Thorin’s bellow echoes to the valley below as he scrambles across the treacherous ice to where the burglar had fallen suddenly, inexplicably. He slips and ends up sliding the last few paces, almost overshooting and falling over the edge of the falls. Impatiently, Thorin rolls, the ice continuing to disgrace his movements and make him flail like a newborn, but he manages to get his legs beneath him, and looks down on the Hobbit’s form.
Small, is the first thing he notes. Bilbo had always, compared to the sturdy Dwarves in the Company, been slender; his body seemed to favor curved and fitted to the Dwarves’ blocky bulk. Yet now, though he is layered in more clothes than he has ever been, he seems even smaller – a child that had wandered onto the battlefield, and Thorin’s heart clenches, his throat closing with the guilt of bringing such a gentle soul into such a dark place. Bilbo should never have stepped foot out of the Shire, and much less into a fight that was not his.
The next thing Thorin sees turns his heart to ice. Bilbo’s left hand is resting on his abdomen, and a dark, russet-colored liquid stains his fingers. There is too much, too much to be a scratch or a transfer from some other unfortunate soul. Thorin’s hand moves to hover over Bilbo’s, disbelief freezing him in place.
It is little more than a pained grunt with an almost-silent whimper that follows, but Thorin’s head snaps to meet the Hobbit’s face. And there, he can see many things – pain, yes, but more heartbreaking is the fear lurking in the depth of his eyes. Afraid to die.
“Bilbo…” Thorin tries to say something, but a thousand thoughts in his head jostle for position, and he finds himself tongue-tied.
At the first sign of Bilbo’s trembling, Thorin quickly grasps his hand in both of his own, completely engulfing the tiny, fragile fingers. “Where is the mithril, Bilbo?” he asks desperately. Maybe it’s a fluke, a trick of the eyes – maybe some other unfortunate soul’s blood now covers Bilbo’s clothes. Not Bilbo, he thinks selfishly. Anyone but Bilbo.
Bilbo coughs, his face contorting in pain, and Thorin’s heart twists as if Azog’s blade had pierced him rather than the Hobbit beneath him. “I gave it to Fili…told him he needed it more than me,” Bilbo coughs, but Thorin thinks that he might be chuckling. “He wouldn’t take it at first…but I told him…he could give it back after the battle…that he needed it more than I did.”
Bilbo smiles at some memory, his head rolling and his eyes looking to the sky. “It almost didn’t fit him – he had to take off everything except his undergarments, and it was still tight.”
“He had armor,” Thorin grits out angrily. How dare he? How dare Bilbo risk his own life, give away a gift meant only for him, to…to save your sister-son, a tiny voice in the back of his head says, sounding suspiciously like Bilbo.
“And you saw…how easily it was pierced.” Bilbo coughs again. “I think…Azog only ran through his outer garments. He fell, Thorin, but…I think he’s…still alive. I know it.”
Thorin bows his head, clenching his teeth as he realizes the truth of Bilbo’s words. Warm wetness begins to leak from his eyes, the knowledge that Bilbo had risked everything to save not one, but two members of Durin’s line causing a deep sense of shame to settle in his heart.
He looks back up, only to see that Bilbo’s eyes stare fixedly on the sky. “No,” Thorin growls, shaking Bilbo vigorously. “No, Bilbo, look at me. Look at me.”
Bilbo’s eyes turn back to Thorin’s, his head weakly dipping to face the Dwarf properly.
“You’re going to live,” Thorin insists, covering Bilbo’s bloodied hand and pressing against the wound in his abdomen. Bilbo cries out in pain, but Thorin ignores it, pressing, pressing, “just hold on, Bilbo, please.”
“Thorin,” Bilbo begs, and Thorin cannot ignore the plea. He looks at him, knowing how he must appear, knowing how desperate he must seem.
A hand, chilled and chapped by the winter air, and thin, oh so thin, covers Thorin’s hands where they had stilled on Bilbo’s body. A gentle smile that looks more like a grimace crosses his face as he looks up at Thorin, skin too pale beneath the dirt and blood. He was once so bright and golden, Thorin thinks. And now he’s so bleak and cold, and it’s my fault, my fault, my fault.
