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The first voice she hears in Hobbiton belongs to Tomwise Gamgee, a patient and steady soul whose voice she has never heard raised above a shout… until now, that is.

“Stay away, vultures! I’ll lay out the first one of you to try and move me. Aye, and the next too!”

She cannot see him for the crowd of people around her front door, but she thinks he might be the only thing keeping them all from piling inside. Briar elbows her way to the front of the throng only to find… is that… is that a sign nailed to her door?

Auction?” She shrieks and the weary miles of road fall away from her as she discovers the fact that her dear sweet and beloved cousins, the Sackville-Bagginses, have had her declared dead and nagged the Mayor into agreeing to it. 

Briar spends her first several days home hunting her belongings all over the Shire. Most of her neighbors give back what they bought at auction quite easily, but she ends up having to hire a pair of burly lads from the Green Dragon to search Otho and Lobelia’s house for the majority of it. It’s an embarrassment that has the whole of Westfathing talking for days, but mostly they talk about how Briar had to hire two carts just to get everything they’d stolen back home.

They may be calling her ‘Mad Baggins’ these days, but no hobbit thinks kindly of a thief.

(If only they knew!)

In the mornings she visits her tenants and catches up on the business of being a Baggins in Bag End. There isn’t much of it that Hamfast and his sons haven’t handled for her during the year, which she’s grateful for.

In the afternoons she keeps her correspondence and reads. Lord Elrond tutored her in the elven tongues himself and gifted her with many volumes of untranslated Sindarin poetry. It keeps her occupied and her mind active, which does more to keep the melancholy at bay than all the well-meaning coddling she could find in the Shire so perhaps he knew what he was doing.

The evening is a time of peace and reflection for most hobbits, who abhor the noisome humors of the dark air and block it out with good cheer or thick walls. Briar has taken to sitting on her front step during those hours with her pipe and a lantern watching the far roads and pretending that she isn’t waiting for someone. Sometimes she stays inside, sitting in her front hall where she can sort through her mother’s glorybox and remember the things from her childhood.

Sometimes, very rarely, she thinks of a smaller chest in the bottom of her wardrobe that hasn’t been opened since her father locked it on her Coming of Age day. More specifically she thinks of the matching key in her father’s old desk that he was never able give to anyone.

(Even more rarely her fingers will dip into the pocket of her waistcoat to idly toy with a ring of gold. She stops, cold, in those strange eerie moments and never remembers quite how the ring came to be there. It stays in the glass case up high on her mantle …doesn’t it?)

Tomwise has been shadowing her every move and she is sure that he’d be standing in front of her door with a pitchfork if he thought he could get away with it. As it is, the hedges by her front gate have never been no immaculately groomed in her whole life. Perhaps it gives him an excuse to threaten the people come to gawk with the clippers.

“People have been talking.” He tells her one day as the sun dips in the sky. It’s well past the hour when good hobbit bachelors seek their mothers’ kitchens for a meal to restore them after a long day of work, but Tomwise has taken to lingering. They speak to one another through the wide open window in her study more often than not. Briar doesn’t care, but Tomwise still thinks she has a reputation worth protecting.

Sweet, stupid man.

“They’ll do that until the sun stops rising, Master Gamgee.” Briar allows from where she’s seated at her desk. “What are they talking about today?”

“Harebell Cotton’s been saying you’re going to leave.” He’s pale and pensive when he says this with fists concealed in the pockets of his coat.

“That’s unlikely. One adventure is enough for this lifetime, I think.” Her heart couldn’t take another. It very nearly broke when the last one ended. She doesn’t think she could bear a second … maybe if she were younger, but maybe it would have just been that much worse. Briar remembers feeling everything so much more keenly as a young girl; her heart bled in those days when it should have only bruised.

However she seems to have missed the point.

Leaving.” Tomwise insists. “The way Mistress Bella left after your father died.”

Briar sets down her pen.

