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The Ponderings of a Hobbit and the Writings of a Bear and Balin

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It is one thing to know that your child will grow up and fall in love with the one that shares their mark and an entirely different thing to see the proof before your eyes; proof that your child will not only lead a different life from you, but be taken from you by someone who you may never get the chance to know …”

-From the personal journal of Belladonna Baggins

 

Billa Baggins had grown up knowing that she was different, and it was not simply because of the fact that she was a Took-Baggins. While that was indeed a partial factor to her strangeness, what was more definite was her flowering on the back of her left ear. Unlike other Hobbit flowerings that marked out the name of their soul mates, Billa’s flower was in a different language that was clearly not Hobbitish, with rough runes that were slightly warm to the touch rather than a name with vines and vivid green things seemingly growing out of it. Even hidden behind riotous copper curls everyone in the Shire knew that Billa was not ever going to marry another respectable hobbit, unless she chose not to fulfill her flowering- an idea of great abhorrence to Hobbits.

In private, the young lady was glad that normal Hobbits kept their distance, because it had given way to Billa’s truest friends to appear- the Tooks and Brandybucks. Granted a majority of her cousins on her mother’s side also bore another hobbit name on their ears, but there were several whose flowerings were written in other languages; one even bore the name of an elf! Thus it was quite regular for young Miss. Baggins to be seen walking back and forth to her cousin’s homes whenever she could manage to sneak away from her parents.

Now, Mr. Bungo Baggins and Mrs. Belladonna Baggins, ne Took, were truly wonderful parents- if a bit over protective of their only child. The slightly elder of the pair often recited the deeds of his ancestors to the young woman and lectured her on proper gentle-hobbit behavior, while teaching her to read and write. Belladonna however went against every Took standard in that she most certainly did not tell her daughter too many stories of the outside world; she did not encourage her child to head off on adventures. Instead she taught her daughter how to embroider, sew and, how to properly tend to a garden. All of this proper raising quite disappointed her family, though the approval of the Baggins side and thereby, most of Hobbiton, grew more and more with every proper and respectable teaching that young Billa soaked up.

That is not to say that Billa Baggins was not adventurous- she was in fact more adventurous than her grandfather, Old Took, had been at her age. Billa simply learned ways to hide it, and if that meant no one saw her managing to sneak out a hidden door she had made in her room- well, she was a Took after all. This adventurous streak also meant she knew various little tidbits from having run into, sometimes quite literally, the Rangers. Thus, it was with a mind full of suspicion and a certain amount of experience that, on a day where both her parents were out and unlikely to return home within a sort while, Billa crept into the cellar, moved several barrels out of the way and pried off three loose wooden panels from the wall to reveal the small wooden chest hidden in the hole that was there.

It was something she had begun noticing not long after a particular dream she had had about a bear; where her father would sometimes get a letter or her mother would receive a small package, and when they thought she wasn’t looking, one of them would sneak downstairs. It wasn’t until she had been sent to the cellar to grab a bottle of wine during a party, that Billa discovered where it was exactly that her parents hid those particular things. Now, nearly ten years later, Billa, ever eager and curious, peered at what it was her parents thought to hide. There was not much to be seen outside of a small chest, save a musty old traveling cloak, a oddly shaped spearhead, and a few old ill-treated trinkets. For the time being Billa ignored these other interesting items and slipped the chest out of its hiding place, promptly taking it to her room where she might peruse it's contents without accidentally being spotted.

Picking the chest's lock ruined her lock picking set but, thankfully the lock released as she broke the very last set of her available tools. A grin of triumph passed over her lovely face as she lifted the lid and peered down at the contents exitedly, only to frown in puzzlement when all she saw was letters. Letters that hadn’t even been unsealed, which of course to a rather curious hobbit was an odd thing to discover. Seemingly her father had, to some extent, remained his organized self with the contents of the box and had placed the letters in some fashion or another. Knowing her father organization preferences as well as Billa did, it was not long until she found the first letter that had been put into the box. Two things made green eyes widen in surprise, the first being the postal date- which dated back nearly twenty years, and the second being that it was not her parents’ names that were written on the front of the letter but hers!

I'm certain you can imagine the shock and surprise that filled the youngest Baggins' expression, however it was not only shock and surprise that filled her. No indeed, somewhere in the back of her mind Billana Baggins, for the first time felt the beginnings of what would be a long developing anger towards her parents. Now I must, in all good consciousness pause for a moment here to inform you, kind reader, that Mr. and Mrs. Baggins were not cruel or rather terrible parents. Indeed, in many ways they were the best parents to have ever walked Middle Earth. However their situation as Hobbits- creatures naturally suspicious of anyone who was not a Hobbit- and the fact that they only ever had Billana meant that their over protectiveness was vast and sometimes prevented them from being the rather reasonable folk that they were wont to be otherwise. Of course had Billana not been their only child, already marked forever to never truly belong to the Shire, then perhaps things might have been quite different. But then again if they had not been themselves then this tale might not have ever come to pass.

Now for many moments Billa could not help but admire the elegant scripture that lay upon the parchment that she held before her. Never had she seen her name written quite so beautifully in her life. The 'B's were astoundingly complex with elegant swirls that intertwined each letter in her name in order to connect each individual with the whole and create her name, and for a moment she felt warmth race through her veins, momentarily pressing all other emotion back into the recesses of her mind as she thought that maybe- just maybe- this person was someone special.

Sounds from outside brought her back to the present and forced urgency upon the hobbit lass, who did not know when it was that her parents would return. She scanned through the tops of all the letters, all of which were addressed to her, in addition to three small packages and two small books, placed at the very bottom of the chest. Knowing that her parents were likely to be familiar with the scripture, Billa was quick to set to work, and by the time her parents returned from the market at sunset the chest was back in its former hiding spot with nothing but blank copies of the letters, two small books from her flaunting years, and three similarly shapes packages. The originals were all tucked safely away in another chest, hidden in the secret passageway that led from her room to the outlying gardens on the far side of the Hill. Hopefully soon she would get the chance to read them…

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It was not until false dawn; nearly a fortnight later that Billana Baggins got the chance to read through the letters within the confines of her room. With hands that trembled far too much for her liking, she pulled out the oldest letter that she could find and took a deep breath. A quick reminder to be sensible, she was after all an adventurer and a Took, preceded the opening of the letter. Sliding a knife beneath the grey wax seal the young hobbit took extra care so as to not to crack it. For seals, their color and shape could tell you a great deal about the letter writer before one ever opened up the message and read the message within.

Unfolding the rather precisely folded parchment, Bella glanced at the letter that was barely two paragraphs in length, written with a graceful, if blocky, hand that was somehow both artful and masculine at the same time. Not at all how Hobbits wrote, much to her very private joy. An very lively hopes were entertained that this must her soul mate. Gaze trailing back to the top of the letter she began to carefully read, taking in each word with a precision and care that would have done her father quite proud.

 

Miss Billana Baggins,

       This letter was written the night that we first met, though we were not formally introduced. I do not pretend to doubt that by now you have learned that your flowering- as your good parents called it- is unusual to your kind. It reads the true name of my younger brother Dwalin- a name which I dare not write on paper, for names are powerful things. As your heart lode- the name by which our soul marking are called- is different from average, so too is my brother’s, who bears your name upon his left arm.

By the time you are likely to be able to read this letter you will have a basic understanding of how your parents received this news. I can only hope that they have shown you this means that they have changed their opinions. If not I pray Mahal that your opinion of my brother will not be too harsh; our people have lived long and difficult lives and there are times when I think that you have been his only support. Though neither of you knew the other. I look forward to a time when we might be able to trade words between each other, that both I and my brother will be permitted to get to know you and vice versa.

Eternally at your service,

Balin son of Fundin

 

It took Billana many long moments after reading the letter several times over to fully process the information. Her flowering bore the name of a dwarf and both he and his brother had been in Bag End! They had seen her! Something akin to joy filled the hobbit lass’s mind and she danced around her room, laughter bubbling up her throat. Take that Lobelia Bracegirdle- She was not alone! She did have someone waiting for her and he was alive! He had even met her parents and they- the thought stopped her joy and her dancing. Her parent’s hadn’t approved. Not only that- they hadn’t even let out a whisper to their daughter that they had ever seen him or his brother. Dismay warred with anger and for many long moments Billa was so fraught with emotions that she wasn’t quite certain if she wanted to weep or storm into her parent’s room and demand answers- politeness be damned!

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A few hours later, just after a very silent first breakfast, in fact, the Common Sense of the Baggins won in the end and the less knowledgeable Took Common Sense surrendered. Much like her Tookish side, Billana was reluctant but knowing that if her parents knew about the letters, they would stop at nothing to keep Billa from learning more until her majority in eight years. Already her friends were beginning to see interesting things in their chosen Flower, and though she would never admit it, seeing all of her friends and relations meet and fulfill their flowering made her feel awkward and lonely. It was not a particular feeling she enjoyed- especially since it made her feel too terribly similar to her distant cousin, Lobelia. Lobelia Bracegirdle was one of the other half of the Shire that did not have a flowering and her jealousy of those that did, especially those whose flowers clearly did not belong to another Hobbit, made her particularly unkind and more than a little vicious.

Shaking her head to rid herself of the most recent taunts, the hobbit lass returned to her seat on the floor and carefully removed the box from where she had, rather unceremoniously, shoved it under the bed to prevent her parents from seeing it. The first letter was slightly crumpled and with a guilty heart Billa carefully smoothed it out and refolded the letter along its precise lines before taking out the next one, which was surprisingly thick and had been written nearly three years after the first.

Miss Billana Baggins,

       I have hopes that by now you are able to read Westron and are able to understand it as well, for it will likely be the only tongue in which the three of us will all be able to communicate properly until the time comes that I may teach you to speak the language of my brother’s kin. In hopes that you will learn to write back soon, I have gained the permission of my king to send you a small book- which should accompany this letter and I hope that you will put it to good use. As you will be absent a teacher, no one will expect you to be able to write perfectly, but do not be shy in attempting. Better a mind filled with concepts than a mind filled with fear of never understanding.

Also enclosed in this letter is a missive from my brother. I do ask your pardon at the rather sloppy scrawl, he has always been a better learner of the way of weapons than book learning.

Eternally at your service,

Balin son of Fundin

 

Billa took a moment to remember how to breathe and calm her racing heart, using Balin's gift as a brief excuse to put down the letter (and it's additional contents). Picking up the enclosed book Billa found that it was rather small, barely larger than her own hands, bound in a worn leather casing that had clearly seen many owners through its lifetime. Flipping it open green eyes widened as Balin's words about not being afraid to write began to make sense. For here, in the palm of her young hands was a method for learning how to read and write in Khzudul! Later Billa would make full sense of the gift, reasoning that it was necessary for her to learn the basics if she was going to eventually marry this dwarf, but at the moment it was all Billa could do to marvel at the treasure she held in her hand and the implied trust that this dwarf seemed to have in her.

Now a little overwhelmed Billa gently placed the book to the side and picked up Balin's letter once more. Behind the page that Balin had written on was another that was folded quite a bit differently from Balin's neatly pressed edges. A mixture of curiosity and excitement welled in her chest as Billana opened up the slightly crumpled piece of parchment that was spotted with ink and a bit difficult to read.

 

Beloved Billana,

I know not what my brother has sent to you since our first meeting and parting near- four years ago. I am Dwalin son of Fundin, Head Guard of the royal family of Erebor. You do not likely remember my face as you were little more than a babe when I first laid eyes upon you and your emerald gaze. It is my greatest desire wish demand That is I would like it if we could correspond once you are of an age to do so.

-Dwalin son of Fundin

 

The blotted writing made Billana smile, getting the feeling that this dwarf had wanted to write to her sooner- or had recently discovered his brother's writings to her. Either way, it didn't matter for she now had proof that this dwarf was her's in every way just as she was his. And that small seed of joy was enough for the present.

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Lunch and afternoon tea passed rather quickly after Billana had returned the letters to their new chest and began reading the book Balin had given her. It truly was a complex language but with each reading, she began to understand why it was that the dwarves were so secretive about their language- though probably not half as much as Hobbits were about their own language, which was guarded so well that no outsider ever heard it- not even Gandalf the Grey. It was a small source of amusement for Billana and a bit of relief that she already had something in common with the two males, even if they did not know it.

Page after page of dwarf runes, grammar structures, and bit of history (little snippets that it seemed Balin had written on the sides of the pages in order to help her understand certain things) filled the hobbit-lass’s mind and by the time dinner and supper were finished she was able to write a few sentences. Looking proudly down at her work Billana read through what she had written and frowned, her light-hearted expression crumpling in dismayed frustration as she realized just how childish she sounded in her first letter to her flower. Not at all like a young woman of 25 years of age. Determined to ensure that everything she had written would be understood and prove that she was not ill-educated, she re-wrote the whole of her letter in Westron. The half rune, half alphabet letter looked odd but under the current circumstances, there was not much more she could do. After all, it was best to try and ensure that there were as few misunderstandings as possible, particularly given the present circumstances

“ Surely something is better than nothing at least. After all, it doesn’t seem like they stopped writing. Besides even an ill-worded response must be better than the silence of not knowing no matter how foolish it may read.” Billana murmured to herself, carefully folding her letter and sealing it.

“Now where was that they said I could send it?” She scanned through the letters she had already read but rather remarkably they said nothing about where to send her replies, which was not very smart of either dwarf.

Another frown flitted across her face before she peered out the window. It did not matter now anyway since the mail house was already closed and wouldn’t be open tomorrow or the day after.

“A few more days won’t hurt I suppose.” Billa murmured, carefully placing her letter in the false bottom of one of her desk drawers. “And in the meantime, I still have other letters to read.”

The next letter had been written about the time of her tenth birthday if the dates on the postage were to be believed.  Again her name was written beautifully and much to her delight, she was right in guessing that Balin had written it.

Miss Billana Baggins,

       First I would like to offer you my congratulations in having grown yet another year older, though I offer my most sincere apologies if this letter had arrived much too late or too early since neither my brother nor I were quite certain as to when your birth date actually is. However, if my calculations are correct, you must now be about the age of ten- an age which, amongst the dwarves, means that you’re are now out of young childhood and are ready to begin exploring the world beyond your household. This represents another thing- the time that you are recognized by those around you and are joining the greater community at large. Such an age is usually marked by the placement of a bead given to you by the head of your family or by you heart-lode (if they have been found and deemed acceptable). My brother granted me the honor of making you your first bead, as both the head of our family and as someone who offers his blessings to you both. It is one of the greatest of honors and I hope that one day I might be able to properly braid it into your hair once you are of an age to join us.

Eternally at your service,

Balin son of Fundin

The bead Balin had mentioned was tied to a thin piece of string that was threaded through the parchment, ensuring that such an important item would not be lost along the journey from his writing desk to her home. Holding it close to the wavering light of her sole candle, Billa admired the tiny bead as she twisted it this way and that, noting how the design seemed to be a never-ending vine that danced and wove itself across the surface of the burnished copper.

“Now all I have to do if find a way to keep it on me without my parents noticing.”

Placing the treasured bead down, Billa then turned her attention to the next letter which (again) had been hiding in Balin’s.

Prying it open the handwriting that greeted her was similar to Dwalin’s, but with a neater style and fewer ink splotches on the parchment; like he had more time to write neatly or had been practicing.

Beloved Billana.

In this, I write to tell you of my deep wishes for your health and safety as well as to wish you congratulations on reaching such an age. There are not many children amongst the Durin line and they are deeply cherished; that you have proved strong enough to survive this long brings great joy to me and mine. The Durin line rests now in the safety of the Blue Mountains. It is not our home, though we strive to make it so. I do not pretend to know you, but I know that if you were yet by my side then this place would be one I could learn to call home.

-Dwalin son of Fundin

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The next set of letters were piled together and bore the same postage date which was odd because normally Balin seemed to place all the letters into one. Idly she hoped that they weren't worrying about her too much as she opened the first letter.  

Miss Billana Baggins,

By now you have likely reached an age where you most certainly can read and write, so I am guessing that you are not seeing these letters as you ought to. While it makes the heart heavier, I doubt it to be your fault. All parents are protective of their children, dwarves and now Hobbits- it would seem- jealously so. For all my understanding I do wish it were not so and ask Mahal to grant both my brother and I patience.

Eternally at your service,

Balin son of Fundin

 

 

Billa's following sigh was one of relief and gratefulness. Balin had figured it out but evidently hadn't planned on stopping his letter writing- if the number of letters still unread were any indication. Reaching out to take the next one she frowned at the holes poked through the parchment. Dwalin must have been frustrated.

"I do hope he isn't mad at me." Billa murmured worriedly. Even if she didn't know him personally he was still someone very dear to her, being her flowering and all. A person who, according to all Hobbit standards, was and would always be dear- even if the pair decided to not marry.

 

Beloved Billana,

My brother and King demand patience and were it not for their direct orders I would personally see to it that you receive and read every letter sent you- save those from other suitors. I am to remain and protect my King and teach his heirs, but I give you my word loveliest emerald, that I will come for you upon your coming of age.

-Dwalin son of Fundin

 

 

The last letter in the pile of three that she had picked up was different from the rest. The parchment was thicker, finer and the golden flecks in the ink that filled out her name indicated that this missive was particularly important. Unaccountably finding herself suddenly nervous, she swallowed and after sending a silent plea to Yavanna, carefully slid her knife underneath the golden seal she didn't recognize and unfolded the letter.

 

Miss Billana Baggins of Bag End,

It has come to our attention that the Royal Head Guard, Dwalin son of Fundin, and trusted friend carries your name as his heart-lode. According to a trusted advisor, Balin son of Fundin, you are not yet of an age to even recognize the importance of this. You will be receiving two more books that have been specially written so that you might learn of my people, the line of Durin, and our ways. These books will assist you in learning the importance of bearing a heart-lode.

Should we not hear from you by the time you have reached your majority a messenger will be sent to collect that which is being given.

Signed,

Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain son of Thror, King-Under-the-Mountain

Frerin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, Prince

Dis, daughter of Thrain, son of Thror, Princess

Fili, son of Dis, daughter of Thrain, son of Thror

Kili, son of Dis, daughter of Thrain, son of Thror

 

Could her parents have seen their child's face, they surely would have laughed rather uproariously at the sight of her gaping like a fish at a piece of parchment. 

 "Well! I have never-" The Miss Baggins sputtered, half indignant and half shock at the level of haughtiness that a mere piece of parchment could exude. 

The words that covered the entire page were far too elegant and were clearly written by a learned scribe, if the complex swirls of deep blue and black entwining with scrolls of gold and red were any indication, but the sheer gall and arrogance could have been spoken right in front of her for all the beauty of the script.

"I suppose this royal family might be the real thing. Not yet recognize the importance indeed! I am a quite respectable, educated, and a most honorable hobbit I will have you know Mr. Oakenshield. And yes, I do mean Mister!!" She hissed, scowling quite fiercely at the letter before turning her gaze to the remaining books in the chest., muttering darkly about mannerless kings. Both were similarly unmarked like the book that Balin had sent her and seemed incredibly worn from time. 

The first title read, 'A Comprehensive History of the Exalted Line of Durin, from Durin the Deathless to the Great King Thror' It was rather thick and skimming the first page made Billa yawn. 

"I certainly hope that this is more interesting than it looks." She murmured, slipping the book into the secret nook she had carved into the far side of her bed post long ago so that her parents might not discover her books on adventures. The nook's former occupants now lived in a safer place, on a large shelf in a room the belonged Primula Brandybuck, who'd been all too delighted to guard her cousin's treasures and her continued rebellion against her parents.

The second title sound far more interesting to the ever curious hobbit lass and she eagerly opened up, 'A Guide to the Culture of Dwarves, Regarding Partnership, Duties, and Everyday Life'

The first page, interestingly enough was marred by the writing of an elegant, yet obviously female hand. 

Miss Baggins,

My eldest brother can be quite an ignoramus at times and on more than one occasion tends to forget his arrogance. Dwalin is very dear to the family and lately he has been uneasy. I can only ask that you read this and understand. If you have any questions be certain to address them to myself or Mister Balin- though there are several chapters I snuck into the translation of this book where you might want to simply contact me.

-Dis, daughter of Thrain, son of Thror

 

Peeking at the chapters that Dis had marked Billa's eyes widened and her face burned fiercely. Shaking her head and making wild curls bounce about with a fury, she snapped the book closed and shoved it into the bedpost nook, silently vowing to avoid the chapters Dis had indicated while simultaneously wondering what was wrong with these Durin siblings.

Billa sat back in her chair, awed and no small part of her mind beginning to feel overwhelmed. Balin had figured out why she hadn't been writing back, Dwalin was not angry with her but seemingly worried about whether or not she was still single ( ! ), she had been mildly scolded, and then a princess had personally translated things for her and had written a note to her!!!

 

 

 

 

"I do believe I need to go bed." 

 

Chapter Text

 

 

Beloved Billana,

You are now about to reach the most dangerous time of your life, the thirteenth year. I only ask that you learn to keep yourself safe.

-Dwalin son of Fundin

 

It was a short message, scrawled on a slip of parchment barely larger than her hand. At first, Billa found herself quite confused by the obvious tension and worry that seemed to drip from the letter like water from a broken faucet.

A few hours of reading and a translation or two, Billana understood and wished she could have found these letters earlier so that she might have been able to ease the poor dwarf’s mind many years ago. Thirteen may have been the unluckiest number to the dwarves, but Billa had quite enjoyed the year as it was the subtle start of her silent rebellion against her parents. It had started with the bedpost nook and had ended in a tunnel that went underneath the smial and came out on the other side of the hill.

Gently tracing the inked letters Billa began to think. It was not a particularly favorite hobby for the young lady to indulge in, however, last night had given her a chance to rest her mind and realize some few, and rather important, things.

1-      Her parents still did not know that she knew about her dwarf match knowing about her.

2-      She had written a reply and now had a place to send it to but three posed the larger problem.

3-      She lived near Hobbiton. And what one person did in Hobbiton, soon everyone knew. It was nigh impossible to keep a secret amongst all the hustle and bustle of the only hobbit town for leagues. And that presented the largest problem of all.

4-      Her parents would inevitably find out.

Billa groaned wishing in vain that her beloved parents weren’t so stubborn or so protective. They would find out and that would be the beginning of the end of all of her best-kept secrets, ones that even her closest friends knew nothing about.

“If only I were around a Too-“Billa paused and eyes widened as the realization hit her, “Of course. What would a Took do? Why the Rangers will surely know where the Blue Mountains are and mayhap they can take the message at least part of the way!”

In a flurry of motion Billa pulled on all her proper out of doors clothes in mere moments before she grabbed her letter and slipped silently through the house and out the round green door. Hopping over fences in the early morning when the mists yet clung to the land in hopes of remaining and all decent folk were still asleep was a favored pastime and one Billana had mastered in the earlier years of her rebellion.

It did not take long for Billa to encounter one of the Rangers once she reached a less populated part of the Shire, just on the outskirts of the Hobbiton area. One of the big folk was more than happy to take the letter to the Blue Mountains, particularly when she handed over a days’ worth of supplies and the last bit of elvish rope that Belladonna Baggins had ‘lost’ many years ago.

Quite pleased with herself on the accomplishment on the completion of her goal, she wandered about, basking in the feel of the healthy earth beneath her feet, meeting a friend or two along her ambling route home. Upon returning to the smial, with fresh bread held in her basket as an excuse, Billiana was soon settled comfortably under the hill and there she prepared herself to wait.

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In the successive days that followed the delivery of the message to the Rangers and the waiting that ensued, Billa read through a number of letters and found herself quite surprised at how much she had anticipated their questions in her reply. For many of them had been answered- granted the actual first letter was little more than her sketchy attempt at writing dwarvish runes, which had made a second letter written in Westron all the more necessary.

In the week she spent waiting she learned a great deal about her two most frequent writers. Balin had a formal style of writing, hinting at his life as a royal advisor and the inescapability of the job. He tended to have a dry wit but was careful to ensure that he did not offend. With his very neat calligraphy, Billa had no doubt that each letter he wrote to her was carefully constructed so that he did not take away a chance of possible affection that could happen between her and her flower.

Miss Billana Baggins,

By now you have passed through your thirteenth year and once more I offer my congratulations as well as my apologies for not writing during the year. To dwarves, the babe years and the thirteenth year are the most dangerous to young lives. That being what it is I ask for your forgiveness, for I ought to have been more attentive and written of what you could do should you or your family required aide.

This past year it occurred to me that my people and I know next to nothing about when it is that Hobbit’s reach their majority. We would not wish to injure you or your relationship with your parents in any way, something that would doubtlessly happen if we arrived too soon. I know you are not likely to read this until your majority, but I ask that you write as soon as you read this so that we might be able to prepare for your coming.

I do not presume that you will desire to remain for a long period of time on your first journey to our home, but I hope that as you grow to know my brother that your affection for us shall increase and your comfort will soon follow.

I would write more but there is much to do when a delegation arrives.

Ever at your service,

Balin son of Fundin

 

Miss Billana Baggins,

I hope that you are faring well. This winter has not been particularly kind to the settlement and we have had an unusually large amount of dwarves grow slightly ill. Thankfully all those nearest to us are well.

I have heard rumors that the Shire is ever prosperous though her borders are carefully guarded by magic and by Rangers. From what little I'd been privileged to witness during my last visit I had hoped that such wealth of food could have been shared been our two realms. Your Thain, quite politely, said otherwise and declined the offer of trade informing us that Hobbit folk had no use for anything that which our people hold in great esteem. I should not surprise you that such an announcement has made many of my brother’s closest friends and even Dwalin himself, a bit worried. We do not want you uncomfortable and unable to enjoy life if you were to remain with us, but knowing so little there is much that you may want. Would it be quite possible for you to tell me, what is it that Hobbits cherish?

