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Master of Wood, Water and Hill (The Hobbit, Lord of the Rings)

Discussion in 'Creative Writing' started by Karmic Acumen, Nov 21, 2022.

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  1. Threadmarks: The Shire – 1: Bag End (1)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    A/N: Another old thing I hope to get back into someday. This one came to be after I watched the Hobbit films and felt the need to exorcise everything I didn't like about them. But the dwarves actually had more depth to them than the book gave them, ironically enough, and there was a bittersweet aura of missed potential around the films. This allowed this story to turn into a labour of love rather than spite. Albeit one that needed a nail to be hammered into the timeline a fair bit earlier than the year of the Quest for Erebor itself.

    I did, however, favor the book over the films whenever a lore clash occurred. Because of this, it did prove hard to avoid bashing some of the film elements, especially certain egos. Doubly so considering how advanced Hobbits are compared to literally every other society in Arda, if you're willing to play their anachronisms straight, which I am perfectly willing to do. Same for their stealth, which I decided to make more than an informed ability. I think I did manage to avoid bashing, though, ultimately.

    Tl;Dr: Ignore any Ron the Death Eater or Manipulative Dumbledore vibes you might get at any point. They're not real.




    Master of Wood, Water and Hill

    “-. .-“

    The Shire – 1: Bag End

    (I)

    In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit. Not a nasty, dirty, wet hole, filled with the ends of worms and an oozy smell, nor a dry, bare, sandy hole with nothing in it to sit down on or to eat. No, it was a hobbit-hole, and that meant comfort.

    Although, to be fair, when it came to Bag End, "comfort" wasn't exactly the best word to describe it. Or, rather, the word was not enough to comprise what Bag End was.

    Located at the end of Bagshot Row in Hobbiton, right in the center of the land where Hobbits lived, the smial had been built for Belladonna Took by her husband Bungo Baggins. It was the most luxurious hobbit-hole in the Shire even before the Fell Winter, and retained that title in the years that came after those horrible months of famine, wolves and Orc attacks. All the way to the present day, it was the largest, most homely, most respectable hobbit-hole in the entire Shire.

    As far as the rest of the Hobbit population knew that is.

    Not that it wasn't true. Bilbo Baggins could boast about that much. He wasn't one to gloat, but he did passively relish in it. He did ever so enjoy the mornings spent on the bench outside, next to the waist-tall front gate. Bag End really was the best smial ever, comfortable and with damn near countless different rooms. But it had stopped being just a hobbit-hole about two years after he led his father on his final journey. Then again, that wasn't exactly accurate either. The actual transformation of Bag End probably started a year or so before the first odd things cropped up. No doubt around the time when he began to sing the songs taught to him by his adoptive mother, and play the instruments made by his adoptive father.

    "Heed you the world, boy, as song goes a-rumble / Enough heart poured in sends the ground a-tumble."

    Bilbo smiled at the memory of the playful but almost always present rhymes. He smiled wider when he recalled all the occasions when he had been called to entertain his fellow Hobbits at various festivals and birthday parties.

    And his own parties. Ah, the stuff of legends.

    Bilbo the Minstrel, they called him. Bilbo the Bard. Bilbo the Great Musician. Bilbo the Great Storyteller. The Silver Tongue.

    The Nimble Hand.

    Bilbo always had to suppress a bout of hysterical laughter at that one. Hobbits' ability for accidental innuendo was astonishing.

    His personal favorite was The Soul of the Party, but there was no accounting for taste he supposed.

    In all honesty, Mad Baggins amused him more, though not as much as the last two visits that Lobelia Sackville-Baggins and her husband Otho dared to make before they finally stopped coming, four years ago. No doubt they'd thought he'd deliberately strung the house full of traps and pranks in anticipation of their arrival. They'd made sure to complain and gossip about it to anyone who could hear, for months after the fact.

    Maybe he would have done it under different circumstances. They hadn't let him grieve for his father for even a year before they descended upon him like pretentious bowtruckles, a month before his 34th birthday. And they kept hounding him for years and years until his own home got fed up with them.

    And that was the truth of the matter: Bag End simply didn't like them. And Bilbo didn't really have the heart to hold it against his home when a wall cupboard door randomly popped open (Are you alright, cousin? You hit your head rather badly there…) or when lock-less doors refused to open when Lobelia began to skulk around the place. And the way the clothes tree shifted in place and tripped Lobelia, thus causing the silverware she'd hidden in her bodice (his mother's courting gift!) to spill all over the hallway floor…

    Bilbo had briefly considered lifting her by the back of her dress and throwing her out, but he had an image to uphold. And uphold it he did.

    He was Master of Bag End.

    No one else.

    Bilbo looked up. The sky, nearly cloudless, was an incredible shade of blue. He drew in a deep breath full of Old Toby's wonderful scent, then puffed, his pipe releasing a perfect smoke ring that glided away, growing wider and thinner as it did.

    The oddities of Bag End had started out innocently enough. Bilbo didn't realize anything was out of the ordinary until too many minor things piled up. Like how the door hinges stopped needing oil in order to swing open or closed without creaking. The windows stopped needing cleaning. A room's air freshened up in less than an hour even if just the smallest window was left slightly ajar. And not only that, but dust cleared itself from the furniture by itself when he aired a room.

    Then the strangeness became more obvious. He'd stumble into the kitchen seeking an early tea in the morning and find the cupboard door already open. The jars of honey would be closer to the front of the shelves when he went for them, easily within reach when he wanted to fix himself a quick second breakfast. Old scratches started to fade from the walls. The grime that always darkened even the best wood over time slowly disappeared, leaving everything from the mantelpiece to the frame of the front door looking as good as new, then better than even that. Eventually, the same started to happen to the furniture.

    And after another couple of years of him switching between his Home and his Home Away From Home (and boy, did the bigger prudes of Hobbiton ever criticize Mad Baggins for repeatedly venturing into the Old Forest), weirdness started to get really blatant, though not overbearing. And usually not when there were guests present.

    Yet eventually Bag End started to become restless, and Blbo Baggins knew it was time to go. There were no more songs to learn in the Shire, and his own compositions became staggered, rarer. The lack of inspiration and self-fulfillment set in, making him feel antsy and constricted. Stir-crazy. Deprived. His home reflected his state of heart in many ways, and he knew he needed a change.

    So one day, in the spring of his 40th year, he packed up, locked the doors on his house and left. Bag End fell into slumber behind him. Bilbo took the Old Forest road as usual. It would make his fellow hobbits think he'd only gone on one of his usual haunts, even though, for the first time, he planned to go further.

    It was his first adventure, and also the first and last time when the Sackville-Bagginses tried to move into his home while he was away – Bag end did NOT like them skulking about, unlike the kindly (but thankfully oblivious) elderly gardener Hobson Gamgee. His home positively adored him for how faithfully he tended to the garden.

    But it was also not the last of Bilbo Baggins' adventures. He went on several over the years, each of which began and ended at the home of his new parents, deep within the Ancient Wood.

    Bilbo snorted and shook his head, then produced three smoke rings in quick succession. The nature of their relationship had never been stated, but it was clear regardless. Though it would have seemed ridiculous to his fellow Shire-folk. After all, while he may not have been an adult when he first met those who would essentially adopt him into their own family, Bilbo had been an adult when his birth father Bungo Baggins finally laid to rest.

    It meant spending days that felt like years deep within the gloomy Old Forest, among trees that moved and whispered in the night.

    It meant baring his soul and body to the Fëa and Hröa of the land.

    It went against the norm for Hobbits.

    It was perfect.

    Bilbo leaned back on the bench and closed his eyes, basking in the sunlight. He would have relaxed the rest of the way, but a hum that only he could feel washed through the flower hedge decorating the slope behind him. He wasn't expecting guests (and Hobbits always knew to send advanced word) but someone was approaching. Purposely.

    Huh. Well, all were welcome in Bag End until they proved they deserved otherwise.

    The plants in the flower garden meandered in spite of the lack of a strong enough breeze, and all the petals became slightly more radiant than before. His home practically preened in anticipation of someone's arrival. Bag End had a sense for these things, which stretched some distance beyond his fences. And what Bag End knew, Bilbo knew so long as he was within the bounds of his property.

    That's why he knew exactly how his smoke ring expanded and floated, and how it turned into a butterfly when someone – one of the Big Folk – walked along the path leading up to his gate. The butterfly fluttered its way back to him, bursting into smoke again as soon as it landed on his nose. The noise was like the tinkling of bells heard through the spray of a waterfall.

    Leaning back, still with his eyes shut, Bilbo drew a circle through the air with the mouthpiece of his 10-inch-long pipe. The smoke obligingly formed itself into a ring again and floated away once more.

    Yes. In Bag End he was Master.

    With a hum of contentment, Bilbo Baggins opened his eyes and met the searching blue ones of the man standing beyond the fence. It took a single moment of observation – grey robes, long grey beard, gnarled staff he pretended to lean on like a walking stick even though he wasn't crippled in the least – to identify his visitor. Behind him, Bag End settled into a deep but still aware state of inertia that would hopefully avoid tickling the wizard's mystical senses.

    Good. Discretion was an appropriate first response.

    Bilbo had spent years compiling ballads and stories, and reading histories in various languages. Not recognizing Gandalf the Grey would have been asinine. Especially since the old wizard had been a personal acquaintance of his, or rather his mother, so many decades before.

    And now, here the old wizard was, gazing down at him from beneath the brim of his tall, pointed grey hat. Obviously waiting to be verbally acknowledged. Bilbo looked for signs of surprise at his trick with the smoke. Or any reaction on Gandalf's part to seeing his eyes colored a vivid green (like the emerald leaves of water lilies, his adoptive mother had told him) instead of the original brown.

    He found not even the slightest hint of a reaction.

    Damn inscrutable wizards. Bilbo was sure that even Maiar shouldn't be able to put on such a perfect mask. Then again, maybe it was no longer a mask. Or maybe it never was.

    Well, nothing to it he supposed. "Good morning."

    "What do you mean?" Oh, here we go. "Do you wish me a good morning, or mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or is it that you feel good this morning, or that it is a morning to be good on?"

    Bilbo tilted his head and squinted at the old man. "All of them at once I suppose." He absently gnawed on the mouthpiece of his pipe, knowing it would be good as new in less than an hour, no matter how deeply he sunk his teeth into it. It was one of several gifts his adoptive father had given him. "May I help you?"

    "That remains to be seen," the wizard answered. Bilbo almost snorted. The man was deliberately trying to egg him on by acting all dramatic. "I'm looking for someone to share in an adventure."

    "An adventure?" Bilbo finally gave into the impulse and snorted in amusement. "Troublesome things, adventures. They sneak up on you and lead you all over the place. Make you late for dinner. And supper too, usually."

    Gandalf hummed, then resumed his act of peering down at him. "And how would you like to be that one?"

    Bilbo affected an exaggerated look of surprise on his face. "Me?" He lifted his eyebrows as far as they could go. "And how could you possibly assume I'd be open to such a thing? Especially when the proposition was made by someone who has still not introduced himself?"

    "Ah, an excellent point. How very rude of me!" The wizard's voice was only slightly gravelly, but clearly amused. "Allow me, then, to introduce myself. I am Gandalf. Gandalf the Grey."

    "That you are," Bilbo nodded, lifting himself to his feet and removing the pipe from his mouth. He felt the slight pressure of his pouch of Longbottom leaf in his waistcoat's pocket, but decided he didn't yet need a refill. "Gandalf, the wandering wizard who made such excellent fireworks. Old Took use to have them on Mid-summer's Eve. Are you still in business?"

    "And where else would I be?"

    "Who knows? On an adventure? Then again, I suppose you're only starting one now." Bilbo walked over to his mailbox. "I'd ask what business a wizard would want with a respectable gentelhobbit like myself. After all, my mother always said not to meddle in the affairs of wizards, for they are subtle and quick to anger." Leafing through his letters with one hand – mostly invitations to parties and tea – he turned to look up at the old man again. "I always did find it odd, that piece of advice. She shouldn't have been one to talk, given how often she actually left on journeys with you. And now, here you are at my gate. I suppose 'children shouldn't pay for the sins of their parents' isn't a creed wizards live by?"

    "Sins?" Gandalf sounded positively shocked and slightly aggravated. "I would hardly call your mother's travels sins, young man. To think I would live to see the day when Belladonna Took's son held the way she chose to live her life against her, and met the idea of an adventure as something to be feared and mistrusted!"

    "I hold nothing against her." Bilbo pointed the spiked end of his pipe at the old visitor. "And I don't mistrust the idea of an adventure. I just mistrust you."

    Silence.

    Well, not exactly. There was the wonderful sound of a woodpecker coming from Hobson Gamgee's apple tree down the road.

    Gandalf frowned and leaned his head forward. The shadow that fell over his face would have made Bilbo wary if he was the same person of 10 years ago. "Now now, my dear boy, I assure you I bear absolutely no ill intentions towards you. Why, I have no idea why you would even think such a thing!" The wizard sounded honest and serious about that. "You've changed, Bilbo Baggins, and I'm not sure if it was entirely for the better."

    Bilbo's cheer disappeared, though his expression stayed as wryly amused as before. "Then it's a good thing my good mood is unassailable by the opinions of others. If it were not, some of the things people have been saying about me would have stung."

    Gandalf took that in stride. "Now why would you say that? I've only heard your kin saying good things of you. That you've become quite the accomplished musician and entertainer?" Bilbo said nothing. "Though I do believe I heard a few mutterings about a 'Mad Baggins' and his tendency to occasionally disappear into the Old Forest for anything from days to weeks at a time."

    "Mutterings is a good word," Bilbo easily agreed. "What will they think of next?"

    "What indeed."

    Bilbo wondered if Gandalf was really playing dumb about the several times he disappeared for over four or six months, or if he really didn't know about them yet. "Well, it was nice meeting you!" He tucked his letters under the arm and turned to walk up the path leading to his front door. "Do feel free to drop by for tea any time this week!" The hobbit looked back over his shoulder. "I won't ask to be warned in advance, seeing as how wizards only ever arrive precisely when they mean to. Never late, never early."

    "I will definitely take up that invitation!"

    "Splendid!" Bilbo opened his door. "Well, good morning!" And got into the house, shutting the perfectly round door behind him. He had to take a breath and slowly release it, to calm his nerves. In any other situation he might have actually lunged at the opportunity to go on an adventure with others, but that encounter had been loaded with an indescribable but heavy sense of doom.

    Once he regained his composure, he moved further in, emptying his pipe in the ashtray he'd placed next to the clothes tree for that exact purpose. And all the while, he was fully aware of the presence that stepped through his gate and strode all the way to the door.

    Oh well. He supposed it was too much to hope for at least some sort of reprieve before he'd have to invite the old man insi-

    He reacted just in time.

    Bag End nearly hurled the door open into Gandalf's face (and yes, the door to Bag End could swing open both ways), but Bilbo clamped down his will and preempted the reaction. Although he could understand the response. What was Gandalf playing at, using that staff of his to carve lines into his door?

    Bilbo leaned against the wall and took deep, steady breaths, dividing his attention between keeping Bag End passive and persuading himself that no, he really didn't agree with his home that he should give Greybeard the Meddlesome a face-full of wooden boards.

    He was thankful when the wizard stopped carving after a single symbol.

    Bilbo stayed there, inside the entrance hallway, for ten minutes, focused on the feeling of the uninvited visitor as he disappeared into the distance at a steady trot. Once he was sure the old man was far away from his smial, the hobbit strode back to the door and pulled it inward, looking down, straight at the spot where an all-new, blue, shimmering symbol lay. Shimmering.

    It shimmered!

