering on this trip. Should I put you down for ten coppers for two weeks?”

“Fine.” Thorin just shook his head and handed Dwalin the money. More often than he could count, he had won money this way for bets that he never figured out what exactly was being wagered on.

“I will hold onto that for you.” Nori appeared out of thin air. Dwalin growled, but handed over his own money as well with a whispered two days.

“Where is your partner?” Nori was the one dwarf that Thorin had in mind when making his orders made clear.

“Right behind me, unfortunately.” Nori made the money disappear faster than Dori could grab his collar.

“Nori, how dare you tell those tweens that I was the luck wearer looking for a luck hobbit.” Dori gave him a good shake. “It was a cover so that you could take bets on some poor sod, was it not?”

“You always did care, brother.” the hanging Nori smiled. “Too much.”

“Anyone caught alone will be sent to the paddock, put on shovel duty for dwarf and pony, and banned from betting with forfeiture of all money to the Company’s travel fund. Am I clear?” Thorin crossed his arms and glared at Nori. Family might be a big boon for discipline, but Nori was hardly as obedient as Brosi had been.

“As clear as a still pond.” Nori had a pained look.

Dwalin guessed that the conniving dwarf had raked in quite a bit even this early in the day. How had Nori even known to take this particular bet? Not for the first time did Dwalin lament that his cousins had been blessed as luck wearers and not him. Nori had to have some unknown luck wearer advantage which had kept him out of Dwalin’s grasp for so long.

“Dwalin, take Nori and scout out the area to past the pony herds. I want a luck wearer’s perspective of everything in this Tuckborough. If anyone can find anything out of place or a threat to us, you two will find it.”

“As good as done.” Dwalin’s hand replaced Dori’s on Nori’s collar and they melted away into the crowd.

“Dori, I want you to take Fili and walk around with prospective luck hobbits. He can make it appear that you are also a luck wearer. Talk to these hobbits and let us see if any meet your strict standards. Let me know right away of any that are not to be trusted.” Thorin watched Dori look around for his brother.

“How does he just disappear? Mister Dwalin is a head taller than…” Dori shook his head and gave Thorin a deep head nod. “As you wish, Majesty. If you will walk with me over to the pie table, you can take Ori as your partner. I see that he and Fili are sampling dessert before they have even had lunch.”

“Good thinking.” Thorin liked how Dori had not forgotten for a second how none of them were to be alone, and acted accordingly. It would be an annoying trait in a brother, but not in one of the few dwarves that had come to follow Thorin.

“Dori.” Thorin stopped him.

“Yes, your Majesty?” Dori turned, eyebrows shooting up as he waited.

“We must be circumspect. In the Shire most hobbits have heard of me, but it will not be so as we travel east.”

“As you see fit…Thorin.” Dori was not happy with this idea at all.

“Also, I will take Fili’s watch with you. I want him out looking at these luck hobbits with others as well. During our watch I want you to tell me exactly what Mr. Baggins did to me.” Thorin suspected that something had happened for him to fall so easily into a memory daze that he had never had before in his life. He had heard of other luck wearers suffering from one when a luck hobbit tampered with their memories.

“Very well.” Dori nodded. He was beyond not happy now. Something was definitely amiss.

----

Bifur wasted little time in talking to Brosi. They checked each pony’s tie out line and the general area’s layout before settling by their packs. Brosi gave the land an extra hard look before resettling his sword on his back and sitting.

What happened last night? You disappeared into your room for too long to just be changing. Why did you not come to me if you were upset? Bifur was far too perceptive for Brosi’s comfort level.

Lobelia hit Thorin with a shovel. I had to seal a gash in his head and stopper a ruptured eardrum.

I see. Bifur had his pipe out, but his eyes bored into Brosi, demanding answers that Brosi did not want to face.

I just needed some time afterward, that is all. Everything is fine, Bifur.

Why did Ambrose send the magpie after you?

Dwalin and I got our foolish king free of the Bounders and the Liaison. I even got Thorin two luck hobbit permits. Everything is fine, Uncle. You must try to trust me on this trip. Brosi felt himself growing angry; losing one’s temper was never a good idea around Bifur. He was a dwarf who loved his family dearly, but he had set ideas on how everyone should behave. On one of Bifur’s bad days, having an angry outburst would only get you a boar spear in an undesirable place.

There are many dangers and we are few in number. This Company needs a clear headed luck hobbit, nephew. We are trusting you with our lives. Bifur sigh; none of the dwarves liked their numbers or the odds against them.

The loss of any support was a blow they had yet to recover from. No dwarf would abandon the Company, but all of them had at least one family member that they wanted to keep alive. This had turned from a grand adventure with help from all seven dwarf families into what was essentially a suicide mission. Bifur himself guessed that they would lose two members before reaching the Misty Mountains, and three more before Mirkwood. He did not even consider the odds once they reached the Lonely Mountain.

Tell me again what happened, Ambrosine. This Company’s members must be honest with each other, we must help each other. Hiding any weaknesses will get us all killed. There is no place for pride on this quest.

Bilbo sent some luck woven to calm with Chroí. It allowed me to calmly and properly seal our king’s wounds. I thought I was fine when I saw Thorin bleeding. It has been nine years, Uncle. Brosi stopped. His slipping entirely into Iglishmêk showed how upset he was.

Ambrosine. Bifur rubbed Brosi’s back. Stay with me. Talk to me.

When I saw his blood on my hand, when I smelled it…I just wanted to run away.” Brosi shook his head. “You cannot send me back. You need me.”

You did well, nephew. I am proud of you. Bifur smiled at Brosi’s shock.

What? Speechless, Brosi could barely sign.

You recognized a potential trigger. You then recognized a definite trigger and took steps to handle it calmly. You accepted help from another in doing that. Ambrosine, you have come so far. Now we know how you will need help, just as everyone else will need help with something. No one will be able to make this trip without other’s helping them.

No one. Brosi signed.

Next time, do not hide, come to me. Understand?

Understood.” Brosi swallowed and forced out the word. Bifur grabbed him and pulled him tightly to his side.

Now tell me everything, from the time you left to when you joined us. We have much to discuss, Ambrosine.

Yes, Uncle.” Brosi slowly felt himself relax and felt himself open up to Bifur as he could to no one else.

----

Chapter Text

Bilbo ignored the stares as he rode up to the Thain and the happy couple. He had planned to come early and avoid this, but his plans for everything had changed lately. More people stared at Bilbo’s headband and bare wristbands than at the gleaming colt that he handed over, but he did not care anymore. The Shire’s residents would not see Bilbo Baggins for a long time to come, if ever again.

“Bilbo, how good of you to come.” Daisy’s face scrunched up in confusion at the headband, but she still smiled and hugged him eagerly.

“So this is the famous Bilbo Baggins who is responsible for breeding such magnificent luck ponies.” Grimaldo obviously had not expected such a gift, nor for such a famous hobbit to be a banded disgrace. It was clear that he would have shunned Bilbo if not for the luck pony that would be invaluable to him very soon. Other luck pony breeders could make a fine pony, but none could train them like Bilbo could.

“I did not know that you had any colts left, Bilbo.” Daisy pet the pony that stuck its nose to her chest.

“A family raised him for me. The faunts named him Copper.” Bilbo barely managed a smile as he handed Grimaldo the lead line. “Take good care of him. Take good care of my cousin Daisy as well.”

“I will.” Grimaldo took a deep breath, looked Bilbo in the eye, and offered a hand to shake. “I will.”

“How good of you to come, Bilbo.” Isengrim had a forced smile. “Might I have a word with you?”

“Of course.” Bilbo turned from shaking Grimaldo’s hand to give Trel and Copper to a waiting groom.

What are you doing?” Isengrim yanked Bilbo into the Great Smial, hissing Hobbitish Westeron in rage. “Normally you cover your bands, but having them exposed and wearing that elven band! Are you mad, or do you just want to announce yourself as a disgrace to every hobbit here?

“I am certain that you have invited all of the important Thain families, have you not, Uncle?” Bilbo really could not care less what any hobbit thought of him anymore.

“Of course I would for such an important event, then you try this stunt. Bilbo,  I fear that you are just validating Brosi’s claims of your mental status by doing this. We all know that he is rather addled in the head and more than a little off, but…”

Bilbo took this opportunity to vent some anger and frustration that had been pent up for a very, very long time. He grabbed Isengrim’s shirt and slammed him against the wall. What better way to prove that Brosi was absolutely correct than to act even worse than his brother had reported?

My brother is none of your concern. You may say anything you want about me, and you always do. I will not let you gossip about or malign the Captain of the Shire Guard. Am I clear?” Bilbo gave Isengrim a shake that Dori would be proud of.

“Bilbo, unhand me this instant!”

Brosi risks his life to keep this ungrateful Shire safe. You insult my brother and the Shire Guard. Never again, do you understand?” Another shake rattled his uncle’s teeth.

Perfectly.” Isengrim got up from the floor and straightened his clothes. “I shall be talking with the other Thains about your behavior and if we will be returning your assets at all.” Wham! The hobbit was on his back with a tightening hand around his windpipe.

“You and the Thain Council will keep to the letter of your cursed document.” Bilbo tightened his grip with each word. “You will pay my grooms their full severance pay when they ask for it at your next meeting. You will not interfere with my gardener taking care of Bag End. You will release my property and funds when I return from my journey. Do you understand?

You will get nothing!” Isengrim was definitely Belladonna Took’s brother if one went by his bravado, if not his intelligence. He spat at Bilbo even as he turned cherry red.

“I will travel with a caravan of my choosing, which is Thorin Oakenshield’s Company. You will keep to the terms of your document. You will pay my grooms.  You will not take anything from Brosi that he has worked so hard for, including his rank and position. You will not destroy my business, but will take excellent and personal care of it. You will not interfere with any of my horses or ponies. Am I clear?” Bilbo patiently waited for an answer as Isengrim turned purple. He had years of practice at forced patience.

By our maker, I swear!” Isengrim breathed out an explosion of air as Bilbo released his grip.

If you break your oath, I will break your neck.” Bilbo left the stuffy Thain squawking on the floor as he stormed out. How he had put up with these pompous windbags for so many years was beyond him.

----

"Do not do that again while I am with you, you bastard." Dwalin let go of Nori's collar and shook himself. "You know how odd that feels."

"How what feels?" Nori just smiled innocently.

"You know." Dwalin growled, knowing that Nori was leading him on for some stupid purpose.

"No. Please tell me? Perhaps if you describe the sensation?" Now Nori's smile was a leer as he looked Dwalin up and down. “I have known for years that you have wanted to get your hands on my hide. I just did not know it was for such a purpose."

"I just had to have enough luck wearer to feel your tricks, but not enough to..." Dwalin resisted the urge to brain Nori in front of several hundred hobbits, including dozens of children.

"Do you see any potential luck hobbits?" Nori was suddenly curious as to how much luck wearer Dwalin had inherited. This could be a nicely profitable wager in the making.

"All those that are potential matches are too old, too young, too cocky, or ready to puff up like an idiotic bird in winter at the least slight." Dwalin scoured the landscape with narrowed eyes. "I doubt that half have missed a meal in their life. The other half would drop dead at the sight of a warg. I do not understand why Thorin is wasting time by staying here for another day."

"Dwalin, do you see the group of tweens that caused trouble during the ride here?" Nori had lost his smile and looked all around. In his experience, a group of noisy troublemakers going silent was a very bad sign.

"The ones that Brosi threatened?" Dwalin marched past a desserts table, grabbing a handful of cookies even as he continued to glare at the Great Smial like it had somehow insulted him. "No, and where is Ambrose? He was supposed to be here. I do not like this."

Nori grabbed a mug of ale and smiled sweetly at a lady in a bright floral dress with elaborate ribbons who was setting out mugs. “Fine day for a party, is it not? Might you be interested in some form of diversion?”

“Ruffian.” The hobbit turned a lovely shade of purple. It quite matched the irises on her dress.

“Thank you.” Nori winked at her as he grabbed a second mug. She would be putty in his hands by sundown.

“Save the wooing behavior for when you are a rich dwarf.” Dwalin did not look down as Nori approached. He had climbed a tree and scanned the crowd with eyes shaded by his hand. “Help me to find Ambrose.”

“By Ambrose do you mean the stuffy little hobbit whose home that we ransacked, then had to clean top to bottom this morning?” Nori quickly drank one tankard as he watched something in the distance.

“Aye. My brother can be quite the taskmaster when he wants to be. I still do not know how you dropped all of those pots without waking Ambrose up.” Dwalin came down and took the second tankard before Nori could put it to his lips to drain.

“I would keep that tankard if I was you. Nice and heavy.” Nori was hefting his, measuring its weight.

“Our hobbit is headed for our ponies and the troublemakers are tailing him.” Dwalin groaned. Why were they even here? The blasted wizard was not even around.

“Mr. Baggins was just dragged into the Great Smial by the Thain himself. The group of boys has grown in number and bravery. They have split into groups and are following all of us.” Nori pointed out two not so hidden boys following them, pretending to sample a pie. He then pointed out well or not so well hidden tweens following the rest of the Company.

“This place is unbelievable.” Dwalin shook his head. One tween girl had gotten Ori’s attention, talking about knitting of all things, while another diverted Kili away from the scribe. “Foolish dwarfling, he is being herded behind that stand. Does he ever listen when I try to thump self-preservation into his head?”

“Right to a waiting group headed by a boy that Kili had a few words with over Apple.” Nori took off at a fast sprint, melting into the crowd.

“Kili!” Dwalin roared at the top of his lungs as he barreled through the crowd with little grace, preferring to get the others attention as he went.

----

"I prefer a 10% flax/10% cotton/80% wool combination yarn for the hoods of winter capes." Ori was looking closely at the shawl that Meredith had taken off and handed him.

"I did not know that you could have such combinations." Meredith smiled as she got just a bit closer, too close Dori would say.

"I should be going." Ori suddenly remembered Kili when no laughing remark about their proximity came from the bored prince. He looked around to find his babysitting charge gone.

"Is there something wrong?" Meredith cooed. Yes, suddenly there were several things wrong, if the group of troublemakers from earlier was anything to go by.

"I must get Kili." Ori tried to hand Meredith's shawl back and step away. Instead, she began to scream.

----

Chapter Text

“Where have they gone?” Dori looked around the dessert table as Thorin caught up to him. “Disappeared just like Nori, this trip will be the death of me.”

Thorin stared at Dori for a moment before answering. They were going to face a fire breathing dragon aptly called the greatest calamity of this age, and Dori thought that mischievous dwarves would bring about his ending? Dori must be the one dwarf in Middle Earth that was more stressed than Thorin. He would partner the mother hen up with Balin for night watch during the trip. Perhaps some of Balin’s calm demeanor would rub off on Dori. His thoughts were interrupted by a girl’s scream.

“Coming through!” Two Bounders in feathered hats raced by with heavy clubs drawn. Another pair was right behind them, pushing through a now veritable sea of hobbits.

“Are those clubs what hit your head, Thorin?…Oh my! Ori!” Dori raced off after the Bounders.

Thorin was already in motion as he remembered that Ori was watching Kili. If anyone touched a hair on his nephew’s silly, but still precious, head, he would not be responsible for his actions.

It did not take long to reach a scene of pandemonium. By the dessert table, Ori was in the grip of the first two Bounders. Dori was being held by a third as the fourth questioned some sobbing girl. A familiar group of tween boys was yelling that Ori had attacked the girl, the result being other hobbits crowding around and yelling. This was a downright mess.

“Silence!” Thorin roared. Nothing happened. He looked around, there was no Kili to be seen. Something snapped in the dwarven king.

Boom! Thorin clapped his hands together over his head. All of the charged luck that he had concentrated in his hands spread out, the energy pushing everyone and everything around him to the ground.

“I said SILENCE!” Thorin pulled Ori and Dori to their feet, the Bounders now sitting on their rears, mouths open like gasping fish.

“Do something about…” One woman began as she put an arm around the now terrified girl.

“What EXACTLY happened here?” Thorin glared at the girl with his most menacing scowl. “Do NOT lie to me!”

“The bore only wanted to talk about knitting. How was I supposed to distract him so that the others could separate him from the other dwarf if he wouldn’t even kiss me?” The girl gave a snort of disgust. It seemed that she must have been a real looker according to hobbit beauty standards; Thorin only saw a spoiled brat.

“Dori, take Ori back to the ponies. Break camp. As soon as we find everyone, we are leaving.” Thorin glared at the still seated Bounders as the girl waltzed off to the group of tweens.

“Kili?” Thorin snapped his fingers and a small ball of glowing luck floated in front of him. It flew off behind some stands.

When the only answer was a war cry from Dwalin, Thorin stormed after the ball, sword drawn.

----

Bilbo shivered and shook himself as he slammed the Great Smial’s outer door closed. He had only been in the cursed building once before as a two year old orphan. He still recalled how he had held a constantly crying Bilon. Aunts tried to comfort them, uncles tried to separate them; all failed as the confused toddlers pushed everyone away with now fully awakened talents.

They are cursed, cursed changelings.” Prospective parents who could look past their definitely dwarven ears and somewhat small and almost bare feet were deterred by luck hobbits awakened years too early. Foresight ripped out into the open decades too early had Bilbo repeating everyone’s words before they were even spoken. No one could take Bilon from him when he saw what the adults would try before they even knew themselves.

No one wanted them, and they wanted no one. Bilbo had heard people whispering behind Belladonna’s back. He was just fine when he heard that the Thains had sent for their dwarven father. Bilbo had no memories of this Bofur, but he had been there for their birth. Their mother had nothing but kind words about him. Bungo had words, but Belladonna would silence him with one glare. Now both of them with there differing opinions were dead, torn to pieces by wolves.

Exhausted once again, Bilbo sat by a tree and felt himself pulled into long buried memories. Cries filled his ears.

Momma, we cannot go.” Bilbo had thrown a tantrum when Belladonna bundled them up. Bungo and other hobbits were moving their families to Hobbiton’s meeting hall. Wolves were now trying to dig into individual homes at night. The community could better guard and protect their families in one place.

Momma.” Bilon began to cry as his coat was put on him. Bilon could only speak a few words, preferring to let Bilbo or tears speak for him.

“Now the boy has done it.” Bungo took over and dressed Bilon roughly. “Silence Bilbo or we will have wolves at our door.” They had only a short time until dusk brought the wolves. They had spent most of the day after the town meeting packing what food they had left to share at the meeting hall.

Bilbo always keeps Bilon safe.” Belladonna had looked into Bilbo’s terrified hazel eyes. “You know that he sees what will harm his brother. Perhaps you should foresight the path. Can we leave in the morning, Bungo?

“Bilbo is a cursed firstborn twin. He will never see anything good; he draws bad luck to himself.” Bungo stood and hefted Bilon to his hip. “We have to leave now.”

Bilbo will be a fine foresight hobbit.” Belladonna and Bungo had often argued over the twins. Bilbo had seen Bungo glaring at his dwarven ears with quiet fury more times than his father had ever smiled at his block towers or painted pictures.

“Bilon is the son who will bring us honor. He will be a fine luck hobbit, just like his mother.” Bungo kissed Belladonna to silence her and hefted a backpack of food. Bilbo had also not missed how Bungo praised every little instance when Bilon imitated Belladonna’s luck tricks back to her.

They will both have grand destinies. Both are your fine sons who will bring us honor.” Belladonna huffed, but hefted her own backpack and followed Bungo out the door of Bag End for the last time.

----

Thorin came upon a scene out of his nightmares. Dwalin was not fighting. The burly dwarf warrior was not punching or slashing at enemies, determined to keep his charge safe. Dwalin was instead on his knees, kneeling beside a still Kili lying on the ground.

It was an accident.” A boy Thorin recalled as Rorimac was crying and babbling in Hobbitish Westron as Fili and Bofur held him in a grip. “It was an accident.

Thorin sheathed his sword and bent down beside Dwalin. Kili looked up at him with wide, scared eyes. “Uncle, I cannot move. I feel numb all over.”

“Do not move him.” An old hobbit came up and began examining Kili. Fili punched Rorimac in the stomach as Kili cried out for him, then went to Kili.

“I am here, Kili.” Fili began to cry when Kili’s hand stayed limp in his own.

“We do not know. One minute we were all on our feet, the next something knocked us over. The dwarf was as you find him now. We only wanted to rough him up, but we did not even touch him.” Another boy finally found his voice.

“Dwalin, get Oin. He may be back at the ponies already. If any hobbit gives you trouble, take care of it any way you see fit.” Thorin balked as the hobbit tried to move Thorin out of the way.

“I suppose your dwarven healer is experienced in luck injuries? Hmm?” Sharp blue eyes met pale, old eyes that still held fire.

“We shall find out.” Thorin was not moving; the hobbit shook his head and worked around him.

“Fili, get Nori. He may have experience with this.” Thorin remembered Nori taking his hands the night before. Bilbo had mentioned that the dwarf had healing experience.

“I will find Gandalf.” Bombur spoke and fled before Thorin could even see him.

“Someone find Bilbo Baggins.” Thorin called out, to be met with shock on every hobbit face.

“I will not let that cursed thing touch my patient.” The old hobbit, Ringrim he had called himself, puffed up with indignation.

“What curse?” Thorin forced his focus from the whimpering Kili.

“Some call it superstition, but I have seen it with my own eyes, I have. A set of twin girls as the firstborn of a young couple is the luckiest of all. A firstborn son is the finest luck for a couple of mixed talents. He will have twice the luck, foresight, what have you of both parents. Twin sons, that is the worst kind of luck. The firstborn has stolen the talent from the second. He is cursed for life.”

When Thorin did not speak, just gazed with a fierce intensity, the hobbit prattled on. “Bilbo Baggins is a cursed son. It is bad enough that he is a changeling with another race, but he got his parents killed with bad luck. If he is a part of your group, then I am not surprised that something bad has befallen one of you.”

“Leave.” Thorin grabbed Ringrim’s hand. “I will not let a superstitious fool near my nephew. Bilbo Baggins had nothing to do with this; it was these fool tweens that you hobbits fail to raise properly.”

“Why, I never!” Ringrim was gasping like a fish, but did not get up to leave. After a moment he regained his composure. “Suit yourself. I will not abandon this patient.”

“What is going on?” Gloin pushed gathering hobbits aside like piles of leaves, followed by Oin and a Fili that rushed back to his brother.

“A luck energy injury. Paralysis from the….” Ringrim began to prattle on again to Oin. Thorin concentrated on Kili until he heard Rivendell.

“No elf will touch Kili!” Thorin tried to pick him up.

“Stop it, Thorin!” Dwalin had him in a bear hug. “We cannot move him.”

“This kind of injury is something that the healers at Rivendell best handle.” Ringrim was confused. Most of the time, his patient’s family preferred elven healing.

“I have seen a case once or twice, Relgrim is always fooling around. Ice compresses and bed rest will not help this time.” Oin shook his head when his eyes met Thorin’s. “Kili must be treated before the paralysis is permanent. He is already blind. Soon he will not be able to breathe, if I am figuring correctly.”

“I am afraid that you are.” Ringrim sigh as he ground up and mixed roots. “We must send to Michel Delving in the hope that an elven trained healer there can help.”

Thorin wanted to roar to the sky in anger as Fili wiped Kili’s face, Oin examined Kili with a hopeless face, and Ringrim tried to spoon feed Kili a bit of his brew. All that came out was a whispered “Why?

----

Bilbo felt a shock wave pass over him. He shuddered, but was already seated. He easily slid back into memory filled dreams. Let someone else handle the rogue luck wearer. Probably only a tween who wanted to show off anyway.

Bilbo was worn out and extremely hungry. He would not let go of Brosi, would not eat, would not sleep. They had drugged the food, he had seen it, had the images forced into his young mind with a burning energy. He wanted to scream for help to get rid of the constant stream. He wanted to clear his mind of the horrible dreams of wolves that came when he did get snatches of sleep. He wanted his Momma to soothe and hold him, but she was gone now, past helping him.

After a hellacious eternity, Bilbo woke from yet another nightmare to two dwarves towering over him. One kneeled in front of Bilbo as he held a Bilon that clung to him.

“Ambrose and Ambrosine, you have grown like weeds.” the dwarf in the odd hat smiled, but did not reach out for them. “This is your uncle Bifur, my cousin. I am Bofur, your adad.”

Ambrose. Bifur had no trouble telling who was who, unlike every hobbit in Tuckborough. Soon the dwarf with the white scar running from his forehead into his hairline was sitting, humming, and holding them both.

“We have come to take you home.” Bofur had red eyes that clearly spoke of many tears shed. He held out his arms.

Adad.” Bilon cried and was soon soothed to sleep in Bofur’s arms.

Ambrose?” Bofur squatted and held out an arm for him as well.

I hate you!” Bilbo spat and hid his face in Bifur’s shirt. “You will not take Bilon! You will not!” His hysterical Hobbitish Westron was almost impossible to understand to Bofur's ameteur ear.

Bofur said nothing, getting up to leave the Great Smial for the long journey back to the Blue Mountains. Bifur tried to get Bilbo to stop crying, but the faunt knew. He could see Bofur leaving a dusty study belonging to a dwarf named Balin, leaving Bilbo there alone as he left to rejoin his caravan selling his carved wares and services as a miner.

----

Chapter Text

Bilbo stirred himself to being half awake as yelling hobbits ran by this way and that. He sat up against the tree, getting his bearings. The rogue luck wearer must have become a serious problem. Healers ran by with their trademark emerald green bags. Several ponies thundered off in different directions, grave faced tweens flat against their necks as they urged their mounts on to greater speed.

The head of the family/eldest son in Bilbo urged him to get up and go investigate. He was well versed in several forms of healing. As Bilbo had not turned out to be a traditional Baggins, Elrond had seen to a well-rounded education in the hopes of making the lonely and reluctant new arrival useful.

Useful.” Bilbo huffed in Sindarin. He was sick of being useful and dependable. The eldest son complex had led to his losing his horses, his business, and even his freedom. He could either go on this trip and get eaten, which would make Brosi and Bofur happy. Or he could sulk around Bag End and find a stupid caravan to no one cared where.

“Bilbo!” Ori walked by, calling and looking around furtively. It appeared that no one could see Bilbo’s rather out of the way tree without looking directly at him. Strange, it was a rather nice feeling.

In fact, Bilbo felt positively wonderful as he saw Bombur rush by with Gandalf. No one could see him, no one needed him. Putting on his headband had been an impulsive, last minute decision that he was thankful for. No foresight, no luck, no feelings not his own, nothing was tromping its way through Bilbo’s mind. He was not in pain, just as Elrond had promised. Bilbo could not remember why he had stashed his headband in a closet for the last few years. Now he could truly enjoy the wedding.

Wedding! Bilbo grinned as he recalled that it was the First Sign of Spring wedding. Much food ale and food would be consumed. Many dances would be danced with many songs sung. Later, the real fun would begin, fun that Bilbo had long denied himself.

Many married couples would be searching out private places in the hopes of conceiving a child this day, a child considered very lucky. A few not married couples would be searching out private places today in the hopes of a conception that would let them marry. It was the one time of year that authorized marriages and disapproving parents could be overridden. Rivendell hated the practice, but the tradition held fast.

Bilbo could never drink, never dance the truly enjoyable dances, never have any fun. Today would be different. He managed to grab an ale, a roasted chicken, and a whole blueberry pie without being seen. This rogue luck wearer might be Bilbo’s ticket to a truly memorable night! He smiled smugly as he sat against his tree and dug into his food, glancing up to eye potential suitors every now and then.

After managing to eat an entire chicken and an entire pie, Bilbo was feeling rather stuffed. He helped himself to a few more ales as he joined a dance competition. Somehow he was partnered with none other than Azalea Brandybuck, a girl that he had become well acquainted with as a tween. On infrequent visits to the Shire with Balin, Bilbo had developed quite a reputation. He was still proud to have kept the sharp eyed Balin clueless to it all.

The disapproving, superstitious elders serving as judges kept them from winning the Flower Reel and the Toss Up. But no one could deny them the prize of a deep purple traveling cape when they were the only couple left standing for the fast as you can spin around Spinning Wheel dance. Afterwards, both of them lost the contents of their stomachs. Laughing the whole time, they vanished for their own idea of a slow dance.

----

Gandalf had woke refreshed as always at Bag End. He passed on joining the dwarves for breakfast, or cleaning up Bag End. He was highly amused at the disgruntled dwarves calling him more directionally challenged than Thorin. So what if they took a tour of Tookland, gathering multitudes of hobbits along the way? The tangling beard was a bit of the problem, as was his horse’s appearance. No matter, the unlucky groom would have his horse untangled and in beautiful plaits worthy of a wizard’s steed.

Once at the Great Smial itself, Gandalf gladly ditched the whining dwarves and irritated, puffed up hobbits. No one seemed to care that it was a lovely spring day, courtesy of half of the Gamgee clan. The Old Took had spared no expense for this wedding. Gandalf gave a sigh as he went inside to see his old friend.

“Gerontius Took, you do not look a day over 100.” Gandalf went into the room that had housed the elderly Thain for decades. He was propped up in a bed with several pillows and many colorful quilts, a roaring fire in the fireplace. Gandalf took a seat on a chair that had not been moved for fifteen years as it stood by overstuffed bookshelves that had not been perused in decades.

Gandalf remembered his hobbit friend’s grief over Belladonna’s death. Gerontius had abdicated after his wife soon followed, preferring to hole up in his room. The room was dusted and cleaned, but the only thing that changed in it was the flow of time as the sorrowful Took aged from a quite healthy, active older hobbit to the wizen shell that sat in the bed today.

“Do not jest with me, Gandalf.” Gnarled, age spotted hands twisted with arthritis took Gandalf’s in their weak grip. “It pleases me that you could come.”

“I do no jest. I also know that you paid a Baggins or two to foresee when I would be near enough to the Shire to be found by a messenger. Normally, the First Sign of Spring wedding is not for another moon at least.”

“I did. I also heard that you would be gone off on a far ranging trip very soon. I was still surprised that you have stolen both of my daughter’s sons from me.” Gerontius grumped. “Should get my money back from that huffy Ferumras Baggins.”

“Stolen?” Gandalf smiled warmly at the gruff exterior of his friend. They had whiled away many evenings in front of this very fireplace, smoking Old Toby, having meaningful discussions disguised as barbed comments.

“Stolen, as in taking away all that I have left of my dear, dear Belladonna! One I could see letting go, possibly. You are an old friend, Wandering Wizard. How could I refuse? Instead, you have taken all that I have left to treasure.”

“I arranged for Bilbo to come. Bilon smuggled himself into Thorin’s Company quite on his own.” Gandalf remembered not to use Brosi’s dwarven name at the last minute. “By the way, Balin has accompanied Thorin here. I do recommend that you not request to see Thorin. As I recall, last time that you conversed with Balin, he promised to shove your head into a most unpleasant place if he ever saw you again.”

“Cursed dwarves! Long lives and long memories.” The old Thain was not nearly as alarmed as he had been at the time Balin had spoken those words. “It was over fifty years ago!”

“He considers Bilbo his son. You would not give him custody rights, nor stop calling the poor child a cursed firstborn.” To this day, Gandalf had no idea how he had ended up in this room in the middle of that fiasco. Gerontius Took would not have lived to be the oldest hobbit on record if Balin had had his way that day.

“Enough about Bilbo, I want you to talk some sense into Bilon and have him move in with me. I have been giving all of my grandchildren and great grandchildren opportunities to come and get to know me.”

“You cannot separate one from the other, my old friend.” Gandalf could see that Gerontius Took, the once wise and crafty Thain, was now an old hobbit living in memories, with a warped view of how life had played out. Brosi was the least likely of any hobbit on Arda to enter the Old Took’s room, much less stay with him in the Great Smial.

“Yes, yes.” Gerontius waved a hand and motioned for Gandalf to help himself to a tray of refreshments that a silent and nearly invisible faunt had brought in. “Tell me about your recent travels, Gandalf. Is Radagast still living in his version of a tree house? I would have assumed that the tree that he allowed to grow would have pulled the place apart by now.”

“It is a wondrous thing.” Gandalf took a cup of tea and began to chat away about everything and nothing from his travels around Middle Earth.

“Gandalf!” None other than Bombur rushed in some time later. “Kili! Hurry!”

“What is this?” Gerontius grew angry and offended. This was only after hiding under the bed and ascertaining that the interrupting dwarf was not in fact Balin, ready to shove the hobbit’s head where the sun did not shine.

Gandalf ignored the flustered hobbit. Who would have guessed that a 128 year old hobbit could still puff up like a blowfish? Bombur was quite out of breath, but managed to wheeze and cough out a story with more sanity than the idea of Brosi staying in the Great Smial.

“You must forgive me, old friend. Dwarves are high maintenance creatures.” Gandalf gave the Old Took a few platitudes to twist into his false view of things and rushed out with Bombur before the dwarf passed out.

----

“What has happened?” Gandalf came upon the scene of dozens of hobbits crowding around as several angry dwarves pushed them back.

“Kili is paralyzed.” Fili seemed to be the most level headed person here. Even the old healer Ringrim was arguing with Oin as to the best treatment.

"Oh my." Gandalf watched Fili try to comfort his brother as several more healers arrived.

----

As Bilbo sat once again by his tree, he wondered how he had been such a fool. All had been for naught. All he had left was Trel and his packs, with those currently claimed by Thorin Oakenshield's Company. Trel he could reclaim with a mere whistle.

“Thorin Oakenshield. Thorin, son of Thrain, son of... Who?” Some poor sod stuck with the pompous elf in dwarven clothing for a descendant. Bilbo shrugged and looked into his mug before downing his third...fourth?... whatever mug of Isen... someone's delightful mead. Good drink it was, brewed with honey and....No wonder Brosi loved the stuff.

Bilbo had always thought that Brosi drank mead to get drunk faster. All the better to annoy Bilbo with drinking songs that he and his boys sang in Khuzdul. None of the hobbit matrons understood Bilbo's ire, as he alone understood the meaning. He was the one chided for chewing out those who bravely protected the Shire, so leave the dears be! A few dwarf husbands always roared in laughter at that, though they were also careful to keep their own hobbit wives guarded. Wonderful stuff this mead was. Why did elves forbid it in favor of wine and weak ale?

Azalea had been a lovely diversion, dumping Bilbo's ale, along with all proprietary, as they shared her mug of mead. They had nearly made it to an out of the way hayloft for a reenactment of one of those songs, Bilbo had always been curious about the one about... Bilbo sighed as he contented himself with a plate of purloined sandwiches. A friend of Azalea had somehow found them, and half-dressed or not, the message that some elves had summoned Bilbo had his warm diversion scurrying off for home.

The rush of hobbits was much more amusing now. Though not drunk, thanks to Bofur's inherited constitution...How much did Bofur need to drink to get plastered anyway? No wonder every ale barrel was dry this morning. Why did Brosi order so many barrels anyway? Bilbo watched life through a pleasant haze he had only known at Durin's Day celebrations after even Balin had passed out.

“Bilbo? Is this where you have been hiding?” None other than Odovacar Baggins, the Baggins Thain himself stood appraising his nephew. “Licus has arrived. He requested your presence.”

“Licus never comes.” Bilbo downed his mead before Odo tossed the mug aside.

Someone in Rivendell foresaw the Dwarf King at the First Sign of Spring. Another foresaw Gandalf. Why have you been drinking this outlawed stuff?” Odo grimaced. “Are you drunk? Lady Arwen herself came. Licus has a dozen elves with him, asking for you, Bilbo.”

“Bilbo is dead.” Bilbo tried to sound self important, but a loud, long burp interrupted his thoughts. He gave his uncle a stupid smile instead.

“What? You are hardly Bilon.” Odo was not amused at whatever game Bilbo was playing. He kept his lecture on respectability on hold. Odo was very pleased to not have to meet any dwarves, especially dwarves named Balin or Dwalin.

I am Ambrose, son of Balin. Go away.” Bilbo spat in Khuzdul, deciding that this was a good time to retreat to the ponies. One growl from certain dwarves, especially Bifur, would send the stuffy Baggins clan retreating.

We have a summons to answer, Bilbo Baggins. You are the head of the Baggins of Bag End, now act like it!” Hobbitish Westron was Odo's language of choice to spit back. Not for the first time did Odo regret listening to his wife and not taking in the twins. He was not superstitious, but he did like a clean home, edible dinners, and not having missiles of all sorts launched at his head.

“Bilbo Baggins!” Several rarely seen uncles hefted Bilbo to his feet. His clothes were tidied. Thank goodness their nephew was already wearing his best weskit and jacket.

The events that followed were hazy at best in Bilbo’s memory. This was a shame in a way; the story was the most requested campfire song on the quest, behind Thorin's back.

----

 

Chapter Text

Bilbo was furious. Whatever pleasant haze the mead had given him was replaced by an alcohol fueled righteous anger. He could not believe his ears. Why was everything suddenly based on his supposedly cursed ears?

What do you mean that I am to be the next Baggins Thain?” He managed in Hobbitish Westron as he was dragged along by two other uncles, his uncle Odo tried to fill him in.

“The Dwarf King from Thorin’s Halls is here! He is why Lady Arwen is here. Licus has decided that this is the perfect time to officially announce my heir. You are well known in all of the Shire. You are of two proud Thain lines. You get along well with the Shire’s dwarven population, and by extension, its growing dwobbit population. You were born for this position, Bilbo. Now you will have the clout that you have yearned for decades.” Odo was not happy either with Bilbo’s reaction or his now usurped son’s reaction. As a dutiful, and respectable, Thain he was trying his best.

“The reason that I have been called a cursed changeling for six decades is the reason that I suddenly become no less than a Thain!” Bilbo roared. Yesterday he might have been willing to consider this situation; he did want that dam problem resolved as well as many other issues that Licus never bothered with. Today, the Thains were the group that had taken away his business and assets, effectively exiling him from the Shire. They had thought him too unstable to run a business, yet now wanted him to run a district of the Shire.

“Exactly. You are being honored for your heritage as well as your hard work these past years. You were instrumental in founding the Shire Guard, Bilbo.” Odo would be patient because he had to be. Licus was not one to be disobeyed, ever.

Bilbo was set down in a corridor leading to the large meeting hall in the center of the Great Smial. He looked around at all of the smiling Thains, including his uncle who now wore a fashionable cravat. Come to think of it, all of the Thains were wearing a cravat.

“You are too frightened of Licus to stop this. Fine. I will act accordingly.” Bilbo smiled serenely, straightened his coat, and combed his head and foot hair.

Your mother and father would be so proud.” Isengrim had the nerve to straighten Bilbo’s headband. If anything, this gesture from this hobbit would make Bilbo refuse even if his life depended on it. Brosi was the one that Bilbo lived to protect, whether it be his brother’s honor or safety.

She would, and he will.” Bilbo added in Khuzdul as he kept the serene smile when his name was called out and the doors opened.

“Bilbo Baggins, a product of Rivendell itself. Tireless advocate for all citizens of the Shire.” Licus was prattling on in a loud voice to a host of bored looking elves, Otho by his side trying to look interested.

“We all know who Bilbo is, Licus.” A musical, feminine voice thankfully cut the prude off. Arwen herself came forward, smiling mischievously at Bilbo. One look at her told Bilbo that she knew exactly what he was planning. He gave her an apologetic shrug, which she answered with a small smile and nod. Arwen knew Bilbo better than anyone after Balin.

“Shall we begin?” Odo was nervous and his voice cracked like a tween. All of the Thains lined up like obedient wooden soldiers in ranks before Licus. Bilbo himself came to stand in front of the overdressed, useless body that had never done a lick of work in its life. When said body was 2,000 years old, it was a very pathetic sight.

Licus rambled on in Sindarin, the same speech he had given the last five times that Bilbo had witnessed a Thain’s ordination. He ended right on cue; Bilbo saw Arwen gracefully step to one side. For one moment, Bilbo wished that Gandalf could be there. Forever afterward, Gandalf regretted not being there.

“Do you so swear Bilbo Baggins, son of Bungo Baggins, grandson of Thains Gerontius Took and Mungo Baggins? Do you swear allegiance to Rivendell, Lord Elrond our protector, myself as Magistrate and Guardian of the Shire?” Licus smiled the same smile he had given when refusing to send a letter about the dam and ordered Bilbo out of his sight.

Bilbo paused a moment. So Licus now wanted to present him as a Thain just to impress Thorin. That thought made him act without regret. He tucked his hair behind his dwarven ears and pulled off his headband. The rush of pain from his bracelets and a stomach full of mead had Bilbo bending over.

“Bilbo Baggins?” Licus did not like to be kept waiting. The Thain’s began to squirm. Otho glared suspiciously at Bilbo and stepped away from Licus’ side just in time.

His answer was quite clearly spewed all over Licus and his precious ceremonial gown. Bilbo considered it a bonus when a second set of heaves spewed over several elves that he knew for a fact despised him. When Arwen smiled and inclined her head towards another elf, that elf was soon covered in Biblo’s final display of displeasure.

You are as drunk as a dwarf!” Isengrim never learned. Bilbo smashed him into a wall before turning around and storming out of the hall.

----

“What has happened?” Gandalf kneeled down next to Kili as one of three hobbits with emerald green healer bags actually paid more attention to the patient than to the argument as to best treat him.

“It is a wraith burn, not a luck energy injury.” The hobbit, Tolman if Gandalf was not mistaken, immediately pushed himself back from Kili. He had taken off Kili’s coat and shirt. A hobbit hand shaped burn glistened with angry, wet blisters on Kili’s chest.

“A what? Ring wraiths are…” Somehow Oin heard every word, but it did not help his understanding.

“A Shire Justice.” Ringrim stared as helplessly as the much younger Tolman. “Children started calling them wraiths long ago. Just as evil and twisted as the nine men corrupted by those magic rings.”

“We can do nothing for this dwarf.” Ringrim motioned the other healers away from Kili. Fili grabbed one.

“You cannot just leave him! Uncle!” Fili’s eyes pleaded with Thorin to do something as Kili cried out in pain and fright. His blind eyes rolled around, trying to make sense of this pain filled hell.

Thorin grabbed Tolman, the most sensible of the lot, before he was whisked away. “Talk, now!”

“Only an elven trained healer can help your nephew. Any other healer that touches the wound will bring it upon themselves as well. Doderick Hornblower has been sent for from Michel Delving.”

Thorin’s heart sank as he watched Dwalin grab and shake a healer, who still only shook his head. Nothing would change these hobbits’ minds. “Dwalin, let them go.”

Thorin had heard of these wraiths from a hobbit that had been half dead when he arrived at Belegost seeking sanctuary. The poor thing had died in agony, but not before telling a tale of unbelievable cruelty. They had not even had a name for the hobbit, and his ashes had been given to the wind as he had requested.

Hobbits did not always fit in with the Shire’s ideal of what a citizen should be. Rangers took most criminals to Gondor. Those crimes dealing with capital crimes such as murder, luck pony theft, or hobbitnapping were dealt with by Licus. His idea of a fair trial was a deaf ear to facts and a swift judgment calling for a swift and merciful death.

Rangers refused to execute hobbits under such conditions. Elves refused to sully their hands. Instead, Licus had several “trained” hobbit executioners, called Justices. In reality, these two hobbits were souls broken by great loss. Elves in Rivendell had taken that loss and twisted the hobbits into merciless killing machines. Elrond found it distasteful, but he valued peace in the Shire over having a few dissidents every generation. The mere fear of the wraiths kept most hobbits well within the bounds of the law. Justices knew nothing of swift or merciful when fulfilling their roles.

The two Justices were banded and were supposed to be kept on a short leash by Licus. The problem was that killing machines wanted foremost to kill, or cause pain if they could not. The wraiths were not content with being effective deterrents, and sometimes their urges got out of control. Licus would apologize to any affected families with a large amount of gold in exchange for their silence. Faced with more family members possibly being harmed by those same wraiths, hobbits easily complied.

“Cursed wraiths.” Brosi came on the scene. “We have killed three of them when they went “hunting”, but I do not know how many Rivendell has under wraps.”

“These have been outlawed by the White Council.” Gandalf was furious as he put a hand on Kili’s forehead. He could feel something twisting Kili’s insides even now.

“The making of wraiths, not the ones they already have. Elves keep a number on hand to interrogate orcs.” Brosi had no fear as he searched Kili, sighing with relief at seeing no more handprints.

“Elves who have lived through too much take comfort in the pain of orcs.” Brosi called for a bucket of water and began to carefully clean the burn. “They spend a pleasant afternoon watching a wraith torture an orc into talking. Then they torture the creature just to hear it scream until it dies.”

A squad of four Shire Guard saluted Brosi. “What are your orders, Sir?”

“Check every one of those involved tweens for any wraith mark. Question all of them. I know that this wraith used the tweens as a cover.”

“Why Kili?” Fili could not believe that this peaceful Shire had its own monsters.

“Opportunity. He is a prince, careless, and woefully untrained. If Kili had half of your training, Fili, he would not have been harmed. Wraiths love luck wearers and luck hobbits. The luck energy makes torturing from afar that much easier.” Brosi looked angrier than Thorin would have thought possible, and that anger was directed at Thorin.

You had no right to leave this boy untrained. No right.” Brosi shook his head and whispered Khuzdul words of comfort to Kili as he asked for more buckets, keeping a steady drip of water on the wound.

“I didn’t…” Thorin was confused. Fili would not look up at him.

“I suggest that you find Bilbo. It will take Doderick an hour to get here on the fastest pony, after the tween gets to him. He may refuse to help, hearing that the victim is a dwarf.” Brosi cursed again, seeing a second handprint appear on Kili’s abdomen.

Find that wraith and kill him!” Brosi roared to the Shire Guard units now multiplying as he pulled all of Kili’s clothes and boots off except his smallclothes. He turned to Gandalf, who was muttering odd words, with a hand on Kili‘s forehead.

“You can either help find Bilbo or that wraith. Get up and do something, wizard. Your healing magic can only harm Kili.” Kili’s scream punctuated Brosi’s words as he was held down by Dwalin and Thorin.

“I cannot interfere in wraith business, Ambrosine.” Gandalf looked sad.

Either help or I will send both of us to the hells below if that is what it takes to kill a wizard!” Brosi’s eyes glowed an angry, fiery green as if an emerald had been thrown into a forge. “An orc can last an hour, I doubt that Kili will be alive when the tween gets to Doderick.”

“Gandalf, end his pain.” Fili chocked, but spoke loud and clear. If Kili would die anyway, best to end it now.

Brosi gave Fili an incredulous look and grabbed both mustache braids in one hand. He yanked them with every word. “Do NOT just give up without even trying a blasted thing. Go use your supposedly fine luck wearer training and find Bilbo. Fine one you are, not able to find one hobbit.”

“I will find Bilbo at once.” Gandalf eyed Brosi warily and got up.

“I will not leave my…OUCH!” Fili was kicked away from Kili by a solid hobbit foot. Brosi turned back to Kili and continued to murmur soft words and stream water over the burns with Oin’s help.

Two Shire Guard helped Fili to his feet and dragged him away, kicking and screaming Kili’s name.

“Sorry, Majesty.” Brosi looked at Thorin a moment. “The wraith has had time to learn Fili’s defenses. If he stays by his brother much longer, he could be attacked. Farther away, the wraith will have to physically touch him. My boys will protect him.”

“Myself and Dwalin?” Thorin would not leave even if he was in danger.

Brosi shook his head. “You are full of Bilbo’s healing. You would appear as the one hobbit that a wraith will not mess with. Now get me some blankets and more water.” Kili was shivering in the cool spring air.

“How long does Kili have?” Dwalin held Kili down as even Gandalf began to search for Bilbo. He was quite impressed with the hobbit for making even a wizard do his bidding.

Brosi looked around, only Dwalin was with him now, Oin deafened by the screams. Thorin was busy yelling at hobbits to get more water and those blankets. He let a helpless look cross his face for a moment. “It depends on how long it has been since the wraith last tortured or killed something. He may want the experience to be drawn out, or he may grow bored and yearn for a quick kill to see our reactions.”

“How can Bilbo help?” Dwalin asked more to keep his mind calm as Kili screamed in yet more agony.

“He can break the bond. I can see it, but if I try to even touch the bond, the wraith will strangle Kili before I can do one thing.”

“Blasted kings. Blasted hobbits.” Dwalin cursed the fact that Thorin had talked him into leaving Bilbo behind. If Kili died, this quest died with him.

----

Chapter Text

Fili was helpless as a growing number of Shire Guard surrounded him. Most were young, with beards barely long enough to braid. All were dwobbits, stocky by nature and well muscled from weapons practice. Four kept a hold of him, while six others surrounded him, eyes traveling everywhere.

“Captain is right, young Sir.” A lieutenant with more pointed hobbit ears, and an impressive red shock of hair and beard, had introduced himself as Madoc Boffin.

“It is my job to protect my brother.” Fili locked eyes with Dwalin a moment. Whatever Brosi had said had not been good news. Dwalin had never been able to hide his feelings very well.

“Then you have a choice, young sir.” Madoc nodded to two other Shire Guard with the same red hair. “As an older brother myself I speak. You can wail and be useless, then continue that wailing for that boy’s funeral. Or you can use your training and talent to help him. Captain would not say you had fine training if it was not true.”

“I assume that you do not want to practice wailing for a funeral.” Another lieutenant, Marroc Boffin, pat Fili on the back with sympathy. “What is it? Find Mr. Baggins or this cursed wraith?”

“If we kill this wraith, will Kili be freed?” Fili forced himself to turn from the scene and think clearly.

“Maybe. Maybe not. We do not understand the elf thinking that made such a creature. Mr. Baggins does. He trained in several arts at Rivendell; he was one of Lord Elrond‘s favorites, they say.”

“Then we find Mr. Baggins first.” Fili felt calm settle over him with a decision made.

Afterwards, we hunt down and skewer that bastard wraith!” Madoc roared, joined by all of his fellow Guards in very dwarvish and unhobbitlike roared threats and chants that became a Khuzdul war song.

Definitely afterwards. Fili thought privately. The wraith would have plenty of time to hear them coming at this rate. Thorin could work a group up into a frenzy, but this bunch was worse than even Gloin and his temper without any help.

----

Bilbo felt sick and dizzy as he managed to escape yet again from the Great Smial. His head and hands burned in a way that reminded him of why he had tossed the headband into a closet. It also reminded him that putting it back on would not relieve the pain. This sickness would only be remedied by time, rest, and lots of headache relieving tea.

“Are you alright, Bilbo?” None other than Daisy Took helped Bilbo take a seat at an empty table. “I saw the elves and Thains go inside. Is everything alright?”

“Yes. Yes, it is.” Bilbo managed a weak smile and accepted a mug of lemonade and some tarts. “Should you not be leaving with your new husband soon?”

“We were just about to, but there was some trouble with some tweens. Gandalf seems to be handling it.” Daisy looked around. “He sent the healers away, so the young dwarf must be alright.”

“Dwarf? Which one? Was it the blonde?” Bilbo felt sick at the thought of Fili possibly being injured.

“The black haired dwarf with him, I think. I have not had a chance to get over there. Grimaldo has kept me on a rather tight leash. Gondor Tooks are not very adventurous, are they?” Daisy sat and ate a tart. She seemed relieved to be free of her new husband for the moment.

“Brosi could better answer that. He stayed with some cousins his first two years there. The Steward’s men thought that Brosi needed to get acclimated to being a hobbit again.” Bilbo well remembered seeing his brother only when Bofur’s caravan wintered for a few months in Belegost.

“It did not work, did it?” Daisy chuckled.

“No, apparently not. But we have a fine Shire Guard.” Bilbo repressed other memories, memories of jealousy and the physical and emotional pain from the one time that he begged Bofur to go with him in the spring. They did not speak again for nearly twenty years, when Brosi was something both had to deal with.

“Well, well. As I live and breathe, it is the famous Bilbo Baggins, drunk as a stinking dwarf.” A hobbit in dark green pants, a white shirt, an emerald green weskit, and a maroon jacket came by. He sneered as he smiled at Bilbo’s discomfort.

“Go away, Justice.” Daisy spat. “You are not invited to this wedding.”

“Ah, but I go were the Magistrate goes, and he is here.” the hobbit held out his hands. “So I am here.”

“Where is your headband, cursed wraith?” Bilbo saw the thick bands on the hobbit’s wrists that could not be hidden by law. “You are to keep it on at all times while in public.”

“You always were such a poor sport, Bilbo.” The Justice glanced over Bilbo’s own wrists and the headband clutched in one hand. “I see that you are not wearing your own. Fair is fair, is it not?”

Bilbo well knew the wraiths’ confrontations with Brosi. Brosi liked to say that he did not play games. Brosi had also promised that he would kill every last wraith, as they could not keep themselves to their lawful prey. Out of six that had been under Licus, four were dead. Three of those deaths were the direct result of Brosi and his boys hunting down wraiths for weeks without stopping.