Eternally at your service,

Balin son of Fundin

 

Unlike his brother, Dwalin’s notes – the word letter implies a great deal more than what the warrior wrote- were raw and full of varying emotions. Almost without thinking Billana grew fond of the man’s blotchy writing, often reading and re-reading his gradually improving scrawl with a warm smile on her face. He was quite awkward but still heartfelt and genuine passion- yet another thing that she seemed to have in common with the dwarf. He never talked much about his duties or anyone else- in fact almost all of his letter addressed her and her alone, leaving it to Balin to explain the happenings of their dwarvish kingdom. While it did not help her to know Dwalin better, what he thought and felt around his kindred and friends, she was comforted by the idea that when writing to her his attention was wholly hers. It was selfish and she chided herself frequently for it, but nevertheless, the thought lingered. 

 

Beloved Billana,

I am aware that do not write well, but I do desire to impart on you that I am in earnest. You likely do not remember me but I shall never forget the night I first saw your large emerald eyes for the first time and the way you reached out with a hand more fragile than the thinnest metal and touched the heart-lode that rests, even now, upon my arm. Tis forever in my memory and gives me hope that I will see such eyes once more. Your hair was full of coppery curls that haloed your face and I wonder if you yet have them or have they straightened out with the passage of time that surely has only made you more lovely.

-Dwalin son of Fundin

 

Beloved Billana,

One hundred and twenty-three years have I born your name upon my skin. Never have I been so fascinated with anything save my axes. You are precious to me, as all heart-lodes are to those that bear their name.

-Dwalin son of Fundin

 

There was one letter though that Billana vowed to forever love above all the rest, no matter what future letters said. It was the last one she had chosen to read that first day of waiting and the depth of feeling that Dwalin seemed to possess near drowned her the first time she had read the longest piece he had written. She read the letter so many times in the days that followed that the words even played out in her dreams and she could almost swear that she heard a deep rumbling voice speak each word as she drifted through pleasant dreams and dwarvish runes.

Chapter Text

It was nearing two decades since Dis had first found out about Dwalin’s heart-lode and the creature that was lucky enough to have such a great warrior imprinted on her skin. It pained her to see that there was a part of her family that waited for a simple letter from a child who, quite possibly, didn’t even know that her heart-lode existed. Idly she wondered how it was that they could be so patient when Dis had hardly managed to not leave Erebor altogether when her own heart-lode had appeared.

Vili’s face with a sweaty brow and a weary, yet warm smile- her smile – briefly flashed through her mind’s eye before disappearing as quickly as it had come. Almost unconsciously her right hand drifted over her forearm where his name was still transcribed into her skin, now black and just his name rather than the vibrant hues and jewels that it'd previously had. Shaking her head Dis forced her focus back on the conference that Frerin and Thorin had instigated when news that a new vein of silver had been discovered some days ago, there would be time to remember her late husband later.

“We need the income that this will provide us and the trade that comes as a result- we don’t have near enough wealth to attract a dragon!” Dis finally snapped, weary of listening to stuffy old dwarves argue against this new mine being created. While she was glad that they were wary, there was such a thing as being overly cautious and Dis would roll over dead before she saw her children starve.

The silence and baleful stares that turned towards the youngest child of the former King-Under-the-Mountain only infuriated the female dwarf more and she opened her mouth to further explain (in small, diplomatic words so that the old coots could understand) her reasoning but was interrupted by a knock on the door.

“Enter!” Frerin called a strained relief in his voice.

Balin son of Fundin opened the door and bowed, his lovely silver beard brushing against his knees before he straightened and announced, “There is a Ranger asking for a word with King Thorin.”

Dis and perhaps another dwarf or two, gasped in surprise before all eyes turned to Thorin, who stiffened but carefully kept any other emotion hidden away, a far cry from the young man that would openly laugh and smile and play with Dis.

“Enough. I will carefully consider each word spoken and will announce my position tomorrow at the sun’s zenith.” Thorin rumbled. Each dwarf that was not a royal stood and bowed respectfully before quitting the room, casting curious glances backwards as they exited the chamber.

“Send the Ranger in.”

Dis watched with open wariness as a tall Man stepped into the room, both hands carefully concealed beneath the table and a demure look of her face even as she slid her fingers across the hilts of her concealed daggers. His clothes were dirty and travel-stained, worn down by age and clear signs of significant use. He made even dwarven miners seem clean, though few dwarves carried long swords strapped to their waists, a quiver on their back, and elvish rope on their packs.

“Greetings, Thorin son of Thror, I am Gwathrain.”

“Greetings Gwathrain. You are welcome into Ered Luin. What news does a Ranger bring that’s relevant to the dwarves?”

Dis really, really wanted to smack her brother for being so foolishly rude even if the Man had not been declared dwarf-friend or even an ally. Thorin had always been inclined to be more suspicious of those not of dwarvish blood, and the years since the loss of their homeland had done little improve his mind on that front, but they needed people to think at least somewhat decently of them, if not ally with them directly. Thankfully, judging by his weathered face trying not to smile it seemed the Man was more inclined to smile rather than take insult, thank Mahal.

“Actually, I could ask the dwarves what they mean by bringing influence into the Shire.”

At that all three royals gave the whole of their attention to the Ranger, and for a moment the Man seemed daunted by the sudden and intense focus of six blue-eyed stares he received, before he seemed to rally himself and stood tall, continuing to speak even as he reached into a small bag concealed in his tunic to reveal a set of letters that sent Dis’s heart soaring with a tremulous joy that she had not felt since the first fight Kili had won, some months before.

“A young Halfling lass sent me here asking that I dispatch these missives to certain dwarves in the Blue Mountains. It was my hope that you might be able to get these letters sent to their proper recipients?”

At any other time the royal would have taken such an enterprise as an insult to their status, but this day Thorin nodded and even stood to personally receive the letters with a gratefulness not often seen.

“Many thanks. If you require food or a place to spend the night you are most welcome here.” Frerin spoke, his charm easily covering for his siblings' speechlessness. 

“That will not be necessary. Should you wish to send word back to the Shire- send it by way of Bree and one of my kinsmen will take it to the lass.” With that the Man left the room on near silent feet.

The two royal siblings restrained themselves for mere moments, waiting only for the door to close firmly behind the Ranger, before they crowded their elder brother, who was not quite quick enough to spot Frerin before the golden haired sibling snatched the letters from his brother’s handed and crowed delightedly.

“It’s for Dwalin and Balin!!!!” Dis beamed and could barely keep herself from running to the door to yell for the sons of Fundin.

“And the others?” Thorin asked, his voice hoarse.

“Well they are for….you and…Dis?” Frerin looked up and bright eyes looked at his siblings confused. “What did you do?”

It took a moment for Dis to remember what it was she had written to the lass that might make her write to her specifically only to grin and remove her letter from Frerin's grasp. “That dear brother is women’s business- although I do believe that Thorin’s letter might have to deal with that royal letter he made us sign and send to the child some dozen or so years ago.”

Unwilling to wait long, Dis resettled herself in her chair before opening the delicate parchment. The Halfling's hand was graceful and unique, and Dis readily admired the unique method of writing and it's style, though the girl seemed to be a bit formal, as though uncomfortable or embarrassed. Judging what she had translated all those years ago, Dis was betting on the latter.

 

Lady Dis daughter of Thrain son of Thror, King-Under-the-Mountain,

I hope that this letter finds you in good health and it is not overly presumptuous of me to reply to your gracious notes, which you were so good as to send me. While I am truly grateful for your kindness and the time you must have spent on translating those works, I would appreciate some warning before I open to a chapter that has less than proper material. Many thanks for your kindness.

-Billana Baggins of Bag End, Bagshot Row, the Shire

Dis grinned at the semi-scolding letter, finding herself wholly delighted inspite of the overall tone, before quickly folding it up and tucking it into a pocket in her robes, not wanting either of her brothers to get wind of what she had done years ago. The princess’s secrecy was unnecessary as, at that moment Frerin proceeded to fall to the ground, practically roaring with laughter. Thorin, on the other hand, looked like he had swallowed a particularly sour fruit and was choking on it in the process.

“What is it?” Dis asked, frowning in slight confusion as, in reply, her eldest brother simply handed over his letter. The message itself appeared short, but the writing was far more decorative and in a more formal style when compared to the one Dis had just finished.

 

Prince Oakenshield son of Thrain son of Thror, King-Under-the-Mountain,

I pass along my greetings and well wishes to you and your royal family. While you may be aware of my name and place of living, I would kindly like to point out that you have no manners and have insulted me in the severest possible manner. However I am willing to overlook the insults to my person, should you have written a form of apology in the past years that I have not read- and if you have yet to, I would strongly recommend it. A King would have known better to write such a thing, especially considering you know little of me or my people.

Sincerely,

Billana Baggins of Bag End, Bagshot Row, the Shire

 

With every curt word read Dis had to fight back her chuckles and not smile. Upon completing her perusal of the letter, she gravely returned the letter to her brother, whose expression had only grown slightly less sour. Unfortunately, it didn’t take much more than a shared glance with Frerin before they were both laughing.

“I like this Halfling already!”

Chapter Text

Dwalin, son of Fundin, walked by his brother’s side as they headed to the Council Chambers. The unusually large dwarf grumbled into his beard, wondering what could possibly so important as to pull him away from his Head Guard duties, especially when he had been just about to finally catch that damned Master Thief Nori.

“Now brother, I’m sure you’ll be able to catch the dwarf again.” Balin's voice was as calm and consoling as ever, though it was clear he too was curious as to their summons. 

“Not for months, and tha's even if I ge’ enough information .” He rumbled in reply, scowling at the thought of what that dwarf could do in the months that followed, the chaos that he could cause...

“I’m sure the King has his reasons.” Balin said as he knocked on the door the chamber. Dwalin grunted in reply before his brows pulled into a deeper furrow, for a moment he could have sworn that he heard laughter before the door opened to reveal three very serious royal siblings. Shaking his head to clear his mind the warrior stepped through the door beside his elder brother.

“Balin, Dwalin,” Thorin said nodding to both of them as they entered. Looking suspiciously between the three royal dwarves, Dwalin pushed the door closed behind him, hardly noticing when the sturdy wood slammed against the cool stone of their Blue Mountain residence.

“Pardons, he's in a bit of a mood." Balin spoke, offering the three dwarves that he'd practically helped raise a smiling apology. 

For a moment both brothers stood before the family royal, waiting for the silence to break before Dis finally moved towards them a solemn expression on her lovely face as she handed him a letter. “Wha’s this lass?”

“Take a look.”

Frowning, the warrior peered at the slightly rumpled paper in his grasp, eyeing the unfamiliar lettering uncertainly before peeling away the wax and opening the letter. The first two words were all he needed to forget every other being in the entirety of Middle Earth and scarcely could he remember to breathe as his gaze traced the script now before him.

 

My Dwalin,

I am Billana Baggins, bearer of your heart-lode, a reader of letters, and the sole child of Belladonna and Bungo Baggins. Twenty years ago, according to the wonderful letters I have only recently discovered, you and I met for the first time. I beg for your forgiveness for not having replied to your missives sooner. I have yet to read all that you've written to me across the years, but that which I have read gave me cause to smile and marvel at my good fortune. 

In response to some of your previous letters, I am now twenty-five years of age and of average height for one of my people. My hair is often too thick and full of unruly curls to do more than simple braids, though I hope that you will not be unwilling to help me in fixing that.

 

Dwalin had to close his eyes for a moment, overwhelmed by the shyly worded offer. To braid another's hair, one who was unrelated to you, was a great honor and the surest way to begin a courtship between two heart-lodes. The mere thought of running his hands through her hair was enough to make the dwarf flush as his heart quickened. A few deep breaths later he continued where he left off.

 

help fixing that. I am not young but I am not yet considered an adult by Hobbit standards, who come of age at 33, which seems to me, rather foolish since we are quite lucky to live up to one hundred and thirty. If you wish to come earlier than please do, for I dearly wish to see the dwarf much admired by a princess, beloved by his brother, and carrier of my flower.

With warmest wishes for your health and safety,

Your Billa  

 

Swallowing was oddly difficult and for some reason, his hands refused to cease trembling like they had over a hundred years ago at his first battle. She had written back, at last. And she had declared herself his.

 

 

My Billana.

Nothing had sounded quite so beautiful.

Chapter Text

Dwalin didn’t know how many times he re-read the letter in the following moments of time, only that when he looked up that royal trio were gone from the room and his brother was sitting down looking impossibly grave and happy at once.

“She write to ya’ as well?” He asked carefully settling his bulk into the chair next to Balin.

“Aye. That she did brother.” He tapped the rather numerous pages, the writing style a bit formal in appearance but similar enough that he could tell it was still Billa’s scripture. The Head Guard waited until his brother nodded before taking the pages in hand and beginning the rather difficult process of reading the hobbit’s more formal scripture.

 

Master Balin son of Fundin,

I would first like to offer my thanks for continuing to write these past years, even though you r conjecture was quite correct in that I was not reading them. I feel that I must also apologize on my parents behalf and their reactions towards you and Dwalin. Hobbit-folk, in general, are quite suspicious of outsiders, in part due to the fact that we see very few folk not of our kind within our borders. And though I find their actions to be maddening, I ask that you understand that they are doing what they think is best for me, which I will explain as best as I possibly can.

You asked in one of your letters, about Hobbits. To begin Hobbits, or Halflings as some of the Big Folk call us, live in holes in the ground. Now these holes are most certainly not nasty or dirty. No indeed, they are Hobbit-holes and that means comfort.

Recalling the round door, the curved walls of well-finished wood, looking at a comfy chair that sat in front of a cheerfully crackling fire Dwalin had to agree that Hobbit-holes were fairly comfortable looking, though they lacked a bit of good stone and weapons.  

Concerning Hobbits; Hobbits, living and farming since the for farthings of the Shire for many hundreds of years are quite content to ignore and be ignored by the world of the Big Folk. Middle Earth being full of strange creatures beyond count, Hobbits must seem of little importance. We are most certainly not renowned as great warriors nor are we counted among the very wise. In fact, some would say that Hobbits only real passion is for food, which is a rather unfair observation since we have developed a rather keen interest in the brewing of ales and the smoking of pipe weed, the best of which is known as the Long Bottom leaf. But where our hearts truly lie is in peace and quiet and good tilled earth; for all Hobbits share a love for things that grow. No doubt to others our ways seem quaint, but it is no bad thing to live and celebrate a simple life.

We Hobbits, as I mentioned are simple. Lives, courtships, and even weddings are quite simple and for the most part we are quite agreeable with one another. Many of us orient ourselves, not through clans- like dwarves- but by families and, so to some extent, wealth and respectability determines how well certain families are thought of in the more populated places. For example, my father is a Baggins, the most respectable family in all Hobbiton. My mother is from the Took family, one of the least respectable families in all the Shire because they are always going off and having adventures and no matter how much wealth they acquire, nothing will ever help them regain their respectability short of settling down, having lots of children, and not letting their fauntlings go off on adventures of their own.

Technically, that makes me a Baggins-Took and bearing the flowering of a Dwarf is most definitely not acceptable. I don’t care, but it makes it difficult to be a decent part of hobbit society, even though I am not quite of age yet. My coming of age will be in eight years, but I have been pondering going off on my own adventures before then, for I greatly long to see the world as my mother, and her mother before her, once did.

If you have any more questions I will most definitely do the best that I can to explain. I hope that I may be able to get to know you soon.

Sincerely,

Billana Baggins of Bag End, Bagshot Row, the Shire

 

Dwalin couldn’t help the frown that crossed his face as he finished reading the letter. Their heart-lodes were open marks to both their kinds that they were different and- to some- unwelcome. The Long-Beards generally accepted those among them who had unusual lodes, the exception being elven kind and dwarven kind mixing. That Billana’s people, and the majority of her family it seemed, treated her differently and that a beautiful thing made her an outcast sat ill with the warrior who had sworn upon every weapon he owned (there were quite a few) that he would protect the child.

Honor warred with his desire to protect, knowing that bringing her into their new home before she was of age would forever taint her in dwarvish eyes, but surely that could be no worse than an entire childhood being marked as different and unwanted. That she had given him permission to come and get her earlier did not help, but eventually Honoring the ways of his people and creating a place where his love would be welcomed by everyone overcame the urge to rush headlong towards the smial where he had first discovered her all those years ago.

“…It troubles me greatly, but we have no choice but to bide our time.” Balin’s voice drew him from his thoughts, “Which mean tha’ you should probably be lettin’ go of tha’ ax of yours before I have to pay damage fees.”

Blinking in surprise, the warrior had no idea when it was he had reached for his primary axe, and it took a moment to convince his hand to slowly release the familiar handle and cautiously relaxed into the chair.

“Donna worry brother. I know.”

The letter returned to its intended recipient and after another half hour of discussion the brothers departed and returned to their separate jobs.

It was not until late evening that Dwalin returned from his post and having properly begun preparing for the next attempt a capturing Nori (again), that he fell asleep, Billana’s letter still in his hand and her words in a gentle song in his mind.

Chapter Text

Billana spent two weeks of waiting for any sign of reply from the dwarves while helping out with the Harvest. The first frost had come unusually early and it was all the Hobbits of the Shire could do to keep their crops long enough for them to ripen appropriately. Many of the older Hobbits muttered about a bad winter coming and Old Took was seen wandering to each of the homes of his children to ensure that their locks were in working order and that their larders were large and full. If one or the other were not good enough for the old adventurer, he paid for the new set of locks and smartly rapped his children over their heads for being so foolish as to keep their larders any less than completely stocked.

Billa was quite thankful that her parents were far too distracted by the pending arrival of the Took patriarch to concern themselves with her whereabouts, it gave her the time to enjoy a temporary freedom and to be of use to someone, though the Gamgee family made it a bit difficult with all their insisting that “Miss Billana didn’t have to help”.

On the day that she expected to receive word, which rather conveniently coincided with her grandfather’s visitation to the Bag End, Billa slipped out of the house and headed towards the Ranger camp, hoping against hope that the Strider- the current Chieftain of the Dúnedain whose birth name she had overheard was Argonui- had some sort of information for her. Unfortunately, the older Man was in conference with a number of others but a Ranger by the name of Gwathrain carried two messages addressed to her and had a wealth of information, including a new sword trick, a tip or two for her archery, and proof that the winter would likely be very harsh.

“These coming months little one, you must be cautious. Wargs and goblins circle the borders, ready to strike. We are doing all we can to drive them away but it seems our protection of this land is drawing more attention than driving away your enemies. Keep to the main roads. ”

Billana nodded solemnly and was quick to return to her home, letters clutched tightly in one of her skirt pockets. It was sundown by the time the lass had returned to the smial and spent an enjoyable dinner and supper with her grandfather before being sent to bed a bit earlier than normal. Now usually, young Billana would have feigned cooperation only to linger in the hall to listen in on the conversation but distracted as she was by the possibility of reading her letters she did as she was told. After all, it was doubtful that they'd say anything more than what she'd already heard.

A quick wash and change of clothes later, Billa was curled in her bed under several blankets as she opened the first of her letters, which was from Balin. She had little patience for reading it thoroughly, however, being slightly distracted by the silent promise Dwalin’s letter posed. After three attempts Billa gave up and opened up the second letter, barely breathing as she stared at the first sign of his familiar scrawl.

 

My emerald,

I have not the words or the mind to write all that I thought and felt upon finally receiving word from you. Long have I thought on what you would write and reality proved to shine more beautifully. Dwarf customs and honor lead me to know that I cannot come for you early unless you are in imminent danger from your parents, so I beg that you do not do anything foolish for if I lost you now I do not think I would be able to live without you. Write again soon, please, for I long to read more.

As you are mine, I am yours - if you would have me.

Dwalin son of Fundin.

 

In the following weeks that passed only two more letters were exchanged between the pair before winter clawed its way into the formerly green hills and refused to leave. The Shire bore through the early winter with a great deal of cheer and slightly dimmed joy. Needless to say that everything changed as the long winter dragged on and the first signs of illness appeared, and as though feeding on the beginnings of despair the Wargs attacked.

Chapter Text

Balin watched warily as his brother stalked towards his sparring partners, his primary axe resting in his skilled hands. Already the dwarf had fought his way through various other members of the guard and now he faced the Royal siblings. Though there was no one better for him to fight against, Balin knew it wouldn't be long before his brother's trouble returned to the forefront of his thoughts.

"Now this is a wee bit odd, no?" Someone drawled nearby. Out of the corner of his eye Balin searched the watching area that surrounded the arena, almost completely missing the dim red hair that was spiked and braided far too intricately for any normal dwarf. Sighing to himself Balin wondered how it was that he was in this position yet again.

"Master Nori."

"Lord Balin."

"What brings you out of the shadows laddie?"

"Rumors."

Now that gave Balin pause and he had to remind himself not to turn and look directly at the Master Thief, lest his brother happened to look up and then get distracted from the fight. Forcing his gaze to remain locked on the arena he asked, "Is the King in danger?"

"Taken care of. Actually, heard a few whispers tellin' that yer brother is actin' more n' more like a caged animal, pacing, stoppin' when mail comes in, only ta start back up again." Nori's voice was deceptively neutral as he detailed his vague reasoning.

"Oh? Do these rumors of yours say why?"

Nori shrugged a small movement that was barely noticeable within the shadows. "A few, though I've been thinkin' that those letters that you've been writtin' fer years have started bein' answered. Gave me pause fer a moment 'bout who would be wantin' ta write ta our dear Honorable Guard and the King's Advisor. Fer all tha' he ain't sneaky took me a bit, but I figured out his heart-lode has finally been writtin' ta him.”

Balin forced his face to keep neutral, barely managing to stop the frown that tugged at his lips by pulling at the ends of his nearly white beard. Being the Master Thief that he was Nori clearly saw through the mask and the troubled dwarf that lay behind it.

“He hasn’t got word from her fer’ a bit.” Nori angled himself towards the elder dwarf carefully watching for the tells that would give the man away.

“It’s been wha’, two- Three weeks? An’ with tha’ winter bein’ a bit unusual yer both worrin’.” He continued, dark eyes locked onto the dwarf, waiting for him to crack. Had they not been as friendly Balin would have never been so open, but with things as they were between them….

Balin sighed, surprising the younger dwarf with just how quickly the man had caved. “Aye. Your right, as usual lad. We’ve not gotten word from her for weeks now and the last Ranger that came up said that the Shire might be in danger from wolves.”

“An’ blocked in by tha’ snow yah can’t go an’ make certain that tha’ lass is alrigh’.”

Balin nodded with the observation. Dark eyes turned to look down at the arena, where Dwalin was letting out a fierce war cry as he lashed out with his fists as Dis had managed to disarm him some moments earlier. It was the first time in weeks that the thief had seen his opposite so focused, even when he had been chasing him not three days ago. Nori was not stupid, quite the opposite, in fact, he knew that he could only distract the Head Guard for so long before the male’s worry for his heart-lode overrode even his loyalty to the King.

“I will see wha’ I can do fer’ yah.”

Before he could quite understand what the dwarf had muttered the thief was gone as though he had never been there to begin with. Balin fought back another sigh and headed for the entrance, “Best get some paper work done before that brother of mine finishes up.

 

ooOoo


It was midnight a week and a half later that Nori reached the edges of Hobbiton. Lights burned in the smials he passed, and more than one, he noted, bore deep claw marks- as though some monster had attempted to gain entry. Vaguely recalling the address he had glimpsed months earlier, muttered curses to slipped easily off the tongue as he gathered his thick travelling cloak around himself and continued to trudge through the deepening snow.  

The blizzard buffeted and roared around the sturdy dwarf as he struggled through the ever growing snow. At last the Master Thief could go no further and knocked on the nearest door.

“Please…” He rasped, when the door cracked open and a small, dark haired fellow peered through the crack. “I ask refuge.”

The man’s eyes widened and before he could recall how, the dwarf found himself inside the house, stripped of his cloak, and sitting in an all too comfortable armchair with a steaming cup of tea in his hands and wishing that it were somethign stronger. The hobbit bustled around his home chattering nervously even as he called out to his someone who rested deeper in the home.

“I’m right here Bungo, there was to need to shout.”

Hours later Nori would absolutely refuse to believe that someone had snuck up on him and made him jump, instead, he would blame spilling scalding tea on his hands on their shaking from the cold and the jumping up, a result of the hot liquid burning his hands. Needless to say, it took sometime before everyone was sufficiently calmed before introductions began.

“Nori, son of Vori, at your service.” He said as he bowed properly to the couple, infusing all the gratitude he could into his brief words.

“Bungo and Belladonna Baggins, at yours.” The female said, returning the bow, which was quickly emulated by her husband.

“Tell me, what brings a dwarf into the Shire?” Belladonna inquired, once everyone was once again properly settled and had a small crumpet and new cups of tea in their hands.

“I’m a medicinal trader, trying to sell what few wares I got left in order to bring something back to my family in the Blue Mountains.” Nori said easily. It was a partial truth since he had been given salves and other some such by Oin, the Master Healer- though if the half-deaf dwarf had intended for him to sell them at all Nori wasn’t certain.

“I was headed home but my pony spooked at something in the forest and before I knew it I was on the ground with a lump on my head and my only map, snatched by the wind. I cannot tell you how grateful I am for your kindness.” It was difficult not to fall back on his usual style of talking, given how warm and comforting the house was, but everyone had their secrets and he focused himself, determined to give nothing of the truth away.

Bungo, a beardless man with dark curls and a soft middle, flushed slightly and lit his pipe, as though trying to puff away any sort of feeling that the dwarf had offered. His wife, a lass who was equally beardless but had golden tresses that any dwarf would envy simply shrugged as though it was a rather normal occurrence to offer complete strangers sanctuary within her home at such a dangerous time.

“You are welcome, though if I might ask- have you anything for a fever? Or a tea that eases headaches or coughs?”