    A sound almost reminiscent of a growl came out of Bilbo's throat. And it wasn't all owed to the meaning of that rune. 'Burglar wants a good job, plenty of excitement and reasonable reward.'

    No, the annoyance came from elsewhere: the wizard had done magic on his house!

    Bilbo Baggins crossed his arms and pointedly glared at the offending etching.

    The blue shimmer burst away from the door like sand in the wind, leaving only scratches that were already mending.

    As if Bag End would suffer the touch of craft belonging to anyone other than its Master.

    Bilbo reentered his home and closed the door behind him. In about an hour, there would be no sign that anything had ever been sculpted into the door to Bag End, or that anything had ever affected it at all, time included. If Gandalf had a way to know that his little spell had been countered, he was probably on his way back already. If not, then whatever he had planned that involved directions written in dwarven had been derailed, likely to hilarious consequences.

    Good, Bilbo thought vindictively. He was always up for a good laugh.
     
    Last edited: Nov 21, 2022
  2. Wivk

    Wivk Know what you're doing yet?

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    I always really liked this one and hoped you would pick it back up some day.
     
  3. Constant_programmer

    Constant_programmer Making the rounds.

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    Hello there author, I read the is story once before and it left me quite a bit thirsty for what was next, thank you for picking up.
    The portrayal of what a hobbit is, their culture and then we have Bilbo Baggins it's awesome already watched
     
  4. Tzeentch

    Tzeentch I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Bowtruckles?

    So, this is a Harry Potter crossover with the events of The Hobbit and Lord of The Rings taking place in ancient history LONG before the race of Men started producing Wizards of their own? I tip my hat to you, sir.

    Wonder if it'll fast forward to the distant future from time to time where the Hobbits are an evolved culture of magitek using ultraterrestials that the Wizarding World is ENTIRELY ignorant of, either exploring/settling throughout the cosmos, or simply residing in their "Bigger on the Inside" Hobbit Holes on Earth, each of which embody luxury, comfort, and "hygge".
    THORIN: We've been running around for HOURS, tired and hungry, looking like a pack of ridiculous fools or possible thieves in the eyes of the locals, searching Hobbit Hole doors for your Rune, Wizard! Where the f@#$ is it?!

    GANDALF: No longer where I put it. It has been removed by our would-be burglar... which is MOST impressive! I'm all the more determined to recruit him now!
     
  5. Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    :oops: I was absolutely, 100% sure it was a creature name that existed in actual folklore.

    Oh well. I'll leave it in as an easter egg.
     
  6. ArcherOfBlades

    ArcherOfBlades Hippity Hoppity, Your Soul Is My Property

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    Hmmmm… seems to me bilbo has been taking steps into Druidism, I always enjoy a good story where they place Gravitas on the world around them. Making it feels heavier with importance and meaning. Adds some mystique.
     
    Karmic Acumen likes this.
  7. Threadmarks: The Shire – 1: Bag End (2)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    (II)

    The follow-up to that fateful meeting came, as Bilbo half-expected, just the next day in the afternoon.

    Which meant he only had half a day to himself left, so he had to make the best of it.

    The clock on the wall opposite his bed told him he slept in until past the time when breakfast was usually served. But he woke up in a good mood, something that always happened after he dreamt of being one with the land. Though they weren't actual dreams, according to his living parents. And they happened more and more frequently each year. Ever since his first venture into the Old Forest, the nightly occurrences had slowly gone from once or twice a year to once every fortnight. It seemed to correlate with Bag End becoming more and more alive, though Bilbo knew his home was really as much an independent existence as it was an extension of him. The part of himself that truly, constantly, communed with nature.

    Last night he could swear he connected with the spirit of his birth father for a while. He treasured those moments, even though the reason they could even happen always brought him as much sadness as it did happiness. But soon enough he was a tree, whispering along with his ancient brothers in the forest. He was the grass that swayed in the wind. He was the dew that glittered as the breeze pushed the grass blades to and fro. He was the Brandywine river, flowing unimpeded down his millennia-old bed.

    And then he was the network of beaten paths crisscrossing from one edge of the Shire to another, from the Brandywine Bridge to Little Delving, and from Long Cleeve to Cottonbottom. That had been right before he awoke, and let him know of the recent arrivals

    Travelers other than Gandalf walked the Shire. And they weren't Hobbits from Breeland. In fact, they didn't feel like hobbits at all.

    That short-lived dwarven rune that Gandalf had etched into his door made perfect sense now. Then again, it had made perfect sense the previous day as well.

    In-between meals, Bilbo spent some time playing the fiddle in his back yard. It wasn't his preferred instrument, but he could play pretty much all of them, as he'd long ago decided to master them all. He still had a way to go with some of the bigger ones, and he knew there were some he'd never gotten a hold of, but for most it came as easily as breathing now.

    He probably wouldn't get to play a fiddle for quite a while after the week was out. They didn't exactly last long on the road, through shifting weather. Well, some did, but he didn't own one sturdy enough. And he knew he couldn't take too many of his instruments along on whatever adventure he was going to embark on, no matter how much he pretended he wasn't interested.

    After all, his collection filled an entire room.

    And yes, he already was pretty sure he would end up going on this adventure that Gandalf came to hound him about. Even if he was first going to put the wizard through the wringer for the way he tried to go about it.

    Hobson had already been tending to the back garden for a while when noon came, and Bilbo played the tunes he knew the man enjoyed the most. Then he played the ones preferred by his wife Lily, knowing that the woman was always baking something at this time of day and had her kitchen window wide open. The window that ever so conveniently faced the hill Bag End was built into.

    Bilbo never really tired of singing or playing, but he eventually set his fiddle aside and went to help with the only flowers he kept in the back, along the fence surrounding the vegetable pasture: Tiger Lilies. He had most of them along the path leading from the front gate to the door, but these were the original ones, the ones he wanted to keep safe more than he wanted to put on display. His mother had procured a pair of bulbs in her last adventure and Bilbo had done his best to multiply them and make sure he always got them through the year. It wasn't too hard, for the most part, since they were perennial plants and winters weren't too bad in the Shire.

    Usually. Things like the Fell Winter still happened sometimes.

    Hobson protested, as usual, when Bilbo sunk his knees into the soft earth next to his gardener. Honestly, Bilbo helped at least once a week, so Hobson should have given up by now. But he was a stout hobbit, bless his soul, even if he did only protest more due to habit than actual hope Bilbo would listen. Respectable gentlehobbits simply shouldn't do yard work, he kept insisting. It just wasn't done!

    Bilbo, also as usual, pat him on the shoulder and helped anyway, then invited him inside to get cleaned up and have tea, which Hobson himself prepared while Bilbo got a change of clothes. He was feeling particularly "natural" today, so he went for deep green. It would contrast well with his a dark red waistcoat and the white shirt beneath it.

    The waistcoat's embroidered pattern didn't hurt the image in the least either: interlocking leaves sewed in the same green as the trousers.

    If he was going to have visitors, he would look the part of a good host, and when his guests learned how inappropriately Gandalf had set everything up, they would, with some luck, tear into him. Bilbo would probably not even have to ask, or put any effort into doing it himself by the end of the day.

    Righteous vindication was so much better to witness than to feel. Because the latter always meant there was a slight in there somewhere to feel righteously vindicated over.

    It was while he and Hobson were sitting in armchairs around a small table, nearly done with their tea, that the knock on the door came. Bilbo swiftly (and as gracefully as an elf, he internally boasted) left the chair and went to answer the door.

    And much to his surprise, Hobson's young son Hamfast was on Bilbo's doorstep. Not a meddling wizard or a surly dwarf. Just a hobbit still in his tweens.

    And he was bent over panting.

    His mother had sent him to tell him there was a dwarf skulking about, the lad said after he caught his breath. Looking for someone that was supposed to to go on a journey with him and some of his kin. Bilbo could almost imagine Lily adding "or some such nonsense" to the end of that sentence. Well, the dwarf had beat a hasty retreat when he realized how silly he probably looked, coming to ask after someone without being able to offer any information on who he was searching for. He was supposedly standing at the crossroad now, where Bagshot Row and Bywater Road interlocked. Probably waiting for someone to meet up with him, kin or the wizard himself.

    Well, misery did love company.

    Bilbo began to feel a sinking suspicion coming in. Had Gandalf not given them any directions at all? Or even a name? For Iluvatar's sake!

    He thanked the boy for coming to relay his mother's message, but apparently there was more. Lily had told Hamfast to ask Bilbo if it was alright to send the dwarf up to Bag End, so he could sort him out. She would have sent him over without asking, but he seemed mighty large and surly, and she didn't want to cause him undue trouble, hence Hamfast playing messenger.

    Sometimes he really was amazed by how thoughtful the Gamgees were.

    Bilbo walked with the lad and his father to the front gate and saw them off, though not before he gave Hamfast a cupcake along with the affirmative answer.

    That done, he hurried through Bag End and retrieved his fiddle, then made his way back to the bench Gandalf had found him on the previous day. Once there, he sat down on the plush cushion, closed his eyes and, once he adjusted his position so the wind would carry the sounds as far as possible, set the bow on the strings and began to play. He'd been composing a tune inspired by the shooting stars streaking across the sky above The Last Homely Home. He'd been making adjustments to it for a couple of years now, so he may as well try it out, knowing how much time was likely to pass before he laid hands on a fiddle again.

    It was ten minutes later that heavy footfalls made themselves heard, though Bilbo (or rather Bag End) had been aware of the dwarf's approach for quite a bit longer than that. Bilbo kept playing until the dwarf stopped across the fence from him, then continued for another minute. Not just because it was an aria he wanted to go through all the way, but also to see if the dwarf would interrupt him to gain his attention or not.

    Much to Bilbo's surprise, the dwarf didn't clear his throat or say anything. Bilbo did hear him shift on his feet a couple of times, but he said nothing until he stopped playing and set the fiddle and bow aside.

    Well, Bilbo didn't look like much of a burglar, the hobbit supposed, so the dwarf probably thought he'd been sent over to ask for directions from someone who knew about whatever he was going on about.

    Bilbo sympathized with him. Really.

    There was more to the tune, but there were some harp sections before the fiddle had to resume, so the hobbit had to stop there. Besides, he doubted dwarves would take all that well to music that clearly felt so very Elvish. Even to the hobbit's own ears, the tune sounded out of place in the Shire.

    When Bilbo finally opened his eyes, he was met with an odd sight. The dwarf was larger than he expected, and he was bald, with tattoos lining his scalp. Though his beard and mustache did extend to his cheeks and above his eyes, even circling the back of his head. He was heavily armored and had a thick, fur-lined tunic over the rest of his garb. And his boots were bulky and large, with metal shins and tips.

    Making those observations had taken about a second. Basically the time he needed to set the fiddle aside. Bilbo decided to pull the dwarf out of his misery. "Good afternoon."

    "Afternoon," was the answering grunt – exhausted of patience and tiredly resigned, Bilbo sensed. The dwarf was about to say something else, but the hobbit cut him off.

    "Let me guess." Bilbo pushed up from the bench and took two steps, until he was standing face-to-face with him. The rising slope ensured they stood at the same height, even though the hobbit was a full head shorter. "You're looking for someone to share in an adventure." He said dryly. "You know, funny how these things go. Adventure would be a good word for what happened to me the other day." For dramatic emphasis, he began to slowly pace, his fingers tapping his chin and the other hand behind his back. "Here I was, smoking my pipe and minding my own business when an old friend of my mother's shows up at my gate expecting me to magically bear the same fondness for him even though I'd only actually met him a couple of times when I was a faunt. We exchanged words and you know what he did? He insulted me!"

    The dwarf was staring at him with the eyes of one who was asking his gods what he'd done to deserve walking into that situation.

    But Bilbo was on a roll. "Then, when despite his behavior I did the courteous thing and invited him for tea, he actually accepted as if there was no harm done! But you know something? That wasn't even the worst of it!" He whirled on his feet leaned over the gate, right into his personal space. It made the dwarf actually take a step back in surprise. "After I bid him goodbye and retired into my home, he had the nerve to waltz in and vandalize my property!"

    "That was indeed terribly rude of him."

    Bilbo internally smirked in satisfaction. His 'greeting' had taken the surly dwarf aback to such an extent that he was automatically agreeing only because he had no idea what else to do. "And now!" Bilbo ranted. "Now…" He straightened and crossed his arms, gazing sternly at the dwarf. "Now, I'd say he has set you up for an awkward and frustrating first foray into an unfamiliar land, all for the sake of his sick amusement." Well, Bilbo didn't really feel that way about the wizard, but he had a performance to put on.

    Some light of understanding finally dawned on the dwarf, who pulled himself together. "This friend of yours. Is he who I think it is?"

    Well, he was blunt and gruff, but Bilbo supposed 'might I inquire as to the identity of your acquaintance' wasn't exactly how normal folk talked. "I find myself, at present, unable speak his name without broadcasting my utter annoyance towards the man, something that just isn't done by respectable gentlehobbits like myself." Bilbo was putting on airs, he knew, but that was the whole point. And audience of one was still an audience after all. "But I'm sure we've come to the same conclusion. Tall, reedy-looking, wearing grey robes and a pointy hat. Pretends to lean on his walking stick despite not being crippled at all." Bilbo waved his hand through the air a few times. "Tends to send those he's traveling with looking for people without actually providing directions?"

    The dwarf grunted in grudging assent. "Sounds about right."

    Bilbo looked at him sympathetically. "He didn't even give you a name, did he?"

    The dwarf winced.

    Bilbo rubbed a hand over his face, and what he said next made the dwarf snort. "One of these days, someone will snap and strangle Gandalf with his own beard." The hobbit met the dwarf's eyes again. "You know what the worst part is? He not only failed to mention when he would drop by, but he also failed to mention he would be bringing company. So now I am in the uncomfortable position not having prepared any dinner in anticipation of your arrival, and that of whatever traveling companions you might have. I take great pride in my reputation as the perfect host, you see, and now has been tarnished!"

    "Oh…" The large, solid dwarf looked well and truly thrown off his game. Whatever his game would have been. "Well, your idea of beard strangulation is more than appropriate then." He looked down the road, then him again. "I apologize for dropping in unannounced." Bilbo was truly surprised at that one. "I have a feeling my fellows will feel as you do once I meet up with them, which I think should be done sooner rather than later." He nodded at him. "Good afternoon, master hobbit."

    "Now now!" Bilbo spoke in time to prevent the other from walking off. "I said I no longer qualified as the perfect host, but I'm certain I can still be a good one, in spite of the sabotage by Greybeard the Meddlesome." The dwarf snorted again, from definite amusement this once. "But that will require something from you. You can either tell me now when I can expect you and your fellows, or… " Bilbo stepped forward and pulled the waist-high gate open. "You can come in and allow me to serve you something quick while I start dinner in earnest. In spite of how awkward Gandalf made sure this situation would be."

    The dwarf seemed torn between going on a righteous manhunt and accepting free food. Bilbo had honestly expected him to come in immediately. "Keep in mind that if you choose the former, you'll likely have to strangle Gandalf with his own beard without any backup." The dwarf couldn't quite smother his amusement. "That you are by yourself tells me you and whoever will embark on a journey with you have not been traveling together. That you bear a sizable travel backpack says you haven't checked in at an inn either. Which means that my home was supposed to be your meeting place, and would have been if Gandalf hadn't botched things up so magnificently. Am I right?"

    "... well, you're not oblivious, I'll give Gandalf that."

    "Thank you for that delightfully backhanded compliment," Bilbo quipped. "Perhaps I might respond with one of my own? The remnants of your Mohawk are only barely discernible among the tattoos covering your otherwise gleaming scalp."

    The dwarf glowered, though Bilbo could tell there was barely any heat in it.