“Gandalf told me I might not come back from this. I knew, Thorin. I knew I might not make it home, and I came anyway. And I’m alright with that. With this.” He pats Thorin’s hands, and the Dwarf wants to shout, but you’re NOT! You’re not, I can see it in your eyes, and indeed, the fear still lurks beneath the surface of Bilbo’s gaze, and the knowledge that the Halfling is lying for his sake only cuts more deeply.
“I am sorry,” Thorin chokes out, holding Bilbo’s hand in a death grip, refusing to believe, to accept what is happening. “I am sorry to have dragged you into such perils—” but Bilbo is shaking his head.
“No, Thorin, I am glad to have shared in your perils. That is more than any Baggins deserves.”
Thorin bows his head but looks up quickly, frightened of turning away only to find Bilbo…
“Thank you,” he whispers, “for what you did at the gate. I should not have done, nor said, what I did – you only acted as a true friend would. Melekh-bah,” he whispers the words, leaning closer and resting his forehead against Bilbo’s. A shaky hand reaches up and lands against the side of his head.
“Farewell, Thorin Oakenshield. My adventure ends here. Rebuild the halls of your fathers, and when you look upon your home, do it for both of us.”
Thorin raises his head ever so slightly, looking into his burglar’s eyes. Lacking the strength to hold it up, Bilbo’s hand falls, and Thorin catches it and cradles it against his chest.
“Thorin,” Bilbo whispers, and Thorin’s fingers tighten. “Be a good king. For me. For all of us.”
Bilbo does not move, then, but not a second later, Thorin hears the great cry of a bird. His head turns up, hand still holding Bilbo’s to his chest, and sees the large Eagles of Manwe soaring above. A smile breaks out on his face.
“Bilbo, look! The Eagles are coming,” he cries out, joyous. Perhaps it is not the end after all.
When Bilbo does not respond, he turns his head back—
Bilbo is still, unmoving, his eyes as clear and lifeless as glass. “No, Bilbo, no,” Thorin whispers, releasing Bilbo’s hand and pressing against the Hobbit’s chest, his shoulder, his stomach – his hands wander with a will of their own, searching for some sign of life. “Bilbo, please, look. The Eagles, the Eagles are here. They will help you. Bilbo, the Eagles…”
He presses his hand to his mouth, undoubtedly smearing it with blood. He looks wildly about, as if the icy landscape around him will tell him how to fix this; but nothing comes.
“AMRÂDEL,” he roars in sorrow; a shout that can be heard from the battlefield below. His hand reaches for Bilbo’s letter opener, dropped by the Hobbit as he had fallen, and marches across the ice to the lifeless form of Azog. Anger and grief cloud his vision. He falls next to the Pale Orc, plunging the blade into the motionless chest. Again and again he stabs the corpse, watching as gaping hole after gaping hole appears in the white flesh, feeling tears stream down his face and his throat go hoarse – he must be shouting, but the world is muted, and only the sound of sword piercing flesh registers. He turns his attention to Azog’s arm, hacking at the bicep, desperate to remove the fatal limb still stained with Bilbo’s blood. I should have ended it at Azanulbizar. I should have never let it come to this, he thinks.
His movements grow clumsy, the sword, despite its eternal sharpness, becoming useless in his shaking hands. He stabs without thought, the images in his head of Bilbo, of him running after them that fateful spring morning, of him arguing with trolls, dangling off a cliff face, with Erebor at his back on the Carrock, in Beorn’s gardens, in—
“THORIN,” the voice finally cuts through. He is being dragged away, forcibly, the Elvish blade in his hand easily taken by someone’s fingers. He looks up to see Dwalin dragging him from Azog’s corpse – what remains of it. Kili is following, and Fili holds Sting in his hand.
Dwalin lets go of him after walking a few feet and Thorin drops limply. “I couldn’t save him, Dwalin, I couldn’t—” he looks up at his friend, and he sees Dwalin’s brow crinkle with confusion.
“Bilbo!” Kili shouts, suddenly running over to the motionless form. Dwalin’s head whips around, and then he is striding quickly and kneeling, and Thorin is left alone to watch as realization dawns on their faces.
