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Inshêt zahrar (Searching for Home)

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“Wake up, little Hobbit. This is not a good place to be unconscious.”

Bilbo didn’t recognize the low voice and just groaned pitifully in response. He felt heavy, as if his bones had been replaced with metal and were weighing him down. The ground was hard beneath him and sharp rocks seemed to burrow into his spine. This was definitely not his soft featherbed in Bag End. Bilbo couldn’t seem to find it in himself to care overmuch about such trivial matters as unknown voices and uncomfortable surroundings.

“I’m quite serious, Master Hobbit; I need you to wake up now.” A palm gently tapping against his cheek was the next thing to register to Bilbo’s battered senses, trying to coax him back to wakefulness.

Bilbo struggled masterfully. Waking up was entirely too much hassle, why couldn’t the voice understand that?

“Come on, open those eyes, there we go.”

Bilbo finally managed to obey the commanding tone and looked dazedly at the speaker. His vision was blurry and the light coming off the lichen on the walls was very dim. He managed to make out the shape of braids framing the face in front of him and the silhouette of a bow poking over the figure’s shoulder. Did Kíli fall too? But that’s not his voice…

“Well done. Next, we’ll work on getting upright, aye?” Softly encouraging words made their way through the clouds in his mind. “You’re not gravely injured from the fall,” the near-invisible figure told him, “though I don’t know if you’re concussed.” That thought seemed to cause his new… friend, maybe?... some disquiet. “You haven’t got any obvious wounds, though,” they continued, which was reassuring, at least; Bilbo felt sore all over. “I think you’re merely dazed and probably confused. I need to get you up, so I can get you out of here and check properly.”

A blurry shape, slowly identifiable to Bilbo’s brain as a hand, was stretched towards him, ready to help him to his feet. A long moment passed until the hobbit realised that he ought to grab the proffered hand. The world spun, and the stranger wrapped an arm around Bilbo’s back, keeping him standing even though he couldn’t seem to stop listing sideways into the side of his apparent saviour.

“Good. Let’s try walking now.”

They managed a few wobbly steps, Bilbo’s head still spinning. The low voice of the stranger seemed to wrap around him like a caress, something that made him feel inherently safe. It took him a fair while to realise that there was a question being asked and that he should probably verbalize a response.

“Come on, Master Hobbit, it’s not a difficult question, where were you trying to go?” The stranger, whom he still couldn’t see clearly, but could feel was wearing soft leather, was looking at him expectantly.

Bilbo knew that he should have an answer to this but only managed a sort of incoherent mumble.

The voice tried again, “I can take you to Imladris, though it’s a few days of travel from here, or I can take you East towards Mirkwood… This level of tunnels is relatively safe and we should be able to avoid the Goblin filth either way. Which will it be?”

Bilbo gave another valiant attempt at speech, but the sentence that should have been ‘I want to go East with my dwarves’ came out as a garbled “-st it dwarfs.”

The little Hobbit had never missed his home more than in this moment when he was cold, tired and in more pain than he’d ever been before. The only saving grace was that he didn’t currently seem to be in any danger, which, after being chased by orcs, captured by Goblins and walking through mountains that moved, seemed a rather novel state of being. He tried to make out more of the features of his companion but had to give up in the low light. It was rather taller than him, which did not narrow down the races of Middle Earth terribly. Instead he simply decided to go with his gut feeling of safety which seemed to emanate from the presence beside him.

“You’re looking for dwarrow?” the saviour sounded surprised. Bilbo nodded. The strong grip on his shoulders kept him from falling onto his face. “I guess that means east towards the Iron Hills…” his companion mumbled to themselves, raising their voice slightly to ask, “did you have no companions?” Bilbo wanted to nod again, but remembered his last attempt and stopped himself. “That is a very long trip for a lone Hobbit,” the person beside him mused. “I suppose you could be looking for Erebor, but it’s been many a year since there were Dwarrow dwelling there… No matter, I will take you East.” The voice sounded a bit worried but also slightly amused. “It is not that far to the tunnel exit, less than a day’s walking.”