Nori looked around the house, taking a moment to really observe his surrounding rather than brief glance for any weapons that he had done earlier. The house was warm and well made, full of furniture that had clearly been well used and with much love. There were signs of there being a third person in the house, a bookmark that was slightly dusty as though the owner hadn’t had the time to pick it up in a while, a third cloak on the hangings he had passed on his way in, a table whose benches were large enough to sit three quite comfortably.

“Depends on whom for.” He said, recalling the medical training his mother had once given him and that Oin had followed up on during rougher times spend too long on the road, “You see, certain draughts, remedies, and teas need specific measurements for the size of the one being treated, along with age and any other symptoms of illness that need to be treated.”

Belladonna looked at him carefully, as though suddenly suspcious, but her husband spoke before her thoughts fully formed enough to be spoken. “Our daughter- Billana. She’s been sick for many days with a fever that brings delirium and she talks to people in a strange language and sees things that aren’t there.”

The very blood in the dwarf’s veins threatened to freeze and he was quick to stand and grab his bag. “Take me to her.”

Thankfully neither of the Halflings felt the need to argue, though the mother watched him carefully as she permitted him entry into a room that was near the back of the smial. For the first time in many years Nori did not check the room for an ambush or if there were any other dangers that might befall him. Instead, he rushed to the bedside of the too flushed Hobbit laying in the bed at the center of the round room. Her hair, had it not been damp from fever induced sweat would have surely shone in copper curls and her skin would have held a warm tan with a fine complexion when not pale from lack of sunlight and too flushed from fever. Restlessly the hobbit-lass moved from side to side and hands flopped weakly on the bed, as though they searched to grasp something. Rasping words of Khzudul tore for a throat that sounded too raw, too dry, and horribly desperate.

“Help me sit her up; I need to check her pulse. Also, bring in a basin of cool water and four cloths.” Nori would not deny that he was no healer, but he knew a few tricks that could help the poor girl cool down. A brief look behind her ear was reason more than enough to offer aide. When he pressed two fingers to the throbbing pulse line on her neck Nori frowned deeply as he counted each beat. Too rapid and too faint. Laying her back down he rummaged through his bag and pulled out several teas.

“Brew one cup of each of these and let them sit. After a few minutes, place a bit of honey a the base of a new cup and mix one third of each tea into the fourth cup and bring it here, along with a spoon.”

The teas were gone in a flash and for a few moments, the hobbit lass and the dwarf were left alone. Gently the master thief grasped her hand and whispered in hoarse Khzudul “You had better hang on little thief- I won’t let yah leave the Guard after waitin’ fer’ so long.”

For a moment large eyes met his, dimmed emeralds meeting grey quartz and a silent promise was exchanged between them, before the former closed and returned to seeing that which was beyond his vision. 

 

I promise

Chapter Text

Billana Baggins, Nori was happy to discover, was quite the fighter. While it had taken some time for her to fight off the fever and speak lucidly, once full awareness was restored her parents had difficulty keeping the young woman in bed. Never in their lives had they been grateful for unexpected visitors, for Master Nori was able to keep her warm and in bed with comparative ease- leaving the married couple to go out during the day and ensure the safety and health of their relative families. Nori was a ready accomplice in getting the pair to leave their smial during the day, encouraging them to take along his medicine beg and thus ensuring that their visits would certainly take longer than they initially planned for, giving him ample time to study Dwalin's heart-lode.

Nori had not been quite so pleased to spend all day in a room since his youngest brother had turned scribe. Somehow during the many years since Ori had grown old enough to care for himself, he'd forgotten the joy of teaching young minds and was more than glad to offer the girl language instruction. It surprised the dwarf that Billa had figured out his true profession after a few hours of lessons (his hands had grown bored), but rather than become suspicious of leaving him alone in the house, she eagerly demanded that from then on their lessons range from Khzudul to basic thieving to lying, and for the first time Nori could understand why it was that his fellow dwarves desired children so greatly. Though she often tired quickly after certain lessons, especially during the early days or her recovery; the passing on of his trade made the dwarf feel something akin to pride.

Even though her body and mind tired quickly, there was one topic that Billa could never tire of, and it was a particular favorite of the Master Theif’s, the sons of Fundin. Often Belladonna and Bungo returned to Bag End, greeted by bright laughter as Nori regaled their daughter about various escapades that happened between the thieves and Guardsmen of the Blue Mountains. One week slipped in the second, but Nori knew that he could not extend his stay for much longer, no matter how much he enjoyed Billana’s company.

His last day was spent teaching Billa a very specific set of braids, making her do and un-do the braids repeatedly until the girl got it down perfectly. Once satisfied she could do it properly, he handed her a tea and after sniffing it and giving him a glared, downed it in one, likely knowing that he'd slipped a sleeping drought. Nori deliberately ignored the way pride flared in his chest at the sign of her applying his lessons, and told the girl tales of her heart-lode until shed passed into a deep and easy slumber. Not many hours later Nori found himself in the guest room and, almost fully packed and ready to head out at first light.

“Master Nori. Do you have a moment?” Belladonna asked hesitantly as she stood in the doorway of the guest bedroom that the Baggins’ had offered him on his first night. By Durin's beard the hobbit was sneaky!

“Of course Mistress Baggins, I am at your service.” Silently the lady of the house gestured to follow her and Nori tailed the woman into the little living room that he had become well acquainted with in the last seven days and after being plied with tea and cookies the elder Mistress Baggins began her voice hesitant and very careful.

“I offer you many thanks for granting us your herbal remedies and services, you have saved many lives- our daughter included….I must ask, have you seen my daughter’s flowering?”

Bungo’s slightly scandalized, half-smothered squawk told the dwarf almost all he needed to know about this conversation and he nodded in reply, “Aye. I have.”

“Whose name is it?” Belladonna asked, voice clear of the earlier hesitance and now defiant, her hazel eyes sparkling with the same determination he'd seen in his Mother's eye as she worked to defend her three sons and a number of others against a group of bandits looking for an easy way of making money.

Nori, for all he had expected the question still stiffened. It was a natural reaction to any outsider demanding knowledge of the ways of the dwarves and names- names were powerful things- as though they had a right to dwarven knowledge. “You have little idea of what you have just asked me Mistress so I will take no offense, and will only answer thusly, yes, I do know the dwarf whose name Billana carries."

Bungo’s glare, for all that it did not work on the dwarf (he had been on the receiving end of Thorin’s glare far too often) truly was something quite fierce for one of the gentle-hobbit folk. “You can hardly keep us from finding out a name Master Dwarf- for all you have done for my daughter.”

Nori pressed the urge to growl at their insistence while at the same time groaned inwardly, seeing now the reasons behind Billana’s secrets as he had not before- parents for all that they loved and were loved in return- could drive a child mad quite easily. “Names are sacred to my kind Master Hobbit. Your daughter bears the soul-name of a dwarf who is held in great esteem by all of our kin, be glad of this.”

“That is no-” Nori raised a hand, silencing the female hobbit’s protest.

Lowering his voice he leaned forward in his chair, letting the pair get a small glimpse of just who they were truly dealing with before hiding that back behind his layers of lies once more. “Sir, Lady- for all you are more accepting amongst your folk, there are things that few outsiders know for a reason. I am being kind in telling you this- so take note and listen well for it will only be said once.
We dwarves have our own language and all heart-lodes bear what we call the deep-name- the truest of dwarf names. None but the closest of kin knows another dwarf’s deep-name because it gives a degree of control over the dwarf. When one says the deep-name of another it is a mark of claiming, of bonding, and tells all others that the two beings involved trust one another implicitly. You have done nothing to earn this right or knowledge and therefore I will not hand it over even under the threat of death.”

“However- the shallow-name, names that we are called by outsiders and other non-dwarf kin, I will grant you since you have a small claim to that as well. The dwarf goes by Dwalin, son of Fundin. He is a great warrior and an honorable dwarf, who is greatly admired by those he protects- me and my own family being a part of that circle. Billana could not be luckier or better suited for any other.”

He had meant for that to end the conversation, but it seemed Hobbits were almost as stubborn as dwarves and the pair attempted to gang up on him intent on gaining answers. Rather, fortunately, his title was not the Master Thief of the Blue Mountains for nothing and it was almost too easy to duck and dodge their words, playing on their sense of propriety to gain his own ends.

“I will only say this once more- good sir and madam- Dwalin is the most honorable of dwarves. You would be hard pressed to find any other being in this Age or the Last so worthy. Now if you’ll excuse me. I have a long journey ahead of me tomorrow” Bowing to his hosts he left the room, with its comfortable chair and cheerful fireplace and retired for the night, working out plans on how to make he return a more profitable venture and gather some few things to calm down Dori, who would doubtlessly be worrying by now.

Dawn had barely crested above the gently sloping hills of the Shire when Billa awoke to discover Nori gone and three letters on her pillow.

“May Yavanna bless you with luck on your travels Master Nori.” She mumbled slipping the sealed notes under her pillow and permitting sleep to overtake her once more.

 

ooOoo

 

“There had better be a good reason ta’ disappear for almost a month thief.” The all too familiar voice of the Head Guardsman rumbled as he removed his body from his spot hidden in the rocky walls of the side entrance. Nori wondered idly if he had lost his touch in the weeks he had been gone, but judging by the carefully hidden stool he spotted in the corner of his vision, he figured Dwalin had grown suspicious of his outside work and had simply been waiting there for him to return. Guess this would mean he'd need to find another discreet exit from the mountain if some of his more risky ventures were to succeed.

“Well now Master Guard- there ain’t a need fer’ that little axe o’ yours.” Nori said with a grin.

Dark grey eyes narrowed as their owner stalked forwards, his broad figure blocking escape. “What have yah done thief?”

“Oh, not too much. Jus’ popped down ta’ the Shire fer’ a bit of a visit wit’ yer lode.” Nori grinned, thickening his deep mountain accent, knowing it would rile the large dwarf up just that much more.

Now that caught the warrior off guard and he stopped dead, a look crossing his face that Nori'd never seen before.

“Yer’ Billana’s quite the little fighter. Fierce as you are when chasin’ me.” Nori grinned and before Dwalin quite knew what happened, he moved toward the thief only to find himself slamming into the ground with a grunt. By the time he managed to escape the ropes that Nori’s damnable cohorts had somehow managed to get around his ankles the thief was long gone. Sharp curses pierced the air as he clambered to his feet and he scowled mightily only to pause when he spotted a piece of parchment lying on the ground.

It only took a moment for the large dwarf to identify the handwriting and Nori watched, hidden in the deepest of shadows, as the Guardsman smiled with eyes far too watery. It was a moment so private that the thief felt almost guilty for watching but as he slipped away he heard enough to smile.

“Thank you.”

Chapter Text

“Her Khzudul has improved a great deal.” Balin said, pride tinting his voice as he passed Dwalin’s letter back to his brother. Dwalin could not help but grin as his eyes scanned the letter again for the sixth time.

 

My Dwalin,

I have likely worried you, if Master Nori’s words are to be believed and for that I am greatly sorry. This winter has been unusually long and harsh. Many in the Shire are sick and under attack by wolves. I too have been ill lately, but I am well now- worry not. Master Nori’s herbal remedies have greatly aided me in healing and already I have gained much strength. My home too has been made safe- at Master Nori’s insistence.

I have heard a great many stories and I would that you would tell me more about these interactions that I have heard- did you really fall into a mud pit and lose your hair?

I have greatly missed hearing from you but I hope that you are safe.

With warmest wishes for your health and safety,

Your Billana

 

“When I catch that damn thief we will have a great number of things to discuss.” He rumbled dangerously. His brother only laughed in reply before leaving their abode to head towards the Ri brothers' home to pick up Ori and probably chat with Dori.

“Tha' brother of mine had better not spread word of this.”

 

ooOoo

 

Fellow Thief,

I will ensure that your letter to Dwalin, son of Fundin, Head of the Guardsmen of the Blue Mountains does not go astray. You may also be assured that I have cohorts in the area who will be glad to send your letters to their proper recipient.

I trust I shall receive word from you soon,

Nori, son of Vori, Master Thief and Spymaster of the Blue Mountains

 

Billa rolled her eyes at the letter that Nori had left behind. “The moment I entrust a letter to one of your cohorts addressed to my flower, is the moment that Dwalin manages to arrest you and keep you in jail Nori.”

Refolding the letter and tucking it into her little box (which had been now sorted into sections- each dedicated to a specific person) Billana opened the next letter, saving the one from her heart-lode for last.

 

Miss Billana Baggins,

I do not think it needs to be said that we are worried for you and your kin. Winter has settled far too soon and early. Omens of stone readers have told us that this winter shall be long but that good luck shall come our way soon. Your letter on hobbit culture and living styles was of great interest to an apprentice scribe who happened to see the missive before I could conceal it. I hope I am not remiss in granting him permission to examine your letter, though I offer sincerest apologies if I am.  I hope that you and your family are well and please write if there is anything that I might be able to send you.

Ever at your service,

Balin, son of Fundin

 

For a moment Billa felt exceedingly guilty for not having written to Balin and she hoped that she had not offended the dwarf too terribly. “I will have to write to him and explain the happenings so that he can understand.” She murmured to herself, before carefully placing that too in its proper situation in the box.

The last letter of the three was by far, the dearest of them and Billana carefully and gently traced each and every word as she read and then re-read the contents held within.

 

My emerald,

I grow worried with every day that there is no word from you. You are not a dwarf, immune to most disease and trained in techniques of survival. By Mahal I hope you are well. Send for me should you be in any danger- I will not leave you on your own to fend against the winter.

Forever yours,

Dwalin

ooOoo

I do not think it necessary to say, dear reader, that though there was indeed danger that terrible winter Billana never wrote to Dwalin asking for his aide, rather instead there were a series of letters- some sent between the Shire and the Blue Mountains via suspicious looking dwarves and others sent by way of the Rangers. The former only did such after spotting one of the complex braids that signaled just who it was that the hobbit-lass answered to, and the latter all too happy too for a good meal and leftovers to take with them along the road. The first started out like this…

Master Nori, son of Vori,

I would dully like to inform you that I shall only ever send word to Dwalin, by way of your cohorts, when my heart-lode manages to capture you and convinces you to mend your wicked ways. Until then I wish you all the luck in attempting otherwise.

-Billana Baggins, of Bag End

P.S- I am most certainly not a fellow thief!

 

Fellow Thief,

You have a natural talent that should not be wasted, especially in regards to those light fingers and silent feet of yours. Besides you wear the braid of the Thief Master’s closest circle, therefore I shall happily break this hobbit illusion of yours that you are indeed a thief. As for your challenge, I will get one of those letters.

-Nori, son of Vori, Master Thief

 

Master Nori,

You may attempt to get those letters as much as you like but I have warned the Rangers to keep away from you and your ilk. May Mahal laugh at your deeds and your braids come undone. As for my braids, while lovely- if they place me in any sort of danger I will write to Dwalin and then we shall see who is laughing at your little trick.

Still not a thief,

Billana Baggins, of Bag End

 

Letters sent through the Rangers sounded a great deal different and many of the rangers grew familiar enough with Thorin’s people that the beginnings of tentative trade between the two parties had begun. Balin and Dwalin found themselves to be greatly relieved upon the returning of the usual missive from their hobbit-lass, and the Rangers, upon seeing the joy that they brought to the Small-folk, would often tell both recipients (the brothers and Billa) about how the other appeared to be, granting a great deal of joy and relief to both parties- for though they had only met once, both parties worried about the other near constantly.

 

Miss Billana Baggins,

It has come to the attention of the Durin folk that the Rangers have begun to add to our income, with their need for good weaponry and information. I am aware that you have played a great part in these happenings and offer my most humble thanks for all you have done since the birth of our correspondence. My brother is ever eager to see you and I would ask that you join us here in the mountains soon.

It has also come to my attention that you have begun trading letters with Nori, I feel I must warn you that he may not have been true during his visitation. However, he has told me of your illness and I hope that you are now better. Should you require anything please inform me and I shall attempt to send it.

Ever at your Service,

Balin, son of Fundin

 

Balin,

I am sincerely sorry for not having written to you and ask for your forgiveness should I have caused any sort of offense. It heartens me to know that you and your kin are doing well- though I’m certain that trade with the Rangers would have happened eventually since I have read and heard much praise of dwarven metalwork.

You need not worry about Master Nori, I am aware of his rather shifty circumstances and employment, though I must, in turn, warn you to keep your letters close as he seems to have taken something I wrote to him as a challenge. I am well and growing in strength every day and much of the world brightens as the sun lingers longer in the skies and the snows begin to melt.

Sincerely,

Billana Baggins of Bag End, Bagshot Row, the Shire

 

My emerald,

Word of you illness struck my heart, though glad I was to read your words once more. Do not tax yourself too much- I would not be able to live in a world without you I would not have you parents worried.

What that blasted thief forgot in his tale was that he slipped and the jar of honey he had been carrying slipped upon his hair and that be the end of the chase he looked as though he were a cloud of dust upon two legs.

Forever Yours,

Dwalin

 

My Dwalin,

Your worries are for naught, I assure you. I am listening as much as possible to my family, though they are being far too protective. I must add that I laughed so very hard at your last letter that I sent a great many birds (recently returned) flying off. I believe that I shall endeavor to ensure that I am completely protected before reading another letter of yours. I have learnt my lesson the hard way.

I have lately read that dwarven heart-lode give gifts to one another once they recognize each other. I have been remiss in my actions and have thus added in this letter a locket that holds within it a lock of my hair. I know that hair is quite precious to your folk, but it is a common gift that female hobbits grant their heart-lodes to ensure that their soul mates know that they are cherished. I hope you understand.

Ever yours,

Billana

Needless to say, after carefully replacing the chain with a stronger one, Dwalin never took off the tiny round door shaped locket with a dwarven rune carved onto it. And it wasn’t until after the reclaiming of Erebor, some years later, that Nori found out about it.

Chapter Text

The following years passed in much the same manner, letters passing between the Blue Mountains and the Shire with great frequency. Knowing of the fall of Erebor as you do, it falls upon my shoulders to say that as years passed, while the former dwarves of Erebor were able to maintain a degree of comfort it was not enough to ease the heart of the exiled Prince turned King, whose mind burned with every cry of a hungry child and every hunk of coal, iron, and silver that left their mines. There was nothing here that would support their number for an extended amount of time, and Thorin knew this and with the passing years his determination grew. Soon he would retake their home or die trying.

Not long after this decision Balin wrote to Billa, who was now almost of age, a deep regret in his heart to grant such news.

 

Miss Baggins,

My brother has had reason to set about and travel away from the Blue Mountains of Ered Luin. I do not know when he will return or where he is headed. Surprisingly he evaded even Master Nori and his supporters. I am sorry but I fear we shall have to delay our meeting until such a time that both I and my brother may make the journey and see you safely to from the Shire to the Blue Mountains. I would that you forgive me and my brother for the delay.

Ever at your Service,

Balin, son of Fundin.

 

 

Billana received the letter quite late, just after her thirty-third birthday. As she scanned the letter bright green eyes, full of hope, dimmed until she folded the letter and placed it away within the chest with the rest of the letters she had received from her lode, his family, and friend.

No one was coming... surely it wasn't because they didn't want her. Such a thought, though patently untrue, hurt the lass quite deeply and loneliness began to take place of the bright hope that had been extinguished. 

“I supposed there’s nothing else to do but wait.” She sighed, before shutting the chest and locking it, determined to remain in the Shire as Balin had requested until she could devise a way of safely getting to the Blue Mountains herself or until the sons of Fundin came as promised.

Her plans changed, however, that night when her parents finally decided to inform her of her flowering. I shall not detail the conversation or the heated argument full of childish anger and disappointment that followed, but needless to say, Billana Baggins was most certainly put out and quite finished with the over-protectiveness of her parents. Before said parents quite understood what had happened Billa had stormed back into her room and closed the door behind her. Clothes, skirts, underclothes, and necessary items flew through the air one after the other; piling messily into a traveling bag. Her books on dwarven culture and Khzudul joined her clothes as she swiftly changed from her evening clothes into a pair of well-worn trousers, a white shirt with a golden waistcoat, and a red dinner jacket over top.

Her practice at sneaking out of the smial had never been put to greater use and in little time to no time at all, she was hurrying down the road with a walking stick and a cloak wrapped around her shoulders. “I am a grown hobbit... I most certainly do NOT need looking after as though I were a naughty child.” Her some of her belligerent mutterings as she wandered down too familiar pathways.

Billana did not make it so very far that night, but the kindness of the Gamgees meant that they were more than happy to lend her some space to stay the night. The very next morning found the young woman absentmindedly listening to Hamfast’s father as he scolded her, while she helped him with his gardens, her mind spinning across various plans for her next steps.

“Hmm, perhaps I ought to learn how to grow some tomatoes on my own.” She murmured, as Hamfast took a breath, while she tended to the growing plant.

“Yes indeed, they are quite healthy for you- or some I’m told.” A friendly sounding voice said from behind her. Billana whirled around quite shocked that someone had managed to sneak up on her only to literally jump up in surprise when she looked around and then up to see the Grey One.

“I myself prefer Old Toby though.” The Old man continued, as though he was quite used to being stared at, which when Billa thought about it, he probably was- with his grey robes that seemed to shimmer slightly in the sun light, a long beard that was a bizarre mixture of grey and silver, and an equally unusual pointed hat- an ensemble that most Hobbits would find quite unattractive. "Not quite so healthy but certainly helps the mind when one is trying to think on things."

“Can I help yeh sir?” Hamfast called, voice wary but yet filled with the unceasing warmth that the too kind Gamgees seemed to possess in spades.

“Hm… Perhaps you can tell me. I am looking for someone to share in an adventure.” Conspiratorially the man leaned upon his staff, leaning forwards just enough that Billa could clearly see his bright blue eyes sparkle with mischief and warmth.

She couldn’t quite look away from that gaze, even as it seemed to probe the very depths of her being. It wasn’t until Hamfast’s rather quick and loud denouncing of the strange visitor that Bila could look away and pull herself together.

“Now yah be seein here sir, despite wha yah Big Folk be thinkin there ain nah person in tha whole of tha Shire tha’ll jus take off an-“

“I will be just a moment Grey One.” Billana said, her pleasant voice cutting across Hamfast’s retort. Gandalf looked quite pleased while Hamfast stood, shocked into total silence and stillness, and remained that way for many long moments after Billana kissed his cheek, thanking him kindly for allowing her to stay the night and wandered down the road towards Bree in company with the stranger. 

Chapter Text

It had felt good to have a purpose and be on the road again, Balin mused as he watched Nori chat with some of the other dwarves that had answered the King’s call. In a deep part of his mind Balin was a bit disappointed at how few had shown up; but it had felt good to see his younger brother once again after so long. He could have done without the short comment though. Grumbling to himself he drank deeply from the tankard that sat before him eyeing the rest of what was to be the Company. Earlier he had watched as they all signed their separate contracts and now- well it was rather amusing to watch the Brothers Ri cautiously extend their hands to the Brothers Ur. Fili and Kili were, as usual, grabbing more drinks while openly talking to others, Man and Dwarf alike.

“I dunna like this.” Dwalin rumbled frowning deeply as he rubbed his knuckle dusters with a large hand. “We’re so close.”

Balin grimaced, downing yet more of his drink hoping to wash away some of the guilt. They were so close to the Shire, but they did not dare so much as step a foot outside Bree for fear of leaving Thorin on his own- they were his sworn protectors on this one way journey. It was a duty that they had taken from the younger royal siblings with the utmost gravity since they could not travel with the rest. Yet, that knowledge did nothing to ease the hot feeling that churned in his stomach. Dwalin had waited one hundred and fifty years to meet Billana and now they were little more than a day or two away and they dared not go.

“Aye. But you’re doin’ the right thing laddie.”  He replied, biting back the other words he wished to say.

The warrior merely snorted in reply, downing the whole of his tankard in favor of voicing his thoughts.

“It would be cruel to tell tha lass that we’re goin’ on an adventure that’s likely to a one way venture.”

“I would not have her live this one life on her own- not after so long.” Such an admittance was great indeed, and Balin knew that if Dwalin had not tattooed his head in a display of the vow he had taken in front of Frerin and Dis, he surely would have been in the Shire by now.

Silently he clasped his hand on his brother’s shoulder in a show of silent support and slipped out of his chair to get another drink. “I’m goin ta be needin a great bit more ta keep this up.”

“Yer a bit off this evenin Master Balin.” Ah, so Nori had been watching their conversation despite being distracted by Bifur’s rather impressive spear. “Dwalin?”

Balin locked eyes with the barkeep and tapped his finger on his empty tankard, before turning his gaze to the dwarf that sat on the stool beside him. “What makes you say tha lad?”

“Yer wantin tha list?” Braided brows rose before a large hand engulfed in knitted fingerless gloves that blended in seamlessly with his clothes, rose to eye level. “First, tha ol’ Head Guardsman did nuh even glare at me when I walked on in.”

A finger went down as the dwarf continued, “Yer both lookin a might bit sour, wit yer lips bein more in a frown than a neutral or wary expression.”

Another finger joined the first and somewhere in the back of his mind, Balin not for the first time, admired the strength and swiftness of those fingers, “The Guard is sulkin’ better than Prince Kili did when he was little more than a dwarflin’.”

The third finger was quickly joined by the fourth and fifth as Nori’s list continued and the barkeep laid out another tankard just as the last finger curled into the thief's palm. “And yer deepenin yer cups faster tha Bifur on one o’ his rough nights.”

“Has anyone ever told yeh that you’re jus a wee bit too good at observing people?” Balin asked conversationally as he grabbed his tankard and headed back towards the back table they had accosted some hours before.

“It’s part of tha job Master Balin.” The ginger replied easily. “I wouldnuh be a very good Master Thief if I couldn’t see now would I? But sides that yer doing tha right thing- she won’t thank yah for it, but you are doing the right thing in the end. ”

It was odd, Balin mused, to hear Nori’s voice change, taking on a more cultured and proper tone the closer they got to Dori and than back to a thicker mountain accent as they moved nearer to his own kin.