“No, Tomwise. I have things to hold me here.” She does. They’re little things, silly things, but hers. She knows how to cling to them until she either finds something stronger... or doesn’t. “I have my books and my letters. That’s enough to keep me rooted. You don’t need to worry. I won’t give Lobelia the pleasure.”

Hobbits and elves have this in common, she thinks, although grief cannot prey on them the way it does her kind. Elrond knew enough, at least, to see the signs of it in her and sent her away with the only cure he could prescribe.

“Miss Briar.” He steps closer and his fingers curl around the painted sill. She looks away, but a gentle hand roughened by garden tools (never by swords or hammers) catches her cheek and turns her face back.

She and Tomwise are very nearly the same age. He is perhaps a year or two older. One tends to stop counting with any seriousness after thirty-three in the Shire. His sun-bleached blonde curls have silver in them at his temples and there are lines on his face that are still strange to see.

Briar knows why he’s never married, although she never stopped hoping that he’d give it up. They’ve never spoken about it. Briar never wanted the marriage bed or any sort of bed at all until… recently. Now she wonders if she should have put a halt to this years ago. It seems cruel now, to let hope live on for so long when there’s really no hope at all.

“I’ve never said a word.” He tells her softly. “It was never my place and I know you, Miss Briar, better than you think.”

“Tomwise, don’t.” She tries, but he shakes his head.

“Books won’t hold onto you, Miss Briar.” He goes on talking. “Letters haven’t got any hands. They can’t keep you the way you ought to be kept.”

“Oh, Tomwise.” Briar turns away from his hand, from his touch, because it’s not the right one …it’s only close enough to make her want to close her eyes and pretend. “No. Don’t ask me this.”

“I picked you, Miss Briar,” Tomwise tells her, “when we were children together. Even then, I knew you’d never pick me back. I made my peace with it. You’re the only one for me.” He reaches for her again, but stops when she flinches at the feel of calloused fingers against her temple. “You’ve had a disappointment, but that doesn’t need to be the end of it. I could make you happy, Miss Briar. Only let me try.”

She does close her eyes, but her skin remembers that other touch too well. Tomwise has never held a hammer or an axe or a sword in his kind hands. He isn’t the one.

“I knew you in short pants, Tomwise.” She says at last. “I blacked your eye for you once when you told me I couldn’t play conkers with your club and my father used to pay you three pennies a week to keep boys away from me when we were tweens.”

“It was five, actually.” Tomwise admits with a small secret smile. “Always felt guilty about that. Never told him I would have done it for free.”

“You’re a brother to me; good, loyal, and true.” She feels like weeping, but the tears don’t come. Is possible to be all cried out? “I never wanted a husband and I never expected one. This isn’t what you think it is. I did a bad thing, Tomwise. I would do it again if I had to and I must make my peace with that. I don’t need rescuing.”

Tomwise is quiet for a while, watching her in that quiet way of his. “I believe you believe that, Miss Briar.” He says at last. “I don’t agree. You did something maybe, but I choose to believe it was the right thing. Why else would you come home and break your heart over it?”

“Maybe?” Briar drops her face into her hands. There will be ink on her face later, but that bothers her less and less with every passing day. “I don’t know anymore.”

“Then believe one who knew you when you were in pinafores.” Tomwise sighs and his hand settles on the crown of her head. “Believe someone who patched you up whenever you bloodied Otho Baggins’ nose for picking on your little cousin or got bit by some Big Man’s stray mutt.”

“That was only the once.” She mutters. It’s an old argument. The dog hadn’t even meant it. It was hungry, hurt, and she’d startled it. Even then she’d known she had no one to blame but herself.

“And then you hid with it in a barn for three days and cajoled Farmer Maggot into adopting the beast when your father would have had it put down. Aye, I knew about it and didn’t turn you in.” He smiles a bit, half wry and half sad when she looks up at him with a startled face. “You haven’t got a dark bone in your whole body, Miss Briar. Anyone who says you do isn’t worth the dust between your toes.”

 That earns a smile from her that she doesn’t even realize is beginning until it’s there on her face. “Thank you, Master Gamgee.”

