The Road Home
Frodo Baggins was born a normal hobbit. The son of Drogo Baggins and Primula Baggins (nee Brandybuck), their only, much loved child. But he was never meant to stay a normal hobbit, even if no one knew that at first.
Bilbo had always been Frodo's favorite uncle (They were actually cousins, but due to the age difference, the two felt more comfortable treating their relationship as that of uncle-nephew). In fact, even before Frodo was born, Drogo had been Bilbo's favorite cousin. The only Baggins who did not ridicule or doubt him and the stories of his travels. The only hobbit who believed him completely, no matter what.
In fact, and while nothing was ever actually said out-loud, Bilbo was quite sure that Drogo at least suspected the true connection between his cousin and Thorin Oakenshield. It was in the way the younger cousin would look at the older whenever Bilbo said his goodbyes before leaving for several months, every year; and in the way Drogo's smile would quirk whenever Bilbo told all kind of stories about his time away, about his 'friend' Thorin.
Nothing was ever said openly though. It wasn't proper, among hobbits, for a hobbit to be in a relationship with another of the same gender. It would have been scandalous enough that his mate was a dwarf (he remembered the half-gossip, half-legends that were still told about the Took who had mated with an elf, and a handful Tooks and one Brandybuck who'd been known to marry tall-folk and move to Bree or other more distant realms); if one added to that the fact that Thorin was male... Bilbo would have been called much worse things than 'eccentric' and Mad Baggins. Which is why, as much as he hated the idea of hiding his marital status from everyone in the Shire; as much as he was not ashamed of his love for Thorin (and he dearly hoped his father would have understood... he was sure his mother certainly would have), he kept it a secret anyway. It was necessary.
Bilbo always knew that something was coming, something big, and he was meant to be a part of it. He knew not the details, nothing such had ever been revealed to him. All he and the others had to go on was the sole letter the Lady Eleana had left them with after presiding over his and Thorin's wedding ceremony, her blessing saving the dwarrow's life when he'd seemed to be beyond all hope. The later had revealed that Bilbo's Fate wasn't supposed to end with the Quest for Erebor, he was meant to do more, meant to be an important part in the formation of the one who would one day free Arda. It hadn't been hard for either of them to decide to make Bilbo's old Fate, their new Destiny; yet it hadn't been easy.
It was easy enough to realize that, had Thorin died in Ravenhill as had been originally predicted, Bilbo would have returned to the Shire. Which meant that the future savior of Middle-Earth would come from there (how else would the 'old Bilbo' have been a part of their life?). Which meant that, even free of Fate, Bilbo had to return to the Shire. Thorin couldn't follow him, he had to look after his kingdom, after those who'd believed in him, put their trust in him for so long; he couldn't let them down. So the pair split, much as they did not want to. Bilbo still traveled every year to Erebor, for the Winter season, spending from three to four months with his mate and the old company. While the others took turns visiting him in the Shire during Spring and Summer (the inhabitants of Hobbiton eventually grew used to having dwarves, elves and a few rangers dropping by once in a while. While Bilbo was famous enough for his work as 'Royal Burglar for Thorin's Company, and for being the Royal Consort of Erebor; his following trips had made him well acquainted with other fellow travelers, like some elves, dwarves and especially men, like the rangers of the north).
Then a year had come when a traveling ranger had warned Bilbo off his yearly trip across the Misty Mountains, as he'd heard that a landslide had blocked the mountain pass. Work had begun already to clear the way as soon as possible, but with winter fast approaching, it wouldn't be ready in time for it to be safe for Bilbo to attempt to cross. Thus the hobbit was forced to cancel his trip, instead just sending a letter to his mate with Rue (the young raven that acted as their personal messenger, one of few willing to fly all the way from the Lonely Mountain to the Shire relatively often).
The following year there was no block in the Misty Mountains, and yet Bilbo again had to cancel his trip, though for a very different reason: his favorite cousin, Drogo, and his wife Primula had just drowned. It wasn't odd for Brandybucks to like things related to water, like sailing (even if the rest of the hobbits considered them crazy for it). Some said it came from being descendants of the Stoorish Hobbits, who'd once lived in the banks of the Anduin and been known for building boats and fishing gear; though no one knew that for sure. Drogo loved his wife so much he could never tell her no, and so would go sailing with her (even when it was quite un-Baggins-like behavior... maybe a part of him saw it as a chance of being more like his favorite cousin).