Kili looks up at him, and he is innocent, so innocent, his big, pleading eyes asking Thorin to explain, to admit that Bilbo is not dead, that it is all some cruel joke.
A hand falls on his shoulder. Thorin turns his head to catch a glimpse of golden hair.
“I shouldn’t have taken the shirt. I should have…” Fili trails off, his low whisper full of self-loathing. Thorin clasps the hand on his shoulder tightly.
“Then you would be dead,” he forces out, voice cracking. “And as it was Bilbo’s, it was his to give to whom he chose. Regretting that now will only dishonor hi—his memory.”
He does not say anything else, nor does he look at the members of the Company as, one by one, they climb Ravenhill, rejoice at the death of Azog, and then witness its terrible price. And then Gandalf comes, and removes his hat as he kneels by the Hobbit’s form, bowing his head and murmuring words that Thorin cannot hear. Tears trail down the Wizard’s weathered cheeks, his face older and wearier than Thorin has ever seen; and the fourteen remaining companions of the Quest for Erebor sit in silent vigil as the day fades to dusk.
“Uncle, I cannot—”
“Fili,” Thorin says, begs. He clasps his nephew’s shoulder, meeting the terrified gaze of the soon-to-be King Under the Mountain. “From the moment you were born, you were destined to be a better king than I ever could.” Fili opens his mouth to argue, but Thorin continues speaking. “I have led our people for many years. The throne of Erebor does not need an old man, past his prime and too set in his warrior ways. I am old, Fili. I have seen too much, and I have made too many mistakes, and too many times those mistakes have cost many good people their lives. If I am to make any more, I do not wish to take more people down with me.”
“If this is about Bilbo…”
Thorin flinches at the Hobbit’s name. Normally, Fili would know better than to mention their burglar, but panic, Thorin reasons, must be clouding his judgment.
“Bilbo gave you a chance, Fili.” Thorin says, turning the words back on his sister’s son. “Please don’t waste it.” Grief contorts Fili’s features, and Thorin thinks that, given the guilt his heir has over their burglar’s death, he may have been too cruel. He also knows that Fili will not argue.
His nephew looks at his boots, seemingly warring with some internal decision. “Will you stay for the coronation?” he finally asks.
Thorin reaches for Fili’s neck and rests their foreheads together. “Of course I will.”
Thorin does not want the company of the Wizard, however useful he may be. A part of the ex-prince blames Gandalf for dragging Bilbo into the adventure – and rightly so – but more overpowering than resentment is Thorin’s exhaustion.
For all his life, he has constantly been watched in the public eye, has constantly kept his image as that of a leader. Now that he is free from that burden, he knows that, more than anything, he wants to be alone. He wants to think about the quest, about Bilbo, without interruption; wants to know that his facial expression will not be minutely dissected; wants Gandalf’s calculating, all-too-knowing gaze to stop resting on him as they travel.
The Wizard thankfully leaves him at the borders of the Shire. Thorin passes through as quickly as possible, avoiding eye contact with any Hobbit he comes across. They all look like him – curly hair, big, bare feet, slightly chubby and all around small; and yet at the same time, they look nothing like him. Thorin hears how they squabble over squash and gossip in the market, he sees them prance and smoke and drink and shy away from him as he draws near. There is none of Bilbo’s courage in their faces when they look at him, none of his determination, nor even the passive-aggressive snark that Thorin had first faced when greeting the owner of Bag End. I do have some skill and conkers, if you must know. Gandalf had once promised Thorin that no other person would do, and Thorin wonders if, even among his own people, Bilbo is – had been – a singularly unique Hobbit.
He does see, at one point, a commotion upon a hill. It looks vaguely familiar, and Thorin wonders if it is, in fact, the Bag End. Curious, he turns his pony towards the hill – and yes, there is the mark that Gandalf left upon the door.
He dismounts and ties his pony to the fence, walking up the hill and passing numerous Hobbits that are carrying possessions from Bilbo’s front lawn. An auctioneer of sorts seems to be calling out numbers and assigning value, and Thorin seethes as he sees Bilbo’s armchair begin dragged away. He passes by a woman in a garish yellow-green dress and hat, the chattering around him falling silent as the Hobbits take in the sight of a Dwarf in their midst.