“Any time, Mistress Baggins.” He replies and she can see that he means it.

“Don’t you wait on me, Tomwise Gamgee.” Briar says, certain of that at least. “I won’t be coming after you.”

“I never thought you would.” Is his answer. He turns to go and raises one hand in a backwards goodbye. He says something else that she doesn’t quite catch, it’s too soft and he says it into the wind, but she thinks it might be: “…but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be.”

Briar sits at her desk until the sun goes down and the pin-prick glow of candlelit windows begins to bloom across the hills of her beloved Shire. She watches them come to life and listens for the sounds of song and laughter drifting into her study on the wind.

“Enough of this.” She tells herself. “No more moping. I’ll be me again.”

In the morning, she cleans her front hall from top to bottom and begins to take stock. Winter is not far off and she’s put off preparations long enough.

It’s a bit dismal, to tell the truth.

If her pantry contained naught but crumbs before she left, then it’s even emptier now. Lobelia carted off every root vegetable and glass jar in the house, none of which Briar was able to get back because one can hardly separate one potato from an entire barrel of them. Restocking has taken more time and coin than she likes to think about, but she has plenty of both now thanks to the troll cache she uncovered at the base of the Misty Mountains. After… well… everything, she didn’t feel she had much claim on the treasure of Erebor beyond the mail shirt she wore out of the back, but she earned her portion of the troll’s hoard.

There’s still a band of mud on the edge of her mother’s glorybox in the front hallway and she’s put off polishing it away for nearly a month. Even so when she sits down in front of it with a bottle of oil and a soft cloth, she finds herself opening it instead of brushing the dirt away.

Mother never minded a little dirt unless it was on the front her daughter’s dress. She said it gave life character.

The contents of the box are a bit jumbled where Lobelia was no doubt rifling through them for the Took family lace and embroidery patterns. Briar always thought it was odd that her mother’s glorybox would have a false bottom to it, but she sees the wisdom in it now.

She spends the afternoon sorting through and refolding her mother’s linens; the cloths, kerchiefs, scarves, and swaddling clothes that bore her mother’s stitches. Some of them she remembers from childhood, but there are others that were never used. She runs her thumb over a band of embroidered sheaves of wheat that was no doubt intended for the collar of a little brother that she never had.

Briar tucks it all away safe and locks the chest so Lobelia can’t take another stab at it the next time she pops over for an unannounced visit.

When evening falls, Briar lights her lantern as usual but stays inside. She has an appetite for once and a chicken pie in the oven. So naturally there’s a knock at the door the second she sits down to break the crust.

For a moment she thinks she’s imagined it, but then the knock comes again so heavy and loud that she swears the windows rattle with the force of it.

Dwalin?” She jumps up and closes her robe around herself as she hurries to the door.

It’s not Dwalin at the door, nor is it Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Gloin, Oin, Bifur, Bofur, or Bombur. It isn’t a single soul she knows nor anyone she would expect to see on her front step out in the dark.

It is, however, a dwarf leading nine other dwarves all in armor with swords and spears and axes and the crest of the Iron Hills on their breastplates.

“Lieutenant Freyr.” The first dwarf introduces himself with a bow deep enough that his rusty-red beard brushes the tops of his boots. “At your service.”

“Ah, Briar Baggins at yours.” She thinks to curtsey this time, which she utterly failed to do the first time she ever opened her door to find a dwarf on the other side.

“Then fortune has been kind.” Freyr informs her, tucking his helmet under his arm. “Yours is the house we were searching for. No one else would answer their door. We came here because of the lantern. I have a message for you from my King.”

“I … oh!” Briar steps back. “You should come inside. I have food and drink. You’ve come a long way.”

“That would be greatly appreciated, Madam.” Freyr nods his respect and begins bringing his men inside. They’re a quieter bunch than Thorin’s company and more disciplined, perhaps because they are soldiers in truth rather than smiths, tinkers, and toymakers out to reclaim their fortune.

