The Hand of Destiny
By: Lalaith Quetzalli
It all began with one adventure, and would end with another... or maybe it wasn't really an end, but a new beginning; in any case Bilbo Baggins and Thorin Oakenshield were quite ready for whatever might come their way. Because it was their Fate that was Rewoven, and them that thus became the Hand of Destiny.
It began with three heavy knocks on a round green door, the abrupt silence of a dozen dwarves (who'd already caused more than a bit of a mess in one hobbit's home) and two quiet words from a wizard:
It began with too-simple introductions, and a first impression that was probably not the best:
"Bilbo Baggins, allow me to introduce the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield."
"So this is the Hobbit […] Looks more like a grocer than a burglar."
It began with a quest, and a call to arms:
"Do we sit back and wait while others claim was is rightfully ours? Or do we seize this chance to take back Erebor? Du Bekâr (To Arms)! Du Bekâr (To Arms)!"
It began with a wizard's assertion:
"You asked me to find the fourteenth member of this company, and I have chosen Mr. Baggins. There's a lot more to him than appearances suggest, and he's got a great deal more to offer than any of you know, including himself."
It began with a song, deep baritone, echoing into the night:
"Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To find our long-forgotten gold."
"The pines were roaring on the height
The winds were moaning in the night
The fire was red, it flaming spread
The trees like torches blazed with light."
And a hobbit running out of his home, off his old life, early one morning, signed contract flapping like a bright banner in his hand:
"I'm going on an adventure!"
So much had happened after that, enough to fill books upon books, and write at least a dozen songs. About the Company formed by thirteen valiant (or foolish) dwarves and a soft-hearted but strong-willed hobbit (and a Wizard, though he tended to leave them hanging more often than not). And together they fought trolls, and goblins, and orcs and wargs. Traveled through valleys, and over mountains and across lakes; Rivendell, the Misty Mountains, the Carrock, Mirkwood (once known as the Greenwood), Lake-Town... until finally making it to the Lonely Mountain, to the lost dwarrow kingdom of Erebor.
It was supposed to end there, their quest. The original plan had been to check on the dragon, Smaug (Chiefest Calamity of the Age), ensure whether he was alive or dead, if possible discover some weakness that might help take him down and, most importantly of all: find and retrieve the Arkenstone. The King's Jewel, which signaled the King's right to rule above all of Durin's Folk, which would allow Thorin, the King-in-Exile, to call on the seven armies of the dwarves. The very same who, upon hearing about the quest, had refused to follow him (all but twelve dwarves), considering it a foolhardy, suicide mission; not believing it could actually be done.
It was what the hobbit, Bilbo Baggins, named the Burglar in the contract, was there for. To retrieve the stone. But the plan did not work. Smaug was more aware than any of them expected. He was quick to anger, and very, very cruel. When the dwarves attempt to take him down failed, he attacked Lake-Town, and it was only thanks to a miracle, one bowman's keen eye and strong arm, and his own son's steadiness and trust in said father, that Smaug was taken down, a legendary blackarrow piercing his heart.
And yet, it still did not end there. That might have been the end of the Company's original quest, but at the same time it was the start of something else, something none of them had planned for. (It could even be argued that none of them had dared plan for anything beyond making it to Erebor, few actually believing they'd make it that far).
It came to be known as the Arkenstone Debacle, closely followed by the Battle of Five Armies. Very few people knew what had happened exactly, especially where it came to the first, and even from those who knew, even less spoke about it expect in dark whispers, none wanting to truly remember how bad things had gotten, and how much worse they might have been, hadn't it been for the strength of a hobbit who had risked everything (his life... his heart...) doing what was right for all, even as he knew it could never be right for him...
Bilbo tried, Valar know that he did, tried to make Thorin see reason, but there was just no point. He was too far gone already, probably had been since the moment they set foot on that mountain. When Balin confirmed his suspicions (though not directly, of course, because Balin didn't 'know' for sure) that were the Arkenstone to appear, to actually be given to Thorin, it would only make things all the worse... when seeing Thorin so willing to forsake the word given, his own oath, to Bard and the people of Laketown, when seeing his eyes darken with suspicion of betrayal from his own kin, when hearing a dragon's words coming from the dwarven-king's lips... it was then that Bilbo knew that things had been allowed to go too far, and it was time it all stopped... and if no one else was willing to fix things, then he would, no matter what it cost him (and from the moment he left the mountain, in the middle of the night, with the stone held securely inside his coat he'd known the price would, indeed, be high).
"I came to give you this."
"The Heart of the Mountain... The King's jewel."
"And worth a king's ransom... How is this yours to give ?"
"I took it as my 14th share of the treasure."
"Why would you do this? You owe us no loyalty."
"I'm not doing it for you. I know that Dwarves can be obstinate, and pigheaded and difficult. And suspicious and secretive, with the worst manners you can possibly imagine, but they are also brave, and kind, and loyal to a fault. I've grown very fond of them, and I would save them if I can. But Thorin values this stone above all else. In exchange for it's return, I believe he will give you what you are owed. There will be no need for war."
That had been the plan, but of course, things never went as they were planned, not at all. Bilbo had known, even as he silently climbed the wall back into the mountain, making sure no one would discover him, or his absence, he'd known that things would get bad. He'd said it the night before, how dwarves were loyal to a fault; and he hadn't meant it only in the sense that they would most likely die rather than surrender, but also that they valued loyalty so highly... they would never forgive Bilbo's betrayal. He'd known that, and still he'd gone back, he just had to. It was only right, for him to face the consequences of his actions, no matter what those might be. It might not be what Gandalf wanted, but it was what Bilbo chose...
And so it had happened, darkness had fallen upon Thorin's demeanor the moment he laid eyes on the stone, in Bard's hand. At first he'd refused to believe it, there was just no way, in his own mind, that the stone could end in the hands of his enemy, not when he knew it to be inside the mountain. No way... until one hobbit confessed to his treachery:
"I-It's no trick. The stone is real. I gave it to them."
"I took it as my 14th share."
"You would steal from me?"
"Steal from you? No, no. I may be a burglar, but I like to think I'm an honest one. I'm willing to let it stand against my claim."
"Against your claim? Your claim, you have no claim over me, you miserable rat!"
"I was going to give it to you. Many times I wanted to, but..."
"But what thief?"
"You are changed, Thorin. The Dwarf I met in Bag-End would never have gone back on his word, would never have doubted the loyalty of his kin."
"Do not speak to me of loyalty. Throw him from the rampart! Did you not hear me?! I will do it myself. I curse you!"
Were anyone to ask him, Bilbo would tell them that he was never afraid of Thorin. Not as the dwarf screamed at his face, as he gave the order for the others to throw him off the wall (and they all silently refused), as big hands encircled a too small, too vulnerable throat, as a small body was manhandled to the battlements and nearly thrown down... He'd never been truly afraid, perhaps it was his unfailing optimism, maybe because deep down he refused to believe that Thorin, his friend, his... Thorin would actually kill him...
"Take him if you wish him to live, and no friendship of mine goes with him."
Those words, pronounced even as he half-climbed, half-slipped down a rope (the same he'd used the night before, and in the hour before dawn), those hurt more than any blow any dwarf, man, elf or dark creature could have dealt to him.
And yet, regardless of how badly thing may have gotten, how he knew he'd just lost the regard of the one person he'd loved most in his whole life (and that made him want to curl up and cry his heart out, made him wonder if it wouldn't have been better had he just died...); even then Bilbo did not leave. He stayed for the battle, and when things got so bad they seemed hopeless, he stepped up once more.
Ravenhill... Bilbo would never stop cursing the name of that place. Where the enemy had planned to corner the strongest dwarves, had pulled them into a trap. It was probably insanity that the hobbit had offered himself to go to their aid, when even the powerful elven King refused to do it... but someone needed to do it, and Bilbo simply couldn't leave Thorin, no matter how much the King Under the Mountain might hate him.
"Don't be ridiculous, you'll never make it."
"Because they will see you coming, and kill you!"
"No, they won't. They won't see me."
"It's out of the question. I won't allow it."
"I'm not asking you to allow it, Gandalf."
Ravenhill... so much had happened in that place, the river and fall frozen solid, the whole place covered in thick mist, things none but a handful knew the details of, and they talked about it even less than the 'Arkenstone Debacle' was talked of (treated as little more than a bad dream, but for the effects that remained). Though it was the source of many nightmares for those who survived it, especially those who'd come so close to dying, and only managed to survive by miracles, chance (or Valar intervention, though not even they would ever admit to it).
It should have ended then, on that forsaken hill, where one Son of Durin had already perished, his last words a cry for his family to run; where another was balancing right then on the precarious edge between life and death, like a too-fragile leaf suspended over the edge of a knife, though they did not know that.
Azog, the Pale Orc, so long considered the Bane of Durin's line (ever since the creature had slayed King Thror and sworn to do the same with the rest of his bloodline), had been defeated. Though not without a price, as Thorin, King Under the Mountain and Slayer of Azog laid on the frozen surface of the river, so close to the edge of the fall, slowly bleeding to death from the stab wound he'd taken from the Pale Orc (been 'forced' to take as it was the only way to get close enough to the creature to kill it for good).
That was how Bilbo found him, shortly after recovering consciousness and with his head still pounding (he'd taken a hard hit, from the mace of one of the goblins earlier, it was a miracle in and of itself that he was still alive and mostly alright); yet he said nothing about it as he hurried to Thorin's side, kneeling beside him, immediately trying to help.
"Hey, Bilbo..." The fallen King called, voice hoarse, pained.
"No, don't move." The stopped him before he could do anything stupid. "Don't move. Lie still."
Bilbo looked at the wound, and immediately felt a pit inside his stomach, it was so deep, and bleeding so much, and he had no idea what to do.
"I'm glad you're here." Thorin mumbled then.
The Burglar tried to shush the King because, honestly, he could hardly think, and every word that came from Thorin's mouth sounded like a piece of a goodbye, and Bilbo just couldn't stand it.
"I wish to part from you in friendship." And there they were, the fateful words.
"No, you're not going anywhere." And still the hobbit refused to accept the seemingly inevitable. "Thorin, you're going to live."
It just did not seem possible, or fair at all; for them to have come so far, only to end like that... for Thorin to end like that. It made Bilbo ache, like nothing ever before had.
"I would take back my words and my deeds at the gate." Thorin's voice was a bit chocked, almost gurgled, probably the blood filling his lungs, yet there were things that still needed to be said. "You did what only a true friend would do. Forgive me. I was too blind to see. I am so sorry that I have led you into such peril."
"No, I... I'm glad to have shared in your perils, Thorin." Bilbo tried to reassure him. "Each and every one of them. It is far more than any Baggins deserves."
It truly had been such an honor for the hobbit, for such a simple being like him to have been part of such an incredible adventure, and with remarkable individuals... and it just wasn't right for things to end as they were!
Bilbo remembered in that moment, just for an instant, two other exchanges that had marked the beginning of their journey, their adventure. Two pieces of conversation, between a dwarven-king-in-exile and a gray wizard:
"I cannot guarantee his safety."