It was a terrible accident (and it was an accident, no matter how much some of the crueler gossip-mongers in the Shire insisted on creating horrible stories about Drogo's weight sinking their boat, or Primula trying to kill her husband only to end up falling with him). However, as much as he grieved for the loss of his two cousins (Primula too had been related to him, the mothers of them both having been Took, and sisters too), Bilbo focused more on their twelve-year-old son, left an orphan after the tragic loss.
He loved Frodo, and how could he not? The fauntling was simply adorable (at times too much for his own good). One of the first facts of life Bilbo had acknowledged and accepted after falling in love with his dwarf was that he would never have children. It's not like he'd had that many prospects before, or any interest in settling down; but perhaps a corner of his mind had wondered once or twice about the possibility of marrying a nice lass and having children with her. It had never been a specific idea, or dream, all very vague even in his own mind. Bilbo would even say it was never the idea of having a wife even, but a family as a whole. Thorin and the Company had become that family by the end of their quest. Thorin loved Kili like a son, a love the younger dwarf returned just as strongly; and it wasn't hard at all for Bilbo to find his place there as well, right along with Kili's own mother, Thorin's sister Dís (which also meant Tauriel was daughter-in-law for them all).
And yet Kili was already grown, an adult (regardless how much of an effort he made sometimes to seem otherwise). Frodo, on the other hand, was a child, not even a tween yet. Bilbo loved children, loved the way they could be so happy, the way they gifted their smiles to everyone, with little care about limitations adults might put on themselves. He loved how the fauntlings never cared about his own oddities, eccentricities, they were always eager for another story of his adventures, loved hearing about the trolls who tried to eat the company only to end up turned to stone, the giant eagles who'd saved dwarves, hobbit and wizard from goblins and fire, about the man who turned into a bear, the elves, the men that lived over a lake; about the fight against orcs, and wargs, and a huge golden dragon...
Frodo in particular was a fierce believer of the stories (even before getting any actual proof). He knew all of his uncle Bilbo's stories by heart, and was sure there were some that his uncle had shared with no one else: like the seemingly endless competition between Nori and Dwalin to see how long it took the former warrior and head of the Royal Guard of Erebor, to catch the once-thief and spy-master in the act (nevermind that all Nori stole anymore were Dwalin's own trinkets and beard-beads, with the purpose of irking him... and to keep calling the older dwarf's attention); or Kili's reaction when his firstborn, his daughter, was first placed in his arms, all pale skin and the light of the stars in her eyes (she had taken more after her mother than her father, which only seemed to fascinate the prince under the mountain all the more); that Ori had fainted from sheer nervousness before he was to meet with his beloved's father to ask for her hand in marriage (considering the girl in question had been Tilda, and her father King Bard Blackarrow, the Dragon-Slayer and King of Dale, there probably was reason enough for him to have been nervous); or the way Thorin Oakenshield's eyes had filled with tears when his nephew and heir placed his second-born child (a Durin-blue eyed baby with a mop of light-auburn hair with the slightest hint of blonde) in the King's arms, explaining the baby's name was Fili, and would one day be his own heir...
Frodo knew his uncle Bilbo was special. He often visited Bag End, and had had the chance to be present sometimes when visitors came knocking (all but the dwarves, they never knocked, just letting themselves in, which should and would have been rude at any other hobbit's home, except there, for Bilbo didn't seem to mind at all). The fauntling had seen more than once the way the visitors looked at his uncle, the friendship, the respect... it was quite obvious for the child that his uncle was someone special, someone who'd done great things (regardless of what some hobbits, like Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, might think).