    "Turnabout is fair play, master dwarf!" The hobbit smiled and stepped back from the still open gate. "So. Introductions first?"

    "I suppose so," the dwarf grumbled. Then he sketched a bow. "Dwalin, at your service."

    Hobbits did not bow, but they did step aside and usher their guests in. "Bilbo Baggins, at yours and your family's."

    Dwalin finally stepped through the gate, and the reaction that Bag End had upon receiving this unusual guest almost made Bilbo trip on air. There was no movement, nothing physically changed about the hobbit-hole. No doors opened, no windows moved, and the plants only swayed as much as the very faint wind dictated. But Bilbo and Bag End were essentially one being, and the hobbit was almost bowled over by the emotional surge.

    Maybe there was no physical element because the response was so intense?

    Baffled, the hobbit quickly shut the gate and spun on his heel to stare at his visitor. As he turned, Dwalin managed to catch the tail ends of his astonishment, but the hobbit quickly looked away to stare at his smial instead.

    For goodness' sake! Really?

    "Erm… yes," Bilbo floundered, then gave himself a shake. "Well then. Follow me." Not meeting the dwarf's eyes, Bilbo strode past him as steadily as he could manage while still involved in an empathic confrontation with his house.

    "Are you well, master hobbit?" Bilbo really couldn't tell what his tone was. "You looked a bit faint for a moment there."

    Bilbo gave a nervous laugh. "Oh, it's nothing, just…" Okay, that was a blatant lie. Actually, Bag End was literally swooning, and cooing over how adorable (adorable!) the new creature that had passed its threshold was. It rather reminded Bilbo of the time when little Hamfast found a small, fluffy puppy ten years ago and refused to stop hugging it for half a day afterwards.

    Bilbo had the sneaking feeling that supplying that information to his newest acquaintance would not go over very well. "My home never had such a positive reaction to anyone before." That was a safe enough translation right?

    From where he followed, one step behind, Dwalin asked the predictable thing. "Your… house… reacted well."

    Yes, master dwarf, it wants to cuddle you all the way into next year. Because that would be such a smart thing to say. Where in the world this reaction had come from, Bilbo had no idea. He just knew it wasn't him.

    " … Your home… likes dwarves…"

    Bilbo wasn't sure which part of that assessment the dwarf found harder to believe. That his home had a mind and feelings of its own, the ability to like people… or that anyone would actually like dwarves right off the bat. If it was the latter he couldn't believe, it was immensely sad. What kind of life had he led that made him think that? "Well…" Hold up, since when was he so easily rattled? This would just not do! "To be truthful, Master Dwalin, I don't know about dwarves exactly." He stopped short of his doorstep and turned on his heels to give him a one-eyed look. "It likes you though." The door to Bag End swung open invitingly all on its own, and Bilbo grinned wolfishly. "See? It can't wait to welcome you in. Eru knows why!" Having regained his composure, Bilbo Baggins swept through the entrance and into his house.

    He made a beeline for the small sitting room where he and Hobson had been having tea. It took a few seconds for everything to be gathered up on the tray. Then another thirty for him to return everything to the kitchen. In all that time, there was no indication that the dwarf had entered the house after him.

    After sternly ordering Bag End to calm the hell down, Bilbo was finally able to actually divert some of his attention to knowing where everything and everyone was.

    Huh.

    Not too slowly but also not too hastily, he returned to the main hallway. Dwalin wasn't quite quick enough to straighten from where he was still outside, peering suspiciously around the door. Oh Valar, he must have thought… "Peace, master Dwalin." He hoped his smile was reassuring instead of amused at his guest's expense. "There is no one in Bag End but the two of us. For now anyway." Hoping it would quell some of the awkwardness, Bilbo paid him no more mind and crossed the hallway the rest of the way, to one of the many guest rooms the smial had, whose door swung open on its own like the main one had.

    Bag End was accommodating and eager to assist like that, when there was no need for secrecy. And this time, Bilbo would hold nothing back.

    Anyway, if he was going to have guests, he would need more chairs. Or maybe he should just get a bench or two into the dining room instead.

    But that would come later. For now, he only took one of the better cushions he had and carried it back to the sitting room. Dwalin had finally dared to come inside, although he gave a start when the door closed shut behind him without prompting. After giving it one last wary glance (was he debating the benefits of leaving and waiting for backup before he braved the haunted house?), he hurried after the hobbit while trying to make it seem as though he wasn't hurrying at all. Bilbo watched it all through the reflections in the glass cabinets.

    "Take a seat. I will whip something up for you as quickly as I can. Until then, feel free to partake from the fruit bowl."

    Leaving the dwarf to his own devices, Bilbo hurried to the kitchen, thankful he'd gone to the market two days before. In less than five minutes, he'd whipped up four large cheese and ham sandwiches, with lettuce and tomato rings for extra flavor. He was about to take it to his guest but hesitated. Moving to the pantry, he pulled out a small keg of ale and then got the largest mug he could find, filling it to the brim.

    Well, it would have to do as an appetizer if nothing else.

    Nodding to himself, Bilbo scooped up the plate and mug of ale and quickly traversed the corridors back to the front sitting room. His eyebrows went up when he found the dwarf drumming his fingers against the tabletop, and the fruit bowl totally empty. There weren't even the tiniest apple scraps left.

    Huh. The man had to be hungry. Well, he had been on the road for a while. "Here you are, master dwarf."

    The man barely grunted before he dug in. Huh. No manners. If only Bag End would use that as a reason to stop silently fawning over him. Maybe then Bilbo would be able to concentrate properly.

    No such luck. "Well then, I'll go prepare the actual dinner." Another grunt. Dwarves really could think of nothing else when they had food placed in front of them.

    Bilbo was almost out the door when something occurred to him. "Master Dwalin." He turned to look at his guest, and was gratified to see him at least paying attention, even if he was still scarfing up the sandwiches with alarming speed. "Gandalf never told me how many would be coming."

    Dwalin washed down his food with a generous helping of ale, then wiped the foam off his beard before answering. "Twelve besides me." He belched, and Bilbo had to force himself not to grimace. "Twelve dwarves and the wizard." He drank some more ale and gave it a speculative look. "This is good ale."

    "Yes, thank you, glad you like it…" Bilbo mumbled. Thirteen. Thirteen dwarves! "Thirteen… Right. Right!" Abandoning his previous path, he walked back into the room and went straight for the desk under the window. He had most of his stationery in his study, but he always kept some parchment and an inkwell here as well, just in case. And some other areas in his home for that matter.

    Not that he was going to use quill and ink. No, for this he would need a charcoal stick, and it was good that he had many of those on hand as well, for when the fancy struck him to sketch something. "Right… We'll need a large cauldron of stew. Pork would probably work best." His hand absently guided the charcoal across the paper as he muttered to himself. "Some sort of roast as well. There are still some rib strips in the basement stores, and I still have those plucked and cleaned turkeys. What else? Cheese of course, there should still be two whole rolls left and they should last if they're sliced properly. That means we're only lacking bread and oh I'm going to set Gandalf's beard on fire next time I meet him!"

    "… umm… Master Baggins?"

    "Yes?" Bilbo distractedly looked up at his guest, who'd stood up at some point.

    "You've torn through the paper."

    "What?" His attention finally snapped to the sheet of paper. "Oh." The sheet he'd driven his charcoal stick right though. "Oh! Huh. Imagine that." Well, it could still be salvaged. "I was done anyway."

    "It must be quite the shopping list…" Bilbo wondered why the dwarf was looking at him like he was crazy.

    With a shake of his head, Bilbo stood, grimly determined. "It's not a shopping list." He held up the sheet, which bore the rune Gandalf had so pretentiously carved into his door. "Old Meddly etched this into my door yesterday, but my home didn't like it so it got rid of it." Bilbo was still cross about that breach of privacy. "Master dwarf, please hang this on the front door while I open up the basement stores." He pushed the sheet into the bemused dwarf's hands before stalking off. "And don't worry about a hammer and nails! Just slap the paper on the outside of the door and Bag End will keep it there."

    Bag End had somewhat calmed down after the initial cooing episode, so Bilbo could focus on actually preparing his home for the arrival of a dwarven company. As he disappeared down the corridor, he picked up the muffled sounds of Dwalin jumping in actual fright when the front door opened on its own again. And were those curses he heard? Really, an adventurer should be able to adapt faster than this! Though, clearly, the dwarf refused to take Bilbo's claims about his home at face value.

    No matter. He would come to believe them by the end of the day. Either that, or he'd come to believe he had gone crazy.
     
  8. Threadmarks: The Shire – 1: Bag End (3)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    "-. III .-"
    Evening had fallen, and clouds had gathered overhead. If Balin, son of Fundin, had been more like his brother, he would have started to mutter curses in Khuzdul hours ago, and with the impending rain his mood was not getting any better. But he was not Dwalin, and he also happened to be a former Dwarven Noble, a Lord, Head of his own House. So instead of bad language he dealt with his discomfort (though the word did not truly do his mood justice) in his own way: stoicism.

    Mahal knew that few of the others that would go on the journey to Erebor had it in them to be level-headed and serene in the face of the oncoming storm.

    He'd entered South Farthing via the southern road early in the afternoon, so he'd been certain he would find his destination easily enough. He'd followed Gandalf's directions to the letter. They had been few, but they had also been very specific. Take the right when you reach X crossroad and keep your eyes open for the door bearing the Burglar's mark.

    He'd found what he considered to be the proper street, and he'd walked all the way to the end, but none of the strange, earth-dug dwellings bore the sign he was seeking. Confused, he thought he might have to travel a bit further. He knew that some people built their homes away from where most everyone else in a surface settlement clustered their houses together. Maybe the one that would become the fourteenth member of their company had done the same.

    It would fit the mindset of a burglar to seclude himself from everyone else after all.

    So Balin had proceeded to walk further, and by the time he realized that yes, the so-called path he was following really was just a rarely-traveled track leading into wide fields of wheat, he'd already reached the end of Hobbiton. With a sigh of resignation, he followed the track the rest of the way, until he reached an altogether different road. Then, for lack of a better option, he was forced to basically double back.

    By the time he reached the faithful crossroads again, the sun had disappeared beyond the horizon and clouds had overtaken the sky where it used to shine.

    The white-haired dwarf stroked his impressive beard and was torn between relief that he'd at least returned to the last correct waypoint, and the wish that he wasn't the only one who got lost.

    He was going to just wait at the crossing until someone else from his company hopefully showed up, assuming there even were others running as late as he was. All the while, he wished he'd prevailed upon Gandalf that they use the Shire inn as the meeting point before they sought out their burglar.

    And would you look at that, the rain had finally started!

    Balin sighed and hoped he didn't look too miserable, leaning against the signpost and waiting for nature to give him a good soak, whether he wanted it or not. Soon enough, the drizzle would turn into full-blow downpour and his horrible day would be complete.

    Then again, maybe if he looked miserable enough, someone would miraculously pop up and provide him with a way out of his wretched and embarrassing situation.

    As it turned out, what happened was somewhere in the middle. The rain was a signal for everyone to run back to their homes. And hobbit children always seemed to gather in groups to play. One such group came running down the hill and broke off once the first large raindrops started to fall, and one of the hobbitlings, a lad, ran past him. Or would've, had he not stopped to stare at him in surprise and, curiously enough, recognition? "'Scuse me mister, do you have a friend who's bald?"

    Balin blinked. Well, that was blunt, but he cared more about the implications of the question than the boy's manners. "As a matter of fact, young lad, I do."

    "You'll want to head over to Bag End then." The lad waved in the direction of the road that had gotten him so very sidetracked earlier in the day. "Master Baggins will get you sorted out. 'S'where the bald dwarf man went anyway, and he was as lost as you are."

    Mahal's beard, was he so obvious?

    Thunder cut off whatever else they were going to say. "Sorry, mister, I gotta go. Mum'll cuff my ears off if I come in dripping rain all over her new rugs. Bye!" And he was gone as quick as he'd appeared.

    As he stared after the lad, Balin couldn't help but notice that hobbits seemed to be really quick on those hairy, bare feet of theirs.

    And astonishingly quiet.

    A second blast of thunder and lightning snapped the dwarf out of his musings. Maybe he should do as the lad said. At this point, he was too tired to feel embarrassed to show up at someone's door uninvited. Even if it turned out it was a false lead, maybe the residents would let him take shelter under their canopy.

    As quickly as he could, Balin traversed the length of Bagshot Row, until he finally reached the hobbit-hole in question. And when he did, he could only stop at the gate and stare at what now decorated the front door. A sheet of paper bearing the Burglar's mark was now displayed openly, and the rain didn't seem to even touch it. He was sure it hadn't been there the first time he passed by.

    With a sigh of relief, Balin quickly made his way to the door. His morale was buoyed when he began to hear multiple voices, even if they did sound as though they were coming from pretty far in. There was a wooden canopy above the doorstep, which finally got him out of the rain. He took a few moments to shake off the rainwater as best as he could before knocking on the door three times.

    He waited and was about to knock again when the door finally swung inward. Balin was this close to doing the customary 'Balin, son of Fundin, at your service' bow when he noticed that the one who'd opened the door was Dwalin, of all people.

    Dwalin, who looked at him like he was a gift from their god himself. "Oh, thank the stone! Some sense in all this madness."

    "Brother? Why are you the one opening the door-" Dwalin just grabbed his wrist and pulled him a fair way inside the hallway, giving the door the evil eye. "Dwalin, what– " the door swung shut without any aid, and he felt Dwalin tense and flinch minutely through the hold he still had on his wrist. "- huh."

    Dwalin's eyes kept shifting frantically from corridor to corridor. He helped him take off his travel pack, then his coat (practically throwing it onto the clothes tree), and ushered him to the chest that had been laid out for their weapons and whatever else they didn't want to be encumbered by. "Put whatever stuff you want in the chest, but don't touch it!" Dwalin hissed. "And don't touch the doors. And the furniture. Stay away from the furniture."

    Balin couldn't have boggled his eyes any wider even if he tried. "If we'd greeted each other in the customary manner, I would be asking myself if we bumped heads together hard enough to mess with my senses."

    Dwalin looked at him like he was crazy. "I'm serious!" And he was keeping his voice low, even though there was no one nearby to overhear them.

    "… what."

    Dwalin's whole posture slumped. Then the mighty warrior gave a nervous look around the hallway before he shuffled to huddle behind Balin as if… as if he was hiding. What the pit? "Dwalin, what's gotten into you?"

    "It's this place!" Dwalin hissed under his breath again. "It's alive. Or haunted, I'm not sure. Never believed the stories, but I do now."

    Balin gave him a flat look. "You've never been into pranking, Dwalin, and you should do yourself the favor and not start now. You're too far behind. Leave it to Thorin's boys-"

    "This house has been trying to fondle me ever since I came in!"

    Balin's jaw froze half-open.

    There was an awkward silence.

    Had he just heard…? "Dwalin…" He said carefully. "Have you suffered any head injuries lately?"

    "None that would give me visions of doors that open and close on their own," Dwalin snapped. "You saw it, don't deny it! It happened just now! And the windows, they open or close whenever I pass by them. And the furniture never stays in place! One minute the chair is where it should be but when I take my eyes off it for a moment it's suddenly pulled away from the table and turned towards me, as if beckoning me to sit on it. And the curtains." Dwalin shuddered and hugged himself. "Mahal, the curtains."

    Balin experienced a mind blank. There was no way the sight before him was real. "Right. Well!" he brushed some non-existing dust off his partly-sodden jumper. "You get that figured out. In the meantime I'll try to smarten up. I assume this place has a washroom of some sort?"