“What,” he growls lowly, “is going on here?”
A moment of silence. Then, “well, as the sign says, Master Dwarf, this is an auction for Mr. Bilbo’s personal effects.” The auctioneer is the speaker, and Thorin directs his icy gaze at him.
“You have no right,” he growls.
This starts a tizzy, all the Hobbits muttering to each other and looking at him. The auctioneer frowns.
“Do you mean to tell me that Bilbo Baggins is not deceased?”
Thorin freezes, swallowing. Farewell, Thorin Oakenshield. The Hobbits around him await his answer, watching him eagerly.
“And what,” he says lowly, anger moving him to speak, “does that have to do with anything?”
“Well, Master Dwarf, you see, in Hobbit culture (if there is no will, of course), once a person disappears for more than a year, they’re presumed dead and their household items sold to the highest bidder.” The auctioneer looks at him with no regret or shame for his actions, and Thorin feels his heart boil with rage. How dare they? How dare they take what is not theirs? How dare they descend like carrion crows after a battle, picking Bilbo’s home apart like flesh from a corpse? Is nothing sacred to these vultures?
It’s not very respectable, adventuring, Bilbo had once told him. They’ll probably disown me, once I get home.
“So…is Mister Bilbo dead?” the auctioneer asks hesitantly, no doubt seeing the storm brewing across Thorin’s features.
Thorin thinks quickly. Bilbo would not be alright with any of this, Thorin knows, but he only has one pony and a little gold – he cannot carry all of Bilbo’s possessions with him. And what would you do with them? He asks himself. Create a Hobbit hole in Ered Luin?
“How much for the books?”
The auctioneer stares at him in confusion. “Um, well the books aren’t actually for sale, you see, and especially not for…ah…the likes of you, no offense, Mr. Dwarf. They’ll be going to the Thain’s house.”
Thorin holds the auctioneer’s gaze for several seconds before moving to the scratched round green door. Just as his hand turns the brass knob and pushes the door open an inch, the auctioneer’s mousy voice comes from behind him.
“Ah, pardon me, Master Dwarf, but you’re not allowed in there.”
Thorin releases the handle and faces the crowd, directing his gaze at the man selling Bilbo’s possessions. He stands tall and raises his head, taking on the stance of the prince he used to be.
“I hired Master Baggins as a companion in my Company. He gave his life in service to me and my kin. So I will do what I wish, Master Hobbit, and I suggest you not interfere.”
Without another word, he turns and pushes the door the rest of the way open.
Bilbo’s home is empty, save for a few papers scattered across the floor and the dust that lingers in the air. His own kin have stripped the house bare, removing whatever they deemed valuable; the very thought makes Thorin’s stomach churn.
He wanders through the house, looking through the various rooms, trying to recreate the picture in his mind from a night many months ago. When he comes to the fireplace, he sees a portrait of a woman that must have fallen to the ground. He picks it up, realizing that he now looks upon Bilbo’s mother. Another portrait hangs above the mantle – Bilbo’s father, no doubt – and Thorin smiles gently. A small part of him tells him he should leave the frames where they belong, but he knows that they will probably be lost to neglect if they remain. He removes his knapsack and places them gently in his bundled blanket, knowing they will be protected from harm.
He then moves to the study, and stares at the rows upon rows of books lining the shelves. Eying their titles, he selects a few that will fit in his bag – The History of the Shire, The Language of Flowers, and How to Grow the Best Tomatoes (and Other Plants of the Garden Variety). This last has a handwritten note to Bilbo from someone named Gamgee – a seemingly close friend, judging by the tone of the message.
As he exits Bag End, he discretely presses a few gold coins into the auctioneer’s hands, telling him to package the rest of the books and send them to Thorin at the Green Dragon. He adds a subtle threat and a glare at the end of his request, and the shrew of a man nods fervently and pockets the coins.
Thorin leaves the next day, his sturdy pony laden with Bilbo’s books. The remainder of his trip is uneventful, the days of its passing only notable by the reading he does by the fire before he sleeps. These books had been important to Bilbo, and Thorin is determined to understand the Hobbit’s way of life as much as he can.