There were a lot of things that no one in the Shire knew. They didn't know that Bilbo Baggins was the Hero of Erebor and all of Rhovanion for his actions in relation to the dwarrows' quest, Smaug and the Battle of Five Armies; they didn't know that he was married to the King Under the Mountain, Thorin Oakenshield and hailed as Royal Consort by all the inhabitants of the Lonely Mountain; he had been named Elf-Friend by the inhabitants of both Mirkwood and Rivendell; and even the people from Bree and the Rangers knew of him and his travels and respected him. In a somewhat lesser scale (for all except the actual hobbits) they didn't know either just how close Bilbo had been to Frodo and his parents before the last two had passed. They didn't know how Bilbo would always have dinner with them the night before leaving for any journey, leaving with Drogo a signed letter that would make him owner of Bag-End should Bilbo ever not return; they did not know that Drogo, Primula and Frodo always had dinner with Bilbo the night after he returned, sharing in some of the exotic wares the older hobbit would buy outside the Shire; they didn't know that Frodo had learnt to read and write at his uncle's knee, the boy's calligraphy was better than that of many, and he was beginning to learn some basic elvish at his own insistence. But most importantly, no one but the Master of Buckland, his daughter (Primula's older sister) Amaranth and Bilbo himself knew that Drogo and Primula had signed a letter stating that should they die before their son reached his majority, he would be taken in by Bilbo.
It had been more than twenty years since Bilbo had given up on ever having a child he could truly count his own (Kili didn't really count); and then Drogo and Primula died unexpectedly and he was left with a boy who already looked so much up to him. Bilbo never told Frodo to call him Da', he would never try to take Drogo's place in the youngling's heart; but he could still feel it in his heart, the way it filled at the addition of the young one to his immediate family. He would never be happy his cousins had died; yet he would always be grateful for the chance to have Frodo, such a bright child, in his life.
And so, by the time Frodo's thirteen birthday (the beginning of his tween years) came along, the lad was about ready to move into Bag End. All paperwork had been done, all arrangements made, he would be Bilbo's nephew officially, as well as his heir (something that did not make Lobelia very happy, after so many years she'd been hopeful that upon Bilbo's eventual passing her family would finally get Bag-End). Only one thing needed to be done, before it was all finalized, though Frodo was not aware of it.
Frodo Baggins met Thorin Oakenshield late one evening two days before his thirteenth birthday. He'd heard the rumors that a dwarf had been seen on Bag-Shot road (again), though the most important part of the gossip was it was one that apparently had never visited before, it was that which had intrigued Frodo most. He had already begun to spend night in Bag End, though they wouldn't be announcing the adoption until his birthday. So when time came for supper he simply went to what he already saw as his home, wondering if his uncle's guest would still be around (there were some who never stayed more than a few hours, while others would spend as long as a month visiting).
As it turned out, the visitor was still there. Frodo, young as he might still be, was very observant and quite clever, and noticed a number of things right away; like the fact that his uncle wasn't in his favorite armchair, instead he'd taken a place beside the visitor (they were particularly close); also, his uncle's hair had always been long for a male hobbit (it reached his shoulders, and a few locks behind his ears were several inches longer even), but what was new were the plaits in his uncle's hair, carefully elaborated, adorning them were beautiful (if odd to a hobbit) beads carved from gems. Also, Frodo knew who the dwarf was, even if he'd never seen him before; he'd heard his uncle's stories enough times.
"Uncle Bilbo..." The fauntling hesitated for a second, before bowing respectfully at the dwarrow. "Your Majesty..."
"Sharp as a blade." The dwarf nodded with a hint of a smile. "Your uncle has told me a lot about you, young one. I am Thorin, son of Thráin, King of Erebor, at your service."
"Frodo, son of Drogo, at yours." The child replied promptly.
For several seconds not a word was said, and finally it was Bilbo who did.
"Frodo my boy, take a seat please." He said, nervousness leaking into his voice. "There are some things we need to talk to you about."
We... Frodo's eyes widened fractionally at the use of the word. It reminded him of every time one of his parents had used a similar phrase. And maybe it was because he was so young still, or he simply was open-minded (especially for a hobbit), because the idea of his uncle Bilbo and the dwarrow King being 'we' in the same manner his parents had been, didn't cause any negative reaction in the youngling.
"As you know in the last few months I've been making all preparations to adopt you, make you my heir." Bilbo began explaining, still nervous. "As far as traditions and protocols from the Shire go, everything's in order already, however... my adoption of you has another layer, one that has nothing to with the Shire, yet everything to do with you, of course."