    As if the words were a magic incantation to summon the fae, a door closed somewhere with an ominous thunk. Then, another one located on the left side of the corridor Balin was facing, swung open. Beyond it, another opened. At the same time, the oil lamps lighting the other two hallways dimmed to the point where barely anything could be seen anymore.

    The white-haired dwarf stared, open-mouthed, at that occurrence.

    "Well, go on then," Dwalin urged from behind him, suddenly far less scared out of his mind than before, all in favor of gloating. How dwarfish of him. "What are you waiting for?" That smug, self-righteous cad! "The house is beckoning you. See how helpful it's trying to be?"

    Balin laughed. It sounded nervous even to his own ears. "Yes, well…" He grudgingly turned to behold his brother again. "On second thought, maybe you should first tell me exactly what's happened here so far."

    After ten minutes of listening, Balin had a fairly clear picture. Gandalf had botched everything up in a most spectacular manner and made them all look like fools. Their host – one Bilbo Baggins – set about preparing dinner for them anyway, and was upset with Gandalf on their behalf instead of justifiably getting the impression that they were all idiots.

    A miracle, that's what it was.

    Balin had apparently been the next-to-last to arrive, the only one still absent being Thorin. Kili and Fili had shown up not long after Dwalin. Then the 'oin brothers joined them (Oin and Gloin). Then came the 'ri siblings (Dori, Nori and Ori) together with the 'ur brothers (Bifur, Bofur and Bombur), who'd all been gathered up like stray dwarflings by the wizard himself.

    Unfortunately, the sizable Bombur was bringing up the rear, and when the door opened and he leaned forward to try and get a look at the hobbit, he sent all six dwarves crashing forward… right on top of Bilbo Baggins.

    Balin winced, and even Dwalin looked chagrined while he relayed the story in low tones.

    Apparently, Bilbo Baggins managed to shrug off the near death experience and welcomed the six dwarves anyway, after which he proceeded to give Gandalf the silent treatment, seasoned with the occasional evil eye. Also, as Dwalin was most gleeful to recount, the wizard had seemed rather prone to tripping on loose rug edges and bumping into chairs and tables during the first hour of his stay. Then, after he hit his head on a chandelier which (as Dwalin distinctly remembered) used to be quite a bit higher up before Gandalf arrived, the wizard retired to a chair in the dining room and sat down to smoke his pipe in sulking silence.

    The former dwarven lord could only listen on in horrified fascination.

    Bilbo Baggins was well on the way to preparing a veritable feast by that point – he'd felt no shame in asking Dwalin to cart off half a pig, plus sacks of potatoes and flour up from the basement – then, as compensation for nearly squashing him to death, Bombur asked to help. Bilbo said there was no need, they were guests, but Bombur insisted. Master Baggins insisted right back, and Bombur insisted again himself.

    All the other dwarves had spread along the walls or were stretching their necks to watch the scene from just outside the kitchen. Their heads had taken to swiveling from one cook to the other. And not much later, Balin arrived, and Dwalin came to answer the door himself because the Master of the House and Bombur had started an impromptu cooking contest by that point.

    Somehow.

    At the end of the tale, Balin shook his head in bemusement. Even if it turned out they had come here for nothing – Bilbo Baggins seemed more like an aristocrat with a cooking hobby than a burglar – traveling all the way here was probably worth it for the entertainment value alone.

    Then again, the Hobbit lived in a haunted house.

    Hell of a way to throw off all expectations.

    For a while, none of the two brothers said anything.

    Then Dwalin spoke. "It's quiet." He looked around suspiciously. Balin noted that the hallways were still dim. "Too quiet. Why is it so quiet?"

    "I suppose it really is quiet," Balin murmured, looking around himself. What had happened to the shouts Dwalin had mentioned? "Where did you say the kitchen was?"

    And for the second time in the past half an hour, the house changed. The doors leading to the washroom (the closest one anyway) closed, and the corresponding hallway dimmed, while one of the others lit up. And as the flames in the oil lamps regained proper strength, the sounds of cheering abruptly reached the two dwarves, as if their ears had suddenly been unclogged.

    Balin blinked in astonishment. The house could isolate sound? And knew to do it when it thought someone wanted privacy?

    Forget Dwalin's skittishness, he wanted one!

    "Now what would they be cheering about?" Dwalin muttered, then bravely strode down the hallway leading to the commotion.

    Balin followed. It wasn't like he had a better idea. And the further he got, the better he could hear.

    First came Bombur's voice. "Ha! Match this expert maneuver of dwarven cuisine, master hobbit!"

    Then came a much smoother tenor that could only belong to their host. "Oh, you mean like this?"

    Sputters, then cheers from different voices. "-Go!- Do it again! – Is that even possible?"

    And some were particularly enthusiastic. "Go master Boggins!"

    Balin almost palmed his face at prince Kili's antics, but he didn't need to.

    "Baggins, young man, or you won't get any dessert."

    "Yes sir! Sorry sir!"

    Balin almost choked.

    "That's a good lad – hey! Trying to surprise me, Master Bombur?"

    "A true cook is never surprised in his domain!"

    "Oh, it is on!"

    When Balin finally reached the commotion and Dwalin pushed Bifur and Nori aside to make room for the two of them, he found he could do nothing but stare. And really, he couldn't be faulted for that! What else could he do when faced with the sight of a hobbit and dwarf juggling onions, potatoes, tomatoes and various other vegetables over the cooking table?

    The various foodstuffs kept flying between the two cooks, steadily picking up speed. And as that happened, Bumbur became more and more flustered, while Master Baggins kept a self-assured smirk firmly in place.

    Balin didn't know what he had been was expecting, but he was sure it wasn't this. The hobbit was shorter than them all, and he even lacked the pot belly that seemed to define his kind. His brown hair was curly and he had the most vivid green eyes. And his hands were almost a blur as they easily tracked the edible projectiles and sent them back to his apparent opponent.

    And despite that he did not wear an apron, there was not even the smallest of smudges on his clothes.

    Balin tore his eyes away from the hobbit and took in the stained apron Bombur was wearing, and the flour on his beard and in his hair.

    Trading a look with his brother, he found the same conclusion there.

    His kinsman didn't stand a chance.

    And, apparently, Bilbo Baggins had no qualms about relishing that fact. Slowly, with brazen ease and without moving his eyes from Bombur's own, he moved his right hand away and reached for a kitchen knife, keeping up the juggling game using only his left.

    Then he, very pointedly, began to chop a leek. Each slash of the knife was measured and loud in the round room. It was like everyone was holding their breath.

    Wait. They were.

    "Fili!"

    The blond prince jumped in place, startled, and the spell was broken, allowing everyone to breathe again.

    Perhaps Bilbo Baggins was kind in his own way.

    "There's a good lad," Bilbo, still smirking at a now reddening and tiring Bombur, tossed a pinch of chopped leeks over his shoulder. Even the tiniest bits made it into the cauldron steaming above the fire in the hearth. "Get me one of those garlic braids, will you?" he pointed at the far corner of the room. "Walk around me. No need to disturb master Bombur by brushing past him."

    Which meant that he shouldn't bother trying to slip past Bombur because his wide girth took up all the space between his side of the table and the wall. Master Baggins was just too polite to say it.

    "Right!" The prince obediently scurried to do as he was told.

    One of Bombur's hands strayed, as if he was reaching for the pork ribs next to him, but he had to abandon the idea and return it to the juggling. He managed to avoid a disaster. Barely. Sweat was pooling in beads on his brow.

    "Does that mean Fili gets more dessert than the others?" Kili asked, forlorn. Although his eyes were still riveted on the juggling vegetables.

    For a moment, the hobbit's smirk shifted into something akin to fondness.

    Bombur made another attempt at juggling one-handed, and after a second of uncertainty seemed to manage. Balin felt an absurd burst of pride for his kin, but when he turned to study the hobbit's reaction he noticed that there were an onion and a tomato next to his cutting board. An onion and a tomato that had been flying through the air until a few seconds before.

    The realization made the elderly dwarf stare at the hobbit again. Master Baggins had removed them from the contest without Bombur noticing, just to make it easier on him.

    Bilbo Baggins was kind indeed.

    Fili gave a grunt of frustration. "I can't reach them, is there a stool I could – Wha!" The prince fumbled, barely caught the garlic when it fell in his hands. For his part, Balin raised his eyebrows at the kitchen knife that had flown across the room from Bilbo's hand and had stuck into the wooden rail, cutting the garlic braid loose in the process.

    Bilbo Baggins pulled the tomato onto his cutting board and calmly reached for the other knife located to the right of it. There were three other knives to his left though, neatly lined up, with their hilts sticking out past the edge of the table.

    Fili brought him the garlic, which he took and set aside, next to a truly large bowl of eggs. Then Bilbo sent the lad off with a nod of thanks, and resumed cooking, his unwavering smile still aimed at the nearly exhausted Bombur.

    But the dwarf still had some defiance left. Struggling to keep the vegetable tossing going, he flared his nostrils, pulled a strip of raw pork ribs in front of him and began to chop at it with a cleaver.

    Viciously.

    "Master Bombur," Bilbo said calmly. His knife had almost finished cutting the ripe tomato into perfect cubes. "You're looking a bit peaky. Are you sure you are feeling well?" Balin caught the considering glance that Bilbo shot the onion he'd previously removed from the game. "Perhaps you wish for a break? There would be no shame in it. Other than my adoptive father, I have yet to meet anyone that could keep up with me in the kitchen."

    Balin barely had time to ponder on the issue of adopted parents before Bombur snarled and brought the cleaver down with more force than he'd used up to that point.

    It cut through rib bone, but it also sent a chunk soaring straight up, and disaster became unavoidable when the startled dwarf flailed, trying to catch it, thus slapping the vegetables coming at him in every direction.

    It was battle fervor. Adrenaline. Balin watched in slow motion as Bombur threw himself to the side, heroically trying to save the first thing he laid his eyes on – which happened to be a potato – all the while releasing a deep, bellowing, desperate cry of "Nnnnooooooh-"

    A silver streak cut the air, there came a THUNK, and suddenly a knife was embedded through a tomato, tip buried an inch deep into the wall right behind where Bumbur's head had been a second before.

    But Bilbo Baggins was still moving. Had moved, brought his left arm sweeping upwards, throwing the three kitchen knives into the air above him. Nimble fingers caught one by the tip and sent it flying, then his right hand caught the second, and his left grabbed the third by the hilt.

    Bombur smashed shoulder-first into the ground, potato safely held in his shaking hands.

    And Bilbo Baggins shot his right arm out, and the left one overhead.

    Steel pierced onion and garlic bulbs, dull clunks sounded even before anyone saw the knives embed themselves in wood and plaster. Kili yelped and jumped away from the blade that was suddenly rattling ten inches from his left shoulder. And as the princeling fell on his backside and brought half the company down with him like drunk dominoes, Balin watched as Bilbo Baggins used a hand to hurl himself over the table, twisting horizontally through the air and finally crashing right on top of his erstwhile opponent, arm stretched out as far as he could get it.

    The piece of meat that had been sent airborne landed safely inside the ladle.

    There was an awkward pause, broken only by the painful groans of a chef that had become the landing cushion of a hobbit, and those of an audience squashed under the weight of a dwarven youngling.

    … When on Arda had the hobbit even grabbed the ladle? Where had it even come from?

    Bilbo Baggins slipped off the moaning dwarf and smoothly stood on his feet, clothes barely ruffled and still as spotless as ever. Then he flipped the ladle backwards, not even looking at what he was doing.

    The pork rib landed right in the middle of the steaming cauldron, and not a single drop of broth was spilled.

    Balin was proud to say that he did not gape. Unlike many of the others.

    Bilbo Baggins looked down at the wheezing form of the obese dwarven chef, then gave the rest of the company a cursory gaze, until his eyes met his own. "Huh. Who're you?"

    The latest arrival shook himself and cleared his throat. "Ahem. Balin, son of Fundin." He found that the bow came easier than it usually did. "At your service."

    The hobbit nodded in return. "Bilbo Baggins, at yours and your family's."

    Which was when everyone else finally noticed that he existed. "Oh, hi!" Ori blurted, and was followed by "Hey Balin's!" and "Hello sirs's."

    "Right!" The voice of the Master of the House cut through the mire before it could really get started. "Fili! Kili!"

    Both yelped and were suddenly standing at attention. "Yes?" It was a comical sight really. The blond, older brother was trying to pick his younger sibling off the floor one moment, and the next they were both standing straight and stiff as though their uncle had caught them in the middle of a prank.

    Bilbo approached, took them by the wrists and dragged them to the left corner of the room, where he sat them on a pair of stools Balin hadn't known were there. "You two can stay because Bag End adores you."

    The two young dwarves grinned and puffed their chests. "Does that mean we get cake?" Kili asked.

    "No," Bilbo said unrepentantly. He even ignored their pouts and doe-eyes, moving to retrieve the knives and vegetables from the walls instead. "But you can get early servings of the stew if you behave." Returning the items to the table, he went and helped Bombur off the floor. For something so slight, he must have had better than average strength if he managed to pry the large dwarf off the floor. "Master Bombur, you may stick around and assist, as you have proven yourself quite able. Though I will say again that you are an honored guest in my home and need not do anything of the sort."

    The dwarf in question huffed and tucked the end of his long beard back into his collar. He didn't seem upset though. "Face it, Master Baggins. You need all the help you can get if you're going to feed all those lumps behind you."

    "Ah yes!" The hobbit strode around the table and picked up his knives as he went. "Since we're on the topic." He reached the far side of the table and turned his back on everyone, then began to juggle the blades as if it were a normal pastime. And maybe it was. "I'd better only have to say this once." He tossed the knives into the air and behind him, and they all landed, tip first, into the tabletop, neatly lined up, from smallest to biggest.

    The clumps echoed ominously in the hushed silence, one by one by one.

    Bilbo Baggins pulled out a drawer hidden by his frame from everyone's sight, paused for effect…

    The light of the chandelier up top dimmed even though the fire did not go out. Darkness descended upon the room like the shade of a crumbling mountain, and the fire in the hearth sputtered, failing to dispel the gloom regardless of how strong it still blazed and crackled. The only thing still visible was Bombur's startled face, the only thing that the fire's light still reached. Then even that was gone.

    Only a streak of steel was seen when Bilbo Baggins spun on his heels. Two glowing green eyes glared at the watchers as a chef's knife as large as an entire forearm was driven tip-first into hard oak wood with a flinch-inducing smash. "GET OUT OF MY KITCHEN!"

    The room emptied of people so fast that Balin was almost run over in the chaos. As Dwalin barely caught him and pulled him out of the stampede, the old dwarf wondered which he should choose between feeling awed or succumbing to alarm.

    In the end, he settled for the latter.

    Mahal, what was Gandalf trying to unleash upon their company?
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2022
  9. WaNoMatsuri

    WaNoMatsuri Not too sore, are you?

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    Oh man, this is awesome!
     
  10. ThunderBasilisk

    ThunderBasilisk Well worn.

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    Badass Bilbo? Watched
     
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  11. Mattamars

    Mattamars Getting sticky.

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    This is awesome dude I am so keeping a eye on this story
     
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  12. Isebas

    Isebas Casual Lurker

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    Read this on ffnet and absolutely loved it. Definitely one of my favorite Hobbit fanfics.
     
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  13. Threadmarks: The Shire – 2: Masterfully Miscommunicated (I)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    The Shire – 2: Masterfully Miscommunicated​


    “-. .-“
    Bilbo didn’t think his satisfaction at running those big lumps out of his kitchen like terrified fauntlings would dwindle any time soon. Even after Fili and Kili helped move the food that had finished cooking and settled on their own seats, he was still very smug inside, even if he didn’t show it. So one might imagine his surprise when that self-satisfaction totally popped like a balloon no more than fifteen minutes after he laid down the law. And, as was the case with so very many things, it was all Dwalin’s fault.