Daisy! It is time to go.” A very unhappy Grimaldo grumbled in Hobbitish Westron and came over to claim his new wife.

“My congratulations on your wedding. Take good care of that fine colt of yours.” The Justice merely smiled a nasty, knowing grin. “Bilbo here has been rather careless with his ponies and has no more.”

“We both know that it is because of you, cursed wraith.” Bilbo stood face to face with the hobbit after Daisy was dragged away.

“Is that a threat? Should we settle this with a duel in the games this afternoon?” The wraiths had tried for thirty years to get Bilbo to enter a contest of strength and skill with one of them.

“No.” Bilbo shook his head. “You are nothing but the twisted shell left after the elves burned out your broken soul. Do you even remember your wife and children, Hugo?”

Bilbo knew that he was one of very few who remembered a Hugo Banks and family from Bree, who had been ambushed on their way to Rivendell to visit with family. He had only been at Rivendell for a few weeks as a twenty year old fauntling when the distraught father and husband had been the only survivor found.

The Justice growled, his sneering smile becoming an even uglier snarl. None of the wraiths had names; all went by Shire Justice. “Hugo died, Bilbo. He was reborn as something better and stronger. I can protect, whereas that weakling could not. The Shire is a better place for it.”

“I know that you killed my horses. I have always known.” Bilbo forced the wraith to look him in the eye. Elrond himself had taught Bilbo how to handle them when it was decided to send Bilbo back to the Shire. Elrond had felt that extra precautions could not hurt.

“And what of it? Will you go crying to the Thain Council as you did when you cried wolf about the new dam? Really, Bilbo, this is so unbecoming of the next Baggins Thain.” The Justice regained his smile, easily pulling away from Bilbo’s gaze. This alone told Bilbo just how out of control Licus had let his monsters become.

“No.” Bilbo merely shrugged and sat to finish his lemonade and tarts.

“So unlike your brother, are you not?” The Justice tilted his head as he now carefully looked Bilbo over. “He is the roaring dwarf. You are the mewling hobbit. Or have we just not found the right approach to awaken the roaring dwarf in you, eager for blood?”

“I will not breed more horses for you to kill, Hugo. Sooner rather than later, you will follow your urges and grow careless. You will be caught and dealt with, just as the others have. How did you feel when Brosi and his boys rode back into Hobbiton? Three times, not just once. How did you feel when you saw your cousin’s head on a pike each time? Can you see your head on one as well?” Bilbo smiled sweetly, the hurt inside screaming for revenge.

“I will…” The Justice growled, barely stopping a threat. If he even verbally threatened anyone, Bilbo could have his head in a heartbeat.

“You will go whining to Licus, as usual. It is the only thing that you can do. You want to hurt me, yes? It is a pity, Hugo, is it not? You are not even allowed to raise your voice to a Thain or a Thain’s heir.”

“I will…Not possible…” The now thoroughly shaken up wraith stormed off.

“So it is not Hugo.” Bilbo finished his tarts. If Hugo was the one killing his horses, then he would not have had the self control to leave just then. “It is poor Posco.”

Posco Cotton had been a wild young tween in his day. He had even tried to grow out a Stoorish beard. Bilbo had been a small child in Balin’s care when the tween disappeared from a village in the East Farthing. When Bilbo returned from Rivendell, Posco was Licus’ newest Shire Justice, though Bilbo had never seen him at Rivendell. No one would tell Bilbo anything about his story. The Justice formerly known as Posco never went out in public as Hugo did.

There was another possibility that made Bilbo shudder. It was possible that Licus had another Shire Justice that no one knew about. An unknown wraith might feel brave enough to break all of the rules. Anonymity could make anyone feel brave, and cruel. More than once, Bilbo had received mail where the unknown sender called him a cursed changeling who should leave the Shire. An unknown wraith would have the advantage in that no one would know anything about their temperament or style. No one could predict their behavior with accuracy.

“Mr. Baggins!” A familiar dwobbits’s voice rang out. Madoc Boffin was not shy in the least. He was joined in volume with his brother, Marroc, and about half a dozen other Shire Guard. They ran across three dance competitions, a flustered Fili in tow, to stop and surround Bilbo.

The young one…

This one’s brother needs you, Sir.

“Young Kili is wraith burned.” Marroc pushed his brother and underlings aside. “We have been looking all over for you, Mr. Baggins. Captain is doing all he can, but he believes the lad will die before the healer from the capital can come.”

“Will you come, Bilbo?” Fili quietly asked. It was clear that he expected Bilbo to shun Kili as the other healers had.

“I am sorry that I did not come earlier, Fili.” Bilbo could not believe that he had let himself get distracted by the wraith once Daisy had mentioned Kili. He had no wish to try mead or ale ever again.

“I am sorry that I let Uncle leave you behind.” Fili grabbed Bilbo as the dwobbits began roaring again and propelled them away. “Enthusiastic, are they not?”

“I would not have them any other way.” Bilbo managed a grin. “I have never regretted supporting Brosi’s boys. Never.” This led the dwobbits to begin singing a new song twice as loud as the last. Fili merely shook his head.

----

“What are you doing here?” Thorin finished wrapping a blanket around Kili as Bilbo was propelled into the circle created by the crowd control dwarves.

“Kili has been wraith burned, yes?” Bilbo looked Thorin over and cocked an eyebrow at Brosi. Thorin was blocking the way to Kili. “He needs my help.”

“A second burn appeared without physical contact.” Brosi pulled a compress away from the abdominal burn. “Kili is blind and paralyzed.”

“He is numb, yet feels pain?” The alarm on Bilbo’s face shut Thorin up for a moment.

“Aye.” Dwalin could only watch, helpless. “Kili cannot move willingly, but he can react in pain.”

“Help him, Mr. Boggins.” Fili tried to pull Bilbo to Kili’s side.

“Handprint?” Bilbo frowned as he removed each compress in turn and examined them.

“A handprint, what a brilliant deduction.” Thorin pulled Bilbo to his feet. “A useless gentlehobbit who has not done a day of work in his life is not what Kili needs. Doderick Hornblower has been sent for.”

“Kili will not live that long.” Bilbo simply faced Thorin’s gaze. Whereas Brosi’s eyes shone like a fire lit emerald, Bilbo’s hazel eyes reflected his emotions of alarm and a quiet fury. With his arrival, Thorin could sense a heavy presence radiating an almost serene calm that spoke of a calculating mind carefully taking in every detail of Thorin, as well as Kili.

“Kili is not an elf or a hobbit that you have practiced on, if you are trained at all.” Thorin felt his stubbornness rise to the calm’s challenge. “A dwarf is hewn from stone, gifted with stone’s strength. We will wait for the healer.”

“Twice I have seen dwarves families or comrades say something similar. Once, their own healer could do nothing that helped and still the dwarf died. The other time we watched a fierce, strong warrior reduced to begging for death long before the healer came. Yes, he lived, but as a broken dwarf.”

Bilbo did not march face to face with Thorin, bellowing to have his way. He had dealt with dwarven customers for decades and dealt daily with Brosi for these past years. It was what was expected, the rules were clearly held by dwarves. Bellowing was step one. They were simple creatures, as unchanging as stone. Yet, a stone could be shaped with a skilled hand and the right tool. This situation called for patience as well.

“Help Kili, Mr. Boggins!” Fili grabbed Bilbo.

“You are the eldest son of your family, Fili. Your duty is to protect your brother. You have also pledged your allegiance to your uncle and king, though. Your duty is to obey his wishes.” Bilbo followed step two, acknowledging who was in charge, preventing any insults to pride or honor that would make Thorin totally unreasonable.

“Bilbo!” Brosi blew up right on cue, facing Thorin and engaging in the shouting match that was acceptable in step three. It was even expected, showing the sincerity and commitment level of the other arguer after they had acknowledged their opposition’s standing.

Bilbo watched the battle of lungs, debating on step four. Normally, Brosi would eventually reach a compromise, such as Bilbo could break the bond, but the healer would care for the wounds. Right now, watching Kili, Bilbo could break the bond while using Brosi as a distraction. The down side would be that Thorin would not respect him for breaking the unspoken way of properly doing things.

Help him, Ambrose. He is just a boy.” Dwalin growled in Khuzdul. He had always been a dwarf of action and quick decisions.

Ah, this was a new situation. A family elder had just given Bilbo clear instructions. He needed no prompting.

“What is Kili’s song, Fili?” Bilbo whispered as he knelt back down. “Take his hand and hum it, quietly.” Thorin and Brosi were still well into the thick of an argument.

“Song of Durin’s Awakening.” Fili spoke without hesitation and began humming. As Dwalin joined in, the first words were sung quietly, as if they were waiting with baited breath for Durin to wake up.

The world was young, the mountains green…

Bilbo rode the song with ease, Fili was a natural. Bilbo could read Kili’s natural leaning from Fili’s knowledge.

The world was fair; the mountains tall; In Elder Days before the fall…

Bilbo gently grabbed the two tangents of energy connecting Kili to the wraith. The cursed creature had loved the attention. He was planning on adding a third handprint at any moment, bringing Kili’s torment to a climax and killing him long before a healer came.

What? The wraith could feel Bilbo’s energy blocking this attempt. Fear came through the tangents; so this wraith did know Bilbo. No resistance was met from the wraith as Bilbo freed Kili from both at once. Fili and Dwalin jerked back from the pain, but Bilbo had no time to sever each cord individually and gently.

A king he was on carven throne…” Bilbo smiled as he saw the pictures in Kili’s mind. As a dwarfling, Kili had related Durin on a carven throne with Thorin’s tales of Thror on his throne in Erebor.

Bilbo could feel Fili recovering. The dwarf would not remember any pain, as Nori had not. Dwalin took the small bit of pain that he had felt in stride. He was not a luck wearer, unable to have Bilbo’s true help. He lent Bilbo his limited strength anyway. Bilbo considered his options.

Bilbo could take the tangents in hand and kill the wraith. He settled for snapping the energy back to the monster. There was a silent scream as the energy burst through formidable defenses and exploded. Bilbo would have to settle for blinding the wraith for a few days. It would make it easier to identify the specific wraith, and help the Shire Guard find and dispose of the thing.

There hammer on the anvil smote…” Bilbo settled into Kili’s mind, bypassing his natural defenses that were already recovering. He pondered whether to give Kili some training by borrowing wisps of Fili’s early lesson memories.

Settling for the practical, Bilbo healed effects of the as yet unnoticed wraith burn on Kili’s neck. It was the impression of two fingers pinching the spine just where Kili could breath, but not move. The spinal cord was not permanently damaged; Bilbo brought the swelling down to prevent that.

“Kili!” Fili was dragged out of the song as he felt Kili grip his hands in a death grip. He looked around to see Dwalin with clouded eyes, singing Kili’s song. Bilbo himself had a hand on Kili’s head.

{You are eldest brother.} Fili could hear Bilbo in his mind. Bilbo honored his earlier wishes from the night before. He would not interfere in Fili’s decisions regarding Kili as a luck wearer. Bilbo moved on to erasing any pain and damage left from the wraith’s internal torture. Fili looked at Brosi and Thorin still arguing and began to sing again, his own eyes clouding over.

Unwearied then were Durin’s folk…” Bilbo easily finished with a surge of strength from Fili. He made a final pass over Kili’s mind, able to erase permanently those memories still in short term memory. Some were burned forever into the young dwarf’s mind, but he could blunt their impact for now.

Bilbo sensed from Brosi that Thorin was no longer distracted. He made a final pass of Dwalin’s mind, erasing the physical memory of pain, if not the mental fact. His Khaaz was expecting a boatload of cookies as compensation after that shock.

Til Durin wakes again from sleep.” Bilbo watched Kili’s eyes open and take in the scene. Kili’s luck wearer eyes would never cloud over. No luck hobbit had ever been born that was more talented than him.

“Mr. Boggins!” Kili grinned with mischief. “Should I ask what you have done with my clothes? Are you implying something?”

“Cheeky luck wearer. As bad as Nori.” Dwalin growled, but ruffled Kili’s hair.

“Kili.” Fili merely bent to touch foreheads with his brother. Bilbo could sense him wrapping his brother back in strong protections that Thorin’s carelessness had stripped away. He could also sense fear as Fili acknowledged that Dwalin knew what Kili was. Fili elected to push this fear away for another time, just as in his dreams. Rewrapping Kili was more important.

Here. Bilbo gave Fili a ball of energy full of his own signature. No wraith would dare touch anyone carrying Bilbo’s energy. I will help you with the situation at a better time.

Fili nodded, accepting the support and the energy. Weaving the energy into Kili’s protection was easy, facing the reality of Kili’s talent was another matter entirely. Having the support of even a mere hobbit was a relief; Fili was no longer alone in trying to protect his brother. Another elder brother understood.

----

“We can help the lad now.” Both hobbit healers began to pull things out of their emerald green bags. They argued, but Tolman prepared a compress as Ringrim forced a brew down Kili’s throat.

“You look a bit tired, Bilbo.” Balin appeared out of nowhere. He put a steadying arm around Bilbo’s waist. “Let us get you back to the ponies.”

“Baru, I was…” Bilbo slid into darkness to escape the now impossible to ignore pain in his head. He had nothing left; Kili had somehow taken what little reserves the hobbit had left. That was fine with Bilbo, Baru’s embrace meant safety. Baru’s strong arms had always sheltered a fauntling named Ambrose from the world.

“Dwalin, we leave as soon as….Dwalin?” Thorin looked away from Kili to see that his most loyal dwarf had left his side. In fact, both Balin and Dwalin were worrying over Bilbo Baggins. Thorin was obviously forgotten about when Dwalin threw the limp hobbit over his shoulder and strode of in the direction of their paddock without a word to his king.

“Balin, see to it that Master Baggins is sent back to his home in Hobbiton. We will leave the Shire long before he awakens from his drunken stupor.” Bilbo had spurned his offer of friendship when he offered his face name. Then the hobbit had broken the rules of ethical bargaining, tromping all over Thorin’s authority, pride, and honor. Now the stuffy hobbit had taken his most trusted warrior from his side without a thought!

“We will leave in the morning, Thorin, no earlier.” Balin gave Thorin a rare hard, sharp glare. “Kili is hardly able to travel yet. The hobbits will say a week’s rest, but a night is sufficient. As to Bilbo, he is under contract to this Company. You will leave no member behind.”

“Balin.” Thorin growled. Disgust and fury at this Baggins troublemaker pressed together to form an irrational emotion that Thorin could not name.

“Kili would not have suffered if you had not been foolish enough to leave Bilbo behind this morning. Bilbo will leave with us in the morning at first light. I will see to him myself.” Balin’s dependable, serene face had no half smile at this moment. Balin was a dwarf spurned in some way, and he was not happy about it.

“Do that. I look forward to sending him into a dragon’s lair.”

“I will see to it, and gladly. You, though, are as pompous an arse as an elf right now, Thorin.” Balin stormed off.

Thorin wondered once again why this Shire hated him. Whatever was in the air, or was it the water? Whatever it was, it was contagious, as everyone was so easily taking a liking to his now hated burglar.

----

“Hugo. Hugo Banks.” The Shire Justice smiled as he watched a dwarf carry the infamous, no longer infallible, Bilbo Baggins away like a sack of potatoes. The Justice did not remember his past life. The elves were merciful, wiping his memory of all but the importance of being strong. Bilbo Baggins was no longer strong.

The exhausted Bilbo had not noticed that the two tangents of energy were from two different wraiths. Pasco had been desperate for a kill. The young Kili, so full of luck and defenseless, thanks to his king, had been an easy and irresistible target. Now Pasco was blind and would soon be caught with his head mounted on a Shire Guard pike. The Justice felt no pity. Pasco had never truly been a wraith: refusing to relinquish his first name, refusing to appear in public, calling himself a monster.

Pasco had been a failure, and the Shire Justice had merely fulfilled his role of protecting the Shire by getting rid of him. If he himself had benefited by being able to torture the dwarf, then that just meant more time before he felt the urge to “damage” something once again. Surely he could set up a convincing scenario worthy of an execution or two before then. Bilbo’s horses might be gone, but being the only wraith left at the foolish Magistrate’s disposal meant that all of the fun now belonged to the Shire Justice once known as Hugo Banks.

----

Thorin was angry. He wanted to scoop Kili up and never let go. He wanted to take his family and head back to the Blue Mountains. Instead, someone wanted Thorin’s head, sending him on a quest to take back their home to save his people. Now someone wanted to hurt his family, hurt his nephew. He felt irrational thinking war with his better judgment.

The elven trained healer, Doderick Hornblower, had come soon after Dwalin came back from disposing of that infuriating Baggins.

“I was just finished up with a difficult birth of triplets in Bywater when the messenger came. Breech birth, all of them.” The hobbit looked amused at the dwarves stunned looks. It was well known among elven healers that dwarves had few children, and did not have multiple births.

“Can you help him?” Thorin did not care if Doderick was elven trained. By now he felt exhausted. When he had touched foreheads with Kili his nephew had taken some of his strength. No, that was silly. Kili had no talent. Thorin was just tired. Had not Mr. Baggins messed with Thorin’s mind last night? This was the hobbit’s fault.

“Wraiths are serious business, but I will do all that I can.” Doderick pushed Ringrim and Tolman aside.

“Do not touch me.” Kili did not like this new hobbit. He reminded Kili of…of…something not very nice.

“Let him fix you up, Kili.” Fili nodded to the hobbit.

“You are in good hands.” Doderick concentrated on the first of the burns.

It was some time later before Doderick stood up.

“Thorin, the hobbit healed the lad completely.” Fili helped Kili dress in a borrowed shirt and pants.

“Amazing.” Thorin put his coat around his shivering nephew. The two burns that Tolman and Ringrim could only dress with poultices were now only small white scars.

“Nothing at all.” Doderick chuckled. “As intimidating as a stove burn.”

“Which you never attend to.” Ringrim muttered as he put the last of his things in his bag and marched off. Doderick had never had a polite view of traditional healers. He never remembered that only one healer was taken to Rivendell to be trained every generation.

Fili watched Tolman join Ringrim in his mutterings as he, too, stomped away. “Mr. Baggins had some part in Kili’s healing, did he not?”

“I would say that Mr. Bilbo Baggins view of himself is much inflated.” Doderick looked offended. “He is only good for healing sick cattle. He cannot even heal his own horses and ponies. I would stay far away from any help that he has to offer.”

“Mr. Baggins claimed that Kili would be dead before you arrived.” Thorin seemed pleased that someone agreed with him at last. “Kili began to recover while he was still here.”

“Would you have been able to fend off the wraith, Mr. Hornblower?” Fili felt his temper rise.

“Of course. Of course.” Doderick waved off Fili’s question like an annoying fly. “I would have done dire damage to the monster. Mr. Baggins did very little here.”

“Uncle, I had the oddest dream.” Kili was supported by Thorin’s arm around his waist. “I do not remember it now, though.” He glared at Doderick.

“Let us get you back to the ponies.” Thorin glared at Dwalin. His second in command merely shrugged. If their leader wanted a word with him later, Dwalin would give him a few of his own.

----

Chapter Text

Bilbo stirred as the dwarves returned with Kili. He could feel the presence of several luck wearers and Brosi among the lot. He could also hear Bombur trying to relate the incident to Bifur.

“I say that I am fine, Uncle. Tell Oin to leave me alone.” Kili’s irritated tone carried across the paddock. Bilbo forced his eyes open to watch.

“Just rest as the healer said.” Oin made a bed of straw in the lean-to as Thorin put Kili’s bedroll and then Kili in, all wrapped up in his coat.

“I am not tired. You still need to choose two luck hobbits. I was going to watch the competitions.” Kili was out like a light as Thorin drew a finger across his nose.

“Nice trick. I will remember that.” Oin sat next to Kili. “Go watch the competitions, you have hobbits to chose.”

“I do.” Thorin looked around the paddock. Dwalin stood in his customary spot by Thorin’s side with his arms crossed. No, they would talk later. Then Thorin spotted hazel eyes and curly auburn hair peaking out of what was definitely Dwalin’s bedroll. Thorin remembered when they had hunted the bear that became that same bedroll.

“Dwalin, why is there a hobbit in your bedroll?” Thorin knew he would regret asking.

“Because his is still tied up in his saddle pack, and my hands were kind of full at the time, Thorin.” Dwalin looked like Thorin had left his brain at Bag End. “Is there a problem of some kind here, Thorin?”

“There is a hobbit in your bedroll, Dwalin. You never let anyone else use your bedroll, Dwalin.” Thorin spoke matter of fact as if to a child.

“Thank you for letting me know where the hobbit is, in case I misplaced him, Thorin. I put him in my bedroll, Thorin.” Dwalin spoke matter of fact as if Thorin were an idiot. “Should we not be going back and choosing your luck hobbits, Thorin?”

“I will stay with Kili. We do not need any other hobbits.” Fili made himself comfortable beside Oin and Kili. Dwalin was the ideal for loyalty to his king. When he and Thorin had their usual twice a decade disagreement it usually ended in a few blows being swung.

“Majesty, why are you so angry at Bilbo?” Brosi seemed utterly confused. Why was Bilbo’s brother bothering the clearly furious dwarf? Bilbo forced himself to become fully awake.

{Do not yell at Brosi, ever.} Bilbo pulled at every last tangent of energy left from last night’s healing. As Bilbo had gently left helpful preferences as Thorin slept, he now forcefully pushed the command into Thorin’s mind. The luck wearer was weakened by Kili and distracted by stress, easily managed.

Thorin whirled on Brosi, ready to unleash his pent up anger, but froze instead. “I do not want that hobbit to..to..” His voice came out as a confused whisper, then he stood staring at Brosi with uncertainty.

Bilbo, leave Thorin alone!” Brosi yelled in Hobbitish Westron by childish habit. He knew exactly what had happened, with a little prodding. He had seen more than one drunken guest at Bag End stopped just before Brosi was involved. “I can deal with people myself, thank you.”

You do not need some dwarven imbecile turning his anger on you, Brosi.” Bilbo could not sit up, but he could seemingly spar endlessly with his brother on his worst day.

“What are they saying?” Oin asked.

“I have no idea.” Fili just shrugged as they watched the two hobbits continue arguing. Instead of speaking their accented, yet perfectly enunciated formal Westron, they were arguing in a mishmash of informal Hobbitish Westron, Sindarin, and Khuzdul. Whichever language had the most precise wording for each insult thrown got preference.

Fili realized an interesting fact as he watched the verbal sparring. Both hobbits’ accents fit the Hobbitish Westron. They were almost impossible to tell apart by tone, as well. The only telling factors were word usage and enunciation. Brosi mangled Sindarin, while Bilbo carefully pronounced the words. Brosi easily threw Khuzdul, while Bilbo mangled most of his Khuzdul grammar.

Thorin rubbed his forehead and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Dwalin, why should I bring two more of these headaches with us?”

“You are the leader of this group. Why are you bringing two more, Thorin?” Dwalin was here to be a strongman, not the brains of the outfit. He continued his matter of fact tone. “Perhaps you should inquire with Balin.”

“Balin is furious with me.” Thorin had not seen his advisor since their talk.

“That is rather hard to do.” Dwalin frowned. “Ambrose, what did you do to Thorin?”

The hobbits stopped their garbled arguing in mid sentence. Each looked at Dwalin, then Thorin.

“He is acting as pompous as an elf, the imbecile. He should have picked a tree last night as I advised him.” Bilbo’s muffled voice came from the bedroll, though his head was now well hidden. Brosi turned a stunned look on his brother.

“We will discuss this later, Ambrose. For now, Thorin and I are going to watch the competitions. Do you understand what I am saying?” Dwalin had a calm face and a monotone voice. This did not bode well for the hobbit. By the look on Brosi’s face, his plans did not bode well for Bilbo either.

“Yes, Khaaz.” The bedroll disappeared completely under Bifur’s blanket.

“Shall we go?” Dwalin looked to Thorin. “Balin will not be pleased, not at all. But he may be a bit less angry with you after I mention the manners of a certain hobbit.” There was a whimper from the bedroll.

“I take it that he is fond of the hobbit?” Thorin suddenly connected the pieces.

“Quite. Is there a problem, Thorin?” Dwalin kept on with his monotone.

“It would be best if we concentrated on the competitions for now.” Thorin knew not to push Dwalin any farther. The dragon’s lair comment would not go over very well right now.

“As you wish, my king.” Dwalin motioned for Thorin to proceed before him and they left.

“What has Uncle and Dwalin so angry, Fili?” A tired Kili lifted his head to watch the two leave.

“Mr. Boggins, Kili. Mr. Boggins.”

----

“Bilbo!” Brosi did not shout, but droned out the name in a long, low growl.

Thorin and I will have to work out a mutual relationship by ourselves, Brosi.” Bilbo spoke in Sindarin. Brosi always needed a moment to mentally translate before speaking. “I will not discuss such a relationship with you at this time.

Bilbo, Thorin is my king, as well as the leader of this expedition!” Brosi was no longer bound by necessity to do everything Bilbo’s way. Brosi was the senior luck hobbit in his element.

A true king would have better manners.” Bilbo was clearly unimpressed by Brosi’s new status. Brosi in turn was no longer hindered by span of a few minutes that made Bilbo the in charge eldest son.

Thorin is the heir of Durin’s line. That fact is the heart of this quest! Mocking Thorin mocks this quest and all of the dwarves that are risking their lives for him. That true king is the reason that you are free of Rivendell, Bilbo.” Brosi had no idea why he was still arguing in Sindarin.

So Thorin is the reason that all of my family is off to die. He is the reason that I am now labeled as disgrace as well as a cursed firstborn. He is the reason that pain moved in to my head. This has really helped, Brosi. Please leave now, before I strangle your precious king with a thought.

Bilbo, come out of there!” It was hard to argue when Bilbo refused to show his face.

“I will keep in mind that Thorin deserves respect, grudgingly. Just think of it as an assurance that there is no competition for Thorin as your luck wearer. I would chose Nori instead any day. Go to the competitions before another hobbit gets him.”

Bilbo, we need to talk without you pulling the big brother act. You need to see me as the senior luck hobbit here.

Your precious king’s luck hobbit will be given deference, not your experience. Besides, as senior luck hobbit, you should be by Thorin’s side helping him to decide on the best candidates, Brosi.

You confused Thorin’s brain as to how to act around me. I doubt he will be able to say a word to me all day.” Brosi was still confused as to why he was still arguing in Sindarin.

He will not know what you are saying if you keep speaking in Sindarin. Think of my interference as a gift: you are the only being on Arda that the imbecile cannot yell at. Now, go away.” Snoring began, telling Brosi that Bilbo was not about to just see Brosi as in charge.

Why is it that you can never understand my viewpoint?” Brosi looked over at Fili and Kili and their completely different sibling relationship. He sigh and went to join Thorin.

----

Fili did not understand the suddenly rational conversation between the hobbit brothers in Sindarin. He did understand the look of irritation, then defeat, on Brosi’s face before he signed a goodbye to Bifur and went to join Thorin.

Bilbo and Brosi are brothers. Why do they act so harshly with each other?” Fili had seen Bifur carefully watching the interaction between the two hobbits since last night at Bag End. Bifur’s manner was tinged with a growing anger.

Same same brothers. Iglishmêk had no words for multiple births or the very concept of people who were identical in looks. Same birth. Same… Bifur gave up. They are very different from each other. Those differences push them apart.

“Mr. Boggins and Brosi are twins!” Kili sat up. “I would have never guessed.”

“Identical twins, just like the girls that rode with Uncle.” Fili waited for Bifur’s reply.

They are very different in appearance because of the different cultures they grew up in. Bifur did not confirm Fili’s guess. You should go find your own luck hobbit, Fili. Brosi has not chosen you. I doubt that he will chose any luck wearer.

Why? Brosi is senior luck hobbit. He will need to have a connection with the other luck wearers and luck hobbits.

Oin and I will watch your brother. You wanted to go on a quest to prove that you are grown up. Prove it by being able to do something important on your own. It was clear that Bifur would answer no more questions.

“Kili will sleep through the night.” Oin put an understanding hand on Fili’s shoulder. Kili had already nodded off. “You two need to learn to have some space between yourselves. You will be king one day, Fili, not Kili. There are places that you will have to tread that Kili will never be able to follow. Choosing a luck hobbit is one of them. It is an intensely personal decision.”

“Stay out of trouble.” Fili made certain that the half asleep Kili was warm enough by the campfire with their uncle’s coat.

“Chose a good one.” Kili was used to people ignoring the fact that Kili was right there when talking about him and his brother. Fili was the crown prince, even without the expected crown. Kili was a spare, the fact would not change with or without a fancy crown that would never be as fancy as Fili’s own. A crown prince's world revolved around Kili. What could compare to that?

----

Chapter Text

Thorin watched Dwalin closely as they went back to the festivities. It was late afternoon and all of the competitions for dancing, singing, cooking, and a dozen other hobbity things were winding down. Most of the hobbits had grabbed a last meal and wandered over to a large meadow to watch the luck hobbit competitions.

“It is an odd wedding where the bride and groom are not the center of attention.” Thorin tested the waters around his bodyguard and friend.

“Hobbits do not believe in delaying the couple’s festivities until night. The wedding is also more of an excuse to have a party. Hobbits are stuck nice and secure in their holes all winter. They would strangle each other if they did not have all of these competitions.” Dwalin shrugged, leading the way. “We will deal with Ambrose later. You need to choose two hobbits.”

“Yes. It is discouraging that this Ambrose has been so elusive.” Thorin had heard the name thrown around all day, yet had not seen anyone with that name. “Why is it so important for you to meet up with this person? Is he a hobbit?”

“You have met him. He called you an imbecile, which I might agree with at the moment.” Dwalin did not even grace Thorin with a look back.

“Mr. Dwarf! Mr. Dwarf!” Two familiar voices interrupted any reply from Thorin.

“Grimela. Melagrim.” Thorin stopped at the edge of the crowd to kneel down to their eye level.

“We thought that you would like a guide or two, as you have not been to a Rumbling Clash before.” Grimela puffed up proudly at the idea of being important.

“I did not think that our aunts or uncles would help you.” Melagrim shook her head at her sister, obviously the more astute twin.

“Faunts are not allowed at these competitions.” Dwalin looked them over with a grim face, but his voice was gentle. “Your ma will have agreed to this.”

“Mama and Pappa are busy. Our oldest brother is supposed to be watching us. He gave us a copper each to buy candy and stay out of trouble.” Melagrim had puppy dog eyes.

“We feel safer with you, Mr. Dwarf.” Grimela doubled the sad look.

“We could hardly refuse.” Thorin chuckled. The joy of children were such a rarity for his people, he did not have the heart. Besides, these two girls were the only part of the Shire that had welcomed him. Perhaps they would protect him as well, from the Shire’s wrath.

“We know all about all of the competitors.” Grimela, as oldest, was caught up in trying to win with logic.

“He said that we could come with him.” Melagrim grabbed her sister’s hand and dragged her along.

“Why is it called the Rumbling Clash?” Thorin stopped beside Dwalin at the front of the crowd. Hobbits had melted out of their way without even looking away from the current match. Thorin only saw two hobbit males trying to wrestle.

“The Rumbling Clash is only allowed at the first and last festivals of the year. The elves consider it too dangerous.” Grimela began.

“It is a good way to settle winter arguments and make peace before another winter.” Melagrim followed up seamlessly.

“Tooks have fierce tempers.” Dwalin watched the match with crossed arms. “Even those with little luck talent can scrounge up trouble with the amount of luck in the Shire if they are angry enough.”

“We do not live in individual homes like in Hobbiton. We are crammed together all winter.” Melagrim drew out winter with a face. “The Thain does not like it when an argument blows a home up. I would like to see that, but Mama refuses to let me try it.”

“Blow up?” Thorin did not like the sound of it in the view of self preservation.

“Watch.” Dwalin indicated with his head.

The two hobbits that had been grappling for a hold on their opponent were now on their feet facing each other. They looked like they were trying to push a wall over, but were not touching. A small distance was between their hands.

“I do not see the sport in this.” Thorin could sense luck being used as a shield of sorts by the hobbits.

“Just watch.” Grimela began in imitation of Dwalin .

“Hold your ears.” Melagrim covered hers.

One hobbit seemed to have the upper hand and began to push the other backward. The loser was actually digging a rut into the ground as he was pushed.

“The field is marked with two territories.” Brosi joined them. He pointed to two sets of flags behind each competitor. “One can win by pushing his opponent back until you are in his territory, you can obliterate his defenses, immobilize him, or maim him to the point that he cannot get up.”

“Perhaps you should not be here, girls.” Thorin did not like the words that Brosi used, especially when Brosi did not seem like the kind to embellish things.

“You need us.” Grimela and Melagrim began in unison. They began to talk about the sport, past competitions, and the current competitors.

Thorin watched several matches where a winner pushed his way into other’s territory. He saw one near loser literally blow up the now loser’s shield, leaving the hobbit an unconscious mess. He saw three matches where both hobbits were blown up, the winner decided by who could still stand or at least remain conscious. Each time luck exploded, or even imploded, there was a rumbling wave of energy that passed over the crowd.

“Have you seen enough?” Dwalin asked when the crowd booed as two unconscious hobbits were carried off of the field. It had been declared a draw.

“What say you?” Thorin now knew more than he would ever want to know about each competitor’s entire life. How could such small brains as the girls’ keep such complex gossip and genealogies straight?

“They might be fierce in arguing, but none have faced a warg. None have battled outside of a competition with judges.” There was nothing that Dwalin hated more than perceived fierceness that was little more than bravado. “ Such a hobbit will panic or run away when, and not if, we are attacked. I cannot protect everyone in our group all of the time.”

“Which competitor has field experience as a luck hobbit?” Thorin turned to his guides.

“The Steward’s retired luck hobbits are forbidden to participate. They win too easily. The others that have been hired out to caravans refuse to join in the games. They say that it is a farce.” Melagrim spoke, though Grimela glared at her as if it was blasphemy.

“Brosi.” Thorin had not heard a word from the hobbit since the second match, though Brosi watched with an odd intensity.

“I told you last night that I would not interfere in your choices, Majesty. You know your luck wearers better than I do. You must chose someone compatible for each.”

“I would be choosing a green broke colt?” Thorin inexplicably reverted to horses for comparison.

“Some of the more adventurous youth disappointed in not going to Gondor, aye.” Brosi finally looked at Thorin. His eyes were hazel with hooded depths. “Others are well trained riding horses that have no business being compared to war horses. I also see that not one has come up to offer his services to you after the wraith incident.”

“I will not lead boys to their death, Thorin.” Dwalin clearly did not approve of bringing any hobbits.

“How can I get some of the experienced hired out hobbits, or a retired Gondor hobbit?” Thorin looked around. It was true, all of the hobbits were avoiding looking his way. “Surely a share in the…”

“Hobbits care not for gold, Majesty. Gold that you cannot provide up front, which most will insist on. They will want their families taken care of before they left.” Brosi shrugged. “I will go talk to some contacts. They might approach me without you being near.”

“Do that.” Thorin nodded to Brosi and the hobbit vanished into the crowd.

“Have you seen enough?” Dwalin asked Thorin as another battle ended with a hobbit pinned to the ground by luck. “How would these hobbits react to not having all of this luck around anyway?”

“Yes. Let Brosi handle this business. Grimela, Melagrim, it is time to go back to your family.”

“Thank you!” The girls squealed with delight at the ten copper coin that Thorin gave each.

“Are we a bit smitten?” Dwalin finally relaxed as they turned to leave.

“It is always good to pay one’s sources well.” Nori came up with Ori in tow. Ori was writing feverishly in his book.

Have you found out anything?” Dwalin's Khuzdul was down to business as he set a fast pace away from the crowd.

Three experienced hire outs. Two retired Gondor luck hobbits. Twenty youngsters too green for my taste.” Nori effortlessly guided Ori as his little brother did not even look where they were going. Thorin doubted Ori was even aware of his surroundings.

“Stay with your family, do you hear?” Dwalin took the twins’ hands and walked them over to a now outraged aunt. “What was the catch, Nori?

They either want the traditional three trunks of gold up front, marriage, or other nonsense.” Nori seemed most put out by the idea of marriage. Thorin had no doubt that the dwarf could find enough gold with opportunity and time, time that they did not have.

“Do not mention marriage to Dori. He was muttering about trouble from the womb earlier.” Ori continued in his book by beginning a sketch of a match.

“Thorin, we have pointy eared trouble ahead.” Dwalin came back as a large group of elves came over a hill, headed for the competition.

“Thorin Oakenshield, I presume.” Thorin felt a light touch on his shoulder. He turned to see a beautiful elf maiden with a crown smiling down at him.

“Ah, the dwarven king. I must say…” The most pompously ugly elf that Thorin had ever seen joined her.

Go watch the matches, Licus.” The elf maiden glared at the intruder. “I need to speak to our guest in private.” If Arwen thought that Thorin was clueless as to their Sindarin conversation, she was clearly underestimating her enemy.

As you wish, Lady Arwen.” Now deflated, the elf took his entourage and took off to terrorize the hobbits into showing respect that he clearly never had.

“Licus is a fool. The Shire is the only place where my father could place him without dire consequences. The hobbits are a patient and crafty lot.” Arwen did not give the other elves a second look.

“Thorin…” Dwalin began.

“I do not bore you with frivolities. My assistant, Lindir, will accompany us on our talk.” Arwen neatly separated Thorin away from Dwalin into a walk with her and the silent male following just behind her. Dwalin just stepped in beside Lindir, behind Thorin.

“I do not wish to converse with elves.” Thorin was not stupid enough to openly insult elves on their home turf.

“Then converse with someone concerned over the hobbits that you are taking into terrible danger. Brosi Baggins is in no condition to ever go out of the Shire again. He will be needed as Shire Guard Captain when the orcs that you bring come here.”

“Brosi is coming.” Thorin did not care to leave Brosi in the hands of elves. “His father approves. That is all that I need to know.”

“I cannot let you take Bilbo Baggins, either.”

“He is under contract to me, a binding contract.”

“I will pay whatever you ask to release him.”

“No. I will take both hobbits with me when I leave.” Thorin lost all patience. “I can take two luck hobbits, by your very rules. Then I chose to take Bilbo and Brosi Baggins as my two luck hobbits. This conversation is at an end.”

“You do not understand what you have.” Arwen did not follow as Thorin turned to go back to the ponies.

“I know enough to not give them to the likes of elves.” Thorin heard Dwalin grunt in agreement behind him.

What shall we do now, my Lady?” Lindir watched the furious dwarves storm off.

“They will come to us, just as my father predicted. Only this time, it will be on our terms. I will not let Bilbo Baggins leave Rivendell, and if it takes keeping his brother near as well, then we will acquire both.”

“As you wish, my Lady.” Lindir became silent again as they joined the other elves in watching the final match.

----

Chapter Text

“Dwalin, we leave as soon as Oin says that Kili can ride.” Thorin stormed ahead of Dwalin as they approached the paddock.

“Thorin, do not go rushing off and doing something foolish.” Dwalin could not stop his king as he halted in front of Dwalin’s bedroll.

“Get out here now, hobbit!” Thorin yanked the bedroll open, sending Bilbo sprawling across the ground.

“What is going on, Khaaz?” Bilbo ignored Thorin’s tirade as he got to his feet.

“Why would Arwen, daughter of Rivendell’s lord elf, want you? Why would she offer anything that I wanted to free you of your contract?” Thorin got Bilbo’s attention by grabbing the hobbit by the collar.

“Licus tried to make me the next Baggins Thain. I refused.” Bilbo remained limp in Thorin’s grip, but faced the angry dwarf with calm hazel eyes.

“Why did you refuse? I would have released you from your contract without hesitation.” Thorin let Dwalin free the hobbit, but still hovered dangerously over him.

“I did not want released. My uncle has a son who has been trained as heir his entire life.” Bilbo did not seem aware of the danger from Thorin’s temper. Dwalin put his arms around Bilbo and drew him near.

“Why are you helping this useless creature, Dwalin?” Thorin remembered the anger from earlier to fuel his temper.

“We need to work this out ourselves, Khaaz. Please round up Brosi for me. We will need to leave by the end of second watch.” Bilbo freed himself and calmly, too calmly by Dwalin’s reckoning, turned back to Thorin.

“You will be alright?” Dwalin did not even ask why they would have to leave so early.

“We must work this out ourselves. Please, Khaaz. Find Brosi for me.”

“Aye, I will be back.” Dwalin gave Thorin a questionable look and left.

“You will not give Dwalin a hard time regarding me.” Bilbo faced Thorin eye to eye with a calm tone.

“You will not mess with my head again.” Thorin had learned Bilbo’s methods while the hobbit commanded him over Brosi. No matter that he could not undo the command, Bilbo would not be able to place more in Thorin’s head.

“Dwalin is a fact, not a command. As for Brosi, it was an unfortunate decision that I had to make. My mother would not approve, but your irrational temper tantrum forced my move. You cannot yell at Brosi.”

“Is that a fact?” Thorin sneered.

“No one can yell at Brosi. I will not allow it.” Bilbo seemed almost bored.

“Why is that? The world does not cater to you like the Shire does, hobbit.”

“If you yell at Brosi, and I have to handle him, I will kill you. I would kill anyone who hurts him.” Anger filled the hazel eyes. Bilbo meant every word that he said. “I would protect him with my dying breath.”

“Ambrose, what is going on here?” Balin’s voice cut through the anger. Bilbo immediately went into a submissive slump as he faced the angry dwarf.

“We need to work out our relationship, do we not, Barufunh?”

“Hardly. Thorin is king. Thorin is leader of this expedition. You are a simple burglar hired to do a simple job. Is that clear, Ambrose?”

“Yes, Barufunh.” Thorin could not believe the change in the hobbit. Bilbo was literally cowering beneath Balin’s scrutiny.

“What did you say to anger Thorin so? He is not usually so unreasonable.” Balin stood with arms crossed in a good parody of Dwalin.

“I…” Words failed as Bilbo turned red.

“Let us start with imbecile.” Thorin smirked.

“You have caused much unnecessary grief, Ambrose. This expedition is hazardous enough without your shenanigans and pride.”

“I said that he was as pompous as an elf and any of the trees outside would suit his needs.” Bilbo looked ready to cry.

“My intimate needs, as I recall. He also referred back to it earlier today.” Thorin was now smiling quite smugly. “I deserve an apology and compensation.”

“You do, Thorin, and you shall have it, after we hear the whole story. Thorin, what did you say to Ambrose? Something started this.”

“I caught him returning home late, after I ordered everyone to go to bed.” Thorin was beaming in triumph now. “Out with some lady friend.”

“That tongue of yours.” Balin stole Thorin’s sweeping victory with one look. “Ambrose, where were you? Though I am aware that you did not know that you had signed that particular document at the time.”

“I was called out to the stable. Tern was giving birth.” Bilbo’s lip quivered, but he kept his calm face. “There was nothing that could be done. We lost them both.”

“So it is true what Hornblower said. You can only help sick cattle.” Thorin could not help throw in the barb.

“It no longer matters what anyone says. You are taking all of my horses. You are taking all of my family. I have nothing left in the Shire to stay for.” Bilbo did not show any reaction to the barb, as if he were long used to long suffering. So Mr. Bilbo Baggins was not as influential as he liked to think.

“Influential, yes. Respected, never.” Bilbo shrugged.

“Thorin, this could have been avoided if you had watched your tongue. Now it is over. Do both of you understand me?” Balin did not seem surprised that Bilbo spoke what Thorin had thought to say.

“Yes, Barufunh.”

“Agreed, after I receive compensation, and Mr. Baggins promises not to kill us in our sleep.” Thorin crossed his arms, not childishly, not at all.

“Bilbo, give Thorin your pledge that you will not betray him, for any reason.” Balin glared at Thorin a moment too long.

“I pledge.” Defeated, Bilbo held out his right hand, palm up with a small glowing luck ball.

“I accept your pledge.” Thorin took the offered energy in his hand and absorbed it.

“Ambrose, give Thorin his due compensation; you know our traditions.” Balin looked somewhat appeased at the civil behavior.

“May I leave your presence to get it, Barufunh?” Bilbo bowed to Balin. So Thorin’s victory was not all encompassing. That irked him a bit.

“Make certain that your choice is fit for a king, Ambrose.” Balin’s eyes never left Bilbo as the hobbit sorted through his saddlebags.

Soon Bilbo came back and held out a silver necklace strung with a dozen smoky quartz crystals. Thorin could see no flaw in any of them as he took the offering. It clearly pained the hobbit to part with the necklace.

“You have my apologies. Please accept this as compensation. It has been handed down in my mother’s family from before the founding of the Shire. It has been imbibed with luck for protection by every generation of Took that has held it.”

“What say you, Thorin? Are you satisfied?” Balin looked like no matter what he did, the dwarf would be furious with him.

“I propose that I hold onto this for two days as a pledge. If Mr. Baggins can hold his tongue for that time, he may have it back.”

“Barufunh?” Bilbo turned to Balin. Thorin knew then that Bilbo’s loyalty was to Balin, and would never be to him.

“It is your decision, Ambrose.” Balin’s tone was no longer angry, and he again had his ever patient expression.

“I wish for the dwarven king to accept the necklace as compensation.” Bilbo looked Thorin in the eye. “Is it just compensation, or not?”

“It is more than that. I accept.” Thorin had tried yet again with Bilbo, and again met a wall.

“May I be excused, Barufunh?” Bilbo got a nod from Balin and literally vanished before their eyes.

“Will he…” Thorin looked around.

“He has just gone off to collect his brother. Same as Dori is collecting Nori.” Balin shrugged. “Now that this nasty business is settled, we can sort out watch and get some sleep.”

“Why will Mr. Baggins yield wholeheartedly to your authority, yet throw all of my attempts at friendship back at me?”

“Bilbo knew of your dragon comment long before you spoke it. He will let you into his inner circle in time. He likes you already.”

“He has an odd way about showing it.”

“Bilbo has referred to you as Thorin from the moment that you met. Once you get to know him and understand why he acts the way he does, you will get along rather well.”

“What is wrong with the hobbit? Why is Gandalf so adamant about us bringing him?” Thorin did not miss the fact that Gandalf had joined the others by the fire for dinner.

“Bilbo and Brosi are something that the Valar would never willingly create. Bilbo is right in that he is influential, and not respected. Hobbit clan lines are not to be crossbred at all, much less on a whim. The other hobbits fear them, even more so as Bilbo is a firstborn son twin.”

“You are talking riddles, Balin.” Thorin felt his headache coming back with a vengeance.

“The elves will give you anything to get at least Bilbo back. There is no way that we can stop in Rivendell.”

“Lady Arwen said as much a short time ago. Are you saying that Mr. Baggins is not joking at leaving so early?”

“Bilbo would do anything to protect Brosi. His foresight is tuned to keeping Brosi safe. If Bilbo says to leave at the beginning of second watch, then I advise you to do so if you want to keep your hobbits.” Balin put on a big smile and put an arm around Thorin. “Now, laddie, we start a grand adventure tomorrow. Let us join the others in a good dinner.”

As Thorin sat eating dinner and laughing at the other’s jokes, he thought over Balin’s words. Yes, he won some foolish power struggle with a hobbit, but it was a hollow victory. No matter his pride, Bilbo had been motivated by love for his brother. This was something that Thorin could not demean or ridicule. He would have done anything to keep Frerin safe, anything.

"Dwalin, we leave at the end of second watch." Thorin had not seen either hobbit. Dwalin nodded and continued eating, content now that things were settled.

----

His habit of often volunteering for second watch had Thorin easily waking up as Dori shook his shoulder. Without a word, Thorin took Dori's spot by the fire as the other dwarf melted into the warm pile of his brothers. Some time after Dori fell asleep with his signature snores, Thorin got up and made a round.

"Hello, there." Thorin pet Petunia as she stuck her nose in pockets looking for treats. All of the other horses except Dwalin's stallion greeted him as they dozed. The stallion watched him intently as Thorin checked every tie line and made certain that they all had access to the water troughs. Bilbo had reappeared earlier after dinner, feeding each horse their hay and grain with soft croons and hand pats.

Dwalin had dragged Brosi back, to the hobbit's consternation. The Shire Guard was close to finding the wraith. Bilbo had spoken one sentence about how Brosi's responsibility was to the Company now before Brosi stormed off to his bedroll. That night Brosi had slept in a pile with Bofur's clan. Bilbo had slept between Dwalin and Balin of all places. He had even put a traveling cape over Balin before crawling so close that the snoring dwarf's beard hid the weird hobbit.

Thorin sat back by the fire for a few hours, contemplating his situation. Two hours before they were to leave, Bilbo stirred. The half asleep hobbit totally ignored Thorin. He went directly to Brosi and shook the now cranky luck hobbit awake.

"Bilbo, it is too early to get up." Brosi was hauled to his feet to a water trough.

Thorin watched in amusement as Brosi's pack was opened and Bilbo began to hum. This humming continued through a quick, and cold by Brosi's complaints, wash. The humming turned into a Khuzdul song as Bilbo pulled a clean shirt, pants, and brigandine on Brosi. When the squawking hobbit had been dressed, complete with vanguards and shoes, Bilbo pulled out a pouch. Now Brosi sat still as a statue as Bilbo sang a song, an ancient prayer if Thorin could recall. Bilbo swiftly braided several braids, securing them with beads that sparkled in the firelight.

"Good morning, Thorin." Bombur took to calling Thorin by his name much easier than Dori had. He began to set up the ingredients for breakfast.

"Bombur, how would you put up with Mr. Baggins?" Thorin knew that their cook was good natured and got along with just about everyone.

"Oh, Bilbo? Just keep in mind that he sometimes reacts to words that you have not yet spoken. The trick is knowing how to react when he reacts to words even you do not yet know what you will think up?" Bombur shrugged as if it was not a big deal. "Bilbo is generally easy to get along with if you mind your manners and do not present a threat to Brosi."

"Mr. Baggins can read minds?"

"Not so much as he foresees you speaking the words in a conversation that you have not had yet. Bilbo's been like that since he was two and lost his mother. It made him much too protective of Brosi as well." Bombur turned away to revive the fire and put a pot of coffee on.

"I see." Thorin mused.

"Forgive me, Thorin, but you do not see. You will have to learn on your own. Do not assume things and make the same mistake that Bofur made." Embarrassed, Bombur began scrambling eggs in a frying pan.

"Do as you are told, Ambrose." Dwalin's voice carried across the paddock. "Your clothes smell like you brewed yourself in a barrel of ale."

"I can wash myself!" Thorin stifled a laugh as Dwalin dumped Bilbo into a trough and Balin, soap in hand, began to scrub the irritated hobbit. Dwalin dumped the hobbit's pack, searching for clothes.

"I will not wear shoes!" Bilbo let Dwalin shove clothes, a brigadine, and vanguards on him. Thorin could not hold back a laugh as the hobbit actually sat on his own feet. "Where did you get those?"

"I got them for you yesterday." Brosi got some coffee from Bombur, looking very pleased at the turned tables.

"Will you hold still, Ambrose? Jumpy as a fauntling." Balin began to sing as he began to braid Bilbo's hair. Thorin would not soon forget the hobbit's exasperated expression as he sat enduring Balin's ministrations.

----

Chapter Text

“Do not be so angry, Bilbo. It was only a joke.” Brosi laughed from the time that Dwalin held up boots until Brosi finished his coffee and brought a pair of ankle covering shoes over for his brother.

“Hysterical.” Bilbo glared at the footwear with an intense hatred before shoving them on his feet. He stood and took a few steps. “How do you balance in such things? It feels like my feet are bound in ropes.”

“You look like a colt with his first horseshoes.” Brosi did not help matters by tying Bilbo’s laces tighter. “You have to use the laces to keep them on your feet. Walk around with loose laces and you will…trip…” Brosi shook his head as Bilbo fell over, tight laces and all.

“Mr. Baggins has never worn boots?” Thorin had come over and looked down at Bilbo without offering a helping hand.

“Not for forty years, no.” Bilbo pulled off the shoes and thrust them in Brosi’s hands before marching off to get a plate and coffee.

“You and Brosi will be vulnerable. You must dress to fit in as a dwarf, Ambrose.” Dwalin tossed the shoes back at Bilbo’s feet.

“As if our height and rather large shoes would not be noticed. As if our horses equipment would not be noticed.” Bilbo inhaled his eggs and chocked on his coffee. Dwalin and Thorin laughed as they left to get their own breakfasts.

“That is where we come in.” Brosi looked too smug as he whacked Bilbo’s back. “A luck hobbit’s job is as much to create an illusion as anything else.”