"Uncle?" Frodo knew that, when nervous, his uncle tended to babble, and to deviate from topic, yet in that moment that was making the fauntling nervous as well.
"Easy lakhdûn..." The dwarrow king laid a hand over the older hobbit's one, as if to calm him down. "Everything is alright. Just explain things to young Frodo."
"Frodo, my boy..." Bilbo took a deep breath before finally explaining himself. "You have heard the stories of my travels more than anyone else, even your parents. You even know there are some stories that I've shared with you, that I haven't told anyone else."
Frodo nodded, he knew that, just like he also knew here was yet more stories his uncle had never shared with anyone, not even him.
"You obviously realize there are other stories I've never told." Bilbo said softly. "But there is one in particular I would like to share with you now. Or rather than a new story, a new level to one you already know, if you would listen."
"You know I love listening to your stories, uncle." Frodo said, getting himself comfortable, he had a feeling the story to come would be good.
The story was mostly the same one Frodo already knew by heart. Except there were some details, which had never been talked about before: late-night talks in Rivendell... the lack of second (or first) thought on the part of a certain dwarf when seeing the hobbit about to fall to his death during the thunder battle, and jumping to save him... the badly hidden grief at the thought of him dying in the goblin-town, disguised by accusations of the hobbit choosing to abandon them instead; one hobbit's terror at the thought of a certain dwarf being decapitated, followed by said dwarf's own when seeing the mentioned hobbit stand against the most vicious killer either of them had ever known... the relief of both when seeing each other, safe sound on the Carrock; the warmth in a shared embrace... the growing friendship, overlaying a budding romance... the confusion of finding the hobbit missing in Mirkwood, along with the growing hope that somehow he might prove to be their trump card, again (and he had)... the pride Thorin, and every dwarf had felt at first finding the secret way into the mountain, and then the keyhole (Bilbo was the only one who never gave up)... the fear each of them had for the other as they fought against Smaug... the delight at the retaking of Erebor...
It had been Bilbo's intention to make little mention (or preferably no mention at all) of gold-sickness; however, Thorin refused to cooperate on that front. He himself told the fauntling all about it, all he'd done, to Bilbo even. Which made Frodo go from fascinated at the totally new dimensions the story took with all those details added; to horror at how much that horrible illness had twisted everything. When they reached the part about Thorin attempting to throw Bilbo from the ramparts the young hobbit nearly had a heart-attack.
"But..." Frodo was talking before he was fully conscious of it. "But you're here, both of you!"
"Thorin is entirely too hard on himself." Bilbo said softly.
"And you're entirely too forgiving." Thorin deadpanned. "If it had been anyone else I would still be grovelling; and most would never forgive me anyway."
"It's been almost 24 years Thorin..." Bilbo called in exasperation. "It's about time you let it go."
"I'll never forget all the ways I've wronged you." Thorin murmured, briefly pressing his forehead to Bilbo's shoulder. "There is not a day I don't thank Mahal for having you in my life, marlel (love of all loves)."
Bilbo did not answer verbally, instead pressing his own forehead into Thorin's shoulder briefly, an intimate gesture if Frodo had ever seen one.
"Uncle Bilbo..." The boy called, he still wanted to understand, felt he needed to.
And so the story went on. Bilbo's exile from the mountain, and his refusal to leave the place entirely, the Battle of the Five Armies and Ravenhill... if there had ever been a part of the story that was hardly explained, it was what had happened on that hilltop, until that moment. It was on that day that the full story was finally told (to anyone outside the Company and direct kin). Frodo learnt how Fili had been killed by the Pale Orc, how his brother Kili almost followed, and would have if not for the Lady Tauriel (who later went on to become his mate); he learnt of Thorin's own vicious battle against Azog, the blade that went into his chest, the moment he was to die, and would have, hadn't it been for the Lady Eleana... and then Frodo learnt of the vows that both his uncle and the dwarrow king had pronounced, and which had bound them from that moment and would continue to do so to the end of time...
"So..." The youngling fought to wrap his head around what he'd just been told. "The two of you are... married, then."
"We're bonded, married, yes." Thorin nodded with a small smile.
"But, uncle!" Frodo was shocked. "Everyone in the Shire says you live alone, they say you're a bachelor, and I've always seen you alone."