    “Excuse me, Master Dwalin, what?” Bilbo sputtered, freezing in mid-motion from where he was reaching forward to place a tray of smoked beef on the table in the main dining room. “What did you say had become of Gandalf?”

    In any other situation it would have been amusing to see the large dwarf sitting so stiffly. “He’s been in the room across the hall since he got tired of being harassed by this dam-“ Bilbo almost pulled the tray away, and Dwalin cut himself off with a glowering grimace. “Harassed by your home.” The dwarf gave the meat a hungry look but thought better than to reach for it. Bilbo could just decide to really reconsider and take it away.

    Bilbo focused outward, knowing his eyes would go unfocused, but he didn’t care what he looked like now. Images and impressions flittered across his awareness and when he finally had an idea of what he’d missed, he groaned and finally set the tray on the table, ignoring how his guests descended on it like starving beasts. “Oh Eru!” He frowned at the bald dwarf, noticing from the corner of his eye that Balin seemed very curious about the exchange. And not just him. “And you didn’t feel it relevant enough to mention?” The hobbit hissed.

    Dwalin peered at him suspiciously, looking around nervously while still chewing on a half-swallowed strip of meat. “Wasn’t that what you wanted?” He asked, lowly. Lowly for a dwarf anyway. “I thought you controlled everything this house does!” He hissed back.

    “I do! But I don’t always pay attention! Bag End has its own mind!” The hobbit groaned again, rubbing at his temples. “Here I’ve been thinking I was a decent host, but now it seems I’m terrible!’

    “No don’t say that mister Boggi-“ The blazing wood in the fireplace crackled like a collapsing tree house and Bilbo’s glare settled firmly on the youngest prince’s face. “Baggins!” Kili hastily corrected. “You’re a wonderful host! Great!”

    “Perfect!” Fili hurried to add when his brother elbowed him in the side.

    “Marvelous!” Bofur hastened to add.

    “Splendid!”

    “Attentive!”

    “Mighty thoughtful!”

    Bilbo rolled his eyes at the increasingly ridiculous and not-at-all heartfelt praises and walked out of the room, knowing Bombur would see to the rest until he had to go check on the roast and pies.

    Now that he’d shoved the distraction provided by the dwarves aside, he could sense that Bag End wasn’t only gushing over the new creatures anymore. There was something else, which Bilbo would have normally noticed if there weren’t 12 dwarves taking up his attention. Something like wariness and, for the first time ever, defiant protectiveness.

    That was new, and it made Bilbo frown. Bag End had never reacted defensively before, on his behalf or its own, because there had never been anyone it felt could pose a threat. Had Gandalf unnerved it somehow?

    Bilbo went through what he knew of Maia and tried to hypothesize what would happen if one of them and Bag End clashed in a confrontation of will and being.

    When he reached the obvious conclusion, he winced.

    But Bag End had not felt threatened by Gandalf the previous day, when the rune episode happened. Which meant that something had to have happened over the past two hours for the new wariness to make sense.

    Bilbo found Gandalf in the sitting room closest to the entrance hallway. The Wizard was on an armchair, nibbling on his pipe which, Bilbo noticed, was not lit, nor had any pipeweed in it. His eyes were closed, but the hobbit doubted his arrival had gone unnoticed. With a thought, the air outside the room stilled. No sounds would escape that room until he willed otherwise. “Gandalf.”

    The wizard had not taken his hat off, and the outside light had gone dim, making everything seem shrouded in semi-darkness, but his blue-grey eyes were perfectly visible when they finally opened. “Bilbo.” He moved his pipe away from his mouth and favored him with a wry smile. “Come to finally take pity on an old man?” Back when he was a child, Bilbo’s mother had often said that despite how aggravating the wizard could be, she could never really stay mad at him for long because he just gave you this look and…

    Bilbo sighed explosively, trudged over to grab another armchair and dragged it right in front of the one Gandalf had taken. Bag End made it easy for him to pull furniture around like that.

    The hobbit threw himself in the chair groaned in relief. Hosting a company of dwarves was hard work. He didn’t allow himself too long a moment, though, before he met the surprisingly earnest gaze of the wizard. “Gandalf.” A beat. “It seems I have wronged you. I apologize.”

    The wizard’s thick eyebrows disappeared under the brim of his hat.

    “I am very cross with you,” Bilbo carried on before he could chicken out. “But I never intended to repay your rude actions of the past day with more than the occasional glower. I never intended nor ordered my home to harass you in the matter that has only just been brought to my attention. Had I not been preoccupied with the others, Bag End’s actions towards you, or rather against you, would not have gone past my notice-”

    “-Bilbo-“

    “-TURNABOUT is fair play,” Bilbo continued. He was determined to say his piece. “But on that note my own treatment of you would have been sufficient. Especially when I have been going on about my reputation as a perfect host, which I definitely am not anymore now that I have discriminated between my guests in such a loathsome manner. What Bag End has done in retaliation was disproportionate-“

    Bilbo-

    “-regardless of how endearing it was if it was on my behalf, though I am not altogether sure it was on mine, since I haven’t mind-melded deeply enough to check yet-“

    “-BILBO!“

    The hobbit shut his mouth with a dull clamp and pursed his lips, narrowing his eyes at the wizard who’d sat up in his chair, looking aggravated. Gandalf was looking at him as if he’d seen him for the first time and wasn’t sure what race he belonged to.

    It felt oddly appropriate.

    “Interrupting someone is rude you know,” Bilbo said in the ensuing silence.

    The wizard harrumphed, easing back in his chair. “I think we are both well past the point where we pay heed to such concerns, are we not?”

    “I suppose s-“ Bilbo jerked in his seat at the rush of caution-suspicion- alarm that came over him.

    The hobbit and wizard shared an uncomfortable and heavy silence for a time.

    “I assume that was your home warning you clear of me?” Gandalf asked, a touch contrite. “It is not entirely undeserved, I fear.”

    That admission completely swept away all pretenses. “What on earth happened?” Bilbo breathed, not sure who he was directing that question to.

    Gandalf smiled sadly. “Such amazing creatures, Hobbits. You can learn everything about them in a year, and even after so long they can still surprise you.”

    Bilbo grimaced. “I think we both know I’m not longer a normal hobbit.”

    “Oh, but you are,” And Gandalf sounded totally certain of that. “You just added some extra facets.”

    “… You’ll be grilling me for information then I suppose?” Bilbo wasn’t sure how he would react to an interrogation.

    “Honestly, no,” Gandalf reached up and removed his hat at last, placing it on a counter nearby. He’d probably kept it on until that point because he doubted it would meet a pleasant fate if he left it behind somewhere, out of sight. “I do have questions, but also theories. And I believe I shall find the challenge of putting the puzzle of you together quite refreshing.”

    Bilbo was actually pleasantly surprised by that. “I think I’m starting to see why mother liked you.”

    “Belladonna Took was a dear friend.” And there was no lie or indulgence in that statement. “Perhaps someday I will be able to call you by a similar title.”

    Bilbo eyed the man evenly. It was honestly rather baffling that Gandalf the Grey would seek out companionship among the simple folk of The Shire. Or that the wizard seemed so fond and careful of hobbits as a whole. The hobbit knew that the Grey Pilgrim was a significant reason of why the Ranges of the old Kingdom of Arnor still guarded the borders of the Shire from the darkness.

    He told Gandalf as much.

    The reaction was delight. “Perhaps if you one day call me by a similar title I will share the reasons for that with you.” Yes, delight indeed. Delight at the possibility of leaving the Hobbit hanging.

    Well, turnabout was fair play.

    The Master of Bag End knew he looked like he’d swallowed something sour, but he didn’t bother with putting on a performance anymore. “Well, friendship still depends on your explanation of what happened between you and my home.”

    “I knew something was… strange when I came and found my rune gone,” Gandalf started, looking out the window at the rapidly disappearing twilight. “I should have detected the… presence yesterday, but I fear I did your home the same disfavor I did you.” Gandalf looked at him again. “Which is to say, I acted on false assumptions. With you it was the brazen assumption that I could steamroll into your life simply based on the fact that I had a very close rapport with your mother. Or perhaps I have grown proud and self-centered in my old age, though it is no excuse for treating you as if I had… as if I felt I should have more say in your life than yourself. It was unsightly of me, and I hope you will one day forgive me.”

    Bilbo forced himself to nod and not show his stupefaction openly. This sincere apology was not what he expected.

    “As for Bag End,” Gandalf gestured around them with his pipe. “The… sentiencecame to my attention when I stepped through the door earlier, and I fear I acted rather rashly.”

    Bilbo blinked. “You tried to mind link …” He realized.

    The grey-robed wizard nodded gravely. “It was not my intention to appear hostile. I was… merely curious, and until our minds touched I did not think there was any sentience, in truth. I thought it was your mind I was reaching for, and when I did not get the reaction I expected, I may have… pushed harder as I called for you specifically.”

    The understanding dawned on Bilbo with none of the relief and satisfaction that such an event would normally bring. “You scared it…”

    “I did not wish to, I assure you of that.” Gandalf seemed to become tired all of a sudden. “But I did frighten it, though it reacted thus more on your behalf than anything else. I attempted to soothe it, but your home had no reason to trust me after I essentially committed physical harm upon it not a day before.”

    “That didn’t hurt it, exactly,” Bilbo was a bit bewildered by all these revelations, so he hoped Gandalf would excuse how he latched on the least relevant part of his confession. “I toss knives at walls all the time and the scratches and cuts mend in minutes. Your magic just… felt wrong.”

    “Invasive,” the old man nodded. “I would have tried communicating again, more gently, but your home decided to show its displeasure with me in a more direct fashion, so I felt it prudent to wait until I could clear things up with you.”

    Bilbo Baggins stared at the wizard until it was almost long enough to be considered rude. “Or you could have intimidated it into submission.”

    “…”

    “I’m not a simpleton, Gandalf.” It may have been a touch cooler than he intended, but it was too late to take it back. “I know what you are. I know you could have obliterated-“

    “BILBO BAGGINS!”

    Bilbo flinched and shut up.

    There was a cloud of darkness around the wizard for a moment and Bilbo could feel Bag End straining between shrinking away in fright and reacting violently against the disturbance.

    It came to neither.

    Gandalf’s whole body seemed to suddenly lose all strength. The wizard slumped back in his chair, looking older and more exhausted than Bilbo had ever seen anyone. “I have gathered many names over the centuries.” There was a bone-deep weariness in the man’s voice. “I do not wish to add bully and slayer of children to the list.”

    Bilbo felt like he’d been hit in the stomach with the blunt side of a shovel. Once, he might have bristled at the implications, but he was no normal hobbit anymore, nor a young one, so he could tell the remark had not been referring to him. “Gandalf…” Bilbo rubbed his temple. This discussion was a bit heavy for the late hour. Good thing he’d eaten his fill while cooking that feast. Even so, the wizard was probably seeing more things to be guilty of than there really were. “I’m not sure you can apply the same aging conventions to a house as you can a man or hobbit.”

    Some spark of amusement seemed to come back to life in those old eyes. “And yet your home chose to confront me on its own, and behind your back, by throwing a temper tantrum, no matter how many logical reasons existed for that to be deemed unwise.”

    Bilbo thought back to that time when Billa Bracegirdle had accepted the marriage proposal from one of the Tooks across the water. Later in the day, when Billa left for the seamstress, her fauntling brother Bruno picked up a trowel and attacked the groom-to-be, declaring loudly that he would defeat him and protect his sister so that she wouldn’t be taken away.

    Bag End may have realized it was too young an existence and not (yet maybe) powerful enough to take on someone like Gandalf, so it wasn’t a reaction born from ignorance. Probably. Let it never be said Bilbo held no loyalty towards his creation. “It wasn’t a tantrum.” Let is also never be said that Bilbo Baggins was above teasing his own creations. “The way it’s been mooning over the dwarves is pretty hilarious and childish though.”

    Gandalf blinked and smiled, leaning forward. “Oh? Do tell.”

    Bilbo eyed him askance and made his decision. “I think I have something better.” Reaching out with his mind, he treated his house to the best impression of an unimpressed owner and told it to suck up and get over his initial impression. “Try communicating now.”

    The wizard looked surprised, then reluctant, but after a while he finally placed his pipe (which he’d kept gesturing with through their conversation) into some pocket or other and settled back in his chair. After that, it only took a moment for something new but somehow familiar to connect to the same… node, Bilbo supposed, he and Bag End met in every time they communed like this. All of a sudden, there were three lines meeting in a center, not just two. Bilbo could feel the youngest mind shying away in suspicion, but he coaxed it forward until Gandalf and Bag End finally introduced themselves to each other.

    Bilbo, eyes closed, relaxed and smiled at the successful communication. Gandalf was minding his manners and not digging where he wasn’t supposed to, which meant that Bilbo and his house could still trade thoughts and knowing without the wizard realizing. Well, he probably could deduce it was happening, but he was not privy to the “discussion” all the same.

    Which meant that he didn’t know that Bag End only agreed to open itself to Gandalf because Bilbo assured it that old Tom and the river daughter wouldn’t stand for anyone harming their grandchild.

    Gandalf probably had more of a point than he realized, about children and rash retorts.

    After all, Bag End was Bilbo’s firstborn, after a fashion.

    Once his home finally got over its initial impression and began to tentatively brush its mind against the Wizard’s by its own initiative, Bilbo slowly pulled out of the connection and blinked away the haze that always lingered after that deep a communion. Seeing Gandalf sitting back, eyes closed and content, fascinated even, he soundlessly slipped out of the room.

    He still had some pies and cakes to finish after all, and that turkey was not going to come out of the oven alone.
     
  14. In search for story's

    In search for story's Fool

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    Druid bilbo.

    It fits so well.
     
  15. FeepingCreature

    FeepingCreature Not too sore, are you?

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    Ahhhh! This is lovely!
     
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  16. Threadmarks: The Shire – 2: Masterfully Miscommunicated (II)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    “-. II .-“
    Kili would be lying if he said that wanting to get away (for a while) from the expectations of acting as “befitting” an Heir of the Durin line didn’t play any part in his decision to join his uncle on this mad quest.

    A quest to reclaim a mountain, and slay a dragon.

    But it was only one reason of many, and not even the main one. No, the main one was that he wanted to finally do something to repay his uncle and mother for everything they went through while raising him. And, okay, Fili too, but mostly he was the one that sought mischief when they were little, while Fili kept curbing the worst of his impulses while acting as though he was egging him on.

    Kili doubted Thorin even now knew Fili had never actually planned any of their unruly behavior when they were children.

    He also doubted Thorin knew how sorry Kili was for all the messes he caused as a dwarfling. Now, with the wisdom of age (though his mother would probably laugh at the idea he was anywhere resembling old and wise, and not just because he barely had a stubble) he could look back on those early days and know how often Thorin and Dis had trouble making enough money to get by. He could recognize the instances when the adults told them to go ahead and eat without them because they had people to meet or some last minute work to do. There were never such loose ends but Thorin and Dis didn’t want them to know they were rationing the food they ate so he and Fili wouldn’t have to.

    History had dealt the dwarves a harsh hand, which meant that if they were to ever regain anything of what they’d lost they’d have to do it themselves.

    So Kili had badgered and pestered and argued with those older than him until they relented and let him leave the Blue Mountains with the others. Well, the ones that happened to be there at the time anyway, since some were already on business on the other side of Eriador. He felt guilty for feeling glad that so few had answered Thorin’s call. He was sure he and Fili would have been left behind if more dwarves had actually come forward.