“I am not trained to be a luck hobbit like your are, Brosi.”

“I have watched you and your trickery for almost nine years. You know more than I did when I went out with my first caravan.”

“You ran away!” Bilbo grabbed a shoe as Brosi tried to sneak it on his foot.

“Successfully, might I add. As I was saying, you will do fine.” Brosi looked quite proud of both his getaway and not one, but two shoes now tied to Bilbo’s feet.

“I signed on as a burglar, a simple burglar if I recall correctly.” Bilbo sat, arms crossed in a fair imitation of a Thorin brood. “You tricked me, anyway.”

Brosi looked remorseful. He sat next to Bilbo. “Brother, I did it for your own good. The Shire is smothering you, killing us both. This group needs your help, you know it. Gandalf chose you for a reason. Trust him.”

“Those in this little group only have each other. We must all do more than we signed on for. Even Ori, hired to chronicle this quest, will not hesitate to pick up an ax to defend the group. All of our kin are going, Bilbo. All of them. How can we turn a blind eye?”

“They have a perfectly good home in the Blue Mountains. Belegost is as fine as any other city for Bofur’s clan to set up a proper shop. They need not wander in caravans every year. Bombur spends half of the year pining for Bofur and Bifur, listening for any word of them. Baru and Khaaz have a hard earned secure place to serve their king and people. Instead, Thorin insists on going on this quest.” Bilbo refused to use the obvious word of choice to describe this trip. Anyone going had thrown any shred of self preservation out the window and slammed the window shut.

“You have lived the majority of your life with home loving elves and hobbits. These are dwarves, Bilbo. You must learn to see them for who they are, not who you assume them to be.” Brosi put an arm around Bilbo’s shoulders and gave one an imploring squeeze. “Please try to understand.”

“I understand dwarves much better than you think, little brother.” Bilbo shrugged off Brosi’s arm, even if a show of emotion was rare from him. “You do not know some of our kin as well as you think you do.” Bilbo was looking at Bofur as the dwarf sat eating with Bifur.

“Many dwarves prefer to travel the land if they cannot live under a mountain.” Kili and Fili had joined with their own breakfast.

“Have you never felt the urge to travel, to see new things, Mr. Boggins?” Kili looked at Bilbo with confusion.

“Bilbo has never had an such an unhobbitlike thought in his life.” Brosi got up. “I will never understand why we were born as brothers.”

“Why are you so hard on your brother, if Brosi is that, Mr. Boggins?” Fili unconsciously put a protective arm around Kili. Kili leaned back against Fili.

“It is better that Brosi not know everything, even if it frustrates him to no end, Fili.” Bilbo felt pained that he could not be such a big brother to Brosi. “As for the urge to travel, Kili, yes. Yes, I felt it as all youth do, I suppose. It was also literally beaten out of me as a youth, as well.”

“Mr. Boggins!” Both dwarves spoke as one, even in shock.


“As the eldest Baggins son there were certain expectations I was to live up to. Brosi cannot be angry at me for doing things exactly as I was taught.” Bilbo shrugged and did not elaborate. “It is time to see to the ponies.”

----

“I take it that they are talking about me again.” Bofur did not miss Bilbo’s looks as Brosi and then Kili and Fili joined the unhappy hobbit at breakfast.

Brosi means well. Bifur ground his teeth as he watched Brosi storm off. When the brothers fought, he felt nearly crazy with anger and helplessness. Even living at Bag End for a year as he helped Brosi, Bifur could not mend what had been ripped apart decades ago. As the oldest of his clan, Bifur felt somehow personally responsible.

“Brosi is a proper son who knows what his responsibilities are.” Bofur had to rein in his tongue to not comment when Bilbo made a scene with shoes of all things.

Bilbo knows his responsibilities all too well. I do not know what happened for him to sign that contract. He has been adamant about staying at a Bag End that has never been home so that he can run a family business he cares nothing for. Brosi is right, he needs us more than we need him. Bifur grew more agitated with each hand sign and grunted Khuzdul word. It was an old argument. Why do you never appreciate all he goes through to make you happy?

“Bilbo ceased caring about what I think years ago.” Bofur forced a smile. “It is time we got up and actually began this adventure.”

You will have to face him sometime. There is nowhere to hide on this quest.

“All in due time, cousin. Let us see to the fine horses that Bilbo has given us.” Bofur tried to appease Bifur somewhat.

Very well. Bifur had to be content with what little credit Bofur would give the hobbit. Things would work out in the end, he hoped. He had hoped for five decades, to no avail. Perhaps now something would change.

----

Your horse has extra equipment, Mr. Baggins.” Ori had his book open and quill at the ready as he came over to Bilbo.

“Trel and Trick will be outfitted with some protective gear.” Bilbo nodded as he gave his pack straps a last tug. He reached down and pointed to each item carefully buckled to Trel’s legs.

“Bell boots cover the hoof from the pastern over the hoof and down to the heel. They help to prevent injury from jumping, maneuvering in muddy terrain, or slipping on slick surfaces.” The fleece lined leather cups covered Trel’s front hooves.

“Splint boots are worn on the front legs above the pastern joint and protect the lower bones and soft tissue of the lower leg. Do you see how the horses do not have muscle there to wrap around and protect those areas?” Bilbo patted the unadorned leg of Trick who was snoozing beside Trel.

“Yes. How interesting.” Ori was scribbling down notes while trying to draw a picture.

“We have plenty of time on this trip for me to go over all of this with you, Ori. Brosi would be very helpful to talk to as well. I train horses, but he has actually been on a luck pony with a caravan.”

“I will. Thank you. What are the back leg covers called?” Ori noticed something and stopped writing.

“Those are skid boots. They protect the rear fetlocks from injury if Trel must move her feet in awkward ways. All of this keeps her from injury if she trips on her own feet.” Bilbo tried to keep the explanation short. They did have a long journey to discuss things in detail. Bilbo hoped that Ori would not have to see for himself how the leg protection helped.

“Mr. Baggins, how is it that you can see in this darkness?” Ori had seen hobbits lighting lanterns long before the sun went down. Here they only had the light from the cooking fire and a few lanterns hanging from the lean-to's roof beams.

“Talking shop again, Bilbo?” Brosi came up on Trick’s other side and began buckling on her leg gear.

“I would be just as interested in your viewpoint, Brosi.” Ori did not want another argument. His own brothers fought enough. His question would have to wait.

“Best way to learn is hands on.” Brosi grinned as he set Ori’s book aside and replaced them with a pair of skid boots. “Start learning by putting these on.”

“Gladly, Brosi.” Ori smiled. This was one member of the Company who was certain to not baby or coddle him.

----

“Bilbo gave you a fine pony, Thorin. Why are you so hard on him?” Dwalin and Thorin had finished breakfast and went to saddle their own horses. "You know that it hurts Balin, as he is fond of the lad."

"Mr. Baggins is not as he seems. I do not know whether to trust him or not." Thorin was reluctant to talk of one that Dwalin was quite fond of as well.

"Aye, he is not. You can trust him. You are trusting him if you are bringing him along as a luck hobbit of all things. Have you considered asking to be his luck wearer?"  Dwalin could not resist a half serious jab. "You are experienced, whereas he is not. It would be a good balance. Brosi would do well with Fili."

"I believe that Mr. Baggins has decided upon Nori." Thorin did not sound disappointed. "Nori has experience with luck hobbits in the field. I do not. I have been told that Brosi will not have an exclusive pairing. He will probably work with all of us as needed."

"I have heard of a few luck hobbits doing that, after losing an exclusive luck wearer that they have worked with for years. It might be for the best. Most of the time attackers kill the luck hobbit, but some will kill the luck wearer if they are an easier target. Not nearly as effective; the darn luck hobbit will probably blow them up after going mad."

"That is enough dire talk, Dwalin." Thorin remembered how Brosi had reacted when Gandalf mentioned Niriel. "I must be certain of the hobbits that I have chosen."

"If the elves want them, then you want them even more. This is true even if it just keeps the elves from stopping this quest. Many will not want to chance waking Smaug." Dwalin did not like to think of politics and multispecies relations; those were in Balin's realm of influence. He preferred a simple view of life: evade enemies if possible, if not, then kill them before they kill you.

"Then tell me about Mr. Baggins and why I should trust him." Thorin secured his packs and ax. Petunia nickered to Dwalin's stallion, eager to be off. She had not been hired out to a caravan for two years.

"If I told you anything, you would make assumptions. Talk to Ambrose and get to know him for yourself." Dwalin considered Thorin a moment. "I will say that his hobbit name is Bilbo Baggins, but his dwarf name is Ambrose. That will clear up some confusion. You cannot talk to him if you do not know his proper name."

"Which does he prefer?" Thorin just looked ready to brood without any interest in their hobbits.

"Ask him yourself. Do not make assumptions." Dwalin turned back to his fretting stallion as he tried to take a chunk out of Dori as he passed by.

"Why do you ride such an animal?" Thorin was suddenly glad for Petunia who helped by pushing Dori out of reach.

"Wild animal!" Dori mumbled as he went to saddle his own docile gelding.

"I am the only one who can handle this fine horse. No one else has been able to ride him." Dwalin looked too proud.

"Bribed him with cookies, did you not?" Thorin smirked.

"Aye, what else?"

----

Breakfast was soon eaten, the camp articles packed away, and everyone was mounted, ready to ride away from the Shire. Thorin looked relieved, Dwalin looked impatient, most of the others just looked worn out and tired.

“We shall take the Stock Road through Green Hill Country.” Gandalf was holding a lantern and looking over a map with Balin.
 
“I wish to cross the Brandywine Bridge before we stop for the night.” Thorin interjected while pushing his face over Balin’s shoulder.

“We shall take the Bucklebury Ferry. The bridge is over twenty miles away. We can stop in Stock for the night before continuing on to Bucklebury.” Gandalf continued.

“The elves refuse to use the ferry, Majesty.” Brosi took his arm before the dwarf could become irate at the wizard. “You must ferry yourself across, which is beneath an elf. We can avoid them today by keeping to the Stock Road. Tomorrow, we can use the High Hay border road in Buckland to access the Great East Road. The elves will be ahead of us by then.”

“I do not fear elves, Brosi.” Thorin watched Brosi’s face carefully. The hazel depths were clear today, drawing him into a picture of elves mounting white horses, talking about something intently in Sindarin.

“I fear what elves can do to hinder your quest, Majesty.” Brosi closed his eyes and shook his head to clear it. When his eyes opened, Thorin only saw curiosity in them. “Are you alright, Majesty?”

“Thorin may be right. The High Hay border is said to keep out an array of unpleasant beasts living in the Old Forest.” Balin’s face scrunched up in concern, still looking over the map. “We need to get on the Great East Road in any case.”

“What does Mr. Baggins have to say?” Thorin was suddenly curious as to the nature and extent of the Baggins’ foresight.

“Bilbo is a hobbit and could care less about leaving the Shire, much less how we leave.” Brosi snorted. He pointed over to where Bilbo was showing Kili and Fili how to have their horses kneel down so an injured rider could mount. “Bilbo only cares for those ponies of his.”

“We shall take the Stock Road. Do you have any relatives that we might stay with in Stock, Ambrosine?” Gandalf continued as if uninterrupted.

“My fourth cousin, Halfred Brandybuck, has hay barns that are empty this time of year. He will not betray us to elves.” Brosi nodded.

“Whatever we do, we cannot stop by the Old Forest.” Balin saw that the journey was decided and mounted his pony.

“What is in the Old Forest?” Thorin saw that Balin knew more than he was saying.

“Old Man Willow. It is said that the forest grows in such a way that intruders are herded to him. Vile creatures live under its boughs. Few of my boys will volunteer for patrolling the eastern settlements of Buckland. All of them are mounted patrols. Only a fool walks when traveling on the High Hay border road. Two ponies have been lost to animals getting through the hedge. Another of my boys swore that he saw a barrow wight‘s light one night when he was separated from his partner.” Brosi shrugged. “Elves avoid that road. We will be fine as long as we stay together.”

“What a cheerful place this Shire is.” Thorin mounted Petunia. Little was said as they followed the wizard on the road to Stock.

----

Word of Brosi’s description of the Old Forest traveled through the group in hushed whispers. Balin kept silent. Dwalin merely threatened to throw Kili over the Hedge if the boys would not leave him alone. Nori looked unimpressed, but sharpened his throwing knives. Dori hovered over Ori more than usual as the scribe eagerly wrote down all of the lore that Brosi could tell him.

Though there were many yawns and nodding heads, sunrise finally came as they traveled through the Green Hills. It was a well maintained road, and they began to pass wagons and walking hobbits bound for various places.

“This is quite the scenery.” Gloin became bored listening to Oin, as his brother could not make out half of what he was trying to say about Gimli. He rode over to Bilbo, who was dozing in his saddle.

“Oh, what?” Bilbo woke with a start. Trel merely snorted, not breaking her pace.

“The scenery.” Gloin was used to repeating himself. “These rolling hills. Excellent pasture for sheep, I would wager.”

“I do have some relatives who tend sheep.” Bilbo knew of a few offshoot clans who enjoyed the solitary life of shepherds.

“I was offered a herd of sheep by a Crolo Baggins yesterday. Might make a good investment to write to my wife Glimla about. Merino sheep if I recall.”

“Crolo is one of a few Baggins who will do business with outsiders. He has fine sheep, I have heard. I do not know much about them myself.” Bilbo began to wonder what Gloin really wanted to talk about.

“Ah, but you do know horses, specifically luck ponies. What would I have to do to invest in a few?” There was the real subject that Gloin wanted to discuss. Bilbo hid a smile. The dwarf was always looking for a way to make a profit, even on a suicidal journey. “This fine bay gelding that I am riding has excellent paces. I know of more than a few dwarves that would pay well for such a pony.”

“Nothing. Your wife and Bombur’s wife, Linel, own a herd of the finest luck pony stallions. They will arrive at Belegost in a few days. Three of my grooms are staying on to help the dwarves learn to care for them. The Took clan is caring for my broodmares. I would recommend writing to your wife about setting up some kind of trade for services. The Tooks can easily trade some of Crolo’s sheep for stud fees.”

“How many stallions?” Gloin was nearly speechless, but only nearly.

“Two dozen, including the sires of most of these ponies.” Bilbo shrugged. The wraith that had targeted his horses had concentrated on the mares, leaving plenty of stallions to send. He pushed the hurt and loss away with a sigh that had Trel slowing to a walk and turning to look at him.

“Pace, Trel. Let us not linger.” Bilbo nudged Trel with his heels. She reluctantly matched the pace again.

“You just gave our wives your horses. Why?” Gloin looked suspicious.

“So that your families would have a secure income in case anything happened. I do not plan on returning to the Shire for some time and no longer have a need for them. I know that they will have a good home in Belegost.” Bilbo was nearly pulled out of the saddle as Gloin gave him a bear hug.

“By all that is..” Now the dwarf was speechless, settling on crushing Bilbo in an iron grip instead.

----

“What has the hobbit done now?” Thorin turned to see Gloin pulling Bilbo off of his horse.

“I have no idea.” Dwalin did not turn even as Bilbo screeched to be set free.

“Uncle, You will not believe what Mr. Boggins has done.” Kili rode up, only Apple’s ignoring his signals kept them from colliding.

When word got to Brosi, he was not happy. He was passing Bombur, tired of Dori’s worried hovering, when Bombur hear. Bombur quickly settled on using Brosi as a fill in, and pulled him off of Trick into a bear hug.

Gandalf merely looked back at the happy chaos and greeted yet another farmer good morning.

----

Here is a modern version of the luck ponies extra gear in action. It was the closest I could get without listing many pictures. Imagine a version of this made of leather and lined with fleece that is buckled on. I listed Trel and Trick's gear based on polo pony leg protection. A luck hobbit must be able to maneuver their pony in any number of ways as they protect their caravan during an attack. There are many kinds of these boots, with many differing expert opinions on what to use. I chose the styles shown for the amount of protection given. This is not an endorsement for any website or product, I merely give source credit. Please consult a professional for any questions about real horses.

source: www.willardropes.com/classic_no_turn.htm

 

A pair of brodeguin shoes from the Middle Ages. This is the style of shoe that I imagine Brosi would prefer, adding a thicker sole for durability and two more lace holes for his longer feet. This shoe was expensive, but form fitting without the bulk of boots. Brosi had several pairs made when he planned on getting Bilbo out of the Shire. Bilbo may have tough feet, but Brosi knows from experience that they traded hobbit durability for night vision and stronger, dwarf influenced bones.

Chapter Text

Brosi ignored the disapproving stares as the Company traveled through Green Hill Country. Each step carried them farther from the Great Smial, and good riddance. The wraith attack on Kili left a bad taste in Brosi’s mouth and joined other unpleasant memories of that place.

The Yale was the home of the Boffin clan. He looked forward to seeing Madoc and Melilot Boffin again in Stock. Some would call them a shameful threesome, as Madoc and Melilot were married, and Madoc was one of Brosi’s lieutenants to boot. Brosi preferred to call them a loving trio, a blessing he had never thought he would ever have again. Brosi had been married to Niriel, but they had also been a trio with his luck wearer.

Gondor had drilled into luck hobbit recruits heads that luck wearer/luck hobbit relationships were professional only. Luck hobbits would be assigned an appropriate hobbit wife with the proper pedigree to ensure the continuation of their gifted line. In real life, the pairs were on the road for long months most of the year. It was hard to not get close to someone who was literally in your head at all times if you wanted to survive bandits and orcs attacking you for your gold shipment.

“Brosi.” Kili and Fili tried sandwich Trick between them without Brosi’s noticing. He harrumphed a laugh and let them. It always felt good to be around the enthusiasm that the young seemed to have a never ending supply of.

“Yes, Kili?” Brosi put on his ‘encourage the troops’ smile.

“We were wondering where Chroí was. Mr. Boggins said that he gave Chroí to the Gamgee family before he left.” Fili began, trying to use some tact. It was obvious that the dwarf was using a unrelated subject to open dialogue for a more sensitive subject.

“Chroí is your bird, is he not?” Kili ruined the effort from the start, indignation clearly written on his face. “Why would he do that?”

“Chroí is…gone?” Brosi felt like someone had punched him in the gut. He knew that Chroí was old and was beloved by most of Hobbiton’s children, but surely Bilbo would not have given away Brosi’s pet without a word to him. Brosi still needed Chroí, still needed the safety of the known.

“Shut up, Kili!” Fili glared at Kili. He would have punched him if Brosi was not in between them. “Brosi, there were some luck hobbits at Belegost, so we know a bit about them. I know that Thorin wants you and Mr. Boggins to chose your luck wearers. We would like to discuss our options with you as senior luck hobbit.”

“Luck wearer assignments?” No two subjects back to back could make Brosi more off kilter than those two. Fili and Kili had tried and failed spectacularly to get Brosi’s approval.

“Yes.” Kili was oblivious. He seemed to want to use forced enthusiasm for such an intriguing subject to push back still uncertain memories of the wraith attack. “You lost your luck wearer, we would be honored to take their place.”

“Do not speak to me again today.” Brosi’s abrupt manner clearly dismissed the two boys as he gave Trick orders in Sindarin that had the pony swerve away and speed up to catch up with Bofur.

“What did I say?” Kili was stunned.

“I told you to shut up!” Fili nailed Kili hard enough to knock him off of his pony.

----

Brosi was trying and failing not to cry, his mind screaming to escape the torment of memories long buried. He had tried to ride next to Bofur, to calmly talk of his distress. That plan had ended in a headlong flight off the road and behind a barn when Fili tried to join them and apologize.

“Brosi.” He could hear Bofur’s call. Clover, Bofur’s bay gelding, was strong, with endurance, built to carry a heavy dwarf and was not as swift as Trick. It did not matter, the pounding of hooves and Bofur’s call announced their imminent arrival, no matter how far Brosi ran.

“Bred heart into those ponies you did, Bilbo.” Brosi slowed Trick and turned to watch the determined pair come pounding up moments later. Did Bofur breed heart into Bilbo as well? Or did Bilbo get it from Belladonna? Surely none came from Bungo Baggins, just as Brosi had none. He could not even face two dwarflings without breaking down.

“Trying to injure your pony the first day?” Bofur’s expression would allow no pointing out his own behavior. “Why would you take off like that? Fili told me what happened. He is very sorry for Kili’s ignorant words.”

“It was just too much.” Brosi dismounted and wiped his nose. Fine Shire Guard he was, sniffling like a soft recruit hit by a wooden sword. Trick nickered and followed as he led the pony to cool off.

“Your mother never ran from her fears.” Bofur dismounted and followed after Brosi.

“You do not understand. You never did.” Brosi shook his head as if to shake out the memories. “You were not there when my mother died, or when Niriel died.”

“I was not there, something that I will always regret. I have told you all of this before, Brosi.” Bofur walked beside Brosi whether he wanted it or not.

“It is not just them. Why could you never accept Bilbo as you accepted me? He tries so hard just for you.” Brosi waved back to Clover; Bilbo had trained him well. The pony was obediently following at a pace behind Bofur’s right shoulder. Brosi changed the subject, concentrating on the pony and Bilbo, anything to distract him from horrors that would haunt his nightmares til the day he died.

“Brosi, there are things that you would not understand. You must trust me.”

“I have always trusted you, Adad. I have never questioned you. Yet, you will not tell me why there is such a rift between you and Bilbo. It has become a gulf that now separates us as brothers. Will you not at least tell me how we came to be?” Brosi stopped and looked mournfully at Bofur. “Are we truly a curse as the foolish hobbits claim? Did our conception entail something foul and dark?” Was this why Brosi always lost those he loved so dearly?

“I will have none of this talk, Ambrosine!” Bofur bristled with anger. “Your mother was full of laughter, hope, and goodness. Niriel, that…” Bofur did not even know how to address that subject. “Bilbo creates his own rifts with everyone, always has. His first words to me were that he hated me. I will have no more of this talk. Hear me?”

“No, Adad. There will be more talk. There will be answers. This gulf will be mended one way or another.” Brosi was suddenly sick of the estranged relationship with Bilbo. Chroí was a bird, but Bilbo was his brother. You are my father, Adad. I love you dearly, but I also love my brother. I will not let this chance pass to close this gulf and I cannot do it without your help.”

“Bilbo will allow no help. He never has. Your hopes will be crushed, Brosi. I will have no part in that.” Bofur turned away and headed back towards the others.

“He will.” Brosi whispered as he watched Clover hesitate a moment. Then the pony continued on over to Brosi and hung his head over the hobbit’s shoulder, nickering reassurance.

----


“We have been here long enough.” Dwalin saw his two runaways returning and called for the Company to continue on. Gandalf almost said something, but Dwalin growled. “We will not have any more of your delays, wizard. All of them have caused enough trouble and grief.”

“Quite right you are, Dwalin. A most unfortunate circumstance with the wraith.” Gandalf seemed to be more intent on muttering to himself than having a coherent conversation.

----

“We should stop soon for lunch.” Bombur looked over at Bifur riding next to him. His cousin was visibly upset, his hands pulling the reins tight. Bifur’s pony, Hellebore, lived up to her surprisingly hardy flower namesake. Over and over again, she calmly allowed her head to almost be drawn up into a bow before stretching her neck and loosening the reins again with a good headshake.

Bifur did not answer. He was looking ahead, watching Bofur talk with the still crying Brosi. There was a familiar gleam in Bifur’s eye, his facial features hardened in anger. Once they stopped, Bofur was in for a blowup argument.

“Maybe not quite so soon.” Bilbo tied Hellebore’s reins up high on her head and gave her a soft command in Sindarin. The grateful mare fell into place behind Bombur’s pack horse. Bifur merely grabbed a tight handful of mane and gripped his boar spear with a white knuckled hand.

----

“Balin, what can you tell me about our burglar?” Thorin knew better than to make even more of a spectacle of Brosi. He instead concentrated on his other luck hobbit. He also found it easier to follow habit than to actually strike up a conversation with Bilbo. “Dwalin and Bombur said to not make any assumptions about him. How exactly do I talk to him without reacting to a conversation I have not yet had?”

Balin took a deep breath, as if preparing for a long lecture. How did one describe his son? He had not managed successfully with either Bofur or the Old Took. Balin was tempted to just parrot the prior answer, especially in light of Thorin’s earlier words, but Thorin had gone with Bilbo to the pool. Perhaps.

“Why do you want to know about someone that you are looking forward to having roasted by a dragon, Thorin?” Balin was not about to make this easy.

“The halflings upset Bofur, who in turn upsets Bifur. I must be able to understand this group’s dynamics, Balin.” Thorin could be astute when he wanted to be.

“Bilbo is afraid of many things on this quest. He has been taught to be dependable; he is afraid of failure and by association the unknown. He also been betrayed by every authority figure he has ever had. At first he will not willingly follow you, Thorin, not wholeheartedly.”

“So I should just keep letting this halfling ignore my efforts?” Thorin did not like that idea at all.

“Save the efforts until after you win Bilbo’s loyalty. Be yourself, and watch him. Gestures are useless without trust.”

“So I ignore the little bastard even as he tries to be perfect?”

Balin looked Thorin over, holding his tongue and sighing deeply. “I suggest you ask Gandalf for the Elear Anna. It is your right as our leader.”

Elear Anna? Visionary gift? Thorin shook his head and rejoined Dwalin.

“What did my brother say to confuse your thick noggin this time?” Dwalin did not look at Thorin, but carefully watched Brosi. Soon they were again a half asleep troupe riding among the milling crowd on the Stock Road.

“I asked him about our burglar. He thinks that I should ask Gandalf for an elven ritual. You two are entirely too closed lipped about that hobbit.”

“Who said that he was a hobbit?” Dwalin merely shook his head. “Balin might just be right.”

----

“Bilbo.” Brosi tried for the tenth time to get his brother’s attention as they rode side by side after a silent, uncomfortable lunch. Bilbo merely ignored him, not saying a word since Brosi tried to argue with him about Chroí. Brosi knew that the bird was old, knew that he no longer needed the emotional crutch.

“Bilbo, we need to talk. Adad…”

“Brosi, did you think that I would forgive you that quickly for getting the Thain’s document, or tricking me into signing up for dying? I know that you used an illusion to get me to sign. I do not want to talk.”

“Bilbo, just listen to me…”

“No, you listen to me. You have finally escaped the boring Shire, joined a caravan going to the exciting east, as senior luck hobbit to a king no less. You have had your revenge in putting me in my place. You are in charge here, Brosi. Congratulations, you have everything that you wanted. Now go away.” Bilbo tied up his reins and slipped one hand through his saddle’s night latch. An unseen cue had Trel headed to follow Balin.

“Bilbo, Thorin will want an Elear Anna.” Brosi tried one last time.

“That is your problem to deal with, mistaken king and all.” Bilbo settled in his saddle and nodded off. There was no way that Bilbo could handle such an intense ritual. Brosi would just have to explain that he himself was not trained for it. Gandalf and whoever brought this up were sadly mistaken.

----

Bilbo did not get much sleep. Soon Nori had rode up and was poking him to the point of wake up or fall off.

“What?”

“You owe me a talk, if I recall the first night correctly. Why did I not recognize you, Bilbo?” Nori had a throwing knife out, carefully testing its balance.

“Sometimes Brosi puts a luck trap around the house. Bothersome relatives do not stay long if they do not remember why they came in the first place.” Bilbo had never seen a reason to break the habit.

“So that is why our ever loyal Balin was willing to forgo seeing to Thorin. I also saw our dear Captain of the King’s Guard forgot his war hammers when he left to retrieve said king.” Nori picked his teeth clean with the knife.

“I cannot control Brosi. Talk to him yourself, Wanderer.” Bilbo merely yawned. “You never mentioned your family.”

“Been estranged for years. Dori still thinks that I am a common thief.”

“Hardly. The Wanderers are Thorin’s far ranging spies.”

“Information gatherers if you will, please. The spymaster and his cronies do not even know about us. Would not want such a boring job myself.”

“How have you kept things from Dwalin for so many years?”

“Balin is a good Wandermaster. We all know that a younger brother will never outsmart his older brother.” Nori now clearly recalled meeting Bilbo Baggins.

Nori had been a common thief barely into adulthood fifty some odd years prior. He had found himself with a noose around his neck in some forsaken town of men when an odd child with big feet had run to him. The child had screamed bloody murder to the frazzled dwarf chasing him.

Nori had been guilty of the theft, oh yes he had. He smiled at the memory of the biggest heist of his life. He just had not been the ringleader, merely a sidekick. He had been the only one caught, though, and bore the brunt of the wealthy mayor’s anger alone. It was not Nori’s fault that the man had given his mistress a bigger diamond ring than his wife. Both rings had been stolen, to be found on Nori’s person, and dirty laundry was aired at the dwarf’s expense.

Balin had no choice but to flat out bribe the mayor for the incident to be declared a misunderstanding. Nori was a jeweler who was merely resizing the largest ring for the mayor’s wife. Nori laughed at that to this day. What to do with Nori had not been such a laughing matter.

Balin had been at his wit’s end. He had no use for a thief. Nori had no use for following orders. Bilbo had been adamant that Balin needed Nori. After three months of badgering before Thorin reluctantly agreed to a secret order of espionage agents, Nori had been made one of the first agents. No one but Thorin and Balin knew of him and his dozen or so cohorts. They had no orders; each roamed on his own, making his own way, aided by the fact that all were former criminals of one kind or another. As one of the few outsiders to know of the order, Bilbo was the supplier of choice when the agents were near the Shire.

“Brosi is getting very good in his attempts.” Bilbo hoped that the Green Lady had been the one to motivate his brother.

“Ori is more independent now as well. This quest is just the thing for him.” Nori did not have to mention that as a senior Wanderer he would of course be joining Thorin. That he had “accidentally” let a few words slip so that Ori investigated, well, Nori was happy to be with his family.

“Ori’s fate is tied to Balin’s.” Bilbo shook a dour thought out of his head and joined Nori in talking of the past.

----

Chapter Text

("I will not let this chance pass to close this gulf and I cannot do it without your help.”

“Bilbo will allow no help. He never has. Your hopes will be crushed, Brosi. I will have no part in that.”)

Brosi rubbed his forehead. Why was he suddenly trying to mend something that had been broken for decades without his caring? Why was foresight bothering him now of all times?

(“Bilbo, we need to talk. Adad…”)

Brosi knew that he had said the wrong word at the worst time. He had gone over to Bilbo, trying to talk to his brother. Foresight for Brosi was ominous. His visions were never about trivial things. He was a luck hobbit, with luck as his main gift. Foresight loomed in the background, only able to step to the front when something affecting everyone in the vicinity threatened the future. Instead of foresight, his sudden and stupid concern for broken relationships had slipped out.

“Brosi, did you think that I would forgive you that quickly for getting the Thain’s document, or tricking me into signing up for dying? I know that you used an illusion to get me to sign. I do not want to talk.”

“Bilbo, just listen to me…”

Help me, Niriel. Brosi was now desperate, breathing in and concentrating on what little he could sense so far. His wife had always been able to calm him with a hand on his shoulder. Now all Brosi felt was the all to familiar feeling of panic looming.

Brosi reluctantly directed Trick to join Bifur. Perhaps his uncle could help him to focus, though Bifur looked angry enough for ten dwarves. Normally, Brosi would let Bombur handle him, but this foresight was threatening a panic attack. Bilbo could often sense the panic before Brosi, but he had obviously walled himself off from the world today.

“I would not do that if I was you.” Bombur rounded Brosi off with his own chestnut dray that he had promptly renamed Cupcake. The pony had quickly agreed, bribed by a few sweets. “Bifur is ready for a meltdown the likes of which I have not seen in a few years. Let me handle him, to calm him a bit. He will have a rough night and he knows it.”

Brosi could only nod. He wished dearly to go to Bofur, but now he could tell that his sudden need to “mend” things was his foresight. Not one, but two sights were affecting him. Being with Bofur would only press that sight, and Brosi could tell that the other needed precedence.

“Brosi, come here.” Thorin was calling. Brosi nearly fell out of his saddle. Thorin was at the center of the other sight. Thorin wanted to ask about Brosi and Bilbo’s relationship; he would find out about Bilbo’s bands and his time at Rivendell.

“Brosi!” Thorin was clearly not used to being kept waiting. Both he and Dwalin had stopped, waiting for Trick to catch up.

Thorin would confront Bilbo as he talked to Nori. Nori would defend Bilbo. Then it would escalate til even Bofur defended Bilbo. The Company would be torn apart, with the Ri’s and Ur’s defensive. Balin would chose Bilbo; Dwalin’s relationship with Thorin would be strained.

“No, Bilbo.” Brosi could sense that Bilbo would get rid of Thorin somehow. Fili would have no choice but to take the remains of the group back to Belegost. Bilbo would have kept his family safe, and put the future of Middle Earth itself in jeopardy.

Brosi’s reins slipped from limp hands. Trick immediately stopped, sensing a situation that Bilbo had made Brosi practice many times with Trick as a green broke colt. Trick bugled an alarm to the lead mare, Petunia. The gelding slowly and carefully lay down, waiting for help as he had been taught. He would not get up until Brosi was removed from his back or recovered enough to signal for Trick  to stand.

----

Thorin was getting impatient as Brosi seemed to deliberately ignore him. “What is up with this halfling, Dwalin?”

“Something is wrong.” Dwalin had seen Bilbo wear the expression that Brosi wore a few times, this did not bode well for them or the future.

“Brosi!” Thorin bellowed.

“Leave him alone.” Dwalin growled. Nothing could force a sight to become apparent sooner. Brosi would have to endure by himself. Distracting him could only prolong his agony or send him into a panic attack. Dwalin was an experienced warrior; he had seen comrades unable to take up arms again. Thorin did not have to wait long. At Trick’s bugle of alarm, Petunia immediately took off to pull up beside the distressed pony.

“What is wrong now, Brosi?” Thorin finished dismounting; Petunia’s abrupt stop had unseated him. Brosi merely groaned and slumped over Trick’s neck.

Dwalin came up, glaring over at Bilbo. The hobbit had pulled up in the rear of the line of ponies. He would not interfere; Brosi had made it clear that he wanted to be on his own. Dwalin doubted that Bilbo could see the trouble that Brosi was in. It would be prudent to let Bifur handle the suffering hobbit, but the damaged dwarf was wrapped up in his own anger issues, barely listening to Bombur. The only reason that Bifur had not kept on riding was that his pony was following a pack horse tied to Bombur‘s saddle.

“Will you take him, brother?” Balin knew that only time would help. He himself got Thorin distracted in an argument over the upcoming fork in the road.

“Let us go now, Brosi.” Dwalin growled as the others milled around, unsure of what to do. Ori moved as if to dismount.

“Leave him. He can do it.” Dwalin knew that Brosi must be able to handle himself here and now. If not, the hobbit was not fit to continue. Dwalin honored broken warriors, but he would not let one get his king killed.

“I will be alright in a minute.” Brosi slowly sat up, overwhelmed with relief. He had been enough of a distraction; he could feel the danger pouring out of his body as the sight dissipated.

Get up here, Ambrosine.” Dwalin offered his hand. He would brook no argument. “You are not alright. You are also not alone.

Brosi tied up Trick’s reins, the pony would follow Midnight without fail. Dwalin would keep Thorin’s curiosity at bay. Things would come out later, when they were supposed to. Forgotten habit had Brosi taking Dwalin’s hand; his luck wearer, Narien, had often done this. The large warrior easily threw Brosi up behind him.

“You just hang on there.” Dwalin made Brosi put his arms around his waist securely as Petunia nosed the rising Trick, an oblivious Thorin now on her back, still arguing. “Just work out the sight as it comes. Do not get all frustrated. You know what to do.”

The gruff dwarf understood what was happening! Brosi sigh in relief and hid his face in the darkness of Dwalin’s back. The looming panic slowly began to dissipate. Brosi began to separate the mere wary feeling of having to avoid the elves from the true vision that still had to deal with Thorin.

----

“We take a left to continue to Stock.” Thorin trusted Dwalin to handle the hobbit and was drawn away.

“We should take a right and stay the night in Woodhall. Bilbo and Brosi have several relations there that will take us in.” Balin was infuriating, taking the map from Thorin.

Why had Gandalf given Thorin another map anyway? Petunia was a seasoned traveler, a virtual walking map of Middle Earth if Bilbo was right. She would not let them get lost as long as she knew where they were headed. Convinced that Trick was fine, Petunia even now waited to be told to go to Stock or Woodhall.

“Is there a problem?” Said wizard rode up. Balin noted that his stallion’s mane and tail were much shorter, the groom opting for efficiency rather than detangling and braiding. It was not a luck pony clip and the mane had been tied in many small bunches that hung straight down. The remaining tail had been given a fancy braid secured with a bright bow that clashed with Gandalf’s grey attire.

“The Company is exhausted. Let us stop at Woodhall. It is nearer and the elves that Brosi is concerned about will not expect us to be there.” Balin also knew that it was farther from the Old Forest, surrounded by the extended forest of Woody End as more protection.

“We would have to trek all the way back to the Stock Road. If we stop in Stock, we can reach the Great East Road in plenty of time tomorrow.” Thorin was not a fan of unneeded delays.

“We could stop in Woodhall tonight and then Brandy Hall tomorrow.” Gandalf watched Balin carefully.

Balin felt trapped. He wanted to camp far away from the Old Forest tonight and be far past it before tomorrow’s camp, but that was impossible. They would have to stop at least one night near the cursed place. Balin could only hope that none of the Brandybuck’s opened a gate today or tomorrow.

“We stop in Stock tonight and push past the Old Forest tomorrow.” Balin relented. “But everyone stays together.”

“What are you so wary about in Stock, Balin?” Thorin knew better than to outright dismiss Balin’s concerns.

“Stock is closer to the Old Forest. Let us get going so we can be well past the Old Forest before we camp tomorrow night.” Balin grumbled a curt Khuzdul command of Stock to Petunia and urged his own mount ahead.

“Stock it is.” Gandalf merely shrugged to a surprised Thorin as Petunia took the lead on her own.

----

“Mr. Boggins, what was wrong with your brother?” Fili and Kili joined Bilbo when the group continued on.

“Yes, why did you not…” Kili stopped as something caught his sharp archer’s eye. “Fili, look!”

Fili turned in time to see a blur hide behind a tree. After a moment, nothing came of it. “It is nothing, Kili.”

“I saw it. It was smaller than a hobbit, but had horns and hair and hooves. It waved to me, Fili!” Kili was adamant.

“Mr. Boggins, do you see what I see?” Fili turned again, and indeed, something of that description was smiling and waving at him now.

“It is a faun, but those are only myths.” Fili had once stolen one of Balin’s books. It had been full of mythological creatures that the author assumed were just that, myths.

“Yes, he is just checking that Brosi is alright. He’s been following us for an hour.” Bilbo waved back at the faun. It gave a smile and disappeared.

“What is a faun?” Kili did not like books very much.

“They live in the Old Forest, among other things. They are harmless. You saw what a faun is. That was Glif.” Bilbo did not expound further and the pair had no more sightings no matter how much they looked around.

----

Here is what the faun, Glif, looks like. I imagine the fauns as similiar to hobbits: shy and not well known, averse to violence, preferring dance and music as the hobbits love food.

source: gods-goddess.wikia.com

Chapter Text

“Are you alright, Kili?” Thorin managed to speak to his nephew only after calling him up to join his uncle. Whatever command Balin had given to Petunia, the mare was not stopping as she headed for Stock.

Kili hesitated to answer. He had been acting odd ever since the wraith incident, becoming simply morose after the incident with Brosi. Kili was meant to be bright and happy, not like this.

“I saw something…Fili saw it, too.” Kili quickly added at the rise of Thorin’s eyebrow. Kili had made up many a story in his lifetime, which Fili had stopped vouching for three decades ago when both had to pay for a very expensive broken statue, by working in a certain grumpy shopkeeper’s store.

“Did anyone else see this…something as well?” Thorin had not missed Bilbo riding near his nephews earlier. This did not sit well with the uncle protective over his nephews, or the king protective over the last heirs of the Durin line.

“Mr. Boggins said that it was a faun. It waved at us, twice! Mr. Boggins waved back at it and it vanished.” Seeing Thorin’s actual interest, a wild description poured out of Kili.

“He…I think it was a he, if fauns are like hobbits, but he had a beard, so there is really no telling. Maybe they are like dwarves?” Kili took far too long for Thorin’s patience to describe a half goat, half hobbit? with a long sheep’s tail?, ram’s horns curling around elven ears with gold hoop earrings, goat-like eyes and nose…though the nose twitched like a rabbit’s…. Do not forget the dark brown hair and beard, along with silky brown goat’s hair on his forearms and…

“Ever the archer’s eye. Good description, Kili.” Kili filled with pride that then left in a whoosh. “Our burglar is a first class illusionist, as is any luck hobbit worth his seven meals a day.”

“But….” Kili knew an illusion when he saw one. Though few in number, luck hobbits at home were famous for tricking those who messed with hobbit meals made for special occasions.

“Though related to the hobbits you know, these hobbits have a strong gift. Brosi is a fully trained Gondor hobbit.”

“Talk to Fili, Uncle. You have trained him to see through illusions.” Kili was not about to give up when he thought he was right. This was a fault that Thorin had failed to train the stubborn dwarfling out of doing.

“Patience, Kili. We will learn these hobbits’ ways soon enough.” Thorin turned his attention back to Petunia. The fork in the road was coming up and the pony had veered to the left. They would need to take the right? hand road. Petunia merely ignored his sawing of the reins.

“Stock is to the left, Uncle.” Kili griped loud and clear. This alone told Thorin how deeply his nephew had believed what he saw. Kili never had the nerve to speak against his uncle, leaving that to his elder brother. Thorin would be speaking to both hobbits about tricks when they stopped for a break.

----

“Is there a problem, Thorin?” Gandalf joined the frustrated dwarf who was apparently arguing with his pony. Petunia had stopped to grab one rein, then the other, before continuing on her way. Thorin was left to cling to the saddle and mutter Khuzdul curses as she kept to a jarring trot.

“Stock is to the right. This pony is as bad as those hobbits. Blast it, behave!” Thorin refused to use the name Petunia, especially in front of a road full of hobbits.

“Petunia knows where Stock is. Your pony knows where most places between here and the Misty Mountains are, I would imagine, perhaps even beyond.” Gandalf looked thoroughly amused, though his own horse did not dare look at the frustrated pony with her own reins in her bared teeth.

“Mr. Baggins has given me a trick pony! He has created illusions that baffle my nephews! We are not even out of the Shire yet, Gandalf! I will not take any hobbits with me!” Thorin roared in anger as Petunia stopped cold in her tracks just as the fork in the road came into view in the distance.

“Illusion?” Gandalf frowned. “Bilbo is not a playful sort, Thorin, not at all. Brosi is also somewhat occupied with his foresight. He is riding with Dwalin and has not spoken to anyone for a half hour.”

“Kili claims that he, Fili, and your blasted hobbit have seen a faun, whatever that is. Kili had some wild description.” Thorin gave up on Petunia and turned to Gandalf to better yell at the wizard.

“That faun?” Gandalf had a small smile as he indicated with his staff. Underneath a tree at the fork in the road a…a…whatever…was frantically waving.

“Stop this illusion, Gandalf!”

“Oh, it is Glif. Interesting chap, always has a merry tune, like Bofur. It looks like he is trying to get us to keep moving…to the left, that is what I surmise.”

“Balin, do you see what I see?” Thorin turned to Balin who rode up.

“I see that you will not stop arguing with anyone, including your pony.” Balin was still irritated about the map incident.

“Gandalf says that thing is a faun.” Thorin pointed.

“I see only a tree, Thorin.” Thorin would swear that the elderly dwarf jumped at the word faun, then covering it with an exasperated expression.

“Uncle!” Now Fili and Kili were pulling up to Thorin. “Nori sees the faun, but no one else does!”

“Petunia! Continue! Lope pace! Lead to Stock!” Bilbo’s voice managed a harsh bark worthy of Khuzdul in Sindarin. The mare balked.
 
“Blasted dwarf! Why did I…” Bilbo had to resort to handing the reins back to Thorin. “You and your…”

“Thorin, is that a wolf or a warg? I have never seen a green…” Fili began as he reached for his weapons.

“Just ignore it. It is a fairie dog guarding a door. There are many tales of fairie doors at forks in roads. Glif probably stole the thing to come see us.” Bilbo finished sorting out Thorin’s reins. If the stubborn dwarf kept this up, he would end up walking to Erebor.

“A fairie dog? That is a pet?” Thorin dropped the reins as he twisted around to try and see. Petunia took that as a cue to continue onward and carried her brooding passenger past the now ordinary looking fork in the road. No matter what, Petunia was trained to take care of her charge and get them to the ordered destination. 

“A Cù Sìth is the size of a bull, hardly a pet!” Gandalf could relate to the frustrated mare.

“Glif was trying to warn us away.” Bilbo shrugged. “Cù Sìth can be dangerous.”

“What is going on here?” Gloin had elected himself the spokesdwarf of those who could not see the faun or Cu Sith, which was just about everyone. “What was dangerous, hobbit? We want answers.”

“This is not the time, nor the place.” Bilbo nodded towards hobbits glaring up at them. “They cannot see anything amiss.”

“We will talk alright.” Gloin did not miss Gandalf’s warning glare. No one was stupid enough to mess with a wizard. Gloin would listen, then explode and send fists flying if needed.

----

“This is a lovely place for lunch.” Gandalf smiled as he looked around. The sun was shining, the ponies were cooled off and cared for, munching the early spring grass, thirteen dwarves surrounded him as they grumbled, most obviously plotting something against Bilbo. The hobbit could care less, checking every pony before sitting down to his own meal of festival leftovers remade as sandwiches.

“It is indeed.” Balin sat next to Gandalf, a forced smile on his face, his own sword nearby as he glared at dwarves who glared at Bilbo. He had made Bilbo sit between him and Gandalf. The hobbit merely nodded and continued to stuff sandwiches down his throat.

“It is nice, is it not, Dwalin?” Balin offered his brother his last sandwich. Dwalin had put himself between Balin and the rest of the Company.

“No. I want to know why I saw a hobbit goat and a green warg!” Dwalin lost patience as Gloin looked ready to get up and come over. He grabbed the sandwich, tearing a chunk out of it while glaring a warning at Gloin.

“Because you have Bilbo’s energy in you from treating Kili. Because we are changelings, freaks who can see beyond the veil.” Brosi jumped down from a tree that he had been sulking in. His vision had faded, along with whatever warning it had tried to give him. He was in a foul mood.

“You are not freaks. Just because you can see those that normally only elves and wizards can see…” Gandalf protested.

“That does not help, wizard!” Brosi exploded for Gloin. The dwarf sat back down, suitably impressed. “We are cursed freaks, hardly hobbits or dwarves. Definitely not dwobbits!”

“Luck wearers internalize luck from hobbits, making it their own, yet keeping the essence of the source.” A tired sounding Bilbo began. “Sit down and shut up, Brosi!”

“Brosi and I have a unique something tainting our luck. It enables us to see more light wavelengths than others. Ultraviolet waves, if I am not mistaken. Just as dwarves can see infrared to see in the dark, elves can see more wavelengths on the other end of the light spectrum. If you want to know how the blazes we were formed, ask Bofur. He is the only person on Arda, besides a few closed lipped elves, who knows how changelings are made. All I know is that we have three parents, and so called mythological creatures abound, especially in the Old Forest and Fangorn Forest.”

“You have poisoned us with illusions.” Thorin glared at Bilbo with narrowed eyes.

“The Cù Sìth is said to announce who will die. These creatures can be influenced by dark forces, just like elves and orcs. If I did not know Glif, troublemaker that he is, so well I would say that you have a real enemy that sent that creature to ensure that your quest ends before it begins, Thorin Oakenshield. If it had barked its third bark, whoever it was looking at would have died.” Bilbo spat out.

“Quite right, Bilbo. Do you want half of this delightful blueberry scone?” Gandalf smiled at Bilbo pleasantly, then glared a warning at Thorin.

“I should see to Thorin’s hands.” Bilbo’s face became as pleasant as Gandalf’s. He sorted through his pack, sitting next to Thorin with an emerald green bag. “Your hand, please.”

Thorin looked over his Company. Fili and Kili were sitting next to Brosi, distracting the still angry hobbit with questions about everything that had been mentioned. Bofur was mysteriously silent, keeping Bifur occupied with a complex whittling project. The damaged dwarf had forgotten his anger for a time. Bifur even seemed to approve of the conversation, smiling over at Thorin. The others were huddled up in family groups, Nori arguing with Dori as Ori tried to write down the day’s events and sketch a description of the Cù Sìth to be embellished later. Bombur just busied himself packing away the food. Oin joined Bilbo. Gloin just glared at Thorin, clearly wanting this mess straightened out before they proceeded.

Thorin could not agree more with his fiery tempered cousin. What was going on?

----

Thorin has so many lovely enemies after him, I could not resist adding to the list.

Source: hollowtreetales.wordpress.com/2010/06/10/thursday-myths-legends-101-cu-sith/

Chapter Text

“You should have let me change your bandages each night.” Oin fussed as he applied salves and rewrapped Thorin’s hands. “Fighting with your mare over reins did them no favors.”

“Did you bang your head again?” Bilbo fussed over Thorin’s head, cleaning the stitches and adding his own smelly paste to them. The two had tag teamed Thorin before he could get up and get away.

“I am fine.” Thorin could think of one thing worse than a healer fussing over him: two healers and Dori’s mother henning.

“This ear is not fine.” Dori clucked as he held Thorin’s head still for Bilbo. “What were you hit with? A mace?”

“Mr. Baggins, you are saying that the…dog that Dwalin saw is normally only a signal of an possible death? That it stands by forks in the road barking a warning?” Thorin ignored Dori’s question. No one would ever know that he had been defeated by a rose bush.

“Something like that.” Bilbo began a thorough inspection of Thorin’s scalp. “In a brief description kind of way. Sort of like saying that dwarves mine ores and craft them into things. There is much more beyond that which others are not privy to.”

“Too well bred to accuse dwarves of being greedy, like everyone else, Mr. Baggins.” Thorin could not help a sneer as Oin began to clean his second hand with a burning liquid.

“I have been accused of much worse my entire life.” Bilbo shrugged, beginning to clean two small cuts that he had missed the first night. Thorin noted that what the hobbit used stung far less than Oin’s concoction. “Unfortunately, someone is hunting your Company, Thorin Oakenshield. Why?”

“You know all that you need to, hobbit.” Thorin could see that Bilbo was trained to be quite perceptive and to notice small details. This could be a problem.

“You have an enemy that wants to kill one or more of your Company!” Now everyone was looking towards Thorin with concern. Bilbo had an iron grip on Thorin’s head; Thorin could swear that he could see Azog’s image reflected in Bilbo’s hazel eyes for a moment.

“Enough, hobbit!” This hobbit’s foresight was going to be a problem, a major problem.

Bilbo kept chugging along. “How can Brosi and I protect your dwarves, who trust you with their lives, if we do not know what you are up against? Surely, this is about more than just trying to sneak in and get a stone! You have had a century to do that. What has forced your hand, Thorin Oakenshield?”

“Everyone knows what they need to know, burglar.” Thorin knew that Bilbo, and every dwarf here, had a right to know what was going on. They deserved to know the opposition that they faced, that they were indeed being hunted.

“Yes, I am just a simple burglar, hired for a job at the end of this trip.” Bilbo huffed, keeping Thorin from having to resort to messy measures to end this conversation. “Your eardrum is fine. Oin can finish with your thick head. Let him go, Dori. If he refuses to be treated, fine with me.”

“You must have gotten into a tavern brawl again, have you not?” Oin easily finished pasting on his concoctions, oblivious to the conversation.

Thorin just nodded. He watched Bilbo head straight for Brosi. The hobbit would bully the information out of his brother. Thorin got up.

“Burglar!” Thorin stormed over.

“Oin can finish. Brosi has a splinter.” Bilbo sat and took Brosi’s hand.

“Bilbo, I do not…” Brosi shut up as Bilbo pulled out a splinter and began to clean the hand.

“What do you want?” Bilbo looked into Thorin’s eyes. His face held the same expression that Fili would have when standing between Kili and a bully.

“Where did you put my vambraces?” Thorin felt once again like he had when Bilbo had prevented him from yelling at Brosi. It came out as barely a whisper.

"Dori set them aside." Bilbo was as sick of Thorin as Thorin was of him.

You are being just as difficult as Majesty is. Brosi’s voice chimed in. Stop being so argumentative. You are destroying this group’s moral, Bilbo. Be careful of who can hear what you say!

Thorin sat down next to Gandalf to put his vambraces back on. He shook his head as the hobbits continued to argue inside of it.