"Not will I be responsible for his fate."
They did not know that Bilbo had heard, but he had. And then there was that one piece of his own conversation with Gandalf, and the ways their words marked him:
"Can you promise me that I will come back?"
"No, and if you do, you will never be the same."
It had taken so long for Bilbo to understand those words, but in that moment he did... and he so wish he didn't. He would even say he would rather not return, he would rather sacrifice that, than have to go back to his smial having lost the one thing he'd come to cherish, to love, above all else, above his home even... perhaps above his own life.
And while Bilbo could not have known it, those thoughts, that almost-prayer, called to someone, touching a chord inside her soul, making up her mind.
"Farewell, Master Burglar." Thorin murmured quietly, looking straight at Bilbo. "Go back to your books, your fireplace. Plant your trees, watch them grow. If more of us valued home above gold, it would be a merrier world."
That should have been the end, should have... but it wasn't. It would have been, truly, had things remained as they had been until that moment. But neither dwarf nor hobbit were aware that there was one more individual in Ravenhill that day, one who had decided to interfere, to change Fate, once and for all.
Neither of the two noticed their audience until the Lady was kneeling by them, on the dying King's empty side. The hobbit's reaction was instantaneous, though a bit clumsy (might have been his exhaustion or the contusion), as he pulled on his small elven blade with one hand (the other one still holding onto the dwarf), pointing it at the unknown lady.
"Who are you?!" Bilbo demanded, trembling.
The Burglar was injured, thankfully not badly enough that his life was in danger (though the whole situation wasn't helping the throb in his head any), but certainly enough that there was no way he would be capable of actual fight, against either the unknown lady, or anyone else that might appear. Bilbo knew that and so, he suspected, did the Lady. She looked at him with obvious admiration, for his courage his willingness to defend the fallen dwarf at his side, no matter how impossible it might seem. In the end, Bilbo simply cared too much for Thorin to give up, regardless of the circumstances.
"My name is Eleana..." The lady spoke, her voice melodic and soft, it almost seemed to echo around her, like magic... "And I am here to make you an offer, Master Baggins..."
"How do you know my name?!" The hobbit half-squeaked.
"I know a great many things." She said enigmatically. "But right now, time is scarce, a decision must be made, by you."
"What kind of decision?" Bilbo asked seriously, he instinctively knew that whatever might be coming, it wouldn't easy, not for any of them.
"What are you willing to do for love?" She asked, and then, as if deciding that the question wasn't specific enough, she rephrased. "What are you willing to do for Thorin Oakenshield?"
"No..." Thorin half-yelled half-moaned his denial.
Bilbo tightened his hold on his beloved dwarf... even if he couldn't bring himself to say it out-loud, the hobbit knew he loved Thorin. A part of him had felt a connection form between them from the very moment their eyes first laid on each other, at his door, in Bag End, and then when that song had come... It was why Bilbo had stayed, had endured so much (troll snot, and near-death-scares, and orc packs, and horrible wargs, thunder battles, cold ice storms, yells and falls that could have killed him, spiders, dark forests, a crazy river, and even a huge dragon, fire and fear and terror). And even if he could never find the courage to actually say something, Bilbo would at least try to help, in any way he could... if only he'd known that Thorin felt exactly the same; that his yells and insults had been but attempts to hide honest concern and worry that'd turned to terror, dismissal that had turned into acceptance, trust and an absolute faith...
There was a reason why Thorin had had such a hard time believing Bilbo could betray him (when the Arkenstone was revealed in Bard's hand), why the dragon-madness made him distrust even his own kin he'd never felt that way about Bilbo, why even in the darkest moments the hobbit could pull an honest smile from his face. After doubting him time and again, after the trolls and Azog, the spiders and the cells in the Woodland realm, Thorin had promised himself he'd never again doubt the Burglar... it was what allowed him to let the hobbit go alone in the dragon's lair, even with all the risk, it was what pushed him into leading the desperate move against Smaug; it was what had him clinging to the edge on sanity until the very end...
Some might wonder how things would have been if Bilbo hadn't used the Arkenstone as a bargaining chip, if he hadn't betrayed Thorin... maybe things could have gone as bad as Balin feared, maybe not... maybe love would have been enough to save them in the end... Perhaps it still would...
And the Lady had just asked him what he would do for Thorin...
"Anything." Bilbo stated, no hesitation at all.
"Are you sure, Master Baggins?" She asked for confirmation once, willing him to understand how serious the situation was. "The price to pay..."
"If it saves Thorin's life no price will ever be too high." The halfling stated solemnly.
Bilbo noticed the Lady Eleana staring straight at him, almost through him, as if she could see into his mind and heart (and for all he knew, maybe she could). Still, not a word was said, hobbit and dwarf waited for the Lady to make up her mind and speak again, and she did.
"Would you bind your life to his?" She asked, soft but completely serious. "Would you allow his life to depend on yours, and yours on him?"
"I..." The Burglar took a deep breath, bracing himself, not knowing if Thorin would agree of believe him too presumptuous. "Yes, I would. Though I would not presume to know what he..."
"I would do it as well." The King cut him off, directing one soft, lingering look at his halfling (even if Bilbo did not know it, he was Thorin's), before turning to look at the unknown lady. "I would do anything to stay by Bilbo's side..." He took a deep, ragged breath. "I would do my best to take on whatever burden you would place on his shoulders."
"I know you would." And she sounded honest in that. "But Master Baggin's Fate is his and can be taken by no one else... doesn't mean he has to do it alone."
"Anything." Thorin reiterated.
"Once bound, you each will live as long as the other." Eleana stated serenely. "And just as well, if one shall perish, both shall go."
"No price is too high." Bilbo insisted.
The dwarf just nodded. He had his doubts, though he would never say it. It wasn't his Burglar's love that he doubted, how could he after everything that had happened? After Bilbo had put his life in danger time and again to protect Thorin? Even there, in Ravenhill, where he'd chosen to go to try and protect the dwarves, even after everything that had been said and done in the Mountain. Sometimes the dwarven-King couldn't understand how the hobbit could be so nice, or what he might have ever done for Mahal to bless him with such a wondrous creature as his One. For so many years Thorin had believed himself to be cursed to be alone; at some point he'd even started believing that it might be better that way, what did he have to offer any potential match? But with Bilbo... he still did not think even all of Smaug's treasure could be enough to offer him (though the hobbit had already stated, and proven, he cared not at all about gold or jewels); but if he'd spent all those years alone, for that, waiting for him, then it was all worth it.
Thorin Oakenshield would never be worthy of Bilbo Baggins's love, but he would strive every day for the rest of his life to be... if he survived the following few minutes.
"Then repeat after me." The Lady instructed them. "Heart to thee..."
Neither dwarf nor hobbit knew exactly what was going on; but there was an instinct inside both that told them the Lady held the key to their survival (because even if Thorin was the fatally wounded one, there was no doubt that Bilbo's life would never be the same if he were to lose his beloved dwarf).
"Heart to thee..." The two halves repeated dutifully.
"Body to thee..." She went on.
"Body to thee..." Bilbo blushed and Thorin chuckled slightly but even that did not stop them.
"Soul to thee..." Eleana added, a hint of a smile on her lips.
"Soul to thee..." The pair stated.
"Always and forever, so mote it be." She finished.
"Always and forever, so mote it be." Halfling and Dwarf chorused.
And so the bond was sealed.
Both Bilbo and Thorin could feel it, the moment the bonds between them sharpened, almost becoming solid, at the same time Eleana turned her face to the sky, eyes closed. Words began coming from her mouth, in a language neither halfling nor dwarf could identify, it wasn't any form of elvish, nor any dialect of khuzdul, not even Westron or any other language of Men; and yet, somehow, they still understood every word:
"Ah Elbereth Gilthoniel! Listen to me Great Mother of the Stars. In this place, and at this hour I call upon you, to allow Vairë's tapestries to be rewoven, Mando's pull to be canceled. A call for this life to be blessed, for this change to be made. This is my choice, my fate, the gift given to me, to pass on to whom I will! This is my choice. As I will it, so mote it be!"
In all the years that would follow, neither halfling nor dwarf would ever be completely sure what happened exactly in that moment. A mix of the brightest light, a warm breeze (regardless of the ice around them), a melodic note and something else that couldn't be named...
Thorin could have cared little about words in an ancient tongue, or any show of lights and wind and warmth, which seemed so out of place considering he was laying on a frozen river. Yet if there was one thing he couldn't ignore, was the moment all the weakness, exhaustion and even the coldness inside his own body stopped weighing him down. He was no longer dying, and not even that, he felt perfectly healthy, like he hadn't in so long, before ever setting foot inside the Lonely Mountain for sure.
Hands went to dwarf's chest, both his own and Bilbo's, and while mail and cloth were still torn, still marked red with blood, his skin was untouched. It wasn't like the wound had been healed, but as if there had never been a wound at all.
In that moment, it was as if a switch had been flipped; with a hand each still on Thorin's chest, and the other entwined together, they leaned forward in sync, and kissed. It was a very brief kiss, barely more than a touch of lips, but still quite tender.
"What have you done...?"
The question from an unexpected new party made them pull apart, though they did so slowly, their own way of proving they'd done nothing wrong.
Gandalf stood right there, looking at them in what might amount to shock, and he wasn't alone; a couple of feet or so ahead of him and slightly to side was a badly injured Kili (anyone could see it in the blood staining his clothes and the pained grimace) being held up by Dwalin and Nori (and the King had no idea when Nori had joined them); even more odd was the red-haired she-elf standing somewhat nervously beside them, along with another who looked a little too much like the ponce (in Thorin's opinion) unnerving (in Bilbo's) King of Mirkwood, making it obvious that they were kin... probably a son?
The pair of newly bonded males stared at Gandalf for a moment, belatedly realizing that his question wasn't meant for them, no, the wizard's eyes weren't fixed in either of them, but instead on the pale blonde haired Lady still kneeling beside the King Under the Mountain.
"I've made my choice..." Eleana told Gandalf quietly.
Her voice sounded odd then, almost as if it were fading away, as if she were fading away... all of those present did a double take then, as they realized that she truly was, fading away slowly.
"The Tapestry of Fate shall be rewoven by the Hand of Destiny..." She murmured, looking first at the wizard, and then at the couple. "Arda's future is in your hands now..." She turned to look straight at the sky, surprisingly clear right then. "I go back to my home..."
And just like that, her body finished dissolving into tiny sparks, like stardust, which then rose to the sky. Leaving Thorin and Bilbo sitting there, on the ice, holding onto each other, a whole new future before them.
Even with the unexpected miracles that had taken place, Thorin's life saved, most would have expected for the adventuring to end then. The Lonely Mountain once again belonged to Durin's Folk, an alliance between Erebor, the new Dale and Mirkwood had been secured, Thorin was King Under the Mountain, with Bilbo as his Royal Consort. And perhaps it was an end of sorts, but not for everything, and certainly not for them.
