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Of the Stone of Erebor and the Gardens of the Shire

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Bilbo did not know what kept him in Erebor after Thorin was laid to stone with his nephews. Grief filled Bilbo’s heart and weighed down his legs, even as the mountain around him came back to life. He longed for the Shire, her green hills and cheerful inhabitants. And yet, he remained, wandering the halls, searching for… something.

The Company was loathe to leave him alone, a reasonable concern given his sense of direction underground was almost as bad as Thorin’s above ground. So one was always at his side, trading off through the day and between days depending on who was needed where in the reconstruction efforts. At least the gold-sickness had finally faded from their eyes. Whether it was Thorin’s death, the battle, or just time, Bilbo did not know. But he welcomed having his friends return to themselves.

Dwalin was with Bilbo the day he found the room. It was a small space hidden in the depths of what had once been the royal quarters. The area was partly destroyed and somewhat unstable since Smaug had clawed out a number of walls to reach the gold and gems that had once encrusted the hallowed halls. But this room had survived, if not untouched, then minimally damaged. There was no gold here, no gems. No decoration at all save small stone sculptures tucked in niches carved roughly into the walls.

“What are these?” Bilbo asked, stepping closer for a better look. Dwalin caught his hand before he could touch, however.

“We should not be here.”

“Why not? You said it was stable.”

“This is not for the eyes of the likes of us.”

“Dwalin?” Bilbo peered at his companion, pleading with his eyes for understanding.

The big dwarf sighed, defeated. He held Bilbo back, but did not pull him from the room. “Thorin told me of this place. Shouldn’t exist, but Thrain was a bit… touched sometimes, even before the sickness.”

Bilbo frowned. “There’s no gold here, no sign there ever was.”

“No, no gold. But this…” Dwalin gestured at the statues. “Should not have been left for others. Dwarves have their secret ways, and we keep them.”

“I’ve noticed,” Bilbo said dryly. So long in the company of his friends, and still they hid the meaning of their language from him.

Dwalin frowned. “And yet, somehow I feel…”

“Yes?” Bilbo prompted when nothing followed for a good long time.

“I shouldn’t know this, and you shouldn’t. And yet it wants to be told.” Dwalin stepped closer to a niche, shining more light on the statue within. It looked a like a child, a baby even, curled up in sleep. The stone was rough, a few edges unfinished, but the curve of the cheek reminded Bilbo of Kili.

A gasp slipped from him at the pain of the memory. Oh how he missed the Durins.

“Wants to be told… yes. Mahal made the seven fathers of stone, and the One gave them life. But Mahal was not meant to create, not then, or perhaps he did not think it through, but he did not create dwarrrowdams to go with the dwarrow, so his children could not increase. So he sought guidance from the One and was permitted to teach his children to carve their own children. So the great fathers begat many children, and some of them were dwarrowdams, and in time we began to procreate as others of Middle Earth do. But the way of stone was not forgotten, and sometimes those who could not have children another way would carve theirs.”

Bilbo stared at the small bodies all about him, his stomach churning uneasily. “These are… Whose?”

“Thain and his dam could not conceive, so they turned to the old ways. It does not work every time, but he tried time and again, and three times they were blessed.”

“Thorin, Dis…”

“Ferin. He died at Azanulbizar.”

Bilbo nodded even as he wondered at Thrain’s success.

“Properly done, one should destroy those whom Mahal does not touch.” Dwalin’s hand cupped a tiny cheek without touching it. “Another should never touch, never see a child that was not meant to be. But he would not. Thorin said… he said Thrain told him that he felt some of these were not his, though his hand carved them. He ordered them left here, protected for future generations… but poor protection it proved to be when Smaug came.”

“I wonder if there’s one here who should have been Thorin’s.” Bilbo startled himself, not knowing the words until they came from his own lips.

~o0o~

Explorations petered off. Whatever drove Bilbo to walk the halls of Erebor faded, and he began to turn his eye to the west once more. When Gandalf mentioned he was heading that way, Bilbo started packing. It was time to go home.

The Company pressed presents upon him, far more than he could ever carry. King Dain seemed determined to send one fourteenth of the treasure with Bilbo, despite the complete impossibility of sending even one thousandth with any single person. Bilbo accepted few of the gifts and found other homes for a few others (there were plenty of deserving dwarrow flooding back to Erebor, and more would come as the seasons turned). The contents of his pack were carefully chosen for weight and usability, with a minimum of frills. Save one, oddly light chunk of stone, hidden in the depths.