Fine. Take a nap, Brosi. Bilbo looked over, realizing only now that Thorin could hear them.

“How cute!” Kili cooed as a fast asleep Thorin leaned against the nearest dwarf, Ori, and began to snore.

“This is a weird adventure.” Dori helped Ori to move Thorin to lean on a saddle pack.

“Help me here, Fili.” A smiling Kili plopped Brosi beside Thorin. Bilbo merely shrugged and curled up under the already resting Balin‘s arm. Somehow Fili got both of them into Thorin’s pile. Soon both nephews had joined the pile and were fast asleep.

“I still have no idea what is going on here.” Gloin came up to Dwalin, who was convinced that he was the only one guarding this group of dimwits. Dori was putting cloaks on everyone as Ori began a drawing that Nori was certain that the drooling Thorin would pay big money for later.

“Whatever.” Oin found a sunny spot and made himself comfortable as he began to go through the contents of his healers bag.

----

“I think I will take a quick rest.” Bombur yawned as he settled himself near his family. Bofur and Bifur looked up from their project to the sight of everyone settling in.

How cute. Bifur grinned broadly at the sight of Bilbo and Brosi draped over each other and Balin.

“Let us hope that they have all worked out there differences.” Bofur was not quite certain what to say. He did not want to ruin Bifur’s improved mood. No one wanted to be threatened with a boar spear tonight.

“I believe that you are right, Bifur.” Gandalf smiled as he got up. His smile vanished as he headed back to the fork in the road.

----

Thorin looked around the hay barn. They had arrived in Stock early that evening. In seeming opposition to Balin’s earlier insistence that they stay together, everyone had taken off. Somehow Thorin was left to watch the ponies and their belongings by himself.

“Ah, Thorin, where is everyone?” Gandalf finally showed up. He sat on a log in front of the fire opposite of Thorin. They could not have a fire in the barn, but Gloin and Oin had set up a campfire a safe distance away. They were not allowed to smoke in the barn either, so Thorin had his out now.

“Brosi took off with some Boffins for a party. A fauntling was born to one of his lieutenants, Madoc Boffin. I guess that there is a whole clan of Boffins in this area.” Thorin had watched half of his dwarves find reasons to attend the party. Ori was going to sketch the baby’s picture. Dori just wanted to see a newborn hobbit. Nori was dragged along by the ear instead of going to the pub with Dwalin. Dwalin had left Thorin in charge, stating that he was sick of babysitting for one day. Thorin had no idea where everyone else disappeared to.

“What did you find?” Thorin wondered what Gandalf knew that he did not share with mortals. It was an odd feeling in light of what he would not tell Bilbo.

“Not a trace, as I suspected. The tree was not a door to a fairy realm where you usually find such beasts. It was merely a shortcut to the Old Forest. Bilbo was correct about Glif ’borrowing’ a fairie dog. I do hope that its owners do not show up looking for it.” Gandalf got up, his pipe put away.

“Where are you going, Gandalf?” Thorin did not want to meet the owners of such a ‘pet’.

“There is a new fauntling that I must see. The parents would be terribly disappointed if I do not stop by. You will be fine, Thorin. Watch the ponies.” Gandalf struck out into the night and disappeared.

“Whatever.” Thorin pet Apple as she nosed his shoulder. “I do not have any treats for you. Would you like a song?”

Apple lipped his shirt. Taking it as a yes, Thorin pulled out his harp. He rarely played it, but he could not bear to leave it at home. Soon, he was humming to a sad tune his fingers plucked out of the instrument.

Simply beautiful!” A shrill voice had Thorin jump.

What are you?” Reflex had Thorin’s sword out as he grabbed…something.

You can hear me? You can see me? This is simply marvelous.” Kili’s odd creature eagerly sat next to Thorin, speaking Sindarin.

It is so hard to find someone even aware of us, much less able to speak to us. We of course have our own language, but we do know Sindarin. How splendid that you know!” Far from being afraid, the faun? pulled out a type of clarinet similar to Bofur’s. “Can we play together?

Alright.” Kili had mentioned that Bilbo said that the faun was harmless. If Bilbo wanted to immerse Thorin in an illusion, Thorin would see how well the hobbit wove his lie.

After at least five songs, Glif, as he insisted on being called, stopped and clapped his hands. Thorin had to admit that the faun picked up a tune faster than even Bofur could.

Splendid. Splendid. I do so love the harp, but the elves are so ever unchanging and…

Boring?” Thorin had never imagined talking to a faun as Sindarin lessons were literally pounded into his head.

Boring, pompous, unimaginative. It is what I accuse my own elders of, but they are not nearly as set in their ways as those such as Licus. Now there is an ugly sight. An ugly elf, who would have imagined?” Glif even had a musical laugh.

Exactly.” Thorin could not help but smile.

How is it that you know Sindarin?” Glif began to softly play a new tune. It filled Thorin’s head. Glif eagerly nodded as he began to talk. Then they played more songs.

Have you ever been to…of course not. I must simply invite you to come meet my family and clan. They would be thrilled to meet you. We will have a party and play all night. We have never had a dwarf king as a guest before.” Glif looked ready to burst, he was so eager.

Where?” Thorin thought this a marvelous idea himself.

The Old Forest of course. It is where we live. You will love it this time of year. The birds singing, joining in acapella….” Glif went on and on.

I dropped my harp!” Thorin was set off balance when Glif grabbed his hand; his harp flew into the darkness beyond the campfire. Glif was literally dancing in place as Thorin barely managed to free his hand.

“My harp is gone.” Thorin was not about to leave it. He had barely managed to not toss it into the fire. He began a frantic search. When he stood up with his prize, Balin was standing by the campfire with a secure hold of the faun’s horns in a headlock.

Did you think that I would be stupid enough to go off to the pub with Dwalin after the likes of you has shown your face?” The light only adding to the enraged expression on Balin’s face.

I only…” Glif’s voice was strangled with fright. The faun did not even try to struggle in Balin’s strong grip.

I know exactly what you were doing. You belong in the Old Forest and not the Shire for a reason.” Balin shook the faun. “Do I look stupid enough to let my guard down after all of the times that you and your kind tried to dwarfnap my son?

N..No. Of course not, Balin.” Glif tried to smile sweetly and even managed a musical laugh. “You are a seasoned warrior, as I recall you thumping into my head…Oh, has it been so long? We must really get together more often. It is a shame…” Fauns were truly scatterbrained if Glif was a good example of one.

How many more of you are here?” Balin was NOT appeased. Why did Thorin‘s advisor hate such a seemingly helpless creature? “If you lie to me, I will tear off one of your wretched horns.

Just myself. The elders are waiting for a more opportune time to speak to your group, when you had passed closer to our home. Did I not warn you of the Cù Sìth?” Glif conveniently failed to mention that he had been the one to ‘borrow’ the monstrous creature.

I have just caught you stealing my king!” Thorin had to admit that Balin had a good point. He could not remember why he had decided that going somewhere dangerous with only a harp and a mythical creature was a good idea.

A party! A mere party! I would have returned him by morning.” Is that not what they all say?

You would have to use a fairie door, you idiot. IF a Cù Sìth guarding the door let Thorin live, then he could have ended up anywhere on Arda. Most likely Fangorn Forest. You have little memory for danger, Glif.” Balin held on tight as the faun began to squeal. How was Balin so wise to the ways of mythical creatures? Thorin, for one, would really like to know, as he had nearly been dragged off by one.

My pipe. Please give it to me!” Glif actually ignored Balin as Thorin picked up the tiny instrument and dusted it off. Balin was rather harsh with the creature. Thorin was surprised that Glif’s neck had not been broken.

Let the faun go, Balin.” Thorin shook his head to get the last effects from the faun’s music out of it. Thorin would like to return to reality now. That was hard to do if Balin insisted on detaining the creature that did not exist. So much for the idea that this was their burglar’s illusion. Where was the useless bastard, anyway? Why could he not at least keep Thorin company and insanity at bay. This brought the meaning of useless a whole new level to in Thorin’s book.

Tell your elders that we want nothing to do with them.” Balin cut a lock of Glif’s hair off that had been tied back with a decorated band.

What is wrong with you?” Glif howled in anger. Was that really necessary, Balin? Have a heart!

Take your pipe and go, before I cut off a horn. If I see you again, I will keep that instrument of yours.” I guess not. Balin is not a happy camper today.

You..you…ingrate!” The word was probably the worst thing that Glif had heard an elf use. Thorin began to wonder what WAS the worst thing that he had ever heard an elf say? Perhaps tomorrow would present a new opportunity to learn a few Sindarin swear words, compliments of Licus. Thorin doubted that Arwen ever swore.

Thank you.” Glif’s face turned pleasant for a moment as he faced Thorin, gratefully accepting his clarinet back. Did the faun have a multiple personality disorder? It would explain a few things. “We will have to postpone our engagement thanks to this music hater.

Be gone from here back to that accursed forest that you came from, and take that Cù Sìth with you.” Now Balin had his sword drawn. Is that such a good idea, Balin? Glif screeched as the sword swept close to his tail, nearly cutting off the tuft of hair on it. Definitely not a good idea.

“Balin, enough!” Thorin watched the tiny creature turn in circles as it tried to look at its tail. “We do not need more enemies.”

Glif stopped his soft whines and twirled around to face Balin, a cunning look on his face. “We do not need to tell the elves anything, do we, Balin?” Sorry, Glif, but Balin got used to that look when Kili was twelve. How old was Kili now, anyway? Thorin suddenly felt old.

Come here, Glif.” Thorin tutted and shook his head. Glif reminded him of a three year old. Balin just huffed, definitely Dwalin’s brother as he stood with his arms crossed, glaring at the faun.

You are so kind, really you are.” The faun held one of Thorin’s much larger hands in his own, goat-like eyes peering deeply into Thorin’s for a moment. Then the little creature nodded to Thorin, hissed another insult at Balin, and skipped off into the night.

“Being kind to a faun is a mistake that you will never make again, I assure you.” Balin sat by the fire and pulled out his pipe. “I would check the ponies if I were you. The brat with hooves probably stole your mare.”

----

Chapter Text

It was late when the last stragglers came back from the pub. Those that had gone to the party were sitting around the campfire, discussing the night’s events.

“More faun troubles?” Dwalin took in Balin’s uncharacteristic crossed arms posture, his sword drawn at his side. Normally in the evening, Balin would have scrolls and inkwell out as he worked by the light of the fire. They still had business to finish in Bree and raven sent messages from Belegost to answer.

“I still cannot believe this.” Gloin was holding Glif’s lock of hair. “I can feel it, but I cannot see it.”

“We should just hurry on our way tomorrow, as Balin said we should.” Dori had only handled the hair once, and not let Ori near it.

Thorin looked over all of his dwarves. Neither Bofur’s clan, nor Dwalin seemed surprised. Bofur had been cheery, singing tavern songs all the way back to the barn. He had shut up the moment the lock of hair was put in his hands. Now he had a pensive expression.

“Let us all get to bed then.” Bofur quickly agreed, followed by Bifur’s grunted agreement. The damaged dwarf was already set for first watch with his boar spear in hand.

“Dwalin, where are the hobbits?” Brosi had not come back and had not mentioned other plans. Bilbo had just disappeared. This did not bode well if fauns taking hobbits were within Balin’s definition of dwarfnapping.

“Who was watching out for them?” No answer. Did Thorin need to arrange a hobbit babysitting schedule? “Does everyone realize that we will not be able to get more hobbits thanks to the elves?”

Nori glared a moment before answering. “Bilbo is out and about until he comes back. Brosi is staying the night at Madoc’s, saying goodbye to some of his boys.”

Obviously, some of the Company were already attached to their smaller companions. Balin and Dwalin shared a look. Kili looked at Fili, who looked thoughtful as he spoke. “Uncle, why are you taking the hobbits? When they are around you act like they are useless baggage.”

“Ask Gandalf why he insists on bringing a gentlehobbit who has not done a day’s work in his life as a burglar. Brosi, on the other hand, is familiar with the areas that we will be traveling through.” This day had been bizarre enough. Thorin wondered why he was even answering any questions as he sought his bedroll in a generous pile of hay.

----

Why are you awake?” Glif’s soft voice hardly made Bifur do more than grunt in surprise as Bilbo sat with the damaged dwarf by the campfire.

Memories are hard to forget.” Bilbo had been alone all evening after hearing about the faunt’s birth. While eager to send congratulations, he never attended a birthing day party. It was a elder son role that he had happily let Brosi take on when he was well enough to feel comfortable in a social setting.

Why are you going with these odd ones? Lady Arwen is very concerned about you. Licus has orders to stop you when you reach the Great East Road at the edge of the Shire.

Who is calling who odd? Bifur grunted. For some reason, he could see fauns and other creatures after his injury. Both he and Bilbo had learned the hard way to keep their mouths shut. As to how Bifur knew Sindarin, he refused to say.

We have been friends too long to take offense, Bifur.” Glif sat next to the dwarf and pat the arm holding the boar spear. Bilbo had learned long ago that fauns could be perceptive, almost wise, but they had no sense of self preservation whatsoever.

Hardly friends. Bifur got up to check on the ponies.

----

“Did you see him?” Kili nudged Fili none too gently.

“See who?” Fili sat up in his pile of hay, wisps of it stuck in his hair.

“Mr. Boggins. You know. He did not go to the party or with us and Dwalin. Where did he go?” It was obvious that Kili was going to let his curiosity keep him awake, and Fili as well.

“Go ask him. Volunteer for second watch and ask him to join you.” Fili yawned and pushed Minty away. The ponies were free to roam the barn and Minty was busy pulling hay out of Fili’s hair to munch. “Hey! Stop slobbering in my braids, Minty!”

“We cannot all volunteer. Bifur will be suspicious as it is.” Kili ignored Fili’s fight with Minty and watched the campfire.

“I am not volunteering.” Fili promptly disappeared into the hay. Minty simply started to munch away to find Fili. Sooner or later the dwarf would be visible again.

----

Bifur glared at Kili, but accepted his offer to take the least wanted shift.

“Will you join me for a few moments, Mr. Boggins?” Kili asked before Bilbo could rise and walk to the barn with Bifur.

This is not social hour. Bifur looked at Bilbo, who nodded with a long, drawn out sigh.

“Kili has questions that will come up sooner or later. It may as well be him.”

You owe no one an explanation for anything. Remember that. Bifur gave one last look around. Keep your eyes open, Kili. Wake Bombur next.

“What do you want to see me about, Kili?” Bilbo prepared himself to answer a multitude of questions about fauns, or at least the Old Forest.

“Where were you, Mr. Boggins?” Kili was not smiling and his body was tense. “If we are a Company, why were you not with any of us? Why does Nori refuse to say where you were?”

“You are either more of a prince than you pretend to be, or you lost much of your innocence from the wraith attack.” Bilbo sigh and looked over at Kili. “I tried to remove the painful memories, but I obviously failed.”

“So you do mess with our heads.” Kili went from tense to frustrated. He looked more like Thorin right now than Fili ever would.

“I can remove traumatic short term memories permanently, yes. Long term memory can be kept from reorganizing for a time. Normally, I only try to keep bad dreams at bay. I do not “mess with you head”, as you put it, Kili. It is not a process that can be done in secret.” Bilbo cocked his head and grinned.

“Sounds like an elvish trick.” The tension visibly left Kili.

“It is, in fact.” Bilbo did not stop to elaborate. “As to where I was, I was in those woods.” Bilbo pointed out a large copse of trees across a few bare hayfields. “I visited two dear friends, then went out and beat up a few of those trees during a temper tantrum.”

“Thorin will be asking you questions. Should I ask them first, and be your…representative?” Kili tried to remember a long forgotten civics lesson or two.

“Thorin is a marshmallow wrapped in a walnut shell, is he not?” Bilbo nodded ascent. “Do not deny it; I have seen the marshmallow melting through the nut halves when he is not so defensive. What is your first question?”

“A marshmallow?” Kili let out a laugh as he fell over with glee. “That is a good one, Mr. Boggins.” After he could breathe again, Kili sat by Bilbo. “Why beat up trees?”

“Trees can take the beating without screaming in pain.” Bilbo’s face was scrunched up in pain and shame. He clenched and unclenched fists whose fingers had split knuckles. “Sometimes I feel like I will just explode.”

“Mr. Boggins, why are you looking at me like that?” Kili got up and scooted backwards. Bilbo’s eyes were dark with something that reminded Kili very much of the wraith.

“You wanted to tell your uncle what I was, did you not?” Bilbo shrugged and the expression left. “I may be stupid enough to beat up a tree, but I am not a stupid hobbit. You can tell Thorin that at least.” He waited expectantly for Kili to decide how to respond.

“I did.” Kili forced himself to sit down. “You can hurt any or all of us very badly can you not, Mr. Boggins? But you do not want to.”

“No, Kili.” Bilbo breathed out in relief and put his head in his hands. “Bofur is my father. Brosi is my brother, my twin as you guessed. Bifur and Bombur are my uncles. I played with Bombur’s children when I was young. Balin is my true father. Dwalin is my uncle. He made me my first sword, complete with bruising lessons.”

“How many parents?” Kili was Kili again and totally forgot his concern. He began counting on his fingers.

“Balin raised me. I have nothing to do with Bofur as a father, though I do believe that Brosi wishes to change that.”

“Reconciliation is a good thing, Mr. Boggins.” Kili was clearly reciting the words of someone who was NOT Thorin.

“Only if both sides wish it. Another subject please, Kili. I will need to sleep in an hour or so.”

“What is a changeling?”

“A hobbit with literally three parents. When that happens, the hobbit offspring have unusual blessings from the Green Lady. As her husband made the dwarves, she did not deny Brosi or myself these abilities. It is not a subject that Brosi will speak of voluntarily or nicely. No hobbits do.”

“How did you learn an elf trick?” Kili was seriously into his task now. He would be taking notes if he had a scroll and quill.

“I went to live at Rivendell when I was twenty.” Bilbo began to talk, Kili’s eyes growing wider and wider. Occasionally he let out a cry of “No way!”

“Oh, Kili!” Bilbo just smiled and shook his head at the over expressive youth. To be young again!

---

“What is it?” Bilbo had gotten to bed late. Now it was dark except for the nearby fire that Bombur was stirring up. The racket of dwarven snoring echoing around him told Bilbo that it was far from time to get up.

“You are hogging your blankets.” Brosi yanked part of Bilbo’s bedroll over himself. “It is freezing in this barn.”

“Here.” Bilbo tucked Brosi securely in his bedroll. He searched the hay and curled up next to the buried Dwalin with his bearskin bedroll.

“Emmata, how nice of you to…” Dwalin threw an arm around Bilbo and began to snore again. Bilbo promptly freed himself and settled on sleeping back to back with Brosi, sharing the bedroll.

“I left before Madoc or Melilot woke. I could not face them to say goodbye, Bilbo.” Brosi’s voice was a broken whisper punctuated with sniffling sounds.
“I never thought I would feel something akin to what I had with Niriel and…”

“You love them, Brosi. It is not wrong; Niriel would be happy for you.” Bilbo groaned. Brosi now had something to keep him in the Shire. Why could he not have remembered this before involving himself, or better yet, Bilbo. Instead they were stuck, bound by honor or a contract.

“But I am leaving them, even as Melilot just had a baby. How can I be so irresponsible?” What was Brosi’s definition of responsible anyway? He had known of the upcoming birth for the entire pregnancy.

“Be happy that you get to see the baby and attend his birth day party. I know that made Madoc and Melilot happy. They know you Brosi; they know that you would not let Niriel down by not going to handle her affairs yourself. They understand.” Get a handle on your emotions, Brosi. Or I will do it for you. Bilbo was tired, and very grouchy right now.

“They said as much without words.” Brosi sat up. “Bilbo, the baby could be a fauntling before I get back. I will miss so much!”

“Thorin is your king, Brosi. You came because…” Bilbo sigh and heaved himself up. He did not understand why Brosi had included either of them on this crazy quest. He had no comforting words; experience told him that nothing said would soothe Brosi. Brosi was leaving everyone and everything that had made a normal life possible again. The scarred hobbit would be again facing dangers long left behind. He would not be surrounded by abundant luck to weave on a whim. Soon the only luck would emanate from himself and Bilbo.

“How can I abandon my boys and…my family, Bilbo?” Tears were streaming down Brosi’s face. He would not even know the child’s name, missing the naming ceremony in a week’s time. “What was I thinking when I just…just threw it all away?”

“How can you abandon your king, Brosi? Madoc, Marroc, and the others of the Shire Guard have each other, and your training. They will be fine, you have prepared everything for months. Thorin? Well…is everything in hand here?” Bilbo waved his hand around the barn. Minty looked up from chewing on what looked like a braid and nickered.

“No. It is a dire situation. Gandalf was expecting an army. He was wrong; the dwarven clans have abandoned Durin’s Folk to their fate, as they did before when the clan went into exile.”

“Then Madoc and Melilot will understand why you have to leave. They will also be expecting an impressive gift when you get back to make up for sneaking out.” Bilbo wiped Brosi’s tears, but they continued.

“I never thought I would regain even a small measure of happiness. Now I am throwing it away.” If you think that you are abandoning this quest after all that you’ve done, you have a bitter lesson to learn, brother.

“Oh, Brosi!” Bilbo pulled Brosi close to put their foreheads together. Few gestures had calmed and focused Brosi during nights ruled by nightmares when he first came to the Shire. He could smell the ale on Brosi's breath. Brosi must have drowned himself in the stuff. He began to hum, then quietly sang the ancient dwarven prayer that Balin had taught him as a fauntling his first night in the older dwarf’s home. Bilbo had cried and cried for Brosi, never having been separated before.

“Can I bring you something?” Bombur came over, uncertain without food to offer or make for comforting someone. Their gentle uncle believed that he could cook away the world’s problems. Bilbo wished it were so.

“Leave me alone! You will never understand me!” Brosi blew up, pushing Bilbo away. “That blasted song has never brought any good to us.”

“What is going on here?” A very agitated, half asleep Thorin popped up much closer than Bilbo thought he had been. It was a comical sight to see Thorin with hay sticking out of his clothing and braids. Or it would have been, if he had not gotten up and stormed over to hover with a dark expression.

“I had a bad dream. I am not used to sleeping away from home.” Bilbo lied. He had camped out many times in his travels to obtain horses, in much less comfortable places.

“Alright, everyone get up!” Thorin bellowed. “Mr. Baggins here thinks it is a good time to be awake since he misses his bed. Bombur, start making breakfast.”

Bilbo could not believe that Thorin did not catch such a blatant lie. Perhaps not a complete lie, but he had not even tried to keep an honest tone. It had been more snobbish than anything else. Even Fili looked between Thorin and Bilbo in surprise. Bilbo merely shrugged and got up.

Brosi was buried in the hay, Thorin had not been looking for two hobbits in one bedroll. He could stay hidden until he regained his composure. Bilbo did not mind Thorin’s scathing look following him; it meant that Thorin would stay away from his brother. He could take the angry attitude, he was quite used to it.

----

Chapter Text

 Ori was writing in the quest log as he ate breakfast by the fire. He had been unable to sleep and had the luck to overhear Bilbo and Kili’s conversation. The details would go far in writing about Bilbo’s background. Ori hoped to put down in print all of the lives of the Company.

“Brosi! I told you ten minutes ago to get dressed and eat.” Bilbo had dressed,
eaten, and saddled Trel. He had gone to pack his bedroll and still found Brosi in it, now adamant about staying behind.

“I cannot leave, Bilbo.” Brosi was still dressed in a proper hobbit suit that he had worn to the party. The dark blue coat was bundled up as a pillow, the dark green waistcoat and sky blue shirt were being held in an iron grip by Bilbo in one hand. The other hand grabbed the knee length grass green pants by the waistband as Brosi was pulled out of the hay.

“Ori, eat your breakfast.” Dori sat down with his own toasted bacon sandwich and coffee. He watched the struggling brothers. “Odd, are they not?”

“Bilbo is a sensible one.” Nori found breakfast shoved into his hands by Dori whether he wanted it or not. He would much rather get up and take bets at the moment. A gambler always had to be ready to act. Nori had found it to be a much safer alternative to stealing for his needs . That was an activity whose novelty had worn off the moment a noose had tightened around his neck.

“Really?” Dori turned around in time for a pair of green pants to hit him in the face. “Oh, dear.” He quickly covered Ori’s eyes.

“Dori!” Ori had been looking down at his book. Now he looked up between Dori’s fingers to see a waistcoat land at his feet.

“Bilbo!” Brosi was howling, struggling as his clothes were pulled off.

“If you think that you can punish me with that Thain proclamation”…off went the shirt to land beside the laughing Kili and Fili...“then trick me into signing an iron clad agreement…a suicidal mission, then just gallivant home after only two days….You are insufferable and I will guarantee that you will finish what you started Ambrosine Bilon Baggins!”

---

Thorin did not laugh as everyone else did. Even Dori had to smile when Bilbo chewed out his brother as he dumped Brosi’s pack. Thorin had wanted to end the melee with a barked, impatient order. That was before a half naked Brosi charged his brother. That was a big mistake by the furious look on Bilbo’s face as he easily sent Brosi sprawling, too easily.

“Where are your clothes?” Bilbo searched Trick’s bags. Muffled curse words were the only answer.

Thorin was not often fooled. He did not like being taken for one either. Now he sat with a forgotten breakfast cooling as two lowly hobbits proved that they had succeeded in spectacular fashion in doing just that. Bilbo Baggins had played the perfect role of the useless gentlehobbit. Now Thorin watched him effortlessly block all of Brosi’s dwarven trained techniques in basic self defense and even wrestling. A gentlehobbit would not be able to tie up an experienced fighter to resemble a trussed turkey.

Thorin realized several other things as he watched Bilbo dress Brosi back in his dwarven clothes. They were brothers; Bilbo had been covering for Brosi. Bilbo was also handily familiar with all of Brosi’s moves. Even though Brosi clearly had a hangover, Bilbo’s own moves spoke of training, training that was familiar to Thorin. The lying burglar might have learned from others over his lifetime, but Dwalin had clearly been his first instructor.

Satisfaction warred with offended pride. Thorin had acquired what were probably the two most competent hobbits in the Shire. It was too bad that one of them clearly considered this a suicide mission with absolutely no hope of being even remotely successful. The other, well….Brosi had volunteered, and others had left family behind. Thorin was not about to stop Bilbo from tying Brosi up if that was what was needed to get the hobbit into proper dwarven clothing.

“You have gone too far, Brosi.” Bilbo signed for Trick to stand after freeing Brosi from his bindings to dump him on his pony. He stomped all over camp, grabbing Brosi’s discarded clothes and muttered a few curse words of his own as he stuffed them in a saddle bag. “This…This is unacceptable.”

“Lying to your leader to hide something, covering for another by lying, deceit is not something that I tolerate, Mr. Baggins.” Thorin came up, arms crossed, as Bilbo stood by Trel, waiting for the others.

“Lying was not covered in your contract. Deceit was not covered in your contract. Come back after Balin amends the blasted thing. Until then, I suggest that we make us of this early start.” Bilbo mounted with an ease that he had not shown before. Clearly this hobbit was used to riding, or Thorin was blind. He was not blind to the fact that Bilbo had mounted to be able to glare down at him.

Bilbo, you are a…Brosi proceeded to fill Thorin’s head with curse words and phrases collected over decades of travel in many lands and languages.

Brosi, you are leaving with this group. You are going on this quest. Suck it up!

----

"This is turning out to be quite the journey." Bofur could only shake his head over his sons' antics. Bifur only grunted, obviously approving of Bilbo's trussing techniques. Bofur had to admit that it was hard to tie someone up in a way in which they could still be dressed.

"I think that we should keep away from taverns in the towns that we pass through." Bombur hesitantly added.

"Why?" Bofur looked confused. Bombur would never explain that Brosi wanting to desert the company on top of having to listen to Bofur's drunken songs was starting to get on the cook's nerves. A irritated cook meant burnt meals and Bombur preferred to serve edible meals. His reputation was at stake here.

"Did you see the way that Mr. Boggins just...." Kili came by on Apple.

"Aye." Dwalin had watched the entire episode with approval and barely contained pride. "That I did."

----

Gandalf was musing on the dwarves definition of stealth as they crossed over the Stockbrook bridge. Rangers would be nearly silent, their bows and swords carefully silenced. Elves and their horses would ride with only the sound of hoof beats and the occasional whicker to announce their presence. The dwarves ponies might be as silent as their elven bred great grandsires, but the dwarves on their backs negated that benefit from the start.

“We are taking the ferry, Thorin.” Balin was refusing to give their leader the map.

“Hey, Fili! Are you and Minty courting now that he has customized your braids?” Kili laughed as Fili glared at him, busy rebraiding his hair after washing it clean of horse slobber.

“Not join! Coin! I was talking about counting the Company’s coins, you dolt! Not have another member join!” Who could miss Gloin roaring to Oin in some ill fated attempt at a conversation?

“Ori, I insist that you wear this extra scarf!” Dori was trying to catch up to Ori’s pony, but the younger dwarf had learned some of the pony’s evading tricks from Bilbo.

“Leave Ori alone. You have him layered like it is midwinter.” Nori began a conversation that quickly escalated into an argument as loud as Gloin and Oin’s conversation.

Gandalf just shook his head. Their behavior only reinforced his belief that a hobbit was necessary to retrieve the Arkenstone.

----

“I realize that charging you was not the best idea.” Brosi spoke for the first time since crossing the Stockbrook. His threats and curses had died off to silence when Bilbo did not even look back once.

“You will be fine, Brosi. Trust me, I will handle this.” Bilbo’s words were calm, almost serene. It was too bad that the calculating look on his brother’s face caused instant terror. Brosi also noticed that Bilbo had slowed to be the last in the group, behind the pack horses.

“Balin, for the last time, we need to…” Thorin stopped and spun around in the saddle. “Balin, where are the hobbits?”

“I have no idea. They were following Dwalin.” Balin did not like the look on Thorin’s face. Their leader had a look of intense alarm in his blue eyes.

It did not take long to see that the hobbits had been left far behind. It was not long before he came upon the hobbits still on the trail, still on their ponies. Bilbo was gesturing wildly beside a clearly terrified Brosi.

“Halfling!” Thorin’s fist slammed into the side of Bilbo’s head. The hobbit flew to the ground.

“What has happened?” Fili dismounted and picked up Bilbo’s body. Kili stopped Apple a distance away.

“Bilbo was… Brosi roused himself out of his trance. Thorin’s hand kept him in the saddle.

“I was trying to…Ow, my head.” Bilbo tried to sit up. “Why on Arda did you clobber me, you imbecile?”

“Let Oin look at you, do not move.” Fili firmly parked himself between Bilbo and Thorin.

“Let me through.” Oin was soon examining both hobbits.
 
“The luck in the Shire is potent, almost a poison.” Oin made a brew over a fire that Gloin started. “This ought to help calm the hangover. You should have asked me for it earlier, Brosi.”

“Gads! That is vile.” Brosi nearly spit out, but made himself drink down the whole thing.

“What of Mr. Boggins?” Fili had not left Bilbo’s side. The hobbit had various bruises and a lump on his head from falling that were developing. A groan answered Fili as Bilbo finally managed to sit up, holding his head.

"I do not need anything." Bilbo knew from experience how many dwarvish medicinal concoctions were far too strong for a hobbit in any dose, if one wished to keep one's wits about oneself.

Gandalf chose now to crouch down and look over the hobbits. “Why did you do this, Bilbo?” The wizard looked completely baffled. Bilbo only groaned again. What was wrong with everybody?

“Do WHAT? Excuse me if Brosi had a panic attack when I just wanted to talk to him. What is wrong with Thorin, you mean. ” Bilbo roared. Fili held him down.

“Bilbo will ride with me today. We need to cross at Buckleberry Ferry before the elves decide to block it.”

“We will sort this out later. I wish to be out of the Shire by nightfall.” Thorin nodded as he looked into Fili’s eyes. He gave Bilbo a glare and mounted Petunia. “You will keep our burglar out of trouble, Fili.”

“I understand.” Fili sighed. He never liked dealing with Thorin‘s often impulsive temper. He went to get Minty before the group broke up. Bilbo reluctantly stood up with Balin‘s help. Balin shielded his son from an angry Bofur who was comforting Brosi.

“It looks like your luck wearer is waiting for you.” Balin smiled up at Fili who was now on Minty, holding out a hand.

“Time to go, Ambrose.” Dwalin lifted Bilbo up behind Fili before Bilbo could protest.

----

“How serious is this situation, Gandalf? Is Brosi too badly damaged to accompany us?” Thorin waited to load his pony to cross the Brandywine River. The ferry was a mere raft that could hold two horses, two dwarves, and four hobbits with poles. A family of hobbits had offered their services with a fare of one copper per dwarf and pony. The father and his sons used the poles to cross the river. It was wider and faster than normal from the spring runoff so guide ropes helped to keep the raft on course.

“You must keep everyone in hand. Bofur will not let this incident pass. Neither will Balin let him deal with Bilbo. There is no easy answer, Thorin. Bilbo will not go without Brosi, and you need Bilbo.”

“This is the hobbit that you picked, Gandalf.” Thorin was far from happy. Fili had kept Bilbo close. “He has brought nothing but strife and wood sprites!”

“This is the hobbit that will get you the Arkenstone, Thorin.” Gandalf pushed his horse ahead and took Thorin’s turn on the raft next to Dori and his gelding. “Keep that in mind.”

----

“We have been delayed enough.” Thorin glared down at the Master of Buckland. It appeared that no dwarves ever traveled through this land. As soon as daylight had shown Brandybuck Hall in the distance, hobbits had swarmed around them.

“Surely you will want to stay for elevensies. My wife is cooking special for…” The Brandybucks were far more welcoming than the Tooks had been. According to Brosi, that spoke volumes about the apparently famous Brandybuck spirit of community, with a dash of adventure added.

Thorin had put Brosi up on Petunia behind him for the journey. The hobbit’s hands had clenched Thorin’s coat tightly the minute the Master had appeared. He now whispered. “Majesty, we cannot stop. We must be past the Old Forest before nightfall.”

“Surely you will not go without coming to a party!” Glif appeared before Petunia. The Master continued to prattle without noticing. “You have plenty of time to eat elevensies. Then you can get to the Great East Road and past the elves on the other side of The Hedge. You can camp out tonight in a safe spot with my people and be on your way tomorrow.”

“My wife would be most disappointed.” The Master of Buckland smiled winningly. Thorin sigh and smiled.

“We would love to join you for elevensies and lunch, if you would let us through the nearest Gate. You do have a key, correct?”

“Majesty!” Brosi sputtered, but Thorin held up a hand, brooking no argument.

“We have elf trouble and need to avoid them.” Thorin dismounted. “Surely you understand, good Sir.”

“Why yes. Yes, I do.” Few hobbits loathed Licus like the Brandybuck clan did. He had tried to force them to leave their homes on this side of the river several times, calling maintenance of the Hedge a waste of time.

“Come and meet my family, we have never met a king before.” The Master swung the Gate key on a chain as he smiled and led them to his home.

“Oh, dear!” Brosi could only shake his head, as he was still riding on Petunia.

----

“Oh, dear!” Brosi knew that he and Thorin were in trouble. He found himself at a bonfire, surrounded by dozens of fauns. What had happened? The last thing he remembered, they had set off from Buckland after lunch. Now it was dark, none of the Company was to be seen, and they were in the middle of the Old Forest.

“How did we get here, Majesty? We need to get back to the others immediately.” Brosi tried to rouse Thorin as he tuned his harp.

Brosi, do not be a stick in the mud.” Glif smiled. Of course! The trickster had come to their camp and begun to play songs with Bofur before anyone had stopped him. Brosi knew that a faun’s music could charm others to do their bidding.

Brosi, full after two meals considered large by hobbit standards, had let himself fall asleep hanging onto Thorin. He must have stayed asleep when camp was made. Somehow Brosi had ended up with Thorin, now in terrible danger. No one ever came back after a whole night in the Old Forest. Camp had been made in The Hedge’s clear area, their backs to it.

“Thorin, we must leave now!” Brosi could not lift the burly dwarf. He was forced to sit and watch Thorin and the fauns play song after song. Brosi could free Thorin’s mind from the music of one or two fauns, maybe; he had never tried it before. A whole pack of determined fauns fascinated with a dwarven king who could see them, talk to them, and play the harp so sweetly, they would not get away so easily.

Bilbo, where are you? Brosi pushed past any hesitation he had. At the Master’s house, Bilbo had insisted that Brosi had overreacted to Bilbo merely freeing him earlier. He did not want his brother hindered when crossing on the ferry. Hobbits were wary of water. Bilbo had feared that Brosi would have a panic attack. Instead, Bilbo had ended up with a headache, a bruised face, and a younger brother who refused to even look at him.

Bilbo! Brosi tested to see how far they were in the woods by how much luck he could sense. Old Man Willow had conjurings that ensured that the Shire’s luck was hard pressed to enter the Old Forest. He could sense some; they were maybe an hour’s walk inside the woods.

“Brosi, stop calling that meddler.” Thorin glared at Brosi. “We are here for fun. Now sing with me!”

“Majesty, I…” Brosi never got to finish the sentence, drowned out by suddenly running and screaming fauns.

“What is going on?” Thorin stood to unsheathe Deathless.

“Sit down!” Brosi slammed Thorin back onto the log they had been perched on. “Do not move! Keep your hands on your knees!”

“The fauns are in danger!” Thorin roared. Brosi could not hold him down.

“Satyrs are in the forest. I’m sorry, Majesty.” Brosi watched at least a dozen dark figures surround the clearing with nets, barring escape for anyone. Brosi concentrated on Thorin’s healing concussion and slammed his hand down. The dwarf king slumped over as a net covered them.

----

 

Chapter Text

"You will be short a horn or two when I get ahold of you, Glif.” Brosi growled out as he was pulled along. His hands were tied together in front and he was constantly yanked off his feet by laughing satyrs as they traveled through the thick forest.

 “I honestly do not see how this is suddenly my fault.” Glif was shocked and horrified, momentarily oblivious to the fact that he was tied by his neck in a line of a dozen fauns being dragged along.

 “Stop it, you two. Of all of the times…” Thorin was in an unenviable position. He was hanging off of a pole that his hands and feet were tied to. The two young satyrs who had been charged to carry his load were not happy to drag Brosi along as well, the end of his rope secured around the waist of the later. They were not very careful about avoiding rocks and stumps when it came to Thorin’s head or Brosi’s feet.

 “We will be fine, Majesty. Have patience.” The usually brash and impatient Brosi wondered where he suddenly found his own patience. Perhaps a fistful of years as a raw recruit trainer had unexpected benefits.

 “Quite right. We will be fine.” Glif chimed in, the other fauns now getting excited and echoing the sentiment. Thorin was not as easily convinced, especially as his hair kept tangling with branches and vines. Another yank by the impatient satyrs had it ripped free.

 “Ouch! Watch it!” Thorin roared for the hundredth time in Westron, Khuzdul, and Sindarin, as well as a variety of curse words. The youths only laughed and yanked Brosi’s rope hard to see him fall yet again.

 “Brosi, if and when we are indeed fine, as you so confidently put it, we will be having a long talk about the concept of defending one’s own person.” Thorin had woken up to the sight of several satyrs pawing his and Brosi’s swords, pleased as they conversed in a light, trilling, almost lilting language that was in stark contrast to their appearance.

 “Yes, Majesty.” Brosi picked himself up, wiping a bloody nose on his sleeve, his face giving away nothing to the laughing satyrs. They were boys, too big for their britches, who had probably never seen a hobbit before. He would not follow the expected example of a whimpering, helpless being.

 ----

 “What has happened here?” Gandalf appeared in camp just as everyone was waking up. He had an angry look on his face as he only got groans and grumbled Khuzdul for an answer.

 “Impeccable timing yet again, Gandalf.” Bilbo sat up like a jerked puppet on its strings. “I would say that the fauns struck again.”

 “Are you saying that Thorin and Ambrosine are off in the Old Woods for a faun party?” Gandalf relaxed, familiar with the party loving pests.

 “Fili, Uncle did not take us!” Kili whined in mock outrage. Fili just looked at Kili like his brother had lost his mind. Their uncle was lost in the dangerous forest, under a sort of mind control, and all Kili could do was lament a missed party?

 “Bilbo, can you located Brosi? Will it be safer for us to wait for their return or go after them? I do not feel ready to face a forest full of beasts at night that are capable of killing a pony.” Fili felt the weight of leadership settle on his shoulders as he realized that he was now in charge and responsible for them all.

 “Glif was here. He must have put us to sleep.” Balin looked ashamed to fail his king so.

 “Thorin would not listen. The hooved pest had him doing his bidding all day. ” It was no surprise that Dwalin was ready, war hammers in hand.

 “Do not forget that there is at least one Cù Sìth around. There may be more, with their owners. I do not fancy meeting any more enemies today. ” Fili wracked his brain trying to remember all that he had read in Balin’ s book so long ago.

 “They have been captured by satyrs, probably hired to retrieve the Cù Sìth. The satyrs must have come upon the faun party and helped themselves to fauns to sell. The satyrs are also aware of the price on....Gandalf!” Bilbo strode over to the wizard, hands clenched and clearly ready to hit someone.

 “Now, do not react so irrationally, Bilbo. I will go and intercept them. Satyrs are traders; we merely need to negotiate a price.” Gandalf seemed to question the idea of not telling Bilbo everything for the first time.

 “You know that my foresight is severely limited! You know that you need to tell me everything to assure a caravan’s safety! ” Bilbo howled in rage. “ You have put my entire family in danger with this suicidal meddling of yours, wizard!”

 “You would not have come. Nor would you have let Brosi come.” Gandalf sigh. No dwarf was reasonable if betrayed or when their protective streak was provoked; Bilbo was now both.

 “Durin’s Folk do not need to reclaim Erebor. You need it strategically for your White Council business. You forced Thorin’s hand, old meddler! There were better ways to deal with the price on his head.”

 “And how?” Gandalf seemed to grow in size. “Oh, wise old hobbit that you are. Tell me, how?”

 “You could have given Thorin the key and map before he called the council of his kin! You could have gone with him to express your concerns!” Bilbo howled in rage yet again, undeterred by Gandalf’s show of power. “I will not let my family die because of your pride, wizard. Never!”

“I will say what needs to be done.” Fili pulled Bilbo from Gandalf’s side. “Dwalin, sit on our burglar if need be to keep him quiet. Gandalf, tell me what you know about these satyrs. We will get our kin back, and then discuss other matters.”

 “Come here, you little trouble maker.” Dwalin easily scooped a hissing Bilbo up and carried him off to the ponies.

 Gandalf looked around at all of the dwarves that had gathered. Nori glared at Gandalf as Dori held Ori close, glaring at the Old Forest in the distance. Oin and Gloin sat with arms folded, troubled looks on their faces as they waited for an explanation. Bifur, Bombur, and Bofur had weapons in hand, ready to retrieve their lost kin. Kili sat himself next to Fili, watching his changed brother with troubled eyes.

 “Satyrs will sell their services to anyone with the coin to hire them. They primarily work for orcs, unseen as they are by most folk. If there is a price on Thorin's head, I see little hope of ending this peacefully.” Balin looked heartsick that Thorin did not share all he knew with his advisor.

 Gandalf put on airs as if he were a storyteller. “Long ago an immense forest once covered much of Middle Earth, filled with many creatures now extinct and relegated to myth and fairy tales. The satyrs are forest dwelling creatures, their home’s remains of Fangorn Forest barely supporting them. They have adapted to surviving by other methods. They sometimes venture to the other remains of their home, the Old Forest. Fauns that were once prey are now sold as pets to elves and whoever else has the sight to be able to deal with satyrs.”

 “We are not children wanting a bedtime story, Gandalf. We should have been told about the risks involved with this quest.” Nori was not placated.

“Why, Nori! It was your job, not mine, to tell Thorin of the price on his head. As a senior Watcher, that is.” Gandalf glared back at a now pale Nori. “This quest is already started, who is now going to abandon their king?” There was silence.

 “We just need to know what we are facing.” Gloin spoke, temper barely held in check.

 “Gandalf, we will break camp as we await your return.” Fili began giving orders that the dwarves quickly followed. He needed time to think, and distracted dwarves did not start fights that would further distract him.

 “Wanderer? What have you been up to, Nori?” Dori dragged his brother off by the ear.

 “It was wrong to keep the key and map from our uncle.” Kili stood, alone and almost as regal as Thorin could manage. Something had changed in the young prince, for a prince he looked for perhaps the first time in his life. His unwavering gaze alone caused a spark of remorse in the ageless Istari. Gandalf could still feel that glare long after he disappeared into the forest.

 ----

 "Ambrose, I need you to get ahold of yourself. You know how to deal with these satyrs, we dwarves do not. Fili is trying his best to take on leadership, but you are his luck hobbit. If you lose control, he will lose control. We need the stubborn Bilbo Baggins who was not afraid to threaten the Thain Council when they wanted to suspend Brosi. Now, his life, and not his rank, is in danger." Dwalin dropped Bilbo next to Midnight and began to saddle his pony

 I am sorry, Brosi. We are coming. Bilbo forced himself to stop projecting his calm to Brosi. He pulled away, all but breaking a connection.

Bilbo! Brosi reached out with desperation. Bilbo shut his eyes and left a last impression to stay calm before blocking his mind's ears. Both knew that it would not be successful.

 "Ambrose! We need you!" Dwalin growled in Khuzdul to the fidgeting stallion to keep still.

 "Brosi is a changeling, on the same lines of existence as the satyrs. They will not harm him. They will harm Thorin; I cannot predict the effects that will have on Brosi. They are both bound and secured. Brosi cannot do much in the forest itself; even the trees are our enemy." Bilbo looked to see that both Midnight and Trel were saddled.

 "Then we will go and find them ourselves."

 ----

 "We are doomed." Glif soon had all of the fauns echoing his sentiments.

 "Shut up, Glif!" Both Thorin and Brosi yelled in unison.

 Glif had excited all of the fauns when Gandalf had appeared out of nowhere. When the leader of the group stopped to speak to the wizard, they had hollered and cheered as if they were already saved. Now, after time had passed, it was clear that Gandalf was getting nowhere.

 "What can you see, Brosi?" Thorin still hung from his pole with only a view of satyr feet and rocks. His two pole bearers were getting impatient having to stand there. Brosi already had enough damage inflicted from their rough treatment.

 "Gandalf wants the whole group to come to our camp by the Hedge. They suspect a trap, as the satyrs now have a valuable load of hard to catch fauns." Brosi glared at the oblivious Glif, who smiled and waved back.

 Majesty, they have you with a price on your head and a Cù Sìth that they will not get paid for until they return it. I doubt that they will linger in the Old Forest beyond reaching their fairy door to Fangorn Forest, if that is even where they are headed. Brosi silently spoke to Thorin, his desire not to have screaming fauns evident in his emotion tinged words.

 "Gandalf, offer to meet with Bilbo and Dwalin at Bonfire Glade." Brosi hollered out after a short silence. Thorin's porters were startled and one smashed a fist down on his head. Brosi merely got up with a grunt and spit blood out at them.

 "Gandalf!" Thorin bellowed. No hobbit could stand after that blow. "You have one minute to convince that leader to get Brosi and myself to the Bonfire Glade. The satyrs will not suspect a trap if we show no interest in their other spoils. We have the riches to trade, now move it!"

 Gandalf had not looked at Thorin or Brosi until now. He looked like Thorin had ruined his plan, then he saw Brosi. The hobbit’s face has scratches and bruises covered in blood. The wizard turned without a word and began to speak in earnest to the leader in their language. Soon, most of the group was following the wizard back the way that they had come.

 ----

 Dwalin did not know what to expect when he rode into a large clearing. Bilbo placed the horses near the center, far from any tree's reach. Then he started a good sized fire with brush that he had collected along the way. It did not take long for them to wait.

 Gandalf came into the clearing from the other side, talking in an odd trilling language to the presumed leader of the satyrs. About two dozen more followed and stood in clear ranks around the clearing, no doubt unhappy about being here. The history of the hobbits and forest was common knowledge, and Bonfire Glade was the epitome of a hobbit victory. Even Dwalin knew of the Brandybuck's defense of their Hedge that led to many trees being burned to ash right here.

 Dwalin had never seen such creatures before. The satyrs were a hand span taller than him, but leaner, with less bulk. They were dark skinned, with jet black hair flowing free down their backs. Their faces were long with a striking resemblance to a horse, including the wide, flaring nostrils. He could not take his eyes off of the black furred horse ears that peeked through the hair, or the black horse tails decorated with bones and leaves in intricate patterns.

 They were dressed in leather loincloths and what could scarcely be called tunics. The leader and several of what looked like elders were also dressed in leather capes dyed an ominous rust color, the leader with a circlet of boar teeth on his head. Dwalin also did not miss that all had bows in hand and various weapons strapped to their backs and sides.

 "Hobbit wish trade?" The leader spoke in broken Westron. After taking one look between Brosi and the furious Bilbo, he abandoned Gandalf to march up to the hopefully more cooperative customer.

 "You will give me them." Bilbo was visibly seething as he answered in surprisingly passable Black Speech. Brosi had collapsed next to Thorin after the pole was unceremoniously dropped to the ground. Bilbo could feel his brother lose his struggle to remain grounded.

 "Presumptive hobbit." The leader was surprised, but continued in the more familiar language if the hobbit was truly willing to do business.

 "A paired luck hobbit and his luck wearer are a rare and expensive find. Such a talented pair is definitely worth more than alive than other customers are willing to pay for the dwarf's mere head." The leader smiled, perfect teeth showing wide in his greed. He had the advantage here; the very trees could do his bidding.

 "Take Cù Sìth back to owner. Take fauns to Rivendell sell as pets. I not care." Bilbo snorted in contempt. He knew his power as well. "You not want dwarves hunting kin for head."

 "Shall we talk price?" Gandalf interrupted, seeing the anger grow between the hobbit and leader. "Surely you have a set price, Langlífr."

 "You threaten my kin." Langlífr was not about to accept an insult.

 "Will happen if not give me dwarf!" Bilbo was not about to leave, or let anyone else leave, until he had Thorin and Brosi.

 "Then tell me what you will trade." Langlífr hated being near the fire, hated dealing with a mere hobbit. It was nearly dawn and he wanted to be away from this place. The four guards that he had left with the Cù Sìth would not be able to control it for long if they wanted to use its power to create a fairy gate to Rivendell. He above all hated whining, grumping fauns.

 "Elrond trade this for what you ask." Bilbo pulled out his headband, the two large amber and topaz gems sparkling in the light.

 "One of Elrond's constables, I see." Langlífr barely held his delight in check. It was not often that the satyrs sold something that the pompous elves truly wanted.

 "You cannot give them such a..." Gandalf spluttered.

 "He can and he has." Dwalin took the headband and thrust it into Langlífr's hands.

 "There is no guarantee of payment." The satyr leader was not losing a prize so easily.

 "Darkness coming, Erebor not fall in siege. You come for shelter." Bilbo held Langlífr's gaze in a staring contest. The satyr's wide, soulful eyes were just like his luck ponies, a seemingly unnatural wisdom regarding Bilbo from the soft brown depths. Such eyes in such a seemingly harsh creature; Bilbo wondered how satyrs had been before their primordial forest had been reduced to remnants.

 "We want free access to the Greenwood, to hunt and provide for our needs." Langlífr shot back. "Your dwarven king is of no use to me alive if he cannot do that."

 “Next spring make treaty with Woodland elves." Bilbo reluctantly agreed even as he heard Gandalf snort in disbelief. He was going to have to start believing in this insane quest and its increasingly impossible goals. Otherwise, why was he saving Thorin just to have the dwarf get roasted by a dragon? Then again, Bilbo would probably be the first one roasted, so the satyrs would be someone else’s problem anyway.

 Langlífr took the headband and it vanished. "My kin shall send an envoy to arrive at Erebor the first day of spring." Bilbo merely nodded decisively as if it were already done. If he was a roasted hobbit, why not live in a fit of fancy?

 "Give me faun." Bilbo nodded to the waving Glif.

 "Why you would want onep of the idiotic things...." Langlífr shrugged but gave a command. Thorin's porter cut himself free of Brosi's rope as another cut Glif loose. Then the satyrs vanished back into the forest, the other faun's cries fading as they were dragged away.

 "Thorin." Dwalin cut him free and helped him to stand, which was a failure with the circulation cut off in his arms and legs for so long. Thorin toppled over next to Brosi, both lay there unmoving like broken dolls.

 "My cousins!" Glif grabbed Bilbo. Bilbo shook the Black Speech out of his head as he switched to Sindarin and resisted the urge to strangle the menace. He had other things to take care of. Neither Brosi nor Thorin answered his by now rather forceful mental calls.