When he tells Dis that he failed, her hand covers her mouth, and tears fill her eyes. He quickly grasps her hands, assuring her that Erebor is reclaimed and her sister-sons, as King and Crown Prince, are doing well. Something in his face must keep her from hitting him, as she usually would, and he moves slowly to his room in their small home, exhaustion and sorrow making him feel far older than he is.
“Thorin,” Dis’ soft voice follows him. “How did you fail?”
He stops in the middle of the room but does not turn, seeing a small body barrel into that of a pale Orc. His head bows lower, a tear escaping his eyes to trail to the tip of his nose and hit the floor. “A dear friend gave his life for mine.”
He ignores her following words and shuts the door to his room with a heavy thud. Gently, he takes his pack and sets it on the floor (the other bags remain in the stables for now), and sits on the threadbare cot. Burying his face in his hands, he finally allows his grief to consume him.
For many weeks, Thorin does not speak beyond the occasional “yes” or “no”, directed at Dis and usually in response to basic questions – “are you hungry” (not usually), “did you sleep well” (never), “is there anything I can do to help” (if only).
He does clarify, at some point in this time frame, that neither Dwalin nor Balin – both very dear friends of his – had died. He vaguely registers that she has sent and received letters, learning from the others the exact reason behind his ghost-like existence.
He does get better, if one can call it that. He starts by putting more than two words together, then two sentences. He tells Dis the little things, the moments in their journey that stick out in his mind. Sometimes he believes he is talking to himself, but then she appears on the edge of his vision, listening but never speaking. He is not sure it helps, and it certainly feels worse whenever he wakes from a nightmare, images of the Hobbit tackling Azog just as his blade is about to plunge through Thorin’s chest, Bilbo’s name on his lips. He probably wakes Dis up more often than not, but she never comes in, and he is grateful. This is something he needs to face alone.
Six months after his return, and he speaks with Dis on a regular basis. The nightmares still come, but happen perhaps twice a month rather than every other night. He can smile, sometimes, if his sister makes enough effort. He feels bad in a way – knows that she is trying everything she can think of to make him feel better, knows that she is frustrated that she cannot understand.
He finds himself reading often, slowly making his way through Bilbo’s novels. Some are of legends, stories that he used to hear from his mother before bed. The History of the Shire is more fascinating than Thorin had originally thought; he had not known that Hobbits used to wander, nor had he known that one – Bilbo’s great-great uncle, if the genealogy books are trustworthy – killed a Goblin King. Perhaps, Thorin thinks, all Hobbits possess in them a capacity for fierceness in the right circumstances.
The Language of Flowers is more difficult, but Thorin makes it easier by replacing jewel meanings with those of plants. He can understand, in a land as vibrant and fertile as the shire, how the delicate creations of nature might interest a child of sunlight more than the stones beneath their feet.
A year after his return, he has read enough of Master Gamgee’s book to have a basic understanding of gardening; enough that he feels confident in pulling a particular acorn out of his breast pocket and planting it in the largest patch of decent soil he can find.
He stands at the sapling one fine summer day, checking the earth for moisture and enjoying (probably too much) the feeling of dirt beneath his hands. He can imagine Bilbo telling him, you’re becoming a Hobbit, and then laughing as he blows a smoke ring and watches it float away.
The memory of Bilbo still aches, but it is like the pressing a bruise rather than the stabbing of a knife he used to feel. He takes this as a good sign.
“There are not many Dwarves that would prefer to bask in the sunlight than disappear underground,” Dis’ voice says from behind him.
“Master Baggins always enjoyed sunlight. He longed for the summer months when they passed. I recall him even telling me that it is good for one’s health.”
Dis comes up to stand beside him, looking at the sapling. She shakes her head. “A Dwarf with a green thumb. Will wonders never cease?”
Thorin does not reply, and he feels his sister’s gaze turn to him. “Is this how you will spend the rest of your life, Thorin? Watching things grow?”
Thorin tenses infinitesimally. “How else would I spend it?”
“You were born a prince, Thorin,” Dis reminds him gently.