It did not see the light of day the whole way back to the Shire.

~o0o~

It took Bilbo most of the spring to retrieve his property from the various friends and relations who had taken part in the auction before he returned. Bilbo tried making a visit to Michel Delving to speak to the Mayor, But the head of the sheriffs refused to step into a family dispute. So Bilbo went to Tukborough to speak with the Thain. Cousin Fortinbras was more than willing to bring pressure to bear on Lobella Sackville-Baggins regarding the theft of Baggins property. Confronted with the war leader of the Shire, the gossiping pain Bilbo had the misfortune to call cousin buckled like wet paper.

He might have taken a little pleasure in seeing that.

Once Bilbo had his silver spoons and his mother’s shawls back where they belonged, he did not settle down in Bag End as he had expected. His feet would not be still, the urge to wander hither and yon dragging him out of his armchair and past his door.

He took to traveling across the Shire, stopping in to visit various friends and relations. His feet took him across the Brandywine and on to Bree, then back by way of the Old Forest. And there, in the old woods, so different from Mirkwood and yet just as touched by something else, he found a branch. It was oak, well-seasoned, of no particular shape or heft. But the moment it made its way into Bilbo’s pack, his feet were at ease and his nose turned toward home.

~o0o~

Holman Greenhand was the first to notice Master Baggins had taken up wood carving. As the caretaker of Bag Ends’s gardens, Holman spent more time around the largest home in the Hill than anyone but its owner. He didn’t think much of it, as a traveler would pick up all kinds of new hobbies, until he spotted a delicately carved hobbit foot, and just a foot, in Master Baggins hand one day in late summer.

He thought it odd. Most who went about such things in that manner used a single piece of wood in the seed, but who was the gardener to correct a gentlehobbit?

“Will you be wanting a fall planting or spring?” Holman asked, trying to consider the best spot in the garden in either case.

“Fall, I think,” Master Baggins replied after a moment of thought.

“You’ll want a good mulch bed then,” Holman said with a nod. None in his family had fallen back on such ways in many generations, but the Greenhands still trained their young in the lore. “Gaffer Grange has some good pine needles left.”

“Any source for oak chips?

“Probably could come up with some. Might have some leaves to add too. Maple might be sweeter.”

Master Baggins shook his head, eyes lost on some distant sight. “No, better be oak.”

Bit of an odd choice for a hobbit, but it wasn’t Holman’s child. He shrugged and promised he’d have something put together for the garden.

~o0o~

Hobbits had many secrets, perhaps as many as the dwarfs. But no one knew about hobbit secrets, so no one went looking for them. When Dwalin had told Bilbo of the deepest secret of dwarrow children, Bilbo had kept the deepest secret of hobbit children behind his teeth.

His parents had told him the lore, taught him more carefully than most parents did. Hobbits were a fecund species for the most part, but Yvanna had promised even the exceptions would have a chance and taught them one more use for their gardens. Bilbo had been grown in this very garden, the one success out of many attempts.

Spring plantings were the norm amongst hobbits. A carful carving, some additions to make a viable seed, planted in the spring to take advantage of the warmth of the fertile earth. Bungo and Belladona Baggins had had no luck with spring planting. But they had tried, again and again, until Old Took had come by and suggested a fall planting.

“Give the little faunt time to consider before summer drags him up,” he’d said. And it had worked, if just the once. Fall plantings were more common for Tooks than Bagginses, but Bilbo had a feeling he’d best give this child all the time he could.

It was half dwarf after all.

Or maybe more.

Bilbo did the garden bed preparations himself, with occasional suggestions from Holman. He turned the earth and left it loose to a good depth. He enriched the soil, provided plenty to support and feed a growing plant. Then he covered the plot in mulch and left it be until the fall.

~o0o~

The day of the planting, Bilbo removed a bundle from the bottom of his wardrobe. The bulk of the mass was Thorin’s old coat, the fur trim folded into the center to cushion the contents. At the core lay a small sculpture, smuggled from the heart of Erebor.

The carving was fine, delicate and soft, but incomplete. One arm was either tucked under or missing, and the stone had fractured at the mid shin, leaving the poor child footless. Or perhaps the stone had proven smaller than the child within. Bilbo certainly couldn’t ask Thrain what he’d been thinking when he carved that little face. But when he’d slipped back into the hidden room the night before he left Erebor, he’d known this was the sculpture to take.