They eat every bit as much though and Briar finds her freshly-filled larder being emptied again in no short order. Somehow, she cannot make herself mind.

“I have guest rooms you may use, if you don’t mind doubling up.” She tells Freyr once everyone has been fed and the others are occupying themselves with clean-up.

“Thank you again, Madam.” Freyr murmurs and watches her crockery fly about. Briar hardly notices at this point. She’s seen how dwarves handle their own cookware by now and Freyr’s men seem to be taking great pains with hers. “You seem used to our ways.”

“I spent a year on the road with a company of dwarves like your men.” Frankly, she’s more glad of the company. Also she knew better than to get out her mother’s good dishes, just in case. “I’ve seen worse things than someone helping wash up.” She fetches her pipe and offers Freyr the use of her tobacco pouch, which he accepts. “So, tell me; what message does Dain Ironfoot have for someone like me?”

“None, so far as I know. My message come from Erebor.” Freyr gestures to his breastplate. “King Dain gave those of us with connections to Erebor leave return to our homeland. My men and I chose to enter the service of Thorin, King Under the Mountain. He sent my men and I to find you and escort you either back to the Mountain or to the Shire, wherever you chose to go. We never caught you on the roads and goblin raids delayed our passage through the mountains.”

There… there’s a ringing in her ears and Briar shakes her head, trying to clear it. “Forgive me, but… I could have sworn you just said…”

“My lady, are you all right?” There’s a hand on her shoulder, but the noise in between her ears is drowning everything out because Thorin is dead. He was dead long before a human healer ever tripped over her in an out-of-the-way corner of the battlefield and would have left her there too if she hadn’t thought to wiggle the ring back off her finger.

He was dead and cold before she woke up for a second time in Bard’s camp. She heard it from the Master of Lake Town himself.

“I…oh…” Briar faints for the second time in a year and wakes up an hour later in her own bed with Tomwise Gamgee holding her hand.

“There she is.” Tomwise peels one of her eyelids back to check her pupils. “You gave us a fright, Miss Briar.  One of yon dwarves nearly beat down my door calling for help.” He presses a cup of water to her lips. “Drink slowly …now what brought this on? I haven’t see you with the vapors since we were little.”

“I…” Briar sits up in bed and is glad that she has no dizziness. “I had a shock, that’s all. The dwarves. Are they still here?”

“Aye, they are, although my Da would have seen them all turned off into the night if they’d allowed it. We can still send them away if you like. What did they say to you?”

“It was good news.” She waves away his well-meaning interference and pushes out of bed. “I must speak with them. Where is… ah!”

Lieutenant Freyr is seated on the bench outside her door with his arms crossed over his chest when she reaches the hallway. He looks up and looks her over, which is how she realizes someone took her out of her robe before putting her to bed. She closes the neckline of her nightgown with one hand, but not fast enough to hide the ribbed and mottled scar across her collar that she ended up bringing home as a reluctant souvenir.

“That’s a goblin bite.” He rumbles as if she didn’t know what it was or where it came from. “An old one that someone cleansed with fire. Here now, I was told you were sent away before the fighting started. Where did that come from?”

“And I was told that Thorin Oakenshield died of his wounds on the field.” Briar replies. “It seems we’ve all received bad information. You must tell me everything that happened. I only remember up until the great eagles arrived.”

“Aye.” The dwarf replies with a thoughtful nod. “It seems I should.”

Lieutenant Freyr’s story matches with the Master’s account for the most part. The eagles came and Beorn entered the fray as well, both departing every bit as suddenly as they arrived. Thorin was grievously wounded with Fili and Kili defending him from Azog’s son, Bolg. All seemed lost, except for a mysterious old man who entered the royal chambers where a final watch was being kept over the dying King and his heirs.

“No one knows what happened there. Everyone was sent away.” Freyr admits. “…but the King took a turn for the better afterwards and his nephews as well, although they were nearly lost. After, the King called me to his side and told me of a Hobbit woman who had been sent away from the fighting. He bade me find her and bring her to him or if she would not go then return her to her home. You led us a pretty chase, Madam. I will not lie. I thought we might never find you. This was our last effort to see if you’d made your way home safely without help.”