“Aye. I suppose yer right on tha point laddie. I suppose yer right...” 

 

ooOoo

 

It was well past any decent hour when Thorin Oakenshield walked into the Prancing Pony, finding only a few remaining drunks and two very familiar dwarves still up. Dark grey eyes met blue and the older warrior nodded to him before focusing once more on sharpening his axe. Balin handed him food and gently pried off his cloak and took it upstairs while he ate in the same seething silence that had stormed around him since he'd set off from the Council.

A few moments after a tired barmaid placed a tankard of mead in front of him, Balin retook his seat and asked the question that Thorin would have to answer once more when he met with the rest of the dwarves that intended to join him on this quest.  

“They will not be coming. Dain says it is our quest and ours alone.”

The calming sound of whetstone against good steel paused for a moment before continuing, this time a little more vicious and with a bit more vigor than might be strictly necessary.

 “Well… Might be for tha best. After all what are we? Merchant, miners, tinkers, toymakers. Hardly the stuff of legend.” Balin murmured with a self-depreciating laugh, trying to keep flagging spirits up as he sipped his own pint.

There are a few warriors amongst us.” Thorin said, casting a fond look at the older dwarf.

Old warriors.” Balin returned, his voice carrying far more weight than he carried in years, a consequence of far too many battles and not enough peace.

I would take each and every one of these dwarves over an army from the Iron Hills. For when I called upon them they answered.” Thorin scooting forward in his chair, moving completely into the light of the fire, sapphire eyes burning with pride. He continued on, voice grave and calm, though it rumbled lowly to keep the stray passerby from hearing “Loyalty, honor, and a willing heart- I can ask no more than that.”

You don’t have to do this. You have a choice. You have done honorably by our people.” Balin returned, his protest gentle as he reminded his king, just what he had accomplished since their forced removal from the mountain. “You have built a new life for us in the Blue Mountains. A life of peace and plenty. A life that is worth more than all the gold in Erebor.”

Thorin’s blue eyes, so like his mother’s, darkened as he protested against Balin’s claim. “The dwarves of Erebor will reclaim their homeland. There is no choice Balin- not for me.”

Something mighty poured through the veins of the white haired advisor and for a moment he felt young once more. The idea of their home once more in their hands was a great temptation, but Balin now understood something that Thorin never would. 

Then we are with you laddie. We will see it done.” He patted the younger dwarf, who bore a determined gaze full of hope, lightly on the shoulder before heading off to retire for the night, leaving their King to stand by the large fire and steep in his thoughts, while his large and silent guard took first watch as he'd always done. 

Chapter Text

By the time they reached the outskirts of Bree, Gandalf the Grey was quite put out, and all he wanted to do was sit down and have a nice smoke of Old Toby and perhaps a rather large pint. Twice he had been stopped by the Rangers, who had not liked it at all that he was taking Miss. Billana Baggins (as she had introduced herself) out of the Shire. Then a small group of dwarves they passed along the road had muttered some rather unfavorable things about him while being quite kind to the female Hobbit, as dwarves often are when in the company of the fairer sex of any race, save that of the elves. It hadn’t helped anything that the Hobbit had rather quickly disappeared on him just moments ago to convene with the hobbit families that dwelt near the town of Bree, after strictly informing him that it was impolite to do otherwise and that just because they were adventuring does not mean they didn't have to ignore their manners. Honestly, he did not remember Belladonna being half so troublesome, though if what the young woman had said about her parents were true- a great deal had happened since he had last seen his favorite hobbit.

On the bright side, it seemed that Thorin and his Company had listened to him about taking rooms at the Prancing Pony, if the large group of thirteen dwarves sitting comfortably at a back table was any indication. At least that would be one group he wouldn’t have to search for.

“You’re late Gandalf.” Thorin said as the Maiar joined them at the table, his words silencing every other conversation at the table.

A wizard is never late Thorin Oakenshield,” he said meeting the dwarf’s gaze and making his voice fluctuate to a deeper and more dangerous tone.  “Nor is he early. He arrives precisely when he means to.”

Eyes meet and locked in a silent battle of wills and the Company held their collective breaths only daring to release them when their leader was the first to look away.

“Did you find your Burglar?” Balin asked, drawing the wizard’s attention to let Thorin gather his thoughts. Wizards were not to be trifled with on a good day, a lesson Thorin would soon have to learn.

Gandalf’s wizened face cleared and as he settled back into his chair he smiled and spoke, his voice once more pleasant to listen to. “Ah yes. Indeed I have. However, she has been temporarily misplaced.” The dwarves could do little more than stare at him gobsmacked. He had misplaced a woman and hadn’t attempted to find her?  Clearly, Tharkûn had been among Men for too long, for no dwarf would have ever left simply left a woman. They were beings of wonder and great value and ought to be more fiercely protected than gold because of how few there were.

Thorin was quickest to realize what the wizard had done though, and turned the blackest scowl he could possibly manage on the Maiar. By bringing a woman on this quest the blasted wizard had practically assured her living through it. No respectable male dwarf would let a woman die before his own life was taken- even Nori, Master Thief that he was, fell to that standard.

“We shall have words on this later Tharkûn, whether you will it or not.” Thorin growled, glaring quite fiercely at the wizard before jerking his head to Nori, who nodded. “Describe the Burglar to Nori and he shall find your wayward companion.”

“You can’t be serious Gandalf. We only just arrived and we must look for someone already?!” A light voice said from behind the wizard, making the entire table start in complete surprise. Fourteen pairs of eyes locked on the small figure that had snuck up upon them and Thorin could not help but stare. For standing before them was one of the strangest females he had ever had the privilege to lay eyes upon.

She was small, tinier than even Ori, who was the shortest dwarf in the party. Eyes the color of emeralds sat on a round face that showed only a slight layer of traveling grim. Her figure, as pronounced as it was in dirtied skirts and a vest, was not slim but by no means was it extraordinarily large. Later he would note the softness, lack of proper weapons, and the pointed ears, but what first drew his attention was her hair, which hung about her face and shoulders in wild curls of copper. No dwarf had such hair on their heads, not even their beards (something he noted she was lacking).

Thorin would admit, though quite privately and in the most closed off places of his mind, that her glaring up at the wizard was quite the sight, looking more like an affronted cat would at one who had stepped on its’ tail.

“Ah, you caught up.” Gandalf said, looking all too pleased.

“No thanks to you Grey One. I have been walking through every Inn I came across for the past hour! Surely it isn’t all that troublesome to wait for me to acquire a handkerchief and make my inquiries - since you refused to let me return to my home to fetch one.” The being retorted tartly, planting hands upon hips like a mother scolding a child.

“And how many times have I told you that you shall have to deal without a great deal more comforts before this journey is over?” He sounded far too much like a kindly old grandfather talking down to a spoiled child for Thorin’s liking. Judging by the lass’s expression as she opened her mouth to reply she thought so as well- but both were interrupted by Balin’s rather loud clear of his throat.

“Perhaps you could introduce us Tharkûn?” As ever, the silver haired dwarf’s voice was smooth and clear of the bright laughter that flickered in his eyes.

Both wizard and woman looked chastised and completely faced the Company. “May I present to you, Thorin Oakenshield son of Thrain, son of Thror, King Under-the-Mountain and the leader of the Company.”

Thorin stood and walked towards the woman, slightly surprised at how small she was. Drawing upon slightly dusty lessons learned at his grandfather’s knee he bowed properly, just low enough for an un-bonded woman who appeared to have no battle experience.

“And if I may present to you a Hobbit of the Shire, Billana Baggins daughter of Bungo Baggins and Belladonna Took.”

Thorin froze mid-bow, as ice slid through his veins. There was no way that this could be happening.

“Greetings King Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror. Billana Baggins, at your service.” The Hobbit said in near flawless Khzudul as she bowed, rather than curtsied as a proper Hobbit would do on such an occasion, surprising dwarf and wizard alike.

Never mind having words with the wizard, he was going to kill him- if Dwalin and Balin didn’t get to him first. 

Chapter Text

His heartbeat sounded like the heavy death drums that had beat out after the Battle of Azanulbizar, announcing the number of deaths and deepest of sorrows to the survivors. To this day Dwalin, son of Fundin, still heard them during the darkest of his dreams. The reason for his beating heart now though, was far from those dark dreams. Now it beat heavily as he gazed at the woman he had been writing to for some five and twenty years and dreaming of for a century longer than that.

How small she had looked back when he had first laid eyes upon his heart-lode, where it not for the eyes he would not have believed that it was her. His Billana. As a child her hair had been darker and her size had been terrifying in its smallness, now she appeared before him as a woman, with eyes that rivaled the loveliest of emeralds, shimmering ringlets of copper hair, and a figure so pleasing to the eyes that it was a wonder she had not been married off the moment she had come of age. The aged warrior was almost afraid to blink for fear of this being a dream, conjured up by a sleeping mind.

Thorin was leading his heart-lode away and it took all of his control to bite back the growl that wanted to slip forth. Sadly the person who nudged him from his inner battle was faced with his rage and he snarled at the owner of the elbow that was digging into his side went. Undaunted, Nori did nothing more than blink at him before grabbing his wrist and leading him upstairs, following Thorin's path.

“I am in no mood for your games thief.” He growled, wondering when it was that the dwarf had managed to develop such a strong grasp.

“Lucky ‘nough fer me, eh?” Nori’s playful reply was strained, as he had to force the warrior up the stairs. “Sides” he grunted, “Yer can’t be killin our King afore this journey has even started.”

Dwalin scowled darkly at the star-haired dwarf, quite seriously thinking on the consequences of stabbing the man right now. At least that way he wouldn’t have to deal with his irritating foists, then again Thorin and Balin would probably be quite angry with him for ripping the thief apart and leaving his bloodied bits on the street.

The sound of a door being slammed shut shook the warrior from his thoughts and he blinked, finding himself in Thorin’s quarters with Balin, his King, and Billana. All three looked at him before Thorin turned to the confused Hobbit. “Are you or are you not Billana Baggins, heart-lode of Head Guardsman Dwalin, son of Fundin?”

The affronted expression that filled her face as she practically snarled at their King in reply, “H-h-how dare you?! You believe me to be lying?!” told Balin and Dwalin all they needed to know, while Thorin took a step back at the vehement reply, before remembering just who he was and standing straight whilst at the same time defensively crossing his arms over his chest. Far too familiar with the ire of a female to be anything less, though he defiantly kept his head held high and unrepentant. 

“As their King and friend, it is my sacred duty to ensure that any who claim to be the soulmate of one of my people speak true.”

Emerald eyes were narrowed quite dangerously up at the dwarf, enraged yet further by this dwarf’s high and mighty attitude. Quite stubbornly she kept her lips sealed, letting her stony silence say everything and for many long moments Thorin scowled right back at her, all too clearly seeing the person who had written him that letter those many years ago.

“As the closest friend to the sons of Fundin,” He growled out the words every dwarf memorized in their earliest years, “it is my honored duty to introduce to you Balin, son of Fundin.”

Billa’s eyes widened and she whirled around to look at Balin, taking in the forked beard with red tunic and robes, before looking at Dwalin. In the back of his mind, the dwarf could not help the pride swell within him at how quickly his emerald put pieces together, but nervousness overcame everything else as his brother bowed.

“Ever am I at your service and your family’s Lady Baggins.” Balin said formally in Westron, voice smooth and pleasant despite the circumstances.

Billana blinked, her mouth in a perfect little ‘o’ of surprise before the expression cleared and she dipped into a graceful curtsy in return, and she willed herself to say the proper words only to find that they were stuck in her throat. After a moment of silence, Balin gifted her an understanding smile, full of gentleness, and moved forward to take her hand and guide her towards his brother in the most formal fashion he could offer her in this small setting, moving until the two lodes were a little more than an arm’s length apart.  

“May I have the honor of presenting to you my younger brother, Dwalin, whose name you have born through life, thus supporting him and giving him a reason to remain when all others reasons were of little use.” Someone, possibly Nori, inhaled sharply at this, likely having never guessed the true extent of the damage of the years, the battles, and the running had taken on Dwalin's life and mind.

Dwalin swallowed as he looked down at his heart-lode. Never before had he been so conscience of his appearance, the messiness of his unkempt beard and the wear of his travel stained clothes- the warming of the tips of his ears was a giveaway of the beginning blush. “D-Dwalin at your service.” He bent at the waist but kept her gaze, unwilling to look away should this all be a dream.

Silently she held out her hand and touched his arm where hidden by his tunic and armor lay her name. “Billana Baggins at yours., though I would very much prefer it if you called me Billa.”

Her voice was soft, calling to mind calming spring breezes and the warm summers of a chilhood long lost to time and memory....

 

 

And her lips were even sweeter than he'd ever dared to imagine. 

Chapter Text

Billana sat quietly in Dwalin and Balin’s shared bedroom, leaning slightly against the tall warrior as she attentively listened to the elder dwarf as he provided with the latest news and happenings since their last letter which eventually directed their conversation to the reason why she was here at the Pony in Bree rather than at home in the relative safety of the Shir, to which she all too brightly replied, “Oh, Gandalf said I would be needed to help.”

Her blithe and cheerful answer was enough for Dwalin to want to storm downstairs and set the wizard straight. In no uncertain terms was his heart-lode going to journey with them into the dangerous wild, where she could not defend herself!

Feeling the dwarf tense, she leaned a little more against him, not wanting her flower to go anywhere at the moment, not after having had for only a handful of moments. Her gaze trained on Balin who looked about as fond of the idea as Dwalin seemed to be.

“Not meaning any disrespect Lady Baggins-“
“Billana or Billa- please. We are to be family after all.”

Her words made the pair relax-for some reason or another- but worry still heavily ruled Balin’s expression. “Billana. The outside world is quite rough; we will not be able to guarantee your safety.”

“…” Her silence made Dwalin look down worriedly, but all he saw was a closed off and distant expression before she sighed and spoke, “Balin, Dwalin- I understand that and I am touched by your concern for my safety. But I will not return to the Shire to wait like some worthless princess of Men who cannot do anything but wait around and sew!”

She paused and her voice trembled as she continued, “Already you have told me to wait- I counted down the days to my birthday hoping that you would come for me, and then counting up the number of days until I could see you.” Both brothers flinched guiltily at her low voiced accusation; knowing she spoke naught but the truth.
“And now you would have me wait after telling me that you’re going off on” Steadily her voice grew more heated and her eyes sparked with what the brothers would later call fury as she rose from her seat, unaware that she was now standing on the bed “-what could quite possibly be a one way journey- to face off a fire-breathing dragon! And you would have me wait- wait until either of you show up at my door or until I look in the mirror one day to find that my flowering has wilted and I am alone!?”

Breathing heavily Billana glared down at the dwarves, both of whom who had steadily shrunk in their respective seating arrangements as her voice had grown louder and more impassioned. Taking a deep breath she sagged and returned to her seat beside Dwalin. “I refuse- even if I have to follow behind you- I refuse to be left here. Alone and waiting.”

Balin looked at Dwalin, knowing that in the end, it was his brother’s choice. His brother, who looked incredibly torn between regret and wanting to pull his flower into his arms. Dwarvish honor bid them keep her protected at all costs, even if it was for her own good, but soulmates had an additional standard of honor to meet and now Dwalin was at a crossroads betwixt the two. Instead of a reply, the warrior simply settled for putting an arm around her shoulders and letting her lean against his side once again.

“Alrigh’ Billa. You can come.” He murmured.

“Thank you.” Her face and body completely relaxed as all the tension slipped from her limbs. "Not that I needed your permission, but thank you for it regardless." For a while, the trio sat in a companionable silence, before Billa jerked up.

“Now that that’s settled- where may I bathe?”

 

ooOoo

 

When Dwalin and Balin wandered downstairs, dressed in nothing more than their loose tunics, brown for the former and a deep maroon for the latter, breeches, and boots they came upon a very interesting scene. Fili, Kili, Bofur, and Ori were pestering Nori about the Hobbit lass while Dori, Gloin, Bifur, and Thorin were talking to the wizard- talking being the kindest possible word for what was actually happening. Unfortunately, whatever it was they were saying had little effect on Tharkûn who sat quite calmly smoking on his pipe as though the words of the dwarves were little more than delightful springtime bird chatter. Oin sat in between both groups, ostensibly muttering about new herbs that he'd need, but carefully keeping his "hampered hearing" on both conversations. Bomber ignored them all in favor of eating, drowning his worry for his own wife and their many children, in food and drink. 

It was strange at how light the pair looked now, Nori observed quite happily. Then again he had known that Billa would not reject Dwalin, no matter what the Guardsman seemed to think. “You lot can ask tha’ lass later, yah? Now hush.” Nori said to the young men crowded around him.

“But Master Nori!” Kili whined flashing large brown eyes at him. Thankfully Ori’s eyes were about a hundred times worse than anything that the youngest prince could pull, and he'd had a great deal of practice at ignoring those.

“Migh’ be best fer yah- if yah be tryin those eyes wit someone tha’ they’ll actually work on lad.” Nori said, flicking the young Kili in between his brows before slipping away from the youngsters in order to sit with Dwalin, resolutely ignoring the too loud and exaggerated ‘ow’ that sounded behind him.

“Yer lookin better.” He said, tipping his tankard towards the warrior in a silent salute before drinking.

“I hope yeh mean that well Master Nori.” Balin chuckled, tipping to the side as his brother lightly punched him in the side.

“Tha both of yeh looked like death warmed over last night.” Nori informed the pair, grabbing Balin’s drink before it tipped over. “Hate fer yah ta waste good drink.”

Balin smiled at him warmly and it took all of Nori’s concentration to keep his expression pleasant and easy.

“So where’s tha blushin Billa?” He asked, using the obviously missing Hobbit as an excuse to look away from the all too seeing eyes of Balin and look about the Inn, whose population was growing steadily thicker as the sun began to sink beneath the horizon and the farmers and huntsmen came into the town.

“Bathing.” Dwalin rumbled, “An’ no one will be disturbin her.”

In a movement of quick defense Nori raised both arms, showing his empty palms. “I weren’t plannin on it. Lemme jus’ say though tha yer not gunna be able ta escape tha rules of courtin’ – not once tha rest of these lot get wind of what she is ta ya.” A quick jerk of the head towards the gathered Gloin, Oin, Dori, and Thorin said plenty. “ So were I yah’ I’d be slippin’ off right about now ta spend as much time as I could wit my lode alone afore the rules get applied.”

Dwalin’s eyes widened at that bit of truth and he quickly looked around to see how many would notice his disappearance, before looking at his brother in silent askance.

“Good on then laddie. Jus this once- I saw nothin’.” Balin said, “Oh but don’t forget ta bring up drink and food for the lass.”

Nori near about choked on his drink when Dwalin was gone faster than he could blink.

“Bets on wha’ the two of em will get up to?” He asked, grinning wickedly as his brows wiggled suggestively, unwilling to pass the unique opportunity by.

Balin frowned good naturedly at the thief. “None of that now. Dwalin know the boundaries- and if somthin were to happen I will withdraw any and all time he might spend with her alone,  until they are fully Bonded by both Hobbit and Dwarf customs.”

Nori winced, “Yer a hard taskmaster aren’t yah?”

Balin merely chuckled, “But didn’t you know Master Nori” he drawled, voice dipping almost imperceptibly lower, “that’s the older brother’s job.” 

Chapter Text

“Who is it?” Billa called when someone knocked at the door as she fought with her hair, trying to convince the dreadful curls to unwind from their mess of knots and tangles with a comb.

“Dwalin.”

Eyes widened in surprise before she beamed, ridiculously large and checked to make certain that her modest shift and underthings appropriately covered her body before calling out, “Come in!”

The large warrior toed open the door and upon seeing how much the dwarf carried, Billa slipped off of the bed she had stolen and scurried over to hold open the door so he could get easily into the room without dropping the large tray filled plates of food and tankards he was juggling.

“Many thanks.” He grunted, striding into the room and placing the tray on top of the bed, which was at an appropriate height for a dwarf and a not too much higher than was comfortable for a Hobbit, while Billa closed the door.

“Thought you migh’ be hungry. From wha’ Old Grey Beard said, you’ve had a few trying days.”

Billa chuckled openly, “Only for Gandalf. It was actually a rather pleasant few days for me” She stated as she hopped onto the bed and peered at the food. Dwalin it seemed had remembered her dislike of excessive meat- cow in particular- and had a good balance of fruit and vegetables aside from the meat. Smiling at her flower, who smiled hesitantly in reply she began to eat, taking the time to examine him behind her tangled mane of hair. 

Dwalin watched his heart-lode with warm eyes, as he sipped from his drink, having eaten not too long ago. It felt good to have her so close, just like that time she had reached out and touched him for the first time that night all those long years ago. Only this time he could practically feel the hint of the power of their connected marks as it stretched between them, warm and humming at being so close after so long apart.

“Dwalin?” Her voice, so soft and hesitant made him open eyes he hadn’t even realized he had closed.

“Yes?”

“Could I… see it? Your flower…” She looked at him with eyes full of a timid curiosity, as though she were uncertain if he would permit her to see her own name etched upon his skin. In reply he put her half-empty plate aside and sat beside her, holding out his left arm. Green eyes met grey as hands, so soft and small, skimmed against the skin she revealed as she rolled up his sleeve to his elbow. Sure enough, there lay, upon the slightly raised skin, her name in old Hobbitish with lush vines and smalls burst of white heather and blue hyacinth intertwined in the curls and waves of her Yavanna given name.

His heart-lode’s expression was lost to his sight as she bent her head forwards just enough for her glorious curls to fall over her shoulder. He was quite tempted to reach out and run his hands through those strands, as she had invited him to in a letter years ago, but waited, biding his time. Involuntarily a sharp breath slipped into his mouth as he felt her all too gentle fingers trace her name.

“I thought you were a bear- that first time.” Her voice was wry as she spoke, full of self-effacing humor, and Dwalin couldn't help the slight chuckle that passed through his mouth.

“Did you now?”

She hummed in affirmation and kept tracing her name as she spoke. “Oh yes, I was quite pleased with myself for being brave enough to touch a bear. At least from what I can recall.”

Dwalin felt the slight shaking of her gentle fingers and reached out, brushing away the hair that hid her face from his sight. Cupping her face in between his paws he looked down at her as his thumbs rubbed their way back and forth beneath her jeweled eyes.

“And do you know what I felt that first time you reached out to me?" he asked, "It was like I had been living half a life without ever knowing it. Rather than seeing the beauty before me, I saw greys, and only at tha moment did the jeweled tones of the earth make themselves known to my sight. Even now I remember it as though it happened yesterday. You are the brightest jewel tha has graced my sight and until my dying breath I vow to protect and love yah the way you deserve.”

With each word that tumbled from his lips like an avalanche, Billana’s eyes grew wider and teary. She smiled at him from between his hands and cupped his own face between her small hands, pausing a moment to brush her fingers against his skin before bringing his head down to gently touch their foreheads together. The pair sat that way for an unknown amount of time, simply breathing in the scent of the other as they shared gazes.

Dwalin was the first to draw away, fingering her semi-dry hair. “May I?”

The look of outright relief was almost enough to make him laugh, but it was the alacrity with which she passed him the comb she had been using earlier and the total earnestness in her “Please” that broke him.

The dwarf laughed, even as he adjusted her little body to sit in his lap, “You are most certainly the brightest jewel of my world.”

Her blush, he then discovered, extended down the column of her neck, and Dwalin steeled him himself from the temptation that offered, focusing instead on the near heavenly feel her of silken hair. The comb sat to one side, while he ran two calloused hands slowly through her locks, unknotting loose twists while he enjoyed the closeness between them. It was almost like the first time he had ever felt mithril chainmail, except better. Where there had been hardness then, there was only the feeling of damp silk slipping over palms and threading through fingers. 

“You should be more gentle- some of your hair is splitting at the end.” He murmured as he picked up the comb and ran it through the first bit of hair gathered in his hand.

Billa shivered but replied easily, “When you have hair like mine then please tell me how I ought to treat it.”

It was not a harsh or rude comment, Dwalin knew and thus did not take offense as he replied evenly, “I’ll have to remember your words when our children are grown and wrestling with their hair as well.”

Billa’s breath hitched for a moment but she was otherwise silent as he combed out the hair that fell a little bit below the shoulders. Once that was done Dwalin gently began parting the strands only to stop when Billa suddenly leapt out of his lap and hurried off to her pack.

“Sorry.” She said once she had climbed back onto the bed, facing him. “But if you are braiding would you use these?”

Dwalin frowned down at the chain that she held in her palm before he realized just what it was she was offering him. The bead he had left her as a token all those years ago, and then several others that had been sent in various letters were held close together on a slim silver chain.

“I didn’t want to accidentally lose them- so I thought that this would be a safe place to keep them.” She said, flushing slightly.

“Were it not improper little Billa, I would be coverin yah in kisses.” He rumbled, taking the chain and waiting until she was back in his lap before beginning to braid. The first he placed in her hair was a small one that went from the top of her head and followed the curve of her skull, letting the end strands bleed back in with the rest of her copper hair- the style was a personal recalling of his recently removed mohawk- though the braid itself signaled that she was soulmarked to one of the Fundin family. The bead that signaled her passage into community life was clasped there.

Several other braids, including the ones that indicated gender, and certain years passed in safety were braided into her thick locks- though it was difficult to see because of the coppery curls. But it was the last braid that was the most important, and Dwalin had to take a steadying breath before moving her from his lap and making her face him.

“Billana Baggins,” He said in careful Khzudul, making certain that she understood the gravity of this moment and what he was saying, “Would you take me, bearer of your lode, Head Guardsman, a renowned warrior, and a son of Fundin into consideration as your future bond mate?”

Billa smiled warmly and nodded even as she replied in Khzudul, “Yes- If you shall have me.”

“Where is my name dear heart?” He whispered hoarsely in Westron.

“Left ear.”