The call had drawn him to it just as it had drawn him to the oak branch and the corner of the garden.

Bilbo worked long into the night, fitting the arm and feet he’d carved onto the little stone boy. As he worked, he wondered what the resulting child would be like. Would he grow a beard and be very dwarfish? Would he wear boots or despise them? Would he be as tall as his other father? What color would his eyes be? Gray stone left much to the imagination, as did pale oak.

When Bilbo was done with the basics, he considered the next step. His mother had always told him you must give something of yourself to your child, a gift to give life. Bungo had also said there must be two involved, just as two parents were needed in the normal way. Thorin had not carved this child, was not here to give something to him. Not to mention the initial steps had been taken using a tradition under a different Valar all together. There was no way this would work.

Still, Bilbo felt the need to try. He retrieved the mithril chainmail that Thorin had given him. It was impossible to be certain, but Bilbo had a feeling there had been more to that gift than any of the dwarrow would admit. It took several hours and many prayers, but he worked one link free from the edge.

“Far better than gold,” he whispered as he pressed the link over his son’s heart. “Strong and light, let it protect you always.” He wrapped the child in one of his mother’s knit shawls, the one he’d always loved most, with the bellflower pattern. “I give you shelter and comfort, warmth and protection, my son.” Using Sting, he cut his palm, then pressed the bleeding wound to the little carven face. “Blood of my blood.” From Thorin’s coat, he cut a swath of the trim, the fur matted and stained with Thorin’s blood from one or another of the battles they had shared. Bilbo pressed the fur into the wet stain his hand had left. “Blood of our blood.”

He hoped it was enough.

As dawn lit the sky over Bag End, Bilbo took the bundle in his arms and carried it into the garden. With his bare hands, he dug down through the mulch and soft, turned earth, stopping only when gut instinct told him the hole was the right depth. It seemed a bit much, but he muttered his prayers to Yvanna, added a few to Mahal, and set the bundle at the bottom.

“Please,” he pleaded as he carefully layered good, rich soil over his potential son. “Please let me have something of him to hold onto. You led me this far, Green Lady. Let it be enough.”

“There’s a nip in the air.”

Bilbo jerked upfrom smoothing the layer of mulch over the hole and turned, finding Holman by the fence.

“It’ll be turning cold soon.” Holman held up another bag of mulch. “We should get another inch of cover from this. That’ll keep the warmth in.”

“You’re too good to me, Master Greenhand,” Bilbo said.

Holman shook his head. “Hard enough using the old ways with two. Least I can do to help. You’re a good man, Master Baggins, no matter what they all say.”

A giggle escaped Bilbo. Yes, no matter what they all said. The hobbits of Hobbiton did not know what to make of Bilbo. Had it not been for the draw of this corner of the Shire, this garden above all others, he might have retreated to his Took kin. They at least understood an adventure.

“Been through a lot, you have. Some good, some bad.” Holman caught Bilbo’s hand as he stood, then clucked disapprovingly. “Should have bandaged that before you dug. Come on. I’ll clean it out good. Cut like that’s always impossible to clean yourself. And you can tell me about this one’s other father. Stories should be told, so he knows who he is.”

“He wasn’t a hobbit,” Bilbo admitted as he let himself be led into Bag End.

Holman snorted. “I should think not. Sometimes I wonder what your parents mixed into the soil when they grew you, Master Baggins. Something special, I’m sure, for you’re not quite like any other hobbit.”

~o0o~

In the spring, Bilbo savored the warmth of the sun and worked daily in the garden, sometimes with Holman and his apprentice, Hamfast, and sometimes alone. He carefully loosened the mulch over the special bed and watched for any growth. Until midsummer, there was no sign of change in the special bed, but it was Hamfast who would not let Bilbo give up hope.

“Sometimes it takes a bit. Not all hobbit, is he. A child of stone might take a bit longer to wake up, to sprout. I’m sure he’ll just prove a stubborn little bulb.”

Hamfast was right. At midsummer a little sprout appeared through the mulch. It was no weed, and its leaves were unlike any other in the garden.

“Small little thing,” Holman commented come fall. “Aren’t dwarrow larger than hobbits?”

“On average,” Bilbo agreed. “And his father was one of the tallest I’ve seen.”

“Might take a bit longer than we expected then,” Holman suggested. “I’ll have Gaffer make up some more mulch.”