Gandalf. Of course.

Briar sways on her feet and finds herself pushed down into the seat Freyr has just vacated.

“She’s not going.” Tomwise declares. “You dwarves have caused enough trouble in these parts. No more.”

“Tomwise, enough.” Briar frowns. “You don’t speak for me.”

“Someone ought to, Miss Briar.” He turns to her. “Last time dwarves came through here they stole you away and you come back with that great nasty wound. We all believed you dead. Will you let them take you from your home twice?”

“I make my own decisions, Tomwise Gamgee.” Briar scowls and finds her hands have gone steady. Oh, there is nothing like anger to balance one’s nerves. “So that is enough.”

“I see.” Tomwise looks down at his hands and nods. “Of course. I’ll be going then. Good evening, Miss Briar. Dwarves.”

There’s something very final about the way he closes the door behind him, but it’s something that was a long time in coming.

“We’ll be leaving on the morrow, Madam.” Freyr informs her. “If you are coming with us, pack those things you cannot do without. It may be some time before you’re able to return here.”

She nods and the soldiers leave her me. She stays there for a while, thinking, and then rises to light a candle.

There are letters to write.

Her things are packed by morning and Lieutenant Freyr dispatches one of his men to deliver her letters. She leaves Bag End in the care of her young cousin, Drogo Baggins, who is a good sort and will be marrying soon. His betrothed, Primula, will make good use of the things her great aunt Belladonna left behind and defend them from Lobelia.

Briar takes with her three small chests, four different pipes, twenty pocket handkerchiefs, one elven dagger, a waterproof hat, a small golden ring of no particular importance, several changes of clothing, and a pony cart to carry it along with their supplies.

They leave at dawn and this time Briar doesn’t look back.

Of the journey, the less said the better. It is quieter than her first trip to Erebor, but that isn’t saying much. They stick to the East-West Road, which takes them through Rivendell where they receive a warm welcome and eventually through Mirkwood where they don’t. It’s a long trip and Briar is reduced down to one handkerchief and a single remaining pipe by the time the Lonely Mountain comes back into view.

“A welcome sight.” Freyr sighs and it is echoed by his men. “Was it like this for you, Madam? On that first trip?”

“Yes, Lieutenant, only more so.” Briar admits. “There’s no dragon waiting there this time.”

Although there is something arguably more frightening awaiting her if she lets herself think about it.

Lake Town is smaller these days and the Master wears an angry pinched expression when they pass through on their way to Dale. Briar was tempted to stay the night there, but Freyr’s men were uncomfortable with the looks the Master sent their way.

Bard welcomes them and gives them room within his own house, which is only half-built but looks like it will be a grand place one day.

“Dale is growing, Mistress Hobbit.” Bard tells her after supper. “The land is burnt on the surface, but the ash has enriched it. The soil had a long rest and we will buy seeds from elsewhere in Middle Earth to make it green again. The farms are already producing a bit and soon we won’t have to bring food in through Lake Town.”

“Problems?” Briar asks.

“The Master enjoys his tariffs, but he cannot enjoy them for long.” Bard pours her another drink. “But enough of that. We are a merry party tonight and tomorrow you will return to the mountain. I will send an escort with you with letters for King Thorin. All will be well.”

“I hope you are right.” Briar murmurs and accepts the toast.

Erebor has come to life in the time Briar has been gone. The front gates are thronged with new arrivals and their carts. The sound of happy dwarfish voices is audible long before the gates come into view.

Briar cannot help but think that this must be what Thorin once dreamed of at night.

A hunting horn sounds as they pass the out watchtowers and is picked up by the sound of drums. An approach warning perhaps?

“That’s for us.” Freyr says in response to her questioning look. “The towers will have been looking for us. The drum beats are a code to alert those in the mountain that we’ve arrived.”

He’s leaving something out, she can tell. The drumbeat changes a little before they reach the gates properly and Freyr’s men seem to be listening to it.