In a distant corner of his mind, Bilbo was rather proud of achieving some sort of forward motion, even if that mostly consisted of leaning on the stranger and letting him take most of his weight. The world really should stop spinning around like it seemed to be doing, he thought. Tunnels ought to stay level, not wobble around. It was hardly sporting to anyone trying to traverse them, let alone a gentle-hobbit who wasn’t used to rock tunnels in the first place.

After an indeterminable walk, including a few stubbed toes and near-falls, Bilbo realised that the spinning had stopped. He slowly gained more confidence in his own hairy feet and his ability to stay on them.

“You seem somewhat improved now, Master Hobbit,” his saviour remarked. “Might I ask your name? It seems only fair that travel companions should know each other.” A ghost of a laugh was hidden in the sentence, and Bilbo was inexplicably cheered. He might be stuck in damp, dark, Goblin-infested tunnels, separated from a Company of Dwarrow who weren’t all that fond of his presence to begin with, but at least he was not alone.

“Bilbo Baggins, of the Shire,” he replied, belatedly remembering that bowing was a bad plan. “Who are you?” he asked, when he had been stood upright once more, the stranger kindly ignoring his wobbly balance and the way he leaned on them. “You seem to know the way, but you could hardly live here,” Bilbo explained, “Goblin Town is not a safe place to spend time.”

“Live here?” the stranger snorted, chuckling to themselves as they repeated the phrase, nearly trembling with laughter. “Amad would come back from the dead and kill me if I decided to live with such filth,” they chuckled, seeming to sober at the thought. “No, Master Baggins,” they said quietly, “I was merely travelling. I know these tunnels quite well and there are safe passages which cut the travel time through the Misty Mountains down considerably if one knows how to find them.”

“How do you know?” Bilbo wondered, remembering himself, Ori, and Balin elbow-deep in maps in Lord Elrond’s Library, trying to study the route they would be taking. There had been no underground tunnels marked on any maps he had seen, Bilbo was certain.

“Once,” the stranger said, their voice soft with something Bilbo would almost have called grief, “these paths were filled with light; they were the Deep Roads of my people, linking our greatest city with places all along the range of the Misty Mountains.”

“You’re a Dwarf?” Bilbo asked, baffled. He couldn’t imagine anyone else tunnelling through a mountain range to make roads, even if the stranger was too tall to be a dwarf.

“I am,” they replied, though Bilbo had the feeling there was something in the confirmation he was missing; they sounded amused again. “I have had many names, but if you travel with Dwarrow, perhaps I should introduce myself in that fashion. Geira, daughter of Narví, at your service,” she – for she must be a she then, as a daughter, even though Bilbo did not think he’d ever meet a female dwarf who’d admit it on the road – bowed, “You can also call me Ilsamirë as the Elves of the Westerlands do, and I was journeying to Imladris when I saw you.” Her arm came back to steady him, gentle pressure getting them moving once more. Bilbo’s mind spun slowly. A Dwarf visiting Rivendell freely seemed incongruent with the way Thorin Oakenshield had described the relationship between the two peoples. “It has been a long time since I last spoke with a Hobbit, Master Baggins,” Geira said, interrupting his thoughts. “Tell me of your home; is the Shire still as lush and green as I remember?”

“You’ve been to the Shire?” Bilbo asked, the mystery of his saviour only growing with her answer.

“Indeed,” Bilbo could hear the smile in his companion’s voice. “I lived in the West Farthing for a few years once.”

 

The next hour was spent telling stories about the Shire, Bilbo’s prize-winning tomatoes, and his trusted gardener. Once that topic had been covered sufficiently, Bilbo began the tale of how he had joined the Company of Thorin Oakenshield though he carefully did not mention their purpose.

Eventually, he realised that he was walking under his own power and that his saviour merely had an arm near him in case he stumbled. In truth he felt quite alright now.

Bilbo had lost all sense of time, even though his stomach finally decided to wake up and crave some sustenance.

“If you are hungry, Master Baggins, I have some lembas breads,” Geira offered. “If I remember correctly Hobbits are always hungry, and you have had very little food today.” Bilbo nodded, blushing when his empty stomach growled, but Geira simply chuckled and told him to take a rest.