 "With that headband, they will go to Rivendell. They will be fine, Glif." Bilbo pushed the faun away to free Brosi's hands.

 "What have they done to them?" Dwalin took in Thorin's vacant expression and struggled to put the limp king up on Midnight, who had laid down without a cue.

"They are far away." Gandalf's observation was not very helpful in Dwalin's opinion.

 "Brosi has lost his grounding and is affecting Thorin. They are both locked away in their minds, hiding from Brosi’s fears." Bilbo wiped Brosi’s face gently before Dwalin put him on Trel. "We need to leave this place."

 "The fire?" They led the ponies out of the clearing.

 "Let it burn!" Bilbo clapped his hands and the fire roared with renewed life behind them.

 ----

 

Here is the closest I could find for this story's version of a satyr. It does not have the horse ears or the long hair, but beautifully captures an intensely emotional, intelligent expression.

The portrait is by artist Daniel Lee in a series called Animal Instinct based on the Chinese calendar and hybrid gene splicing.

Source: daniellee.com/DigitArt.htm

Chapter Text

Fili looked around the camp. All of the horses were saddled, all of the packs stowed away.

 “Balin, where is Dwalin and Bilbo?” Both Fili and Balin had been busy trying to free Nori from an angry Dori when the stubborn dwarf refused to answer any of his brother’s questions.

 “Their ponies are gone as well.” Bofur came up. He had been busy trying to get Bifur ready to go. Bifur had refused to do anything but rush off into the woods to get their kin back.

Fili. A voice echoed faintly in Fili’s head. Fili.

 “Kili, did you see them leave?” Kili was already mounted on Apple, staring off into the Old Forest. “Did anyone see Dwalin or Bilbo leave?”

 Fili, it is almost dawn. You must get the Company to the gate by Cricket Hollow.

 Fili shook his head. What?

 Dwalin and I found Gandalf. You must get away from this forest. Take the Company back to Buckland as quickly as you can. Gorbadoc Brandybuck will help you. His wife, Mirabella, is my mother’s sister.

 “The gates are locked, Bilbo. This is Mr. Boggins?” A faint laugh answered.

 It is unnerving at first to those not born with a twin, so I have been told. There is a horn at the gate. Blow a long blare once, three short blasts, and then two more long blares. Repeat the sequence twice. Any Shire Guard on patrol will recognize their distress call. A Brandybuck will also always have an ear out.

 “Mr. Boggins, what have…?” Fili could not believe this.

 Get the Company away from this forest! For a moment Fili could feel Bilbo’s worry and fright. Something was very wrong.

 “Fili?” Balin put a hand on his shoulder. The connection and all of its emotion was gone.

 “Balin, do you know the way to the Cricket Hollow gate?” Fili swung himself up onto Minty.

 “It is a ways from here, yes.” Balin looked up, face scrunched in a worried expression. “What would you have me do, young prince?”

 “Everyone follow Balin. I mean everyone! We are to see a Gorbadoc Brandybuck.” Fili looked around, watching Balin mount and take the lead. He glared at Bifur and Bofur until they reluctantly followed.

 “Kili? Kili?” Fili counted one dwarf short. His brother was missing. He cursed himself blue in Khuzdul, then reluctantly turned and took up the end of the line following Balin. He could only hope that Bilbo could hear his last plea to find Kili.

 ----

 “How do you know where we are headed?” Dwalin cut away yet another tree branch that tried to block their way. He felt like they had been traveling in circles for an hour.

 “I am following Fili.” Bilbo shrugged. Dwalin noticed that the trees tried to reach out for them if they were not vigilant.

 “I can lead you out of here easily.” Glif had been plopped up behind Brosi to steady the unresponsive hobbit.

 “I told you to shut up or lose a horn.” Dwalin let lose yet another round of curses for Glif. The faun merely squeaked and hid his face behind Brosi.

 “Kili is nearby.” Thorin mumbled, though he continued to stare at Midnight’s ears. Dwalin had resorted to tying Thorin to the saddle. Thorin could sit up, but did not even try to stay seated.

 “Blast it. I should have known. Which direction, Thorin?” Dwalin stopped. Thorin merely pointed without looking.

 “Kili!” Dwalin roared. Bilbo put two fingers in his mouth and whistled three long blasts.

 “My Midnight hears them.” Dwalin patted his stallion’s shoulder when he pricked his ears and headed off. Soon Bilbo’s whistles were answered by a horse’s terrified bugling.

Axes flying, Dwalin rushed forward to join Kili in standing between Apple and what looked like a large bat without wings. It hissed as it charged Dwalin. With a roar of his own, his axes made short work of the beast. It soon joined two others of its kind in a pile, one with its heads cut clean off, another with its skull crushed by Apple’s hooves.

 “She threw me off and put herself between those things and myself.” Kili’s voice was a whisper as he cleaned and sheathed his sword.

 “Apple did exactly as she was trained to do.” Bilbo gave Trel’s rein to Dwalin as he went to Apple. He quickly sealed slashes in her hide as he murmured comforting words in Sindarin.

 “You said that they were trained to run.” Kili glared at Bilbo.

 “No horse can run in the woods at night without breaking a leg, especially here. She knew what needed to be done.” Bilbo shoved Kili aside. “She will live, but we will have to get you another pony.”

 “How can you say that? How can you not even be angry at me for bringing her here?” Kili spat out. “Have you no feelings?”

 “Bilbo knows what needs to be done, young Kili.” Gandalf took Trel in hand. “Get up behind Thorin.”

 “What happened?” Kili reluctantly tore himself away from Apple and looked up at Thorin. “Uncle?”

 “Keep him steady in the saddle.” Dwalin threw Kili up. “Let us get out of this cursed forest, Ambrose!”

 “I am coming.” Bilbo continued his Sindarin murmurings as he led the limping Apple in the direction Fili pulled him to.

 ----

 “Are you up to having elevenses?” A voice woke Thorin.

 “What?” Thorin looked around. He was in a room bathed in late morning sunlight. He lay in a rather short bed with a hobbit woman holding a tray. She was shorter than Bilbo by two hand spans and was dressed in bright blues that brought out her sky blue eyes. Her black and silver hair was tied back in a coronet braid around her head.

 “Are you awake enough to have elevenses? You have not eaten a decent meal since dinner.” The hobbit made a face. “It is sweet tea for the shock and some blackberry jam toast. I can bring a hearty beef stew if you are up to it. You barely ate any broth for my poor nephew at first breakfast.”

 “Where am I?” Thorin sat up. The hobbit put down the tray and propped him up with a few pillows.

 “Cricket Hollow. My troublesome nephews sent your gaggle of dwarves here a few hours ago. They caused quite a stir. When the Shire Guard came pounding at our door it gave my Doc a nasty surprise. Nothing good comes from the Old Forest. You must have had quite a night.”

 “A night?” Thorin looked at the tray now on his lap and sipped his tea.

 “Your nephew, Fili, dragged ten other dwarves with him through the gate about an hour before my nephews showed up with you.” The woman spoke patiently.

 “My nephews? Where are they?” Thorin polished off the toast.

 “They are currently emptying our pantries into their stomachs. My nephews, Bilbo and Bilon, are out and about.” The woman’s face scrunched up. “I am Mirabella Brandybuck, formerly Took. Their mother, Belladonna, was my sister, rest her soul. Surely they mentioned her?”

 “Yes. Both they and Gandalf mentioned her. My sympathies.” Thorin thanked her as he handed her the tray, but was clearly not up to any stew.

 “It was long ago. Rest now. Let me know if you are up to coming to the table for lunch.” Mirabella gave a pained smile and left.

 ----

Brosi was surprised to wake in a hobbit bed, a hobbit bed in his aunt Mirabella’s house to be precise. His face felt like he had been punched senseless and his body felt like he had been run over by a herd of luck ponies. He groaned, but the hobbit sitting slumped over in a nearby chair did not respond.

“Bilbo?” Brosi did not want to move, but memories of the quest flooded in, making his heart pound. Did Bilbo somehow manage to keep Brosi in the Shire? “Bilbo, where is Adad?”

“Playing conkers with Primula, I think.” Bilbo groaned himself as he stretched and yawned. “Yes, she is winning.”

“So we are at Aunt Mirabella’s home?” Brosi’s heart pounded even harder.

“She is cooking up a storm as we speak.” Bilbo nodded. “You are in their guest room. Are you up to eating second breakfast? I would like you to go with me and cousin Milo. I would like your opinion before buying a pony that his brother-in-law is selling.”

“We need to replace Apple.” Brosi’s expression became vacant. Bilbo’s heart broke. He could not erase all of Brosi’s memories of the night before as he had been able to with Thorin.

“Apple will be fine in time. Kili needs a mount and I need your opinion on this pony, Brosi.” Bilbo could only try to remind Brosi of his duty. Whatever happened now must be his brother’s decision. The days of Bilbo making all of the decisions were now past; either could be killed at any time on this quest. Each must be independent.

“I cannot, Bilbo. I cannot continue.” Brosi suddenly found his thoughts again, thoughts about wanting to hide under the covers like a fauntling. “Thorin must be furious with me anyway. I am surprised that he has not left us behind.”

“Your grumpy Majesty is still asleep in Doc and Aunt’s bed. Doc is quite put out about it after being woke up in the middle of the night. You took care of your king by doing what needed to be done, Brosi.” Something in Bilbo curdled at hearing Brosi using Thorin’s name formally, as if he were someone they knew in the past. “I doubt he will remember any of what happened. He will be rather put out at being short one luck hobbit when he wakes.”

I knocked my king out, Bilbo. Brosi let Bilbo sit next to him. My king. How can I pretend to have honor? How can I show my face to the others?

Your grumpy Majesty accepted you as his luck hobbit, Brosi. He will accept the decisions that you felt that you had to make. It will work out somehow. Bilbo pulled Brosi close.

We will retake Erebor from a dragon? Brosi's humor was tangible in their connection, making Bilbo's heart light.

Of course. Thorin’s Company has us. Bilbo smirked and held Brosi’s forehead against his as he began to hum his oh so familiar dwarven prayer. Bilbo's relief at having his brother back safe and sound washed over them both, filling Brosi with a long forgotten contentment.

 ----

 “About time that you were awake.” Thorin woke in what looked like the late afternoon to Oin hovering over him. “How do you feel?”

 “Hungry.” Thorin looked over his now unbandaged hands. Half healed scratches covered a good portion of them. Oin nodded and muttered to himself as he looked over Thorin’s head and ear.

 “Good sign. It does not look like Brosi damaged your thick head any further. We can take those stitches out in a few days. Are you up to coming to the table for tea? The missus of this home is ready to have a fit at the idea of you not eating a decent meal all day.”

 “We will eat, then leave. See to it that Gloin pays Mrs. Brandybuck for the pantry or two of food that our kin have eaten.”

 “Already tried. She threatened Gloin’s beard. He was wise enough to know not to offer again. My brother’s wife is a fierce thing; trained him right, she did.” Oin helped Thorin to get all of his outer layers and boots on.

 “Tavern brawl or gardening mishap?” Oin snickered as he buckled on Thorin’s vambraces.

 “Hobbit shrew with a shovel.” Thorin allowed a small smile. “Is everyone ready to leave?”

 “Mama says for both of you to come to the table for tea. She has beef stew for you, Mr. Thorin.” A little girl, her mother’s image, dressed in a white and yellow dress, came to the door.

 “Thank you, Primula.” Oin had no trouble hearing the loud child. “Let us go, Thorin. Thorin?”

 “I see…I see...” Thorin took another look at the girl. In his mind’s eye he saw her as an adult, holding a faunt with black hair and sapphire blue eyes.

 “Let us get some food into you.” Oin merely sigh and dragged Thorin off to eat.

 “Uncle!” and “Thorin!” greeted the unsteady dwarf as he took a seat at the overcrowded table. Half of the Company was standing in the connected kitchen, eating scones and sandwiches.

 “How do you feel, Uncle?” Kili shoved Ori out of his seat next to Thorin. He looked long and hard into Thorin’s eyes.

 “Well enough to leave after tea. Everyone clean up whatever mess they made after you eat. My thanks for your hospitality, Mrs. Brandybuck.”

 “You are all kin. It is nothing.” Mirabella brought over a bowl of stew for Thorin. “Now eat up. If you refuse to spend the night like I know you will, then I had best get you some sandwiches for the road.”

 “Kin? I did not know I was related to those of the Shire.” Thorin carefully phrased his words, not wanting a pan to the head for using halfling.

 “Mr. Balin is Bilbo’s father. They visited often enough when Bilbo was a fauntling. Is Mr. Balin not your third cousin?”

 “Thank you, Aunt Mirabella.” Bilbo suddenly appeared and kissed her cheek as he led her off to the kitchen.

 “I could have sworn that Bofur was Brosi’s father.” Fili shrugged as he came up to Thorin. “Shall I get the ponies ready, Uncle?”

 “Yes.” Thorin found it ironic that he was eating soup in a smial again.

 ----

 “Are you certain that you are alright, Uncle?” Kili asked for the third time in five minutes as Thorin checked over Petunia’s tack and secured his bedroll.

 “Where is your mare, Kili? Please tell me that you did not think that I could not tell the difference between two horses, much less a mare and a gelding.” Thorin paused to look at Kili’s pony. It was dappled grey, but had more of a body style resembling Minty.

 “Apple was too injured to continue the journey. My Took cousins will take her back to the Tuckborough herd to care for her.” Bilbo led Trel between them. “Next time, listen to your luck hobbit. I was fortunate that a cousin’s brother-in-law was willing to sell the gelding to us. Dilon is not as well trained as the others, but he has a good head. He will not bolt around luck, which is what we need.”

 “He is old.” Thorin snorted as he gave Kili a disappointed look.

 “I have sent for one of my other broodmares in the Tuckborough herd. They should catch up before we get to Bree. Do not lose any more of my ponies.” Bilbo easily mounted Trel and herded Kili away.

 Thorin waited until they were back on the road and spread out before approaching Kili.

 “I spoke to Fili.” Thorin tried when Kili would not look at him.

 “I disobeyed my brother’s orders and made us lose a valuable mare. Mr. Boggins said that he has a few more up his sleeve, but I know that Apple getting injured broke his heart. He really cares for these ponies.”

 “Fili says that I took all of you on the other side of the Hedge. It seems that we are all making mistakes. We can, however, learn from them. Fili also says that you and our burglar did something to Brosi and myself.”

 “Brosi was affecting you. You were both just...not there.” Kili looked ready to cry. He had been up the rest of the night helping Bilbo tend Apple’s injuries. Then they had done what Bilbo called “helping” Brosi and Thorin, but which would give Kili nightmares for some time. Kili’s idea of helping someone did not include making them scream. Both Brosi and Thorin had screamed in agony as Bilbo sorted through their minds with Kili’s help.

 “Mr. Boggins said that he could remove the memories, so that you would not suffer. He asked Fili if he could use my help. You are too well trained and Mr. Boggins said that my talent was strong enough to help him.” Kili looked pleadingly at Thorin.

 “Forgive me, Uncle, but I did not want to disobey Fili as leader in your stead again. I took all of your memories from you and Brosi. Until I did, you just lay in bed staring at the ceiling.”

 “By your talent, I take it that you are a luck wearer.” Thorin’s face became stone.

 “That is what Mr. Boggins said. I would not have been able to...help you if I was not stronger than you.” Kili looked away, ashamed.

 “I am going to talk to Fili.” Face now impassive, Thorin took off for the front of the line. “Do not talk to Mr. Baggins or Brosi again until I say so.”

 “Yes, Uncle.” Kili did not look his way.

 ----

Chapter Text

"Do you always brood, Majesty?"

"Hmm?" Thorin was pulled from his thoughts by Brosi's voice. Thorin had paused, lost in thought, before confronting his heir. Fili rode next to Balin. Unlike Thorin, Fili was an eager student for Balin’s lessons. Thorin had heard the older dwarf mentioning landmarks and tidbits of hobbit trivia to him. Fili himself nodded to Thorin, a new confidence in his bearing.

Thorin felt himself fill with pride, cooling his temper. His heir had not hesitated to take charge in his absence. Fili had done his best to see to the group and its safety. When Thorin had woken up, he had not hesitated to talk about what had transpired. Fili’s attitude was clear: he was Thorin’s successor and the dwarf king would have to accept that decisions had been made.

Kili was another matter. Thorin had just ridden away when he admitted his deeds. The poor dwarf looked torn between desperately wanting his uncle’s approval and supporting his brother. Thorin cursed his behavior; Kili had been through enough these past days.

"Do you always brood?" Brosi cocked his head as he looked closely at Thorin's face. "You have been unaware of your own luck hobbit talking to you for the past five minutes. Is it a practiced skill or an innate talent of yours?"

"I do not brood." Thorin wondered how many times he had been accused of it in his lifetime as he now watched Kili.

"No. You lament, you contemplate, and you daydream." Brosi nodded, satisfied with his conclusion.

"I do not daydream. Contemplation is necessary for a leader when a decision needs to be made. As for lamenting..." Thorin shrugged.

"You are deliberately daydreaming to avoid talking to Gandalf." Brosi gestured back to the wizard talking to Ori. "Or are you deciding on whether or not to change your mind about me as your luck hobbit?"

"I much prefer you in my head versus the alternative. I will not leave you behind, Brosi." Thorin could tell that Brosi was worried about just that. His Company was not an entire dwarven nation, but there were many more problems to address than just his nephew. It was clear that Brosi doubted himself after affecting Thorin.

"You would like to drop Bilbo like a hot coal." Brosi's expression spoke volumes. The hobbit had shown none of his usual distain for Bilbo since leaving Cricket Hollow. Thorin could see that Brosi yearned for his brother’s calm influence, and was rattled enough by the past day’s events to let himself seek it.

"I do not need his personality, but we do need his skills." Thorin reluctantly admitted. He changed the subject as his blood pressure went up. "You can read my mind now?"

"No. We can talk to each other, and even feel strong emotions at times, but your private thoughts remain your own." Brosi grinned. "Why? What devious things do you wish to hide, Majesty?"

“Me? Hide something from my luck hobbit? Perish the thought?” Brosi’s grin was slightly infectious. “Now Kili on the other hand…”

“We will soon reach the North Gate.” Balin interrupted with a thoughtful look back to Kili following Fili glum silence. “We need to have some sort of plan if we are approached by an elves or rangers.”

“Kili, come here!” Thorin barked; both Brosi and Kili nearly jumped out of their saddles. Thorin caught Bilbo’s glare as both elder brothers steadied them. Thorin merely glared back, knowing that Bilbo had known what would happen and had Fili help him. It was what a luck hobbit was supposed to do as part of their job. Why had Brosi been so surprised? Thorin was his luck wearer.

“Yes, Uncle?” Fili obediently rode close. Thorin made himself ignore him and set his attention fully on Kili, wearing his most attentive expression.

Kili, how would you advise Fili to handle the elves that we all know will be waiting for us?”

“Uncle?” Clearly Kili had not been expecting such a question.

“You will be Fili’s advisor one day, Kili. Have you not learned from Balin’s lessons?” Thorin made certain that his voice was warm and encouraging, and even managed a small smile.

“I…err…” Kili had played hooky most times, preferring to hunt or practice on the weapons field. He had never really had the retaking of Erebor, and his forthcoming responsibilities, in mind.

“Think, Kili.” Thorin tried again. “You will be leader of this group if anything happens to me or Fili.”

“I must identify our strengths and weaknesses.” Kili wracked his brain, pale at the thought of leadership. He had only become an adult a few years previously, but that was no excuse to a dwarf who had led his people from an even younger age.

“Correct. And?” Thorin hummed in approval as he watched the morose mood leave Kili’s face.

“I do not know much about elves, but our two hobbits do. I should ask their advice, and then run my plan by Balin. He is also familiar with this area.” Kili looked with uncertainty at Thorin at the mention of the hobbits, and then smiled at Thorin’s obvious approval. “The elves do not know us either, so they do not have that much of an advantage, do they, Uncle?”

“Do not overestimate that advantage.” Thorin’s smile softened the admonishment. He watched Kili talking animatedly to Fili, no doubt there was mischief in his plans.

“You came up looking like a black thundercloud. What changed, Thorin?” Balin let Fili and Kili take the lead.

“How can I punish Fili for doing exactly what I trained him for?” Thorin shrugged, brooding mask back in place. “They will be the ones to oversee and care for what we will really only retake. They are the future of Erebor.”

“Interesting choice to have Kili is tactician.” Balin’s face showed his interest in this unusual behavior. Most of the time, Thorin acted with the mindset that he would be king forever.

“A leader must know their strengths and weaknesses. Most races know of my ways by now. No one has ever dealt with someone like Kili and his mischief.” Thorin actually let out a soft chuckle.

“The elves will not know what hit them.” Balin smiled, enjoying this very unThorinlike moment. Perhaps this quest would be a good thing in more ways than anyone could have guessed.

---

“Just show them the papers and keep Bilbo out of your plans.” Brosi was visibly puffing up with pride at being the hobbit that Kili and Fili approached. He had not expected Bilbo’s own luck wearer to abandon him so early on.

 “Why not?” Kili looked pained. Brosi inwardly cringed at such a naïve soul going out in the world.

 “Bilbo will take charge. You are in charge, Kili. Best leave him out of this. Now let us discuss what you have planned so far.”

 “I do not think that excluding Bilbo is such a good idea, Kili.” Fili looked back at Bilbo discussing something with Dwalin. Bilbo looked up for a moment with a small smile and shook his head. Let the younger brothers have their fun.

 “Do not let Bilbo set the dynamics of this quest, Kili.” Brosi warned. The last thing he needed was Bilbo thinking that he was involved in all of the planning. His stuffy brother could mind his place, no matter how grateful Brosi was for when Bilbo had taken charge in the Old Forest. Brosi would not make such a mistake again.

 “What do you see, Ambrose?” As the one responsible for Thorin’s safety, Dwalin was keen on using all of his available resources. Kili had much to learn as a tactician. Dwalin would have talked to each hobbit separately and quickly shushed Brosi’s opinion of Bilbo.

 “Let the dwarflings have their fun. They will never suspect that we are helping.” Bilbo smirked. “We will only be delayed an hour or so, but it will be worth the wait.”

 “I will trust your vision only so far, Ambrose.” Dwalin’s grim frown barely phased the hobbit.

 “I would expect no less from you, Khaaz. Stay by Thorin’s side and all will be well.” Bilbo had his characteristic unfocused look now. Dwalin hated it when Bilbo was vague with details when he knew much more. Almost as bad as a wizard.

 “Your Baru’s silver tongue saves the day again, aye?”

 “Not this time. Let us find out how much Licus respects Grasper and Keeper, shall we?” Bilbo could not resist egging Dwalin on. Dwalin breathed in and out deeply, visibly stoked by the idea of intimidating an elf in his favorite way.

 “Now you are talking!”

 ----

“State your business.” One of two Brandybuck guards stepped from their spot on either side of The Hedge’s Great East Road gate. It was the very edge of hobbit land.

 “We are dwarves from Thorin’s Halls traveling to Bree and beyond.” Kili did remember Balin’s lesson on formality when the older dwarf had mentioned that it could keep a dwarf out of trouble. It had worked when Kili had complimented his mother’s dress one day after he broke a family heirloom. Sort of worked; Dis had laughed so hard at Kili’s fumbling attempt to be serious that she had totally forgotten about the heirloom. Fili’s sweeping up the mess before she caught her breath had not hurt either.

 “Do you have luck hobbits to declare?” Both hobbits looked at the ponies with interest.

 “Two luck hobbits accompany us.” Kili glanced at Fili on his right and Brosi on his left just behind him. Kili handed over an oilskin parcel.

 “Two permits with Licus’ seal, authorization for both from the Thains. Your lot must have a dragon’s hoard to afford Licus personal seal and all of these luck ponies.” The papers were barely glanced at; it was clear that the hobbits knew all about them.

 “We shall remember Brandybuck hospitality with fondness. Do give Doc and Mirabella Brandybuck our thanks yet again if you see them.” Kili merely ignored the dragon remark and took the parcel back. Brosi had mentioned that compliments about food, and alluding to ties with respected hobbit elders were always good things to interject into a hobbit conversation. Balin had wholeheartedly agreed.

 “Mrs. Brandybuck does have the best scones around, I must say.” The other hobbit smiled kindly as he opened the gate. “Do have a good journey. Best watch out for that group out there, Brosi.”

 “Oh, we will.” Brosi smiled, then looked at Kili and tossed his head to the side.

 “Oh, yes. We are off.” Kili rode first through the gate, followed by Fili. He was not used to leading anyone. Once they were all through, the Gate’s silent closure was rather anticlimactic.

 ----

 Kili did not gulp as they rode near a group blocking the road. A very ugly elf barely sat on his contrastingly lovely elven stallion; the horse seemed to loath its rider. A hobbit dressed in elven finery sat just as uncomfortably on a sleek pony that plainly ignored its rider’s signals as it munched grass on the roadside. Four experienced rangers were what had Kili taking a deep breath.

 “We are rangers in the service of the Steward Denethor II. It is our duty to protect the Shire. Where are your luck hobbit permits?” A gruff man with short brown hair leaned down from his bay and held out a hand expectantly.

 Kili looked back at Thorin, though he had been told not to. “No.”

 “What do you mean? If you do not have permits, it is a serious crime to have luck hobbits in your possession.” The ranger looked like he preferred to argue with his fists instead of using diplomatic words.

 “We are travelers, kith and kin traveling to Bree and beyond. The hobbits cleared us to leave, so we obviously have all that we need. This group is now out of the Shire’s jurisdiction and you have no cause to stop us. If you do, state it now.” Kili was not about to hand over anything. Sometimes it was best to take a page from Thorin’s book when dealing with men.

 “He has you there, Gerven.” A ranger with gray peppering his hair and a steel gray short beard chuckled.

 “I will handle this, Calen.”

 “Bilbo and Bilon Baggins are hardly the luck hobbits that the Thains hire out, Dwarf.” Licus rode up to join the ranger. “I have orders to…”

 “You only have jurisdiction in the Shire, Magistrate. You have no cause to delay us.” Kili crossed his arms.

 “I like this dwarf. Rangers have jurisdiction east all the way to your territory in the Blue Mountains. Show us your papers and you will soon be on your way.”

 “You have no cause. You cannot stop us just because we are dwarves. Must I file a complaint with the Steward’s court?”

 “You do not want to be delayed, yet are willing to go to Gondor to file a complaint?” A third ranger broke out in laughter.

 “Is there a problem here?” Thorin rode up, clearly not liking the direction this conversation was heading. Dwalin was right behind him on Midnight, an impressive sight.

 “Ah, a dwarf who can see reason.” Licus neatly herded Thorin aside. “We have much to discuss…”

 “This is illegal, Ranger.” Brosi had a hand on his sword.

“As is abandoning your caravan. You have no honor in Gondor’s eyes, hobbit.” Gerven spat out. “As you have left the Shire and Rivendell’s protection, I should arrest you here and now to face your crimes of cowardice.”

 Kili looked around in desperation. This was not going according to plan. Thorin had dismounted and was talking to the elf, who had a hand on Thorin’s shoulder as if they were old comrades. He caught Bilbo staring; the hobbit smiled serenely and patted his back. Ah!

 ----

 “So you see, everything is in order. Bilbo paid Brosi’s service fee years ago. We have Denethor’s receipt. We have Licus’ seal, backstabbing bastard, isn’t he? We have Brosi and Bilbo’s authorizations from the Thains. Rivendell just wants to butt into ranger business, you see?” Kili clapped Gerven on the back for the tenth time.

 “Stuck up elves always ordering us around.” Calen nodded in wholehearted agreement. It seemed that Kili should not have whacked his head quite so hard, he now agreed with everything everyone said.

 “Good journey then.” Gerven and the third ranger, Resel, backed up to the side of the road and waved them on. “Hershel, let them pass.”

 “Give me a minute! You are certain that this will help?” Hershel had been in animated conversation with Bilbo and Oin.

 “I have given you all that I have. You can get more from a traveling caravan. All dwarves have it. No one likes riding with a sore…” Oin nearly bellowed.

 “Thank you, Oin.” Bilbo quieted the healer with a twist of luck. “This bag should make enough poultices to last your patrol rotation.”

 “My thanks.” Hershel quickly made the bag disappear before joining the others in riding off to the north.

 ----

 “Do you see now why I cannot possibly let you take these two hobbits out of the Shire. Bilbo must start his apprenticeship to be the next Baggins Thain and Brosi is in no condition to leave the Shire with his nervous condition. You can have you choice of any other luck hobbits that you want, just let me…”

 Kili watched with a worried frown. Licus had been talking to Thorin for ten minutes after the rangers left, going on about how Rivendell was trying to make the Shire more independent and how the hobbits were so vital to that plan. After all, the previous Magistrate had failed and Licus could not let that happen again. It had been foolish to assume that the Baggins clan would foresee the Fell Winter or the Gamgees would be able to control a severe drought the previous summer.

 “Thorin, it is time to go.” Kili rode over and held out Petunia’s rein to Thorin. The dwarf was nodding as Licus spoke, but did not reply.

 “Take your hand off of him.” Brosi looked furious.

 “He has done nothing wrong.” Otho glumly interjected. He had long since given up on getting his pony to do anything but eat grass.

 “Collect your rider.” Bilbo calmly spoke to Licus’ horse in Sindarin. The now very bored stallion grabbed Licus’ cloak in its teeth and began pulling him away until he mounted.

 “What is the meaning of this?” Licus felt a cold wind envelope him. He heard wolves growling in the wind.

 "Bad idea to try and influence Thorin." Bilbo’s voice was a whisper. "Did you really think that I would leave him, any of them, vulnerable to your pathetic persuasion skills? Leave now if you wish to not look pathetic."

 “Fine!” Licus yelped as invisible fangs snapped near his ear. He jumped back from a smiling Dwalin who had Grasper near his throat.

 “Do we have business, tree shagger?” Dwalin was all smiles as he also pulled out Keeper.

 “No, we do not.” Licus now looked panicked. Thorin began to laugh, followed by the rest of the group.

 “I doubt that these hobbits believe your sincerity in mourning the Fell Winter losses, Elf. You have spoken nothing but rubbish.” Thorin had barely kept from breaking the elf’s hand when he touched his shoulder. What he did to help Kili.

 “You will regret this.” Otho shook his head at Bilbo as Licus saw that the rangers were long gone and took off. He took his own pony in hand with a sharp word in Sindarin and went after Licus, followed by dwarven laughter.

 “Kili, we have had enough of a delay here.” Dwalin put his war hammers away, his smile long gone.

 “Onward then.” Kili exchanged a grin with Fili and urged Dilon into a lope.

 ----

Chapter Text

It was well after dark when the Company struck camp in a field full of sheep. They had come across some of the more reclusive Boffin shepherds. Brosi had been met with hearty greetings and assurances that the sheep herd donkeys would let them know of any Old Forest creature. The Company was hesitant to sleep in the hills across the road from the dark shadow of distant trees, but fresh mutton and jovial storytelling sent them to bed with contented bellies and many hearty laughs.

“You will join me during second watch.” Thorin pulled Bilbo aside just before the hobbit sought his bedroll next to Balin. The hobbit kept a careful neutral face, not showing whether he knew of this development in advance or not.

“I see.” Bilbo looked over to where Bifur and a reluctant Glif settled on a small hill above the milling sheep for first watch. The faun had visibly pined for the looming forest throughout the evening. Bilbo was not certain whether or not to release the pest when they arrived in Bree. For now, they would use the faun’s extra senses while passing the Old Forest and the Barrow-downs.

“We need to talk. You will not hold conversations that I will not be aware of.” Thorin would set the boundaries of his relationship with the Company burglar early. This request had not been a show of favor.

“Fine.” Bilbo merely shrugged. He looked wary, but resigned to a night of little sleep and unpleasant questioning.

“Ambrose, off to bed with you.” Dwalin came up to cuff Bilbo’s ear, though it was obviously controlled and the dwarf’s look was gentle. Thorin almost allowed a double take at seeing that expression.

“Yes, Khaaz.” Bilbo, Brosi, and Glif would accompany those on watch each night on the road to Bree.

“Do not be harsh with Ambrose, Thorin. It does not take tempering for his steel to grow hard and unyielding.” Dwalin settled his weapons and himself, falling into a snore and ending the conversation. It was clear that the warrior wanted Thorin to think on the words and not on how to form a retort back.

----

“Do you always insist on coddling your brother, burglar? He should be able to memorize his own braids by now.” Thorin’s first question clearly surprised Bilbo after they settled for a cold night’s watch.

“It is a gift to be able to put plaits in my brother’s hair, Thorin. Each day I am thankful for the opportunity.” Bilbo answered matter of fact. He had expected Thorin to ask how a hobbit who associated with elves knew Khuzdul. But he could put up with this. Brosi was his brother and no one else's business.

“Do you not have your own braids to boast, since you seem to like braiding so much?” Thorin made certain to add a taunting tone.

“A male hobbit in the Shire has little use for dwarven braids, Thorin. I myself see no use for a disgrace to even bother. Balin may see fit to put them in my hair, but I have no such compulsion.” Bilbo decided that playing polite would get him nowhere. He had no qualms about shaming a king. Thorin would get it through his thick skull not to interfere with the brothers’ relationship, luck wearer or not.

“As for Brosi, how many do you know of that come back alive from orcs, Thorin?” Bilbo turned away from the Old Forest with a look that made Thorin’s warrior senses react more than the night’s potential dangers would.

“Few.” Thorin had to admit. He would never admit to being wary of a grocer and quelled an urge to move his seat farther away on the hill. He eyed a few sheep that seemed to have the same urge.

“Then we do not need to discuss such a gift further.” Bilbo allowed himself a fond look over at the sleeping Brosi. It was clear that Bilbo wanted to go over, but others were rarely understanding of his sleep walks, especially the wary Boffin hobbit on guard nearby.

“No, we do not.” Thorin did not feel a hint of shame, or a sense that Bilbo wanted to him to feel that shame. The very word orc brought a new sense of danger. He quickly changed the subject.

“You do not respect me, burglar.” Thorin knew that Bilbo hated the term. He made certain to use it regularly.

“You do not trust me, luck wearer.” Bilbo knew that Thorin hated being slighted by use of common terms. He made certain to never even use the terms master or mister.

“Why should I let my heir be your luck wearer?” Thorin had meant to firmly settle his place as Company leader in this hobbit’s mind, not defend himself in petty shaming and teasing.

“I assumed that you trusted Fili’s judgement, though you also trusted Kili to be a tactician, of all things.” Bilbo let his words trail off. He was surprised that he used Fili’s name and not the word heir, as it would have prodded at Thorin’s judgement even more effectively. He would let Thorin come to his own conclusions on the comment about Kili.

“As Company leader, I could take Fili away from you, hobbit.” Thorin would not grace Bilbo with even the term luck hobbit. He would let Bilbo know that he was also a gifted luck wearer who could sense Bilbo’s growing fondness for his heir. His heir, not Bilbo’s own personal dwarf.

“You are a reluctant leader of this quest. You will do what you know will make it succeed. Your concern for your people is admirable.” Bilbo knew dwarves.

“Will it succeed?” Balin’s comment on the elven ritual suddenly came to mind.

“People have different definitions of success, Thorin. Erebor will be retaken, but by whom is the question.” Bilbo clearly knew more, but was intentionally vague.

Thorin’s eyes scanned the horizon, ever watchful. Half of his mind, though, was sifting through impressions that the hobbit rarely let out. Bilbo was clearly troubled by something, as if he had half of a puzzle solved and already did not like the emerging picture.
Thorin would definitely be talking to Brosi the next day. Perhaps his own luck hobbit would know more of what his brother knew. Their growing bond would not allow much to be hidden.

For now, Bilbo was clearly done talking. He had answered a goad with the surprising fact that he was one of few who understood Thorin’s hidden motives. He understood a hidden layer of the proud king and did not exploit it, showing a hidden layer himself willing to give Thorin at least some respect. Bilbo would honor Thorin’s efforts because of his motives.

“We will talk again, burglar.” Thorin wondered if he would ever figure out this hobbit.

“Not for some time, dwarf” Bilbo was back to his standoff self. Thorin was Brosi’s luck wearer and had better not forget it.

Thorin went to his bedroll still wondering if Bilbo had replied to his last words or thoughts.

----

“Why does Bilbo Baggins, esteemed Baggins Thain heir, consider braiding your hair a gift, Brosi?” Thorin purposely interrogated Brosi the next morning while Bilbo was held up with Balin. The stuck hobbit glared, but remained still under the old dwarf’s ministrations.

Brosi looked stunned as he turned to Thorin. “I had no idea that it meant so much to him. He has never said.”

“No?” Thorin was skeptical that opinionated Mr. Baggins kept his tongue still about anything. “Surely he would complain?” Brosi did not miss the unasked question in Thorin’s voice, nor Thorin haughtily glaring back at Bilbo.

“I would not have braids if it were not for Bilbo, Majesty.” Brosi held up his right hand. There was a long white scar where the thumb should be. “I was right handed. Bilbo had Dwalin teach me how to wield a sword again with my left. As for my braids, it is perfectly normal for family to plait each other’s braids. Why do you find it offensive, Majesty?”

“My apologies, Brosi.” Thorin did not know what to say and left Brosi to get ready in peace.

Shamed yourself quite well. Bilbo’s expression and a deliberate impression sent to Thorin’s mind said it all. Last night’s truce was clearly over.

Never one to back down from a challenge, and Bilbo’s ease with invading his mind had Thorin wandering over to where Balin was apparently torturing Bilbo with braids.

“So, Balin, what braids does our burglar boast? Surely he cannot be a disgrace as he claims.”

“Broadbeam clan son.” This distinct five part braid clearly had miner heritage claiming Khazad-dûm origins. It rested at Bilbo’s left temple, opposite the side that the Durin clan braid used. No marriage braid joined this side behind it, as it would with Broadbeam custom.

“Journeyman scribe.” An intricate seven part braid took that place in clashing Longbeard clan custom.

“He just needs to submit his long completed master’s piece to the Belegost scribe guild to gain his masters status.” Balin tweaked that braid as a hint.

“Coming of age plait.” Balin’s deft hands began another braid that would rest on Bilbo’s right temple.

Thorin looked over the braids. Each was tied with a plain leather cord and no bead, Balin’s concession to Bilbo’s wishes. He had never seen any of these important braids without a bead commissioned in celebration. Even the poorest of dwarves during their wandering in Duneland would carve beads out of wood.

“And what master’s piece would a hobbit of the Shire submit? The necessity of six meals a day?” Kili came up and snickered. Fili pushed him aside.

“It does not matter. I told you that braids would only be a nuisance, Baru.” Bilbo got up before Balin could make a large braid down his back. He stormed off, pulling out the braids and covering his ears that they had exposed. Balin’s careful work was rejected for a simple ponytail hidden under his tunic.

“Baru?” Now Kili and Fili both doubled over laughing.

“Barufunh, family man.” Thorin looked at Balin. He had known that Bilbo respected the dwarf, but to consider him kin?

Fili stopped laughing and jabbed Kili in the ribs. They mumbled apologies and slunk away as Balin watched Bilbo with sad eyes.

“I believe that it is time to depart, Thorin.” Balin did not look at his king as he went to speak to Ori, who was approaching with a scroll and a question on his face.

----

Elrond stood at the railing of Rivendell’s most scenic overlook. He twirled a headband in his hands absently as he listened to the mortified Lindir’s report.

“The satyrs have finally left. Rugel has organized a party to take the fauns back to their home. I dare mention that you paid far too much for such creatures and the headband. For Bilbo to part with it is unbelievable.”

“What I paid the satyrs is a pittance compared to the news that they have brought us. Imagine dwarves agreeing to give them hunting rights to the whole of Mirkwood.” Elrond allowed a small smile; little surprised him after eons of life. Thorin Oakenshield had evolved from being a terrible danger to hobbits, as Arwen claimed, to become a very interesting diversion in unchanging Rivendell. Not for the first time did Elrond lament that such beings were so short lived, while irritants like Licus were immortal.

“As for the headband, it tells me just how important these dwarves are to Bilbo. Have Aroon and his hobbit keep their foresight on them. We must learn all that we can about them, especially this young dwarf. Kili?” Elrond knew the name, but the look on Lindir’s face was amusing. Far too few things amused the Lord of Rivendell anymore.

“Licus’ letter mentions him as a formerly unknown luck wearer of Durin’s line. Licus’ hobbit, Otho, believes that this Kili is more powerful than even the great Thorin Oakenshield.” Lindir prided himself on keeping meticulous notes on every person of note in Middle Earth. He still could not figure out how the foresight hobbits of Rivendell and his luck hobbit contacts around Arda had not known that one from such a famous line of luck wearers had been missed. Lindir did not miss his master’s clear jab.

“Surely Melion and his hobbit will suffice. Aroon is inexperienced.”

“Aroon has the zeal of a young one wanting to prove themselves. Let him. His hobbit is also far more familiar with Bilbo than Melion’s ancient hobbit.” Elrond shook his head, knuckles white around the headband. “Bilbo knows our ways too well. We must adapt as he has. Find out all you can about this Kili. Find out who Brosi has chosen as his luck wearer; we may have an advantage with his weaknesses.”

“Brosi is far from weak, he is Bilbo’s twin. Who knows how much Bilbo has taught him these past years. If he reaches his full potential or Bilbo removes his wrist bands…” Lindir at least did not dismiss the damaged luck hobbit as useless. Elrond still found amusement in Licus’ letter reporting the founding of the Shire Guard under his nose.

“It matters not; the Company of Thorin Oakenshield will stop in Rivendell if Mithrandir has his way. We must find out all we can about our guests, for they will be staying for a very long time.”

“We cannot keep a troop of dwarves and oppose one of the Valar's Istari!” Lindir was not up to opposing Mithrandir.

“Arwen will not lose her hobbit to a suicidal quest.” Elrond’s voice and demeanor were a dead calm, unlike Lindir. The steward quickly calmed himself at his lord’s expression.

“You will find out all that we need to know in order to keep him. Learn who we must have to make him happy.” To make his worried daughter happy again.

“Understood” Lindir would make certain that he did not make any more glaring mistakes. He would find out more about Thorin’s Company than they themselves knew.

“Keep the fauns, Lindir. They may prove useful.” Elrond knew well how to be unpredictable himself. Adding faun antics would be a nice bonus, along with continuing to irritate his so predictable assistant.

“Understood.” Lindir admirably kept a neutral expression and went to handle his new charges.

----

Chapter Text

“The Baggins family clan is known for foresight, is it not, Mr. Boggins?” Kili tried to start a conversation with their resident burglar when they stopped for lunch. Bilbo was visibly sullen and had kept to himself all morning. He did not look pleased when Kili plopped down beside him, but paused and gave the young dwarf a thoughtful look before answering.

“Yes, if you call an inherited knack for lucky hunches foresight.” Bilbo allowed a small smile at that thought.

“Oin read my rune stones.” Kili had come across the old healer organizing his things yet again. A worn green velvet bag had caught his attention. That bag had been full of polished green rocks with a worn gold rune carved on each.

“I heard you pestering him.” Oin could ignore endless questions, but not an overexcited dwarfling sitting on his supplies. Kili had been sick in the washroom when most of the other dwarves had their fortunes told for the upcoming adventure.

“Uncle never cared for reading portents.” Kili had not missed his uncle’s disapproving expression. “Perhaps you can persuade him to reconsider.”

“It is Thorin’s choice. None can force such a thing.” Baggins propriety was based a great deal on rules dealing with foresight; a lesson learned long ago was that they must be worthy of trust with such a gift.

“It would be a great honor for Oin to read a king’s runes.” Kili looked confused. “His rune stones are carved from rocks hewn from the making of Erebor’s throne.

“It is Thorin’s choice. He did not take your choice from you. There is no honor in forcing an action with obligation, Kili.” Did Kili know nothing of the world? “If you are trying to get your uncle to do something, Brosi may be the one to talk to.” Let one annoying younger brother deal with another. Bilbo just wanted his lunch.

“If my luck wearer says no, then I will fully support his decision.” Kili parroted Brosi’s voice along with a few choice hand signs. Such an excuse was an easy one to use; luck partners were known to be jealous. Then the voice changed to a sing song tone. “Fili had his runes read at Bag End.”

“That was Fili’s choice.” Bilbo would never mention scrambling and exiling that memory to the realm of forgotten dreams after they were paired. Bilbo did have his pride to consider. Fili had accepted several terms to be his partner, known consent or not.

“Have you let Fili use your…um.” Kili looked embarrassed, and jealous.

“What are you trying to ask me, Kili? I have no pretty rocks to read.” Bilbo long ago lost any patience for heartsick younglings wanting their future spelled out for them. A boy would ask a girl to marry him if he really wanted her, not ask Bilbo to see if they were married years down the road.

“Will I ever find love? As I may not live, I would really like to know if I would be wasting my time thinking on it.” Only Kili could make an addlepated thought seem serious and coherent. Nice try, but it was still a tween’s line of reasoning. Even Brosi was looking their way, laughing at more than Bofur’s latest round of jokes about the dragon’s demise.

“Using the excuse of love is not a subtle way of asking if you will survive the quest and what is beyond. I would suggest practicing your fighting skills to help ensure your survival, Kili.” Even now Dwalin was sparring with Fili. Surely that was an answer that Thorin would approve of if he saw soothsaying as mere games.

“Bilbo, surely you could…”

“The future is not a book to be read.” Bilbo pushed the whiner away from his ear. “It is life, to be experienced as the culmination of your efforts and choices, not a hero’s ballad that is merely heard as it is sung at a festival. Go chose a red headed dame from the Orocarni Mountains for all I care. Now go away.”

Lunch was over in Bilbo’s opinion. He packed away his unfinished meal for later and reached over for one his vambraces. No one approved of him shucking them at every opportunity, but they were uncomfortable with his bracelets.

“What are those?” Kili’s archer eyes caught a glimpse of braided leather as Bilbo quickly tugged on his tunic sleeves to cover them.

“They are a reminder that life is to be lived.” Bilbo always looped the leather ties several rounds thick to get what insulation he could from pain. It left bulk that was hard to hide or fit well under vambraces.

“My mother taught me how to braid dyed leather into bracelets. I could get some in Bree and make you something much more appealing than wrapped wire.” Ori came over as the continuing saga that was Dori vs. Nori: The Eternal Squabble began yet again.

“No thank you, Ori.” Bilbo saw that his manners were too late as his first expression stuck in the dwarf’s mind. “It is a complicated matter.”

“Everything is complicated with my family.” Ori shook his head as Nori flat out refused to let Dori search through his saddle bags for something. Nori looked pleadingly at Bilbo.

“Ori, please tell Dori that his sewing kit is in his extra coat. He must have forgotten that he let Bombur stow it in Daffodil’s saddle packs. If you hurry, those packs are still open.” It took a moment of staring before Ori got up. The sewing kit was soon found and now three dwarves stared in disbelief at Bilbo as Nori smirked.

“Lucky hunch, Kili. Remember?” Bilbo still did not know what Kili truly wanted after all this talk, if he went by the bit of jealousy that still lingered.

“Then I too am owed a “lucky hunch”. You have an obligation of honor, Mr. Boggins.” Kili smiled triumphantly after a thoughtful pause. “Nothing vague like a wizard either. Something specific.”

You will find a lovely grass snake to sneak into Nori’s boots tonight if you carefully search that grassy knoll before Minty tromps all over it. The pony hated snakes and he clearly had just discovered one as he grazed.

That is not fair! Nori rushed to rescue the snake for his own plans when Kili made no move to get up. No doubt Dwalin would find the snake too close for comfort when he woke up for third watch with a new friend inside his inner shirt. Would it be worth the effort to find a second snake to put in his boots? Bilbo would be sleeping under Balin’s beard for a week, but the results would be worth it. Sometimes assisting his visions in coming true ended with truly memorable experiences.

“Bilbo, my hunch?” Kili looked apprehensive as he kept the hobbit from rising to catch a rather impressive toad a short walk away. Bilbo sighed, but sat back down as a smiling Fili went to collect his croaking treasure instead. The dwarf smirked as he blocked what plan he had for it from Bilbo.

“Do you want to know what love you are giving up if you die on this quest? You want to have a specific something worth dying for?” Bilbo frowned as Dori and Ori’s attention was replaced by Brosi’s, which brought Thorin into the mix. The past few minutes had proven that luck hobbits had little privacy.

“Yes.” Kili whispered as he looked somewhere in his mind. “I have already chosen to love her, Mr. Boggins. I long ago chose to know that she is very real. I already live the feeling; I just want a glimpse of the sight, scent and sound if I will be denied that by dying.”

“You are asking for an experience; that is hardly a mere hunch, Kili.” Bilbo finished securing his vambraces and got up. “I have nothing more to add to whatever Oin told you.”

“What are you doing holding us up with your nonsense, Burglar?” Clearly Thorin was above reading the other luck wearers and Brosi for information.

“Spouting things not natural.” Gloin voiced yet another thing about hobbits that infuriated him. Thorin himself would never admit to shying away from unnatural glowing eyes in the last copse of trees that heralded them leaving the Old Forest behind.

----

“We are not in the Shire anymore, Ambrose. I do not appreciate wasting luck on jokes.” Dwalin had screamed admirably before shaking a snake free of his pants. As thanks, Bilbo had been dragged out of his bedroll for a second watch of the night. 

“Your scream has kept half of the Company awake, Khaaz.”  Bilbo did not even try to mention Nori’s name. Dwalin knew that Bilbo found the snake first. He might be deaf to luck bond words, but he was a master at reading body language and keeping an eye on his surroundings.

“You and your…” The proud sentry pointedly ignored the bait.

“You are just jealous because Kili gets an elf instead of you.” Bilbo grinned even as he scanned the direction of Barrow-downs warily. He was happy that one had to travel an hour south off of the road to see them. His ponies had thrown many a stupid customer who tried to ride past a roadside barrier fence that men from Bree had put up long ago.

“Snoopy troublemaker.” Dwalin really looked unhappy now as he looked over more at Thorin than the preoccupied Kili.

“Mirkwood elf. Were you hoping for one of Rivendell’s lovely ladies instead? I could introduce you to a few with an interest in weapons when we…”

“Go back to bed and wake Glif. You are more of a troublemaker tonight.”

“Yes, Khaaz.” Bilbo loved his surveillance duty that consisted of telling Dwalin all that he knew that affected the quest, especially when he could rile the stoic dwarf with only a few words.

----

“You could not have warned us that this was our future, Mr. Boggins?” Kili pulled the hood of his cape up further. It had begun to rain shortly after breakfast, continuing as a downpour well past their soggy lunch.

“Bilbo is not a Gamgee, my good Kili.” Gandalf cheerfully called.

“Of course not.” Bilbo seethed as water dripped down his neck from a brand new hole in his cape. Dwalin looked entirely too innocent as Nori cursed at a hole in his cape as well.

“Gandalf, can you do something about this deluge?” Dori would have long ago fizzled to an ember from mother hen worry over Ori’s sniffles and Nori’s wet feet if it was not so wet and cold out today. Bilbo tuned out the conversation.

“Are there others, or are they more like you?” Now Brosi, thoroughly fed up from having a fed up brother, joined in to push Bilbo from his thoughts.

“Two blue wizards? Do you have a twin, Gandalf? Another gray wizard?” Kili ignored the talk of Radagast, who only seemed to help animals. He seemed to be determined to find a wizard who could stop the rain.

“Kili, as I said, there are five of us. There is…” Gandalf merely chuckled and tried to repeat his lesson. Bilbo, who had heard more than enough about wizards the moment Gandalf refused to end the rain, put a stop to it.

“Here’s your hunch, Kili. It is going to rain for the next three days until we get to Bree. We will arrive as a pack of muddy, sodden creatures more resembling mud pies than dwarves. Now shut up and start looking for a farm where we can dry off for the night in a barn!”

“Who needs a Gamgee when we have my idiot brother?” Brosi sigh and hid his face. Thorin was tempted to question him when an image came to his mind. Several horses reared up, throwing riders, as thunder rumbled and lighting brought down a tree near the road.

When Thorin called for a halt merely to argue with Gandalf over the map, several dwarves grumbled about never reaching shelter as they wrung out their capes. Despite his own complaining, Brosi happily joined in the argument that the map was upside down. The dwarven leader had a troubled expression on his face that evening as they went around several trees that had fallen near or across the road.

----

Chapter Text

“What do you want, Ambrose?” Dwalin scowled down at Bilbo from Midnight’s back. He was fed up with elf jokes, snakes in his bed, toads in his rations bag, rain, snakes and toads in his wet bed and muddy boots, but mostly the parade of rain storms that continually soaked them just as they began to feel dry.