The beginning this time came in the form of a letter, left discreetly with the bonded couple, right before the Lady had departed:
Dear Masters Baggins and Oakenshield:
I know you will have many questions, and you deserve answers, however, not all questions can or even should be answered at this time. The things I can tell you, I shall:
My name, as I'm sure I will have told you, is Eleana. In my lifetime I've been given many titles: Daughter of the Skies, Princess of the Stars, Child of the Night, Varda's Messenger, Nienna's Hope... In the end, I am no one special, have never been. I am simply someone who was chosen to fulfill a great task, a long time ago...
There is Darkness coming, it's been coming for a long time, some would say since the beginning of time, but only now has it become evident. There are those in the Far West, though, who've known it all along, Lady Vairë, the Valie, the Weaver of the Tapestries of Fate among them. It was she, she and Varda, Lady Elbereth. Queen of the Valinor, who gave me the great gift that would aid me in fulfilling my mission.
There are people in this World, Individuals who've been chosen for their strength of heart and soul, for their wills of iron, to be the Protectors of Arda. Not all are Warriors, and not all shall survive. Some have tasks small, others great, but all just as important. All their Fates are woven in Vairë's Tapestries the same way.
Thorin Oakenshield, by the time you read these words, your Fate will have been fulfilled; and if my Lady has accepted my prayers, you will still be alive, and by your match's side to find out about it all. You were always meant to recover your home, Erebor, not only for yourself and your kin, but for all you Children of Aüle, and also for the good of Arda. That Fate was always yours to seize, Mithrandir's meddling and everyone else's opinion notwithstanding. Though, at the same time, the choice was always yours. Only you could choose to embark on this quest, to find the right people to accompany you on it... and only you could fight against the Dragon-Sickness, the Gold-Fever and push on, taking your quest to a satisfactory end. So I shall tell you this now, you are strong, Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror... stronger than any of your ancestors ever was. The Sickness has left you, and never shall it take you over again, nor any of the Line of Durin, you've freed your bloodline from that curse.
Bilbo Baggins. I know what it is that will be in your mind by the time you reach these lines. You consider yourself a simple hobbit, always have and probably always will. You are so focused on everyone around you, that you cannot see the greatness in yourself. To you I say this: Thorin Oakenshield, whom you hold in such high regard, wouldn't be the dwarf and King he is (and shall be) if it weren't for you... You were an instrumental part from the very start of this Quest, Master Baggins, never doubt your worth. I am also sure that, with the proper motivation, you will come to achieve much, much more...
I shall tell you what you must likely suspect already: In Vairë's Tapestries, long ago woven, Thorin Oakenshield's Final Fate was, to fall to the blade of the Pale Orc, crossing into the Halls of his Ancestors with the forgiveness and renewed friendship of the halfling Bilbo Baggins. That was the way it was written things would be, the way they would have been, had I not stepped in. Why then did I?
This brings us back to my task and my gift. A very long time ago I was given the task to look over those in Arda Marked by Fate. Those like the two of you, and like many more whose paths you've crossed, or will cross in the times to come. I was to watch over you, until the day I could choose, and it was no easy choice. I was given the gift to change One Tapestry, One Fate, and only One. For many years have I watched Marked Ones come and go, and never before had I been touched by someone's story the way I was by yours. And it's not what you have done thus far, though that is great by itself; but all the things I know, inside me, you could do if given the chance... and thus, I've decided to give it to you.
By the time you lays eyes on this words, I know I shall be long gone. For that is the price I must pay, the body I possess will only last until my choice is made. And I'm not afraid of making it, for I know I leave the well-being of Arda in good hands. Neither of you are tied by Fate any longer, your lives forever freed from it, though I honestly believe you won't leave those who need you to stand alone, it's not in you.
And like this, we go back to you, Master Baggins. You are such a remarkable being, and as much good as you've done thus far, the Quest for Erebor was never meant to be the end of the road for you, there is more yet to come, as you might be able to suspect already. And even though that Woven Fate is now gone, that means not you cannot help when the time comes, as I'm sure you will. The One meant to carry on the task of freeing Arda in the future is not yourself, and never was, but you shall be an important part in his coming to be the individual he's meant to be... if you allow it, that is.
In the end, Masters, it is up to you. Follow your hearts, for they will never lead you astray.
May your bonds forever be as strong as stones and shine as bright as the stars, and may Arda thrive under your guidance and that of yours.
Bilbo had been preparing to leave, at the end of the Winter. After they'd gotten well under way with the reconstruction of Erebor. After his 'official wedding' to Thorin, and their coronation, and Kili's own wedding to Tauriel (though she was still working on being accepted by all dwarves... some knife throwing was apparently involved).
The dwarves of the Company had balked at the idea of their Royal Consort leaving them, so in the end Thorin and Bilbo had let them read the letter, hoping it would help them understand. Balin had read it out-loud, and even when he was done, it didn't seem like any of them fully understood it (though, to be fair, Thorin and Bilbo weren't fully sure they understood it either).
"That means..." Ori was the first to speak, after it had been read, and even he seemed to be having trouble finding the right words. "What does that mean?"
"You're Marked Ones..." The auburn-haired she-elf murmured, awed.
"You know what that means?" Kili asked, turning to his mate.
"It means they were chosen by Vairë, the Weaver of the Tapestries, as was said in the letter." Tauriel declared. "It means they're chosen in some way. Naneth... my mother told me once, a long time ago, that I was Marked..." She closed her eyes briefly at the memory. "I did not understand what kind of Fate one such as I could possibly have," She opened her eyes again to stare straight at Kili. "and then I met you, and I knew..."
"The Tapestry of Fate shall be rewoven by the Hand of Destiny..." The Wizard murmured, more to himself than to the others.
"What is that supposed to mean?" Dis demanded, as immobile as a mountain.
"Destiny... it probably isn't the right word, but it's the closest you'll find in any mortal language." Gandalf explained to her, to all of them. "The elves call it Maranwë, and that's probably a bit closer to it. Fate, as you know, is what's been woven in Vairë's Tapestries, what's meant to be; though some things are still subjected to change, as we're all beings with free will and capable of our own choices." He didn't say how some things would happen regardless of any choices made. "Destiny, is what is left when Fate is done... or when it's been erased, torn down. Thorin's Final Fate, death, was erased by Eleana, and his bonding to Bilbo in turn erased his own. Both of them are now free to write their own destiny, make their own luck, as men might say. Theirs are the hands of Destiny." He let out a breath. "Eleana also knew that their choices would not be limited to themselves, they will shape others' futures, their Fate. In the end, it is likely that everything that was once woven in regards to the times to come shall be woven again... as was her intent all along, I am sure."
"Alright, lets assume we understand any of that." Glóin said, in a tone that left it clear he didn't, at all. "What does any of it have to do with you leaving us, laddie?"
"It was made abundantly clear that if things had run their course on that hill Thorin..." The hobbit didn't even dare say it, and it wasn't really necessary. "I would have returned to the Shire. When releasing Thorin of his Fate, I was released myself, but that doesn't mean there wasn't more I was expected to do. I may not know what it is, but there is something waiting for me at the Shire. Something important..."
"Someone upon whose shoulders lays the future of Arda..." Gandalf murmured, shocked.
As taken as he'd always been by the hobbits, the idea that all of Arda might one day depend on one... it was a foreboding thought. However, it also explained Bilbo living through everything he had. He was a Warrior and a Hero in his own right, and one day he'd also be a Guide...
"That's why I must return to the Shire." Bilbo stated seriously, knowing Gandalf was beginning to understand. "Whatever or whoever is waiting for me there, I must do it. All of Arda might depend on it..." And what a daunting prospect that was! "It doesn't mean I'm forgetting about any of you. I shall visit every year when I'm able, and you're of course always welcome to visit me." His voice half-broke but he went on. "I'm sure you all remember how to find my home... the rune is still there, and shall always be, to show you the way. Tea is at four, don't bother to knock, just go right in. You will always be welcome to any home of mine."
"Likewise, Master Baggins..." Glóin stated, before suddenly pressing his arm, fist closed, across his chest in a gesture of loyalty. "My Lord..."
The rest of the company followed suit.
The dwarven King smiled smugly at the honor and respect his people were showing his chosen consort. Bilbo for his part could only stand there, shocked still; though at least he no longer gaped or sputtered at any little thing, he'd learnt in the months since being named Royal Consort. And Thorin had a feeling that the way he had laid in on that dwarf from the Iron Hills when he'd insulted Kili had done wonders for the hobbit's own reputation as well (Bilbo might think he could keep such things to himself, wishing not to bother Thorin, but Dáin at least knew better, and he particularly knew Thorin's temper and how the King would have reacted had found out about any of it later and from the mouth of anyone else... especially considering the gossip that ran through the mountain).
A huge feast was prepared for that evening, a celebration for everything that had happened, and everything yet to come. And at dawn the next morning, Bilbo departed. An honor guard, formed by a mix of elves, men, dwarves and one wizard lead him and Thorin through Dale, by the edge of the Lake and across Mirkwood; where the dwarf-King had to double back to Erebor and allow his consort to continue with just Gandalf (there was too much to be done for him to just leave in that moment, even with how wonderful Dis was as Lady Regent).
Beorn took over the task of accompanying the two from the Carrock all the way to Rivendell (ever since the Battle of Five Armies he had been in better relations with the other races), where wizard and hobbit rested for several days before continuing to Bree. There the two parted, Bilbo doing the last part of the journey on his own.
He arrived to Bag End to find that his horrible cousin, Lobelia Sackville-Baggins (the worst kind of Baggins... and of hobbit really) had declared him dead and they were auctioning off all his things. It took a while, but eventually he managed to convince everyone that he was, in fact, very much alive (for some reason his standing there didn't seem to be enough). Then he proceeded to use a part of his treasure (the single chest his mate managed to convince him to take with him) to recover what had been sold already as well as hiring some folk to help him get everything in place, clean up the place, tend to the garden and refill the pantry (he'd to be ready for whenever his dwarven family chose to visit).
The rest of the treasure he would use, for gifts mostly, through the years. In the end, Bilbo was only truly interested in keeping one thing, which he never took off anyway. It was the carefully crafted mithril torc with elaborate carvings around his neck; which marked him both Thorin Oakenshield's mate and, consequently, as King Consort of Erebor. It was impossible to notice at first sight, half-hidden as it was under the neckline of his shirts. As a special wedding present Gandalf had also spelled it (as well as the one Thorin wore) so it would alert them through a radical change in temperature if their other half were ever to be in great peril.
All arrangements finished, Bilbo eventually settled back to life in Bag End, counting the days until his mate were to visit him. He knew a dwarf visiting him (even if no one were to ever know he as more than a friend) would only spur the whispers and gossips about the 'mad Baggins' already going around (hobbits weren't used to anything 'unusual' happening around them, and Bilbo having gone missing for a year and then returning with a veritable treasure was so far beyond unusual most couldn't fully wrap their heads around it); but he did not care. In the end, the things he had, his 'family of choice' and his beloved Thorin, they were far more important than any ill-willed gossip and dark looks could ever hope to be.