"Thorin's and my marriage isn't legal in the Shire, Frodo." Bilbo explained softly. "You know that hobbits in general do not take kindly to such unions between two males, or two females for that matter." Nevermind that such things still happened, sometimes, away from the judging eyes of most. "They also tend not to be too accepting of those who take spouses from outside our Shire, and our people. Comes from being so isolated, I suppose." He shook his head. "In any case, our union is not legal in the Shire, though well known and accepted in Erebor, as well as widely recognized in Esgaroth and most places on the other side of the Misty Mountains, and some on this side too." He took a deep breath. "And that's the crux of the matter. Because while it makes no difference here in the Shire, it is important out there. All races take matters of adoption and the naming of heirs very seriously. When I became Thorin's spouse, Kili became my nephew as well, his sister Dís became mine. In the same manner, you would become Thorin's nephew and... and you would effectively become part of the Line of Succession for the Throne of Erebor."
Frodo, who had been growing increasingly excited at the thought of gaining even more family (he had lots of cousins already, especially Brandybucks and Tooks, on his mother's side); and then when the last detail came, all he could do was sit there in shock. Part of the Line of Succession for the Throne of Erebor?! He might be a child, but he knew what that meant. Uncle Bilbo was saying he would be royal, a prince, and possibly even heir to a throne! Him? Heir to a throne?! But that was absolutely insane, he was just a hobbit!
Abruptly, he realized something: he was indeed, a hobbit, and so was his uncle Bilbo. And he was married to a Dwarven King! Wouldn't that make him...
"It's unlikely it will ever come to that." Thorin stated, probably trying not to make Frodo too nervous. "Even with the... the passing of Fili, years ago. Kili is to inherit the throne when I can no longer be King, and he's named his son: Fili II as his heir. If the worst were to happen and the brat were still too young to inherit when it became necessary there are a number of others who could act as Regents for a while: like my sister Dís, Kili's mate Tauriel, their daughter Stiarna, my cousin Balin, and, of course, Bilbo."
"But... but... we're hobbits!" The boy finally cried out in shock.
"Indeed you are." Thorin nodded. "And as far as almost everyone in the eastern side of the Misty Mountains are concerned, hobbits are the most wondrous creatures in Arda. After everything Bilbo has done, for the Company and for Erebor... my people love him! And they will love you too Frodo, if you give them a chance."
It hadn't always been like that, of course. Bilbo could still remember the long days and even longer nights that first winter. The doubts from everyone, especially some of the dwarves that had arrived to the Lonely Mountain with Dain Ironfoot. The way they'd looked down upon not just Bilbo (for being so small and so seemingly soft), but on Tauriel, for being a she-elf. And then the lady had taken to throwing knives (at first what few she still had, and later on a collection Dís had made for her, just for that purpose). Bilbo had been less violent, though no less efficient, using words and Sting when absolutely necessary (in his case, having stood and practically challenged the Lord of Iron Hills had apparently had a serious effect on everyone else).
"I hope I'm not scaring you away, young one." Thorin added in a low, heartfelt tone. "Bilbo cares greatly about you. He's spoken of nothing but you in months... I know he loves the idea of you being part of his family and... and I would love that too."
It was like a switch had suddenly flipped inside the young hobbit's head, priorities shifting around in an instant. The focus was no longer the throne, the line of succession or anything like that; it was the other thing that was being offered to him: a family. He'd had one, of course, Frodo knew his parents had loved him very much. And there were all his cousins, he'd spent a lot of time with them, living in Brandy Hall and all... but it just wasn't the same. There were so many children in there that the adults couldn't really pay much attention to any of them. After his recent tragedy, he just didn't feel like being around most fauntlings (with their mothers always around, in the way his couldn't be); and he was at an age where he was too young for the hobbit-tweens to want him hanging out with them, thinking him not to be old enough yet. He knew Old Rorimac worried about him, but the hobbit was the patriarch of a clan and couldn't be always focused on one sole hobbitling, no matter who he might be, or what might have happened to him. It was why Frodo had been so delighted at the prospect of being adopted by Bilbo (that and, Bilbo was his favorite uncle, of course); and from what he was saying, he would be getting more than just one uncle out of the deal...