“I see.” Briar clenches her reins tight and tried not to fuss with her hair or her skirts. It’s not outside the realm of possibility that she’s here to face criminal charges.

Dwarves of all kinds watch them as they pass and Freyr hands her down from the pony cart himself. “There’ll be a place for you to refresh yourself inside the gates.”

‘Inside the gates’ is a misleading description. Briar is led deep into the Mountain’s interior, which has been mercifully cleansed of dragon-smell and replaced by the scent of hot metal, fabric, and the smoke of a hundred forges.

A dwarf in a blue hood leads her to a suite of rooms far above the wide open halls where Smaug once slept, past the vaults and common dwellings, and into areas of the complex she’s never seen before. He leaves her in a comfortable set of rooms with its own bathing chamber and a warm fire.

Well. It’s no dungeon, there’s that at least.

“You will please wait here in these rooms, Madam.” Her guide instructs her. “There are things provided for your use and water for bathing. Take your ease and rest now.”

“I… yes. Thank you.” She remembers to bow and receives one (deeper than hers) in return.

The bath is …well, it’s quite nice, actually and she’s been having fantasies about her copper tub back home for most of a year. Dale doesn’t quite have such nice things as cisterns and bath houses quite yet so she’s still wearing everything one picks up on the road that doesn’t wash off in a bucket. She scrubs herself raw and goes back for another round until she’s in danger of rubbing her skin off. There is a soft robe in a chest at the foot of a bed that looks too inviting for her to resist it.

Later no one will tell Briar how long she slept or how long Thorin sat by her bedside watching her, which means it must have been embarrassingly long.

He’s there when she comes slowly awake, blinking and stretching with part of her sure that it’s a dream. It’s one she’s had before and will doubtless have again.

He looks different as King Under the Mountain, but still somehow the same. His clothes are of a richer fabric, but a plain cut that allows for economy of movement over ostentation. He wears the same platinum rings and gold chains, albeit more of each than he used to. There’s a crown on the foot of her bed half on its side like it was thrown there with no particular care given to how it fell, but Orcrist is leaned carefully on the wall behind him –always within reach.

“They told me you were dead.” She whispers and watches him lean forward, bracing his weight on his elbows. He never speaks in her dreams. Maybe her sleeping mind has too much self-preservation for that. “The Master told me before he put me a barge with the other refugees bound for Rivendell. I thought you died angry with me.”

“I nearly died, but not angry.” He touches her hair, following the length of it down her shoulder. Funny, she hadn’t realized that it had gotten so long until now. When did that happen? “Regretful, yes. Angry? Never for long.”

She catches his hand and holds it, trying to burn the warmth of it into her memory. This? This is real. The knowledge comes to her in drips and trickles, building up into one blinding truth.

Confounded dwarf.” She throws herself into his arms and allows him to pull her into his lap, too busy kissing every line and plane and scar on his face. There are more of them now and others lurking under his clothes probably. “Do you have any idea how much I cried over you?” She gasps in-between kisses. “I held a lantern vigil to send you home safe to your ancestors. I should…” She kisses him again, full on the mouth. “I should tie your beard in knots.”

“I’d let you. If it meant you would stay, I’d let you.” He lifts her off his laps and lays her down on the bed. “Will you stay?” His hand hovers over the belt of her robe, toying with the knot holding the garment closed.

“As long as you want me.” Briar says it with her heart in her throat. “Maybe longer.”

Some of the shadows leave his eyes and he smiles. The look on his face takes her back to that first night when he stood in her hallway and said she looked more like a grocer than a burglar. “Then you’ll never leave.”

They speak a bit more after that, but nothing of substance and all too private to be worth relating.

It is later, much later, when they lay together under the furs and blankets that Thorin’s wandering fingertips find and freeze over the scar on her shoulder. “How came you by this?” He asks, turning her body towards the light.