More than twenty years passed, before Eleana's suggestions of what was coming came to pass. And once they did... Bilbo couldn't help but wish he could have done something to change things. As much joy as he got in having his little nephew (his favorite nephew) so close, be almost like his own son... he would never stop wishing that Prim and Drogo hadn't died, that Frodo hadn't had to deal with such loss. The worst was that, no matter how much the older hobbit wracked his head about it, there was nothing he could have done, his cousins (for both of them were related to him), had died in a boating accident; and regardless of the cruel gossip some less-than-gentle individuals might indulge in, it had been no one's fault (and he made sure Frodo knew that, no matter what he might hear others say).
So Bilbo did what he could. He kept the lad close, looked after him, comforted him after his nightmares and little by little helped him move on. In a way it had probably helped that Bilbo had been so close to their family before anything happened. Not only because of the will Drogo and Primula had left (stating Frodo was to be left in Bilbo's care if anything happened to them), but because the fauntling trusted Bilbo, was willing to be adopted by the older Baggins and go live with him in Bag-End, regardless the gossip that was still circulating about the 'eccentric bachelor' (it was too bad Bilbo couldn't explain to Lobelia and everyone else how much he wasn't a bachelor, and just who his spouse was, and how his eccentricities were much better valued in places other than the Shire... but that was the way things had to be if he was to stay where he was needed, where Frodo needed him. Bilbo had long since accepted that fact).
Didn't make the coming revelations any easier. It was one thing to lie to his neighbors and various relatives in the Shire; but Bilbo wouldn't lie to his own nephew. Which meant that before he truly adopted Frodo, he had to tell the lad the truth.
Thorin understood that, as much as he understood Bilbo's nervousness (he'd seen the veiled looks all the hobbits directed at him since entering the Shire, so unused they were to foreigners, and particularly those from other races, so distrusting). It was the only time Thorin had managed to leave Erebor, and his crown, but there was no way he was letting his beloved deal with such a revelation all on his own. If Frodo accepted them, he wanted to be there to welcome his new kin properly and if not... if not he would be there for Bilbo.
And so the two sat there, side by side on the couch across Bilbo's favorite armchair, waiting for the fauntling to arrive, as he did every evening.
"Uncle Bilbo..." Frodo hesitated at the entrance just for a second, before bowing respectfully at the dwarrow. "Your Majesty..."
"Sharp as a blade." The dwarf nodded, unable to help the smile tugging at the edge of his mouth. "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, they had tried to plan it, what they would say, how they would say it, but aside from deciding Bilbo should be the one to do it (as Frodo knew and trusted him), they hadn't been able to decide anything.
"Frodo my boy, take a seat please." The older hobbit spoke, nervousness leaking into his voice. "There are some things we need to talk to you about."
The fauntling's eyes widened, just a bit, but enough that Thorin noticed; there'd been something about Bilbo's words that made him react, but what?
"As you know in the last few months I've been making all preparations to adopt you, make you my heir." Bilbo went into the explanation, nervousness still quite evident in his tone of voice. "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 began, in a somewhat soothing voice.
"Easy lakhdûn (light)..." Thorin just couldn't stop himself from laying a hand over his beloved's, hoping it would be soothing. "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, it was quite obvious he knew what his uncle spoke of, and Thorin understood that there were stories Bilbo wouldn't share, some because there were too personal (like the things they'd gone through as they slowly gained the loyalty and respect of the dwarves that established themselves in the Lonely Mountain, especially Bilbo, being a non-dwarrow); others because hobbits simply wouldn't be able to understand: like Nori and Dwalin's long courtship, which had driven half of the company nuts with their games and bets and twists, until the day Ori finally lost it and yelled at the two of them to stop dancing around each other and do something about their obvious attraction already... Thorin was unlikely to ever forget his dear friend's face, or Nori's, at hearing something like that from his little brother (never mind that said little brother had been married for years already and with a child on the way by then).
"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."
The dwarf-King thought his mate was being a bit too convoluted, but then again, he knew the lad better, and would know the best way to explain things to him. So he didn't interrupt and instead just waited, ready to help in any way he could, even if it was just by sitting there.
"You know I love listening to your stories, uncle." Frodo said, getting himself comfortable, he sounded particularly eager.
Bilbo began telling the story then, growing obviously more comfortable as he progressed. At first it was the same things he would usually hear him tell dwarflings, or even the human children in Dale, the basic story. And then began the other pieces, the parts that were more personal, and hardly ever told: like their late-night talks in Rivendell (Thorin would admit to liking the place if only for those memories); there was a depth to the way each of them had acted towards each other, the saving, the yelling, everything, that was usually left out of the story, all the way to the retaking of Erebor.
Thorin knew from the start that, if left to his own devices, Bilbo would make little mention (or even no mention at all) of the gold-sickness, of every cruel word and action that had come from the dwarven king, some even directed to the hobbit himself. But Thorin refused to allow that; it was one thing to keep that kind of information from innocent, impressionable younglings; and while Frodo was still that, he was also going to be family, he deserved (probably needed) to know everything, both the good and the bad.
When they got to the part about him almost throwing his beloved burglar off the ramparts Thorin could only pray the fauntling wouldn't bolt, he certainly looked horrified enough. It made the King wonder if he'd lost the boy before ever having him...
"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." The dwarf 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..." The older hobbit called in obvious 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)."
The gesture was a good as a kiss, for dwarves; dwarrows were very private creatures and hardly ever kissed in the presence of others (there was also the fact that with the beads some tended to wear in their hair and bears, kissing could become a challenge...) Bilbo did not answer verbally, instead pressing his own forehead into Thorin's shoulder briefly, answering the gesture, knowing fully well what it meant.
"Uncle Bilbo..." The boy called, he sounded guarded, but still willing to listen.
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 was a part of the story everyone tended to gloss over, it was what had happened on that hilltop, the memories too sharp and too painful even more than twenty years later. And yet in that moment it was told. On that day the full story finally came out (for the first time heard by 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 (and how the two later came to be married); 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 took a deep breath as he slowly processed everything that had just been said. "The two of you are... married, then."
"We're bonded, married, yes." Thorin nodded with a small smile.
"But, uncle!" Frodo was shocked; though, surprisingly, not exactly in the manner either of the two adults might have expected. "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 looking somewhat eager, perhaps even excited at the prospect of family (and Thorin could only imagine how Kili would get... it had been bad enough to convince the younger dwarf to stay behind that time); however that all changed as the hobbitling's expression changed into shock. And he could guess why, the whole 'Line of Succession' thing, the boy's uncle had reacted pretty much the same way when realizing what their marriage meant for him (Thorin had known, of course, that Bilbo had married him for love, not treasure or a crown, but for the Burglar not to have even realized the position and power their union would grant him).
"It's unlikely it will ever come to that." The dwarf stated, trying to put the youth at ease. "Even with the... the passing of Fili. 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 in abreement. "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, and of course it hadn't been easy, because things coud never be easy for them. There had been those who'd had their doubts, those who'd gone as far as pushing forth cruel, hurtful gossip in an attempt to dicredit Bilbo, and even Kili (some dwarrows just couldn't accept that he'd married a she-elf). And then Bilbo had proven them that his smaller size in no way changed all he was capable of, and that the stories being told by the Company were absolute truth (and Tauriel had taken to throwing knives, which Thorin had absolutely loved, even if Bilbo couldn't help but be aghast). Eventually they'd all managed to prove they knew what they were doing, and deserved the positions they had.
"I hope I'm not scaring you away, young one." The King 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 completely true too. Most would not expect it of Thorin, having been on his own for so long, with no children of his own and a male One, but he did love children, always had (How could he not? He'd helped raise his nephews after Vili's death, after all... there were times when the two had felt more like sons than sister-sons). Fili's absence still hurt, it probably always would. But the idea of someone else, it helped. It wasn't that Frodo would be a substitute, none of them would ever allow for that. But Frodo needed family, and Thorin (and obviously Bilbo) would like nothing more than to be that family. They could only hope the fauntling would give them a chance.
"Does that mean I can call you Uncle Thorin?" Frodo blurted out suddenly.
"Yes, of course." The dwarrow nodded right away.
He was sure that the smile on his face in that moment was so big some of his people would worry, he never smiled that much (at least not outside the privacy of his private quarters, and only in the presence of his direct family... then again, Frodo was to be family).
The fauntling's reaction was automatic. Up until that moment he'd been showing very careful manners (that Thorin was sure had been taught by his parents, and expanded on by Bilbo). But right then he let all that go, jumping off the armchair and practically leaping into Thorin's arms, hugging him so tightly (and he was strong, for his age and size), like no one had ever since Kili had stopped being a dwarfling (even if there were times when he still acted like one).
"Uncles!" The child cried out excitedly, holding onto Thorin with one hand, and extending the other to blindly grab at Bilbo.
The smile his spouse directed at him over the riot of childish dark curls was enough to make something settle in Thorin's chest, even as his smile brightened further. Everything was perfect in that moment. Absolutely perfect.
Of course, things couldn't stay perfect forever. Then again, nothing ever could. Thorin and Bilbo had realized, from the moment the news of the death of Drogo and Primula became known, what it likely meant for Frodo's future. They remembered quite clearly the words from Lady Eleana's letter; and while neither of them could imagine twelve-year-old Frodo ever having to bear the burden of the future of Arda, he wouldn't stay a tween forever.
The lovers knew better than to challenge Fate, so instead they did their best to prepare Frodo. Lessons in languages (Westron, khuzdul and sindarin), history, geography; it was probably a good thing that young Frodo liked all those things, like his uncle Bilbo did. Then, after the lad turned twenty three, the trips began, short at first and progressively longer, as they taught the boy to travel, to collect edible plants and berries, make and douse fires, guide himself by landmarks, the sun and the stars, and even hunt if necessary. And once Frodo was off-age, the travels to Erebor began, and with that more 'proper instruction': on defending himself, fighting, surviving.
Frodo knew, almost from the very start, what he was being prepared for. Even if none of them had any way of knowing what form the actual Fate would take, they just knew it would be important, and involve Arda as a whole. No one could have predicted what Bilbo's little ring would turn out to be.
Bilbo knew, from the moment Nori came at him (slipping out of one of the many secret passages the spy-master enjoyed using), and stopped him from joining his spouse in the throne room, that something was very wrong. The blood-curling screech that echoed throughout the mountain just a handful of minutes later was more confirmation that entirely necessary. The effect it had on Nori (throwing the dwarf into such high-alert he didn't seem to quite know what to do for a second or two), was all the hobbit needed to slip past him and into the throne room, where he found Thorin sitting on his throne and completely tense, like a snake about to strike.
"Marlel (love of all loves)..." Bilbo called quietly, approaching Thorin slowly.
The reaction was instantaneous, before the hobbit could so much as give one more step, his mate was there, holding him tightly against his own body, pressing their foreheads tightly together, as if needing all the contact possibly to reassure himself that his consort was, in fact, there.
"Thorin...?" The burglar called, confused. "What is going on?"
"Oh lukhdel (light of all lights)." Thorin whispered back, holding onto his hobbit, almost too tight for comfort. "The time has come."