Pulling her pack from her shoulders – the light was still too dim to see clearly, but her bulk suddenly split in two – Geira handed him a leaf-wrapped parcel that opened to reveal a small flat tasty loaf of bread, shaped like a square. The hobbit bit into the strange food excitedly and easily devoured the Elvish waybread.

“You know they say one bite is enough to fill a grown Man’s stomach,” Geira laughed, but she let him eat a whole package anyway, so Bilbo didn’t know if she was serious about that.

After his meal, he got back on his feet, longing for a post food nap, but knowing that they had to move on.

“The tunnel narrows soon, you will have to walk behind me,” Geira said, when they had walked what Bilbo thought was another mile. “The lichen will also stop growing, so you had best hold on to my belt as you cannot see in the dark.” By now, he was reasonably certain he was indeed following a dwarf, even if the height was wrong – she was at least a head taller than even Kíli, who had been the tallest dwarf he’d ever met – a Man or an Elf would not have been able to see in the dark either. He was glad of the warning as they seemingly plunged into impenetrable darkness from one step to the next. Bilbo scrambled to do as he was told, securing his hand to the soft leather strap. “Keep quiet, this tunnel gets close to the ones the Goblins use.”

Those were the last words the Hobbit heard from his companion for hours thereafter. The trek became an interminable amount of time spent simply putting one foot ahead of the other and following Geira’s warm form. The darkness was a comfort even if Bilbo did not consciously realise that it meant Goblins were not close; his sword did not shine blue.

Eventually, just as Bilbo’s desire to yell or do something to break the surrounding silence and darkness reached critical levels, Geira spoke once more.

“Not far now, Master Baggins,” she whispered. “You’ll be outside in an hour or so.”

It seemed like forever.

 

Geira’s prediction proved true; turning a bend in the tunnel, Bilbo spotted the welcome light of the sun, lessening the darkness as they walked through a small cave, the tunnel concealed as no more than a narrow crack in the rock as soon as they left it.

Finally, he stepped outside, immediately enveloped in glorious sunshine. Bilbo closed his eyes and took a second simply to bask in the warmth. His toes curled into the soft grass that sloped downwards from the mountainside, happy to be away from the stone. Hobbit feet were tough and although the tunnel they had walked through was mostly smooth and his saviour had steered him away from the scattered rocks that littered it, they still felt the strain of the rough terrains he had traversed the last few days.

“I hope your Dwarrow companions have enough stone sense between them to get here too,” Geira said, making Bilbo’s eyes snap open. “I suggest we take cover in those trees, Master Baggins, and wait for them.” The dwarf still had her back towards Bilbo as she pointed to a collection of birch trees not far ahead. “It is not wise to linger where Goblins might see even if they shun the light of the Sun when they can.”

“Stone sense?” he repeated, feeling slightly discombobulated by the sudden return of his vision. “And please call me Bilbo. You saved me, and I would like to call us friends.

Geira strode ahead, calling back over her shoulder, “A Dwarf, Bilbo, is born with an innate sense of stone. Much like the Elves can listen to the trees around them, a Dwarf can sense the stone and the earth moving around him. It means that Dwarrow rarely get lost underground. In fact, you could go so far as to say that a dwarf who gets lost underground would be mocked quite severely. Of course, some dwarrow have stronger senses than others, but it’s incredibly rare for a dwarf to be born stone-blind. Mahal’s gift to his Children lies in a deep connection to the land around them. Some have the skill to sense seams of precious metal and gems running through the rock, while others might be able to spot fault lines and weaknesses by touch.”

Dropping her pack beneath a slender tree and pulling out a pipe, Geira stuffed it solemnly then handed it to Bilbo her pipe in offering. Passing the pipe back and forth languidly, blowing smoke rings, they enjoyed the warmth of the Sun shining through the leaves. Geira’s eyes were closed, and Bilbo relaxed next to her, silently smoking and observing his rescuer. The dwarf had silvery shining hair, intricately braided. Oddly enough she didn’t have a beard at all, not even the scruff Kíli called a beard. She was dressed in leather armour over a green tunic, ring-mail sleeves shining in the low sun. Her cloak was a green-brown-grey colour that seemed to change as the light hit it and she truly looked more like she belonged in a forest than a mountain.