Reaching out with lightly trembling hands he began a braid that seemed to appear right from behind her ear and went as far as the hair strands would permit, before being clasped in a special bead that Dwalin had carried with him from the moment he had received her first letter. This braid, far more complex than the others he had wound into her hair, marked her as his in all ways, though it was in the courting style rather than the engaged or even married versions- but, he hoped, that turning it into either of those would only be a matter of time.

Sitting back to see the complete image of his work, Dwalin had to admit that Balin would approve. What sent the most pride however was the sight of his braid in her hair. A choked sound filled the room and then Billa was straddling him, her lips kissing his face not even bothering to avoid his scars before they locked against his own.

It wasn’t until Billa’s mouth opened at the request of his tongue that Dwalin’s ragged control managed to reassert itself and with all the gentleness that he could, pushed her away.

“Sorry- I-“ Billa stammered, looking far too flushed for the male portions of his body.

“Don’t… but tha...lass… should not happen again until we are married…. Understand? I would not have you honor questioned.” He rasped, trying to shake some wit back into his mind.

Billa nodded and gently eased herself off his lap, “Sorry.”

Dwalin smiled and stroked her cheek gently. “It’s alrigh’ dear one - didn’t think things through is all.”

Billa’s answering smile was all he needed to know that she understood.

ooOoo

 

When Balin hesitantly opened the door not long past midnight, he could do naught but smile when he saw a certain Hobbit lass curled up on her side asleep, while his brother stroked her hair and murmured some sort of poetry lowly in her ear. Shaking his head he slipped away, a smile curling at the edge of his mouth, who knew that his bolder headed brother knew poetry?

Chapter Text

Billana had never woken up quite so comfortably as she had that first morning in Bree. It started first with the vague awareness that her covers were unusually warm but she was far too satisfied to really care. Then her mind slowly realized that something about where she was wasn’t quite right. The bed was harder than usual, not at all like the soft goose feather bed she normally slept on, but that didn’t bother her in the least. Inhaling she found the smell....muskier than the smial was normally like it was a soil turning day, but with a hint of foreign spices and a faded scent of smoke.

Bleary green eyes blinked open slowly and her mind shifted into a more half-awake state, where she floated in being not quite awake but neither was she fully asleep. Her body, Billa realized was curled against something that was quite warm and reassuring. A few slow blinks and eyes sharpened to be greeted by the sight of a chest. At that her mind jolted into full awareness, quickly noting the arm the curled possessively around her waist, the heavy limb that could only be a leg thrown over hers, and the low rumble of air passing through the rather broad chest in front of her.

For a moment blind panic made the hobbit tense and become absolutely still, not even daring to breathe until the edge of a beard brushed her forehead. Puzzled, for Hobbit mean most certainly did not grow beards, Billana tipped back her head enough to glimpse the rather unforgettable face of Dwalin, son of Fundin. In a rush, last night’s memories entered the forefront of her mind, giving Billana more than enough time to feel her face warm over as she recalled all too well, her forwardness would’ve sent Lobelia running down Bag Shot Row screeching worse than a goblin during the Fell Winter.

Billa fought valiantly against the laughter that bubbled up into her chest at the thought of Lobelia as a goblin but lost the battle. Though she attempted to keep her laughter silent by pressing her face into Dwalin’s shoulder, her shaking must have awakened him- if his grunt was any indication.

“Billa?” He murmured, patting her hair worriedly as he peered down at her tiny body as it shook against him.

 “I’m fine…” She choked out, moving away from his shoulder so he could realize that she was merely laughing.

“Tell me you don’t wake this way every morning.” He groaned, voice a pleasant contrast against his gruff words.

“What? With a handsome dwarf wrapped all around me? I have to say it is an entirely new experience, though one I could quite happily get used to.” She said, manipulating his words with practiced ease as Old Took had taught her, during her secret visits.

Dwalin’s laugh, Billa discovered, was warm and full, vibrating deep in his chest before it roared from his mouth. “Aye, I think I could get used ta this as well."

Billa’s smiled faded into a look of curiosity as she looked up at her dwarf. “I almost didn’t realize it was you- last night.”

When Dwalin looked puzzled she used one of her hands and moved it back and forth over the center of her head, following the line of his signature braid. “No mohawk and you looked a little less trimmed from your descriptions in Balin's letters.”

“Oh.” Absently Dwalin released his hold on her waist, running it over his smooth head, ignoring the slight twinge of discomfort from his latest tattoos. “Less ta worry about.”

“I thought dwarves prided themselves on their fine beards and the neatness of them.”

“Tha’ we do lass. Many of the party will spend hours fixin their braids along the journey, but not me. My King bears only the braids that he must and his bear is shorn until he ends his exile, and so when I made the vow to protect him, I too removed my greatest pride and placed tattoos upon my head as evidence of that vow, so tha' til we regain our home I too will bear the marks of one in exile.”

Billa reached up bringing his hand back down and planting a gentle kiss against his scared and tattooed knuckles, before entwining their fingers together. “Balin too?”

“Aye.” 

Chapter Text

After insuring that all of his braids had remained in neat condition through the night, Dwalin washed while Billana dressed in a comfortable set of male clothes consisting of a durable yet decently nice pair of trousers, a white shirt and golden waistcoat, and her deep red dinner jacket. One dress went into the bottom of her pack along with her chemise, the rest of the feminine items she had decided to sell- that way she had more room to carry things in and had a bit of extra cash on hand. Hearing Dwalin step out of the bathing room, Billa quickly turned her back to him so that he might get dressed.

“I’m decent lass.” He rumbled a few moments later, after few minutes of curious sounds of various straps being tugged and a few metal edges clinking together. Billa turned and blinked in surprise as she discovered his was more than just dressed. In minutes he had donned not only an olive hued tunic and dark brown breeches; he had also managed to put on a thick overtunic that had some kind of armor sewn into it and had numerous straps that held some kind of fur on his shoulders as well as strapped on all his weapons and knuckle beaters.

“How- how did you put that much on so quickly?!”

“Practice,” he chuckled, “practice an knowin’ where everything is. Gotta be able to put everythin on in tha' dark and in all weathers.”

It occurred to the Hobbit, as she followed Dwalin downstairs his heavy boots announcing his arrival long before they were actually seen, that she was rather ill-equipped for this adventure. She had nothing to protect herself with, just her clothes, a bow and the throwing knives that were still in their hiding places in her room. Damn that wizard for not letting me go back and get my handkerchief! She thought with a scowl.

I will have to make due and use what money I get from my sales and what I have on hand to purchase something. Billana thought, before focusing on the large group of dwarves who'd once more arranged themselves at a back table feasting quite joyfully upon a large amount of food a series of maids had placed on the table. Thank heavens for some of the warnings that book gave me or I would be screaming like Lobelia right now, she thought as she settled herself on the bench, sniggering once more over the earlier thought of Lobelia screeching like a goblin.

A dwarf with beautifully complex silver braids, who introduced himself as Dori, kindly offered a teapot to her. Thanking him Billa glanced up at the dwarf sitting across from her to see the familiar face of Nori who grinned at her and waggled his fingers at her in a mocking hello.

“What. Are you doing here you fiend?” she hissed, second breakfast (first had been ignored in favor of lounging in bed with Dwalin) forgotten with the dwarf who dared to grin at her, seemingly without a care in the world.

“What? Yeh won’t let an’ ol’ friend say hello?” He asked, his grin widening to the point of near insolence.

“I warned you in my letter Master Thief just what would happen if that braid of yours got me into trouble!” She growled, practically feeling the small hairs on the back of her neck rise with her ire.

“Now Billa, that last bit wasn’t really trouble, just a bit of excitement since you didn’t get out much.”

“A bit of excitement?!” In her outrage, her voice grew slightly higher and was slowly drawing the dwarves’ attention. “You call near drowning and waste of good food a bit of excitement?!”

As if just now realizing the hole the thief had thrown himself into, Nori was quick to stand and begin backing up, hands in the air with a slightly shaky expression, “Now Billa, there aint no reason ta be so emotional.”

The entire Company watched the odd interaction between the two beings with extreme interest, for not even Dwalin at his most frightening had made Nori waver, yet this little stripling had done so only using her voice and standing. Balin grabbed his brother’s wrist as he moved to stand and go to his lode’s side, keeping him in his seat with a stern glance, grip momentarily tightening in warning.

“Emotional?! Of course I’m going to get emotional when- That is it Nori, son of Vori!” And before anyone quite realized how, Nori’s right sleeve was pinned to a wooden support beam and the wee Hobbit lass was stomping towards him with narrowed eyes of green fire.

“You are very lucky I missed.” She hissed lowly jerking the dining knife from his sleeve and sitting back down at the table with a placid expression. “You get no other warnings.”

The dwarves wondered, and not for the first or last time if Nori had any sense of self-preservation when he grinned mischievously at the woman and retook his former seat across from her.

“Well, that at least saves us the question of whether you prefer axe or sword, Miss Baggins.” Balin said easily in the silence that followed. Laughter erupted all around, though Thorin and Billa did not join in. The latter, ignoring the laughter in favor of eating and glowering at the overly mischievous red-haired dwarf marring the limited view in front of her. While the former grouched, knowing that if her only skill was with knives she would be even more of a liability than he'd intially assumed.

Breakfast continued on for some time, the dwarves largely keeping to themselves as Billana calmly ate her fill while waiting for Gandalf to finally make his morning appearance. It was while the breakfast plates were being cleared that the old wizard joined their party, his pipe already full of embers and leaking smoke. The meeting began and Billana paid rapt attention as Gandalf and Thorin discussed a map that depicted a solitary peak. She knew that there was some sort of underlying history, especially when Gandalf pulled a strange looking key out of his robes and Thorin's face paled as his eyes darkened to a near blue-black.

 “…Which is why we’ll need a burglar.” Gandalf said.

Not at all minding her tongue Billa hummed in reply as she examined the map, Great Yavanna she loved maps. “Yes, an expert one I’d imagine.”

“Are you?” Thorin asked pinning her with his dark eyed stare, his gaze intense and judging, just like it had been on their initial introduction.

Billa blinked, and looked up, “I’m sorry- Am I what- an expert?”

You hear that lads, she said she’s an expert.” The dwarf with the ear trumpet yelled happily, giving way to great cheers, rather obviously ignoring Billa’s blank face as she met Thorin’s stare. She had dealt with several hobbits like him before and had hated every moment of it because they always made assumptions.

“Thorin-“Gandalf began only to be cut off by the raising of a hand and his head turning to nod to Balin.

Give her the contract.”

A thick leafed parchment, written with an excellent hand was handed over and Billa’s brows rose when she discovered just how long the contract was. Muttering some of the words out loud as she scanned the document she had to wonder just who it was that had written it, for there were several very large and very distinguishable loop holes. Standing she read aloud carefully, not noting the clearly pleased expressions of the Company and wizard.

Up to, but not exceeding one fourteenth of total profit- of any…seems fair…uh, present company shall not be held accountable for injuries inflicted by or sustained thereof but not limited to laaa…cerations,” Gandalf jerked to look at her back, his evident pleasure abruptly ceased.

“Evisceration?” She said frowning, and jerking the contract closer while peeling one of the flaps open. Balin grimaced knowing exactly where this was going to go.

“Incineration!” She exclaimed, turning to look at the gathered men with an expression that bordered on confusion and outrage. The dragon wa supposed to be asleep, there should be no incinerating happening!

“Oh, aye, he’ll melt the flesh righ of yer bones in the blink of an eye.” A dwarf wearing a hat and bearing a braided and curve mustache replied with a cheerful voice.

The extension page was quickly flipped closed and Billa looked up at the ceiling forcing her breath to steady itself, “Huh.”

“You alright lass?” Balin asked leaning forwards in concern, his hand again on Dwalin's wrist to keep the man pinned to his chair.

“Huh.” She replied leaning forwards and bracing herself on her knees, just remembering how to breathe as the idea of a real life dragon began to form in her mind. “Yeah- I’ll be alright”

A deep breath hissed from her lungs as she struggled to focus. Forcing herself upright she straightened and tugged at her waistcoat, “Feeling a bit off.”

“Think furnace with wings.” The happy hatted dwarf really needed to shut it, or at least stop that cheerful voice of his. Mayhap she ought to suggest it and use her needles as an additional threat, surely sewing a mouth closed wasn't all that different from mending tears in clothes or embroidering.

“I-I-I need air.” Was what came out of her mouth instead of the rather snappish reply she had been thinking of moments ago.

“Flash of light.” His arms and hands came up to demonstrate, still holding the pipe he had been smoking before. “Searing pain then- Puff! Yer nothin’ more than a pile of ash!”

She huffed in reply and rolled her shoulders, her mind on complete overdrive as it attempted to recall every story she had ever heard on dragons, cataloging weaknesses, strengths and the likelihood of success before coming up with one thing. Her flower was an idiot and Balin even more so. In fact they were all of them idiots down to the last man. And she.. well, she had no choice but to go along with them or they would get all of themselves killed in a testosterone fueled mess before they could say Erebor ten times. Old Took’s wife voice seemed to drift through her mind, “Men, lass, need looking after, even though they say otherwise because without the good sense of a woman they would be completely lost.”

Turning, she faced the company with a too pleasant smile. “I do so hope one of you has brought a quill and ink. If not then I’ll need a very fine knife, because I have a contract to sign.” 

Chapter Text

With a twirling and spin of the quill, adding an artistic flourish at the end of her name, Billana Baggins of the Shire officially joined the Company meant to retake Erebor. “Thank you Master Ori.” She said handing the quill back to Nori’s little brother, before standing and neatly folding up the contract before pressing it into Thorin’s chest with a saucy smile.

“There you are your Majesticness. Now if you’ll all excuse me I have some things to attend to.” Billa spun on the balls of her feet and marched smartly up the stairs to grab her bag, leaving several astounded dwarves while others chuckled and joked as they passed around the various coins and items they'd betted amongst one another.

She was almost out the door of the Prancing Pony when Dori called out to her. She waited patiently for the silver haired dwarf while he moved after her with surprising swiftness and easy dexterity.

“May I go with yah lass?” He asked, smiling warmly, sketching her a slight bow as befitted one of their number.

“Of course, although I hope you’re aware that this won’t be very interesting.” Billa replied with the easy smile she wore for the vast majority of the folk in Hobbiton, polite with just the right amount of warmth.

“Well, not too worry on that front, I have a few accouterments to pick up before we leave in the morning.”

With that the pair headed out into the hustle and bustle of the town. More than once Billana found herself grateful to the dwarf, for he was both taller and stronger, which ensured that they wouldn’t be stepped on or easily knocked to the ground by the Big-Folk that seemed to be incapable of doing anything slowly or being considerate of those smaller than themselves.

Finally, after what felt like swimming up a fast moving stream, the pair reached a shop that sold clothes to Hobbits and Bella began the long and arduous process of haggling, trying to get more out of the selling of her clothes, only to find the shop keep wholly unwilling despite her Baggins claim. Once more Dori came to her rescue, proving that his elaborate braids that indicated someone in the merchant class weren’t for nothing. Somehow he managed to up the sale by an extra half of what the seamstress had been willing to pay her- much to Billana’s irritation and reluctant gratitude.

“Thank you for your help Master Dori.” She said unable to ignore the politeness that had been engrained into her since birth. 

“Not at all. Men are a greedy folk, once you know to deal with them, it really is quite easy.” The dwarf said easily.

“I see where Nori learned how to use smooth words to his advantage.” She said dryly, only to glance at the taller dwarf to realize that she had said the wrong thing. The dwarf’s easy smile had disappeared and an empty expression filled his rounded face. For several paces, the pair walked on in silence before Billa managed to summon the courage to speak up again, this time being more mindful in the care she took in choosing her words.

“Forgive me. I have a rather terrible habit of letting my mouth run without thinking first.”

“It’s alright Miss. Baggins-“

“Billa, please. I insist.”

Dori’s mouth quirked in response, “Miss Billa then. I am well aware of where he learned to use words as valuable weapons, though those lessons were not intended for the purpose he now uses them for.”

Billa chewed on her bottom lip, weighing her thoughts before blurting out, “He wouldn’t wear your family clasp like you if he didn’t respect you.”

Dori stopped, jerking her to a halt with him. “What do you know about it?” His voice was low and filled with mixed emotions, though he did not seem particularly hostile.

“Well…it’s just that when we first met all he seemed to be able to talk about was his family. I was very sick you see, and he would always talk about your teas whenever he had to give me my medicine. And the gloves- I never once saw them off his hands.”

The eldest son of Vori seemed speechless at this bit of information and Billa prayed she hadn’t said something stupid again. Trying to cover for the thief a little she hurriedly continued, “He never said your names or even what you looked like, but I noticed it at breakfast that you bear the same braid and bead under your chin that Nori does. Ori too, though braids only.”

I really need to stop talking now; Billa realized and quickly snapped her jaw shut, praying to anyone that was listening that she hadn’t just horrendously cut across some ancient dwarf rule that she hadn’t read about yet during her singular studies. After a few breaths, it seemed that Dori had recovered himself enough to return to walking, though his mind paid no obvious attention to the direction in which they moved. 

Silence reigned between the two Small-Folk for a while before the dwarf spoke up once more. “I’m afraid I have been quite rude, but, I must ask, are you truly Dwalin’s heart-lode?”

Billa nodded, “Are the braids in my hair not enough to prove that?” She asked, plucking at the only long plait that ran from behind her left ear.

“No, not at all.” Dori hurriedly assured the hobbit “Thorin asked me to explain rules of courtship to you, but gave no reasoning behind it or for whom, so I thought it best to ask before saying anything.”

“I see…” Billa kicked at a stone on the cobbled road. Was this the Prince trying to irritate her deliberately, because he was certainly going about it correctly. First, insulting her in a letter, never writing a letter of apology, and now being an arrogant, assuming ass.  Oh that dwarf was irritating in a way Lobelia had never been- and that was saying a great deal- for Billa had never met someone as unpleasant as her distant relation.

“Anyhow, would you mind me explaining them?”

Billa looked at the dwarf curiously, recollecting some of the last section she had read from the book on dwarf customs that had been sent to her, though the memory was somewhat vague as it had been just a few days before the upset of the coming of age day. “Is that not the job of the family?”

Dori flushed, “Well, yes- but in this case, being as special as it is, what with you not being a dwarf and all, it’s the job of the lady’s closest dwarven friend to explain the rules to her. Thorin had originally planned on giving Nori this rather significant employment. Fortunately for you, I interfered, as is my right as the head of the family. So it falls upon me to explain things to you and to answer any questions you may have.”

“Alright- so my first question, could I not go to Balin?” She asked, "Not that I don't trust you, of course, but.." she rushed to explain, only to have Dori offer her a chortle of acknowledgment, even as he head shook in the negative to her questions. "No offense taken Billa, you have my word. But as both the older brother and the head of Dwalin’s family, he cannot be trusted to show you the complete flaws of the dwarf you are being courted by- family bias, you see.”

Billana frowned deeply, “I don’t recall this being quite so complicated when I read about it briefly.”

“There’s a big difference between the courtship of male to male dwarves and female to male dwarves.”

Billa stumbled on air when the dwarf’s implications fully ran through her brain. “Wait-wait! You mean you permit those of the same sex to wed?!” She asked in amazement, for such things, while not completely unheard of, were generally kept secret and between the two involved.

“Of course! Anyways, being that your female and Dwalin is a male, the rules are more complex, as there a great deal more honor involved and the marriage is binding in such a way as to make it very....challenging, shall we say, to get out of. Also, most dwarf women have several courtships-“Billa choked on air at this point, quite shocked at the idea. How could a woman bear so much attention at once?! “-going at once, since they are so rare and much valued by all.”

"More than one?"
"Oh yes. Why when I left the Blue Mountains, there was a Lady Sif, who wore eight men's courtship braids at her temples! It was quite a sight to see."

“What if one of her courters is her heart-lode?” Billana asked, “Doesn’t such a system make it harder for them?”

“That’s precisely the point.” Dori sounded quite pleased by the stunned question, seeming to think that she was keeping up with all the information easily rather than hanging on by a thread. “You see, it would be quite wrong for dwarves to assume that just because they bear each other’s names on their skin, they belong to one person or another. A true heart-lode will be able to prove himself greater than every other suitor or he is unworthy of the woman and her family.”

Too much- This was all too much. First the dragon and now all this?! The world spun quite dangerously and were it not for a strong hand gripping her tightly, she surely would have fallen.

“Are you are Miss. Billana?!” Dori sounded rather alarmed.

“I-I think I might need to sit down.” She gasped before she fainted. 

Chapter Text

Dwalin had been sitting with the lads, quietly explaining various battle tactics to Fili, Kili, and Ori when Dori rushed in calling for Gandalf, Billana limp in his arms. The boys had never seen the bravest dwarf they knew pale so quickly. Thankfully, the rest of the dwarves had gone out save for them, Nori and Thorin, who’d been talking with Gandalf before Dori rushed in.

“What have you done now Master Dwarf?” Gandalf said, now quite exasperated as he hurried over to the Hobbit, who was being placed in an armchair, Dwalin stepping over to hover just off to the right of the chair.

“I was merely telling her about dwarven courtships, next thing I know she swaying like she’d had imbued too much drink and then fainted.” Dori looked fretfully between Dwalin, the wizard, and the Hobbit as though wondering who would be worse to deal with.

“Of course she did you fool. Did you really think that all that information at once would simply settle fine?”

“But she handled words of Smaug so well!” Kili chirped up, “Surely courtship rituals are much easier to bear!”

The withering look that Gandalf cast his way was more than enough to silence the young dwarf, temporarily anyway.

“Hobbit courtships are nothing like dwarven ones, Mister Kili. They are a simple folk who place a great deal of belief in their soul markings and the simplicity of life and are much happier for it.” Gandalf quipped, checking over the little being before moving away and giving Dwalin enough room and worriedly look his One over.

“She is unhurt. Simply overwhelmed.” The wizard’s voice was kind as he addressed the concerned dwarf, before he rounded on Thorin- who had the untimely sense to let out a snort of disbelief.

“And I assume you would do better Mister Oakenshield? Willingly leaving your home, finding you soul bearer, learning that they aren’t likely to live through the year, AND learn about dwarven courtships in less than a sevenday? Hobbits are hardy folk and it would be wise of you not to forget it Master Dwarf.”   

Thorin scowled in reply and walked off, after carefully folding up the various maps they had been poring over for the past hour.

“Save me from the hard-headedness of dwarves.” Gandalf muttered, lighting his pipe ad he sat in a chair by the fire, puffing furiously at his pipe.

Dwalin glanced between the darkening back of his King to his One, torn between years of loyalty to someone he absolutely trusted and his instincts, which made it quite clear to the dwarf that he ought to remain with Billa until she was awake and could fend for herself. Fortunately the choice was made for him, when Fili and Kili brushed by him, the eldest gently nudging him forwards.

“Common then, let’s make certain that Uncle doesn’t throw a tantrum and break things. Gandalf and Nori'll make sure she's alright.”

 

ooOoo

 

Billana woke to colors. Blue, green, purple, though few normal colored smoke rings hovering in the air above her head, making the Hobbit wonder if she had completely lost her wits so soon. The cool slide of metal against stone gave the woman pause, and she turned her head to spot an all too familiar dwarf with star shaped hair sitting near.

“One would think yeh’d have a bit more mental endurance, bein’ as saucy as yeh’ are.” The thief said, catching her gaze before returning his focus back to the sharpening of his favorite pair of knives.

"One would think that a thief of your caliber would be able to properly talk to his brothers rather than hide in the shadows." Billa retorted. She knew her words were unkind but all she wanted right now was blessed silence and the arms of her heart-lode around her. A dwarf she noted was missing, much to her Baggins’ side emotion of relief while her Took side was more than a bit irritated on finding him missing.

"Mast Nori is correct, Billana. You will have to have a greater fortitude than you have now if you are to go on this journey and live to tell the tale." Gandalf's voice carried a gentle chiding even as he reached over and handed her a hobbit sized cup of tea. 

The lass merely looked at him over the rim of the cup as she drank deeply from the contents. "Mark my words Grey One, one day I will tell you the exact same thing only you shall look far more bedraggled than I."

Gandalf left with a rather familiar huff of "Hobbits" followed by smoke rings, a great deal of puffing, and mutterings. 

If only she'd known then just how prophetic her words would be, Billana would have taken them back in an instant. 

 

ooOoo

 

“Yeh can’t force him ta choose between yeh an’ her, Thorin.”

“She is soft- you know tha’ as well as I, Spymaster- if not better.” The retort was even in tone, though something akin to protective jealousy trilled through the gruff rumble.

“He will choose her in the end- tha’ is certain.” With that, the dwarf ever cloaked in shadows slipped out of the room and headed back to his quarters. “ But if he don't. An' gives her up- he won’t be tha same dwarf yah know now, nor will he ever be again.” 

Chapter Text

Thorin did not like the Halfing, despite her rather impressive display of making Nori fear for his life. He was not a dwarf who did not grant credit where it was due, but despite her evident talents with a knife, she was still too soft, too small, and too fragile. And to crown the whole, painfully feminine in appearance and mannerisms. It made every bit of the dwarf King’s protective urges roar to life and if left unchecked- his body would place her safety far above his own. In short- he and every other dwarf in the company were compromised. It was not a feeling he enjoyed and it made him all the more furious when he realized Dwalin, one of the greatest (and few) true warriors in the company, was worse off than even the youngest of their group.

Never had there been a moment in his life, that Dwalin had not been there to support him and his siblings. Even in his earliest memories, the dwarf had been there to protect him from the shadows of childhood fears, finding him when he was lost in the mines, training with him, and protecting him in battle. No one, not even Frerin and Dis, had the same deep understanding that Thorin and Dwalin carried. But now, all of that time spent together, fighting together was ruined, because Dwalin would not seek his protection first but the Hobbit’s and that made him dangerous, especially if he wouldn’t be willing or able to take orders that would place the object of their journey above the safety and well being of a single member of their Company. 