Bilbo did not ask what time, it was unnecessary. Still, he could have never expected it when Thorin told him about the black rider who'd demanded an audience with the King, (the reason why Nori hadn't allowed him in), who'd demanded to know the whereabouts of the Baggins hobbit (apparently, for all their power and such, the servants of the Dark Lord were foolish enough not to realize who the Royal Consort actually was... or maybe it was because it'd been so long since the hobbit had lived there full time). The one thing Bilbo had no trouble believing was Thorin's response to the Rider (something about where to stuff it...) which certainly explained the reaction the creature had had, and which had made chills run down the backs of every single living being inside the mountain.
Of course by then Kili was already King, his and Tauriel's coronations (and Thorin had made a point of everyone knowing that she-elf or not, Tauriel had as much power as any Royal Consort had ever had... which had actually grown with Bilbo and his diplomatic abilities) had taken place the year before, shortly after Bilbo's arrival to the mountain. The delight the two had felt being together had been great, and the dwarf had wanted nothing to interrupt them, especially not any possible duties; he also knew his nephew was more than ready for the responsibility (to which they all agreed), so it was done. The only reason Thorin had been leading Open Court that day was that Kili had gone with Tauriel to a meeting in the Woodland Realm, regarding an escaped prisoner and the death of a number of elves and dwarves who'd been working together guarding the odd creature (which Bilbo hadn't actually known of, until after everything had happened).
To learn what his little ring actually was, the danger it carried, it was almost more than the heart of the nearly-one-hundred-and-twelve-year-ld hobbit could take. He knew Gandalf had his suspicions but...
"If that Wizard knew last year and didn't say a thing..." Bilbo muttered under his breath.
"You told me you'd decided to leave the ring to Frodo at his insistence." Thorin commented. "And since I never really liked the thing...useful as it might have been, I always knew there was something... just not right about it..."
The King broke off his own tirade as he finally processed something he himself had just said, at the same time Bilbo came to the same realization.
"Frodo!" Both cried out at the same time.
A raven was off (with no actual letters but a verbal message, as it was safer) as soon as it was possible. It was that raven which made Frodo decide to leave for Rivendell the day before his fifty-first birthday, rather than the day after. It was the only thing that allowed him to make it as far as Bree (by then with Sam and two cousins in tow) without too much trouble.
Thorin and Bilbo themselves sent Glóin and Gimli to Rivendell to make sure Frodo was alright, inform Lord Elrond of what had happened in the mountain, and hopefully find out what would be done. It still wasn't until a raven was sent back, with news of the Council that had taken place and the Fellowship that had formed, that the implications of everything finally sunk in.
That, right there, was the Fate Lady Eleana had made reference to all those years ago. Someone Bilbo had to guide, upon whose shoulders the future of Arda would one day be. It was Frodo, as he was the Ringbearer, who would carry the One Ring to Mordor and throw it into Mount Doom, where it would be destroyed, and the Dark Lord Sauron with it.
The Royal couple left Erebor almost as soon as the raven from Glóin came in (after making sure Kili and Tauriel were fully settled and ready to deal with the madness they all knew was coming). They pushed each other and managed to make it all the way to Rivendell in little less than a month, where they met with Frodo and the rest of his companions. And while, once there, Bilbo took to mostly spending the time with the young ones, he knew his spouse was making sure things would be alright, the only way he could; which, in this case, meant talking to the men... after all, they already knew everyone else, and trusted them, even Legolas (which, considering it was Thorin, and that they were talking about Thranduil's son, that was saying a lot).
The pair left Rivendell (with Glóin and a couple of elves from Mirkwood who'd arrived with Legolas) two days before the Fellowship was to set out. It was Bilbo's idea to make it public that 'Baggins' was traveling with the group. And as much as Thorin did not like it, he knew it was a good way to keep the Dark Riders off their nephew and his own companions for a while, so they did it. Of course the ruse couldn't last for long, but it was useful (and probably the reason why the Enemy would later send such an army to the Lonely Mountain's gates).
Information began coming to both Dale and Erebor about an approaching army sometime during February; both ravens and thrushes having seen the tens of thousands of Easterlings marching in their direction and informing the royals of both Kingdoms of what was coming. The dwarves hadn't really been surprised, Thorin had known all along their ruse would have consequences; and if all those Easterlings (approximately two hundred thousand) were attacking them, that meant they weren't making things harder for Frodo and the Fellowship, that was good.
So preparations were made. Kili and Tauriel left with a mixed army around three-thousand strong (not counting the thirty or so Dúnedain that had gathered and were going with them, or whoever might join the group in Rivendell). It'd been Kili's own idea, for backup to be sent South. Even if they could not go into Mordor itself, the dwarf was sure there must be something they could do, some way they could help. Still, most of the armies of all three allied kingdoms stayed, each of them getting ready for the battle they knew was coming their way.
It was the only time in history that anyone could remember Thorin Oakenshield and Thranduil sitting at a table together, without arguing or even trying to provoke each other, without Erebor's Royal Consort needing to keep things under control himself. Perhaps it was that they all knew what was at stake, that they'd been allied for decades, or maybe age had (finally) made them all wiser (something everyone was thankful for; though Báin did comment that the arguments had been fun at times, at least when nothing too important had depended on whatever negotiations they'd been going through). Báin Blackarrow, King of Dale was old, older he ever thought he would be (77 years old), having lost both of his sisters, wife and brothers-in-law by then. He'd actually been planning on retiring, when news of the army came, and he knew that while his son Brand was ready to be King, he wasn't ready to be King and General at the same time, so Báin opted to postpone it until after the coming battle. He liked spending time in Erebor, with people who'd known his father and sisters in their best years, who'd talk with him about things few people remembered anymore: like the way Tilda had smiled at everything when she was a child, Sigrid's endless compassion to anyone and everyone, their father's stubbornness regarding his becoming King (while records recognized Bard Dragon-Slayer as King since the building of the New Dale, it had actually taken a few years before a real coronation took place, for no other reason than Bard's continued refusal to take a crown and agree to being King).
One of the last things that was agreed on during the meetings of the allied royals, was who would be leading Erebor's army. It'd taken that long for Thorin to admit that it couldn't be him.
They knew they were old, both Bilbo and Thorin knew it, one nearing 113, the other well past his 250th year (closer to 256 actually). Those were amazing ages to reach, in each of their races, and it wasn't just that. The Ring had made it so Bilbo aged more slowly, during all of the sixty years he had it; and while Thorin normally would have weakened with age, the bond between he and Bilbo allowed him to benefit from that as well. But with the Ring no longer in Bilbo's power, it was as if the energy that kept the hobbit somewhat-youthful were draining away. Making it so Thorin's own life-force sustained them instead; it was always meant to be like that, it was the warning Lady Eleana gave them that day in Ravenhill, because of how they came to be bonded, one's life would always depend on the other. None of the others had pronounced their vows under such conditions (not even Tilda and Ori, who'd waited for years after their marriage, until right before she was to give birth to their first child).
Thorin was keeping Bilbo's energies up, but that meant that, every once in a while, the dwarf would feel the draining on his own energies. And it wasn't just that, much as they both refused to admit it, even to themselves, and while they didn't know for sure if it was just senility (they were both quite old after all) settling in, or another side-effect of the ring (it had driven Gollum beyond crazy, after all), there were times when they forgot things. At first it'd been just Bilbo, but later on Thorin too. It didn't happen often, and never lasted long (thank Éru for small mercies) but it would have been a bad idea for either of them to step onto the battlefield as they were.
When Dáin Ironfoot arrived to the Lonely Mountain, at the front of half of the Warriors of the Iron Hills (the other half left behind to defend their homes in case the Easterlings decided on a secondary attack, and in case the worst happened and they lost). Thorin then decided it would be him to lead the dwarven armies.
Arrangements were made, and all civilians from Dale were guided into the mountain, into a set of specially made human-sized apartments on the West side of the mountain (which had been built during the first winter, after Erebor had just been recovered, before the reconstruction of Lake-town and the building of the new Dale). Then the two armies got ready and waited; the elves would come at the Easterling from Mirkwood, as a second front, to better be able to corner the enemy; though a dozen or so archers had been sent to take positions in the empty Dale and above the gates of Erebor, to help.
King Báin himself had gone into the mountain, along with his grandson, Prince Bard II, leaving his son: Crown Prince Brand to lead the human army. Báin hoped that, once the battle had been won, the enemy defeated, Brand would have the backing to take the throne, even if Báin himself was still alive (it was rare for Kings to step down rather than wait for death to take them from their thrones).
The Battle of Dale (as it came to be known later on) was won, but not without heavy casualties on both sides. The heaviest of which were the deaths of both Brand and Dáin, before the closed gates of Erebor. The human crown prince had been the first to fall, after his personal guards fell under the force of too many Easterlings. Dáin, already heavily injured, refused to allow the gates to be opened to him, not wanting to risk the entering the mountain. He helped the dwarves on the wall pull the prince's body up and into safety (Only the Valar knew what the enemies would have done with it otherwise), before climbing himself; and yet in the end his wounds were too many, too deep, he didn't survive the night.
In the end it had been a group of valiant archers, lead by none other than Princess Stiarna who turned the tide of battle, after three days of siege. Taking covert positions in a series of outcrops on the sides of the Lonely Mountain, half of which had been turned into small gardens by the joint efforts of Royal Consort Bilbo and Queen Consort Tauriel in the last sixty years. They took out the leaders of the Easterlings, one by one (half of them were down before any of them knew what was going on); and then just continued doing what they could. Their valiant actions seemed to give what Warriors had survived the first assault, the push they needed to go out and fight again; eventually causing the enemy to retreat.
It was still too much for some of them. Too many deaths, too many grieving. When news came that the Ring had been destroyed and Sauron vanquished, it was cause of celebration, though it did not erase all the pain. In the end Bilbo couldn't take it. He began retreating more and more into his own mind, as a way to avoid the constant grieving of so many of his subjects. Thorin realized that it would only become worse, his spouse would never get better inside the mountain. Which was why, after all the funerals and vigils had taken place, after making sure Stiarna and Dís could handle things in Erebor until the return of Kili and Tauriel, Thorin took his husband and left the Lonely Mountain for the last time.
It was never the plan to end up in Rivendell (it had been the plan to go there, but not to stay); yet at the same time, Thorin never actually planned where they'd live (it was normal for him, acting without thinking, as his mate loved to remind him). He'd only known that Bilbo couldn't stay in Erebor and that was that. They also couldn't go to the Shire, as accepting as Pippin, Merry and even Sam might have been of the life-style and choices of both (mainly the fact that they were both male and married), they knew it would not be the same with everyone else in Hobbiton. Bree was still a choice though.
The environment in Rivendell seemed to help Bilbo return to his senses, which made Thorin decide to stay for a while. They stayed long enough they met with the group travelling back from Gondor and the war. Enough to explain to Kili and Tauriel why they weren't going back, and learn what had been of Balin, Óin and Ori (and to inform the two younger royals what their daughter had gotten up to exactly). It was then that Lord Elrond offered them permanent quarters in Rivendell, and the expression in his husband's eyes was so bright at the prospect Thorin said yes right away (even though he still felt uncomfortable surrounded by so many elves, when he'd spent most of his life hating them).