“A ride?” Bilbo held up a hand. He had ridden double with Dwalin since he was two when Balin often had to speak with important nobles and leaders even as they traveled the road. Khaaz was just the large dwarf needed to hide the smuggled faunt behind him under a cloak or cape. No one dared to question his menacing glare if they did notice a foot sticking out occasionally. Bilbo had always felt safe tucked up against Grasper and Keeper, but his favorite hiding place was under Balin’s beard at night while Dwalin took watch.

“Where is your equipment? We reach Bree today.” Dwalin would notice the missing vambraces. “The beginning of the travel season brings out more than merchant caravans and holiday seekers.” As the last outpost of Man in this area, Bree was well known as the place to gather before long trips with destinations far and wide.

“My hands hurt enough without them.” Bilbo had found cleaning breakfast bowls to be less painful than trying to saddle Trel. He had not even dared to ask Ori or Brosi with the vambraces laces.

Midnight’s saddle creaked under Dwalin’s weight as the dwarf leaned over and grabbed a hand, examining the leather covered band critically. “These need to come off, Ambrose, and soon. I have told you before…”

“I have traveled far and wide without vambraces or sword.” Bilbo dared not pull away. Dwalin meant business today. A young Bilbo had not equated him with a wolf without good reason, especially when he had seen wolves close up and personal.

“Already this quest is so perilous that your foresight immobilizes you to the point that you cannot move your wrists with vambraces on, if you can get them on. You cannot hold the sword that you’ve never even unpacked to inspect. That luck charmed stick on your back will not hold up to orc maces for long, Ambrose. This quest is only going to get even more dangerous, and the pain worse. I cannot help you if you refuse to help yourself.”

“I will be fine, Khaaz.” Bilbo was used to pain, if not pain this intense for quite so long.

“Then strap your sword to your back and get on your pony. We are not in the Shire, youngling. I need to have my attention on protecting my king, not on if you will fall off of my pony because of sore hands.”

“My apologies for bothering you.” Properly chastised, Bilbo slunk over to Nori, vambraces in hand.

I have never seen you with such a bad reaction, Bilbo. Ori has a few knitted caps if you need to wear your headband. Nori reluctantly secured the laces tight as the blood drained from Bilbo’s face.

I traded it to the satyrs. Bilbo grimaced and pulled back a hand as Nori pulled a lace too tight in shock.

What? That is the only thing…

That headband was the only thing I had valuable enough to secure Thorin and Brosi’s freedom. It was the headband or Thorin’s head, minus his body. Which should I have left behind, Nori?

You need to tell us what happened at that meeting. Gandalf only muttered once about Mirkwood or whatever.

After we secure Erebor.

Wishful thinking at this point if you cannot even hold a sword. Dwalin is right. I can get them off; it will hurt like hell, but Oin has a potent brew or two on him.

I would go insane, Nori! Bilbo backed two steps in a panic, right into Fili.

Says an el f! Insane from the Shire’s luck, which, along with its nice Ranger patrols, we left behind days ago.

“What are you two arguing about?” Fili put his hands on Bilbo’s shoulders, shaking his luck hobbit to get him to even notice his presence. “Why do you want to ride with Mister Dwalin? You can ride with Kili if you are tired of my company. We need to scout ahead for a closer look. Brosi thinks that he recognizes several groups and few are reputable.”

Bree is dangerous, Nori. I just need time. Bilbo needed to be able to clear his head. Normally he was just a traveler in a group being guarded by hired guards. If he could coax the insistent vision to appear faster, he could handle the pain better.

Balin needs more than a vague statement, Bilbo. Bree is as dangerous as any other town, but it is the last chance for any of us to finish up important business and get supplies. Even Dwalin would push such a useless warning aside. You need to be able to use the Valars’ gift, Bilbo, not hide in shame. Bree should have the materials that we will need. Nori’s tone was firm as he mounted warg scarred Zane. He was a dwarf whose survival often depended on others brooking no argument to his decisions.

“I tell you, I can scout ahead as well as you, brother.” Kili’s insistent tone brought Bilbo back to the real world as it began to sprinkle yet again. He was holding out a hand to the hobbit, hope in his eyes.

“Brosi is a better teacher. I...I cannot.” Bilbo turned to his forgotten luck wearer, hurt evident on Fili’s face. “I need a bit of time to think, that is all.”

“Thorin has ordered Kili and I to scout ahead.” Fili repeated their orders. “We cannot come back for you, Bilbo. Without you, we must travel farther.”

“I cannot go with you.” Fili’s gloves shielded him from Bilbo’s pain. While scouting, they would need a bare hand grip until their bond and skills grew with patience and practice. Already, the well trained Brosi and Thorin could be far apart and still look ahead as with one pair of eyes. No bond would grow from a lack of trust such as Bilbo seemed to be showing. He felt trapped and ready to panic, then a familiar face blew snot on him.

“Petunia.” Bilbo reached to pet her in relief. A gruff voice reminded him that the pony was no longer his.

“Burglar?” Thorin now offered a hand. “Fili and Kili have time for one more lesson with Brosi before we reach the outskirts of Bree. You and I will scout behind us; you need more lessons as well.”

“Majesty!” Brosi clearly did not like sharing luck wearers. He preferred it when Nori took the princes and Bilbo out for a lesson. “We as a trained luck pair need to scout ahead.”

“We as a group need to be trained before we reach the Wild.” Thorin was once again hardly pleased that he had brought hobbits with him.

Bilbo snuck away as the luck pair argued and the abandoned princes looked on in disbelief. Desperate, he hid behind the pack ponies and Hellebore. Someone grabbed his wrist and cut the vambraces laces.

This is not your style, Ambrose. Bilbo stood in shock as Bifur cut off the second vambrace and packed it away with the first. We cannot make you into what you are not. The vision must come before you can pretend to be a luck hobbit.

They do not understand. I cannot stop the pain.

They rarely do, Ambrose. Work out your vision quickly or get rid of it. You must be ready to ride alone at all times. We will work out a solution to this problem in Bree.

I will get rid of the vision. Bilbo closed his eyes as he leaned against a tree, forgetting the world around him. Bifur merely grunted at the staring dwarves as he mounted Hellebore and started down the road to Bree.

----

“I see that we have a problem.” Balin stated the obvious as he and Dwalin sat on their ponies watching the mess in front of them. Thorin and Brosi continued to argue as the still bewildered princes left to scout ahead. Packed and with no other real option, the remaining dwarves followed Bifur.

“You well know the problems that Ambrose brings. Now we have his brother along for even more fun.” Dwalin was of the opinion that politics and diplomacy were about either stating or ignoring the obvious.

“Ambrose’s foresight is not the problem. His elven made bracelets are. I had hoped that he could hide his headband in a cap until Thorin gets to know him.”

“Good riddance to the cursed thing.” Dwalin was of the opposite opinion. “We need a fully trained foresight hobbit, not one convinced that he is a disgrace. Those bracelets need to go. After that, Thorin no longer has a problem and your disaster is averted.” Dwalin was a dwarf of action, not subterfuge.

“It’s been decades, brother. Ambrose also has the strain of Brosi being so close. The Wild holds nothing but terrible reminders for him. They have never traveled out of the Shire together.”

“Their luck wearers are all that either needs.” Dwalin did not seem concerned about the possibility of two insane hobbits on their hands.

“And if they are not? Enlighten me, oh wise younger brother.” There was no laughter in Balin’s old as Arda jest.

“We are traveling across goblin and elf infested mountains and plains swarming with orcs to face a fire breathing dragon. If two hobbits are enough to stop this quest in Bree of all places, then we never had a chance to begin with.” Dwalin turned Midnight away to go and collect his king.

It was a rare moment for Dwalin to catch his brother missing the obvious. Really, who could forget about a fire breathing dragon? They had more to worry about than Thorin’s reaction to elven jewelry.

----

“Bilbo! Bilbo, wake up.” Brosi shoved Trel’s lead line into his hands. “I need to catch up with Fili and Kili. It appears that you are the favored hobbit today.”

Bilbo rested his forehead on Trel’s flank a moment, then gathered the reins to mount. Trel was more than capable of babysitting him.

“I will take her lead.” A shy Ori came by with his own bay mare, Daffodil. “Thorin wants you to ride with him. Trel and Daffodil get along quite well, and I will not rush her. Do not worry about her.”

“Thank you, Ori.” Bilbo gladly let his hesitation be read as overfoundness for a pony, which it was to an extent. It was always hard to leave her with the group when he was pulled away for a lesson. Nori knew that Bilbo needed to trust his luck wearer and not just his own pony.

“Is Petunia a less desirable mount than Midnight?” Thorin was put out from Bilbo’s reluctance and Brosi’s outright jealousy. Neither could have their way; Thorin was the leader of this group, a fact that both must respect.

“Petunia’s grandsire was a draught crossbreed. He was not much to look at, but his sire was a pureblood of a Rohan line. It is famed for its smooth paces over long distance, but I do not care for their thin cannon bones. His draught dam gave Petunia much stronger bones.” Bilbo visibly perked up as he pet the mare fondly. Immersion in his favorite subject might drown out the vision.

“Then enlighten me as to the fine ponies of our Company.” Thorin held out a gloved hand once more. “I understand the hobbit fascination with flower names, but what kind of name is Trel for your own pony? What distant language is it derived from?” Had their burglar traveled before? He had wondered about Bilbo’s ease in days long riding. Trail riding was far different than training horses at home.

“Trel is short for Trelaine, a Westron name that is hardly exotic, but she is named for a lovely lady I once knew named Elaine.” Bilbo’s extended hand was taken in a strong grip that easily lifted him up behind the dwarf.

“Elaine?” Thorin could not see behind him, but he could feel Bilbo easily settle in among his ax and packs. Brosi always made a fuss about resecuring things to his liking. He was even more surprised when hobbit arms secured themselves around his waist. The few luck hobbits that Thorin had ridden with over the decades always somehow kept a good seat, and held onto the back rim of the saddle or his belt if needed.

“A formidable woman who owned an inn in Minas Tirith about forty years ago.” Bilbo’s voice was a bit muffled as the luck wearer felt his sword scabbard and cape being readjusted.

“Comfortable?” Thorin could not help but smirk when a hobbit body was plastered to his back as the arms wound themselves around his waist again. He could hardly believe this was the same hobbit who shunned every prior offer of kindness.

Petunia’s dam is named Hollyhock. She is a beautiful bay mare who… Much of Bilbo’s mind was closed off, but so was Brosi’s. At least Bilbo did not have Brosi’s reluctance to enter a luck partnership in their minds, easily filling Thorin’s head with images and impressions. Within an hour Bilbo was able to show Thorin the difference in paces of the many horses and ponies that he had ridden. The rain was forgotten when, after the second hour, Thorin knew every trick and command that Petunia was trained to respond to.

----

“How does an entire troop of dwarves forget their wizard?”

Pipe smoke surrounded Gandalf’s hat as he watched the dwarves leave without him. His horse, finally free of hair tangling luck, nickered in its eagerness to be off.

The loss of Bilbo’s vision was of some concern, but it was only Bree. What could possibly go wrong?

“Not yet, Bronwe. We will let Thorin’s Company figure itself out in Bree first. Then we will bail everyone out of jail and be on our way. Besides, the rain will stop shortly, so why rush?”

----

Chapter Text

You have had prior experience with sighting ahead. Has Nori been your teacher? Either Bilbo was more talented than Brosi or the younger hobbit was very reluctant to be a luck pair. Thorin might not be able to see far off while parted from Bilbo, but together they could see with little effort. In two hours Bilbo had shown Thorin most of the road back to the Shire while hardly concentrating, totally submerged in his conversation about luck ponies.

Bilbo gripped Thorin’s furs tighter, though his mind pulled away from their pairing a bit. Nori needed to be hired in with a caravan years ago. He was not exactly a burly guard, nor was he part of a guard troop for hire. He managed to get hired as a luck wearer without actually having a luck hobbit. The Thains were not about to give a luck hobbit to a rather well known thief and Nori was not about to pay triple for the favor.

So you volunteered? Thorin smiled at the thought of Nori telling the Thains exactly what he thought of them. Why would you help a thief, oh so proper hobbit?

Now Thorin felt a flood of emotions. Nori stopped by for tea, and a hobbit and two of my best ponies. He slipped something into my tea. When I woke we were in camp for the first night.

Nori stole you? Thorin could not believe it. How do you even know Nori well enough for him to consider you worth stealing?

I was not worth stealing. Bilbo chuckled, his first laugh of any kind around Thorin. But he did bring my two best luck ponies, I do generate luck, and he is a patient teacher when desperate enough. I was also not getting my ponies back until his job was over.

How could you afford luck ponies, Burglar?

I bred them. I trained them. Bilbo’s answer was simple. I always took my mares to be bred to outside stallions with proven offspring. I never bought colts or stallions. I had several stallions that I did not use, but kept at stud. Luck mares breed true more often, and I prefer to teach my stallions good manners from the day that they are foaled.

What breeding created Dwalin’s favorite Midnight? He was the only black luck pony that I saw in the Shire.

Midnight is Dwalin’s horse; that is the only reason that I keep the grump, and that I survived his training in one piece. If I sold him he would ruin my reputation as a breeder, so I kept him at stud to idiot owners of outside mares and put him with my  pregnant mares. He is a rather good sentry. As to Midnight’s breeding? Thorin felt Bilbo shrug. My mare, Clue, got loose on one trip. She was supposed to have been bred to a newly imported stallion of a foreign draught breed. Apparently, she found better. The old nag always was stubborn.

Are Midnight’s siblings like him? Thorin absently looked at the land around them as they headed back to the group. He was half disappointed at not meeting any more elves along the road to Bree after Dwalin’s fun with Licus.

“Clue was my first mare to be attacked by a monster. Midnight was not quite weaned yet. He was beat to hell. I think treating his wounds is the only reason the bastard learned to trust me enough to train him to ride. No one else but Dwalin can ride him.”

“Monster?” Thorin shuddered at the recoil of the lost connection in his mind.

“The Shire Guard caught that particular monster after a week’s hunt, but there are still a few others that they continue to hunt.”

“I see.” Thorin recalled Kili’s story, but he doubted Bilbo meant an Old Forest creature. He would get nothing more out of Bilbo on this subject.

“Tell me of Nori’s training, hobbit.” Thorin took his gloves off and tucked them in his belt. Bilbo would have to learn that a connection needed to be kept until they were finished with their duties. “Take my hand and show me as you have shown me about your ponies.”

"That is not a good idea. I do not have Brosi’s discipline from years of training." Bilbo tried to wrap his hands in Thorin’s belt. His voice was reluctant to be in Thorin’s head, reluctant in a way that was not nervousness. Thorin had been a king for many years, long ago becoming an expert at reading people. He took a deep breath, concentrating. He could sense Bilbo’s eyes scrunched shut, as if Thorin were going to force a hold. The hobbit would keep his knowledge of Nori locked away tight and he expected to be punished for it.

“Bilbo, trust me. Take my hand.” Thorin held one out. Perhaps Nori’s cover had been blown on the caravan mission? He had not mentioned it in his report, though he had not mentioned any hobbits either. Had Bilbo been brutalized in an attempt to get him to spill Nori’s secrets? Thorin had seen Bilbo work bare handed with Fili and Nori, but he himself was an imposing authority figure hardly seen as an equal partner by a mere hobbit.

“No. It is time to rejoin the Company. Fili is back. Nori and Brosi are trying to extract Kili from another mess. He does not realize that back slaps do not work on groups of people that include trained luck pairs. He stumbled upon a pair who dragged him back to their group. The Company should have taken Bombur’s advice and stopped when that farmer invited us to an early dinner as thanks.” Bilbo’s voice hissed as if in pain. Thorin felt a forehead rub hard against his shoulder.

An image of Kili with a knife to his throat had Thorin urging Petunia to run the fastest that she safely could in the muddy conditions. Bilbo was stuck to his back no matter if the mare stumbled a time or two.

Brosi, what is happening? What is Nori’s plan? Thorin’s voice must have startled the hobbit. He felt an impression of him nearly falling from his saddle.

There is a pair of luck sentries for a mining caravan not far ahead. Kili and Fili want to get a better look. Nori is ready to punch both of them. Brosi sent a clear image. Thorin could hear them arguing.

Look, they are hired to protect their goods at any cost. Bilbo’s voice and vision yanked Thorin’s attention away. He saw an older, mean looking  luck pair watching the entire scene as even Nori only sensed the first luck pair that were on the road farther up.

Brosi, my orders are to return back to the group. Now! All four of you. Thorin made certain that his barked orders were heard by all. He would apologize for Brosi’s migraine later.

It took Thorin some time to clear his head of a disorienting swarm of pictures before arriving upon the scene of a farmer’s wagon bogged down in the mud on the side of the road. It was heavily laden and all four wheels were axle deep in the stuff.

“Where are the scouts? Where is Kili?” Thorin would rip apart the bastard who laid hands on his nephew. He barely remembered to shake Bilbo loose before jumping down.

“Trying to figure out how to free this wagon, Uncle.” Fili and Dwalin were assessing the wagon as Balin and Gloin talked to the very unhappy farmer they had come upon. “Where have you been? It has been a half hour since you told us to get back.”

“I need to have a word with your brother about using caution. Kili.” Thorin grabbed Kili and dragged him off to the side. Kili yelped as he was literally dragged by his ear.

“Uncle, what is the matter with you? I have done nothing.” Kili huffed but nodded in the right places as he was subjected to a long lecture.

“Thorin, how about using some of that wind to help with this wagon?” Gloin called. Thorin looked over to see the others either preparing to push the wagon or placing pieces of wood as ramps in front of the dug out wheels. Where had the time gone yet again?

“Ready there, Bilbo?” Brosi called out from the wagon seat. Most of its crates of chickens were on the ground, with several flying around free, their cages having been sacrificed for the wood. Thorin could not help but catch sight of Glif running around, trying in vain to catch them.

“Watch those back wheels.” Bilbo had apparently busied himself with unhitching the farmer’s team. Their own pack ponies were now hitched to the wagon with a bit of borrowed harness worked into their pack saddle harness that seemed to be designed to be adapted for either pack or driving harness. The stuck up hobbit had probably designed it himself.

“Burglar, we can ill afford to injure our ponies. Let the farmer’s team pull the wagon.” Right then the farmer joined in.

“I told the child that Biff and Ed can do it.” They were not draught horses, but neither were they sleek riding horses.

“They are worn out from your thoughtless whipping. No horse can free a stuck axle unassisted in this mud. Now both axles are stuck for all of your efforts.” Bilbo was clearly enraged.

“I will not let a child tell me how to drive my wagon. I have been driving to market on this road for twenty years.” Now the farmer was angry as he turned to Thorin. “You dwarves may be rich with all of these luck ponies, but your son is a spoiled brat.”

“I suggest that you let my son finish helping you before you say anything more.” Balin pulled the farmer away. “Or you may find yourself with a free wagon and no horses to pull it.” The farmer looked around at each determined dwarf face.

“But your ponies are…ponies.” The farmer gestured helplessly to his wagon.

“Ponies that plow each spring and pull harvest wagons each fall. We also had the brains to empty the wagon first. Khaaz, give Midnight free rein. Dori, secure Ed’s blindfold better.” The farmer’s horses were tied a distance away. Thorin wondered who had let the presumptive halfling take charge. They should have never become involved in this mess in the first place.

“Dancer…” Bilbo stopped and turned to push Trel away as she nosed him for the hundredth time. “No, little one, not you. Catch the faun. Thata girl.” He laughed as he sent the pony off to retrieve the faun getting a bit too far away.

“Watch yourself, Ori. Once they start they will NOT stop.” Ori was now in the wagon with Bilbo.

“Alright.” Ori looked completely clueless as to why he was in a wagon. He had wanted to get more first-hand experience with the ponies.

“Take a wheel, Majesty.” Brosi slapped Thorin’s hands on a front wheel.

“What do I do?” Thorin had experience with stuck wagons, but none in regard to Bilbo’s plans.

“Just like the snow in Belegost. We harden the mud, break the front wheels free, and push.” Brosi gave a laugh at Thorin’s face. He was going to be one muddy king! Everyone else already was after digging the wheels free.

“Khaaz! Dori!” Bilbo whistled. “Dancer. Baxter. Time to work.” The mud dried with a crackling sound. Thorin could feel the luck almost chocking him. The farmer’s horses shrieked in fear, nearly smashing Dwalin into a tree.

Harvo!” Ori sheepishly called in Sindarin. Bilbo had explained that they had been bred for hire to elves. The ponies sidestepped left, turning the front wheels.

Forvo!” Ori's voice was a bit firmer. The ponies sidestepped right.

Tir!” Now the freed wheels straightened. Ori gulped when the ponies feet began to dance as if they knew what was coming.

“Rock it!” Ori was not too sure about this. The dwarves began to rock the wagon back and forth.

Saca!” The word was a howl torn from the dwarf's throat. The ponies lunged forward, throwing their entire weight into the harness. Neither let up as they dug in with their front hooves, their back legs almost hopping even as chickens flew everywhere. The wagon lurched free and took off, Ori screaming the whole way.

“Oh, crap.” Brosi was smiling and chuckled as he slapped Thorin’s shoulder.

“Ori. Oh, my!” Dori was pinned to Ed as Midnight blocked Ed’s attempt to bolt.

Daro! Daro!” Ori was screeching with joy as Bilbo managed to turn the wagon around and bring it back to a halt.

“Ori, are you alright?” Nori quickly pulled his little brother down. He had assumed that the wagon was the safest place. Darn, Dori got to Bilbo first!

“Can we do it again?” A breathless Ori patted Nori on the chest and laughed.

"Dancer and Baxter would never stampede. They were under control the entire time. You are taking this entirely too seriously, Dori.” Bilbo was being held up in the air by a now purple Dori.

“Does your assistance include rounding up all of these chickens?” the farmer had sidled up to Thorin’s side. The king looked around. Oin was looking over Dwalin, who sat on the wagon as he held his side. Bifur and Bofur were trying to lead the farmer’s team back over as they continued to shy at the remaining traces of luck. In contrast, the bored luck ponies were half asleep. Nori and Ori were walking Dancer and Baxter to cool them off. Fili and Bombur were reloading the crates that had not blown open. Kili cursed reluctant, pecking, clucking fowl as he and the others put the rest back in their crates. Feathers and loose chickens were flying everywhere.

“Is that a faun that Trel is dragging over here?” Gandalf chose to ride up just then. He looked around in disbelief. “Thorin Oakenshield, must I teach you the meaning of the word stealth?”

“My wife is never going to believe this.” The farmer continued to circle in disbelief himself.

Excuse me, I could use some assistance here.” Trel was dragging Glif by a horn in her teeth. “She does not appear to understand Sindarin. Not the tail!” Glif rescued his tail as a curious Minty lipped it. Thorin just covered his face with his hands; a chicken landed on his head and sat down, clucking with contentment.

----

Chapter Text

Hands were grabbing him, lifting him off the ground and holding him close to their faces. Voices were bellowing in his ears from all sides.

“Why did you let her die? Why did you not foresee such a tragedy? It is your fault that she is dead!”

“Your fault!”

“Your fault!” The world was spinning around the faunt named Bilbo.

“Ah!” Bilbo sat up with a start, his head burning with pain.

“Bilbo?” Ori’s soft voice called out in the dark of the barn. There were quiet steps as the young dwarf came over with the small lamp left with the dwarf on watch. “Bilbo, are you alright?”

“I. I do not know.” Bilbo looked around the dark barn. The doors and window shutters had been shut against the unusually cold night, leaving the interior of the barn pitch black even for a dwarf. He looked up at the worried face warmed by the cheery lamp light.

“Do you often have bad dreams?” Ori crouched down and peered into Bilbo’s face with a knowing look.

“Ah!” Bilbo grabbed his head as a vision of Ori talking burned through it.

“Sometimes Dori has bad dreams, but he refuses to tell me why. Nori has bad dreams almost every night he is home, the few times he comes around.”

Bilbo’s heart began to pound as conversations began to meld into one smeared mess.

“I have never had need to tell anyone and I do not need to tell anyone now, Ori.” Dori’s voice joined Ori’s as a later conversation between the brothers began a shouting match with Ori’s conversation with Bilbo.

“You will never let the lad grow up if you keep sheltering him from…” Nori’s voice joined the fray from who knew where. It could be the past or the future.

“He grabbed his head and began rocking, muttering about Dori.” Ori dragged the half asleep Nori over to the rocking hobbit.

“Bilbo. Bilbo!” Nori shuddered as he shook the hobbit’s shoulder. Bilbo was full of pulsing luck which shot through the luck wearer like frozen lightning.

“What is going on?” Bofur and all of the other dwarves consigned to sleeping in the barn were sitting up. Lamps were lit, creating a ring of light and rumpled, half-asleep dwarves around Bilbo.

“Nothing. Go back to sleep.” Nori practically growled at the miner.

“Bofur is Bilbo’s father, let him handle the hobbit.” Dori joined in, his loosened braids streaming down his back like silver ribbons. He was never pleasant to rouse without a full night’s sleep.

“Hitting is not what we need right now.” Nori hissed. Bofur stormed back to his bedroll and sat, seething. It was not a nice look for the normally cheerful dwarf. Bifur followed his cousin, signing furiously as he sat. Bombur looked over from his own bedroll, shaking his head as he reluctantly went back to sleep. He had final watch in an hour and old family conflicts were not solved in such a short period of time.

Nori cursed his luck yet again, also cursing the irony that being a luck wearer had nothing to do with having good fortune. No one else who could help was out here. Thorin had happily taken the farmer’s offer of a spare bedroom for the night after losing a day chasing chickens. As his luck hobbit, Brosi had the right to claim the trundle bed in the room. Dwalin with his cracked ribs was given the farmer’s sons’ room as they bedded down in front of the fire in the main room with Kili and Fili.

“I can get Balin.” Ori offered hopefully, wary of the glares being shared between Nori and Bofur.

“No.” Nori shook his head. Thorin was an angry dwarf right now. He had exiled Bilbo to the barn under the auspices of making certain that HIS ponies were not strained or injured. Ordering Balin to stay by Dwalin’s side for the night had ensured that the hobbit understood that he was being punished. Thorin had also seemed overprotective of his nephews for some reason, refusing to let them chose where they slept.

“I. I will be alright.” Bilbo unfolded himself from his misery as he sat up straight and stretched his legs. “It was just a bad dream.”

The bands are hurting you again, hindering your sight. Nori looked accusingly at Bilbo even as he took Ori’s lamp and sent his brother to bed with quiet assurances. Dori happily dragged him back to their bedrolls and was asleep as soon as he lay down.

“Foolish to separate a young one from his family.” Gloin grumped, but patted Bilbo’s shoulder as he went back over to the still snoring Oin. “Gimli had the same problem in his forties when he went out camping with his friends.”

Bilbo smiled weakly at Gloin. Or the bands are the only thing reining in even more madness. I cannot chance it, Nori. Brosi needs me to be level headed.

Which you are anything but right now. Nori sigh as he looked over at the wide awake Ori. My brothers as well as your own need to be kept safe, Bilbo.

There is nothing to discuss. Bilbo tried to get up, wobbling every which way. I will see to the ponies.

Tomorrow we will discuss how your head hurts so bad that you cannot see straight. Nori grabbed Bilbo before he walked straight off the hayloft ledge to the barn floor below.

There is merit to such a discussion. Bilbo let Nori shove him and his bedroll down next to Ori.

There is. Nori sat next to Bilbo and began to hum as he resumed Ori’s watch.

Bilbo echoed him, humming the familiar dwarven prayer that rang in his ears and saturated his thoughts. Settled back to back with Ori’s warm woolen coat, Bilbo watched as Nori warily eyed the night until it passed.

----

Nori felt no sympathy when every royal Durin except Oin came to breakfast yawning  with impressive dark bags under their bleary eyes.

“Did you sleep well, Thorin?” Nori could not help a wicked grimace of a smile. “Was the bed comfortable? The room was not too cold, I hope.”

“The bed and room were…sufficient.” Thorin let out a long yawn, joining Fili and the farmer in a trio of sorts.

“I have never heard such a commotion in my life.” The farmer’s wife was much blunter as she quickly cooked up egg and sausage rolls for them. It was clear that she wanted whatever havoc her husband had dragged home to be gone as soon as possible.

“Thorin, we are going to have a long talk about sleeping arrangements once we actually manage to leave. If we manage to leave before noon.” Balin nodded over to Kili sleeping in a corner. The old dwarf’s face was patient, but his eyes were as bloodshot as every other dwarf as he joined Dwalin in glaring at their king.

Dwalin himself was taking in the rather sleep deprived Nori. He was acting odd, almost as if he knew their king. What kind of thief was familiar enough with a king to chide him with such barbs?

“Yes, Thorin, a long talk about our lovely hayloft experience, complete with a nightmare riddled hobbit, would be a delightful way of passing the time. We are all getting rooms in Bree, by the way.” Dori was still picking hay out of Ori’s hair even as he pulled his brother’s snoring face off of his plate. Thorin wondered at the familiar tone used by the dwarf who had so reluctantly started addressing his king by name.

"I will admit that the sleeping arrangements were not ideal.” Thorin admitted as his grudging apology upon realizing that Bilbo had kept the others up.

“Brosi whimpered all night about orcs and kept waking everyone up to be prepared for an attack.” Fili added helpfully as he pulled Kili to his feet.

“Bilbo whimpered all night as well.” Dori added helpfully as he breezed by out of the kitchen. The still snoring Ori was relegated to being carried on his shoulder like as sack of potatoes.

“Thorin, if you ever even think of splitting us all up again in such a way, I’ll ensure that you have a long, restful night’s sleep.” Dwalin meaningfully hefted Grasper and Keeper in his hands before securing them to his back. “By the way, you only managed to anger Bilbo as well as most of the Company.”

“I see.” Thorin looked over to where Bilbo was doting on Balin. He was trying to ignore Brosi, who was ignoring everyone as he drank his fifth cup of coffee. But everyone saw Bilbo’s worried glances at his brother, and his glares at Thorin.

“No, you do not see, Thorin. Open your eyes before such stunts get us all killed.” Dwalin gulped down his sixth cup of coffee and stormed out the door.

----

It was a long day. The rain had begun again in earnest, making the muddy road nothing more than mud soup. The ponies slogged through it, following the ever dependable Petunia even as a drenched Thorin kept nodding off. Bilbo had to admit that most of the dwarves had a fine seat when they snored away for a good while before someone noticed and woke them before them fell out of their saddle.

“A word, Nori.” The luck wearer looked up from his sodden pipe to see Midnight’s bulk sloshing away through the mud right next to him. Dwalin looked as imposing as ever, but the luck wearer in Nori could sense some of his pain.

“I wonder why you never sought training for your luck gift, Dwalin. I would assume that it would come in handy with your job.” Nori put on his best innocent smile.

“Not much to train. Compared to others in the family, it seemed a waste of time.” Dwalin shrugged. It had made more sense to spend his time training with his war hammers, which he was gifted at, rather than waste any time on a trace gift that impressed no one. 

“I did get more than my fair share, I did.” Nori’s smile became cunning. He and his brothers were distant cousins of Thorin through their mother, but Nori himself was also the great-great grandson of a Durin of impressive talent through his long dead father.

“You will not tell me who your father is if I ask, will you?” Dwalin ignored the cheekiness of the comment.

“No. I prefer not to be seen as an obstacle to inheritance that well-bred dwarves need to be rid of.” Nori had been the result of a night of binge drinking; his father’s wife refused to let him claim Nori in any way. She had made certain that her own son inherited every last coin of the dwarf’s considerable fortune, to the point that Nori’s father died unexpectedly when he was a few months old. Rhia had only been given a bag or two of money the one time that his father had managed to visit, and that money was spent quickly with two small dwarflings to support.

“Fine, keep your secrets for now.” Neither Dwalin nor the other Guard had ever been able to even get a good description of the elusive thief. Dwalin’s bet had been on the dwarf having family in high places willing to pay gold to keep him elusive. He had never been able to find any trails of bribery and the thief’s methods irritated Dwalin to no end.

“You will leave off interrogating my family, Dwalin.” Dori’s pony barged between the now cockily smiling Nori and a growling Dwalin. “Nori has clearly decided to mend his ways by coming on this quest.”

“Once a thief, always a thief.” Nori chanted in a sing song voice, leaving Dori spluttering for a moment that gave him a chance to get away.

“He really is reformed.” Dori spoke more to himself than anyone else.

“We are all kith and kin on this quest, just as Kili said. I will not question your family’s honor.” Dwalin returned Dori’s nod with his own before going separate ways. For now.

----

Chapter Text

Later that night, the Company of Thorin Oakenshield had the torrid rains that they had cursed for days to thank for several rooms at the North End Inn. Paid for in advance, they would had stood empty when a certain traveling party was delayed due to the road conditions. The innkeeper was happy to accept not one, but two Baggins foresight hobbits’ reassurances that he could make a double profit that night. Having gold coins practically thrown at him by soaked, muddy dwarves ready to pay just about anything for a dry room also helped.

“I cannot believe that you and Nori gave those travelers wrong directions on purpose.” Fili could not believe what had transpired before his eyes. As soon as they had come within sight of Bree a small group had approached asking for directions to this very inn. Bilbo had assured them that he was well traveled and knew Bree well, just before sending them to the Prancing Pony at the southern end of Bree. He had then raced north and claimed their rooms.

“They arrived well past the time that an innkeeper would normally hold a room. I was also hired to be the Company burglar, so I shall burgle as I see fit. It is in my contract.”

“Then you will burgle other accommodations for yourself.” Thorin was quick to ruin Bilbo’s triumph. “Those travelers will be looking for a group with two foresight hobbits. I assure you they will not be kind to us if they find them. Brosi will be able to pass as a dwobbit son of Bofur with his Khuzdul accent; two would be suspicious as dwarflings are rare and twins nonexistent.”

Thorin took in the stunned look on the hobbit’s face, but he knew men too well. His group could play the foreigner card, but only to a point.

“I will stay with the ponies.” Bilbo had been planning on seeing to Dwalin’s ribs and coddling the rather chilled Balin.

“Our luck ponies stand out enough as it is without a hobbit concerned for them. We paid the inn to care for them; they will be fine, if you trained them well, Master Baggins.” Thorin’s challenge was clear. “We are a group of traveling dwarves. You are a rather well known hobbit who often has business in Bree and will be able to stay elsewhere without raising suspicions. Brosi has his family clan; he has assured me that he does not need you to sleep peacefully.”

It took a full minute for Bilbo to turn from pale as a sheet to red as a tomato. It was clear that he considered this another exile, and he loathed Thorin for it.

“We will not be separated again.” Dwalin quietly growled in Thorin’s ear. He may loyal to a fault, but even an old bear can learn from their mistakes. “We need Bilbo’s foresight to evade any Rangers; they have a post here in Bree.”

“I am aware of that. I am also not too keen on them catching us because Bilbo is well known to them. I doubt their fellow Rangers kept silent about their treatment once Kili’s luck wore off.” Thorin barked an order for Fili and Kili to follow the innkeeper as he led them to their room.

“I will meet up with you tomorrow after Thorin has had some sleep.” Bilbo smiled at Balin. “We will see if Khaaz’s ribs need tended then.”

“Do not let my ribs keep you from coming to get me if you sense something, Ambrose.” Dwalin let Oin drag him off to a room that the two sibling groups would be sharing.

“The usual place?” Nori winced as Dori dragged him off by an ear.

“Do not get in any card games, Nori.” Bilbo glared, but a small smile softened his expression.

“No, I do not cheat at cards, Dori. The very idea.” Nori let himself be hauled up the stairs to his own room.

----

“Bilbo, what brings you into Bree so late?” Alyssum Proudfoot herself answered the back door to her boarding house.

“Ally, how many times have I told you to let Driscoll get the door at night? This is not an inn. Your boarders have a key to let themselves in.” Driscoll was a mute dwarf of unknown origin that Nori had found ten years prior starving in a back alley somewhere. He had happily taken the job of boarding house security. He was also a much needed bouncer for Ally’s great aunt’s foresight business that took up the storefront on the building’s first floor.

“Auntie is seeing to his face. Another customer was not happy with her predictions and had to be forced to leave.” Ally did not seem overly concerned as she locked the rather formidable oak door with its dwarven made lock.

“She promised that she would retire to her sister’s home.” Bilbo always feared for the safety of his cousins who tried to make a living from being a fortune teller, soothsayer, seer, or whatever title made them more coin.

“Great aunt Lily let her husband’s niece, Clementine, move in to ‘help out’ around their home. She has taken over with an iron glove. Auntie Gaura refuses to be bossed around by a girl half her age who shows no respect to her own family, much less a Rivendell trained foresight hobbit such as herself.”

“At least you are a sensible Proudfoot, Ally.” Bilbo let her lead him upstairs to the communal bathing room for boarders at the end of the hall. She was not about to let a muddy hobbit such as Bilbo ruin her own nice living area behind the storefront.

“With enough foresight to make the money needed to buy this place.” Ally wrinkled her nose as she lit the copper boiler and pumped water into it.

“You should therefore know that you had better close down that dangerous business and open a flower shop.” It was an old argument.

“Is Trel in the stable? Auntie’s gelding is rather grumpy with being kept inside in this rain.” Mentioning his ponies was always a good way to distract Bilbo.

“Trel is bedded down at the North End Inn’s stable next to Trick and Midnight. Brosi will keep an eye on her for me.” Bilbo wrinkled his own nose as his muddy clothes piled up and filled the room with the smell of wet pony.

“Your room is the first door on the right. The key is in the nightstand drawer.” Ally stopped her well-rehearsed speech to stare. “Since when does Brosi leave the Shire, and how have you managed to make that berserk stallion behave? Only that bear of a dwarf…”

“Brosi finally found a group to travel with past the Misty Mountains, and Khaaz is traveling with us. We are also trying to keep out of sight of any Rangers, so I will need your discretion as to my staying here.” Bilbo knew better than to lie to his too astute friend, though mentioning either Brosi or Midnight was a mistake. He was exhausted.

“Discretion is part of the service here. Do not drown in the tub and ruin my reputation.” Ally’s look promised questions in the morning as she gathered his clothes to wash.

----

Bilbo yawned and stretched as he strung his leather thongs out in front of the fire to dry. He hated the sight of the silver wrist bands but they had not caused him more pain by being exposed. Now the pain in his head was more of a dull migraine. Perhaps it would be a quiet time here in Bree.

“I doubt it.” Bilbo snorted a laugh and settled under the scratchy woolen blankets to sleep. The bed was not the softest, but it was better than hay. The lack of snoring dwarves also helped him to fall into a deep sleep. Let Thorin handle any problems tonight.

----

“I say we take off with the lot of them now. Those dwarves were run ragged and will not be up for hours.” The whining voice had Herbert shoving his accomplice into the wall. He only tolerated Odo because the hobbit’s cover as a simple groom let them make a lot of money in the business of finding new owners for valuable horses.

“These are luck ponies, my dear Odo, and require delicate handling.” Herbert pointed to where Midnight was already testing the strength of his loose box door. Several others were shaking their heads as they tried to free themselves of the crossties in their tie stalls, their ears flat, teeth bared, and heels poised to strike.

“That there is Bilbo Baggins personal pony.” Trel bugled in outrage from her loose box as she was pointed out. “That there gelding? Belongs to his brother.” Trick managed a kick as they passed by. I think that there is more going on than we know, Odo. Those dwarves did not look wealthy enough to hire Bilbo’s best. Neither does a person in their right mind hire out that mad stallion.”

“Do you think the Rangers would be willing to pay for such information? Maybe we can distract the dwarves with them while you get your men to sell this lot?” Odo cringed, used to Herbert’s heavy hand.

“Perhaps, Odo.” Herbert looked down at the simple hobbit. “That is not a bad idea, not bad at all. We just need to spin a story with the right angle…”

“And honest little Odo, who everyone knows would not hurt a fly, will have those Rangers doing our dirty work for us.” Odo began to giggle.

“You are getting too smart for yourself, hobbit.” Herbert’s fist reminded the hobbit who was in charge. “Follow my ideas and you might be retiring after this transaction.”

“Of course, Herbert.”  Their laughter trailed after them as they left.

“Why, the dirty rats.” Two small curly heads popped up from the hay in the hayloft.

----

“Is that the last of the correspondence?” Thorin signed one last scroll before standing and stretching in front of the fire. Kili and Fili were fast asleep in the far bed. Only he and Balin were still awake, preparing the last of their communications with the Regent Council in Belegost.

“That is the last of it. I will send these off in the morning with the last two ravens.”  Balin tucked three proclamations, one birth congratulations, and a very short letter from the boys to their mother in his satchel. “Will you not write to Dis as well, Thorin? This is our last chance. We cannot chance our enemies trailing messenger ravens across the continent.

“Not yet. Perhaps in the early morning.” Both felt their years in their bones and joints as they worked out kinks. Baths and clean clothing helped, but they were short lived luxuries. Thorin ghosted a hand over one of Fili’s garments drying over a chair. It always surprised him at how the boys had grown.

“Balin?” He turned to his advisor, face wearing a thoughtful expression.

“Hmm?” Balin was just about to leave.

“What did you do to garner such loyalty from our burglar?”

“Do you want the long version or the short? Hopefully the latter; we paid good coin for our beds and I hope to use at least a small portion of one. Dwalin may hog most of the room…” There was a grunting huff outside the door. “But I do believe we will manage.”

Thorin stifled a short laugh. “I will take the latter at a time when the walls and door do not have ears.” He knew that at least one of his nephews had stirred and was listening. “Tell Dwalin to go to bed, though I want Nori and Bofur to stay with the ponies.”

Balin looked hesitant. “That might not be the best idea, Thorin.”

“Let me guess. It is a bad idea because of Bilbo Baggins.” Thorin sigh. “No matter. Send them.”

“As you wish.” Balin looked resigned, but shrugged as if he was steeling himself to deliver news that would not be well received. “Good night, Thorin. And I stayed.”

“Hmm?” Thorin had already pushed the day’s distractions from his tired mind.

“Bilbo. You asked earlier? I stayed.”

The yawning Thorin barely heard, but grunted in acknowledgement before finding his bed and falling right to sleep.

----

Chapter Text

“Why again did we have to get up before dawn, Kili?” Fili yawned as his overeager brother dragged him through the nearly empty streets of Bree. Morning was barely a hint of light on the horizon and the town’s lamps burned low.

“The trader that I was talking to last night gave very specific instructions if we want to see a genuine foresight hobbit.” Kili looked back just to see Fili standing in the street, yawning and oblivious to early morning carts. “Come on, Fili.”

“She has a business.” Fili was hauled up onto the wooden sidewalk as he barely made out the storefront sign that advertised a soothsayer as well as an inn for hobbits. “Odd combination, is it not?”

“Proudfoot Inn, a fine establishment serving hobbits. Charming.” Kili had never liked segregated businesses.

“Maybe it is because hobbits are so small.” Fili was like their mother, always trying to see the reason behind things, no matter how offensive. “Why again are we here now? The sign says that Madame Baggins is closed.”

“That is what she wants you to think. The trader assured me that she only takes customers sent by other customers.” Kili was not dissuaded by the closed shades on the storefront. He grabbed Fili again and headed around to the back of the building, just like the trader had instructed.

“How much did you pay this dwarf?” If it had been a man, Fili would have kept his brother at the inn instead of helping him slip past their snoring uncle.

“Two silver and a gold piece. He said that he would give me back the gold if…” Kili stopped by a locked door and pounded on it four times.

“Kili, that trader is long gone, headed to anywhere but here.” Fili just shook his head. He was glad that their mother had trusted him with the bulk of the brothers’ money.

“That is why I need a few gold coins from you, brother. Madame Baggins fee is ten gold coins and I have only four left.” Kili grinned and held a hand out to Fili expectantly. Fili’s outraged reply was halted by two thumps from the other side of the door.

“See? She is expecting us.” Kili nearly squealed with glee as he returned the two thumps. The door was opened by a yawning dwarf still in his nightshirt.

What do you want? The dwarf seemed surprised to see other dwarves. He set down a chalkboard and signed curtly in Iglishmek. Can you not read? The inn serves hobbits.

“Master Onas said that this was the way to see Madam Baggins.” Kili looked torn between disappointment and hope when he was actually talking to someone.

Proper dwarves come during the stated business hours and use the front door like civilized folk. Fili could see that the dwarf was not going to let them in. He looked like the type that did not mind roughing himself or someone else up, if his black eyes and swollen nose were good signs to go by.

“For twenty gold pieces. Master Onas promised that we could see Madame Baggins for ten.” Kili was not about to give up now.

Never heard of him. The dwarf tried to close the door. Both brothers grabbed it with a hand.

“I will not let my brother be scammed by your network of hooligans. Give him back his money and then we will leave.” Fili went to the forefront. He did not like it when others pushed his brother around, or cheated him.

“Driscoll, is that a customer at the door?” A middle aged hobbit woman with flour covering her arms and apron came to stand by him. “We have that one vacant room left.”

Driscoll signed in a rather crude form to the woman, not nearly as complex as Iglishmek, but she seemed to understand perfectly.

“I see.” She glared at Fili, ignoring the too eager Kili barely standing still behind him. “Why should I give you my hard earned money? I was not the foolish one to that threw away money in the first place.”

“Master Onas sent me.” Kili all but whined. “We are leaving tomorrow morning and cannot come back another day.”

“Master Onas?” The woman huffed. “The dwarf that sits by the fire at the North Inn? Has one eye?” Kili nodded. Driscoll huffed a derogatory laugh.

“Master Onas is a conniving dwarf who showed up in Bree last year and makes money off of fools like you.” The hobbit woman pinched her brow like Thorin often did, leaving a puff of flour in her eyebrows. Driscoll signed to her.

“You are right. He is a problem if he has his sights on Auntie’s business now. Maybe Bilbo can put a stop to this.” She glared at Kili. “I will not give you any money, but you are in time for second breakfast. My boarders have already had first breakfast and left, but there should be something left to tide you over until the breakfast casserole is done.”

“We would be pleased to accept your hospitality, Mrs. Proudfoot.” A grinning Kili pushed Fili inside before Driscoll could argue with her.

“Miss Ally will do; I myself never saw the need to marry. This establishment is mine, though I do give Driscoll his due credit.” Ally poked him in the ribs to make him move out of the way. “I will see to them. Get back in bed; you still look awful. Auntie will bring you breakfast and your medicine.”

Driscoll growled at the brothers, then turned and stormed off up a plain set of stairs.

“This way to the kitchen. Mind your muddy boots.” Ally glared until they set their boots on a mat with several other pairs of shoes. She led them past the stairs through a narrow hall that opened up to a large kitchen.

“Sit down and do not cause any trouble.” Ally practically shoved the still overeager Kili onto a long bench next to a long table.

“Ally, dear, who is that? Did the milkman deliver the milk a day early?” An aged voice called out, just as eager as Kili had been.

“Wrong again, Auntie. You have lost another bet to Driscoll. If he ever collects his winnings, you will need to raid a dwarf treasury to pay him.” Ally shook her head in disgust as she set down two mugs of coffee and a plate of sausages.

“My aunt thinks that she can predict anything, and get rich making silly bets. Do not mind her, she is a bit senile.” Ally whispered as an elderly hobbit woman with a bun of silver hair and wrapped in a bright green shawl came in from another hallway, this one lined with portraits and landscapes.

“We have guests for breakfast, Auntie. They will be on their way soon enough.” Ally glared at Fili, even as Kili stood up when the hobbit approached.

“Madame Baggins? It is an honor to meet you.” He took the surprised woman’s hand and bowed.

“Oh, customers! My, my, they are handsome, if a bit early.” Auntie smiled and blushed like a schoolgirl as she sat.

“No, Auntie. They are leaving after they eat.” Ally put a tray in her hands. “Now go tend to Driscoll. He still cannot walk in a straight line.”

“It was a rather heavy skillet.” Auntie mumbled as she disappeared down the narrow hall.

“Skillet?” Fili put his coffee down.

“I forgot my manners.” The hobbit neatly changed the subject. “I am Alyssum Proudfoot and this is my inn for hobbits. My great aunt Gaura Baggins, soon to be retired, hopefully, rents out the storefront and lures in suckers. Who might you two dwarves be? I have not seen you come through Bree before. You are not traders, are you?”

“We are traveling with family.” Fili shut Kili up with a warning look and a stomped on toe. “Fili and Kili.” He was not putting them at a charlatan’s service.

“Are you from Belegost?” Now Ally sounded truly interested as she took the casserole out of the oven and began to put pieces on plates. “Balin spoke a time or two about a pair of troublemakers…” She let herself trail off as she handed them their plates, pinning them with an expectant look. Kili did not disappoint her.

“You know Balin? He is our uncle’s…mmfff…” Fili stuffed a muffin into his mouth.

“Master Balin has rented a room a time or two. Normally I only serve hobbits, but he is a close friend of a friend who also stays here frequently. He also has impeccable table manners.” Ally glared as Kili stuffed a second muffin in his mouth. He seemed immune to her warning.

“This is delicious. Are there any more?” The words came out with a shower of crumbs.

“Balin is a distant cousin of ours.” Fili allowed as he shoved a napkin into Kili’s hand and stomped on his toe again while signing under the table.

Uncle warned us not to tell everyone our business. Let us just eat and leave this place.

“Fine.” Kili could see that Fili was not about to give him the six gold coins that he needed.

“So, what brings you to Bree?” Auntie joined Ally on the other bench and tucked into her own plate of food.

“Auntie, we have a problem with Onas. I was hoping that Bilbo could handle him.” Ally tried to motion the boys to hurry up and get out.

“Bilbo is here?” Kili brightened, promptly forgetting Fili’s warning.

“You know him?” Ally looked skeptical.

“He is Fili’s luck hobbit.” Kili helped himself to another plate of muffins that Auntie handed him. Fili sat and watched as his brother spilled out more facts about the journey than even Fili knew.

“Then Bilbo got us out of the Old Forest and…” Kili was on his fourth plate of muffins as both hobbits stared dumbfounded.

“You say that Brosi Baggins has left the Shire? That he is your uncle’s luck hobbit?” Ally’s face was now dark with anger. “I do not know what you are trying to prove with this story of yours, but it is as believable as Bilbo Baggins leasing out that crazy Midnight stallion of his.”

“Midnight is Dwalin’s pony. He can ride him. In fact, Midnight was the pony with which…” Kili helpfully plodded along.

“Enough. This has to be the most foolish story that I have ever heard, including your predictions, Auntie.” Ally put up a hand for Kili to stop. “I do not know who you two take us to be, but we are not fools. Claiming to know certain dwarves is not going to get you a free reading. In fact, I never let Auntie scam Bilbo’s friends or family, so if that is what you are after, then you had better leave right now.”

----

Bilbo woke with a start. The early morning sun shining through the open curtains did nothing to cheer his mood as the light blinded him. Grumbling, he held his pounding head as he stumbled out of bed and closed the blasted curtains.

“Darn Ally.” She was an early riser who thought that everyone should be up for first breakfast. Bilbo was baffled by the sheer number of hobbit meals when he moved to the Shire. It had taken three shouting matches for her to get the message that he was not to be woken up at the crack of dawn for a meal he never ate anyway.

Sighing, Bilbo saw that it was much later than first breakfast. He could smell Ally’s famous sausage and egg casserole, reminding him that he had not eaten since the afternoon meal yesterday. The dwarves were going to get dinner at the inn, from which he had been excluded.

“Darn Thorin.” Bilbo shuffled out of his room and headed for the stairs. All of the boarders were long gone, so he saw no need to change out of his nightshirt.

“Darn dwarves.” He muttered just as the first step disappeared and the world turned into a tumbling tornado.

----

Chapter Text

Auntie flat out ignored Ally’s statement as she handed Fili and Kili plates of muffins. “Do not mind my great niece. She is a bit skittish around handsome young men like yourselves. Eat up.”

“Scam?” At least Kili was now getting the message that Auntie was not quite who she professed to be.

“Is Bilbo here?” Fili took the plate while glaring at a glaring Ally. “Is he well?”

“Discretion is part of my service.” Ally clammed up and shoved a muffin into her own mouth with a determined look.

“The dunderhead just woke up. We will soon find out if he does indeed know these fine boys.” Auntie began to count on her fingers. “Five, four, three.”

There was a loud yelp and a series of thumps down the stairway they had passed on their way in. Auntie looked pleased. “Is he not like clockwork? Every time he comes here he falls down the stairs.”

“Auntie!” Ally snapped. The old hobbit gleefully continued without pause. “So why are you boys coming to see me if you know Bilbo? He is the real…”

“Auntie, enough! Remember discretion.” Ally stood.