"Does that mean I can call you Uncle Thorin?" Frodo blurted out the moment that fact registered in his head.
The smile that lit up the dwarven king's face was answer enough, though he did reassure the young hobbit verbally anyway.
The reaction from Frodo was immediate. He'd been doing his best to show the best manners he could throughout the whole meeting, wanting to show his uncle's guest that he was a good boy. Except the dwarf was no longer a guest, he was family. With that thought Frodo immediately jumped off the armchair he was on and rushed straight to Thorin, hugging him as tightly as his small arms allowed.
"Uncles!" He cried out excitedly, holding onto Thorin with one hand, and extending the other to blindly grab at Bilbo.
Indeed, he had uncles, not one but two... even if only he knew that part.
It wasn't easy for Frodo, young as he was; to know so much, about his uncle, about the world, and not be able to share it with anyone. To hear some of the more unsavory individuals (like Lobelia Sackville-Baggins) mouthing off Bilbo behind his back, insulting him for his tastes in foreign wares, his bachelorhood, his eccentricities... it made the tween angry. What did they know? What right had anyone to insult his uncle when he was nothing but kind to them all? He was a warrior, a hero, a King's consort!
But Frodo understood that he was fortunate to know the things he did, and they couldn't be shared with anyone outside of their tight little group. At least when someone from the Company visited he knew he could talk to them. The other visitors, elves and a few rangers, began talking to him as well; and when they learnt Frodo was aware of everything concerning his uncle, their respect for him seemed to grow, and they began treating him more as an adult than a child.
"I don't understand..." He admitted one day to one of the guests. "The first times I saw any of you visiting my uncle, you would mostly ignore me, and now..."
"Before you were a child, one who knew very little of the truth, of the world that exists outside your Shire, a world your uncle Bilbo is tightly connected to." The elf, Elladan from Rivendel, told him one day. "But now... now you know, and you're clever enough to be able to accept it, to deal with it rather than deny it all or take offense to it."
Frodo knew instantly what detail the elf spoke of.
"I don't see what's so wrong with it." He admitted with a light shrug. "Love is love in the end, right? What does it matter who you love, when its real?"
"If more people thought the way you did, the world would be a better place." Elladan stated with an almost wistful expression.
"It's not easy for most people to see things like that, vinyamo (youngster)." Elrohir, Elladan's twin added. "Not only when it comes to two individuals of the same gender, but two different species."
"But Uncle Bilbo and Uncle Thorin are together, and Uncle Bilbo isn't a dwarf." Frodo pointed out in honest confusion. "And they say that Cousin Kili's wife, Miss Tauriel, is a she-elf, and they're married too, and have kids. And Mr. Ori, from the Company, he's married to a princess of men in Dale and..."
"And one would think that everyone in Rhovanion has gone mad." Elrohir deadpanned.
Elladan shot a glare at his twin, there he was trying to convince Frodo that it was alright, and his brother had to go and say something like that. Then again, he had to agree it wasn't exactly what they would consider 'normal' for there to be so much intermarrying between species. And while three hardly seem like a big number, the fact that all three unions had happened in a lapse of five years... well, it was unlikely they would be the last. And then there was his sister...
The twins knew that Arwen had been to Erebor, how could they not? They'd seen her receiving letters every so often from Lady Tauriel; and while they did not know what was said between the two females, the fact that not even the harshest disapproving words from their Adar were enough to dissuade their sister from pursuing a relationship with Estel (Aragorn, they had to remember he was Aragorn now), was telling.
The twins had to admit that when they visited Erebor all those years ago, when they stood in for the lone she-elf's family in her marriage to the dwarf-prince (which they couldn't help but find beyond insane, even if neither of them said a word about it), they could have never expected it would have repercussions on such a scale. But truly, what else could have created such a strong, quick friendship between Arwen and Tauriel if not their love for mortal males?
"So, it's not normal then?" The youngling asked, hesitant.
"It's not wrong." Elladan hurried to reassure him as best he could. "It's like you yourself said, love is love in the end, it's just..." He didn't know how to explain it.
"Some people have lived with certain ideas of how things should be for so long they just cannot imagine things being different." Elrohir finally explained. "It doesn't mean they're right or wrong, they're just used to things being different."