    As it was, the only ones that were warriors by profession were Dwalin, Dori, Thorin, Balin, Thorin of course, and the two of them, the youngest in the company. Well, Bifur too, never mind the axe head stuck in his… head, but anyway, their group was otherwise a company of bakers, toymakers, scribes, artists, crooks…

    Kili knew Balin didn’t have faith in this quest, that he thought it was wiser to stay in the Blue mountains. Thorin had managed to finally secure a life of comfort and plenty for them, and Kili agreed that it was better than how it used to be, and it was good not to have to be on the road all the time, dependent on Men and whatever business they could offer, assuming they even were willing to deal with dwarves in the first place.

    But Thorin had sent a call. He’d even gotten an envoy from the Iron hills to come. Lord Dain Ironfoot himself, his cousin. And so Balin had gone against his pessimism and joined in, like the rest of them.

    Thorin had doubts too, Kili knew. Sure, Gandalf had given him the key of King Thrain (and Kili’s stomach still turned at the thought of his grandfather tortured by that dark force in Dol Guldur until he didn’t even remember his own name). But Tharkûn refused to share more unless they followed his lead and met up in the Shire, of all places, to find a burglar, of all things.

    Nori had grumbled for days, wondering why he wasn’t good enough. Kili had wondered too.

    But the wizard was wily. He had a way with words, and the way he acted, as though he felt entitled to having his opinion heard and his direction followed without question, was a lot like Thorin sometimes. And he was damn intimidating too.

    And in the end, they all shared the same opinion, that the wizard was needed to deal with the dragon, so they may as well see what his whole idea about a hobbit burglar was all about. No matter how skeptical, rightfully or otherwise, they felt about the entire business. After all, what could the gentle folk know of adventure? What did hobbits know of burglary?

    The Shire seemed to reinforce their doubts.

    Then they finally found Bag End.

    A hole in the ground.

    A ludicrously cozy hole in the ground that made them feel more at home than they did anywhere beside the Blue Mountains, because things all around them were finally the right size.

    And it was alive. So alive that Dwalin, big, mean, old, gruff, train-you-until-you-die-and-your-bruises-have-bruises-Dwalin was acting skittish as if he expected some sort of ghost to jump at him from the shadows.

    It was surreal.

    Then they met Bilbo Baggins.

    Sitting at the table now and inhaling food like there was no tomorrow, Kili felt absolutely giddy. Giddy at the homely feel of the hobbit-hole, awed at the shocking amount of different, delicious dishes, happy with how upbeat everyone seemed to be, and how united they were in their opinion that Dwalin’s skittishness was hilarious.

    Amazed at the fact that they were currently inside a house that was apparently alive.

    And absolutely relieved that they had living and breathing evidence that the trip all the way up here hadn’t been a waste of time, because more than any of them, more than what even Gandalf had expected, they were going to get what they came for. None of them would be disappointed, none would have to worry taking the hobbit along would be a mistake, because Bilbo Baggins was totally, positively, absolutely, undeniably too awesome for words-

    Something struck the front door three times, loud and hard.

    The noise echoed loudly through the house. Ominously, some might say, and the twelve dwarves at the table (Bombur had finally joined them not long before) abruptly stilled, some with food half-way into their mouths.

    But Bilbo Baggins, who was in the process of distributing trays loaded with fried chicken legs, didn’t seem to care about the knock. He slipped the last tray suspiciously close to Ori, who was squashed between his brothers, then stepped back from the table. Kili noted that the Hobbit still looked completely spotless, despite not having taken the normal precautions while cooking.

    “I was wondering when he’d finally knock,” the hobbit said absently, stretching.

    “He is here.” Gandalf rumbled ominously from where he’d suddenly materialized right outside the dining room entrance.

    “I know.” Kili’s eyebrows shot up when Bilbo reached into his waistcoat pocket and pulled out a small, round, shiny silver object, tied by a chain. “He’s been outside for…” A short squeeze made the top lid swing open with a soft click. “Huh. 20 minutes now.”

    “Indeed?” Gandalf murmured, seemingly just as interested in the object Bilbo was studying as Kili was.

    Bilbo returned the item to his pocket and swept out of the room. “He’s been sitting on the bench.” The hobbit didn’t seem to care about the company of dwarves skulking in his wake. “Heavens know why.” From his tone, glib and self-assured, Kili rather suspected the Halfling had made his own opinion already.

    Kili shared a somewhat concerned glance with his brother.

    Bilbo Baggins reached the door and grabbed the brass knob located right at the middle of it.

    The round, green door opened inward, and Bilbo Baggins leaned against the edge as his eyes finally landed on the black-haired, blue-eyed dwarf beyond the threshold. There he was, his uncle, in all his heavily armored, braided-haired, short-bearded glory. His dark blue fur coat only added to his great, majestic aura.

    Kili held his breath.

    And his uncle chose that, of all times, to put his foot in his mouth. “Gandalf.” He’d barely even looked at Bilbo. He hadn’t even acknowledged him, sweeping his gaze past him instead, to look at the wizard. “You said this place would be easy to find.” Then he grandly strode into the house, not sparing Bilbo even a glance. “I got lost. Twice.” And, obviously, it was not his fault at all, was what his tone implied. “I would not even have found it if not for that sign on the door.”

    Kili, to his surprise, found himself growing uncomfortable. He’d never had a problem with Thorn acting like he owned the place, because, technically, in the Blue Mountains he did own the place, sort of…

    But by the gleam in Bilbo’s eyes, the youngest prince was pretty sure his uncle had well and truly made a horrible first impression.

    Gandalf cleared his throat. Was he uncomfortable? And was it just Kili’s imagination, or did the light of the candlesticks get just a bit dimmer? “Bilbo Baggins, may I introduce you to the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield.”

    And, naturally, Thorin had to slap on that haughty smile and look down on their host from the get-go. “So. This is the hobbit.” The word sounded like an insult.

    Kili almost missed the way Bilbo’s eyes flashed, but he didn’t know what that emotion was. He just knew it wasn’t anything good.

    With an almost careless push, Bilbo closed the door.

    And the King Under the Mountain (to be) began to circle him, slowly. And Kili wanted to palm his face. This wasn’t supposed to become an interrogation! “Tell me mister Baggins, have you done much fighting?” As if he was stalking an enemy. Bemusedly, the black-haired, nearly beardless dwarf saw Dwalin making halting, almost frantic movements from the corner of his eye. Sadly, Thorin had his back to them.

    Damn.

    “Pardon me?” And Bilbo didn’t even try to turn around, though he did tilt his head, and his eyes went distant for a moment, just as the candle light flickered again, though the flames did not waver in the least.

    Not good.

    “Axe or sword. What is your weapon of choice?” It was clear to them all that Thorin had already reached an opinion about their host, and it was not at all high.

    Not good, not good at all.

    Bilbo shook his head and crossed his arms, raising an eyebrow when the dwarf finally ended up in front of him once more. “Well, I do happen to be fairly good at conkers, if you must know.”

    Kili couldn’t see his uncle smirk, but he knew he’d done it anyway. It was clear in his voice. “Thought as much.” Then he half-turned to share his grand joke with them. “He looks more like a grocer than a burglar.”

    For that half a second while Thorin was looking at them, Bilbo’s eyes narrowed.

    Then his face smoothed into the perfect mask of placidity, not responding to the derisive amusement that Thorin Oakenshield aimed at him. The King Under the Mountain slowly turned away from him to head in the direction of the dining room, as if he owned the place-

    Only to suddenly trip and fall on his face as soon as he made to go through the closest alcove.

    Kli gaped, not so much at the fall but at the squawk that his uncle produced when he lost his balance and tripped on the edge of the carpet that had been perfectly smooth and stretched until that point. The prince heard more than saw Dwalin drop his head and rub his eyes. And Bifur’s muttered Khuzdul left him torn between hysterics and mortification.

    “Are you alright, master dwarf?” Kili’s eyes snapped around, shocked to see that Bilbo had disappeared from the hallway. He’d somehow snuck around them all and ended up on the inside of the room during the short commotion. “That was quite the fall.” His words of concern rung with a genuineness that everyone somehow knew was totally fake. He was standing over the fallen form the dwarf. “I won’t pry into your business, since we Hobbits are very clear on privacy and manners, you see.” Kili winced at the direct jab. “But you have been sitting on my bench for near half an hour now, for whatever reason. Have the rain and night chill gotten to you? I can brew an excellent tea for the cold if you have one.”

    Thorin, who had climbed to his feet with as much composure as he could scrounge together after that embarrassing display, seemed to be doing his best not to glare too obviously. “That won’t be necessary.” Kili was amazed his teeth didn’t shoot sparks, with how tightly they were grinding together.

    “Oh.” Was all Bilbo said. “Okay then.” After which the hobbit promptly turned on his heel (thus totally dismissing the presence of the newest arrival) and marched through the sitting room and another hallway until he reached the dining room and casually sat himself at the head of the table, putting together a plate worthy of royalty without paying mind to anyone else.

    Kili wondered when Bilbo had had the time to drag his armchair there.

    Not much later, Thorin pointedly took the seat at the other end of the table, the one that put the round window and the merrily blazing hearth at his back. Bag End seemed to have lots of those.

    With a cringe, Kili, son of Dis, shared a worried look with his more fair-haired brother, who looked no less pained than himself.

    Both of them had been sure that things would go oh so well between their uncle and their burglar.

    Fat chance.
     
  17. jamesofthedark614

    jamesofthedark614 Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    Delightful. I eagerly await more.
     
  18. WaNoMatsuri

    WaNoMatsuri Not too sore, are you?

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    Oh my god, this is amazing. Thorin falling on his face… splendid.
     
  19. Aravis

    Aravis Not too sore, are you?

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    This is a hilarious and awesome version of the Hobbit! Please, keep up the good work! Thanks for the chappy!
     
    Rmajere and Karmic Acumen like this.
  20. Mastersgt

    Mastersgt Experienced.

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    Super happy this got updated, hope it continues.
     
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  21. Yami-Guy

    Yami-Guy I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    I wasnt ready.

    Also Watched! I cant wait for more!
     
  22. Threadmarks: The Shire – 2: Masterfully Miscommunicated (III)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    “-. .-“
    Nori wondered what in Mahal’s beard he had been thinking. He may like to act all smug and self-assured, as if he was the most upbeat person on Middle Earth, but that was just a performance he put on for the benefit of everyone else. He was one who had grown from petty thief to petty crime ring leader, then all the way to (oft-downtrodden like all his kin) spy master after Smaug totally shattered their livelihood, blurring the lines between the good dwarves and bad. After spending decades keeping up his legally ambiguous ways and preempting assassination attempts against Thorin and his family (thankfully few and without them knowing, for the most part, but even those were more than there should have been), his hope for a better future had been well and truly shot.

    And with it, so had his hope for pretty much any sort of good turn. It was great being a doomsayer. It meant that if you were ever surprised, it could only be in a good way.

    So what in The Halls of the Ancestors was he thinking, indulging in optimism?! It’s not like he’d been given enough cause to think Thorin and Bilbo Baggins would hit it off! Sure, the hobbit was lean and elegant, cultured and quick-witted, a master of knives no matter how unbalanced, the best cook ever and charming as sin, but that wasn’t enough cause to…

    Oh, who was he kidding? There had been plenty of reasons to be optimistic!

    And yet they hated each other on sight.

    Which meant that the fact Nori ended up unpleasantly surprised was all Thorin’s fault. He was going to strangle that troublesome dwarf someday. Thorin would deserve it and Nori would enjoy it.

    Now if only he could rid himself of that little shred of morality he still possessed…

    Drat. Loyalty was so troublesome.

    At least the hobbit (and no, Nori didn’t say or think the word as an insult) didn’t seem to hold Thorin’s “introduction” against the rest of them. After finally sitting down at the table to join the feast he’d cooked, Bilbo Baggins kept up a steady stream of conversation with whoever was willing to reciprocate, especially the princes (the two were surprisingly taken with him, though Nori suspected Bilbo had bought them off with pastries) and Ori.

    He was chatting despite that Dori had sat himself between the hobbit and their younger brother, supposedly to act as a barrier.

    From the conversation with his younger brother, Nori could see that Bilbo shared Ori’s love of all things written and drawn. Bilbo even shared his passion for creating maps, which was a surprising skill really, although Nori would be the first to admit they didn’t know much about hobbits so he wasn’t the one to judge. Or shouldn’t be anyway.

    Which was pretty unacceptable for the one supposed to know things. Too bad they couldn’t stay in the Shire for a while. He had a feeling it wouldn’t actually be a waste of time to spend a day or two learning about the supposedly gentlest folk on Middle Earth.

    Although he could admit he was learning enough from just this one hobbit. Their incredible capacity for putting away food being one of them. Stone, where was all that food going? And how in the world was the Hobbit devouring it so fast and without making a mess of himself? And he thought Bombur was an endless pit when it came to eating!

    And as Nori had noticed before, Bilbo Baggins did it all while keeping up various conversations, and without speaking with his mouth full even once.

    It was baffling.

    But not as much as his ability to completely turn around everything Thorin said to him, and twist every comment about him into a compliment.

    “Well, at least this feast means you lived up to my expectations of you, such as they were.”

    “Yes, I don’t know about dwarves but we hobbits love food.” Baggins would casually say, acting as if he was totally pleased with the remark. And also immersed in the act of cutting his steak. “Being complimented on our cooking is one of the greatest honors a guest can bestow upon us.”

    Nori wasn’t sure if Thorin was seeing through the act. Probably, but the way he scowled meant he was pissed off anyway.

    Tough break. If Bilbo Baggins was going to weaponize culture shock, Nori would damn well enjoy every single moment of it.

    “I noticed there were a lot of flowers outside. Very… delicate. I assume you tend to them yourself? I imagine they take up most of your time.” Which was to say, I suppose you’re also a gardener in addition to a grocer.

    “Oh, I’d love to, but I simply haven’t the time for them all!” And bless the lad, he sounded honestly contrite. “I usually find I must rely on dear old Hobson Gamgee from down the street. Wonderful fellow. Has the best green thumb I’ve ever encountered.”

    “I am certain he does.”

    That was a lousy topic closer, Nori thought. Thorin could have easily bent that statement around and made a quip about Bilbo Baggins starting a project that was beyond him and having to rely on the pity of the neighbors.

    Mahal, if you’re going to get into double-speak, at least do it decently! This was cringe-worthy! Literally! Everyone at the table other than Gandalf and Thorin himself had cringed at least once. And Dwalin kept wincing every time those two spoke to each other, if it could even be called that. And had even whimpered that one time, though no one other than him seemed to take notice. Blast the guardsman for taking the seat right next to him. Bastard just wouldn’t let go of the past and kept insisting he, Nori, should be kept an eye on.

    Dwalin wasn’t fit to keep an eye on himself with the state he was in.

    And lo and behold, Fili and Kili seemed to find the sight of their uncle getting verbally trounced absolutely hilarious. Their attempt at hiding their amusement beyond pints of ale (Mahal, the ale) were half-arsed at best, but Thorin was too absorbed in his ongoing, self-engineered aggravation to notice anything.

    Nori wondered when the world had gone wrong to the point where he, a crook, seemed to have more loyalty towards their would-be king than the man’s own nephews.

    And he wondered why Thorin was so easy to rile up, and why he came in looking to make himself feel better at another’s expense in the first place. The only answer Nori could think of was that he was already burdened with a foul mood. A mood so foul that it could only mean the to the council of lords in the north had resulted in failure. It would explain why he would linger on the doorway for so long. If Dain had refused to help them, Thorin probably wouldn’t be eager to share that bit of news.

    Nori really hoped he was wrong. But he was willing to bet his hair style he wasn’t. And he was good at gambling, because he always cheated.