“Mount up.” He called, having led one of the ponies Bofur had purchased yesterevening out into the front of the courtyard of the Prancing Pony. The morning had been spent packing and eating a quiet breakfast, and at last, they were off, and no one was more eager than the King-Under-the-Mountain to begin.

Few people noted the group of dwarves, one Hobbit, and a Wizard heading out of Bree and making their way West- and those that did soon forgot, save for a Ranger called Strider who remembered each of their faces as they passed and prayed that they- or the Hobbit at the very least- traveled safely and returned to these parts soon.

The journey began as a rather cheerful one, with songs and a great deal of talking. Though Thorin hardly joined the more jovial conversations he did not put a stop to them, reluctant to take away his nephews' lighthearted enjoyment while it was available. The Hobbit, he learned, could keep a tune well enough though her singing left much to be desired. Where her voice lacked, her cooking (combined with Bombur’s) excelled and even the pickiest of eaters could not deny that their meals were deliciously savory- though simple.

That was what first endeared the lass to the Company at large, for previously she had made her discontentment with regards to riding quite well known, and if her voice wasn’t saying anything about being a good walker, her slightly red nose and constant sniffling said plenty. After her first time cooking, the youngest of the Company were often found riding near her, asking questions about her beloved Shire, teasing her about her poor horsemanship and vocals, or simply enjoying the day. Just as their youth filled enjoyment was beginning to fray the edges of Thorin’s patience, with talks of orcish night raids, the rain ended all amusement that was to be had.

The deluge was expeditious in turning even the most easy-going of the Company irritated, grumpy, and no little put out with the wizard who had refused to do anything (if he could actually do anything at all) about it. Thus it was, that by the time the rather damp group reached an abandoned farmhouse, Thorin was quite out of patience and was far from willing to listen to the old coot who had consistently attempted to overtake his authority several times.

 

ooOoo

 

Billana was not at all pleased at seeing Gandalf storm off in a childish tantrum, though judging by Thorin’s grimly pleased expression it was a point of satisfaction for the dwarf, who had been arguing (quite adamantly) about their course with the wizard, for several days since their first rather unpleasant hearing of orc cries.

Fili, Kili- watch the ponies, make sure you stay with them. Bofur, Bombur- get dinner prepared. Oin, Gloin, get a fire going. Ori, Halfing- search for firewood. Bifur, Dwalin, Balin…”

Billa could feel her ears twitch in irritation at the title but silently obeyed the King, muttering under her breath in Old Hobbitish as she scoured the forest floor for dead branches. It was rather unfortunate that Billa had been so busy looking at the ground, for if she had bothered to look up and around her surroundings, the whole debacle with the trolls could have been easily avoided. Sadly it was not, and upon attempting to deliver the brothers their dinner some hours later, she somehow managed to find herself pushed towards the trolls and their awful smelling stew.

“Foolish dwarves.” She muttered, lingering in the eaves of the trees as she eyed the trolls carefully. They sounded almost as stupid as books she'd once read as a child had made them out to be, as they complained about dinner and grumbled at one another.

Listening to their grousing and complaining with one ear, Bella attempted to twice skirt around the edges of the camp to get to the ponies, only to stop each time when one of the Trolls carefully checked after their meal, clearly wary for possible escapees.

Now Supper, being the last true meal of a Hobbit’s day was quite important and to interrupt anyone’s Supper without prior notification was considered appallingly rude. As a Baggins, even if really only half Baggins, was never rude, under any circumstances, save when lives were at risk, so Billana did the only conceivable and reasonable thing and that was to clear her throat quite loudly and step into the clearing to make herself known as a guest to the trolls. 

Chapter Text

It was Kili who thundered into their temporary camp, having (quite literally) drawn the short stick, and delivered the news about the trolls and Billa. Horror filled the faces of the dwarves and before anyone else could move Balin and Dwalin, followed closely by Thorin, were racing off into the forest. With axes and arms drawn, the dwarves were ready for battle, blood, and glory; only to be forced to halt by Fili, who stopped them with large gestures and quiet pleas for silence as he gestured wildly towards the clearing, something like frightened awe filling his expression.

Frowning Thorin crouched in the underbrush and peered through the mixture of deadened leaves and branches, and were it not for all of his training as a dwarfling, he surely would have dropped his sword in absolute shock. For sitting upon a fallen tree trunk was Billana Baggins, who held in her hands a small bowl and was chatting quite amiably with the Trolls! And the things were actually listening to her! A quick glance to either side saw his shock echoed in the faces of the sons of Fundin.

“Pick up your weapons, Fili.” He growled lowly, noting the pair of twin swords that lay on the ground.

His heir flushed and quickly did as ordered, while the rest of their party finally caught up and two or three also ended up dropping their weapons in shock as they saw what was going on with their Burglar.

“Gather your weapons.” Thorin hissed, “-and spread out. Surround the clearing. Kili, get into the trees and ready your arrows. On my mark, fire while we charge them.”

The dwarves nodded and spread out, treading as lightly as they could as they spread out. Balin was the nearest on his left and Dwalin on his right. For a moment Thorin deeply wished to have his siblings by his side, but it was a vain and impossible wish, one he shook off as he watched and waited for the opportune moment to act.

 

ooOoo

 

“Now the best way to make a truly excellent stew, you’ll need a great deal more sage and rosemary. They add flavor once steeped for a few moments.”

“We ain’t needin’ more o’ grass in tha’ stew!” One of the Trolls who had identified as Bert objected.

“Yeah!” William was quick to agree, “Grass jus’ gets stuck in tha’ teeth.”

“Well, you see- if you marinate the meat you have in the broth, after skinning it of course, the grass is quite easily dissolved.” Billa lied with an easy smile, politely taking the smallest possible sip of the soup the Trolls had offered her, valiantly resisting the urge to retch as the awful liquid slid into her mouth. One of the Trolls began to heave and after the other slapped him on the back, sneezed into their joint pot.

I think I might be sick, Billana thought, as she watched the thick globs of snot fall into the cauldron. Swallowing hard she subtly poured out the contents of her bowl, as the three began arguing amongst themselves about the qualities of a good stew.

“Wha’ abou’ tha’ burra-hobbit? Why can’t we eat it?” Tom said, inhuman eyes locking on the tiny figure who watched their argument with concealed amusement. Pointed ears twitched when the bushes directly behind her rustled unnaturally and muted dwarf curses drifted in and out of hearing.

“Of course you can’t eat me, Master Tom!” Billa said, hiding away her nervousness at the closeness of the towering figure. Raising her voice, though being sure to keep it at an entirely respectful volume, she continued in a voice that sounded absolutely reasonable, “I’m certain that you remember that I told you that we burra-hobbits have worms in our tubes. It’s quite easy to get other infected once they try and kill us. That’s why Orcs and the like leave us alone see- we simply aren’t worth all the death that the worms would cause.”

Someone managed to muffle a snort and Billa barely managed to remember to not roll her eyes, while the trolls put a little distance between her and them. The three trolls renewed their argument and before she could quite recognize what was happening one of them smacked another across the face with the ladle, sending him falling onto a tree. A second cry joined the troll’s and multiple gazes turned towards Bert who managed to grab ahold of Kili before he could escape the entrapment of his fist.

“Well look wha’cha got there!” William exclaimed delightedly.

“Looks like dwarf’s on the menu!” Tom grinned, only to frown when a large roar filled the clearing and the Company swarmed into the camp.

A strong arm jerked Billa back and she yelped in terrified shock, kicking back with her foot while wriggling in the arm or her captor.

“Nough’ lass. It’s jus’ me!” Nori grunted, falling back into the protective shadows of the forest.

“Nori!” Billa gasped, relaxing even as he let her go.

“Stay here!” He hissed before turning around and joining his fellows in battle.

Billa could not help but gape up at the back of the dwarf with a mixture of indignation and shock. Of course, being a Took, Billa could never simply take orders while her allies foolishly endangered themselves and thus she lingered on the edge of the clearing and watched as one by one, the dwarves were swiped up back one of the trolls and tossed against the ground or trees. With each time they were knocked unconscious, the hobbit couldn’t help but wince until every single one of them lay limply on the ground and even her head ached from witnessing their mess.

The deepest of fears filled Billa’s soul as she watched half of her companions; heart-lode included, get stripped and tied to a spit that was lower over the crackling fire, while the remaining lot were trussed up in sacks. Near frantically she scanned the ground for something- anything to help her flower and his companions. She found it in the branches of the fallen tree. Billana’s smile was not a happy one or a grim one, but one that would send chills down the back of even the mightiest of enemies, for it was a grin that promised trouble in its deadliest and most chaotic forms. 

Chapter Text

I cannot yet tell you the whole of the encounter for it has not yet been fully related to me, but according to my information by the time Gandalf brought light to the clearing each troll was missing one eye (due to three particularly well aimed arrows), Master Tom had his clothes about his ankles (a rather nasty sight), and Masters William and Bert were attempting to wrestle one another after a series of mushrooms had caused a strange smell to leak from the cauldron. And Billa? Well she was sitting on, the now stone, Tom’s head, looking perfectly comfortable and a bit too much like her grandfather- all Tookish mischief mixed in with little remorse or sensibility.

“Ah Gandalf! You just missed breakfast!” The Hobbit-lass said cheerfully, swinging her feet in the air.

“Hobbits.” The Grey Wizard huffed, his voice one of fond irritation while as he tugged up his grey robes in order to begin clambering down to aide to dwarves from their entrapment of rather remarkable perfectly sized sacks.

Billana watched the wizard closely behind her false gaiety; the grey beard would soon know of her displeasure with him for not acting like a person his age. Certainly, Thorin was rather tiresome at times, but that certainly did not give the Grey Wanderer the right to go huffing off like a fauntling in a fit of temper. Surely even he knew that not everyone was going to listen simply because he talked! Wizards….

“Yah need help getting’ down from there lass?” A grinning Bofur called up, breaking her focus from her thoughts and drawing her attention to just how far down the ground really was.

“Ooh. I don’t quite recall that being so far up.” She murmured to herself, suddenly coming into full awareness just how floppy her legs felt and how sore her arms were from pulling Kili’s bow, which had been significantly heavier than her own dear weapon. She had quite forgot- it seemed- during the whole mess her fear of heights, which was now coming back to her with such ferocity that she very much wished, not for the first time or the last, to be back in her Hobbit home despite her parents living there as well. At the very least she would still have her feet on the ground!

“Lass?” Bofur’s voice sounded a bit more concerned and green eye unfocused from the ground directly below and refocused on the dwarf who, the back of her mind noticed, was not entirely dressed yet.

A shaky grin was his only reply as she swung both legs forward and after a silent prayer to Yavanna, slid down the stone troll, and landing hard on her rump.

“Thank you Master Bofur but as you see I am quite fine.” She said making the dwarf laugh cheerfully, before going off to help Bombur back into his clothes and find his hat. She waited until all of the dwarves weren’t looking before lying on the ground and curling her toes in the dirt, feeling the green magic spinning through the roots far below.

“Yeh’ll have ta’ get used ta heights at some point lass.” A rather familiar thief’s voice drawled above her.

Green eyes opened and Billa attempted to scowl up at the dwarf, though she was less effective than she might have desired, succeeding in only making the Master Thief laugh rather than fear for his life- which, really considering the situation not half an hour previous, is what he ought to have been doing.  

“Heights and I have not ever- nor shall we ever- get along.” She informed him, as the earth beneath her permitted her to soak up some power and reassurance from it, for Hobbits (as I am certain you are aware) possess a quiet and very secret understanding with the world, which is why they flourish and their lands yet remain hidden from the weak of heart and the dark and twisted minds of those who would take advantage of such gifts.

“Jus’ like yer folk an’ water.”

“Water and hobbits do not get along either- however water is much further down on my list of things I do not like than heights.”

“You have a list?!” The bright voice of Kili laughed as he walked over with his brother.

Billa closed her eyes and breathed very deeply calling on the last remnants of her lost patience in order to deal with the royal nephews and their uncle, whose scowl she could feel from the other side of the clearing.

“Yes, master dwarf, I do and even now it grows longer.” She replied before reluctantly getting up off the ground and following the wizard and King-Under-the-Mountain who just had to go off and find the trolls’ hiding place as if the possibility of yet another troll hiding inside didn’t exist.

And not for the first time as she followed, Billa muttered lowly and in old Hobbitish “I am going to murder Dwalin for attempting this quest.” For truly only dwarves would thinking trolls, dragons, and orcs were a good idea. 

Chapter Text

Of course being the wonderful and gloriously smart people that they were Thorin and Gandalf led the way into the Troll Horde followed closely by Nori, Gloin, and Bofur- people who up until that moment Billa had mistakenly thought had at least some degree of common sense.

“More the fool I am for that thought, of course, they are going to be reasonable. They are after all planning on only facing a dragon. Like it’s some sort of giant Lobelia that can be picked up and carted off if you put something shiny in front of her.”

It was of course rather obvious to the remaining dwarves that their Hobbit, hadn’t quite managed to recover from the Trolls, given her near hysterical mutterings. Only Balin remained close to her offering silence and occasionally patting her arm in an attempt to soothe her ruffled feathers, whilst her flower was stuck by his King on Dori's strict propriety based orders. What could have been only a few long moments passed and at last she managed to gather her wits about her and wait at the edge of the mouth of the cave with the younger dwarves who had been right to complain about the smell, while Balin slipped inside to take a look at the troll horde for himself.

At last the dwarves came out of the cave Thorin carting a new sword as he and Dwalin rumbled something to each other in Khzudul. After quickly scanning her lode for any injuries and finding none, the Hobbit lass waited patiently for the wizard to come out, all too intent on making her ire with him well known, only to be foiled when he pressed a sheathed blade into her hands.

“Here, this is about your size.”

Ignoring her Tookish urge to snip at him for his size, Billa looked closely at the elegantly shaped weapon in her hands. While she could find no flaws in her initial glance over the sheathed weapon she was certain of one thing, “I can’t take this.”

“The blade is of elvish make,” which definitely settled it, there was no way that she could ever wield anything like this, “which means it will glow blue when orcs or goblins are nearby.”

So I might be able to use it for something if I don’t stab myself in the foot with it first, Billa thought with a rueful smile before her Baggins sensibilities kicked in. Looking over her shoulder to make certain that none of the dwarves could overhear she turned back to the wizard and replied in adamant low tones, “Gandalf, I have never used a sword in my life- the few times that I trained with Rangers doesn’t count!”

“You may have to before this journey is at and end and if you do remember this- true courage is not about knowing when to take life, but when to spare it.” Gandalf’s words were grave and soft-spoken and the heavy yet all too knowing look in his blue eyes was not something Billa ever desired to see again. His gaze carried too much weight and it made the young woman feel so small in comparison. Yet before she could offer another, and perhaps more convincing argument against her being in possession of a sword that glowed, Thorin called out a warning and suddenly everyone was heading off through the trees. Drawing her blade carefully from it's sheath, Billa hurried after the Company, making doubly certain that her feet were as light as could be should she need to do something drastic.

Thankfully nothing truly drastic needed to be done when a strange man appeared on a sled screaming about fire and murder and were those rabbits?! Gandalf was quick to take the strange man aside and while the rest of the Company arranged themselves in a loose circle, Billa knelt down and offered her hand to one of the furry creatures, giggling lowly as the whiskers tickled her palm.
“What brings a little thing like you so far from home, eh?” She murmured in the Green Language, knowing that at the very least the sound would ease the nerves of the poor thing, who looked nearly frightened out of its wits. It took a bit of time but eventually the creature calmed and let her run a hand over its’ soft brown pelt. Rather abruptly an eerie sound rent the air a sound all too familiar to the young hobbit who could have sworn for a moment that instead of summer the world was cold and the crisp air was tainted by the smell of blood.   

Was that a wolf?” She asked green eyes wide as she jerked into a standing position. “A-a-are are there wolves out there?”

“Wolves,” hearing Bofur’s voice tremble sent shivers down her spine and she nervously glanced around. “No, that was not a wolf.”

Barely a breath passed before a growl and then a giant animal leapt into their midst. The fight is quick enough that Billa barely had time to blink before Thorin, Kili, and Dwalin had rid them of a pair of the fearsome creatures.

“Wargs scout,” Thorin gasped tugging his blade from the dead animal, “Which means an orc pack is not too far behind.”

“Orc Pack?!” Billana demanded, stepping forwards in a movement of mixed intent, either stomping over to the dwarf or getting ready to run as her parents and fellow Hobbits had taught her ever since she was a child. Gandalf however was bigger and more demanding and therefore drew all the attention.

“Would you mind telling me what is going on?!” Thorin growled at last, clearly tired of Gandalf’s demands.

“You are being Hunted!”

Billa closed her eyes in frustration for a moment before opening them once more and nervously looking up and around.

“We have to get out of here.” Was it just her or did Dwalin’s growl sound almost frightened as his dark gaze also turned to look around them.

“But we can’t!” Everyone turned to look up at the frightened looking Ori who delivered the news, “We have no ponies! They bolted.”

“I’ll draw them off!”

“These are Gundabag Wargs!” Gandalf cried, “they will outrun you!”

“And these are Rhosgebel Rabbits!” A strange gleam had come into the Brown Wizard’s eyes that Billa did not like, for it always meant trouble when her Took cousins got a similar look in their too wild eyes. “I’d like to see them try…”

“This had…better…be that… LAST…time I run…for my life.” Billa puffed between deep gasps for breath, running across strange grass lands while trying to push her short legs faster. The howls of wargs was too close to the howls that yet lingered in her nightmares, so though her adrenalin was aiding her stamina, it could do nothing for the fact that she was shorter than everyone else and was, as a result, falling behind. Thankfully Radagast seemed to be doing the job he volunteered for rather well and she mentally prayed that soon the pack would be far enough away that she could walk and reaffirm that it was not winter.

Not three breaths later Billana found herself pressed against a rock, Dwalin’s furred armor pressing against her face as they tried to stand still and breathe as silently as possible. She could hear the tapping of the wargs claws against the rocks and the sound of steel being drawn made her insides freeze. Blinking determinedly she forced her mind not to return to the long nights of that terrible winter and remain in the present only to nearly shout in surprise as both warg and rider fell in front of them due to two of Kili’s arrows. Once more Dwalin, Bifur, and Thorin lurched forward to try and silence the dreadful things before it could attract attention but it was too late.

The haunting mixture of howls, roars, and growls made Billa look to Balin, knowing all too well that her fear showed in her eyes.

“RUN!” Gandalf yelled and once more they were off, the pack hot on their heels. 

“We’re surrounded!!” Fili’s cry filled the hobbit with dread and with a shaking hand she drew her sword, crouching instinctively when a warg spotted her and began stalking forwards. Sounds faded into the background as the wolf-like thing moved closer and Billa shifted her weight ready to fight for her life once more.

“THIS WAY YOU FOOLS!!!” Gandalf’s voice was powerful as it stretched across the would-be battle field and with every bit of urgency she possessed Billa intended to follow its order, only to be distracted half-way by Thorin’s yelling for young Kili who was determinedly firing arrows at the approaching orcs.

With swiftness, few could rival Billa found herself pivoting and sprinting back towards the lone dwarf to stood on his own. He was her friend and no Took or Baggins would see a friend harmed if they could help it.

“Move!” She yelled when she reached his side, eyes wildly trying to keep track of the entire pack that was descending upon them, whilst a hand tugged sharply at his coat. Turning the pair of them ran towards the still yelling Thorin who had already ended two of the vile animals’ lives with his new blade. Before they could quite make it Billa let out a strangled cry as something heavy barreled into her and sent her skidding to the ground. The next thing she knew was teeth and claws and a terrible growl that frightened her too terribly for words. Blindly she struck with the little elvish blade that was, by some miracle, still within her grasp and managed to bite into the creature enough that it let out a wail and moved just enough for her to wiggle and escape from under it. Somehow she managed to stand and break out into a stumbling run towards Thorin who was looking at her in a sort of terrified way.

Sliding down the rock face she rolled when she hit the round, like the Rangers had taught her to so many years ago, and sprung up eyes wide and searching for more danger even as the gathered dwarves pressed her back against a wall, Dwalin in the front of them all with Thorin, whilst Balin stood closest to her, though the youngest of their group she also noted were against the wall, Fili and Kili pressed desperately close to one another. Panting they all seemed to wait for the Orcs and Wargs to come upon them but a strange sound, one Billa had never before heard, filled the air and the cries of Orc and Warg cries seemed to take on tones of pain and then fear as the ground rumbbled around them.

Silently Billa prayed for whatever had distracted the Pack to not come and find them and it seemed her prayers were answered when at last there was silence. For a moment to nobody moved, but at last, Dwalin pressed through the group to examine their surroundings, moving deeper into the cavern.

“I canna’ see where the pathway leads!” Dwalin’s voice was raspy as he called back over to them. “Do we follow it or no?”

“Follow it of course!” Bofur retorted before leading the rest after the Guardsman.

Billa could have sworn that Gandalf muttered something under his breath rather smugly but instead of trying to listen to him she silently touched Kili’s shoulder; the dwarf was still looking towards the entrance, his expression drawn and anxious in its aspect.

“Come.” She murmured to the dark haired dwarf when equally dark eyes turned to look at her. “We had best make certain that the rest aren’t going to get in more trouble.”

The young dwarf smiled weakly at her gentle jest before nodding and following the others. When what surely could've only been a half hour later the others suddenly halted their movements she warily peered behind the corner and stared at the sight before her.

“The valley of Imladris. In the common tongue it is known as another name…” Gandalf said, the underlying smugness lingering in his voice.

“Rivendell.” 

Chapter Text

“You think the elves will give our quest their blessing?” Thorin rasped as he glared balefully up at the wizard who looked distinctly unimpressed, “They will try to stop us.”

“Of course they will.” Gandalf it seemed was having the same thoughts as Billa, who tried, and failed, to keep her expression blank. Because the elves, unlike you stubborn lot, know that it was better to live than to be flambéed by a dragon frequently called a "Calamity" and then eaten like chips, Billa added silently watching the battle of wills that was taking place before her.

“…questions that need to be answered.”

Thorin opened his mouth for seemingly yet another protest, before he too recalled the difficulty they had in reading the map of Erebor. The King-Prince, as Billa had mentally dubbed him, looked to the ground, silently acquiescing to the wizard who continued to speak though Billa tuned him out in favor of staring at the elvish city

Billana had never been quite so pleased to see a place in her life as she was to see Imladris. When she wandered between the two guardian statues that protected the entrance into the elvish city, it felt as though she had been blanketed in safety and wrapped in peace for the first time since Bree. Even Balin, who walked directly in front of her, seemed impressed and a bit awed as he turned this way and that to look at the elegant buildings that steadily rose above them. There was a feeling here of warmth, peace, and a sense of kin that made something in her blood sing in joy- as though she had been reunited with an old friend for the first time in many long years.

I could happily spend the rest of my life here; it was a strange thought- a stray one that easily slipped in and out of her reeling mind as she leaned on her walking stick silently wearing through a rather sudden dizzy spell. Automatically green eyes looked around for her flower and smiled in relief to find that Dwalin was close to Thorin talking in low and cautious undertones, while Balin hovered behind them- close enough hear everything but far enough to be polite. The thought of being an outsider briefly crossed her mind as she watched the Company move together and she acknowledged the thought to be true. She was an outsider to them, one who had not gained much, if anything of their trust or had anything much of value to offer in order to make certain that their journey was successful. She was- and always would be- simply a hobbit.

The light and musical tones of a voice calling out made the Hobbit withdraw from her thoughts and watch closely as a comely elf wearing deep purple robes moved down the stairs and greeted Gandalf with a bow and a warm smile. Seconds later the elf was identified as Lindir and both he and Gandalf discussed something in light tones, but Billana’s attention was dragged away from the conversation by the gradually increasing vibration of the ground beneath her feet. Her ears, unable to discern the oncoming sounds above the sound of the waters coming from below, called out a warning mere seconds before the sound of a horn rent the air and a storm of horses thundered across the bridge.

“Close ranks!!” Thorin called out and the next thing Billa knew she was surrounded on all sides by dwarves as horses moved in circles around them. Honestly, she wanted to snap, is this really necessary? Is it impossible for elves and dwarves to act their age when around each other? Instead, she swallowed the rising bile in her throat that the press of bodies and endless circling of horses caused, and forced her body to remain stiff and upright., resolutely ignoring the gradually increasing dizziness or her mind.

At last the leader of the small cavalry slowed his horse and stopped, calling out warmly to the wizard with a lightness in his voice that suggested a bit too much amusement at the growling ire of the ruffled dwarves, who reminded the Hobbit-lass more of startled barnyard cats than fierce battle-hardened warriors. Suppressing a giggle Billa wondered idly why things seemed rather funny when she knew she ought to be at the very least startled and back on an adrenaline rush.

“Strange for Orcs to come so close to our borders, something or someone must have drawn them near.”

“Ah, that may have been us.” Gandalf’s voice carried not a bit of bashfulness or regret and Billa most certainly did not find that amusing. Surely a man ought to regret putting any home in danger! Adding that to her mental list of things to scold the wizard she settled on frowning at the Grey One while the rest of the Company loosened their tight circle and cautiously spread out to gaze at the Eldar Lord.

“Welcome Thorin, son of Thrain.” The noble elf stepped forward, neither bowing nor looking down upon the dwarf- for all that their heights were vastly different. The elf greeted him as one lord would another with cautious respect.

“I do not believe we have met.” The dwarf rumbled in reply, one of which Billa heartily approved. It was good to express cautious greetings after that particular elven greeting moments earlier.

“You have your grandfather’s bearing,” The elf even looked slightly pleased by the reply as he continued, “I knew Thror when he ruled Under-the-Mountain.”