Frodo nodded, he didn't fully understand, not yet; but he was still learning, maybe one day he would see what was truly going on.
The first time Frodo left the Shire was right after his 23rd birthday. He didn't go alone, or far, only to Bree, for a week or so, where they met with a number of dwarves and rangers. The following ten years Bilbo would take Frodo on short trip like that every three or four months, never trips that may take more than a week of travel, never staying more than two fortnights away at most. The trips weren't only to Bree either, for variety they would sometimes visit other (distant) parts of the Shire, small towns of men, and a couple of times they even went to the Blue Mountains (the remains of the colony the Durins had once created there knew well who Bilbo Baggins was and were delighted to receive him and his nephew).
Once, right before the end of his tween years, the pair had even gone to Rivendell, where they were warmly received by Lord Elrond and his sons.
And yet, no trip was as anticipated as the one that followed Frodo's 33rd birthday (and his coming of age); it was the first time the young hobbit visited Erebor. The trip was long, as could be expected when traveling with one who'd never crossed mountains, or a forest as dark as Mirkwood; but a number of dwarves had met the pair in Bree, and all together they went, endless stories about previous journeys, and especially the quest, flowing easily.
It was upon their arrival to the Lonely Mountain itself, upon witnessing the reception his uncle Bilbo got, that Frodo finally began to realize how well-loved his uncle was. He'd been seeing the hidden depths of the older hobbit for years. In ways as simple as the differences his step had; from the leisurely gait he used in Hobbiton (same as most hobbits), to the purposeful, sure steps he took when traveling (each step measured, never wasting any effort, never missing a step); the sword always on his hip, the alertness in his gaze (his uncle didn't miss anything, no matter how minor it might seem to Frodo).
It was quite shocking when the pair passed by Dale, with humans bowing their heads respectfully as they passed, the whispers Frodo could hear, words like 'Royal Consort', 'the King's Spouse', though the most shocking were the words he heard from the mouth of the woman who'd met them in the plaza.
"Frodo my boy, this is princess Tilda." Bilbo had introduced the beautiful woman.
"Frodo, son of Drogo, at your service, my lady." The youngling promptly introduced himself.
"Tilda, daughter of Bard Blackarrow, King of Dale, at yours." She introduced herself with a smile; only to then turn her eyes onto his uncle. "It's good to see you back, Master Hobbit. You've been greatly missed around here." Her smile turned mischievous. "I'm quite sure his Majesty, the King Under the Mountain, will be greatly pleased..."
"Tilda!" Bilbo cried out, blushing profusely.
"Must you embarrass our Master Bulgar so, mesmel (jewel of jewels)?" A male voice called.
The princess didn't ask, just smiled at the male approaching. He was shorter than her (though she was a bit on the short side, for a human); it took Frodo a second to realize he wasn't really a man, but a dwarf.
"Ori, from the Brothers Ri, at your service." The dwarf proceeded to introduce himself. "And this beautiful treasure is my wife, whose name I believe you already know."
Frodo half-absently proceeded to introduce himself, even as a part of his mind tried to process that not only was he meeting a princess, but also one of the dwarves from the Company he'd never seen before, her husband...
"We should get going." Bilbo said then. "Frodo and I must still get to the mountain."
"Of course." Tilda nodded. "I'm happy you've finally returned, Master Bilbo. Hopefully you'll agree to sharing dinner with my family at your convenience."
"I'll see what I can do, my lady." Bilbo nodded with a smile.
"As long as Thorin doesn't lock him in his chambers the moment he arrives." Ori quipped with a wide smirk.
"Ori!" Frodo's uncle cried out, embarrassed all over again.
Frodo threw a dirty look at the dwarf. He'd known his uncle (both uncles) were married and everything... he did not need that mental image!
"You hadn't told me you knew the royals of Dale." Frodo commented, intrigued, a few minutes later, as he and his uncle guided their ponies to the mountain.
"Remember what I told you about Bard Dragon-Slayer?" Bilbo asked in turn.
"The bowman who shot down the dragon Smaug in Laketown." Frodo nodded.