Then Bilbo noticed the ears.

“You’re…an Elf? A girl Elf.” Bilbo was flabbergasted. None of the Elves he’d seen in Rivendell had been so short as to be taken for Dwarrow in the dark.

“The word is elleth, Master Bilbo, and the answer is both yes and no.” Geira’s voice was light with suppressed mirth. “I am a peredhel. Half-elven. It means I am both Elf and Dwarf. I live the life of an Elf, but my mother was a Dwarf,” she pointed at her head, “hence the braids and the smoking,” she winked mischievously at him. Bilbo laughed almost despite himself, trying to imagine Lord Elrond with a pipe – he had seen Gandalf smoking in Rivendell, but the Elves had not appeared to approve greatly.

“I didn’t think Elves and… Dwarrow?” Bilbo asked, the unfamiliar plural she had used sitting oddly on his tongue; he had always though it was dwarves, “liked each other enough for…” he made a slightly choked off sound and gesture at her in lieu of finishing his sentence, an image of the incompatibility of such a couple burning in his mind and colouring his cheeks crimson.

Geira laughed. “There is long-lasting enmity between the Dwarrow and the Eldar, you are correct,” she said, sobering suddenly. “I have met only two who have known of a pairing like my parents’, and in all my lifetime I have never met another who shares my heritage.” Mirth had fled, and Bilbo instinctively felt that the topic of her mixed blood was fraught with pitfalls. Humming noncommittally, he puffed once more on the pipe, passing it to his companion in silence. Leaning back against the tree, Bilbo was content to enjoy the sun and the sound of birds singing. His eyes closed and he was soon asleep.

Geira continued smoking, her gaze sweeping across the land as she observed her new friend. He was unlike Hobbits she had met – even the adventurous Belladonna Took, whom Elladan and Elrohir had told her of had not been this far east. No Hobbit had crossed the Misty Mountains since the Wandering Years.

After an hour, she woke Bilbo gently, offering him more food and drink. The two enjoyed another quiet meal in the bright sunshine before Bilbo lay down for another nap.  Geira remained awake and on watch, her attention fixed on the mountainside where she knew the Goblins had their ‘Back Door’.

 


 

 

Suddenly, a troop of Dwarrow burst from the mountain. At the head of the gathering, the tall shape and pointy grey hat of Gandalf was unmistakable. Bilbo startled awake

“…12, 13, WHERE’S BILBO?!” Gandalf finished his rapid head count just as Geira got to her feet. Bilbo blinked at them all, looking bruised and much worse for wear, but everyone was there – a sight he had not expected to see again.

“I saw him fall as the Goblins were rounding us up,” Nori croaked out, wheezing from the impact of a heavy beam and an even heavier Goblin King on his chest. Dwalin sheepishly set him back on his feet, and the Thief gave him a pat of gratitude. He had expected to be left under the beams, crushed to death, but the combined strength of Dori, Dwalin and Thorin had been enough to get him out. “He must still be in there,” Nori continued reluctantly, looking around the group of dwarrow.

“Uncle! We have to go back for him!” Kíli turned pleading puppy eyes on Thorin, already glistening with tears at the thought of what horrors could have befallen the little Hobbit burglar. Beside him, Fíli nodded. The two Princes had become quite fond of Master Boggins, especially after the Troll Incident. The rest of the Company started shouting

Thorin felt stricken, his mouth set in harsh lines. He looked back at the mountain entrance, from which they could hear Goblins hissing curses as they avoided the sunlight. Thorin sighed, taking a step back towards the dark maw they had just escaped. He knew going back for the small Hobbit was suicide – at best, they would lose several lives in the attempt.

Opening his mouth, he tried to say something comforting about the Hobbit making his way back to Rivendell, even if he knew it would placate neither his nephews’ hearts nor his own. Once, he had told the Wizard that he would not be responsible for the fate of the Hobbit, but Thorin felt responsible nonetheless for dragging the soft creature into such peril.

Instead, to his surprise, Thorin heard another voice answer Kíli’s plea.

 

Ikhli, u’zaghith[1]. The Hobbit was with me and I lead him out safely.”