“And I was King, for a few days. You know how that ended.”
Dis remains silent for a few seconds, before speaking again. “This Master Baggins gave his life so you could live. Don’t you think you should honor that?”
Thorin closes his eyes, recognizing the familiar ache. “Master Baggins wanted his books, his armchair, and his garden. He wanted to stay home and enjoy peace and contentment, yet something made him pack up and run after us. Some part of him, somehow, understood the pain of losing a home, and it is my responsibility to honor the part of him that wanted to return. At any rate, Fili is King, and he is doing well, judging by your letters.”
“Then lead the Dwarves here.”
“They are doing fine on their own, they do not need my help.”
“And should we be attacked? They need a leader, Thorin.”
“Then you will lead them. I know you can.” Dis tries to interrupt, but Thorin presses on. “I tried being King, Dis. I tried being a leader. Always it was Erebor that drove me forward, and once I had it, I lost myself. And now you ask that I oversee our settlement here? I do not know how to rule in times of peace. I never have, and it is far too late to learn.”
Again, Dis is silent.
“Will I never see my sons again?”
Thorin looks at her, startled.
“You may not wish to see Erebor again, Thorin, but I do. I want to see my sons, and I cannot do that if I am burdened with the responsibility of these halls.”
Thorin slumps his shoulders and looks again at the sapling.
“I cannot lead these people, Dis. If I ever knew how, I have forgotten. Please do not ask again.”
Dis opens her mouth to speak, but instead turns away and leaves him. He balls his fists, shaking. He had told her no lie, but he is angry – angry with himself for being weak, the shadow of the man he had once been. A small part of his anger is directed at Bilbo, for leaving him with this guilt, but it quickly disappears and he is left feeling even more ashamed than before.
He turns away from the small oak and walks briskly, his feet carrying him down a path he has not travelled in more than two years. The forge is, thankfully, empty, the tools lined up carefully against the wall, the iron stacked in the corner, the forges already filled with coal for the next user.
Thorin quickly loses himself in the working of the bellows, in the shaping of the iron between the hammer and the anvil. His first instinct had been to beat the metal until he could no longer move, but now it takes on a shape of its own, curling delicately in a way that no Dwarven craft does. When he has a crudely finished product, he surprised himself by adding details until he has a fairly life-like, life-sized creation.
A hyacinth: sorrow, please forgive me, I am sorry.
He stares at the iron flower for a long time, lost in thought. Then he gently pockets it, cleans up his work area, and walks home.
His smithing becomes a daily occurrence, much to Dis’ delight. She does not see what he creates, but he knows she is glad that he has taken up one of his favorite pastimes.
His bouquet grows into several: hyacinths and roses and carnations and zinnias, all with varied meanings (and some even depending on color – a tea rose for remembrance, a dark crimson one for mourning; a pink carnation – I’ll never forget you; a yellow zinnia – daily remembrance). His work is almost fervent, as if he is racing against time towards some unknown goal. He consults his book often, seeking new meanings as a garden of metal takes up residence in his room – garlic for courage and strength, iris for friendship, forget-me-nots for memories – until he cannot roll out of bed without accidentally stepping on one.
And then he plants them.
All around the oak, which is big enough to last the winter. Iron stakes welded onto the bottoms and driven into the semi-frozen ground. Some are crudely painted, some are only coated with a black substance that protects them from rust. Then he steps back, and assesses his handiwork, and thinks that, come springtime, it would look even better with real flowers among the metal ones.
He continues smithing over the winter, crafting branches and leaves, becoming entirely devoted to the intricacies of plants, how random and yet orderly they seem at the same time. And when spring comes around, he is often in the garden, hands buried in the soil as he takes seeds and bulbs bought from the Shire and, with the help of Master Gamgee’s guidebook, plants them.
Dwalin comes during the spring, claiming that his old bones make him unsuitable for being an active member of Erebor’s Guard. After a pint of ale in the local tavern, Dwalin admits quietly to Thorin that he is far too tired to keep fighting, “especially without my king".
Thorin glances at him sharply, but Dwalin seems to have nothing more to say. Selfishly, Thorin is glad that Dwalin had decided to come; perhaps bearing Bilbo’s memory will not be so hard now that he is not alone.