It was a good life in Rivendell, so different from everything else before, peaceful... and then came the day when Elrond asked to speak with them. The destruction of the Ring had stopped Bilbo's condition from worsening, but it hadn't undone the damage. Thankfully that day was one of the good ones (one of the best, really), which meant both of them were fully on the present, and completely aware of everything.
"Plans have been made." Elrond began.
Thorin mouthed an echo of the words, he wanted to curse the elven lord (yet didn't, knowing of their hearing, all too well), could he be any more cryptic?
"The Age of Elves is coming to an end." Elrond continued, turning somber. "The secondborn, the mortal races... Arda belongs to them now. To all of you." He shook his head before focusing again. "A ship is to sail from the Grey Havens in a few months, it will take many of my people to our new home, beyond the sea, in Valinor... allowances have been made, and permission has been granted for the Ringbearers to join us, if they so wish."
Everything Thorin might have thought of saying about the elf's choice of words, (as well as his penchant for talking in circles) was lost the moment the last phrase was said. Instead he just turned to look at his mate, waiting.
"That will be good for Frodo." Bilbo nodded with a smile.
"What makes you think he knows already?" Elrond sounded curious about that.
"I even know you told him when he was here last." The hobbit said with a mischievous smile. "The lad told me of his plans, of telling Sam to move with him to Bag End, and Rosie once the two of them had married. He was making plans on leaving Bag End to them and wanted to make sure I was alright with it, since they're no Baggins..." He shook his head. "Samwise Gamgee is a most remarkable hobbit, and much as he might try to deny it, I know I owe my nephew's life to him. Besides, Bag End was always meant to house a big family, not just an old bachelor..." He chuckled at the idea, much as it might not be true. "Or a single lad."
Elrond just blinked, it looked like he wanted to ask something, but didn't dare.
"You knew." Thorin murmured, half-shocked half-something-else. "You knew of this plan for... Mahal knows how many months now, and you didn't say a thing?"
"I don't see how that's important." Bilbo turned to look at his dwarf with honest confusion. "It is Frodo's home after all. I thought we agreed we couldn't really go to live in the Shire."
"That's not what I mean." Thorin cut him off, his voice was loud and filled with what almost sounded like annoyance, yet was more than that... he was afraid.
"I don't understand..." The hobbit admitted.
"You're a Ringbearer too..." The former King whispered, so quietly Bilbo wouldn't have heard if he hadn't been sitting right beside him.
"Oh Thorin..." Bilbo embraced him tightly. "You have nothing to worry about. I'm not going anywhere, I promise you. What makes you think I would ever leave you?"
"Galadriel, Gandalf and I have talked about it." Elrond commented quietly. "It is our belief that the power that lays in Valinor might be able to heal what ails Frodo. The pain in his shoulder, caused by the never-fully healing wound of the Morgul blade, as well as the pain from Shelob's bite..." He made a pause before adding. "It might also help heal what ails your mind, Bilbo."
"I am very thankful for whatever help you might give my nephew." The old hobbit chose his words carefully. "You must know that, Master Elrond. But I'm not going anywhere, not without my husband. Not in a million years."
"But Bilbo..." It wasn't that Thorin wanted his Burglar to leave him, but if there was a hope he would get better.
"I made my vows, over sixty years ago." Bilbo reminded his mate. "Heart to heart, body to body, soul to soul... I will hold to those vows. As much as I will regret if the day comes when I lose myself inside my head and cannot come back; I know you will stay with me even then. And the day will come when we will be together again in Mahal's halls."
"I will never leave you, marlel (love of all loves)." Thorin assured his beloved. "Even if the day comes when you no longer remember my name, when you don't know your own. You are my mahdel (blessing of all blessings), and I will never leave you. I will always love you."
"As will I." Bilbo assured him. "Even if a day comes when I can no longer say it out loud. I will never stop feeling this love." He pressed his forehead against Thorin's, before turning back to Elrond. "So you see, your offer might be for the best with our nephew, but I shall not be going anywhere, not without Thorin."
He didn't even bother asking if Thorin could go too, for he was a dwarf, he would never expect for such an allowance to be made.
What neither of them (not even Elrond) could have planned for, was the meeting that took place months later, just a few days before the caravan to the Grey Havens was to depart.
Thorin and Bilbo were called to Elrond's favorite gazebo, much like they'd been when the elven lord had asked to speak with them in private. Except it wasn't just him anymore, Gandalf was there, as well as Lady Galadriel.
"If this is about that voyage again, I really don't see the point." Bilbo commented with an almost petulant tone. "I've made my mind."
Gandalf let out a breath, he knew it was his own insistence that had left the hobbit with such a short temper when it came to that particular topic; Elrond had accepted his decision from the first day, but Gandalf wouldn't.
"I wouldn't presume to be able to change your mind, Master Hobbit." Galadriel said softly. "I would still ask that you allow me to speak. There is something I was asked long ago to say on this day, by one person I held very dear. I'm sure you knew her, Eleana..."
Thorin's and Bilbo's eyes widened instantly. The Lady Eleana? After so long...
"The last time I saw her..." The elven lady made a brief pause as she drew a breath, as if trying to find the strength to speak of something that after so many years still caused her grief. "The last time I saw her was during a meeting of the White Council, over half a century ago... the very morning when you and your Company left this place." She smiled at them, she'd known they were leaving before Lindir could inform them. "She'd known even then what was coming. Said her goodbyes to me, and asked me to do something. She didn't tell me when it would happen, but said that when the time came and all Rings had lost their power, I was to make sure that all Ringbearers traveled West together..."
Bilbo swallowed and shook his head.
"As much as I may wish to grant the Lady's wish, after everything she's done for me..." The hobbit let out a sigh. "It's for that very reason that I cannot, I cannot leave Thorin..."
"Do you know what it means to be a Ringbearer?" Galadriel asked in a low but melodic tone. "You and Frodo are not the only ones, are you aware of that?"
"I know." Bilbo nodded calmly, looking at each of the tall people in turn. "I've known about Lord Elrond and Gandalf for many years, and I can see your ring as well, my lady."
"Ours are Vilya, Narya and Nenya, the rings created for the elves, the only ones Sauron never touched." Galadriel nodded. "Nothing like the One Ring at all, yet we still carried power, and now that Sauron is gone, that power is vanished as well. And a part of us resents it. It's why we must depart to other shores now, rather than once all of our peoples have left." She made a pause before continuing. "In the case of you and your nephew, it's even more so. Because you carried the One Ring, and part of its darkness poisoned you. Frodo's case was only made worse by the Názgul's stab and the spider's bite. And yours... you carried the Ring for sixty years, and from what I understand you wore it fairly often..."
"Only the first few years." Bilbo said dismissively. "During the quest, when it was necessary, like in Thranduil's dungeons and in Ravenhill. A few times the following decades, some for fun, others for necessity." He turned to look at his mate. "Then Thorin told me he didn't like it... and I stopped using it altogether. I could never quite leave it behind. Told myself I carried it just in case there was an emergency and I needed it but... well, now we know."
"You stopped using it, just like that?" Elrond asked.
Apparently none of the other 'ringbearers' had known that.
"Sometimes I would take it, just to hold it in my hand, but I didn't put it on." Bilbo nodded.
"All because of something Thorin said..." Gandalf murmured, half-disbelieving, half-shocked.
"Well, after everything that had happened..." Bilbo shrugged somewhat helplessly.
They were so not going into the whole Arkenstone debacle and dragon-sickness episode again; and in any case, everyone present knew what he meant anyway.
"What made you not like it?" Gandalf asked Thorin, unable to help his curiosity.
"There was just something wrong about it." The dwarf said, closing his eyes briefly to bring up the memories. "It had nothing to do with the gold-sickness, not really. It wasn't that I wanted to take the ring from him, or even feared that something like that would happen. The Lady told us I was cured of that sickness, and I believed her. No..." He took a deep breath and opened his eyes to face the taller Ringbearers, while holding his own's hand. "I am still a dwarf though, and that Ring, regardless of who created it, was made from gold. I could feel the wrongness in it, in every inch. I told that to Bilbo, and he agreed to stop using it." He seemed to think something over before adding. "I actually knew for a while before I told him. We were having some trouble with the delegation of Stiffbeards staying in the mountain at the time and I didn't want to run the risk of something happening and my spouse not having the ring to help himself."
"I remember that." Bilbo nodded, tightening his hold on his beloved's hand briefly. "Though, in the end, it was you who used the Ring to solve that matter."
That declaration created a silence such the two mortals couldn't help but feel the tension in every muscle of the three elven rings' bearers. More than once it looked like one of the elves might speak, or at least like they might want to, yet neither of them could find the right words (Thorin got a level of satisfaction from that, leaving two elves so completely speechless).
"Could you elaborate on that?" It was finally Gandalf who spoke.
"Right." Bilbo nodded. "It happened a little over five years after our marriage. Erebor was fully rebuilt, as were both Dale and Laketown; and new, smaller settlements were being formed on the edge of the lake and the borders of Mirkwood, restoring Esgaroth. It had been a few months since Ori's marriage to Tilda and the two lived in the garrison that had been built at the foot of the Lonely Mountain, right in the middle point between Erebor and Dale. Caravans of dwarves kept arriving every so often, mostly the families of those who'd arrived in the previous years and helped us get Erebor running."
It had been Dis's and Bilbo's idea, to make an offer to any dwarves willing to work in Erebor, if they helped restore their kingdom, they would have assured home and a job once everything was said and done. Many dwarves in need, especially those who'd been living as nomads (much as those of Erebor once had), had answered to the offer. And their loyalty and good work had been rewarded. Of course, that also had caused some troubles, when 'Nobles' from other kingdoms (like the Iron Hills, the Blue Mountains and such) had begun complaining about Erebor 'stealing' their hard workers. Of course, those same hard workers had had hardly anything in their previous homes, their living conditions terrible; though their work allowed for the nobles to keep their own lavish lifestyles; until Erebor rose again.
"The Stiffbeards weren't there because they wanted to help Erebor." Thorin snorted. "Rather they wanted to help themselves from our riches." He shook his head. "I had realized it, of course, that while a decent number of dwarves came from the Blue Mountains, and the Iron Hills, and others were nomads, a serious number were Stiffbeards, from the Grey Mountains, far in the North, farther than Erebor, or even the Iron Hills." He pondered a bit before continuing. "It's a very inhospitable environment, from what I've heard; good mining, though dangerous at the same time. It wasn't really a surprise that so many of them were looking for a better life in Erebor, what with everything the restored kingdom had to offer... I hadn't expected things to get to such a serious point so soon, though."
"What he means to say is that apparently every worker-class dwarrow in the Grey Mountains chose to desert and became citizens of Erebor." Bilbo clarified for the others.
"Which in turn left the nobles with no one to keep them in their lifestyle." Thorin added for good measure. "It's why they went to Erebor, to demand compensation for stealing their workers."