    The feast continued on in that fashion for a while, until nearly every plate and tray was empty or filled with scraps. Bilbo was talking to Gandalf, the wizard having sat at his left the whole time, when Ori hesitantly cut in. “Excuse me.”

    Bilbo Baggins turned his entire attention towards the blond dwarf. “Yes?”

    “I’m sorry to interrupt, but what should I do with my plate?”

    Nori wanted to sigh. Good old Ori. Always had too many manners.

    Before Bilbo could answer (probably with something along the lines that he’ll take care of it because he’s the host after all), Fili stood up from across the table. “Toss it here!”

    Nori knew that eye gleam and that grin.

    But surprise of all surprises, Ori looked at Bilbo for permission first. From the corner of his eye, Nori saw Thorin straighten at seeing the Hobbit’s authority so blatantly recognized as superior to that of the Heir Under the Mountain.

    Bilbo Baggins smiled indulgently and leaned back in his armchair, gesturing that he go ahead.

    One plate toss led to another, then the other dwarves began to pound the ends of their forks and knives against the table, and despite all the strained quips during the feast, the overall experience had been good and merry, so it wasn’t too long before plates were flying and dwarves were singing.

    Blunt the knives bend the forks!
    Smash the bottles and burn the corks!
    Chip the glasses and crack the plates!
    That's what Bilbo Baggins hates -

    Only he didn’t. The hobbit shook his head with the air of someone amused at a group of overexcited children and quaintly finished his ale.


    Cut the cloth tread on the fat!
    Leave the bones on the bedroom mat!
    Pour the milk on the pantry floor!
    Splash the wine on every door!

    But of course they did none of those things, instead gathering up the tableware in tall piles, each with a bottle of ale mug on top. Nori was participating in the whole thing, but still had a free eye to glance at Bilbo from time to time.

    What he saw almost made him stumble and cause a horrible disaster. There, right in front of Bilbo Baggins, were all the best plates neatly stacked on top of one another.


    Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl;
    Pound them up with a thumping pole;
    And when you've finished, if they are whole,
    Send them down the hall to roll!

    Dori, totally caught up in the process that only Thorin and Gandalf had stayed out of (the hobbit notwithstanding) reached out to grab one of the plates that their host had surreptitiously snatched out of the air at whatever point.


    That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!


    A hobbit’s hand came down in a hammer fist upon the searching hand of the dwarf with surprising force. Dori’s palm made a muffled splat against the wood, and the noise suddenly halted the antics of everyone. Utterly unperturbed by being the center of attention, Bilbo Baggins sent the strongest dwarf in the company a very sweet smile. “This is my late mother’s china, and I am very fond of it, Master Dwarf.” He uncoiled his fist and let his palm rest on the far end of the steak knife. The steak knife that had gone between Dori’s fingers and into the tough wood below. “I may be convinced to let you include them in your merrymaking, but if you put even a scratch on them I will not be held responsible if any of you end up smothered in your sleep tonight.”

    Beside Nori, Dwalin made a noise resembling a wounded puppy.

    Fili and Kili both gaped, piles of dishware still held aloft in both hands.

    “Although I suppose that friendly warning could easily turn irrelevant if you decided it suited you better to seek lodgings at the inn instead.” The hobbit heaved at the knife a few times to pull it out (mercy, had it gone so far in?) and stood smoothly. His armchair slid back to allow him easy movement. And it must have moved on its own, because the short creature couldn’t have pushed it back, at least not that easily. “Not that I would suggest or desire it. After all, all of you whom I welcomed into my home tonight have been excellent company.”

    Nori blinked, eyes flicking from Dori’s pale and stunned face to the serene visage of the curly-haired halfling. With that, he’d essentially excluded Thorin from his statement of goodwill because he hadn’t welcomed the dwarf inside. The King had invited himself in.

    Given Thorin’s barely concealed anger, he had caught the jab as well.

    “Besides!” The hobbit scooped up his prized plates in a single hand, smiling at them all (except Thorin). “I need these to bring in the dessert!”

    Oh, he was good.

    "-. .-"
    Dessert (tarts, apple pies and pastries of at least five different kinds) came and went with surprisingly little fuss, as did the discussion that everyone had been waiting for, though it did kill whatever mood was left after the sweets. Thorin had gone to the dwarf lord council, but none had answered his call, not even his cousin Dain Ironfoot, which meant that their company was all that they had to go reclaim the Lonely Mountain.

    13 dwarves.

    Well, 13 dwarves, a wizard and a Hobbit, assuming he was going to agree to come despite Thorin’s, ahem, handling of him.

    Right. Nori wasn’t going to bet his starfish hair against those odds, no sir.

    The mood was somewhat lifted when Gandalf produced the map of the lonely mountain and revealed the existence of the secret door, which the Durin Line knew of and could use to evacuate in case of emergency. After that the talk turned into multiple isolated conversations, with the occasional point that everyone paid attention to. Like the time frame they were willing to set for themselves (one or two years, but extendable) and whether or not Gandalf had any experience with dragons (he didn’t).

    Through it all, even when everyone crowded around the map as well as they could, with gandlaf ending up right next to Thorin, Bilbo Baggins sat in his armchair, sipping at a cup of tea and reading through the contract that Balin had finally handed over at Thorin’s order. Just the usual: summary of out-of-pocket expenses, time required, remuneration, funeral arrangements, so forth.

    Ha! Just the usual indeed.

    Nori had been keeping one eye on Bilbo and didn’t miss the rising eyebrows and bemused shakes of the head. The Hobbit seemed quite immersed in his reading, and Nori found himself truly curious to see how much he would find unacceptable in it. The thief himself had caught a couple of things in the fine print that didn’t sit well with him, and had haggled with Balin until he got the terms he wanted.

    The discussion on Thorin’s end of the table died down eventually, and it was just in time to see Bilbo Baggins frown, though the half-smile never really left his face, even as his eyes narrowed in suspicion.

    “Oh, up to but not exceeding one fourteenth total profit if any. Seems fair.” Then he snickered. “Present company shall not be liable for injuries including but not limited to laceration, evisceration... incineration?”

    “Yeah!” Bofur enthused. “Think furnace, with wings!” Bilbo only seemed to find it funny. “He'll melt the flesh off your bones in the blink of an eye! Flash of light, searing pain, then poof, you're nothing more than a pile of ash.”

    “Yes, thank you Bofur,” Bilbo told him easily. “Very helpful. Your flippancy in the face of my potential death is endearing.”

    “I thought so too!” Gloin cut in. Nori had almost forgotten about him. He’d been among the most silent ones during the whole evening.

    Bilbo hummed and lowered his eyes to the mile-long contract again. “You might as well have added immolation and combustion to the list. And why not, decapitation, impaling, death by orc ambush.” Nori’s eyes flickered over to Thorin whose expression began to close off even more than it already was. “That’s what they are, aren’t they? Throat cutters. There'd be dozens of them out there after all. The low lands are crawling with them. They strike, in the wee small hours, when everyone's asleep. Quick and quiet, no screams. Just lots of blood.”

    “You think that's funny?” Thorin cut in, and yes, he had raised his voice. “You think a night raid by orcs is a joke?”

    Bilbo glanced up and Nori felt a shiver go down his spine even though those green irises weren’t aimed at him. “I didn’t say that.”

    “No you didn't,” the dwarf king bit out, settling back into his chair as if it pained him to relax. “You know nothing of the world.”

    Gandalf sat up in his seat and all the dwarves standing or sitting close to that end of the table gasped or yelped and sprung away as if burned. Nori would have paid more attention to Thorin’s reaction to that if his eyes weren’t riveted on something else. The room to Thorin’s back suddenly went dark, as if a cloud of ash had sprung from nowhere. Then it looked more like ink.

    Even with the candles still burning, it was like a veil of darkness fell, leaving only the window, skewed and half-covered by the curtains. The moonlight was pale but the lantern outside made up for it. Half-covered as it was, it looked like the glaring eye of a giant resting its face on its side.

    Shocked by the outburst of his dwarves, at the horrified looks they sent to the wall behind him, Thorin cautiously twisted as well as he could to look over his shoulder. It was just in time for the fire in the hearth to flare. The hearth looked like a mouth twisted into the most hideous rictus. One about to spit flame all over them.

    Thorin cursed in Khuzdul and jumped at the sight of a monster leering and preparing to eat him, or would have if his chair could move, but it didn’t. The dwarf king grunted in surprise, then tried to push himself away, but failed. One arm became too and he tried to heave himself, but when his efforts proved to be vain his chair suddenly moved further in, crushing his chest against the edge of the table.

    On the other side, Bilbo Baggins moved to the next fold of the scroll, ignoring the alarmed and helplessly angry struggles of his unwelcome guest. “Burglar acknowledges and agrees that each item of the Company’s valuables, goods, money or merchandise which he recovers from the Lonely Mountain during the term of his engagement with the Company, shall remain the Property of the Company at all times, and in all respects, without limitation.”

    His voice caused a hush to fall over the room, and the growing darkness seemed to strain against his every word.

    “Furthermore, the company shall retain any and all Recovered Goods until such a time as a full and final reckoning can be made, from which the Total Profits can then be established. Then, and only then, will the Burglar’s fourteenth share be calculated and decided.” Bilbo tapped his fingers against the paper a couple of times. “So, I’m not actually entitled to any part of the treasure. Just whatever gold you lot think I’ll be owed at the end of it.”

    Nori internally acknowledged the point as Balin quietly sighed.

    “You know, this is actually a hilarious term, all told,” Bilbo said randomly, cutting off whatever anyone was about to say. “It means I won’t get to claim any actual item or gem from there. Did you even bother learning anything of us hobbits?” Bilbo asked Balin that, not Thorin. He seemed to enjoy ignoring the seething king, to whom the fiery maw seemed to be getting ever closer. “Even if we weren’t simple folk that care not for gold or riches, I’m already the richest Hobbit there is you know.”

    That caused another round of gapes, and even Thorin paused in his ongoing attempts to push himself from the table.

    Bilbo shared an amused look with a calmly smoking Gandalf and crossed his legs, then returned his attention to the contract. “Confidentiality is of utmost importance and must be strictly maintained at all times. During the course of his employment with the Company, Burglar will hear, see, learn, apprehend, comprehend, and, in short, gain knowledge of particular facts, ideas, plans, strategies, theories, geography, cartography, iconography, means, tactics and/or policies, whether actual, tangible, conceptual, historical or fanciful. Burglar undertakes and agrees to maintain this knowledge in utmost secrecy and confidentiality, and to neither divulge nor make known said knowledge by any means, including but not limited to speech, writing, demonstration, re-enactment, mime, or storage and retrieval within means or apparatus currently known or unknown or as yet unthought of.”

    Bilbo let that sink in.

    “So, technically, I won’t be allowed to speak or write about anything on the journey. Freedom of speech is not a right among dwarves?” Bilbo shook his head, though he didn’t look at anyone. “Terrible society you people live in.”

    “Now, laddie, that’s not-“

    “Oh look!” Bilbo cut Balin off. “I love this one: Burglar acknowledges that monetary damages alone will be adequate compensation for a breach of this contract by the Company. So you can toss me to the wolves and it’ll be fine as long as you dump some gold or silver coins in my lap. Wonderful insurance I must say.”

    Okay, the contract really did start to sound a bit odd if you take into account that the Burglar isn’t a dwarf. And even then…

    “And my, what a clever fine print we have.” Bilbo shifted in his seat, took a sip from his tea and continued. “Disputes arising between the Contract Parties shall be heard and judged by an arbitrator of the Company’s choosing – no mention of a neutral party. Fills me with utmost confidence.”

    The darkness behind Thorin, who was trembling with rage at being forced to stay immobile, began to creep further. It licked at his elbows and made the dwarf king freeze.

    And then Bilbo dropped all pretense of being amused by anything. “… and all pleas shall be pleaded, shrewed, defended, answered, debated and judged in the Dwarvish Tongue.” The fire in the hellmouth flared a second time and the light in the lantern outside the window went out for a moment, making it seem as if the monster had blinked at them.

    Nori could feel the heat from the hearth all the way across the room. He could only wonder how it felt against Thorin. The king was fortunate that his chair had a backrest.

    The Hobbit slowly held the contract away and dumped it on the floor beside him with undisguised contempt. The moment it hit the rug, the fire in the mouth of the monster surged and crackled like a whip. Sparks were kicked up, some landing on Thorin’s sleeves and in his hair.

    Normally, the dwarves would have charged the perceived threat to their king by now, at least the one they thought they could handle, namely the hobbit. But it was always Balin or Dwalin that called such a charge. And the former was a bit far away, and Dwalin had shrunk back and was looking wildly around, as if he thought the furniture would come alive and attack him.

    “Umm… Mister Baggins?” Kili hedged plaintively, looking well and truly worried. “Please don’t let the house eat our uncle.”

    “We still need him, you see.” Fili was somewhat more composed. Somewhat.

    “Hmmm…” Bilbo was glaring at the dwarf king now.

    Then he suddenly pushed himself away and everyone started, thinking he would topple over and fall.

    Two bare feet snagged on the underside of the table edge, leaving the armchair and hobbit teetering backwards but surprisingly steady on just two feet, despite the precarious position. Bilbo reached up, just in time to catch a jar of honey that had come flying all the way from the kitchen.

    A slight tug made his large armchair crash back on all four feet. The hobbit proceeded to replenish his tea from the kettle and uncapped his honey jar. Then he gingerly added some to his tea and stirred, slowly, his glare never leaving Thorin, who was looking thunderous but no less helpless, stuck in place as he was.

    After a few minutes, Bilbo brought the cup to his mouth.

    A beat.

    The darkness in Thorin’s half of the room shuddered.

    Bilbo took a deep breath, then released it and took another sip of his honey tea.

    The darkness retreated nearly all the way to the wall, but the window still glared and the hell mouth still blazed.

    The third sip finally, finally made the apparition disappear, slowly but surely, and Bilbo Baggins slumped in his chair with heavy, weary sigh.

    The dwarves let out a collective breath. Both those who were standing and those that hadn’t managed to leave their stools when Bag End got angry. Thorin visibly relaxed, though not all the way, and he was well past the point where he could pretend he’d been completely free of fear.

    The King Under the Mountain tried to push away from the table, but he failed still.

    “You know,” Bilbo stared at his tea as he stirred it with his spoon. “You are dwarves and I’m a hobbit, so because of the entire culture shock thing some allowances could be made. So despite that there have been some things not altogether proper that I have had to cope with this night, I tried to keep an open mind when mud was dragged all across my home.” The hobbit drunk all the tea, though he didn’t rush. “When every new guest made enough noise to make my ears ring, I took heart in the fact that it meant they were in a good mood.”

    As he talked, the other dwarves returned to their chairs and kept their eyes down, not looking at either of the two opposing parties.

    “But in the end I still ended up making one false assumption.” Setting the empty cup and tray on the table, the Master of the House stood from his armchair, which obligingly scuttled back a couple of feet. “Pleasantly surprised as I was by the cheer of these 12 fellows around us, I mistakenly thought their merry and, in some cases, cultured and polite manner was a reflection of the one they had sworn to follow. The great leader they had joined on this grand quest to reclaim their homeland, and slay a dragon. I assumed,” Bilbo propped both palms on the table, “That the positive impression they left on me was a reflection of you.” The hobbit pushed himself away and gave Thorin a look of utmost contempt. “Clearly, I was mistaken.”

    Thorin looked thunderous, itching to stand up and do and say Mahal knew what, but Nori and everyone else never got to know what it would be.

    The entire room went dark as if Gandalf had just gone into one of his famous fits.