Dis leaves for Erebor a month afterward, with Dwalin’s promise that he will oversee the settlement in Ered Luin. He says nothing to Thorin, but his eyes seem to hold far more wisdom than Thorin remembers him having. Thorin, in turn, is immensely grateful, and turns to another project.
The years pass; the garden flourishes. Sometimes Dwalin joins him on one of the many benches that Thorin builds, watching as his ex-king digs into the dirt and making derogatory comments. They are closer than ever, sharing the memories of the quest and the Company. They receive letters frequently from the other members, and have a surprise visit from Balin, who announces his intention to reclaim Khazad-Dum. He, too, admires the garden, and offers a comment of his own – perhaps, he suggests, a place for birds to bathe? Or a pond for fish to swim in?
Thorin and Dwalin engage the help of a few willing Dwarves and create a small pond and several bird baths. They expand the garden beyond flowers just for Bilbo, including as many colorful species as can withstand the winter weather. Most of the garden is available to everyone, and some curious Dwarves will wander in occasionally; children will use the bushes, both metallic and organic, to play games; older Dwarves will smoke their pipes and bask in the sun. It is still regarded as an oddity, but has become a widely accepted, and even an appreciated, one.
One area, at the very center of the garden, is for Thorin – and Dwalin, when times permits – only.
The oak now stands strong and proud, bearing scars from many storms. The ground is littered with acorns, some of which are sent to Erebor to decorate the slowly-recovering landscape. Beneath it sits an iron figure, the result of more than a decade of careful forging and crafting. Its legs are crossed at the calf; bared, furry feet stretched out comfortably along the ground. Large, leaf-shaped ears hold wild wind-ruffled curls in check. One hand holds an intricately carved (yet still perfectly Hobbitish) iron pipe to the figure’s mouth, while the other holds the pages of its book open on its lap.
Thorin had painted the statue’s trousers brown, and had given it a green vest and crimson jacket, but could not bring himself to paint any other part. Instead, the Hobbit’s – Bilbo’s – skin and hair are covered in that protective black coating, as well as the book and pipe.
As he gets older, Thorin spends less time in the dirt and more time leaning against the tree – usually on the opposite side of the statue. He reads, or naps, or talks to the motionless figure, describing Erebor as it is told to him, or how he remembers it from his youth. He expresses the peace of residing in Ered Luin, and thanks the statue (thanks Bilbo), for showing him the comforts of home.
He talks about his grief, sometimes; how he will still, on occasion, wake up covered in sweat, Bilbo’s last words still whispering in his ears. Sometimes he expresses a desire to see the Mountain again, or perhaps visit Balin in Moria.
He is not so old that death should have claimed him long ago; his hair has not yet become completely silver. Yet he can feel it in his marrow, the exhaustion that had never truly faded when he had returned; a tiredness of the world and its struggles. He is content, here, and there is not much more for him, so he shows the young ones how to tend to the garden, and he cleans out the bird baths when he can, and he reads to the statue under the tree as his final journey draws near.
There is one flower in that vast book that he has yet to forge; but finally he does, and brings it to the statue. He rests it in Bilbo’s lap, smiling to himself as bittersweet emotions wash over him. Not long now.
A cyclamen: goodbye.
When Thorin does not turn up for dinner, Dwalin goes to the garden, expecting to find his friend once again caught in the webs of a nap beneath the seasoned oak tree. But Thorin does not react to his touch, and no breath leaves him. Dwalin bows his head and carries his friend home.
He sends word to Erebor, informing the King, Crown Prince, Queen Mother, and the remaining members of the Company of Thorin Oakenshield. He also sends word to Balin, Ori, and Oin in Moria, though he receives no reply. Ignoring Dwarven tradition, Dwalin has Thorin buried in his garden, beneath the oak tree.
He also commissions the figure of a Dwarf, clothed in travel gear and a fur-lined cloak, seated and looking out upon the Dwarven settlement as it holds a pipe in its hand. Dwalin has the statue placed next to that of the Hobbit, and opens Thorin’s part of the garden to all.