"As if." Bilbo snorted. "They are dwarrows, not machines! And they were being treated so poorly. Of course they deserved better, and I made sure they knew that."
"And I suppose they didn't like that." Gandalf guessed.
"You could say that." The hobbit huffed.
"Most of them didn't believe the stories being told about Bilbo and his deeds, about all he'd done for us." The former King pointed out. "And even the few who did, and who did not look down upon him simply for his race, believed I had just married him for status, that he was supposed to be just like another jewel, a part of my treasure..." He growled at the memory. "As if I would ever do something like that, or he would allow it!"
"What did you do then?" Lord Elrond inquired, curious.
"I treated them the same I did any other visiting delegation." The Royal Consort answered promptly. "Gave them the respect they deserved... and demanded the same in return."
"One or two of them almost had a stroke when they saw him both in Open Court and in Council Meetings." Thorin commented. "Tried to convince him of what his place should be."
"I've always known what my place is, right beside my match, thank you very much." Bilbo said strongly (a quite-unsubtle reminder to the 'tall folk' too). "The volatile situation finally blew up when Tauriel was introduced into the picture."
It had been quite bad, both could remember that. Thorin and Bilbo had been trying to keep Kili's family off the picture, with Stiarna not even four years old just yet and Tauriel in the first stages of pregnancy (though not fully showing just yet). Kili had been all for the plan, after learning there were 'hostile dwarves' in the mountain, not wanting to risk his family for anything. It was such a miracle that Tauriel had gotten pregnant so soon after their marriage, and then for a second time, less than five years after the first baby (while Fili and Kili had had a five-year difference in age, theirs had actually been a rare case).
Yet eventually it had turned into an unsustainable situation. Stiarna had elven blood in her veins, wood-elf, and she needed nature as much as her mother did. The Starlight Path, beautiful as it was, was too high on the mountain, and cold, for the season (eventually they'd decided to create other small gardens, on ledges and outcrops all around the mountain, but that wouldn't happen for years yet); and one day the child had simply slipped away from her parents and tried to make her way out of the mountain. Not only she hadn't managed that, but she had run straight into the Stiffbeards, who were wandering around the Lonely Mountain, muttering nasty things about everything they came across. And when they saw Stiarna, who was so obviously not a dwarf, they insulted her as well.
Tauriel had reached her little girl guided by her cries, and when seeing one of the Stiffbeards pulling at her baby's hair, pointing at her ear (pointed), the she-elf's reaction was instinctive. The knife had left her hand before she was fully conscious of it, and found itself lodged straight through the offending dwarf's hand. Two more were taken down before they knew what was going on exactly; the rest choosing (rather wisely) to stand back, hands up in surrender.
Of course, once they realized they had been attacked by a she-elf it'd only made things worse.
"The Stiffbeards have always believed in the archaic ways, the traditions of the dwarves of old." Thorin declared. "They could more or less justify my marriage to Bilbo with the things he had done, and how much hobbits were seen as near-mythical creatures. However, nothing could ever justify, in their minds, a dwarf of a royal line, a Son of Durin marrying and having children with a she-elf. It went against the most deep-seated hatred our whole race possess. I may have despised Thranduil for abandoning my people in their darkest hour... after Smaug. But the dwarrow clans in general have many more reasons to have elves." He shook his head. "They saw Stiarna as an oddity, and worse. And when Tauriel hurt them to protect her... They did not take that lying down, of course they wouldn't."
"The bastards dared demand that Tauriel be punished for protecting her daughter!" Bilbo snarled with unexpected viciousness. "They actually believed they'd done no wrong, bullying Stiarna, simply because she wasn't a dwarrow-child, believed Tauriel had no rights for being an elf!"
"Of course, we showed them the error of their ways." Thorin stated, with obvious satisfaction. "In any case, it only escalated from there. Somehow the Stiffbeards managed to ingratiate themselves into a group of purist dwarves already living in Erebor. They began creating all kinds of havoc. Of course it was mostly an excuse for Dwalin to run his men ragged and Nori to get creative with his spy-network. Until the first time they tried to kill Bilbo."
Yet again, the wide eyes of the three others. Did they really think that Bilbo's and Thorin's life had been fairy-tale perfect? It was obvious they would have some trouble. Great as the Company might be, not everyone would have been as accepting of a hobbit marrying the King of dwarves. Bilbo actually thought he'd been quite lucky. The thing with Dáin and the Iron-Hills dwarves could have gotten much worse, but the rather public confrontation in the hallway shortly before Kili's and Tauriel's marriage had actually helped. Most of the dwarves that had arrived afterwards had known Thorin, had come to respect him, during their darkest times, and accepted his choices; and that same thing had pushed them into at least giving Kili and Tauriel a chance. The Company had done their best to sort out most of the minor troubles... until the Stiffbeards.
"It's ironic actually." The former King commented. "The first attempt actually involved poison. They somehow managed to get someone into the kitchens and tamper with Bilbo's tea, adding a lot of verbain into his cup of lemongrass tea. Verbain is highly poisonous for dwarves, probably one of the worst poisons, and far easier to acquire than cyanide or belladona..."
The elves looked very worried at the idea, though Gandalf just smiled.
"What happened then?" Elrond asked quietly.
"Nothing at all!" Thorin chuckled. "He drank the whole cup, right there in the Dinning Hall, before everyone. Then went right back to his tasks. I wouldn't even have known anything had happened if one of Nori's spies hadn't heard someone taking about 'the halfling not dying'."
"As if!" Bilbo snorted. "We hobbits are half of nothing. And in any case, we carry the blessings of the Green Lady, Yavanna, few plants are truly poisonous for us. We actually do drink verbain tea, and while some tweens have been known to use belladona as a recreational drug for its hallucinogenic properties... no one has died from it in many years. It would require a very high dose. Arsenic and Cyanide would be more effective, then again those two poisons work on every race... far as I know." He shook his head. "In any case, I didn't even know I'd been poisoned until much, much later."
"It was actually helpful." The dwarf added. "Gave Bilbo more mystique... and made any would-be assassins think twice. I had everyone working hard to find all of those involved. Thankfully they weren't that many. The complication came in the fact that, since we found out most of it through Nori's spies, we didn't actually have any proof about any of it."
"How did you solve the matter then?" Gandalf asked, intrigued.
"We guessed, after their reaction to our two marriages, that they would react similarly to Ori's and young Tilda's." Bilbo told them. "We warned them before hand, and then engineered an 'accidental meeting'. We'd hoped to provoke a confrontation, were all ready for it, though it didn't happen that way." He shook his head. "Though it did push them into acting faster."
"They were terrified that 'crossbreeding' might be contagious." Thorin snorted in derision. "And decided that the only way to put a stop to it was to tear the problem from its root... literally."
"They planned on assassinating Bilbo." Gandalf mumured.
"I did say the poisoning was the first attempt, didn't I?" The former King reminded him. "Thank Mahal, there were only two in the end."
"Things were rather tense following the attempt at poisoning and the meeting with Ori and Tilda." Bilbo related. "We could all see the tension, but they didn't act. Though Nori did report on some vicious cursing directed at all of us, and our bloodlines... The Stiffbeards, the highest ranked among them, were getting antsy."
"What my dear Consort isn't telling you is that his 'drinking of poison' was seen by some as a sign that he had Mahal's blessing." Thorin knew his beloved was rolling his eyes but ignored that. "That made the Stiffbeards lose most of the support they'd gained; they knew if they failed again, it would all be gone." His voice was dripping sarcasm as he added. "And then my husband had a marvelous plan!"
"The whole situation was stressing Tauriel too much, which was no good in her condition." The hobbit reminded him. "Kili was about ready to begin chopping off heads and to the Void with all of them... and I know Dwalin and a few others thought the same." He shook his head. "But it could not happen like that. We had to follow the rules, it was only right. I was afraid if we waited too long for them to take the chance someone else might end up dead, or worse, that they might choose to target one of the children instead. So I decided to give them an opening."
"Which means he made himself bait." The dwarf took over. "He pretty much went strutting down the hall where we knew they gathered to plot, with no guards at all, completely alone."
"Ah, but I wasn't completely alone, not really." Bilbo smiled. "You were right there with me all along, even if not even I could see you..."
And just like that, they were all reminded of the original topic of conversation.
"You wore the One Ring?!" Gandalf actually gasped at that.
"Yes." Thorin nodded, recognizing that was the part the others were truly interested it. "I'd tried it a couple of times before, out of curiosity. Wanted to understand what it did, what Bilbo had been able to do while wearing it. I never kept it on for long... until that day." He shook his head. "There was only one secret tunnel that ran near the hall where Bilbo would be going, and we all knew there was a chance Nori and his spies wouldn't make it to him in time when the Stiffbeards and their accomplices decided to make their move. Bilbo offered me the Ring then, it was a safety measure, so I could go with him, without being seen. It felt awful, the whole time I'd the bloody thing on, I could almost hear my ears ringing... but I forced myself to focus on Bilbo and what was going on."
"Once the move was made, it was all over quite quickly." Bilbo commented. "They saw me coming and desperation made them act... made them sloppy too. They'd seen me carry a blade, but much like other certain dwarrows I know, they dismissed Sting as little more than a toy. By the time they realized I actually knew how to defend myself and tried to overpower me in order to defeat me, Thorin had taken off the Ring and was right there, fighting with me. And then came Nori, Dwalin, Bifur and Bofur. It wasn't a very long fight after that."
"Until you got stabbed." His mate reminded him darkly.
Gandalf was about to make an exclamation about that when he saw Bilbo roll his eyes again.
"He tried to stab me." The Burglar corrected his beloved. "Not that it worked that well for him."
Gandalf's eyes widened as he seemed to remember something.
"The mithril coat..." He murmured in understanding.
That made the two elves reacted, as they hadn't known anything about any mithril coat.
"It was a gift to me from Thorin, right after Smaug died, before the Battle of Five Armies." The aged hobbit remember wistfully.
"A gift fit for a King..." Gandalf commented, paraphrasing what he'd said upon discovering the garment beneath Frodo's clothes, while in Moria. "Or the Consort of one."
"Yes well, I wore it for many years, saved my life more than once." Bilbo admitted. "When we learnt about the quest Frodo was to go into, Thorin and I brought the coat and Sting and gave both to him. Hoping they would protect him, like they did me."
"And they did, my good friend, that they did." Gandalf nodded.
It was amazing really, the way everything was connected. The sword from the troll hoard that Gandalf had given Bilbo, which he'd learnt to use and eventually passed on to Frodo, who'd given good use to it as well (and Sam too); and the mithril coat, which had probably saved Bilbo's life not only from that attempt but surely others (if Gandalf had been unaware of one who said there hadn't been others?) and in Ravenhill, and it had served Frodo too, especially in Moria, where the hobbit would have been skewered by that mountain troll if not for it.
"And that you wore the Ring, and then took it off." Lady Galadriel chose to focus on that part. "Did it not speak to you? Try to ensnare you?"
Thorin actually seemed to need to stop and think about that.
"It might have." He admitted after a while. "I don't know. I was much too worried about Bilbo, and later on we had to deal with the traitors." He shook his head. "Also, like I said before, I never liked the feeling I got from that Ring."