When the weather turned, the leaves fell from the vines and the vines withered. Bilbo spread fresh mulch across the special bed, and if he watered it with his tears, that was for him to know.

“Have faith, Master Baggins,” Hamfast said. “My mum always says that little ones take their own time. Dwarrow live longer than us. Maybe they gestate longer too.”

~o0o~

Bilbo took the kind words to heart through the winter and was rewarded come spring with new growth. Bigger, stronger vines grew up through the mulch come spring, and by autumn the whole bed was covered in a tangle of greenery.

“Hmm,” Holman said, tapping his chin. “Strong growth, good leaves, but not a single flower.”

“Maybe he just needs a little longer,” Bilbo suggested. He’d never heard of a hobbit child taking two winters, let alone three, but this wasn’t just a hobbit. Dwarrow were stubborn folk, and Thorin more than most.

“I’ll see about another mulch order. Maybe add some gravel to it.”

“Oh, that’s a lovely idea,” Bilbo said, clasping his hands in delight. “Some granite, and maybe some chalk from the White Downs.” He certainly couldn’t get anything from Erebor, not this late in the season, but he’d write a note for the spring caravan, just in case.

~o0o~

Come spring, the new growth was even wilder and more vibrant than before. Vines took over half the garden, and no one dared trim them back. Hobbits from half of Hobbiton took to swinging by Bag End for tea, with or without an invitation, just to take a gander at the back garden. No one could imagine just how Bilbo, a bachelor, had managed such a thing. And that rumor about the child still under earth after three winters, that had to be just nonsense. Didn’t it?

Lobella and Otho Sackville-Baggins had the pleasure, or misfortune, to notice the first bud.

“Looks sickly,” Lobella insisted.

“Too wild,” Otho added.

“Look, it’s diseased.” Lobella very nearly committed an utter faux pas by touching one vine, but Bilbo slapped her hand away in time, then studied the vine carefully.

“No, not diseased,” he said softly, his voice full of wonder. A calloused hand reached out and gently stroked the vine. “Blossoming.”

By late summer the whole garden was covered in vines, each one dappled with green leaves and little blue flowers. Every flower was the exact shade of Thorin’s eyes.

Bilbo spent every day in the garden, talking, singing, even dancing with the vines when the wind caught them. He told stories of Erebor, stories of the Shire. He sang of the Blue Mountains and Rivendell. And he waited.

The first crisp notes of autumn were on the air when finally, finally, the vines began to shake without any wind. Bilbo pushed his way through the mass that had eaten his prize winning tomatoes, his honeysuckle, his lavender, down to the original bed, so lovingly tended. At the heart, he found a little hand reaching out from the soil.

“Come on,” Bilbo said. “You’re almost there, little one.” He gently touched the hand, and let those tiny fingers cup his. They were bigger than when he last saw them, and more flesh colored.

Another hand wiggled out of the soil and gripped another of Bilbo’s fingers. He held perfectly still as his son used him to lever himself from his long time bed. And when those sweet eyes finally opened from under a head of dark curls, they matched the flowers of his vine perfectly.

When he first heard the rustling, Bilbo had grabbed Thorin’s coat from where it had been hanging by the door all these years. He wrapped it around his son once the little one had extracted himself from the earth of Bag End.

“Welcome home, little one,” Bilbo whispered to lightly pointed ears. Using Sting, he cut away the last connection to the vines that had nurtured his son, then he tickled those tiny hobbit-like feet and watched his son move, flex, and show his strength in the world. “My beautiful boy.”

~o0o~

Holman felt a change in the earth after elevensies, but he stayed home through lunch. Not his place to intrude in those first moments. Still, by the time he strode back into his garden, the ripples were gone. Time for visiting.

He brought Hamfast, and they found the door open. Within the dining room, they found Master Baggins cradling a small child in the folds of that huge coat he’d had by the door so long. They were both filthy with dirt and smiling at each other like nothing else in the world mattered.

“He’s beautiful,” Hamfast offered in gentle tones.

“That he is,” Master Baggins agreed.

“Have you come up with a name?” Holman asked. It was a bit improper. Most babies weren’t named before their first birthday. But this was no simple hobbit child. He could feel the strength in those little limbs from across the room.

Master Baggins chuckled. “Aye. After much soul searching and thought. We’ll make it official next year, but may I present to you both Thorgo Baggins, son of Thorin, son of Thrain.

“At your service, Master Thorgo,” Holman said, pressing a kiss to a dirty little hand.

Thorgo smiled.