Geira spoke softly, yet her voice penetrated the din of shouting dwarrow easily. Bilbo was impressed, both with his saviour and with the speed with which the Company whirled around to face her, leaning against a tree and watching the flustered dwarrow with soft amusement shining in her blue eyes.

Geira laughed, that odd Elvish laugh, which made the world seem a little brighter around her. “Ikhlî, shaktân[2],” she said, smiling.

The gaping Company simply stared. Bilbo felt a little self-conscious, wondering just how battered he really looked after his tumble down the chasm in Goblin Town. “I mean you no harm,” Geira continued, bringing her hand up, making a fist in front of her chest and bowed. “I am Geira, daughter of Narví.”

Bifur mumbled something no one paid attention to. Gandalf bowed to her, which seemed to floor the Company even more than the sudden appearance of their Burglar. They stared at the stranger in their midst. Shiny mithril hair tumbling down her back in intricate braids, beads winking in the sunlight, and dressed in leather and mail, she looked like one of their warrior queens of legend, even without a beard. At her sides were strapped a pair of twin swords and on her back she carried a fine bow and a quiver of arrows. Blue eyes twinkled back at them. The beads in her hair were decorated with Khuzdul runes and her braids proclaimed her a master jeweller as well as a Daughter of the House of Durin. The last bit seemed to be what puzzled Balin and Thorin the most as she spoke, soft Elvish lilt spilling from her lips.

“Mithrandir, mae g’ovannen, mellon-nîn,” Geira said gently. “Êl síla lû e-govaned ’wìn.[3]

“Dear Lady Ilsamirë,” Geandalf replied in Common Westron. “It has been many a year since last we met; this is indeed a pleasant surprise.”

“Mithrandir, you old flatterer, it has indeed been far too long,” Geira replied, giving the tall wizard a sunny smile and laughing brightly.  Bilbo’s dwarrow were still in the process of picking up their jaws, although a fair few lost them again at that point. Not many people would dare laugh at a wizard. Ori cautiously inched away from Gandalf’s staff, but the wizard just smiled serenely, looking for all the world like a benevolent grandfather.

“I thought you dwelt in Lothlórien these days, beautiful Silver Lady?” he asked, bushy brows frowning above brilliantly blue eyes. Geira nodded.

“I was on my way to Imladris,” she said, shrugging one shoulder, “when I met young Bilbo here... poor thing fell into the tunnels below Goblin Town and got a nasty knock on his head.”

Dori made a sound of concern at that, but Bilbo felt overall well, aside from the bruises that were blooming on his skin, and wave it away with a small gesture. Most of his bruises were hidden by his clothes, at least, and he looked a fair bit better than the tattered and battered Dwarrow standing before him.

“You ought to take better care of your pets, wizard,” Geira rebuked Gandalf softly, but her smile stayed fond and the wizard seemed to take no offense at her words.

“I thank you for your assistance, my Lady,” he replied gravely, “I do not wish to dwell on what might have happened if Bilbo had been alone.”

“Bilbo took a goblin with him in his tumble down the cliff side,” Geira revealed, startling Bilbo who hadn’t spared even a thought for the reason for his fall. “It had died from a bashed in skull by the time I found him, however,” Geira continued, “he was very lucky to survive the fall.”

“Who are you?” Thorin asked, suddenly remembering that he was supposed to be the leader of their Company.

Geira turned to face the Company once more, smiling at him in a way that seemed far too fond for a complete stranger. “E gêdul d’abdukh astni,[4]” she said, nodding at Thorin, who stiffened. Around him, jaws made contact with the ground, but Geira ignored the Company’s incredulous stares. “What are dwarrow doing coming through the Misty Mountains?” she continued. “You are obviously not a trade expedition.”

Bofur began saying something, possibly trying to spin a more successful tale than the one they had tried to feed the Goblin King, but a warg’s howl interrupted the cosy chatting.

“Run!” Thorin cried, grabbing his nephew by the scruff of his neck and pushing him ahead.

They ran.

Azog followed.

 

 

[1] Peace, young warrior.

[2] Peace, kinsmen.

[3] Well met, Gandalf, my friend. A star shines upon the hour of our meeting.

[4] I am happy to meet you.