“Indeed?” Did Thorin sound just a bit intrigued by that statement or was that just her addled mind hearing things? It was the later most option she decided a moment later when the dwarf opened his mouth, “He made no mention of you.”

Even Lobelia has more tact than that!! Billa mentally screamed at the exiled dwarf. Clearly, Balin has failed to teach you manners or you have been whacked on the head far too many times by Dwalin to remember them you fool of a dwarf! Oh by the green gods I sound like my mother… Disturbed by that thought Billana refocused her attention on the lordly pair and the dwarves around her.

Lord Elrond looked at the dwarf with a narrowed gaze for a moment before speaking fluidly in elvish, which of course the Company took as negatively as possible.

“Does he offer us insult?!” Gloin demanded axe rising to the challenge as everyone stepped forward in a show of dwarvish solidarity that Billa refused to be a part of. She at least was smart enough to not rage or sass a potential host, even if they had been slightly rude by speaking words in which few of the gathered party could understand.

“No master Gloin he is offering you food.” Gandalf said, an unholy gleam of amusement flashing in his eyes as he glanced at the Elf Lord.

Billa wanted to burst into giggles at how easily the group was placated and were soon tromping upstairs with a distinct eagerness in their booted steps. Instead of moving to join her fellow, rather abruptly her body felt too tired and heavy to move and she slumped against her walking stick, the last of the adrenaline wearing off and with it that last bit of hyperawareness that was keeping her going.

“Billa?” Gandalf called softly approaching the tired Hobbit with concern etched onto his face.

“A hobbit? What foolish thing have you done now Gandalf bringing one of the Little Folk so far from home?”

“I volunteered for it, unfortunately.” Billa said as she sighed wearily before deciding that it was best to sit on the cool stone ground for a moment. Great Yavanna I’m exhausted.

“Billana Baggins look at me you foolish girl.” Now that sparked her frayed temper, and she jerked her head up to glare at the wizard who was kneeling in front of her.

“I’m foolish really? Now, who is it that stomped off like a fauntling who wasn’t getting his way when he argued with a dwarf who is likely younger than he by at least a century or two? It most certainly wasn’t me Mr. Greybears, otherwise, you would have had dealt with the Trolls and I would have spent the night asleep! Not mention that you then waltzed off to go discover what was in the Troll Horde not knowing if there was another Troll inside!”

When she paused to breathe the elf lord who wasn’t even trying to hide his smile politely asked if he could examine her, saying something about blood and her head. After curtly nodding to him she returned her sharp gaze to Gandalf, “In addition to that mess, instead of walking and talking, which must be impossible for two wizards, you decided that it was a good idea to stand around and chat like Grandma Proudfoot and Old Lady Brambleberry! Then the wargs! Truly Gandalf it surprises me that you are still in business if you insist to all the companions that you travel with "run this way and that" without questioning you whether you are out of your good senses! And bringing danger so close to Rivendell, what in the Green Lady’s name gives you such a right as to barge in on someone’s safe haven, and potentially endanger the lives of who knows how many. Surely my mother informed you that a home is sacred and that none should bring danger to those living within it unless they expect to give their lives in ex-CHAAANGE!”  The last bit of her monologue was slightly louder than she had intended for rather suddenly she was being picked up and carried in the Elf Lord’s arms.

“Billa when was it that you hit your head?” Lord Elrond’s voice was soft and soothing to the nerves, or rather they would have been had she any left to spare after the last day and a half.

“I was tackled and manhandled by a warg that I managed to escape from, so that might be it. Or it might be when I slid to the ground at that hidden entrance of yours. And while I’m on that topic you, my lord, with all due respect, ought to have behaved better! Truly a lord of your standing ought not to have acted in such a way…”

After that Billa lost track of what her mouth said, though at some point after scolding the Eldar she apologized most sincerely for the dwarves, trying to assure the lord that they really meant no more harm or insult. They had simply been fatigued and had been far too nervous after such a close call with the trolls and an Orc Pack.

“Know that I am most sorry for startling you and your companions little one, now rest easy. You and your dwarves are quite safe here”

Something warm and soft was beneath her and though Billana wanted to comment that none of the dwarves were hers save one, she was too dreadfully tired to say another word save for a small blessing in Hobbitish, before closing her eyes and permitting Lórien to sweep her into his arms and carry her away into untroubled dreams.  

Chapter Text

Thorin was troubled as he settled his people upon an empty terrace, rather than taking up places in the guest rooms that had been offered to them. One by one the dwarves placed down their things and headed for the bathing chambers at their King’s order, though not without many grumblings and dark murmurs. At last, though Thorin was alone and able to ponder the past day in its entirety, though mostly his memories stray to that one moment when he had thought he would lose one of his nephews for good.

Kili had been brave, incredibly foolish and young, but with such strength of spirit that Thorin could not help the pride that welled within him at his sisterson. And yet he might not be among them this night had the Hobbit woman not rushed to his side to urge him back to his Uncle’s protection. The thought of Kili’s face, so open and expressive in life being drained and mutilated by death was one that made his insides cold and his blood freeze, and he murmured a brief prayer of thanks to Mahal for watching over his nephew before his focus returned back to his memories.

The Halfling had done what no dwarf in the Company would do save Thorin and Dwalin. And then in return, she had nearly been killed, indeed for a moment he had thought she had been when that warg had landed atop of her. The heavy pang of guilt that had lanced through his heart in that singular moment had almost been too much to bear and it was only her scrambling towards him with blood-stained clothes that had eased the blinding rage that had nearly sent him hurtling into a battle that he surely would have lost.

Only once before had he ever felt anything equal to that, but he had thought that it was because it had been his sister in danger, not because she was a woman or a mere acquaintance, but because she was someone near and dear to his heart. Now he could see just how wrong he had been all those years. Still, it did not ease the turmoil in his thoughts. He, above all others, save perhaps Balin, knew just how long Dwalin had waited for the Halfing with the copper curls. It was he who had watched how Dwalin had clung to life after Azunbazur in the hopes of one day meeting his heart-lode. And it was to him that Dwalin had confided in his joy when Billa had begun to write back, to him who Dwalin confided in his worse fears and greatest hopes. Worse, it had been He, Thorin Oakensheild, that had watched her fall and had done nothing to save her, even after having seen her pull Kili back towards the safety of his uncle and kin.


How could he be a King and protect an entire nation if he could not protect a single, frightfully brave, Halfling?


How could he be the man this Company thought- no- trusted him to be if he was powerless at a critical moment?


How could he be the man that his sistersons- “Uncle?”

Turning from his thoughts Thorin looked over to find Kili, without his armor or weapons in sight and was struck at how young his nephew seemed. Had it been that long ago that the boy had clung to his leg begging for stories? That Fili had carried his little brother everywhere he went and gave him everything he asked for, to the point that he hadn't started talking until forced to? How was it that 80 years had passed so quickly that saw such a boy clinging to in his sleep, sharing his joy and laughter with everyone, had grown to become such a fine young darrow?

“Uncle is all well?” Kili’s eyes looked over him in concern and for a moment he smiled warmly at his nephew and clasped the lad’s shoulder.

“Aye, I’m alright right lad. To the baths now, the Grey One may think that we have nothing to fear from this elves but I will not have the Company dirty and ill kempt. We are of Durin’s line and that alone must be impressed upon these elves and Gandalf.”

Kili grinned at him with a bright smile before darting off, no doubt to make a chaotic mess in the bathing chambers with all his fooling around. No doubt that Fili would help and it would be all that Dwalin and Balin could do to keep them in line…

At the thought of the Guardsman and advisor, his previous thoughts came back to mind. He had to, at the very least, track down the woman and formally apologize for his words and actions towards her. She had saved one his family without thought for herself and for that he ought to honor her. Nodding firmly to himself he made to move only wince as his armor creaked and his own smell filled his nose. Better yet, a bath first and then he would be certain to go and find the Hobbit-lass, for surely she would appreciate it quite a bit more if he didn’t smell worse than an Orc. 

Chapter Text

Dinner had already begun by the time Billa had joined the Company at the table, seating herself in the conspicuously open seat that was between Dwalin and Balin. Lord Elrond had paid her a visit an hour earlier and told her to rest as much as possible since her head had sustained some sort of injury and only brushed aside her offer of coin for the trouble and then her profuse thanks. It felt wonderful to be clean once again, especially since it gave her the chance to get her hair enough under control that she could hide the bandage beneath riotous curls and not worry the rest. It was terribly rude to cause unnecessary worry, especially at Supper, and more particularly during Supper as a guest.

The only acknowledgment of her presence was Dwalin’s hand reaching out to squeeze her own before he let go in favor of eating while Balin cheerfully asked her about where she’d been. Her response was partially a truth since she had been in the baths, just in a bath that was more private. Balin laughed and then joined Dori in attempting to coax Ori in eating ‘green food’. Billa was more than happy to eat what young Ori refused to and it was only until she was mostly full that she really began to pay attention to the conversations around her. Most of the dwarves were grumbling about the lack of meat, and she tuned them out in order to concentrate on the conversation being held at the head table. They were talking about the swords that had been gathered from the Troll Horde and curiously she looked at her own blade, which she had strapped to her side the moment she had finished getting dressed.

“I wouldn’t bother lass.” Balin said, looking towards her before flicking a glance at her elegant blade. “Swords are named for the great deeds they do in war.”

“What’re you saying? My sword hasn’t seen battle?” She asked, offended on its behalf for she had, somewhat against her will, grown fond of the little thing.

Balin looked at the table, clearly not wanting to offend his future sister, assuming all when well, but obviously doubting anything that had to do with her sole real weapon, “Well, I’m not actually sure it is a sword.” Billa looked down at the blade in her grasp in confusion and he continued, “more of a letter opener really.”

I’m going to pretend he didn’t just say that about you, she mentally informed the blade whilst sliding it back into its sheath. You and I will go a long way together and though I may wish it otherwise I should think I might need you before the end of this adventure. What little of the blade that still peered from the sheath glimmered against the deepening sun as though it agreed and Billana smiled, quite satisfied.

Such satisfaction did not last however when Gandalf asked for her company when Thorin, Balin, and Lord Elrond began walking off together after dinner. At first, she was more than willing to join them, eager as she was to explore more of the fine city.

“Our business is of no concern of elves.” Thorin rumbled once they reached a place that was filled books on one side and an open balcony on the other. The moon and lamps shed just enough light to make the place seem beautiful yet grand, familiar yet granting a distinctive unwelcoming feeling. Though perhaps it was simply her imagination since everyone around her seemed rather tense despite the Elf Lord’s continued silence.

“For goodness sake Thorin, show him the map.” Gandalf insisted

“It is the legacy of my people,” The dwarf was stoutly ignoring the wizard in favor of meeting the Elf’s gaze and keeping it there while Balin paced near him, clearly wanting to argue against the wizard, though he kept silent. “It is mine to protect as are its secrets.”

Not that you really understand what secrets you are attempting to guard. Billa mentally sniped, though she kept silent knowing that the reason she was here was not to participate but to watch and listen.

“Save me from the stubbornness of dwarves.” Gandalf breathed, “Your pride will be your downfall.  You stand here in the presence of one of the few in Middle Earth who can read that map. Show it to Lord Elrond!”

The Great Lord turned his knowing gaze towards the dwarves as though unsurprised by their attitude. He waited in perfect silence with a patient countenance and such an outward expression of that patience that Billa was almost certain that the elf lord had children, for only parents (she had learned with her young Took cousins) could truly deal with childishness in other people with pleasant expressions. Silently the blue eyed dwarf dug into his over robe and without blinking pulled out the map, brushing aside Balin’s hand when the white haired dwarf attempted to stop him.

“Erebor…” The Eldar breathed when he saw the contents of the map. “What is your…interest in this map?”

Evidently, the map had hidden runes written on a certain day with a certain cycle of the moon. Fortune was evidently with them in that the right time and moon phase was happening that very evening. In the end, the dwarves revealed their own purpose, despite Gandalf’s previous statement, upon hearing what Lord Elrond revealed about the contents of the moon runes. The elf looked wary and for a moment Billa thought she had seen a dark and terrible fear flash through his eyes before his expression cleared and he frowned at Gandalf while handing the map back to Thorin with a heavy expression.

“You are not the only guardian that stands watch over Middle Earth.” Elrond’s voice was ominous and Billa did not like what it implied even as they followed the elf back through the corridor. He escorted them as far as the hall nearest to the terrace the dwarves were using and bid them good night.

“If I am not back by first light, leave as quickly and as quietly as possible. Wait for me in the mountains. I will catch up with you there.” The Grey One murmured to them lowly before following the Noldorian elf.

“Do you think everything will be alright?” Billa asked the pair of dwarves quietly as her eyes followed the path of Gandalf’s retreating figure. For all that he was, at times, unreliable, he was still a familiar figure- one who, given the circumstances, the Hobbit felt she could trust.

“We do not need constant guidance from him.” Thorin rumbled before stalking off. Balin simply patted her back with a gentle hand.

“Go get your things lassie. Best come and sleep with us in case we have ta’ leave suddenly.”

Billa nodded and scampered off, hopes of being able to discover more of the ethereal city dashed in moments. “And I so wanted to find the library…” She huffed, as she gathered her things and the clean linens that had been set out for her sometime after her bath. After ensuring that everything was in its place and a quick slip into the kitchen (“Always follow yer nose” Old Took used to tell her.) Billa carefully traced her steps back to the company, using the place where they had dined as a reference, not that she needed it since the dwarves weren’t exactly quiet.

Everyone greeted her warmly with much excitement, evidently someone else had found the kitchen and with it the meat. Wincing as they burned broken pieces of fine elven furniture, Billa settled her things down beside Dwalin’s and smiled when he tugged her over to sit beside him, though not too closely when Gloin and Oin narrowed their eyes at him in silent judgment. With the fire going and the cheerful, though raucous, noises of the company Billa felt herself slowly relax at the familiar sight, privately glad it was not her house or dining room that suffered such atrocious manners and loudness.

She was openly laughing at Fili teasing Kili when a summer breeze caught her hair and blew it in such a way that an edge of the white of the slim bandage, which had been so wonderfully hidden before was revealed and Ori’s cry of shock drew the attention that she had been so desperately trying to avoid.

“Are yeh alright lass?!” “What happened?!” “When did it happen?!”

Too many voices all at once, each trying to drown out the others made the Hobbit-lass wince, which was evidently the cue for Dwalin to come to her aide with a frightening growl, as he tugged her into his arms.

“I’m alright. Really I’m fine.” She protested wiggling against his grip which only tightened in response. “It was just a bit of a cut is all, really, I've had worse in the kitchen.”

“Oin!” Thorin had but to call his name and the healer was handing Dwalin a strip of leather to get her hair out of the way, something the dwarf did with surprising ease, before muttering in something in Khzudul that sounded like “I give you permission.” though she wasn’t exactly certain. By this point Billana knew she had to give up and let the dwarves look her over before she would have any peace, and so, reluctantly, she stopped trying to escape and sat still.

Oin’s large hands were surprisingly gentle as he peeled away the bandage and looked at the wound. Someone hissed and another let out something that she thought was a swear word.

“What happened lad?” Oin asked, gentle fingers brushing the wound and Billa jerked to the side more out of instinct than actual pain or fear.

“I’m a woman Oin.” She reminded the dwarf, who scowled down at her until she sighed, “I got tackled by a warg when I was heading for the cave. I must’ve hit a rock or something when I fell.”

Several people, Kili and Thorin included paled, knowing exactly why she had been so far behind while Dwalin, with shaking hands, held her tightly, muttering quietly into her shoulder. Silently she placed her hand over his left arm, reminding the warrior exactly where she was. Here with him.

“Who treated yeh’?” Oin grumbled, “Stitched it up well enough.” He held out a hand and Gloin silently gave over a small case of a paste that smelled terribly dreadful.

“There is no way you are putting that awful smelling stuff onto my head and into my hair.” Billa said flatly, “Not after I just washed several weeks’ worth of dirt and grime, troll snot and warg drool out of it.”

“Now lass this is no time ta’ be picky.” Balin said soothingly.

Green eyes flattened into such a deadly and cold look that some of the dwarves could have sworn that Durin the Deathless himself was within that gaze. “This is not pickiness. This is my body and therefore mine to rule. I can assure you that Lord Elrond attended to me personally and informed me before Supper that it would heal and leave not even a hint of a scar. Should you wish to check, please do, however, I will not have that stuff in my newly washed hair for at least three days. After that, if I haven’t bathed, then you made do as you please to heal the scratch but until then my answer is no. Cross me and you will know exactly why it is that Hobbit women are the true leaders of the Shire.”

Steely eyes trained on each and every dwarf, save Dwalin, waiting until they looked away before moving on to the next. Oin put away the poultice and re-wrapped the bandage before settling back in his former spot. The rest hovered for a bit longer but after recalling what she had done to the trolls, soon everything was seemingly back to normal, though if it was a little quieter Billa certainly didn’t call them out on it.

Chapter Text

The sun had yet to touch the horizon when Fili was given the job of awakening the Hobbit-lass, who had fallen asleep long before the rest of the company the previous evening. Dwalin was not all that pleased but then he rarely ever was, the young dwarf had learned when it came to anyone else and his lode. Keeping a casual air about him, Fili gently shook the wee woman awake and handed her breakfast. Billana’s blearily ‘good morning’, mixed with her wild curls, and sleepy eyes made the fair-haired dwarf smile as he moved to take his seat back beside his brother.

It was with private amusement that he saw Dwalin, a moment later move to sit behind the woman and murmur lowly in her ear before turning and wrestling with something inside his pack. It was too sweet for words at how gentle his former teacher was with the wee being and what happened next made him choke up and feel oddly uncomfortable. For as the sun’s early light began to skim across the horizon Dwalin withdrew a pale comb from his belongings and began to gently brush and braid Billa’s hair.

It was such a quiet and peaceful moment that Fili could almost swear they were someplace safe, in a home far off to the east, and they were at last, at complete peace. Faint sounds of tinkering men, hammers against rock, bells tolling in the depths of mines, that became his background and for a moment he could have sworn he saw an aged Billa, copper curls turned silver and lines of laughter in her face sitting just so with Dwalin sitting behind her and running that same comb through her hair. It was an image that would remain with the dwarf as they left that peace behind them barely an hour later giving themselves up to the wild once more.

“Do you think we’ll ever be like that?” Kili puffed beside him and Ori sometime before they reached the mountains.

“Like what?” Ori had returned, knowing that his brother could be ready to make either an undoubtedly wise comment or a terribly stupid one.

“Like Billa and Dwalin. Do you think that we and our Lodes could be like them?” The question was voiced with curiosity, but Fili knew his brother better than that and could detect that faint hint of uncertainty.

“No.” Fili said knowing that he needed to be honest with his brother. “We are dwarves and so are our lodes. No matter where we go amongst our kin we will be respected if only for our incredible good looks- if you could grow an actual beard.”

The teasing that followed was usual and light-hearted, but as things always did with the three of them, their words circled back around to the original topic.

“They will always have to fight. The big things and the small things, they will have to fight. She will always be an outsider according to our kin and he will never be accepted into her peoples' society.” Fili tried to be gentle with his words, but there was something his brother needed to understand. “This journey will either rip them apart or leave them so strong that not even death will part them. We will not have that same bond. Sure maybe one day we will reach that point where it will be something like their's, but it will take more time.”

“But Dwalin-“

“Waited for over a hundred years, saw friends, kinsmen, and shield brothers die, guarded our people even when badly injured, and helped created a home in the Blue Mountains far from his place of birth. He waited not knowing if she would be born into this world while he yet lived.” Ori said quietly, knowing that the other dwarves ought not to overhear them, for such personal discussions were supposed to be held within the safety on one's home, not out in the middle of the world on a journey to reclaim a homeland. “Billa learned her parents were hiding him from her and only in the past ten years have they actually been able to contact and connect with one another.”

The Durin brothers looked at their friend in awe at the information and the knitter ducked his head to hide his flushed face. “Anyways I don’t think anyone could have the sort of bond that they do.”

He nodded over to the warrior who, though he stood by Thorin, was carefully keeping an eye on the woman, prepared to help but willing to let her be unless she asked for it or needed it. “Their bond is… painful, because either way no matter what happens at least one of them will have to lose something and cause pain to those around them. I wouldn’t want a bond like that, no matter how beautiful it is to see from the outside.”

Kili nodded, brows furrowed in thought as he watched Billa reached out and silently grab Dwalin’s hand as he helped her up a cliff face before letting go. They were getting close to the mountains now and the skies were darkening slowly.

“Still having romantic thoughts brother?” Fili asked once they had made camp for the night and lay, as always, close enough to one another to share their thoughts in low whispers.

“No….Fili..?”

“Yeah?”

“When we find our lodes can you promise me something?”

“Anything.”

“Promise we’ll still be brothers.”

“Kili where do you get these crazy ideas that I’m going to give you up just because of a bunch of letters say I ought to be with someone? We aren’t Mom or Dwalin or even Balin. We make our own choice and I promise you- that no matter what, no matter the distance, who you love, or anything- you are my brother in all ways.” Fili’s voice was low and fierce as he reached out and grasped Kili’s hand. “We will fight together, live together, and when the time comes, we'll know that our last moments on this Earth will be together.”

Kili looked at his brother with eyes too solemn and too dark for a moment before he nodded and closed his eyes to rest.

“…Kili…?”

“hmmm?”

“Goodnight.”

“Night.”

o0o

Morning came and Kili, who had shared the last watch with Billa, began to wake the others while the hobbit began to prepare a brief breakfast for the Company before Uncle Thorin called for them to move out. With knowing eyes Kili watched as his Uncle watched the Company, judging just how far he could push his people today. Not only that, but Kili knew what else his Uncle was searching for as he peered at the hobbit who ducked her head whenever he happened to look her way. As of late, the dark haired dwarf had begun to critique every little thing the small woman had done.

Having been around the Durin heir long enough most of the dwarves understood exactly what it meant as he seemingly picked on the Hobbit. Knowing it was a sign of Thorin caring whether or not she lived, no one really paid attention to the fact that Billa was taking each harsh comment as one would a whip. Kili though knew, he knew what it was like not understanding the sudden verbal barbs not understanding that he was toughening up the outer armor and preparing her in one of the few ways he knew how. It was the same thing that Thorin’s father had done to him and his grandfather before him. It had taken Kili many years and a great number of tears to realize that Thorin strengthened him, made him almost immune to the words of other dwarves around him, even when they said the worst things they could.

So Kili did what his brother had done with him, he tried to reassure the little woman, tried to keep her spirits up, even as they sank lower as the sky darkened and they began to climb. Uncle should really know better though, the dwarf thought, than to watch over the Hobbit the way that he did. Then the thunder began and Kili shuddered.

“Don’t worry lad, it can’t get any worse than this!” Bofur cheerily clapped him on the back. At that moment the near black clouds coalesced together in and swirl of wind, before proceeding to open up their insides and unleashing a cold, driving rain upon them.

"You just had to say something didn't you?"

Chapter Text

Billana curled tightly underneath her cloak, soaked and completely exhausted from the day. Thorin had not been kind this day, especially not after her near tumble off the mountain. His gruff, almost scolding, words had been rough and made the hobbit wish she had never left her warm hobbit-hole. How she longed for the fell of sweet earth beneath her feet rather than this dratted stone that was far too cold and harsh! Had young Billa been any less stubborn and less determined to show Thorin that she was more than good enough to see this quest through, she just might have given up right then and attempted to sneak past the dozing Bofur. Leave the dwarves before they could drag her any closer to her death, but no- her honor and her own mind refused outright to abandon people who needed her or her flower. I am no oath breaker, I am no oath breaker, over and over she repeated this thought, letting the pain of the day drain from her like the drops water dripping from her clothes. She was Billana Took-Baggins, she was strong, determined, and more than capable of surviving without the approval of some dwarf- Prince/King though he may be.

The low rumble of her flower made the woman peer out from beneath wetly knotted and bedraggled hair, spotting him looking cross as he muttered to Thorin. Her brain was simply too tired to attempt to understand their low conversation, taking this moment to instead to peer at the two warriors. They weren’t a lovely picture by any means, far too dirty and the background far to dank and dull, but there was something about their expressions, their leaning towards one another that seemed…special. It took a moment longer for her weary mind to come up with the words she had seen in her stories. Blood bothers. Warriors, who had trained, fought, and spilled blood together. Such a thing, her stories said, bound men together in a bond of trust so deep that only the rendering of souls would destroy. If seemed to the very tired Hobbit, that together they were the rock and stone of the Company, Thorin providing the strength of will as Dwalin provided the strength of arms. The others too, ad such similarities in their essence, each one…precious…unique... and necessary for the coming days. Her thoughts were beginning to move slower as she blurrily tried to find the appropriate dwarf-like symbol for her companions…. Perhaps she should have instead compared them to stones…but what did she know of stones?

Billana woke to the feeling of falling and groaned as she landed roughly on something hard, only to begin screaming as the world around her tumbled and rolled about in a most frightful fashion. Even as she was wishing this horrid moment to end the solidness beneath her disappeared, leaving only open air. Her already piercing scream heightened in pitch for seconds before the wind was crushed out of her as her body slammed into wood. Billa had only a few seconds to attempt to gather both wits and some semblance of breathing before a soft cry was wrenched from her as something heavy landed on one of her legs and her ankle twisted rather painfully.

In the next moment of confusion as everyone above and around her grunted and gasped, Billa had the misfortune to look up and see a veritable sea of goblins coming their way, their screeching growing as they reached the Company and began ruthlessly, not taking the least bit care with their claws, grabbing the dwarves and single Hobbit from whatever they had landed on and hurling them off. The dwarves fought wildly, foregoing their weapons in order to punch, toss, and resist the inevitable pulling and pushing of the goblins. Billa could have sworn she heard her name bellowed, but with all the screaming and confusion her ears could barely pick up anything beyond the cries nearest to her. Hearting beating quickly, she barely realized that they were being herded- like Farmer Maggot’s livestock- before a pair of goblins finally managed to grasp her arms and pulled her along. Green eyes wide the hobbit lass valiantly attempted to focus on something beyond the horde of goblins, though all she really caught was a glimpse of twisting ropes, wooden pathways hanging between cavern walls, and roughly hewn pathways on the rock face, before she was dragged through a pathway that led into a cavern that made her hobbit heart sink in despair. For here all senses were assaulted by the multitude of smoke, rotten meat, and goblins. There were so many that surely there would be no escape from this even if they had all the power of Orthanc at their call!