“Fili, we should go now.” Kili now looked extremely uncomfortable.

“You should not have eaten all of those muffins, dear brother.” Fili could not help a smile.

“No, I do not feel right.” Kili looked green.

Padding footsteps on the creaking floorboards announced an odd figure that sat down on the far end of the bench. They were dressed in only a nightshirt with long, curly, tangled hair frizzing out around their head. They had hobbit-like feet that were noticeably smaller, and with less foot hair. They were also taller than Ally by a good half head, though she claimed to be a tall hobbit herself. The obviously borrowed hobbit nightshirt was rather short in the arms, and silver bracelets shone on both wrists.

“Good morning, Ally. It is nice to see you again, Gaura. Driscoll is not your bouncer. I expect you to retire in the immediate future.” Neither brother understood the Hobbitish Westron, especially as slurred as it was.

“Bilbo, we have company.” Ally hissed. If Bilbo wanted to make a scandalous appearance and ruin his secret location, fine. She, however, was not a hobbit that let others be rude to her guests, whether or not they were wanted.

“Oh, sorry. Hello.” Long hair was tucked behind a dwarven ear, complete with a silver ear clasp engraved with the Fundin family crest. The figure did not look up, but made a face and took a bite of what looked like plain oatmeal. “No sugar, Ally?”

“You always complain when I give it to you, that you get a bellyache. Drink your coffee, Bilbo. We have guests today. Do you know them?” Ally was carefully watching Fili and Kili, clearly expecting to catch them in their lies. “They say that you and Brosi know them.”

Fili himself was not buying the claim that this was Bilbo Baggins. Bilbo always had his hair neatly combed back, the length hidden. Bilbo always wore fine tailored clothes. Fili had never seen his ears and stared hard at the ear clip in disbelief. Perhaps this person had robbed Bilbo last night. Perhaps he was injured and…

The figure rubbed their eyes and gave Kili a bleary look. “Good morning, Fili. Ally, Kili needs some mint tea before he throws up. I think we both do.”

“I will get it.” Auntie shoved a bucket into Kili’s hands before heading to put the kettle on the stove.

“Bilbo, what are you doing here?” Fili rubbed his own eyes. This was Bilbo?

“Thorin sent me away if I recall. I pay Ally to have a room set aside for me. Master Balin and Dwalin also use it if needed. Sometimes all of the inns are full. What are you doing here at the crack of dawn? I would have guessed that all of you would sleep in today.” Bilbo stretched and straightened out his nightshirt self-consciously. He hid his ears as he made an attempt to put his hair into some semblance of order. “Sorry, I did not know that Ally had guests.”

“Driscoll found them hanging out at the back door compliments of Master Onas.” Ally spat the title. “The old codger is nothing but trouble, trouble that I do not need, Bilbo. Be a dear and dispose of him for me.” She sat and sipped her coffee as if the problem was already taken care of.

Bilbo closed his eyes and sigh, a look of long suffering now in place. “Onas is a harmless old soul who makes a few coins as a storyteller. He is also a luck wearer who has traveled the world. He would know what I was doing and report me to the city constable, or worse, the Rangers. I cannot afford to draw any attention or make anyone suspicious."

“So it is true that you and Brosi are running away with a bunch of dwarves.” Ally looked furious now. “I will not condone you dragging your poor brother with you, especially with ruffians such as these. You are hobbits, Bilbo Baggins, and you belong in the Shire.” She glared towards Kili drinking tea as Auntie doted on him, slipping into their native dialect. “Fools, all of them are fools. They will get you killed, Bilbo. Mark my words.”

“Our business is none of your concern.” Bilbo’s face wore an unreadable expression. “I consider you a friend, Ally, but if we are talking fools then…” He nodded towards Auntie as she and Kili chatted. “My father is not a fool. Baru has a sharper mind than a diamond blade. Do not confuse loyalty with greed.”

“Your father is a stubborn old fool who you yourself were furious at for trying to do exactly what you are doing now, fool.” Ally thumped the table with an angry fist.

This was clearly an old argument or two that had nothing to do with dwarves, and Fili had not missed the clearly dismissive tone of the hobbit’s voice. He smiled and politely turned down Auntie’s offer of some mint tea, oblivious to the argument behind her. “Thank you, but Kili and I were just leaving.”

“Fili, I came to see a foresight hobbit. We cannot leave yet. It would be rude.” The mint tea had worked too well; Kili was now determined to get what he had come for.

“Yet another young one coming for love.” Auntie shook her head and smiled. “I take it that an elf has caught your eye, hmm?” She looked knowingly at Kili.

“Gaura, enough!” Bilbo spun around, clearly furious now. Ally herself stepped back a pace at the growled Sindarin.

“It is only a bit of fun, Bilbo. I will not take his coin.” Auntie slowly lost her smile as Bilbo continued to glare at her with his full attention. “Surely you would not keep an old lady from a bit of matchmaking?”

“You will say nothing else on the matter to anyone, midwife.” Bilbo lost none of the menace in his voice. “You saved babies during the Fell Winter, so I will not stop this charade of a business that you have, but you will not interfere.”

“This mere dwarfling could hardly be a part of the Prophecy, Bilbo. Do not turn constable on me in my own home. Lady Arwen would hardly approve. You had your chance to be her foresight hobbit.”

“I came here because Lord Elrond has his sights on us. Your home may be shielded, but nothing can protect you if he finds out that you broke the sacred rules. He will not risk the fate of the world for your business built on your husband’s last name. I will not give him a reason to steal Brosi, Gaura.” Pain overcame the angry expression.

“So Elrond’s constable has become a dwarf, hmm?” Gaura shook her head. “You may be a changeling, Bilbo Baggins, but even you cannot do that.”

Both turned their attention to the now forgotten dwarves. Kili dropped his cup, spilling tea across the table as he sat gap-jawed. Fili stared hard at the forgotten bracelets, the clearly elven writing glittering gold on the polished silver.

“You did not tell them?” Auntie was clearly angry at being reminded of her true Rivendell training, and of that horrible time so long ago that she wished to forget. She smiled.

“Auntie, leave Bilbo alone.” Ally knew that face all too well.

“Boys, Bilbo here clearly did not tell you that he is a trained Rivendell foresight hobbit. Lady Galadriel had big plans for him. You see, he refused her own granddaughter, Lady Arwen. Cited the Prophecy and everything. Got himself banded as a disgrace and banished to the Shire.” Auntie laughed. “He is the real fool here.”

“I have heard enough.” Fili stood, luck charging the air around him as he barely held his temper. “My thanks, Miss Ally, for the meal, if not the conversation. Bilbo is my luck hobbit and I refuse to listen to such obviously senile drabble. Get you things, Bilbo. We are leaving and you belong by my side.”

“Bilbo is a real…” Kili looked at Bilbo with a hurt expression. “He lied to us, Fili.”

“We have not heard his story, Kili. This is not the place.” Fili whispered in Khuzdul as he pulled his brother to stand. “Master Balin and especially Dwalin would never allow such a person to wear their family crest.”

I have no answer for you, Fili. Bilbo looked like he had been sucker punched. He was white and was clearly in more than emotional pain.

Get your things. Fili was not to be denied. Bilbo turned and fled down the narrow hallway, thumping unhobbitlike up the stairs.

“You will not mention us being here?” Fili turned to Ally.

“Discretion is part of my service here.” Ally puffed up with pride. “Auntie will forget that this happened the moment you leave. You see, she loathes the elves more than most dwarves.”

“You take Bilbo and keep him close.” The hobbit chided Kili for his forlorn look. “You remember his exact words before calling him names. He has had a hard enough time of it these past decades. Keep him by your side and you will not have a truer friend. Push him away and Fate will be offended. You are blessed when you have a changeling call you friend.”

Ally put her hands on Kili’s cheeks and head tapped him as Driscoll had shown her. “Kili, if Bilbo does know what you seek, he will not tell you if it hinders its happening. He will also not hesitate to answer if you ask when the time is right.”

“It is just a silly question.” Kili’s red rimmed eyes told another story.

“Then it has a serious and grave answer if Bilbo is involved. The Valar do not just throw changelings every which way. They need protected more than they realize.” Ally shut her mouth and shook her head as she pat Kili’s shoulder. “You keep those two safe.”

“Why does a legend want Bilbo?” Fili had not moved since watching Bilbo leave. He stood with his arms crossed, deep in thought. An elf six eons old was a dwarfling’s bedtime story, as wizards had been until a few weeks ago.

“Foul things forced elven prisoners to bear the dark races that you battle to this day.” Gaura sat and stared at things not there. “No one knows how it was done. Odd, is it not?”

----

Nori, we have a big problem. I need your help to blank a few memories of a few…people. Bilbo felt sick as he dressed and forced a brush through his hair.

Why? There was more than annoyance; Nori was not happy about something.

Just get over to Ally’s, will you? Bilbo harrumphed as he threw his things into his packs.

Thorin will not allow you to blank the boy’s minds, for any reason.

I do not need his permission to protect my brother.

Bilbo, I would love to stop by and chat about the endless reasons, but I have a few problems of my own at the moment. A helpful informant tipped us off about horse thieves.

What!

Stay there and let me handle it. You get too emotional; l will not make that mistake again.

I will be there in…

You will stay there until someone comes for you. As King Thorin’s Watcher I order it.

I order it. Bilbo sent a mental raspberry and sat down in a huff.

----

Chapter Text

Thorin held a fork halfway to his mouth as he appeared to be having a silent conversation with his plate. It had been such a lovely morning, too.

Nori, what do you mean that you, Bofur, Dwalin, and Dori are in jail? This was not the type of luck wearer conversation that Thorin had assumed he would be having on this journey. It was still odd to hear someone in his head. Nori did not seem to have such problems; he had worse news.

The ponies have been confiscated as well as all of our supply packs.

What is the good news?

The ponies cannot be stolen. Nori’s sense of humor was as sarcastic as ever.

Nori!

Fili and Kili are safely out of trouble with Bilbo. Now Thorin sensed some uneasiness. Though I do not know if I quite agree with Bilbo’s idea of safe. Just come bail us out!

Safe?  Bilbo never made Thorin feel at ease, much less safe.

Ok, ok. Fili’s temper is shot and Kili thinks that he is trapped by an insane group of hobbits. On the bright side, Kili will be a bit more cautious about sneaking out in the future.

NORI!

Just get here! Dori is driving ME insane!

----

Fili knew that it was silly of him to take the time to quietly ascend the stairs. The boarders were gone about their daily lives, and Driscoll’s door was shut. Perhaps it was the feeling of this was a safe haven that made him hesitant to intrude on Bilbo. Having his boots off helped, but he still froze over each squeaking stair.

Following an amused, if sulking as well, sense of humor, Fili peered in a half open door. Bilbo sat on one of two hobbit sized beds in the small room wrapping a bracelet.

“Istan quete ya merin, ar la hanyuvatyen.” Bilbo huffed a quiet laugh as he turned to face his luck wearer.

“We do not have time for games, Bilbo.” Fili still gave a small smile. “What is the secret that you are telling me?”

 

I can say what I wish and you will not understand me. Fili did not find the translation as fun as the hobbit did. He grabbed Bilbo’s wrist.

“This is why you refused to work with me the other day, is it not? Kili is still quite hurt. He took it personally as a luck wearer.” Fili did not like people to upset his brother, much less his luck wearer.

“Eca, a mitta lambetya cendelesse orcova.” Go away, Fili.

“I will not go away and most certainly will NOT do whatever you just said to do with an orc!” Now Fili knew that Bilbo was toying with him, and he did not like it one bit. If only his mother had not refused Balin’s repeated requests to teach the boys Sindarin. Kili had been surprisingly disappointed, and Fili had questioned the rationality of not understanding what an elf of all people was saying to you. Thorin, as always, had sided with his sister when it came to her childrens’ upbringing, until this quest.

“I did not mean to hurt Kili. I was just…” Bilbo shrugged. He had been trying to protect the brothers from pain brought on by the very bracelets he was wrapping. Fili deserved to know more about his luck hobbit, not misunderstandings.

“The language is Quenya, not Sindarin.” Bilbo let out a sigh. Few knew his talents and knowledge, or even cared to know, not even Brosi. His brother only cared that there was enough money in the family coffers to buy his boys armor and pay their wages.

“It is an old language, full of much magic and mysterious power. Even Gandalf uses it in most of his spells. Few outsiders are ever taught it.” Now Bilbo was hardly in the mood to tease his luck wearer. Fili could not be annoyed into a temper like his uncle anyway. Resistance just made him more intent on his goal.

“What made Bilbo Baggins special enough to teach?” Fili picked up one of the leather strips and sat in a chair he pulled over from a small desk under the sunny window. The leather was soft from much working and rubbing in of special oils that left a pleasant fragrance on his fingers. His tone was curious, but his face clearly said that he wanted answers. At least Fili thought about things instead of just getting and staying upset, unlike a certain dwarf that was his uncle whom Bilbo would never tell these things to.

“Rivendell prizes foresight hobbits attuned to speech. Knowing what one’s enemy is saying is much more precise than only knowing where he is or what he is doing.” Elrond had terrified the hobbits with his rare anger upon hearing that a mere toddler with such a gift had been given to dwarves of all people. This short sightedness was one reason that Licus was assigned to the Shire.

“What do the inscriptions say, Bilbo?” Fili grabbed Bilbo’s hand as he reached for another strip of leather. He turned it so that the gold and silver gleamed in the sunlight.

Alamene. Go with our blessings. Tenn’ enta lume. Until that time.” Bilbo only allowed the contact for a moment before snatching both his hand and the leather away. He began to thread it around the bracelet, quickly obscuring its beauty.

“Hardly the words to bind a wraith.” The dwarves had learned much about the menaces from a too eager Brosi.

“Hardly fitting words to make a friend into a disgrace.” Bilbo spat. “I do not blame Kili for thinking such a thing of me after what I put him through.”

“Thorin’s actions in the woods were not your fault, Bilbo.” Fili sent a mental shoulder squeeze. Bilbo shoved back. Fili merely caught it and examined the feelings wrapped around the impression.

“I could have used you or Nori to free him from Brosi. Even Dwalin would have sufficed, as Thorin instinctively knows and trusts him. I could have kept Brosi in the Shire to avoid this whole mess.” Bilbo shuddered as he remembered Bifur shoving rags half down the luck pair’s throats to muffle their cries.

“You did not hurt them, Bilbo. They were trapped in Brosi’s memories, memories that you had to deal with as well. It must hurt to know that you could not protect your little brother.” Fili took Bilbo’s hand again, pushing past his mental barriers. He could feel something, foresight, pushing down on the hobbit. His own luck wearer influence was holding it at bay.

“We understand each other better than you know, Bilbo. Let me be your partner as we keep our families safe.”

“Nori wants to remove my bands.” Bilbo turned away, unable to trust so easily.

“Do not be afraid, Bilbo. Whatever happens, I will be by your side.” Fili could read the hobbit too well, but he did not know Bilbo. He had hidden his true feelings from everyone for far too long to willingly face this. Everyone judged; everyone made promises that they could not keep.

“I will fail you; I have failed a luck wearer before. It is a mistake that I will not make again.” Decision made, Bilbo turned to face Fili. He freed the previously wrapped bracelet. “Take off your gloves, Fili.”

“Alright.” Fili took off his fingerless gloves. Bilbo had never rode with him without gloves. He smiled with an expression full of encouragement.

“Do you trust me, Fili?” Bilbo’s own face showed tired annoyance.

“Of course, Bilbo.” Fili’s smile was still encouraging, though his eyes filled with confusion and weariness as he tried to sense Bilbo’s line of thinking here.

“I cannot willingly hurt you. Do you understand?”

“Of course you would not.” Indignation overcame caution in the young luck wearer, exactly the mistake Bilbo had not wanted to see, but expected.

“Do not take my hand. Do not touch me without gloves.” Bilbo closed his eyes; his breathing slowed as he relaxed and let the foresight shove itself to the forefront of his thoughts as it had tried to do for days. There was no expected grab and cry of pain, only shuffling. A gloved hand carded through his hair.

“I understand. Kili and I will be downstairs when you are ready to leave, Bilbo.” Fili’s footsteps creaked across the floor and down the steps. Bilbo opened his eyes to an empty room and silence.

“No, no, no.” Bilbo had tried to show Fili, not to hurt him, but to warn him. Now the luck wearer would one day forget and learn about pain at the worst of times, just like Nori had. Bilbo shivered at the awful memory, but forced himself to get up. He opened a cabinet and began to pack things that Ambrose would need on this journey.

----

“Are you certain about this, Brosi?” Thorin leaned against the wall as he watched his luck wearer shed all signs of being his almost dwarvish self. Thorin would never consider one who was now coming his foot hair with such care, with a special foot brush, anything but a hobbit.

“Quite certain.” Brosi carefully packed away his brush after cleaning it free of loose hairs. Thorin shook his head as he looked out the window at the muddy streets that they would have to walk. “I will just explain that this was a misunderstanding. You will have your ponies and dwarves back within the hour.”

Beads were traded for a simple braid, travel clothes for a rather ostentatious suit that Brosi had bought second hand from a Bree hobbit. He had declared his own packed suit not convincing enough to be taken for something that his brother would wear. Thorin privately thought that even the haughty Bilbo had better taste than to wear purple trousers with a yellow shirt, a blue waistcoat heavily embroidered with gold thread, and a maroon dinner jacket.

“How will you explain the fact that horse thieves set them up?” Thorin raised a query eyebrow as Brosi opened his mouth and paused.

“It is not relevant. Bilbo always keeps to the facts, so we will, too.” With a decided nod, Brosi headed out past Thorin.

“Brosi.” Thorin shook his head as he shoved the forgotten emerald green ascot into his hands. “Gentlehobbits always wear a tie of some sort.”

“Um. How do you tie an ascot anyway?” Brosi held it out at several angles, completely flummoxed.

“We will ask one of the serving girls downstairs.” Thorin was above handling such apparel, unless it was used as either a snot wiper or a wound bandage.

“Bifur will know how.” Problem solved, Brosi flew down the stairs.

“Bifur?”

He dresses dolls for a living, remember?

----

“You let Kili keep the ownership papers?” Dwalin’s arms were crossed as he leaned against Thorin. They sat on a long bench that traversed a room guarded by two city guards.

“Yes.” Thorin seethed through his teeth as he watched Brosi talk with quite a bit of animation with a young officer at the duty desk. Most of the city guard were out on a raid of the horse thieves, leaving the youngster to be dealt with.

“Kili has the paperwork, but you brought Brosi dressed as Bilbo?” Dwalin could see why Thorin had been given such a wise royal advisor as Balin was; Thorin was an idiot.

“Yes.” After half an hour of fruitless talk, Thorin had been more than happy to follow the request to take a seat with the rest of the accused.

“Do you even know where Kili and Fili are?” Dwalin did not like being a substitute for his brother.

“Nori said that they were with Bilbo.” Thorin shrugged. Currently Nori was asleep, tuning out his apoplectic brother.

“So you do not know how to reach Fili, Brosi is too caught up in his charade to reach him, Nori is out cold, and we do not even know if Fili is with Kili for certain. Perfect.” Dwalin closed his eyes as he leaned even more heavily on Thorin and began to snore.

“Bofur, could you get your son to call his brother here.” Thorin looked over to the miner who was playing dice with a drunk brought in earlier for disturbing the peace.

“That would ruin the plan, would it not?” Bofur looked up. Calling Brosi by his name would ruin the effort for certain. He and Nori had been taken by surprise by a raid of city guard with Dwalin and Dori somehow thrown into the mess before they ended up here. All were a bit battered after declaring their innocence and indignation, so they had voted to wait this one out. Knocking out a few guards was hardly a hardship, but Thorin’s orders to avoid attention were clear.

“Bifur.” Thorin turned to the toymaker who was growling at the guards. He was carving a rather angry looking warg eating a man who looked like the guard who had tried to confiscate his carving tools.

“Ambrosine!” Half of the dwarves, and the two drunks, nearly fell off of the bench at the bellow. Thorin could feel the hobbit immediately remove the block that had come up between them when Thorin had tried to talk to the officer first.

Bilbo is with Fili and Kili. They are coming.

About time. Dwalin snorted and got comfortable again.

----

Chapter Text

As it was pouring rain outside, Lanol had not felt bad at all about being the officer left behind on dreaded desk duty. Let his superiors get a drenching as they chased after horse thieves that had evaded them for the last six months straight. He was happy to get the short end of the stick, and the warm stove next to his desk.

“So you are Bilbo Baggins?” Lanol could not stop staring at the hideous outfit of clashing colors as the hobbit once again straightened his waistcoat like it was too tight.

In fact, it was too tight, with straining buttons ready to pop. The trousers had already given little ripping sounds as warning that a seam was in danger of failing. Only the ascot was perfectly tied, if one did not notice that the green clashed with everything but the hobbit’s eyes. They were originally hazel, but now resembled green emeralds on fire in his anger. Lanol was content to stare at this show until his superiors got back.

“Yes. I have said that how many times now?” Brosi was trying so hard to keep his breathing calm and controlled that he was on the verge of hyperventilating.

“The fourth, making this the fifth time as I once again say that I need some documentation as proof of your story.”

“I will have you know that I am a well-known and respected hobbit in Bree as well as the Shire.” Brosi had been doing his best to imitate what he thought Bilbo would say. He really just wanted to smash the officer’s head against his desk and be done with it.

“Then you will be well aware of the fact that a gang of horse thieves has become a real problem these past months. We have been confiscating stolen horses for weeks. In fact, you are the third Bilbo Baggins that has been here this month trying to get horses released without papers. It is not going to happen.” Lanol smiled and folded his hands together on his desk.

“Then I can be counted as the fourth, Lanol Wittman!” An angry voice bellowed as the outer door slammed open to admit three drenched figures. “What is the problem here, anyway? Clearly this is not Bilbo Baggins, but Brosi Baggins, my brother who has full authority over ALL of my property, including my ponies and family.”

The shortest figure pulled the oilskin cloak off of his head, revealing a stormy faced Bilbo. Lanol actually jumped when the hobbit slammed a fist down on the desk. “WHY do you have my father under arrest for possessing my ponies? Especially when your own paperwork shows that Trel is here in Bree, meaning that I am in Bree.”

Kili, who had been grinning at the sight of his own uncle under arrest, as well as Dwalin, managed an even bigger smile. Fili was not as generous as he slammed down his own fist.

“Yes, Lanol Wittman, why is my uncle under arrest for possessing ponies THAT HE OWNS?”

The young guard sputtered, looking back and forth between the Baggins twins. Bilbo was dressed like a dwarf, complete with braids and vanguards peeking out of his cloak. “But he…Bilbo really…I…”

“No buts, Lanol. I have known you since you were a skinny little 10 year old dreaming of the day that you might wear that uniform. Yes, I am quite well aware of your captain’s efforts with horse rustlers, but I draw the line at insulting my brother and my father!”

“Bilbo…” Lanol whined like a 10 year old. Bilbo merely crossed his arms and tapped an impatient foot.

“Brosi has full authority. Give him the impound release paperwork for Trel and Trick that you should have handed over first thing. Really, Lanol! Give Master Thorin the paperwork for the rest of the ponies and supplies, as he is their owner.”

“Their…owner?” Lanol looked ready to faint as he looked over at all of the dwarves now standing with crossed arms glaring at him. He immediately felt the inadequacy of the protection offered by his two young friends as the two remaining guards.

“We require an apology as well.” Thorin stood with a hand stretched out waiting for his papers.

----

“Khaaz?” Bilbo let Kili, who had all of the ownership paper work anyway, terrorize the young officer into considering early retirement. He and Fili went over to the bench where Dwalin still sat, arms crossed and glaring with the best of them.

“It hurts to breathe, Ambrose. They roughed me up pretty good.” Dwalin whispered even as he tried to put his returned war hammers on his back.

“Fili can carry those, Khaaz.” Bilbo admonished as he handed them over to the now smiling Fili. “Fili, do not drool over them!”

“Yes, Bilbo.” Fili could not believe that the great Dwalin was listening to a mere hobbit. He took the coveted hammers and purposely leered as he looked them over.

“Let us get you to Ally’s. It is a shorter distance.” Bilbo got Dwalin to his feet with Dori’s help.

“Better cooking, too.” Dwalin muttered.

-----

Paperwork in hand, Thorin looked around. Only Brosi and Kili remained. “Where is everyone? Surely they did not rush out into the rain already?”

“I sent Bofur and Bifur to check on our supplies. Nori disappeared, no surprise there. Shall we check on the ponies?” Kili grinned anew as he could not resist bopping the pony ownership paperwork over the head of a guard who had been breathing slurs against dwarves under his breath. Really, did the humans think that dwarves were deaf?

“Brosi, find out where my heir put my bodyguard. We leave at first light tomorrow, so let everyone know.” Thorin stormed back to the North End Inn to finish his interrupted breakfast. He and Balin had several tasks to complete before they could leave Bree. He also completely missed the anger that had Brosi’s expression speak volumes, as well as color his luck talk. Kili winched at the shout in his head and scrambled after Thorin, leaving the fuming hobbit standing on the porch looking out at the rain.

----

Nori had taken his chance at slipping out when Dori became distracted while helping Bilbo with Dwalin. He had hidden behind some stacked crates and barrels under a roof waiting for the rain to lessen a bit when two dwarves stopped at the sight of Brosi coming outside. One looked painfully familiar.

“Gariston.” Nori flexed his shoulders in memory.

“Brosi son of Bofur, is that you?” The unfamiliar dwarf was smiling a bright false smile as he came up and clapped a hand on the hobbit’s shoulder. Nori could Brosi’s face winch in pain as the hand gripped hard. This was not a fortuitous meeting. Not at all.

“Farris, how are you?” Brosi gave his own false, pained smile. He went pale when he saw Gariston glaring at him.

“Forget your blasted hobbit pleasantries, Brosi! Where’s my money?”

“Is there a problem here?” Nori neatly inserted himself between Brosi and the other dwarves, locking one hand on Brosi’s unoccupied shoulder. Both shuddered as he forced the hobbit’s luck to align with his will. He looked at Gariston, free hand glowing in ready warning as he stroked one spike of his beard.

“Brosi here lost me my cargo and the advancement of payment that I gave him.” Farris was quick to let go of the hobbit at the presence of a luck wearer aligned with him. “The little bastard is finally ‘well enough’ to leave the Shire, so he is now responsible for his company’s losses.”

“How much is the debt, the total debt?” Nori frowned; Bilbo had never mentioned such news to him.

“As partners, Farris and I hired Brosi’s company to transport a very valuable cargo. We even gave him an advancement of 60% of final payment when he guaranteed delivery or he would reimburse us 30% above replacement cost of the cargo, as well as return of our payment.” Gariston huffed.

“Get to the point.” Farris was not a patient dwarf. “As Niriel and her father are both deceased, Brosi is the sole owner of their caravan company and the sole person responsible for this debt. Master Luck Wearer, your luck hobbit owes us twelve standard chests of gold as replacement value of the cargo, three more for that 30% replacement cost, one chest of gold for the advancement, and one chest of silver a year interest.”

“Sixteen chests of gold…” Nori almost lost his grip on Brosi, but grabbed hard enough for Brosi to winch when he saw Gariston’s hand go to his sword belt. The dwarf had many hidden knives on his person.

“I suggest you pay now so that it is nine chests of silver and not ten, Brosi.” Gariston smiled greedily with too many teeth. “Or can you not pay? It would be a shame…” It was clear that Brosi would disappear if Nori had not intervened.

“You have your agreement paperwork?” Nori’s mind whirled. Brosi just looked ready to explode.

“Yes?” Farris looked confused, clearly not the brains of the pair. Nori turned the conversation to him.

“It has a cooperation clause by chance?”

“There is nothing unclear in this case!” Gariston turned red. “We do not have to involve the guild, and the Council is disbanded until next winter season.”

“Ah, but we want to ensure that the compensation is enough? Right, Farris?” Nori smiled at the still confused dwarf. “Brosi is engaged by my employer’s caravan this season. It is also the time of the Spring Cantata. We just need five caravan leaders to hold a cooperation clause session to finalize payment for a broken contract.”

“Agreed.” Farris laughed. “Surely we will be vindicated. Come Gariston, let us finish up our business in this most unpleasant town of men. I shall look forward to the games!” His wife had forbid him to go to the excuse for games and drinking for the last three years, though it was officially to find last minute caravan employees.

“I have not forgotten our last business, Nori.” Gariston growled. “You and your caravan will be there, or the entire guild will be after your pathetic heads!” He marched off into the rain with his own rain cloud over him.

“Just what have you gotten our Company tangled up in, Brosi?” Nori whirled the hobbit around to face him after both dwarves were out of sight. “No one in their right mind does honest business with Gariston!”

“You should have let them deal with me alone, Nori.” Brosi shook himself out of whatever stupor he had been in. “Now you have put the entire Company in danger.”

“We are facing a dragon, remember? You are also a part of Thorin’s Company. Therefore, we are all responsible for each other. We only have each other and you had better get that through your thick hobbit skull. Do you really think that Bilbo would just leave without you? He would…”

“It always comes down to Bilbo, does it not, Nori?” Brosi spat out. “My perfect brother or his pet come and save me. Do me a favor and stay out of MY business.”

“This dwarf is no one’s pet, and do not forget it!” Nori picked Brosi up by his jacket and threw him out into the street. The hobbit landed with a big splash of churned up mud. A force of his own luck pushed his face back down into the muck for a good long time, reminding him that Nori was a luck wearer who did not take crap from anyone.

“I need to talk to Balin.” Nori muttered his own curses under his breath as he ignored Khuzdul curses screamed at him as Brosi freed himself and got back onto the wooden sidewalk. There was no way that this could end well that he could see. Not unless the blasted wizard had a card or two hidden up his sleeve.

----

Chapter Text

“Should I get Oin?” Fili ignored Ally’s screeching protests as he and Dwalin soiled every surface in her nice siting room with a liberal coating of mud. Gaura merely helped Bilbo strip the struggling dwarf until his upper half was bare. They grimaced as they ran gentle hands over his bruised side. Ally grimaced as she took in her nice floral rose settee covered in mud and draped with a wet dwarf.

“No. Call another to bring him. You are going to learn the basics of healing, Fili.” Bilbo ignored Dwalin’s protests as he placed Fili’s hand on the hairy pelt covering the heavily scarred side.

“I will be fine, Ambrose.” Dwalin snorted at Fili’s hesitation. Few dared to touch the grizzled warrior without his express permission.

“Will we be singing?” Fili could almost hear a tune thrumming in Dwalin’s heartbeat, almost.

“We are too far from the Shire. You are going to knit a broken rib ready to puncture Khaaz’s lung.” Bilbo placed Fili’s hand over the unbruised side of Dwalin’s ribcage.

“I do not have the training. Surely you need Oin.” Fili pulled away.

“We will need Oin’s experience with securing cracked ribs. Khaaz cannot ride if it jars a rib into spearing his lung. Now pay attention.” Bilbo dragged Fili’s hand back. “Feel how his ribs should be.”

“Fine.” Fili pulled off his gloves, running his right hand carefully over Dwalin’s left side. He took note of how the ribs and muscles connected, how everything worked together with every inhale and exhale.

“That flow that you feel…” Bilbo began as Fili closed his eyes as he sensed the deeper layers of rib, lung and heart. “That is luck energy, the flow of essentially what life is. You will that energy as Khaaz’s own body normally would, except that you are healing his rib much faster. Now feel the damaged side, carefully.”

Fili put both hands on an area over the large bruise spreading across Dwalin’s lower ribcage, sensing stressed, yet healthy tissue and bone. Sliding his hands lower he held in a whimper. It was a pain filled mess, with the energy flow erratic and flat out stopped in eddies that endlessly swirled. “I cannot sense the individual ribs, or anything but pain.”

“Take my energy; guide it to the area that you want mended.” Bilbo held Fili’s arm. “Gently coax the broken rib into place, and then bind it there with the energy.”

“Alright. I see…Oh my!...I see…” Fili felt like he was guiding a stream out of its streambed and helping it to flow straight up into the air. He could not see the rib, but Fili could sense when what he was doing was right. Eddies of energy stropped swirling helplessly and joined the stream. Dwalin grunted in pain as Fili felt the rib find its place, again as the energy created an initial knit in the broken edges that solidified and held.

“Very good, Fili. Now gently put the energy back on course. We have done all that we need to.” Bilbo began to pull Fili free of what was now Dwalin’s energy.

“There is still much damage. I can fix these two cracked ribs.” Fili suddenly felt lightheaded. Gaura pulled him away from Dwalin with surprising strength and sat him on an overstuffed chair covered in a lily floral pattern. Ally whimpered at her poor furniture as she helped.

“You are not in the Shire with endless luck to work with. You are limited by your reserves and your hobbit’s.” Gaura clucked her tongue in disapproval as she lifted Fili’s head to gaze at him critically. “Remember that both of you need some of that energy so that you stay alive. Luck energy, flow of what life is, blah blah blah. Remember? You had better.”

Leaning back in the chair for support, Fili looked over at Dwalin. Though the dwarf was lying down looking exhausted, his side was no longer black and blue. It was now an odd mix of yellow and brown and the warrior could visibly breathe easier. He could now rest until Oin came and expertly bound his ribs.

“Not the cleanest healing, but effective. My thanks, Fili.” Dwalin put a hand over his eyes and relaxed.

“Nothing in here is clean. My poor…” Ally’s words were cut off with a scream.

“What is THAT doing in my parlor?” Ally cringed back as a rather soaked Glif pranced in on his muddy hooves, muddy pelt spraying muddy water as he shook himself like a dog.

“Really! I could do with some hot tea. Manners are terrible outside of the Shire.” Glif’s Sindarin was just garbled noise to the now very exhausted Fili.

“Well done, luck wearer. Well done.” Glif looked over Dwalin’s injury with approval. Fili just detected the complimentary tone before his eyes slipped closed and he began to dream.

----

“Are you alright, Bilbo?” Ally settled on helping her fellow hobbit to stand on unsteady feet as her great-aunt excitedly chatted in Sindarin and served the whatever? tea. It even sat neatly next to the snoring Dwalin, goat legs crossed in a most proper way as it held the teacup saucer on its knee, or what should be a knee. She turned away; helping Bilbo made much more sense.

“Fili was a bit overeager. I just need to lie down for a bit.” Bilbo let Ally take him up to his room. Once alone, he sat on the bed with his head between his knees, forcing his lungs to work at a slower pace. “This is not good, not good at all.”

“What did Glif want anyway?” Bilbo muttered as he had precious little energy left to keep conscious, much less deal with the world at large. Pulling off muddy socks and cloak, he felt when Fili had unconsciously pulled even more luck away. Nori, who was bringing Oin, would have to deal with Glif’s mischief.

----

Brosi did not remember pulling himself up out of the mud to sit on a barrel outside a shop of some kind. He did not know how long he sat looking out at the rain. He looked down at his muddy suit. How was it that he was remaining so calm? It was almost alarming; Brosi had faced dwarves that had haunted him for years. He had faced those who reminded him of his failure, his losing his wife, luck wearer, everything. Yet, somehow Brosi was dead calm. He stood up and headed back to get the mud out of his ears and dressed in his own clothes.

Back at the North End Inn things were not going so well for Thorin. As Balin had left to talk to Nori in the hall, Thorin had gone from a feeling of unease that had been creeping up to standing and looking around the room as he unsheathed his sword.

“What is this?” Thorin saw no threat, but a wave of panic sent him to his knees, sword clattering to his side.

“Thorin!” Nori rushed in and helped his king to a chair.

“I do not. I…Where is Balin?” Thorin felt better by the moment as Nori shared his own energy, pushing the alien feeling of panic to the edges of his mind.

“Balin went to talk to Gloin. We have a problem thanks to Brosi.” Nori held a glass as Thorin drank the cold water and heaved a cleansing breath that finally seemed to clear his mind. “Though it looks like Brosi is giving you more problems as well.”

“What is happening to me?” Thorin rested his forehead on the table.

“Brosi is your luck hobbit. You are sharing his anxiety at meeting our latest problem.” Nori reluctantly repeated what he had told Balin.

“There is no way to get so much gold.” Thorin finally managed to hold up his head and look at the worried thief.

“We can go to the Spring Cantata and trade our troublesome hobbits to pay this debt. Brosi is the one who owes the debt, and Bilbo…” Nori scrunched up his face. He hated to do this, but he served his king above all others. “I would not speak such of Bilbo, but he will not be parted from his brother.”

“What are you talking about, Nori?” Thorin could almost taste the anguish on Nori’s face.

“I do not like to sacrifice friends, but you still have the paperwork and pendants for two luck hobbits. You can trade that for over half of what is owed, a down payment you could say. Farris will be easily satisfied to wait, but Gariston is a dwarf that will not give up until he gets his gold.”

“Using pendants to force obedience is brutal.” Thorin knew that luck hobbits wearing pendants was mostly a formality, as they were generally reliable once a working bond between hobbit and luck wearer was established. But some luck wearers were not the nicest of people to work with, and Tooks were unpredictable when unhappy. Pendants authorized by the Thain Council ensured that luck hobbits hired out for such large sums of gold stayed and completed their contracts.

“Thorin Oakenshield, what are you doing with my hobbits?” Gandalf chose that moment to storm in. “I  had the worst time catching up with your Company, just to hear such nonsense.”

“Nonsense is you pulling gold out of your ear, or you’re a…” Nori sneered.

“Nori!” Thorin barked.

“All we have to do is get those elven bands off of Bilbo and we can negotiate an exchange.” Nori went on, glaring a challenge at Gandalf. No wizard could change lead into gold, or blood into rubies.

“Bilbo is a foresight hobbit, far more valuable than a mere hired out Took.” Gandalf was furious beyond belief. He had been expecting to merely pay bail for a bunch of drunken dwarf troublemakers, not have his hobbits sold like cattle. “He is also under an unbreakable contract that you yourself signed, Thorin.”

“The contract has terms that can be changed to our benefit at any time.” Nori countered. “We may be able to pay the entire debt with this trade if Bilbo is a foresight and luck hobbit. I regret that I’m suggesting this, but I know that he will not part from Brosi, who I would throw to the wolves to solve this because it is his debt.”

“We are not trading our Burglar, nor anyone else.” Gandalf marched over and hovered over Nori. “Of all the people that I thought would backstab Bilbo, I would never have guessed it was Nori son of Risa. For shame!”

“Thieves have no honor; it is merely a question where their loyalty lies. Mine is with my king.” Nori turned to Thorin. “Let me get those bands off even if you keep them, Thorin. Bilbo can help keep Brosi stable by sharing his emotional load.”

“What bands are you talking about?” Thorin glared at both now. “Elven bands, Gandalf? Has your burglar been a spy?”

“Bands merely enchanted to curb Bilbo’s luck.” Gandalf himself was not certain what the bands were for or how they worked. They will not come off, without clasp or lock to be seen.”

“They can be squeezed off, just like using string to get a ring off of your finger.” Nori clearly did not like Gandalf. “The bands torture Bilbo’s foresight, and by extension his luck wearer.”

“Fili claims the hobbit.” Thorin felt alarm that was clearly his own. It was strangely nice to be back in his own frame of mind, even for something so upsetting.

“It is only a matter of time before Bilbo cannot shield his luck wearer. Fili will have to touch him someday without gloves.” Nori easily remembered the pain when their caravan had been attacked in the middle of the night. He remembered the pain as he forgot Bilbo’s warnings and grabbed his luck wearer.

“Surely this is not such a concern as you make it out to be.” Gandalf looked skeptical.

“Fili WILL burn. He will burn like one of Erebor’s great forges was lit inside his body. I know, wizard, for I have felt the heat!” Nori had not forgotten how he was incapacitated and somehow the caravan guards had fended off the attack without their help. The next morning both he and Bilbo had been left by the wayside, all of the undercover work that Nori had done for two years wasted.

“Gandalf!” Thorin looked rather upset that no one had mentioned this danger to him. He would have been able to trade Bilbo to Arwen for all the gold and perhaps extra troops needed to keep his people safe. He certainly would not owe a dishonorable wretch like Gariston any money.

“The wrist bands are part of a set with a headband.” Gandalf smiled hoping for appeasement with such a simple explanation. “Once worn, the headband blocks both luck and foresight. There is no pain.”

“Leaving a useless hobbit.” Nori spat. “You cannot just wrench out gifts that the Valar give you. They expect them to be used for their own will some time or another. Besides, you have conveniently forgotten, wizard, that Bilbo’s headband was traded in the Old Forest for Thorin and Brosi.”

Thorin sigh and put his hands in his face to block out the glaring contest between the fuming dwarf and now shocked Istari. The Old Forest had been his mistake. If a hobbit under contract to him, and his protection, had sacrificed to fix that mistake, then Thorin owed him.

“We will not trade our hobbits, but the lure of such a trade may work to our benefit.” Thorin pinned Nori with the gaze that meant this was a king’s order that was not to be disobeyed by any of his subjects. “Nori, take who and what you need and get the bands off.”

“Balin will not be cooperative. He has raised Bilbo as a son.” Nori felt even more of the unpleasant bitterness of betrayal. He could call it anything that he wanted, and often called it other names, but with Balin and Bilbo the honest truth must be faced.

“Balin and I have a few more things to finish up here.” Thorin was a king who had done many things that he had hated to do. Right now Balin’s loyalty to a hobbit would endanger this quest, which was Thorin’s greater duty to his people and their safety.

“I obey my king.” Nori bowed and left the room.

“You are creating havoc.” Gandalf muttered as he left to help undo any mischief that would follow in Nori’s wake.

Chapter Text

“Surely you cannot mean this, Nori.” Dori was shocked.

“It needs done.” Dwalin was reluctant to agree with the thief. Nori was shocked that Dori was giving him trouble and Dwalin readily agreed to his plan.

“It is just a few strips of silk. No harm done, Dori.” Nori would rather just finish the whole messy business rather than explain anything.

“I will not hold someone down against their will to do something that they will not want done.” Dori crossed his arms.

“Fili will wake soon.” They were all sitting in Ally’s sitting room glaring at the uncooperative Dori. Their heir was sleeping off his exhaustion as his brother hovered near him. Kili might not understand much about luck, but he wanted no part in this plan, no matter what danger to Fili that Nori warned of.

When Nori had arrived he had not expected to deal with Thorin’s nephews. Luckily, Fili was asleep and Kili understood little of what was going on, settling for guarding his own. A hand on Dwalin’s shoulder had the King’s guard quietly get with the plan with a few words even though that guard was hardly a luck wearer.

“This is a direct order from our king to protect his heir, Dori. I will not share in the pain of Bilbo’s fire ever again.” Nori wished yet again that his elder brother would have at least some inkling of what being a luck wearer entailed. Instead, Dori had long ago pushed any such tendencies into the recesses of his mind.

“No.” Dori huffed. Nori sat next to him, pulling out his last brother wavering weapon: emotional appeal. It rarely worked, but when it did it got spectacular results.

“Dori, luck wearers are connected. I will feel it, Fili will definitely feel it. Do you really want poor Kili to go through an even greater hell than he has already been through? What if Ori has luck wearer tendencies? What if I have unknowingly included him in the luck bond? I assure you, oh protective elder brother, that if that happens then Ori will not appreciate your current reticence.” Nori’s whisper was almost a growl.

“I will not be responsible if this hobbit hurts you, Nori.” Dori kept glancing from Kili to Nori nervously. Now it was clear that the ever practical Dori was afraid of the mysticism surrounding luck energy, and for his brother. It would be endearing, if such caring was not eating up what little time Nori had left before the heir, that could interfere with Thorin’s order, woke.

“Nah, it will be simple and quick.” Nori easily lied through his teeth without guilt; Dori rarely believed him even when he told the truth. He knew that hurt only began to describe their upcoming experience. He grabbed his bag and headed for the stairs; there was a job to do.

----

Gandalf was glad to get out of the rain and sit in front of a warm fire, even if he had to fold in half to get through the doors and sit on the floor for the lack of furniture built for his stature. The furniture that was in the sitting room was almost small enough to be dollhouse furniture, complete with a lovely small hobbit lady lamenting the “dirty dwarves” mucking up the furniture they were draped over as she scrubbed ineffectively with a brush and rag at a muddy couch.

I cannot believe this…My fine establishment…My reputation in tatters.” The wizard could hear her mutter in Hobbitish.

“How are you this fine day, Mrs. Baggins?” Gandalf watched with amusement as Gaura continued to chat with a faun of all folks in Sindarin.

The faun had looked at Gandalf in utter terror for one moment, and then seemed to steel itself before announcing that he was under an honest service contract to one Master Baggins for ten years and there was nothing that the wizard could do about it. This faun was not returning to the Old Forest until he was discharged from his services, no matter what Gandalf wanted, so there! Then Glif had fled to the kitchen. Wizards were immune to faun flutes and trickery.

Gandalf turned his attention to Dwalin who was trying to get comfortable again. “What has everyone looking so grim? Indeed, young Kili looks like he is defending Fili from death itself.”

“Meddling wizards and kings.” Dwalin grumped and began to snore.

“Kili, what excitement have I missed? I do admit that I am glad to see that no one needs released from jail.” Gandalf tried a pleasant smile, at least what he could manage with being soaking wet and sitting on the floor in the sitting room of a rather vexed hobbit lady.

Lift your feet.” The lady in question had given up on the sofa and settled for wiping the muddy floor.

“We bailed Uncle out of jail an hour ago.” Kili shrugged. He himself felt drowsy in the warm room with everyone taking a nap.

Lift them, I say!”

“Yes, ma’am.” Gandalf tipped an imaginary hat to her and scooted out of her way. His real hat was currently drying by the fire.

“Tea, Gandalf?” Gaura handed him a dainty serving platter with a teacup and some cookies. A bang and a crash coming from the ceiling did not phase the hobbit as she sat and smoothed her dress.

“What was that?” Gandalf was more alarmed by everyone’s calm reaction than by the surprise that the sounds themselves. Not one had even looked up!

“Nothing.” Dwalin grumped and turned his back to the wizard.

“Nori and Dori went to see Bilbo.” Kili shrugged as he settled in with Fili. The tea that Gaura had given him had warmed him nicely. Besides, a wizard knew far more about magic bands than a mere dwarf would. Gandalf would handle any problems.

“Just Bilbo tussling with Nori.” Gaura sipped her own tea. “Let them settle matters between themselves.”

“Hmm.” Gandalf sipped his tea and waited for the thief’s return before interrogating him.

----

Thorin sigh as he watched Balin put away the last of their scrolls. Later, Balin would prepare them for travel in the scroll tubes engraved with ravens that had been used for generations. These were the last messages that would be sent to Thorin’s Halls for the foreseeable future. Thorin chuckled at that.

“Hmm?” Balin looked up as he put everything into his travel satchel. “I did not know that you consider bureaucratic paperwork amusing.”

“I was just thinking about how these are our last messages.” Thorin knew that half of the scrolls in Balin’s bag were notes to family. Gloin had been most insistent on sending word of the arriving ponies to his family. They would receive a hearty welcome and a stable all ready if Thorin knew his cousin.

“And?” Balin’s curious look made Thorin realize that he had been staring off into space for a few moments. Really, Thorin was becoming most vexed at the way these Baggins hobbits were affecting his behavior. He preferred to not lose his head to a stupid orc because of a bout of staring.

“I was thinking on how these are our last letters for the foreseeable future, then I recalled that we have a foresight hobbit.” It was best to just break the news to Balin while the advisor was still in an official frame of mind. It would not hurt to remind the stubborn dwarf who was in charge in the end. Thorin pushed aside a small thought that reminded him that as such he was the one that was responsible for whatever went wrong as well. By nature, anything involving Nori’s work was never neat and problem free.

Balin’s face morphed into a concerned scowl. His Durin blue eyes glinted with more warning than a mere scribe, or even king’s advisor would hold. Thorin was treading on thin ice with this subject. “Bilbo is not a window into the future, Thorin. He has specific duties that he has agreed to perform. He will not willingly play seer. You had best remember that before abusing any such privilege of foresight that either Bilbo or Brosi may offer.”

“Our burglar will steal moments of the future as I deem necessary for keeping the members of this Company safe, Balin. You had best remember that you are to respect my decisions regarding this and whatever else may come up regarding our safety.” Thorin rarely had to use a warning tone with his advisor, and usually it was meant to be joking. Neither liked the tense atmosphere that hung in the air between them.

“Bilbo is unable to use his foresight willingly, Thorin.” Balin readjusted his bag’s strap and waited for the angry outburst to follow his revelation. Thorin would learn of the bands soon enough; may as well get it over with. “No gifted, trained foresight hobbit would be allowed to leave Rivendell unfettered. He is bound by powerful elven magic.”

“I do not see that as being a problem.” Thorin went to get an ale as he always did after finishing the nightmare of legal paperwork and red tape. He used Balin’s slight hesitation, OK, it was a full body frozen shock, to get by him and down the stairs.

“What do you mean, elven magic is not a problem?” Thorin missed the look of abject terror on Balin’s face as he raced down the hall for that ale.

“Everything is well in hand, Balin. Just finish sending those messages. We leave at first light come morning and I do not want any ravens following us to clue in any potential enemies to our whereabouts.”

“Handed right into death’s cold grip.” Balin murmured, realizing that Thorin’s nonchalant attitude meant that whatever had been planned was already accomplished.

----

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

“Hello? Bilbo? May I come in?” Dori knocked rather nervously. Nori shook his head; his big brother was so strong, yet acted with the daintiest manners sometimes. It was one reason that he had run away from home as a headstrong tween, though he would never admit that perhaps that move had been rather drastic.

“Bilbo?” Dori knocked again.

“Maybe he left.” He whispered clearly uncomfortable with Nori behind him ready to spring.

Bilbo pulled himself together enough to get out of bed and open the door. Why would Dori be here? He hardly knew the dwarf, and he doubted that Nori would show Dori where one of his retreats was. Actually, Ally despised Nori for some reason and rarely let him near her ‘respectable’ hobbit establishment. Therefore, something must be terribly wrong.

“Is something wrong, Dori?” Bilbo asked before opening the door. He was so drained and tired that he was numb to pretty much every stimulus in his brain, including warning instincts.

“Is something wrong with Master Balin?” Bilbo opened the door with a look of fear. Something was wrong with Balin, he knew it.

Dori immediately felt sick to his stomach as he saw the worry and concern that he had falsely caused. Bilbo looked pale and very ill. When Nori rushed in and blindfolded the hobbit, he met with little more resistance than a surprised cry.

“Dori!” Nori snapped when his brother failed to follow his plan and encase Bilbo in a strong grip. Dori grimaced as the now blind hobbit swiveled his head around, trying to make sense of the world.

“Nothing to worry about, Bilbo. Just relax.” Dori made himself speak calmly as he secured Bilbo in a headlock. “Nori, the bottle.”

As the caretaker to a often sickly younger brother who was famous for full body tantrums, Dori easily held Bilbo’s nose closed with one hand while both of them forced his mouth open.

“Baru!” Blind terror tore through Nori and Dori had to take the bottle. Bilbo’s scream became a chocking gurgle until he swallowed and finished with a cry.

“Khaaz!” One more strangled scream came out before Nori managed a gag. Bilbo’s kicking feet were pinned down and he quickly tied them.

“Just hold him tight. Let the muscle relaxant work.” Nori had elected to not dope Bilbo into unconsciousness. A strong muscle relaxant with a bit of sleeping elixir should make him pliable. He had learned the hard way that mixed race subjects had unpredictable reactions to drugs. Hopefully the exhausted Bilbo would fall asleep and wake with little more than a headache.

“I cannot believe that you talked me into this.” Dori found himself on the floor leaning against one of the beds with Bilbo in a strong embrace.

“Needs done.” Nori began emptying his bag and reached for one of Bilbo’s hands, cutting off the leather lace instead of unwinding it.

“We will be having a discussion about you suddenly following a king’s orders, Nori. There is something that you have been hiding from me.” Dori turned from Nori’s now sour and defiant look to Bilbo. He had seen that look far too many times in decades past.

Fili! Bilbo’s mental scream as he tried to struggle again was the last thing that Nori needed.

Quiet, Bilbo. You are fine. You knew this would happen. Stop making such a fuss.

“What is going on in there?” Dwalin’s voice rang out as he pounded at the door. Nori’s luck wearer could feel what ability Dwalin did have expertly sound out the room. So the King’s Guard had use for his small skills after all.

Correction: Dwalin was the last thing that Nori needed right now.