"Still." Elrond stated. "You carried it, for however short a time, and you used it. You, like Sam, Frodo and Bilbo, held an object of great darkness, and you stood your ground. You did not let it take you over, did not let it tempt you, take you into darkness."
"Frodo and Sam were the ones who destroyed the Ring, not us." Bilbo reminded the elf.
"It matters not." Galadriel said softly. "Even if neither of you carried it to Mount Doom, you were instrumental parts in its destruction, simply by keeping it off the hands of evil." She made a pause before adding. "We were not aware, Thorin Oakenshield, that the One Ring had ever been in your hands, much less that you'd ever used it, resisted its pull, even if you cannot recognize it having been there. You are, effectively, a Ringbearer as well."
"What is that supposed to mean?" The former King asked, eyes narrowed.
Frodo didn't look at all surprised when he climbed on the cart, sitting beside Gandalf, only to find the back taken by not one but both of his uncles. The younger hobbit greeted them both in quiet khuzdul, as was usual for them, to which they replied in the same manner, smiling at their nephew, even as they took in his slightly pale demeanor and the way he kept favoring one of his arms, the same on which's shoulder he'd been stabbed.
"You're not surprised..." The wizard commented quietly, even as they got on their way. "No, of course not... you knew already didn't you?"
"That Uncle Thorin was a Ringbearer?" Frodo guessed. "Of course I knew. It was one of the stories that were kept between us, but I knew. Even the Company, while they knew Uncle Bilbo had some way of becoming invisible, never knew how he did it... not until the Fellowship and our quest, at least."
"And you said nothing." Gandalf sounded half-reproachful, half-pouty.
"It was not my story to tell, nor my decision to make." The young Baggins told him quietly. "They could have still decided to stay here, on this side of the Sea I mean, to the end of their days, and I respected that. Just like they respected my own decisions to accept the invitation when it was made." He made a pause before adding. "I held hope, though. Since Uncle Thorin told me why exactly they left the Lonely Mountain... as much as I hope this journey will help me, help my seemingly never-healing wounds, I'm praying it will help Uncle Bilbo more, both of them, in fact."
"They're together, and will always be, I think that's quite the help already." Gandalf told the young hobbit softly. "I didn't understand it, you know? When Eleana made her choice, when she chose to surrender her existence for them, for Thorin's life... I did not understand. What could possibly be so important about him? While I always had high hopes regarding his quest to Erebor and the ways Bilbo might help him become better, I could have never imagined how far it would go, how far they would go... and then when Eleana did what she did... I knew she'd always hoped that the Marked One she chose would choose to help, would tip the balance in favor of the light once and for all, and yet..."
"You didn't really believe it would happen." Frodo finished for him.
"I didn't believe anyone in this world could be selfless enough to willingly walk down a path of difficulties, of pain, battle and grief..." The Ístari admitted quietly. "And then you proved me wrong. You, Bilbo and Thorin... all of you proved to me how wrong I was. Even though I spent over three thousand years walking through Middle-Earth, trying to get to know the different races, I never fully understood any of you. Not like Eleana did. She always knew the potential for something like this, for this selflessness, bravery, this light existed... I didn't believe it."
Frodo didn't say anything, what could he say to words like that? Instead he just watched the White Wizard as he raised his head to the blue sky; the stars couldn't be seen right then, but both knew they were still there, and shining somewhere among them all, was one who'd once been Eleana Cundoheri.
The peaceful silence continued as the caravan formed by one cart and three ponies continued all the way through Hobbitton, Michel Delving, and the Western limits of the Shire, going very close to the Blue Mountains (which Frodo had visited a number of times during his tween years), before eventually reaching the Grey Havens, and with it the harbor where one single white ship was waiting for them.
Once there Bilbo was the first to get off the cart, immediately spinning around like a child, trying to take in everything about the place as fast as possible. Thorin just chuckled to himself, even as he followed his husband to make sure he wouldn't get dizzy and fall down; even if he no longer was the imposing, strong dwarf he'd once been, he could still look after his beloved.
"Oh!" The old hobbit said as he took it all in. "Well, this is a sight I have never seen before."
Pippin and Merry looked somewhat surprised at seeing the two of them there, but did not comment on it. They didn't fully understand what was going on. Only knowing that a letter had arrived, inviting them for one short adventure (nothing dangerous, Gandalf promised). Sam, with everything he'd learnt about elves since the quest, had correctly guessed that a number of them must be leaving, probably even the very elves they'd known, so it was also a chance of saying goodbye to them.
After several minutes Bilbo finally stopped acting like a child and returned to the group, following Gandalf properly into the harbor, and the dock where the ship was waiting. And it wasn't only the ship (magnificent though it was), Lord Elrond was there, as well as the Lady Galadriel and her husband Lord Celeborn.
"The power of the Three Rings in ended." The Lady announced in her melodic voice. "The time has come for the Dominion of Mortals."
"I Aer can vên na mar (The sea calls us home)." Lord Elrond added with a pleasant smile, motioning for those who were to join him and the other elves.
Gandalf just turned to look at Bilbo and Thorin.
"I must love you, because as you well know, dwarves and water do not mix." Thorin said in a fake secretive tone to his mate. "We sink."
"Yeah well, so do hobbits, and I still remember all the times I ended in water because of you." Bilbo ribbed him good-naturedly.
The list included, besides the whole barrels-madness down the river, the insane smuggling into Laketown (once again in barrels) and the subsequent sailing across the second half of the Lake, a rather funny incident involving children playing, slippery riverbeds and a lot of laughter, and a not so funny accident when a mine had half-collapsed and while pushing his beloved out of the way of the falling rocks, Bilbo had ended up falling down a secret mine-shaft and straight into an underground stream (nothing bad had happened, though Thorin had gotten quite the scare).
"Yes." Bilbo went on, shifting in place with growing eagerness. "I think I am quite ready for another adventure."
Thorin rolled his eyes to himself (and to his husband's tone), but the moment his Burglar gave the first step, the dwarf was right there beside him; as was only right.
In the end, there was no hesitation on the part of either of them as the couple stepped onto the ship; closely followed by the three elves. Though, while the elves left for their quarters on board almost right away, Bilbo and Thorin chose to wait on deck, they knew two more people were yet to join them, and one wouldn't have it so easy.
"Farewell, my brave Hobbits." Gandalf said in a most grandfatherly manner. "My work is now finished. Here at last, on the shores of the sea, comes the end of our Fellowship..."
Pippin and Merry began to cry, and while Sam didn't, a tear did fall from his eye.
"I will not say, 'Do not weep', for not all tears are an evil." The wizard continued, as he walked to the ship; stopping after a few steps, to look over his shoulder. "It is time, Frodo."
All three hobbits immediately turned to look at Frodo, only then realizing that, beneath the Lórien cloak, he wasn't wearing the same soft hobbit clothes the rest of them wore, but the sturdier dwarven ones he wore whenever he traveled, and while in Erebor.
Merry and Pippin opened and closed their mouth several times as if wanting to say something, yet not being able to find the right words; eventually it was Sam who spoke.
"What does he mean?" He asked, so very softly.
"We set out to save the Shire, Sam." Frodo said with a somewhat wistful smile. "And it has been saved... but not for me."
"You don't mean that." Sam refused to believe it, tears clogging his throat, making his speech almost garbled. "You can't leave."
Merry and Pippin didn't say anything, though it was obvious by their expressions that they agreed completely with Sam; and yet, at the same time, they'd all matured enough to realize, without need for words, that Frodo had made up his mind, and there was no changing it. It was also probably in that moment that Sam realized why Frodo had insisted so much on him and Rosie moving into Bag-End, building their life, their family, there.
The youngest Ringbearer didn't reply to his friends', his kin's denials (either verbal or otherwise), instead he just smiled sadly at them, before pulling the thick, red leather bound book from his bag, placing it in Sam's hands.
"The last pages are for you, Sam." He murmured softly, before placing a kiss on his dearest friend's brow and whispering a blessing in khuzdul.
From the ship, Bilbo smiled, tightening his hold on Thorin's hand briefly. His nephew had showed them the book, which they both called simply 'The Red Book' on their way to the Grey Havens. The book where Bilbo had written all about his adventure (or at least all that was proper and not too private), and where Frodo had written down the story of his own quest and adventure. It was a record of two Baggins who chose to be more than their family names stated they could be, that chose to be more than their race would normally signal them for. Who'd been more than even Vairë herself originally marked them for...
"I really wish this weren't so necessary..." Bilbo murmured as he watched the younger hobbits embracing and crying through their farewells.
"So do we all, lukhdu (light)..." Thorin said, pressing their heads together. "This is not the life I would have chosen for our Frodo. Everything he's been through, all the hardships and the pain..."
"Sometimes I wonder, you know?" Bilbo said suddenly. "If we provoked this, in a way. If maybe we took the Lady's words in that letter too literally. I mean... I practically raised Frodo on stories of our quest, even things I told no one else. We trained him since he was but a tween... What if we pushed him into this, Thorin?" He let out a quiet sob. "Maybe... maybe if we hadn't pushed, hadn't tried so hard, it would have never been like this. Maybe Frodo would have never been the Ringbearer and..."
"Love, my love!" Thorin interrupted him, taking the old hobbit's hands between his own. "Look at me, look into my eyes, easy..."
Ever so slowly Bilbo calmed down, losing himself a little in the blue eyes of his One True Love, letting the hysterics pass.
"Now." Thorin continued. "Turn that way and look at your nephew. Really look at him and tell me if you really think that Frodo could have ever done anything other than what he did, exactly the way he did it."
Bilbo truly tried to do what his beloved asked of him and focused on his nephew; as he did he tried to imagine Frodo making different choices, anything but what he had actually done... he couldn't. It just wasn't in Frodo to be anything other than kind, and brave and so selfless... that was the Frodo he had raised for thirty eight years (with Thorin helping too, and many others), the Frodo born to Drogo and Primula (his dear, dear cousins). The lad just wouldn't be himself, if he were any other way...
"Exactly." Thorin murmured, as if following his Consort's train of thought. "It's as unimaginable as... as... as Kili not being the wonderful King, husband and father he is."
"As you not being the magnificent King you were, and the absolutely perfect husband you are." Bilbo continued. "As impossible as me having chosen anything other than following you on that quest after that night, after that song..."
Thorin smiled, embracing his mate tightly from behind, both of them facing the horizon, as he began humming; he'd always known how much Bilbo liked his voice, and his songs...
So lost were the two in each other they didn't actually notice the moment when Frodo and Gandalf finally boarded the ship, when the plank was removed and the journey finally began. Of course they could see the pass out of the Gulf coming closer, but they didn't really pay attention to it, in that moment they were completely lost in each other, and in the song that had created the first bond between their hearts, and their souls...
"Far over the misty mountains cold
To dungeons deep and caverns old
We must away ere break of day
To find our long-forgotten gold."
"The pines were roaring on the height
The winds were moaning in the night
The fire was red, it flaming spread
The trees like torches blazed with light."