"I believe I mentioned at one point that he never liked that name, instead he chose to take Blackarrow as the name of his line." Bilbo went on. "I also believe I mentioned he turned out to be a descendant of the last Lord of Dale. A position he took, becoming the first King of Dale once it was rebuilt. I wasn't around for his coronation, but still." He made a pause before adding. "I, all of the Company, we met him and his children during the Quest. Bard was of great assistance to us all. His eldest is now Prince Báin, heir to the throne; his first daughter passed away a bit over twenty years ago, Tilda is his youngest. When we first met her she was a little thing, barely eleven years old and quite small... She was also very curious and caring." He shook his head. "It was odd at first, you know? She grew up so fast compared to hobbits. Married at sixteen!" He chuckled. "Though I think that was a scandal even among the humans."
It had been indeed, though in the end her father and brother had relented, allowing the match. It probably helped that they had known Ori for years and knew for sure he wasn't one to play with Tilda's feelings (unlike what had happened with a few of Sigrid's suitors, before she grew to love Dathon). Tilda's explanation for wanting to marry so young had also been quite sound:
"I am only human, even if I'm one of the lucky ones, my life will never be as long as theirs." She had said. "But I love him, and he loves me, and I want to be with him for as long as I might be able to. I want us to have as many years together as Éru might allow us."
They had waited to have children, a number of healers suggesting that Tilda was too young, and after the malnutrition she'd suffered as a child a pregnancy (any pregnancy) would be hard on her body, it was better if she waited until she was fully grown and as strong as she could be. It had still been a hard pregnancy, all three times. But still she gave her husband two daughters and one son; all of whom were well-loved by the family and both of their peoples.
Frodo's pondering was interrupted, rather loudly, by the sound of horns, which began the moment they came into sight of the gates of Erebor.
The news that the Royal Consort had returned after 22 years spread quickly, reaching every corner of the mountain in minutes. By the time the two hobbits were crossing the gates on their ponies what looked like half the population of Erebor had gathered to welcome them.
"Uncle Bilbo...?" Frodo asked, quietly, feeling a bit intimidated by the sheer number of people, dwarves, gathered around them.
His uncle didn't say anything, just shook his head fondly before dismounting; he was about to go and help his nephew, but before he could give a single step a body was blocking his way, right in front of him, a forehead pressed against his own (Dwarves were very private individuals, kisses were only shared by couples in intimate settings or, at most, when with close family).
"Thorin..." Bilbo breathed out, knowing who it was even before their eyes met.
"Lukhdel (light of all lights)..." Thorin replied, a hand moving to grip the nape of his consort's neck in a gesture that was meant to comfort himself as much as his hobbit. "It's been so long. I've missed you, more than I've ever missed anything, even the Lonely Mountain."
"My silly dwarf..." Bilbo replied tenderly. "I'm here now. And I'll be visiting again, we both will. We will never go so long without seeing each other again, I promise you."
"That's a promise I'll hold you to, my burglar." Thorin stated.
By the time they moved again, Kili had already helped Frodo down from his pony. Orders had been given for the two hobbit's belongings to be moved to their rooms in the royal wing. However, no one had moved just yet. Many eyes were on the younger hobbit, wanting to know who he was (though Bilbo had no doubt that the gossip had made it so everyone already knew, they were just waiting for it to be made official).
"Frodo, come here." Bilbo called quietly, knowing what needed to be done.
Feeling a bit shy all of a sudden, the barely off-age hobbit approached his uncles, Kili, Tauriel and their own children staying close (just in case).
"People of Erebor!" Thorin called in a strong voice, raising the hand he'd entwined with Bilbo's. "This is a day to celebrate. For our burglar is back!"
It was a running joke, really, for Bilbo to be called, 'Royal Burglar', in memory of the contract and the quest that had been the start of everything. Yet the cheer that rose from every corner of the mountain's entrance told enough just how much the dwarves loved their Royal Consort.
"I know much has been said in the last twenty years, and especially the last few months." Thorin went on, placing a hand on Frodo. "So I will make it official now: this is Frodo Baggins, from the Shire, and from this day on, from Erebor too. Welcome the new Prince of the Lonely Mountain!"
The cheering was just as deafening, Frodo could scarcely believe it.
And that was just the beginning of it, of the life of Frodo Baggins, nephew of Bilbo and Thorin, youngest Prince Under the Mountain.