Stumbling and wincing as her ankle protested the rough treatment; the pushing was lessening as they approached a large structure that appeared to a throne, upon which sat a creature like Billana had never before seen. It surely could not have been a goblin on its own as it was far larger than any other goblin, both in size and girth. The ringing in her ears grew gradually worse as the racket around her grew ever louder and then with growing horror she realized that the large goblin was not simply roaring but belting out some wretched tune- nothing like that could dare be called a song!- about something called Goblin Town. The exceedingly large the goblin leered down at them once he retook his chair, which Billa realized was supposed to be a throne of some sort. He spoke in a rattling voice, one that sent shudders running down the Hobbit’s spine.

"That’s not a song- that’s an abomination!” It was Balin’s voice that brought her out of the mild panic of the thoughts that riddled through her mind, as the dwarves around her agreed quite vehemently with the advisor’s words. That’s going to go over well, she thought darkly. Sure enough the dwarves protests turned into grunts of struggling as the goblins lashed out in vengence. Billa ducked a large clawed hand, only to squeak in surprise when her body was pushed towards the familiar pair of backs belonging to Fili and Kili, who were glaring venomously at every goblin around them. A part of the lass’s mind found herself surprised at the boys’ expressions for never once had she seen this more deadly side to them, ever had they been sweet and kind to her, especially Kili who had cheered her day with smiles and laughter. Behind her, Bombur and Oin closed ranks; also glaring fiercely as they shielded her from clawing hands and beady eyes, as her attention was drawn away from those nearest to her by a series of hacking coughs that emanated from the bulbous figure who sat on a groaning throne.

Upon the laying down of their weapons, the figure leapt out of his chair (Billa was quite surprised at his evident spryness), ignoring the squeals of the goblins he stepped on as he rapidly approached the assembled group.


“Who would be so bold as to come armed into my kingdom? Spies? Thieves? Assassins?!” The Goblin King, for that, must be what the circle of sharpened bones atop his head meant, roared, his voice gradually getting higher in either alarm or for unnecessary theatrics.

“Dwarves your malevolence.” The rat like goblin that stood at the head of the party replied.

“Dwarves?!” The Goblin King sounded rather shocked at this, and Billana idly wondered whether or not the substantial thing could see beyond its manly stretched chins.

“Found them on the front porch.” The same goblin returned, as a few other chittered around them in evident glee.

“Well don’t just stand there! Search them! “Every crack! Every crevice!”” At this order, the horde descended upon them again and Billa was tugged and pulled at until her only weapon was broken from her side. The goblin that held her little blade shoved her back as the hobbit cried out and reached to take back what had become hers in the passing days. She had not even given it a name! Not even Nori’s pile of elven "keepsakes’ could ease the welling of emotion that filled the hobbit’s breast, emotions of helpless anger and despair.

“What’re you doing in these parts? Speak!” The Goblin King demanded, his voice irritating the Hobbit’s already ringing ears. A thin trickle of blood slipped down her cheek and Billa quickly rubbed it away with the stained sleeve of her dinner jacket- every Hobbit knew the effect of blood on goblins. It was food to them, sustenance of which they drank and bathed in, and if ever one bled in front of a goblin it was said death would come painfully. Around her the dwarves were silent, all of them glowering and scowling up at the Goblin King in joint refusal to say a word to their enemy.

“Very well, if they will not talk we’ll make them squawk. Bring up the Mangler, Bring up the Bone Breaker! Start with the youngest!”

One thick finger pointed towards Ori and Billa yelled out a protest and pushed against those who sought to shield her from goblin sight, while at the same time the dwarves too struggled once more, this time in an effort to protect their kinsman and companion.

“Wait!” Thorin’s voice, at its most powerful and commanding, his voice was enough to draw the attention of an entire army, and in this cavern it projected well, capturing the attention of all who gathered. Silence descended as he shrugged off the goblins that’d grasped his shoulders and strode to stand in front of his Company. Even in the depths, literally, of the enemy's territory, he would give no quarter, stand his ground, and fill the very air with his authority. Green eyes, the color of warm summer leaves, watched his back, and it was at that very moment Billana saw a King. A King who would command armies, wealth, and power- if they lived through this and the dragon, the hobbit reminded the daydreaming part of her brain, forcing reality to overcome a possible future.

Oh please, oh please, don’t say anything stupid, Billa silently pleaded, knowing that they would need some sort of miracle to get out of here in one piece. Oh where that is blasted wizard when you need him?!

“Well, well, well. Look who it is. Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King-Under-the-Mountain.” The Goblin King’s bow was so clearly mocking that even Billa began to ignore her fear in favor of scowling at the rudeness of this goblin. Did people just not know manners in these parts?! Her scowl turned into a hardened glare when the Goblin King grinned and added, “Oh! But I’m forgetting you don’t have a mountain! And you’re not a king, which makes you... nobody really.”

He seemed to chuckle lowly for a moment as a sneer filled with dark intent spread over his mouth and his overextended chins waggled for a moment as he stood as tall as his overly weighty body would allow, “I know someone who would pay a pretty price for your head. Just a head. Nothing attached.”

The Goblin King outright chuckled and the goblins loyally followed in his verbal steps, though perhaps a few did so out of joy at the thought of how soon the dwarf king’s blood would spilling over the wood beneath their clawed toes. Seconds of laughter felt like minutes as Billa tried to keep up with the conversation, figure out something- anything- that might help her dwarves, and fight down her growing panic and fear. She was a Baggins and a Took, surely there was something!

The Goblin King continued on, voice idle while his dark eyes leered down at the small being who glared so defiantly back at him. “Perhaps you know of whom I speak. An old enemy of yours… A pale orc, astride a white warg.”

The other dwarves stiffened and stepped closer to their leader, in a move of silent and defiant display of solidarity and support.

“Azog the Defiler was destroyed. He was slain in battle long ago!” Billana hadn’t thought that the dwarves could stiffen even more, but now she could have sworn that they had all turned to stone as memory asserted its dominance. Thorin’s voice trembled from memory that was long steeped in hatred, anger, and sorrow and his already dark glare grew even worse.

“So you think that his Defiling days are done, do you?” Grinning darkly the Goblin King turned his massive bulk away from his captives, in an assertion of his position or power, in order to address a small goblin-like lump that Billa had only just barely managed to identify as living.

 

"Send word to the Pale Orc. Tell him that I have found his prize.” 

Chapter Text

The Goblin King was singing again, his horrid voice dreadfully off key and filled with unholy glee as his goblins brought up devices that made Billa’s blood turn cold. Around her, the dwarves pressed ever tighter together, faces full of scowls and glares, even as hands grasped at relations and friends. Fili and Kili were the only ones whose hands did not touch, but they stood shoulder to shoulder, pressed so close that they could have been mistaken as one dwarf from a distance were it not for their different coloring. Billa could feel herself shuddering and not even Balin’s warm hand on the small of her back, or Dwalin’s low growl near her ear could bring reassurance. The goblins around them pushed and shoved, ready to grasp the first dwarf of the King’s choosing. Suddenly, a great wail came from the goblins and more than a few fled from the front of the group, as their King stumbled back, eye rolling with fear.

“I know that sword!” A grubby finger pointed towards a blade, Thorin’s Orcrist, the Hobbit realized, as she shifted to peer over the Durin sons’ shoulders. “It is the Goblin Cleaver!!”

The goblins shrieked, hissed and spat, and even more fled from the wooden platform in wild terror, all too eager to get away from the blade that had slaughtered thousands of their kind in the past. In their fear, some began hitting and lashing out at the Company with short whips and Billa flinched away from the sharp cracking sounds as the Goblin King continued on about the blade, scrambling to get as far away from it as possible.

“Slash them! Kill them! Kill them all!!”
The goblins were more than eager to follow the orders of their king and before Billana knew it her dwarves were being pushed and tackled to the ground, one by one each fell beneath two or three of the creatures as they gnashed their fangs, biting arms, and tearing at legs with clawed hands. Behind her Bombur fell onto his back while Dwalin struggled, throwing one goblin after another even as he was pushed back and away from his lode. In the last brief moment where Billa met his eyes, she saw a flash of fear as he looked at her before she screamed as a heavy, nasty smelling body slammed into her from behind.

Above the din and her attempts to keep teeth from sinking into her neck, the frightened little Hobbit heard the Goblin King order, “Cut off his head!”, and without knowing it she called out the dwarf’s name, her voice high in protest for surely this could not be the end. Lashing out with large feet she slammed them into the goblin, forcing the beast off her. Crouching she spotted where the royal dwarf was pinned to the ground, a ragged knife about to descend upon him, and with hardly a thought Billa lunged, grabbing her brightly glowing sword from the ground as she fought to get to the dwarf on time. In the same moment, her sword unintentionally sliced into the goblin about to kill Thorin, a strong blast pulsed through the air, sending the pair tumbling off the edge of the platform.
As one Billa and the goblin screamed, only to know no more when her back slammed into rock followed quickly by her head.

A game of riddles with a strange creature later, Billa was once again running for her life, bravely ignoring the twinging protests of her ankle, in favor of navigating dark and dank pathways of the mountain's depths. One day I will laugh about this, Billana wildly thought as she raced through dark tunnels to get away from the crazy thing that chased after her. One day this will be nothing more than a memory and I will laugh at it and regale my children and- The thought was cut off before it could finish as she slammed herself into the small crevice, trying to force her greatly thinned body through the opening that was beginning to look like it had been made for vastly emaciated hobbits only.

The thing- Gollum- hacked out another eerie scream of her family name and Billa scrabbled against the stone, begging Mahal with gasping breaths to please help, for surely if he was looking after the children of Durin he would be looking after her too for the time she was a part of the Company. Gollum’s screams of ‘thief’ and ‘Baggins’ were growing steadily louder and recalling the large eyes filled with malicious intent, she grunted, forcing either the wall or her body to give way in her increasingly desperate attempts to get away.

At last, something gave and the buttons on her coat glinted in the dim light as she fell onto the ground. The Ring too danced into the air and, by some miracle, as she reached up to catch it, it slipped onto her finger. Barely a moment later Gollum pounced through the same hole, large eyes searching as he snarled and screeched for his ‘Precious’. For a moment Billa thought herself doomed when the creature looked right at her but found it very odd when he took off down the path, his wretched screeching taking on notes of desperation and hysteria....it was almost as if it -he- hadn't seen her at all...

She glanced down at the golden glow, surely it couldn’t be… How odd…How enthralling… Billa could feel the Took in her well up in excitement, but the Baggins blood in her seemed for a moment to shudder in revulsion as she began to notice how hazy the world around her had become. Was it The Ring or had she really rattled her head that badly on the way down?

Unconsciously she reached up to touch her head where, what had once been a cut, now seemed to be far larger and much worse now- if the trail of blood was any indicator. By all that was good and green in this world, Oin would surely slather her hair in that awful smelling poultice once he saw her! An all too familiar cry that would surely haunt her dreams in the coming days rent the air and drew her attention away from the glowing Ring and her self-examination. Gather your wits Baggins; she thought shaking her head, now is not the time to be dawdling off in your thoughts!

Clutching her elven blade tightly the hobbit hobbled forwards, carefully following the Gollum’s cries, until a dim glow began to grow brighter. It took a moment for the copper haired woman to recognize the familiar glow, but her little heart soared at the familiar sight. Lurching forward she headed for the familiarity of the warm glow that all of Yavanna’s children thrived off of; easily passing the creature and paying him no more heed. And by the time the darkness was completely gone she was sprinting, toes curling joyfully in the dry dirt as her button nose eagerly inhaled the scent of pine trees and the scent of a world on the cusp of the arrival of autumn- chasing away the stench of goblins and blood.

The Ring was nothing but a hindrance now and she was quick to remove it, as Billana wanted nothing more than to rejoice in the feel of the earthen magic beneath her being and the smell of nature, and yet nonetheless she was careful to ensure that it was tucked safely away in her pocket, before her mind wandered too far upon the joyous reunion of Hobbit, sun, and earth. It was in the process of her feeling the rough bark of a tree she was hugging in all too vivid relief that her thoughts jolted from the Green Song and turned back to the Company- and in particular her dwarf, her flower.  Fear speared through the core of her being and a hand quickly reached up to press against her ear, the location of her flower, praying to still feel the slightly raised skin of Dwalin's true name and the decorations around it, even as her hurting feet turned and hurtled her back toward the mountain entrance.

The feel of her flower was only barely reassuring, and the Hobbit slipped on The Ring without a thought, before unsheathing her elven blade as she pressed on back towards the darkness of the Goblin caves. She would leave none of those dwarves behind. But just as she was about to step back into the caves, her heart still craving for the sun’s touch, she heard a terrible roaring scream. One that sounded far too dwarvish and too frightening to contemplate- and once again her feet raced ahead of her mind, turning and taking her back into the light and towards the direction of her Company, hoping that they all yet breathed. 

Chapter Text

The air could barely pass into her lungs as she ran, slamming into a tree not far from where the Company gathered, their faces drawn and pale as they all watched the figure that sat heavily on the ground leaning against a tree as though it might be able to shoulder all his burdens. Balin crouched by the figure, a hand on his shoulder as great sounds of pain fled from the other’s lips.

“Where is our Hobbit?!” Gandalf demanded.

“Gone.” Thorin rasped, voice wretchedly hoarse, as though he'd been yelling and screaming for hours. “She fell.”

Billana had never seen such a tall Man droop and shrink in on himself before, as though despair itself had become a cloak far too heavy a burden to bear standing. Bright knowledgeable eyes dimmed and he leaned so heavily on his staff that Billa feared it might break underneath his weight. But she did not truly care much for the wizard at the moment, not when her flower was so lost in his pain and belief that she was forever gone. Later, when it came to mind, the woman would scold the warrior for not checking his arm as any responsible dwarf would, but now the only thing that came to mind was that her flower was in pain and she had the means of fixing it.

“Wait!!!” She called, remembering at the last moment to take off the ring and shove it into her pocket, as she sprinted down the hill, only to trip over a ledge and roll into the company. She lay on the ground gasping, not having quite realized that her ribs had hurt so much before. Had they been broken? She did not have much time to ponder the state of her ribs and their status when warm arms and exclamations surrounded her, pulling her to her feet and crushing her in hugs that felt both awful and lovely at the same time.

“Billana Baggins. I have never been so glad to see anyone in my life” Gandalf breathed patting blood matted curls, the only place available amidst the arms around her. As none of these dwarves hugging her were her lode, Billa, of course, had very little patience, no matter how happy everyone was to see her, and after a few expressions of “yes, yes quite happy, quite glad.” She was more than willing to urge them to get off.

“Dwalin?” She murmured, approaching the still sitting dwarf- one of the only one who had not looked up when she had announced her return via slamming into the ground. Sparring a concerned glance with Balin, Billa knelt down and placed a small hand on a knee. The other dwarf moaned shaking his head, murmuring in a language that she could only vaguely identify as a type of kuzdul.

“Dearheart, please. Look at me.” She begged, pushing past his knee and touching the back of his armed hand. Eyes so pain-filled and broken that Billa did not think she could bear to ever see such again, looked up and for a long moment didn’t recognize what was before them. Slowly though they widened and not even Dori with his strict sense of propriety, wouldn't so much as dream of scolding the Darrow who pulled her into his arms, murmuring brokenly and sobbing his in relief into Billa’s curls. Billa wrapped her own arms around him, clutching him equally tight and relishing being in his arms once more. Unfortunately, and as many of you have likely heard from other tales, the pair of soulmates did not have long before their reunion was destroyed by the howls of wargs.

“Out of the frying pan.” Thorin grumbled, his voice laced with irate darkness and full of resigned determination.

“And into the fire. RUN!!!” Gandalf shouted and the dwarves and their sole hobbit, exhausted as they were, began to run for their lives once more.

Dwalin seemed determined to never let her go again and dragged her beside him as they ran, Balin following just on her heels, equally as determined as his brother to ensure that limited harm came to her. Were her lungs not feeling as though they were on fire from the inside out, Billa would have once again been protesting against running for her life for what felt like the hundredth time since her journey began. Instead, it was all she could do to keep running and consciously remind herself that breathing was a necessary part of living and therefore it was quite important that she continued to do so. Unfortunately, the setting sun slowed them all down as it limited the Company’s ability to see and warg pack and their riders were soon on their heels.

One jumped clear over the three of them and snarled before charging. Balin and Dwalin, caught off guard as they were reached for their weapons, but it was Billa who got there first. The warg slammed into the party and its mouth caught on the little elvish blade, slamming the point up and into the soft parts of the warg’s head. The large beast fell before them much to the astonishment of the entire party, but Balin and Dwalin- being the seasoned warriors that they were- easily pushed back the surprise and continued running, Dwalin grasping Billa’s hand tightly, whilst Balin pulled her sword from the body and followed, this time more alert to all that was going on around him.

“Up into the tress climb! Climb!” Gandalf shouted. The howls were growing closer and closer, making Billa’s run cold and a feeling of winter curl over her skin. A shriek left her as Dwalin grasped her by the waist and tossed her upwards where her Fili and Kili grabbed her and pulled her up above them.

“There will be words for this.” Billa wheezed venomously, “Tossing me into a tree - rude.”

The brothers below her shared a glance and grinned at the wrath their instructor would find himself facing once they survived this whole ordeal. Too soon all the dwarves were trapped in the trees and surrounded, the wargs below them scraping and snarling up at their prey. Suddenly though they quieted and Billa gasped in fright filled awe as a white warg stepped into the moonlight and on top of it was a huge orc. Pale as the warg itself and missing an arm the orc grinned at the sight before him, a mace clenched tight in his only flesh hand. Of all the astonished faces around her Thorin’s was by far the worst, pale and filled with disbelief the dwarf rasped out something that Billa recognized as a name, “Azog!!

The orc snarled something out in the Black Speech and Billa whimpered at the sheer blood thirstiness that filled the orc's voice and expression. She pressed back against her tree, murmuring Green songs under her breath to strengthen the tree while around her the Company began to glare at the opponent before them. One who was supposed to be dead. The orc said something more before swinging his mace around and pointing it towards them. The wargs charged and slammed into the trees. They began to jump, clawing and biting as they growled and snarled, shattering tree limbs and more than once, barely missing the Company members. Mountain trees, though strong and durable in their own ways, were not meant for the weight of wargs and dwarves, and the tree Billa was in began to tip ominously and fall.

“JUMP!!” Someone cried and jump she most certainly did, for no one desires to be a warg’s dinner or supper. The warg pack seemed to very quickly figure out how to break the trees in order to get the feast granted to them by the Pale Orc, some continuing to throw their weight against each tree while others clawed and tore at the roots. Twice more she jumped from tree to tree, until Billa found herself and the remainder of the Company stuck on the furthest tree that just barely clung to the surface of the mountain. Behind them was an expanse of open air leading to a great drop that Billa was almost certain that none of them could ever survive. And more urgently than she'd ever had reason to before, she chanted the Green Song, urging the tree's roots to dig deep into the ground and hold, while it's bark tried to regrow the damage done to it. Between one blink and then next, Billa suddenly realized that there was fire and the wargs were running away!!! Grabbing a flaming pinecone she too began to throw them at their adversaries, cheering as she set one warg's face aflame and forced it to run away.

“Seems you’re a wizard after all Gandalf!!” Billa cheered as they drove away the orcs and their wargs away with more flaming projectiles. Just as hope rose in her breast that they would make it out alive, their tree began to lose what limited grasp it had on the mountain surface, unable to support the weight of its own injuries and the weight of fourteen people in spite of the Green Speech the hobbit hs used. Billa thought she glimpsed Ori fall, but could barely see past the smoke and her own fear as she scrambled to find a hand and foothold on the tree. Still as long as they managed to hold on surely there was hope that they were safe for a little while longer.

Occupied with her thoughts and prayers to the Green Goddess as she was, the hobbit lass almost missed the movement of a dwarf with long dark locks standing and moving down the tree without thought for any but the orc that sat astride the white warg. Even Billana Baggins knew that an orc on a warg would be too much of a match for the dwarf king. And true enough when they charged the pair sent the rage blinded dwarf slamming into the ground with ease. Around her the other dwarves fought to do as their kindred and leader had done, but with limited success.

Something in Billana’s heart, irritation at the stupidity of the dwarf king, dismay- for it couldn’t end like this- and justified anger at the unfairness of the fight before them, swelled and with it, she unconsciously managed to stand and draw her own weapon. Cries for Thorin weighed in her ears, missing the voices that called out her own as she charged. She would not let the arrogant, pompous, ass of a prince turned king die like this! Not laying down unable to fight for himself nor would she permit Azog to let some other orc take the dwarf king’s head.

She ran and leapt, slamming into the orc that was about to destroy the Company’s leader. On the ground, she straddled the orc and slammed her blade into its neck. Pulling it out she stumbled back to stand in front of the stupid dwarf, blade ready. Bright green eyes met pale blue and glared. The giant that was the pale orc grinned evilly in response and rasped something in his foul language. Billa closed her eyes briefly in silent apology to her lode and family, before preparing to defend the dwarf king with her life.

“Baruk Khazâd!” And suddenly Dwalin, Fili, and Kili were standing there in front of her slaying orcs and wargs alike. Two slipped past the three warriors and Billa, encouraged by the odds, charged; blinding one warg, blocking a sword swing, and spinning to send the full edge of her little blade against the long face of the white warg who snarled and tossed her back with an easy flick of its head. Rolling on the ground, Billa slammed on the stone that Thorin lay against and glared fiercely at the Orc who stalked closer.

“You will not have him!” She snarled, “You will not! I absolutely forbid it you loathsome, foul, spite filled creature!!”

The orc snarled at her but before the Defiler could stalk closer and finish her off a great cry pierced the air and the largest bird Billana had ever seen swooped down and grabbed four orcs and two wargs in its claws and tossed them over the mountain. It was not just the one, but an entire flock, who fanned the flames with their great wings, slaughtered orcs with their beaks, and slammed their talon into the flanks of any warg that was stupid enough to challenge them. Amidst their shrieks and the flight paths of the other Great Eagles, one cut through the air and hovered long enough to grab Thorin in its talons and carry him off. Another swooped down, grabbing the Fili and Kili, another grabbing Dwalin. A rescue!! The Great Eagles of Manwe were here to rescue the Company!! Billa’s face spilt into a grin of relief, only to quickly slip away as one bore down at her.

“Oh no. nononono! No-AHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!” The talons let her go and permitted her to begin falling into the open air, and Billana Baggins was not all ashamed to scream like a child. A scream which was then cut off as she landed upon a feather back just behind her heart-lode. And behind them, even above the noise of the great eagles and the fire, Billa could hear the rage of the Pale Orc.

For now they were safe.

They flew through on through the night, skimming the peaks of many mountains and soaring over many a peaceful valley. None of the Company slept, save perhaps Gandalf, all to a one far more worried over their King and the fear of falling off. At last the Great Eagles began to fly lower to the ground and gradually began to circle around a ledge that Gandalf would come to call the Carrock. It was atop this Carrock, that each of the Company disembarked their respective Eagle and waited for the rest of their fellows to join them.

Thorin was the first to be set down and Gandalf the second, the latter of the two hurrying over to the former in order to check over the still unconscious dwarf. Durin blue eyes slowly opened, and in a hoarse whisper he asked, “The Halfling?”

“It’s alright. Billa is here and quite safe.” Gandalf replied, standing tall once more. Thorin weakly turned, obviously attempting to stand and Kili and Dwalin grabbed his arms and assisted him up. Billa could but watch in relief, silently thanking Mahal and Yavanna for the life of the stupid king under the mountain. What she did not quite expect was Thorin to shake the pair of dwarves off and proceed to yell at her and the blood-stained, adrenaline filled Billana Baggins snapped.

“Yes! Oakensheild you did make that all quite clear to me, but just because your stup-” but before she could get into the swing of what was bound to be a very solid tongue lashing that would make even Lobelia Bracegridle proud to stand beside her, she found herself cut off by being wrapped in the bloody and injured arms of one Thorin Oakensheild.

I have never been so wrong in my life.” Pulling away he looked her up and down as though to scan for injuries, “I am sorry I doubted you.”

In another time and another life, Billana might have forgiven him and claimed that she would have doubted herself too, in another life she would not have had the skills to survive, and in other life, Billana Baggins pondered, that perhaps she could have fallen in love with the dwarf who now stood before her. But this was not another life and the dwarf before her had done something exceptionally stupid.

“By the Green Lady you had better be Thorin Oakensheild!” She growled, “And consider yourself lucky that I don’t box you ears in for that stupid stunt you pulled back there with Azog! What in name of the Great Smith’s name did you think you were doing?!?!” The cheers had become snickers and laughter and the dwarf king had brains enough to look down ashamed at his own rashness. But as the dwarf looked up as though to meet her gaze and form a decently intelligent response, he glanced over her shoulder first and Billana could find no words as his expression turned from sheepish to something far more complex, filled with an odd mixture of pain, nostalgia,disbeliefe, awe, amazement, and the unadulterated joy of seeing's one's home again after being away for far too long.

Turning around to see what it was that made him look so she couldn’t but ask, “Is that…?”

Warm arms wrapped around her and a head rested on top of her own, as Dwalin rumbbled behind her, “Aye lass.”

Erebor. The Lonely Mountain. One of the last great dwarven kingdoms of Middle Earth.” Gandalf affirmed.

 

“Our home.”