Chapter Text

“Hold him tight.” Nori muttered to the now very unhappy Dori holding a hobbit doing his best to scream through a gag, getting punched in the face by a foot for his trouble. He got up as he wiped a bit of blood away as he answered the door to see a pale Dwalin grimace and march into the room. Both wore an expression of pain as Bilbo’s thoughts and terror tore through them with another muffled scream.

“You know nothing but taking, thief. You know nothing about hobbits.” Dwalin fought not to chock this bastard now that he had him literally in his hands after all of these infuriating decades. Instead, a parental streak long forgotten woke, Dwalin normally only heard Bilbo if the hobbit was touching him and the hobbit was doing an admirable job of pinning Dori’s face to the wall with his feet. He grabbed Nori’s tunic and settled for throwing the dwarf out into the hall with a rather surprised looking Driscoll peering out his doorway at the ruckus just to see the elusive dwarf land by his feet.

Nori? Driscoll signed.

“Everything is fine. Let the lunkhead handle things his way.” Nori straightened his clothes and hair before making for the stairs.

“Nori.”  Driscoll tapped on the wall to get his attention again. Mute or not, he was not stupid or oblivious to the world around him. He knew that, successful or not, Nori would never return to Bree.

“What?” Nori spat out as he turned at the top of the stairs.

“It has been an honor to work for you.”  Driscoll may be in a nightshirt, but he gave a bow worthy of Thror’s court. “And Bilbo could have killed you just now. You need to learn how to think before your take.”

“Uh, yah.” Nori mumbled and mentally thought that Driscoll had a good point as he wiped more blood from his nose. He was also was not used to manners to the point of actively avoiding using them. “Take care of the ladies.” He bobbed his head in a nod and raced down the stairs. He had not done anything special in helping a starving fellow dwarf and shook off the awkward feeling of rare gratitude. Few thanked Nori, including an enraged prince.

“What have you done to my luck hobbit?” Fili had Nori in a chock hold before his foot hit the last step.

----

“I do not want any trouble, Guardsman.” Dori was now much happier as his face was unstuck from the wall as he passed the struggling hobbit into Dwalin’s hands. He would rather not be further injured by either in some unpleasant way.

“What did you give him?” Dwalin looked more panicked at the way Bilbo lolled in his arms like a broken doll, even as he struggled, than interested in tearing into the other dwarf.

“A concoction that Nori had the town apothecary brew up. He said it was a muscle relaxant.” Dori tried to get up for the door as he resettled his clothes and hair much as Nori had done. He would gladly leave this unpleasant business behind. Dwalin had him at a distinct disadvantage hovering over his half risen form, even with his legendary strength.

“You are a tailor.” It was not a question as Dwalin quickly untied the hobbit’s blindfold, and made it clear that Dori was going nowhere. “Serve fancy clients, I would wager.”

“Some.” Dori cringed as a full, unhindered scream came out with the gag. Dwalin swore in Khuzdul as he sat and held Bilbo like a baby. “I have a well earned reputation among many classes of dwarves. I make a durable outfit popular with the miners, but I can make any dwarf the height of fashion.”

“It is alright, Ambrose. Calm down, and stop kicking me! Nori is gone, I have you.” Dwalin hissed in Hobbitish as a few pokes sent more shots of pain through his chest.

“Khaaz.” Bilbo’s whimper was half relief and half apologetic. Dwalin settled against a bed to get somewhat pain free as he untied Bilbo’s feet, now that he was finally still. Racing up the stairs had been instinctual; his family needed him and the pain of his still cracked ribs was only felt now after he cleared out the fool.

Bilbo was so tired: the rage that he should be feeling boiled just under the surface of his consciousness, but this was not the time to act, not with a hurt Khaaz here . He could only sigh in relief as Dori freed his hand of the material that Nori had been wrapping it in.

“Of all the…” Dori muttered to himself, making a mental note to berate his brother, as he rubbed the circulation back into the wrist. “Was he trying to dislocate the thumb?”

“Sleep.” Bilbo’s hand reached out to swipe the bridge of Dwalin’s nose. He could sense Fili sending reassurance. They were safe and he was too tired to care about Nori’s fate at the moment. Bilbo was still fighting down the furious response to betrayal, sort of. Everything was so hard to comprehend at the moment. Khaaz would never hurt him, ever, even for his own good.

“None of that yet. Soon.” Dwalin churred a trill of his tongue that dames often made while pregnant, then used as the base tone in a lullaby for their fussy newborns. Dori eyed him in surprise, though he himself had often used the same tone on both of his brothers in decades long past.

“Dori, you have helped clients remove jewelry so that they can try on their new clothes?” Dwarves often used ingenious methods to design jewelry clasps and locks to keep necklaces and bracelets from being easily swiped in crowds. Richer dwarves often left it to servants to remember the mechanisms and would be clueless in removing such items.

“I can have a look.” Dori already had his tailor kit out, putting on spectacles and examining a bracelet on a limp hand gently and with caution. It was clear that the burly dwarf’s gentle side did not extend to him, even if Bilbo had kicked Dori’s nose, squashed his face, and nearly ripped an ear off, even if some parts were now swelling at an alarmiming rate and rather sore. He took a half burned stick from the little stove and began to rub the inside of the bracelet. “Sometimes the ash can fill a hidden depression and show where the clasp is.”

“Just get those…just…” Dwalin settled Bilbo more comfortably against his chest as Dori began to mutter and rummage around in his tailor kit and the bag that Nori had left. Bilbo himself smiled when he saw that Dwalin merely wore socks and a haphazardly buttoned under tunic. He clutched the shirt hem with his free hand and rest his cheek against the thick chest pelt as the sensation spoke of paternal memories and was a balm to his feelings.

“You had better not have hurt him, Nori.” Fili rushed in, just to see Dwalin snoring away as Dori picked at Bilbo’s bracelet with a tiny tool.

“Hush now, they are asleep and I have almost gotten this unlocked, I think.” Dori looked up and Fili shied away from the face with the huge eyes framed by the spectacles. “Come over here and shine the lantern this way. I just need a little more light.”

----

“Did we have to come to the pointy-eared…, Ambrose?” Dwalin looked around. He and Bilbo were standing on a road made of shimmering silver sand that crossed a pastoral land covered in gentle hills. It was daylight, but there was no sun and countless stars filled the dark sky overhead. He turned to the hobbit in disgust.

“Did we really have to come to the very place that those…elves go to when they sleep, if that is what you call it. Just unnatural, I would say.” Dwalin just managed to keep Bilbo from jaunting off to the shade of a nearby tree for a nap. “The last thing we need right now is to encounter one of them.”

Bilbo blearily looked around, looking more plastered than he had after his first Durin’s Day celebration. “We are asleep. We will be fine when we….” Bilbo stiffened just as he had before screaming when he had stepped on a hot nail in Dwalin’s forge long ago.

“What have you done, Khaaz? I need to stay awake.” Bilbo shook himself. He jerked awake to here a clank as something metallic hit the floor.

“Take the other hand there. Hold it just so. More light, Fili, if you would.” Dori had freed one of Bilbo’s hands and was rubbing a bracelet with the charred stick. Bilbo just looked down and stared at his first bracelet open and forgotten by Dwalin’s side.

“It is alright, Bilbo. These things will never hurt you again.” Fili was already charmed by the almost maternal sight of Dwalin holding the hobbit. He could not help a reassuring smile. “Trust me, Bilbo.”

Now they will die and I cannot stop it. Oblivious to either Dwalin’s soothing back pats or lullaby or Fili’s reassurances, Bilbo’s tears began to soak Dwalin’s chest hair and shirt. They will die. I cannot! I cannot!

----

Thorin knocked on the door of the Ur family room after an ale or two had settled him after Balin’s odd reaction earlier. “Brosi, may I have a word with you?”

“I have more than a few words for you!” Brosi was quite angry as he dragged Thorin in and shut the door. His clothes were damp from a recent bath and his hair was still wet and in desperate need of a comb that lay forgotten on the floor by the fire.

“These clothes look more fitting on you.” Thorin would try to follow Balin’s advice and start a potentially emotion charged conversation with a safe, neutral subject. He was also glad to see the garish clothes forgotten to dry on a chair. The color combination had done its best to blind him.

“I do not know what I was thinking.” The tactic actually worked for once and Brosi lost his angry look as he sigh, for about 2 seconds. Then the hobbit stiffened as if he had been shot through with an arrow, including a cry of pain as he crumpled to the floor.

“Oin!” Thorin put Brosi on one of the two man sized beds before rushing across the hall to another room. Gloin was sitting at the small table, counting piles of different coins as he muttered and wrote notes in a small ledger book.

“Where is Oin?” Thorin would normally be happy to see how well funded they were. Nori must have been taking bets from the jail’s guards. Now he was inexplicably on the edge of panic as he felt an emptiness where Brosi should be in the back of his mind.

“At the apothocary and a few other shops; said that he did not have enough of his tonics for hobbit ails if we were bringing two or more.” Gloin made the money and ledger book faster than Nori could ever hope to as he got up. “Whose been in a fight this time?”

“Brosi collapsed.” Thorin waved Gloin into the other room. Brosi appeared almost lifeless, suddenly pale. There was no response to the desperate king’s mental calls even holding the small hand. He should be able to sense at least some basic emotions; it was as if Gandalf had turned Brosi into a lifeless doll.

“Breathing is a bit shallow, but his heart is strong.” Gloin had unlaced Brosi’s shirt and put an ear to his chest, listening carefully. He straightened and gazed down with a frown as he took a pulse. “Pulse is a bit erratic, was he this pale before?”

They will die! The words shot through Thorin before he could answer. He felt all the blood drain from his face before the room began to spin. His heart actually skipped a few beats as it became impossible to breathe.

“Thorin, now stay with me. Stay awake. Oin is the healer, not me, please remember.” Gloin lowered him to the floor, muscles honed by a heavy ax easily handling the heavy dwarf, for Thorin’s legs had become like noodles.

I cannot breathe! Thorin tried to talk, only to gape like a fish out of water.

“Stay with me, now!” Gloin’s voice became faint and tinny as Thorin’s fight to breath began.

Chapter Text

Thorin was barely aware of Gloin hefting him onto a bed. It felt like his chest had been carved open with a sword, but without any pain. The inability to catch his breath and breathe properly was another story as he barely kept conscious, with quick gasping sounds filling the room.

“Now, do not panic.” Gloin seemed to be talking more for his own benefit. He untied and pulled off coat, armor, anything that could be impeding Thorin’s breathing.

“It is not an allergic reaction. No swelling. Good.” Gloin untied Thorin’s undershirt and checked his throat and neck. He listened to his heart and took his pulse just as he done with Brosi. Whatever he found had him appearing a bit calmer as he let out a whoosh of air in relief.

“Do not try to get up and hurt yourself falling. I will be right back with Oin.” Gloin tried patting Thorin, but the dwarf let out an anguished whisper as it seemed the world was going black. He managed to turn on his side, watching Gloin rush out.

“Brosi. Brosi!” Thorin looked over at the prone hobbit on the other bed. The slow rise and fall of his chest was the only answer.

Brosi! Thorin dredged up memories of lessons with luck hobbits. He had never seen the value in being a diligent student, as he was a king with a people to rule. He was a king who would never again travel to find his people a new home, so these lessons were purely academic, or so he had thought. Yet, he had easily let the hobbit move into his mind and share so much of his life these past weeks.

Brosi…hobbit. Do not leave us. Thorin had lost so much in his lifetime. To only feel emptiness in his mind in his future, the thought was almost unbearable. One could get used to not having a comrade by one’s side, or even a lover in one’s arms at night. How did one cope with a missing chunk of another’s soul? The gruff, stoic king felt that he had been carved to his core being with his unseen wound, past all of his emotional and mental defenses. Tears sprang to his eyes, burning his face even as they cooled it on their path down his cheeks.

Thorin? The dwarf felt a wavering voice from far away. Hope was quickly dashed as Thorin recognized it as Bilbo’s. He truly detested that hobbit; Bilbo could not even locate him, his voice calling here and there aimlessly. Why had he let his nephew bond as luck wearer with such a useless being?

There was a hint of hurt, as if Bilbo knew Thorin’s thoughts. Then there was determination burning hot and white as something latched onto Thorin’s very being.

Death wound? The tone sounded puzzled, but began to fade. It is not your time…Not your time. I cannot…

----

“Thorin? Thorin!” Oin’s voice brought the dwarf back into himself. Thorin looked around to see that he was propped up on pillows with a pile of blankets covering him. He had to concentrate to clearly see the cup that Oin was holding up to his lips.

“Drink this. Slowly now.” Thorin had too much experience ignoring a bitter brew’s taste as he sipped, but still chocked.

“Breathe deep.” Nori of all people took the cup and sat by Thorin’s side. “Come on, take a deep breath before each sip.” Thorin managed to cough down half a cup, with the rest spilling in dribbles like he was a child.

“Brosi?” Thorin barely managed the one word, but it was easier to take a breath and his could no longer sense his unseen wound. Nori frowned and shook his head, twisting out of the way so that Thorin could see Bofur sitting on the other bed talking to his unconscious son.

“He is fine, just deep into his own mind. I tried, but cannot draw him out. Brosi will wake in time.” Nori’s tone was colored by the luck wearer’s self reproach. He had never been able to stomach his own failures, no matter the cause.

“Good.” Thorin felt relief unexpectedly flood through him even as he only half managed to speak the word.

“Drink this tea. Oin knows quite a bit about luck wearer care. He can tell you more later.” Nori held up a new cup of tea, and put a towel under Thorin’s chin. Ignoring his king’s grimace, he held the cup to his lips again. “Remember: big breath, then a small sip.”

Thorin had nearly downed the whole cup of brew when Balin came into the room. First he stopped and spoke to Bofur, patting the other father’s shoulder while murmuring words as both looked Brosi over. Thorin felt that he should be expecting a lecture of ‘I told you so’, but it never came.

“Nori.” Balin came over and gripped the Watcher’s shoulder as he looked over his king with a cold anger in his eyes.

“I did what I had to do.” Nori did not bother to look up at Balin, already knowing the look of wrath on his lord’s face. His eyes were closed as he tried not to cry out from the pain in his shoulder.

“I have already spoken to Dwalin, Dori, and Fili.” Balin did not tolerate threats to his authority as Watchmaster. As a senior Watcher himself, Nori had been an official witness as Balin beheaded dwarves on two occasions and heard about a third. No Watcher was shown mercy for breaking any of Balin’s few rules. Not one could be left alive to endanger the secrecy of their organization.

“You had two rules to live by, Nori; just two. Unwavering loyalty to your king and cause. Protect Bilbo, a life for a life.” Balin’s hand gripped tighter. Thorin realized that he must have something in his hand that was cutting into Nori’s shoulder.

“Just two.” The words were calm, in contrast to Nori’s hissing through his teeth as blood welled up around Balin’s fingers.

“I have tried and tried to teach you to think things through before you act, to consider all consequences first. Alas, it seems that you only learned how to get better at getting away with things when your elders are not looking.” Balin’s voice was a growl. “You, Nori, are at fault for both Brosi and Thorin’s conditions.”

Now Thorin glared at Nori as he sat hissing in pain. “I did what I had to do to ensure my king’s safety.”

“You purposely went behind my back. You deceived your king with twisted truth.” Balin had a small knife drawn. Nori could not face having his beard cut or his throat slit, though the latter would be a mercy.

“Balin.” Thorin was confused as to what was going on, but he did know full well that Balin scared even Dwalin with his ruthlessness.

Balin seemed to finally remember where he was. His eyes were full of more than betrayal; Nori had hurt him on a level that he let few touch after the battle for Moria. Thorin’s voice softened with understanding. “Enough, Balin.”

“Enough, Balin.” Thorin struggled to get up and fell to the floor for his troubles. Images flashed in his mind.

The knife flashed as Balin cut an unseen braid woven with a strand of silver and an amber bead. Balin nodded to Thorin as king, as the one that he obeyed with his entire being. “As you wish, my king. Do what you will with this mere thief.”

“You daft king.” Balin and Oin resettled their confused king. Nori still sat on the bed, holding his bleeding shoulder, but there was no knife, no severed braid.

“We have felt enough pain, old friend.” Thorin pulled his advisor, cousin, friend to him.

“To loose you, Thorin. It would be too much.” Balin looked broken. “Nori has always been your favorite.” It was too much and they could only touch foreheads as Oin began to fuss over Nori, who still would not open his eyes, despite the tears.

----

“I deserve an explanation, brother.” Dwalin sat glaring at a subdued Balin as Oin tutted over him and his cracked ribs. Half dressed or not, he was still an imposing dwarf full of well earned pride.

“It is fortunate that you did not break a rib.”

“Aye, it is.” Dwalin continued to glare even as Oin slathered a green paste over his side. Balin merely sat on his own bed and turned away. Dwalin sigh and looked at the ceiling. “Ambrose is fine, Balin. Fili will bring him to the inn after dinner. Now we will have none of this fretting.”

“I have done you a great disservice, Dwalin.” Balin finally looked up as Oin gathered his things and left. “Perhaps if I had been more honest myself, this would never have happened.”

“Nori is a fool. How does that figure into your mood? We will deal with the thief tomorrow.”

“Nori is no thief. He is among Thorin’s most prized roaming eyes and ears, a Watcher. He has been since he came to Thorin’s Halls.”

“Do not tell me that you are the Watchmaster for those fabled bastards.” Dwalin felt his temper rise despite still being exhausted from the day’s activities and Oin’s brew that he was still to finish.

“I have overseen the effort of keeping over a dozen dwarves out of your hands for almost six decades, brother.” Balin rose and walked over, his hands fretting in front of him. “The Watchers’ loyalty is only to their king and myself. If I had let you know, maybe Nori would not have done what he did.”

Dwalin sigh again as he thought of years of investigations that went nowhere, of foolproof traps that he had set only for the intended target to just vanish from the city without a trace. Then he looked at his older brother. This incident had cost Balin a great deal of pain and regret.

“Do not be so hard on yourself.” Dwalin could never be harsh with his brother, not after searching for hours only to find Balin carrying their father’s body back to what was left of camp after Moria. “I knew about Nori’s plan and could have stopped him, or at least made certain of what he planned to do.”

“You were right.” Balin sat and stared off into space. “If two hobbits keep us from getting past Bree, then how can we cross Middle Earth and face a dragon?”

“We will manage with kith and kin, and no more secrets. We will succeed, brother.” Dwalin pulled Balin close and held tight. “No more secrets.”

----

“What do you mean that you work for the king?” Dori had been upset when Nori came into their family’s room wearing a sling. Now he was purple with rage. “For decades we have barely managed, no thanks to you. If it was not for Ori’s scholastic allowance…”

“There is no money in Thorin’s coffers for supporting poor scholars. That was my pay, why it came without rhyme or reason. I was paid only after a completed mission.” Nori was glad that Ori was downstairs working on their quest log before the sunlight waned and patrons came wanting dinner. The boy had been so proud of the idea that he was contributing to his family.

“I will not let you dishonor Ori’s achievements by claiming…”

“Balin would never have let Ori claim such an allowance if he was not an excellent scholar. He would have used another excuse. Ori deserves the credit, not me.” Nori had refused a pain tonic in order to try to talk to Dori, and was regretting it more every moment.

“I will be having words with Master Balin this evening when…” Dori was putting up with none of this business that threatened all that Ori had achieved.

“Master Balin.” Nori chuckled as pain lanced through his shoulder. “Master Balin is the reason that my dead carcass was not thrown into an unmarked pauper’s grave in Fornost, or wherever that trading post was. He found me literally at the end of my rope, ready to be hung.”

Dori sat, shocked beyond words as he imagined what Nori described. “So Master Balin is the fabled Watchmaster and Ori…”

“Is innocent and knows nothing. I intend to keep it that way for his own protection. I had my reasons for keeping my distance all these years. My work is neither honorable or legal.”

“Both of my brothers work for the king.” Dori seemed to be trying his best to forget that last statement as he nodded. “I could get used to that.”

“I could get used to your mother henning if it means bringing me a cup of Oin’s pain medicine.” Nori let himself grin at Dori’s grin. The bitter tang of betrayal still hung over him with Balin and Bilbo, but reconciling with his own family was a start in the right direction.

----

Chapter Text

Brosi somehow began to collect his wits as he sat beside a path made of glittering silver sand. He stopped shaking his head to stare at it in fascination. His stone sense could not feel what it was and he grabbed the second handful to slowly sift through his hands.

“You need to wake up, Bilon.” A beautiful elf maiden crouched by Brosi and held out a hand to help him to stand.

“My name is Brosi!” Little of his outrage echoed in his voice. Brosi looked around at this place where the sound seemed to be muffled, though he could see much farther than normal.

“You are Ambrosine Bilon Baggins, are you not?” The maiden to lift him to his feet.

“You are Arwen!” Brosi spat out as he jumped away.

“That is what I was named.” Arwen just laughed as she got up and dusted off her knees. Brosi found himself oddly surprised that there would be dirt here; he could sense no stone.

“What do you want?” Brosi recognized this place from Bilbo’s vague descriptions of his training. They would be more informative than vague if Brosi had actually paid attention. “Why am I on the elven sleep roads?”

“These are the ethereal paths, Bilon. You would do well to remember that and be humbled by being allowed here.” Why was Brosi here? He knew that any elf, even Bilbo’s friend, Arwen, would not be looking out for his best interest.

“These paths are created by the Valar for the use of whomever they choose. As I can be here, then they allow it, beardless orc!” Brosi helpfully repeated the last in Khuzdul and Sindarin to be certain to get his point across. It always deflated elven egos to not be able to talk behind a mortal’s back in their own language.

“I also know a bit of Quenya, despite my brother’s doubts, and a few other languages as well if it helps, beardless orc,” Brosi added in Quenya with a more relaxed and happy smile than Arwen’s obviously strained teeth grit.

“We are quite through with the insults.” Arwen took a calming breath. “There is much to talk about and little time, Bilon.”

“I see.” Brosi was not in the mood to argue names. His formal hobbit face name was as informal as an elf would get. Arwen was right, though. He could almost make out words echoing in his head; he was waking up. The elf took his hands in her’s and stared into his eyes.

“You passed out and went into a what you could call a deep sleep.”

“I freaked out and ran away into my mind.” Brosi’s expression of disdain scrunched into puzzlement. “I was talking to Thorin.”

“Bilbo’s bracelets have been removed, so you can use your own foresight freely now, Bilon. You need to…” Arwen looked around, as if she could hear the voices as well.

“They cannot be opened.” Brosi was not buying this lie.

“You need to use your foresight. The line of Durin has been prophesied to be wiped out on this venture, including your luck wearer.” Arwen’s eyes looked like the sky, dark with mysterious lights swirling around.

“That is. That is just.” Brosi backed away.

“Liar!” It was the only word to come out, and flew out in a Hobbitish primal roar.

“Bilbo already knows. He has always known.”

“Liar!” Khuzdul joined the Hobbitish.

“Ask him about the prophecy that your own fore-bearer spoke as his dying words 200 years ago.” Arwen just stared without emotion. “Ask your own foresight, Ambrosine Bilon Baggins. Your foresight already knows who Bilbo will talk to as if they have known each other for years. They have.”

Brosi backed away from Arwen, hardly hearing her bell-like laugh. He fell back to the ground as he found himself in the North Inn common room. Bilbo was indeed in a corner talking to no other than Gariston.  

“Why the…” Brosi’s anger flared, just to be doused with a cup of something bitter tasting.

“Oin!” A few spluttering coughs had him able to talk again. Brosi sat up and looked around. He was in the bed that he shared with Bifur at the North End Inn. For some reason, Thorin sat propped up by pillows in the other bed, resolutely downing his own bitter brew with a stoic face.

Taste’s like elf fodder. Thorin turned to watch Brosi’s own misery. He was also expecting an explanation of why he was in this predicament where the king had to suffer Oin's brews in the first place.

Aye. Brosi grimaced, half in an attempt to just get the stuff down, half trying to remember the fast disappearing blurry dream.

“Works every time! I knew that I would find tincture of fermented elderberry with duck liver extract if I looked long enough. Bree is small, but it is a major highway for luck folk.” Oin seemed too pleased with himself to notice that neither patient was grateful for his tenacity. “I will be back in an hour with dinner.”

“You do realize that when Bilbo wakes he will kill me, Nori, and you, though not necessarily in that order? Nor quickly. He is not picky and very patient.” Brosi could sense his brother’s unease, and the pure rage filling the hobbit that had been purified by decades of forced patience.

“I doubt that a mere hobbit will be a problem for Fili and Kili. Your brother is hardly a seasoned luck hobbit.” An unconcerned Thorin yawned and settled back into his bedding.

“Darn it, Oin.” Brosi watched Thorin fall prey to whatever else the healer had made them drink. He tried to get up, and fell back. Darn dwarven healers and their dwarven-sized medicine doses.

Nori. The idiot could get them out of the mess that he had created.

There is a bit of a problem. Nori sounded quite uncomfortable. I hope that you can shield yourself; Bilbo is…Oh, there is Dwalin! Yoohoo!

Brosi had precisely five heartbeats of wondering about the odd shade of Nori’s emotions when whatever had found the thief followed the connection to himself. He could hear Thorin’s groan before he was drowned in Bilbo’s rousing experience as well.

----

As Bilbo lay in a half-awake haze, he was aware of one thing: pure, unadulterated rage. His mind recalled Nori’s betrayal, and began to cast out, searching for recompense that the Watcher would not soon forget.

Bilbo. The hobbit was taken aback not by pain, but by surprise at the ease of the luck flowing through him as Fili called. The dwarf was by his bed, squeezing his hand. 

The anger pushed Fili away; nothing would get in the way of Bilbo’s revenge. It was all too easy to locate Brosi and vent his wrath upon the little wretch. Brosi had been right, he had been able to sense Bilbo’s madness just under the surface of the gentlehobbit exterior. With the bands gone, even Fili’s well-trained luck wearer mind would fail to control a berserk Bilbo, not with their weak bond.

Bilbo’s unhindered foresight showed the room in flames, with Fili desperately trying to control the mayhem. No regret came to mind as a further sight showed Ally, Gaura, and Driscoll standing beside the ruins of theirs and several other buildings.

“No. That is not you, Bilbo.” Ally’s foresight was weak, but never failed her. Her hands gently ran over the flushed, heated skin of his now bare chest. Where were his sleep clothes? Confusion added more fodder to the fury begging to be released.

“What have you done?” Bilbo tried to get up, get away. Exhausted from the day's travails, he failed. He had experiences and dalliances with various discreet ladies in the Shire, but not this. Suddenly the story of how Belladonna Took had stolen Bofur from his family for two years made perfect sense. No one could resist a resolute hobbit lass, no one. Now Bilbo's luck was unhindered, uncontrolled, and linked to several other now unfortunate souls. 

“Bilbo, you promised me a faunt over a decade ago when I won a boon at that strip poker game. You lost your shirt, and more back then, I do not see the problem now. I will not be getting any younger waiting for you to get back, and you are not coming back.” Ally had never found a hobbit husband willing to settle down who was quite up to her standards. Now she was settling for making her own family, and taking full advantage of Fili's concern for his luck hobbit to do it. Such a talented pair in such a bind was an opportunity that would never come again.

“I will not let you destroy yourself, Bilbo.” Fili refused to let go of his hand; the dwarf wore no gloves, and the callouses scraped Bilbo’s palm as he tried to pull away. He was either too naive to understand Ally's emotional manipulation or fear was ruling his actions for the first time in his life.

“Brosi mentioned that sharing a partner…and you did promise Ally.” The dwarf’s voice was firm, but Bilbo could feel his hesitant feelings. He was scared, scared of Bilbo. The first contact between luck hobbit and luck wearer was fear for his life; he knew that he could not control Bilbo’s rage and would die in the attempt.

“Fili?” Bilbo’s mind retraced its steps back to himself. He was going to…He had been hunting his own brother…Nori. Tears were burning hot as they rolled down his face. “What have I done? I was so angry.”

“He is back.” Ally’s own tears fell as she saw rage turn to bewilderment. It was still there beneath the surface, but now there was a mind and soul awake to control it.

“Best to get this over with.” Fill was visibly fighting to control the effect of Bilbo’s anger on his own emotions. The young dwarf could see that Ally was right. Bilbo needed something extraordinary like the hope of a child to look forward to. He had been well trained by Thorin to lead and make important decisions, but Fili was still young and inexperienced, without his uncle here to help him.

You do not understand what you are doing, Fili. The others. Bilbo tried a pleading look. Yes, Ally was a lovely lady, and the attraction was mutual, but Fili was never meant to be ensnared in their decades long games of teasing each other. He was answered by a feeling of resolute determination, and unexpected fondness.

I will not let my uncle as king part us. I made my choice, and I chose you, Bilbo. The others will learn a lesson that hurting you hurts all of us.

So this is the catalyst for Dwalin and Nori. I always wondered.

“We should not do this.” It was hard to think with Ally’s hand stroking an embarrassing part of him as she and Fili melted into an embracing kiss.

----

Kili did not know why Fili had insisted that he remain in the hallway, he wanted to check up on Bilbo, too! The hobbit was growing on him. Kili could read Bilbo’s moods by the shade of his thoughts even when they were not engaged in luck talk. Actually, now that he thought of it….Perhaps their bond was a bit too personal. His pants were getting a bit tight.

“Hello, Kili. Ally sent me to entertain…err…talk to you.” A pretty hobbit lass with bright red hair and blue-green eyes opened the door that he had been leaning on. Within two seconds Kili found himself pulled inside, stripped of his weapons and weighed down on a bed by a determined hobbit.

“I cannot.” Kili felt that this was wrong, but by now he was burning up. The hobbit was all too glad to help him shed a few layers.

“You have someone special. I understand, your brother explained everything.” The lass stopped short of opening Kili’s undershirt. Instead, she began to sing in a sweet voice a song about swans and long ago summers as she mopped his sweat-soaked forehead with a wet rag.

“I do not understand.” Kili downed cool water, just to taste the sweet syrup in the aftertaste. Soon he was stretched out, enjoying the lass’ ministrations. She was kind, and evidently a detached healer. What was going on? Kili tried to reach out for Fili and felt a wall encircling him that his brother had told him about. It was only for a short time, Fili had promised, though his smile had been strained. 

“All in your luck loop are affected. I do not like such methods, either. Luck folk are a tricky bunch to care for, emotionally and physically. There was just no time to think of a better plan. It is either this, or Bilbo burns down half of Bree. My name is Eliza; Ally and I cooked up this plan.”

“You did not offer the others…whatever this is.” Kili was fast losing touch with reality as the world swam around.

“They did an idiotic thing unprepared. Let such carelessness pay them back with pleasure.” Eliza grinned, but took a seat a proper distance from Kili and continued to wipe his face and neck. “Sleep now.”

“Bastard Nori.”

----

Chapter Text

“Is everything all right with your card game, Nori?” Gandalf looked up from his dinner at a back table in the North Inn common room. Dwalin, Bofur, and Dori had joined him. Ori was supposed to be eating, but was more interested in his notes.

“Just fine,” Nori spoke in an odd sing-song voice. Actually, he had been losing at a card game when he spotted Dwalin joining Gandolph for dinner. Suddenly, Nori had an appetite for more than beef stew.

“What have you been drinking, thief?” Dwalin grumbled and threw off the nuisance who was even now wrapping arms around his neck. Did the wretch just kiss the top of his head?

“Has anyone seen Bifur?” Bofur quickly changed the subject.

“No clue.” Ori seemed to be clueless about anything but his paperwork. Everyone else began to fidget as Nori clung to Dwalin, giggling like an adolescent with a crush.

Ah, come on, Dwalin. I know where we can get a cozy, private room for the night. Nori was not above sharing his imagination with the warrior even as he had to work around the warhammers to stay in contact to talk.

What are you doing? Dwalin had begun to feel slightly uncomfortable after checking on Thorin and decided to distract himself with dinner. Whatever had apparently affected Nori with full force was slowly creeping up on him.

I would suggest that you take some sweet syrup to sleep this off, but that is no fun. Not when you have me to entertain you, and your dreams are so interesting. Nori seemed delighted to examine old dreams pushed to the back of the warrior’s mind, thoughts that he would have after every nonencounter with the bastard.

“I think that I will take Nori’s place at the card game.” Gandalf got up and hurried away as Dori stared at Dwalin.

“Nori. If you are…”

“Get your own sweetheart.” Nori snapped as he rose. Whatever else had been said, the warrior was as visibly flushed as Nori.

“Well, I…” Dori was speechless.

“Have fun.” Ori took a bite of stew as he reread a page.

----

So all of the Wanderers are lasses. Dwalin’s nighttime dreams coming true seemed to daze him more than any outside influence.

Not all of us, though we all naturally choose a male persona. That is, unless we need a disguise, or it suits our needs in other ways. Nori stressed needs in such a way that a gold coin soon found them a hideaway room.

What is happening to us? Dwalin remembered his duty at the most inconvenient time. Nori’s layers had been shed between kisses and growls, revealing a variety of scars, brands, and a noose burn around his neck.

Of all the gold! Dwalin quickly forgot duty as a surge of protective need squashed it. He traced whip marks that ran down from the rope burn to his thighs.

Bilbo found me, and I followed him home. Nori shrugged and continued to free Dwalin of his warhammer harness. I report to Balin, so I can be considered safe if you would like, though I can play dangerous.” Dwalin’s ear was nipped as he felt multiple raised knife scars around Nori’s kidneys. Dwalin had always had a taste for survivors.

“Balin told me.” Dwalin shook his head as he examined the intricate and even Watcher’s brand on the underside of a forearm. It fit Nori’s personality, unlike the cruel unevenly branded criminal runes burned into his shoulders and palm. Nori pressed two fingers to his lips.

Never speak out loud. Never. Our anonymity is what keeps us safe.

As well as Bilbo’s foresight helping Balin. Dwalin found the bed much more pleasant with Nori doing such exciting things to him.

Sometimes. The distance is a challenge.

You have been manipulating my dreams. Dwalin sensed memories of Nori slipping in while he slept. The thief had had his sticky paws wrapped around Dwalin more times than he could count. How long had this been going on? Bilbo had long ago warned his Khaaz about his talent's shortcomings. The warrior could neither shield himself, nor detect manipulated luck's influence.

Just in the hope that we could share this. Nori's grip on him tightened with pain as Dwalin froze.

You are untried. The world stopped for the warrior. All logic seemed to have flown out of the window. Nori had wanted only him and had proven the truth in the only way that one with no honor could.

I saved the best surprise for last. Nori’s chuckle was laced with too many layers of emotion to analyze. Any relationships would have jeopardized my persona.

Now you will be an Ereborean lord’s consort, a lord in his own right. One who can act any way he wants, within reason. I caught you. I intend to keep you. Dwalin took his prize.

----

“You should not be here.” Thorin’s whisper by the open door tickled Brosi’s ears into wakefulness. Not much was said, but he could hear clothes shuffling and moans accompanied by images that he was confident that Thorin wanted to be kept private.

Brosi could sense two old, war-damaged souls who could ill afford a relationship with their disparate statuses, but their hearts in need of healing had called them together the night after that last horrible battle in Moria. They had been together well over a century, and whatever was starting to drive Brosi mad had made an interlude irresistible.

“I cannot have children.”

“Neither can I.”

Conversations of long ago spoken wrapped in each other's arms in memories echoed in his ears. Brosi walled off the connection as grief tinged memories came flooding unbidden. He turned toward the wall, cursing the couple for their lack of privacy and their happiness, be it as brief and rare as their interludes had to be by necessity.

A sob escaped as Brosi cursed dwarven culture’s lack of modesty around closest kin and comrades, and the depth of Thorin’s trust in him. Not even Dwalin knew of this dwarf. It took time to notice that he had been picked up and situated in between two war broken, but warm and loving bodies. They kissed his forehead and held him as he cried himself to sleep among those who understood loss as great as his own.

----

Bofur placed another tankard of mead from the tray in front of himself and Dori. Each gave a chuckle at the now snoring Ori. He would have ink on his face in the morning, but it was late, with few of the locals were left in a last game of darts.

“You have two fine sons.” Dori downed his mead as he collected Ori’s things and stashed them in the scribe’s bag. His own cloak became a pillow until the time that Ori needed to be carried upstairs.

“You have a fine one of your own.” Bofur had not missed the black ribbon plaited through Dori’s marriage braid, same as his that was carefully hidden under his hat.

“My mother raised us alone, different fathers, you see.” Dori looked uncomfortable, but relaxed when he saw soft understanding in Bofur’s eyes. “I did not have enough gold for a proper bride price for my Collette. Her family disowned her and offered no money for a healer when the pregnancy went bad. Ori does not need to know such cruel people as family. With my mother’s reputation, raising Ori as my brother was easier than letting Collete’s family know that their grandson lived through the birth and seeing him raised to be like them.”

“Aye. Love is blind to impossible pairs, it is. Bella chose me, though I will never figure out why. We were together about a year, ran off she did. But her father was Thain, and she was promised to a Baggins. Bred for stupid reasons.” Bofur snorted. “I tried to take Bella to Belegost, things would have gone so different if we had succeeded.” Bofur took his hat off and wiped his eyes.

“The pregnancy was hard on Bella. A dwarven babe is hard on a dwarf, but two dwarven babes in a hobbit nearly cost all three of them their lives. We had to stop, and her husband found her. The babes were born much too early, the second was born dead. I had no choice but to let Bungo take my family away and back to the Shire. They needed elven healers that I could not provide.”

“Dead? But.” Dori clutched Ori to him.

“It was the strangest thing.” Bofur got a faraway look, lost in strange memories. “Hobbits say that twin girls are the luckiest first pregnancy, no arguing there. They also say twin boys is the worst, which I will argue against with my dying breath. The first son born is considered unlucky; they believe that he has stolen the second twin’s abilities to add to his own.”

“I would rather say the second was the unlucky one, though Bilbo seems to have more abilities.” Dori drank his mead dry without realizing.

“Bilbo was the second. Brosi was born first. It is why he has the name that his ma picked out, Ambrosine. It is a blend of plant and stone.” Bofur lit his pipe as the innkeeper began to clean up. “Rivendell takes the firstborn, and Brosi showed promise as a luck hobbit even at birth. So Bungo declared Bilbo the firstborn, so the belief is true if you make it that way.”  

“Oddest thing,” Bofur muttered to himself as he realized the public place they were in. He doubted that the innkeeper, nor the other dwarves, would like him to switch to Khuzdul. He yawned instead. “I have had way too many tankards of this fine ale. It is off to bed for myself.”

“It is late.” Dori would definitely be asking more questions later on the road, with its remote privacy and monotony. Yes, it would be a tale that the whole Company would like to have retold over the campfire after old tales and songs quickly lost their luster. Perhaps sharing his grief wrought story would help Bofur to heal.

Bofur watched him efficiently collect Ori and head up the stairs. How could one not claim one’s own son? Especially to save him from the taint of being illegitimate. Then he thought of his own son who’s first words to him were ones of hate, something that he well deserved. Perhaps physically having your child by your side, regardless of age, was better, no matter the cost.

Bofur crammed his hat back on his head. He was a miner, not a fancy thinker like a scribe. He could not even read Bilbo's first scribblings! No wonder Bilbo and his quick mind, talking at barely two, was not impressed with his dwarven father. Bofur would never be able to say what was the best decision to make in his own situation. What would it change, anyway? Time for bed.

We are in that room. Bifur appeared out of nowhere and physically manhandled Bofur from their doorway to the room across the hall. Thorin and Brosi are asleep. Fili and Kili with Bilbo at a boarding house, we will take their room.

“I was just checking on Brosi. Why did no one tell me that he woke up?” The alcohol merrily churning in Bofur’s blood made anger a quick reaction, as it always had.

They are asleep. Oin knows what he is doing. He woke Brosi when even Nori could not, yes? He has ordered them not to be disturbed. Bifur seemed more agitated than he should, considering their better accommodations and available drink of choice.

“All right, Oin is a good healer. So, what is the matter with you, then?” Bofur ignored the already snoring Bombur in the next bed and stripped down to his bedclothes. A quick wash rag was good enough before a proper bath in the morning. He hated wet hair before bed.

Nori got Bilbo’s bracelets off. We will deal with it in the morning. Good night. Just like that, Bifur terrified his cousin and quietly went to bed. Bofur himself rushed into the other room.

“What is wrong?” Oin got up from the chair he had been dozing in by the fire. He added a log and stirred up the fire to light the room better. Bofur carefully looked upon his son sleeping so soundly.

Thorin’s eyes opened when he sensed Bofur come over to the other bed, but he remained silent, midnight blue eyes sparkling in the dark.

“You ordered Nori to free Bilbo’s temper, I know it. So you will guard Brosi’s life with your own. You have no idea what you have unleashed, king or not.”

“Brosi is safe by my side.” Said king looked across the room long enough to make his own assessment of the hobbit.

“Brosi is all that I have left of his mother. I will not lose him.” Bofur nodded sharply and took a seat next to Oin.

Thorin sighed and turned over. The coming morning would not be a pleasant affair as several issues with Fili, and now Bofur, were faced.

----

Chapter Text

Bilbo's joints popped as he stretched. He smiled as the warm body next to him groaned and pulled him closer. Comfortable or not, they were in charge of the stables. There were horses to feed, groom, and turn out for the day as well as the tack that needed to be cleaned and repaired. He hoped that it would not be another unscheduled feast day. Elves did not understand that it was necessary for horses to rest and could not be fed and ready to tack up for a hunt hours before the sun came up unless preparations had been made previously.

“Time to get up, Fain.” Bilbo heaved himself onto unsteady feet. Was he ill?

Instead of Fain pulling him back to bed for another few minutes before waking up, an unfamiliar voice spoke. “It is too early to even think of first breakfast, Bilbo. Why are you speaking Sindarin?” Ally disentangled herself from the blankets, answering in Hobbitish.

“What say?” Sleepy Khuzdul was muttered, but no more heads appeared. Fili had moved the mattresses to the floor to make one decent sized bed. Getting up this early was not in the plans. They were not leaving until noon, and he planned on sleeping in.

“Bilbo, what is wrong?” Bilbo circled a moment with a puzzled expression, then focused on Ally’s face with a smile. Fili’s thoughtful mental touch slowed the whirl of confusing memories and added an air of calming influence.

“Bilbo, it is me, Ally. Remember?” She moved to get up, but Fili was a successful dwarven paperweight which was now nuzzling her neck in interest.

“Oh.” Bilbo looked around and quickly gathered his wits. “I just want a quick wash.” He quickly put on a bathing robe that Ally hung on a hook on every tenant door and washed daily. Hobbits did not like to chance their clean clothing getting wet, and were notoriously prudish.

Come back to bed. It is cold. Fili muttered, but was quite distracted by Ally now.

“No. No, I just need to wash up.” Bilbo closed the door before seeing more than he had to.

The bathing room was small, but the metal tub would be nicely sized for even a dwarf. Stepping in, he ignored the boiler and pumped the spring water directly into the bathtub. The water was frigid, for Bree was in the North, and warm springs were much farther south, especially this time of year. There was still frost on the ground outside this night. After a quick, but thorough, scrubbing with soap and rag, he rinsed himself and the tub before sitting down and filling it half full.

This is lovely. Bilbo lay down, only his nose barely above the water. The cold water efficiently cooled the temper that tried to physically burn within him.

Ah, to be pain-free. The hobbit had forgotten how it felt to just not have the underlying aches that were always there in the Shire. The silence was also bliss; water was one of the few things that helped to isolate him from luck and the pressing bonds of the others. Bilbo did not resent them, nor his bond with Fili. It was just a very overwhelming time. A break from the echoes of feelings and thoughts was appreciated, if only for a short time. It allowed more time to contemplate and mull over all that had happened so quickly.

Ithildim? A confused, yet dearly missed voice touched his soul from far, far away. Oh! Bilbo had never let himself reach out due to fear of hurting her. Now he had unconsciously reached for what had been denied for too long.

"Moonlight drowns out all but the brightest stars*, my little Moonbeam. Always remember this. Always." The words from so long ago echoed in Bilbo's head as if they had just been spoken.

Shoma. Bilbo sent reassurances, and regrets.

I understand, my little Ithildim. Balin told me of your bonds, of how you wept at our separation.

It has come to pass as I foresaw, Shoma. I have tried, but Fate fights me at each attempt to help you.

I told you long ago to just speak honest words to me, Ithildim, and you have. I understand.

I do not. I have these gifts…

You are not a Vala, nor even an immortal. You are still young, very young, though the years seemed to have passed long and lonely. You cannot understand futility yet.

Bilbo did not answer; it was an old argument. He would always be a child to her until he took up his promised position by her side. He shook his head despite her wisdom. He also knew that the years that she did not hear from him meant years in which his vision did not come to pass. This was a bittersweet reunion. He could feel her heartache, and her determined resolution.

You must continue on this Quest, Ithildim. Do not let your foresight keep you from making your own choices. Follow your own advice for once. You also need to warm up. Do not tell me that you are submerged again. Of all the daft things that Rivendell taught you.

Bilbo was just as upset as Driscoll when surprise wrenched him from his connection. The dwarf’s face well communicated his own shock and disgust as he grabbed Bilbo by the torso and heaved him out of the tub. Bilbo’s teeth chattered as signed curses were intermixed with angry tongue clicking. A good toweling off barely helped his unresponsive limbs.

All I wanted was a good, hot soak, but no. Hobbits need to be babysat all day and all night long. I do NOT get paid nearly enough for the headaches that I endure. Driscoll's Iglishmêk was now more full of references to a young child than curses. At the moment, Bilbo could see his point.

----

“Bilbo, have you seen…Hi, Ally. Have you seen Fili? I somehow ended up in a room down the hall, but my brother is missing.” Kili forgot to knock when he barged in, as usual. Fili groaned as all desire left him.

“Sorry about the interruption there, Ally. It is just that Fili has never taken off.” Kili was beet red and had turned his back.

“What do you need, Kili? We do not leave until noon.” Fili had never meant to keep this night a secret. Kili was even now starting to feel hurt that his own brother had not told him his plans. Fili would not hurt him more by having him find out with the others later. It had always been instilled in him not to create public scenes, and Kili could be highly emotional.

Kili looked shocked as he followed Fili’s naked torso down to his lower half somewhat covered by the blankets.

I found this half drowned in ice water. Driscoll ended any outburst as he carried a shivering hobbit in and dumped him among the blankets. Ally took this moment to slip out of bed covered in a robe of her own.

“I will get started on an early breakfast. We can talk then. Kili, please help Driscoll back to bed.” She disappeared before Kili could do more than turn, his eyes following her out the door.

“Fili.” Kili hissed in anger, but Driscoll had a firm grip on him, clearly dizzy from his concussion.

“At breakfast.” Fili was feeling overwhelmed himself. His natural habit was to go to his brother and make everything right. Instead, a mental push sent Kili on his way.

“Bilbo, you are frozen.” Fili tried to dry his hair with a sopping wet towel.

“Go to him.” It was all that Bilbo’s chattering teeth would allow. He was so cold! Fili was so warm! For the first time in years, someone was doting on him, someone cared about him. Bilbo was feeling a true luck bond for the first time, and the last. He would not ruin the brothers’ relationship, would not be a part of recreating in Fili the sadness that he felt over Brosi.

“I should not. I can call Kili back, have him help me tend you” Fili knew that his deeper bond with Bilbo was fragile. Kili’s bond was pushing in on it, suffocating the connection, the luck wearer was that powerful.

“I know what to do. I just need to wait for a time.” Bilbo knew that the dangers of cold water immersion did not always involve hypothermia, which he was hardly in danger of getting. He needed to rest until his body had recovered; moving around too soon could cause him to collapse.** “This body has survived my care for sixty odd years; go to Kili.”

Fili grabbed his clothes. “Kili is my brother, Bilbo.” His voice was full of regret.

“I know.”

----

When Bilbo managed to dress in a simple shirt and hobbit trousers he joined the other hobbits going into the kitchen for first breakfast. A few stared at him, with his far from standard long hair drawn back with a clip, but he kept to himself and the meal finished quickly. After all of the tenants left for their busy little lives, which Bilbo envied for the first time, Gaura sat next to him.

“I have not seen Glif. Fauns are rather flighty.” She seemed somewhat disappointed at the lack of unique company.

“Glif hardly knows what ten years is. He is 100, maybe 200 years from growing out of the flighty youth stage.” Bilbo merely shrugged. “Glif probably found a fairy gate having great fun flitting about Arda trying to get home. He will be popular with all of his true, and dreamed up, stories. Maybe the fauns will be content with that and not bother the Shire for decade or two.”

“Possibly.” Gaura knew that Bilbo was fond of the troublemaker. It made more news even harder to break. “Fili and Kili left. I think they made up, but their uncle called them back to the North Inn.”

“I feel terrible, Bilbo.” Ally tried to squeeze his shoulder in between clearing the dishes. No truly bonded dwarf would leave his luck hobbit.

“Do not feel bad.” Bilbo forced a smile; he was long used to being abandoned. “No good comes to a disgrace.”

“You are not a disgrace, and you had that bond long enough to recognize it.” Gaura was never one for letting others fool themselves, despite how she covered her own lifestyle in half-truths.

“No one wants a disgrace.” Bilbo shook his head. He looked over at his saddlebags that Fili had abandoned by the door. How could one day change so many circumstances? Bilbo would never understand why years of toil and sadness were long and unchanging, but a few hours of something potentially good turned his world upside down.

“We could marry. You could take over Auntie’s business, or we could start that flower shop.” Ally beamed with her bright idea. “Or we could move to Bag End and start whatever business you like in the Shire. It will not be hard to have the elves make new bands for you.”

“This place is your home, your paradise.” Bilbo could be happy here with Ally, yes. He could not be content to submit to bracelets again. There was no longer a reason in his life to agree to have them. Ally was a wonderful woman, but she was not enough of a reason to submit to a lifetime of pain. Without the bands, others would try to steal and enslave him for their own greed.

“A marriage could work. The Shire is your home, Bilbo.” Ally was now in tears. Why could he not stay? She had foresight; their children would easily inherit such a gift. Why would a hobbit choose a suicidal quest with dwarves that used and abandoned him on a whim over her?

“Bilbo is not just a hobbit, my dear.” Gaura held her great-niece as she sobbed.

Bilbo was at a loss, but tried to hold her but she shook him off and managed to stand and wipe her tears. "Go get ready for your journey, Bilbo. I will make you some travel cakes. Perhaps you can win your luck wearer back through his stomach.

----

Brosi woke to a room softly highlighted by false dawn and the fire that Bofur was stirring up. He looked off to Oin snoring in a chair and Thorin tossing about restlessly in the other bed. Had the night been a dream?

“Adad?” Brosi’s call had Bofur at his side in a rush.

“How are you, son?” Bofur carded fingers through his sweaty hair.

“Better than in a long time.” Brosi was slightly confused by the doting attention, especially since Bofur seemed quite agitated, even frightened.

“What is Bilbo doing? Is Fili with him?”

“He is tired to the core, having spent the night with a hobbit lass. He is cold, very cold. Someone has bundled him up, but he is alone and expects no one to come back.” Brosi could feel an odd sense of hopelessness, but Bilbo was his usual calm self.

“I want you to break his bond with the group.” Bofur was definitely afraid.

“That would break our luck loop's cohesion to the core.” Brosi grimaced.

“Can you do it? Can you do it without Bilbo’s knowledge?”

“Right now I could have him eat mud or drop dead, he is so tired and disoriented. As to breaking a bond, such a thing is a necessary lesson in  Gondor’s training program. Luck pairs are never long term for them. Why?”

“Bilbo has been freed of his bracelets. For your own safety, do as I ask.”

“This is not necessary and will have grave consequences for the entire Company.”

“Be my son and do as I say. I know what needs to be done.” Bofur’s voice was rising loud enough to wake Thorin.

“No, Adad. Such a drastic measure is not needed. If it were, my own foresight would know.” For the first time, Brosi wanted to get away from his father. Bofur was acting on fear, not logic. "If what you say is true, then Bilbo has been through significant trauma. He needs your support, Adad. Love him as Balin does. Did you know that everything Bilbo does is to please you?"

Bofur sat back, too shocked to speak at this last speech and his youngest son's sudden defiance and support of his brother.

Brosi was near tears, shaking his head. "I know that Bilbo fought you to keep me in the Shire. Whether it was the right decision or not is no longer relevant. The thing that matters is that Bilbo did what he thought was best for me. I tricked Bilbo into coming, Adad, doing what I believed and still believe is what is best for him."

Bofur stared hard for a moment at his now visibly shaking son. "You are a corker, Brosi."

"I think that it is time for you to find your own bed and get a few hours of proper rest." Oin's firm grip on Bofur's shoulder brooked no arguement. Eyes still glowing midnight blue from the firelight watched them leave.

----