“A lucky goblin.” It’s not a complete lie. She was invisible at the time, but had stumbled into the path of a small war party who were attempting to flank one of Dain’s squadrons. She hadn’t been able to contribute much to the battle up until that point beyond triggering rock falls on similar outriders, but she had no rocks to push down on those goblins. Instead she snuck into their midst and used Sting to cut, slice, and bite the enemy. One of the goblins just bit back. Shortly after escaping that melee she took a knock on the head that ended her brief involvement in the war. “The treatment left worse scars than the original wound. The healers flushed it with water in Lake Town then cauterized it before I was sent on to Rivendell. A sickness entered the wound and Lord Elrond’s folk re-opened it to cleanse it.”

Thorin traces the arc of the bite mark with a darkness in his eyes that he doesn’t share with her. Instead he turns his attention to the little brass key on its chain around her neck. “And what is this?”

“Something of my father’s.” Briar replies. “He died before he could give it to anyone for me.”

“I see.” He traces the outline of the little key, which is nothing so fine or complex as anything a dwarf would make. It was made by a smith in South Farthing who specializes in such things and is perhaps prettier than it is functional with a rose carved into the thumb-sized handle. “…and what does this unlock?”

“One of the chests I brought with me.” She turns her head to look at Thorin. “You should be careful. It’s bad luck for anyone to touch it who isn’t my intended.”

Thorin bares his teeth at her and nips her shoulder before tugging the key over her head in one deliberate motion. “Which chest does it unlock?”

“Are you so curious, my King?” She asks, making an innocent face when he scowls for her.

“I am now.” He informs her. “Which one?”

She points and Thorin gets out of bed disregarding his own nudity to drag it over. The lock turns over with the briefest of hesitations. Her father had kept it well-oiled in the days before he died and so too did Briar’s mother in her turn. It represented their hope for Briar’s future, which is something she’s only just now coming to understand.

What would they think of Thorin? She wonders this and other things as she watches the king of the last hidden stronghold of dwarves unpack her glory box.

Belladonna would approve, Briar thinks, of the careful way he handles linens and needlework that haven’t seen the light of day in nearly twenty years. Bungo would snort and grumble and puff on his pipe, but that was his reaction to every boy in the Shire who looked at Briar for longer than half a heartbeat. He might have been won over in time though thoughtful gifts and Thorin’s own implacable pride, which is something any Baggins could appreciate.

“These are children’s clothes.” Thorin looks up to her with wonder in his face. “What is this?”

“Hobbit women don’t take much with them when they leave their parents’ home.” Briar confesses. “… just one thing aside from a trousseau, really. When we are young, we start making things for our eventual home; little things at first like handkerchiefs and hand towels, but eventually swaddling clothes, curtains, carpets, and blankets. A husband makes the house, but his wife is the one who fills it. The last thing we make is… ah.” She blushes and ducks her head so she doesn’t have to watch her own clumsy needlework come to light. “At the bottom, there’s a package sealed with wax. That’s my wedding veil. My mother wrapped it up when I finished it on my Coming of Age day and then my father locked it away in my glory box there. According to tradition, the only one allowed to open it is my husband on our wedding day.”

There’s a rustle of dry paper and when she looks up, Thorin is looking back at her.

“I will keep this in trust.” He says and brushes a kiss over each of her eyelids. “And open it when the time comes.”

Briar accepts his kisses and returns them with her own as she pulls him back into the warm sanctuary of their bed.

A year and a half ago Briar Baggins sat in her own safe little parlor and asked a wizard if he could guarantee her a safe return from an adventure she never sought out.

“No,” He told her with a little sadness lurking in his tired eyes. “And if you do, you will never be the same again.”

He never mentioned that home might not be where she left it or that it might not be a place at all. Perhaps he thought she, being a homebound Hobbit of the Shire, wouldn’t understand and he would have been correct.

She understands now that ‘home’ can take many forms. It’s not found in antique crockery or even behind familiar doors. It’s in the sound of a familiar laugh, a friend’s smile, and in the circle of a beloved pair of arms.

At long last, Briar has come home.

-Fin