    And Bilbo Baggins was glaring at the dwarf sequestered to the chair across the table from him. “You have the gall to show yourself here and treat me with utter derision in my own house. You barely acknowledge me when I open the door and proceed to insult me at every turn without past grievances existing between us! You presume to think yourself my better even though your amazing ability to get lost twice on a 2-mile road is the absolute least of your issues!”

    The fire in the hearth almost exploded and a wave of heat wafted over everyone gathered in the dining room. Dwalin made a strangled noise, barely drowned by the yelps of the princes and Bombur.

    “I would have been willing to overlook it all,” Bilbo said lowly. “After all, you came here burdened by the knowledge you would have to share the bad news with the rest of your fellows. That the rest of your kin had turned their backs on you. That is why you lingered outside for so long, despite having some through the rain, wasn’t it? Because you didn’t know how to break the bad news. I was ready to bear your attitude, even though it is the mark of a lesser man.”

    Nori was sure someone or Thorin himself would have snapped something back by now, but he doubted he was the only one who felt like too much air was pressing on his mouth and nose and throat.

    “But this!” Bilbo waved at the discarded contract in disgust. “This so-called contract is nothing but a deliberate, premeditated insult to my intelligence. Because, clearly, insulting my appearance and my presumed occupation was not enough. And to think you seethe when Men sneer down their noses at you. I can’t imagine why, since the moment you found someone smaller you proceeded to do the exact same thing.”

    Without any notice, the darkness lifted.

    But Bilbo Baggins had one last thing to say. “Maybe you missed it in all the excitement, but I am not your subject, Thorin Oakenshield, and you are not my king.”

    Silence.

    “And I will travel nowhere with hypocrites, no matter their station.”

    The air pressure choking them dispersed, making all but the now blank-faced kin buckle and sigh in relief.

    “Now if you’ll excuse me,” Nori did a double take at how quickly the hobbit once again assumed his unbothered air. “I will turn in. I must usher in the dawn tomorrow. Gandalf, a word in private if you don’t mind?”

    Without further ado, Bilbo Baggins strode out of the room.

    Tick.

    Tock.

    Tick-tock went the clock.

    Gandalf heaved himself from his chair and smoothed out his robes. “Well,” he said bemusedly, subjecting the company to a cursory gaze. “That could have gone better.” And without another word, the wizard followed the landlord out.
     
    Last edited: Dec 21, 2022
  23. Dracomaser

    Dracomaser Searching for the Ever Distant Lemon

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    Goddamn, Thorin just got burned! This fic is really doing the source material justice, so kudos for writing a Tolkien fanfic and doing it well.
     
  24. Sceptic

    Sceptic Critical Irrationalist

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    "It's hot and it's dry, but I don't agree with Anakin about sand."
     
  25. Finale

    Finale I trust you know where the happy button is?

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    Ok I’ve started reading this story and damn does it not disappoint. Fear the rage of the patient man indeed.
     
  26. Oddboy

    Oddboy The Trash Cat

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    Ooof. Just... ooof.

    Talk shit, get hit. Or in this case, verbally eviscerated.

    Worst thing is, Thorin isn't even really a king of anything tangible, thanks to Smaug occupying the Lonely Mountain.
     
  27. Threadmarks: The Shire – 3: Shire Dawn (I)
    Karmic Acumen

    Karmic Acumen The long-suffering one

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    The Shire – 3: Shire Dawn

    “-. .-“
    Even though most dwarves did it all the time, there was only one type of situation when Balin, Son of Fundin, could be caught snorting like a boar, and that was when he was abruptly woken up from sleep for whatever reason. He didn’t even have to be in a deep, snore-filled sleep either. A light doze would do. Just startle him by making physical contact and poof, there he goes.

    Which had just happened.

    Or not, his sluggish mind told him. He’d woken up by himself when he was about to slip off the edge of the table he’d fallen asleep at. The physical contact with another living being had come right after, and prevented him from face-planting into that surprisingly comfortable-looking carpet.

    Maybe he should have brought an armchair instead of a normal seat when he got settled in front of the stationery in Bag End’s main sitting room. Surely, the home would have helped move it if he'd asked nicely enough.

    Blinking his sleepiness away, the white-haired dwarf was dimly aware of being pushed back into a semblance of balance. There was also something odd about his right hand, and when he looked at it he understood why. He was still holding the quill in it, though it wasn’t really an accurate assessment. The only reason he hadn’t dropped it was because another hand had taken a hold of his and maintained the grip when it had slipped past the edge of the table.

    The dwarf gave himself a shake.

    “Easy there, Master Balin,” Bilbo Baggins voiced from right behind him. The named dwarf finally noticed the feel of the hobbit’s other hand on his shoulder, keeping him steady. “We wouldn’t want your diligent work to be ruined by accidentally spilling the ink pot.”

    Balin craned his neck to look at the hobbit’s face, then followed his gaze back to the table, to the left, where his left hand was just a hair’s breath away from the item in question, which was teetering dangerously on the edge of the folded part of the contract he’d been rewriting.

    The final remnants of sleep departed, allowing the dwarf to remember how he’d come to be in that position. There wasn’t much to recall really. After the disastrous end to the first reading of the contract they’d given the hobbit, Gandalf had followed him out as requested. Thorin thought that meant he could finally pull away from the table, but the chair still didn’t budge. Kili and Fili got up to help, and when their collaborative efforts failed to move the chair, Dori was called, then Oin and Gloin.

    Still no luck.

    Until Dwalin rolled his eyes, got up and made his way over, shoving Fili and Oin out of the way.

    The instant he grabbed the arm of the chair and, along with the others there, pulled with all his might, it flipped backwards as if there was nothing holding it in place at all.

    Balin knew Thorin would deny shrieking in fright to the end of his days.

    The whole scene had concluded with a pile of dwarves groaning in pain from underneath or above the piece of furniture, which was when Balin approached, looked down at his King and wryly said he’d get on with writing a new draft of the contract, “just in case, aye laddie?”

    He’d proceeded to do just that, paying only the barest smidgen of attention to everything else happening around him after he got everything ready for the new draft of the contract to be written. He would have even used his own supplies, but the moment he set the parchment on the desk, the drawer pulled out on its own to reveal a full set of goose feather quills, as well as a swan feather quill for larger lettering.

    And three different inkpots, in blue, red and green.

    Balin remembered sitting down and peering at the contents of the drawer for a good minute. If his assumption was correct that that wasn’t even the main set of writing tools in the house, he could probably stamp “scholar” on Bilbo Baggins in addition to cook, gardener, musician and aristocrat (insofar as the Shire even had aristocracy).

    Suddenly, the term “gentlehobbit” began to make a lot more sense.

    He was debating “wizard” but wasn’t sure if this “living home” business wasn’t something all hobbits had going.

    And wasn’t that a scary (and amazing) thought?

    Balin didn’t remember falling asleep, but he suspected it happened because of how much and well he’d eaten and drunk that evening. Even his recollections of the stilted and whispered conversation (growling session really) between Thorin and Dwalin was just a faded thing in his head now. He thought Fili and Kili had tried to smooth things over, but they totally failed because they were still enamored with their host. So their “explanations” as to where things went wrong ended up as “explanations” of what Thorin did wrong.

    And they sung of the hobbit’s praises, because Mahal, the juggling! And the food! And the knives!

    And the juggling!

    Alas, Balin became totally immersed in the task of rewriting that document and didn’t pay more attention. Then he fell asleep at some point and, now, there he was, being held up by a Hobbit that always (well, mostly) knew what was going on in his home and used that awareness to be the best host possible.

    The dwarf really was surprised their host was still so amiable. He thought Bilbo Baggins could have rightfully thrown them out of his home after how the meal concluded. He was no fool, the contract barely figured into the hobbit’s aggravation, no matter what he said. It was Thorin that had angered him, and Balin really couldn’t ignore the fact that dwarves had gone to war over much lesser slights that the ones Thorin had inflicted, and sometimes for no rightful reason at all.

    Balin did sometimes wonder where all the diplomacy and etiquette lessons he gave Thorin ended up. Because, clearly, the king-in-exile had drawn on none of them during that evening.

    Bilbo Baggins released his writing hand and walked around Balin and his chair to pluck the inkpot and move it away from the half-finished new contract. “Come, Master Balin, your bedchamber for the night awaits.”

    Balin hoped that meant he was still considering traveling with them. He didn’t say that though. “Apologies, Master Baggins. What time is it, do you reckon?”

    “Oh, half an hour before midnight or thereabouts.” The desk had been tidied up and the new contract neatly folded. Huh. That was quick. “I will set up a bath for you, like I did for the others, since I know I never go without one after a long time on the road. In the meantime, there is some hot apple cider on the table over there. It should chase away any chill from the rainfall that caught you earlier today, if any.”

    Balin didn’t miss the “long time on the road” part and stared after the hobbit until he was out of the room.

    Finally heaving himself up from his seat and stretching, he covered a yawn and trudged over to the small tea table in the corner, where the princes were also indulging in the hot beverage. Their curious but pleased expressions reminded the old dwarf that Fili and Kili never had the drink before, hot or otherwise. Balin himself had only rarely encountered it, but he remembered it well enough to know he liked it.

    “I assume the others have turned in?” Balin asked as he settled himself across from them. Ah, it felt good to finally see outsiders use furniture that was the right size. Actually, it was a bit smaller, and wasn’t that hilarious?

    “Yep!” That was Kili. And he opened his mouth to say something more, but-

    “Well, not everyone,” Fili said. “Dwalin and uncle left a while ago, said they were going to spend the night out and have a ‘talk.’ Nori left not long after for some reason.”

    Yes, thank you Fili, I would have gotten there,” Kili said mulishly, as though the question had only been directed at him and not the both of them. “Anyway, everyone else is in bed. This place has lots of rooms, and everyone went to bed really fast. I think it was the hot bath that did them in. And the beds.” Kili sighed and slouched in his chair. “Mahal, they’re so soft. And the sheets were so smooth and warm. I tried them out.” And didn’t he sound dreamy. “It felt like getting a hug.”

    Balin blinked.

    “Funny, though,” Fili said, absently swishing his glass of steaming cider. “When we mentioned that, Dwalin went from angry red to pale yellow in like, a second. Then he grabbed uncle and dragged him out the door as if wargs were on their tail, yelling something about one last ‘guy’s night out.’ I could have sworn they were going to sleep here like the rest of us until that point. It was the strangest thing.”

    Balin covered his amusement with his glass. “Don’t mind them, lads. Dwalin just went to… disabuse your uncle of certain notions before anything more was said and done.” The cider burned as it went down, but it felt wonderful. Like a piece of hot coal warming him from the inside. “Although I agree that could have easily been done here instead of going for a walk through fresh mud.”

    “It was the strangest thing,” Kili agreed.

    “Yeah, it’s not like Mister Bilbo would have kicked them out. Although…” Fili pondered, cider finished. “… the house did almost eat uncle. Maybe he didn’t want to incite its wrath twice in the same day.”

    “Then your uncle’s a smart man,” Bilbo said as he came through the parlor entrance. “Though he would have been in no real danger here, Bag End would no doubt have made sure he suffered its… displeasure.”

    “Its displeasure?” Fili looked honestly curious. “How exactly?”

    “Oh, you know,” Bilbo Baggins waved breezily. “Probably by keeping him stuck inside his room in the morning for a while, tripping him as often as possible, having the bath water go from hot to ice cold with him inside, that sort of thing.” The hobbit looked at them seriously. “Please understand, that we hobbits don’t hold grudges. The fact you all follow Thorin Oakenshield and you, his nephews, clearly love him means there is probably a really likeable part in there somewhere.”

    Well, that was mollifying enough, Balin thought.

    Bilbo still had something to say though. “But Bag End was really enthusiastic about you dwarves until he arrived, yet it takes any slight against me very personally. Especially deliberate insults. So you see, it’s not just that it became upset with rude uninvited guests on my behalf. It’s that the leader of your company also ruined its opinion of dwarves. Bag End is feeling really disillusioned right now.” He looked at the princes. “It doesn’t help that it blames your uncle for Dwalin leaving. It likes Dwalin, even more than it likes you two. Eru knows why.”

    Ignoring the princes’ somewhat crestfallen looks at not being considered the most loveable, Balin winced, though the revelation did explain some of his brother’s skittishness.

    Unfortunately, Bilbo caught his reaction and addressed him. “That said, I believe Master Dwalin might have been needlessly put on edge by my home’s somewhat overbearing treatment of him.” The eldest of the 13 dwarves wondered if Bilbo Baggins realized how close to a nervous breakdown Dwalin had actually come that night. “If you could inform me on when and how it would be best to approach him to make amends, I would appreciate it. Perhaps you can advise me on the way to the washroom?”

    Balin, having finished his drink, stood and walked with the hobbit, providing the necessary information. Sleep was creeping back in – the drink was working fast – but he got through the bath (bubble bath, shockingly enough) easily, though he noticed the water never did seem to cool down, so he soaked longer than he would have otherwise. Once he was done, he was surprised to find large towels and a comfy enough bath robe waiting to be put on.

    Excellent host indeed.

    Balin had never paid more than the minimum attention to those stories about apparitions luring travelers into a false sense of security with a good meal and a comfortable rest, only to kill them in their sleep for whatever reason. If Gandalf hadn’t been there to vouch for things, Balin would have considered the possibility that he was going through something of the sort.

    And there he went, sounding like Dwalin the mistrustful.

    When he finally emerged from the steamy washroom, Balin retraced his steps to the parlor, meaning to finish the contract. It had gone dark, though, with the oil lamps turned off, and he found Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf there, sitting across from one another and making smoke rings. Well, if they could even be called smoke rings. Gandalf had a few floating around his head sure enough, making him look fairly sorcerous in the dim light of the hearth on the other side of the room. But that was nothing compared to the floating battleship gliding slowly towards the hobbit.

    Bilbo puffed his pipe, and the smoke that came out of it formed into a tumultuous sea surface beneath the ship. Then, a finger tap on the pipe bowl was the cue for the large arms of a kraken to burst through the surface and twine around the doomed boat.

    Gandalf frowned exaggeratedly as he beheld the ship being slowly being destroyed and swallowed by the grey depths. “Very violent of you, Bilbo.”

    “Says the one that was going to ram a ship in my face.”

    “Naturally,” Gandalf puffed another smoke ring, and this one shapeshifted into a large dragon as big as his hat, wherever it was.

    Bilbo leaned back in his seat and took a deep breath, then exhaled it, slowly, through his pipe. The smoke came together into a sharply detailed ship that looked as if it was meant to fly in the sky.

    Gandalf’s eyebrows had raised near his hairline. “The Vingilótë …”

    Balin thought it sounded vaguely familiar. He must have come across the word in his early days as a scribe and chronicler.

    The ship melted as if the world was zooming in, and then the image was of a Man on the front deck (at least Balin thought it was a man) staring up at the large, angry form of the dragon. He brandished a sword in one hand, and a large spear in the other, then threw the latter.

    The dragon was run through the mouth just as it was about to spit fire. The spear was laughably small compared to it (it seemed to Balin like the creature was large enough to crush mountains under its bulk), but the hit must have gone through its brain or spine, because the dragon fell. A dead weight that plummeted through the air, until it burst into simple smoke when it hit the tabletop.

    “So you do know the tale,” Gandalf murmured, sounding quite impressed.

    “Eärendil the Mariner, husband of Elwing, son Tuor and Idril,” Bilbo answered. “Eärendil The Blessed, Azrubêl, Bright Star of High Hope, Lord of Arvernien.”

    Gandalf gazed at the hobbit for a long time, but he had his back to the hearth, so his eyes were only seen when the embers in his pipe flared enough to cast light upon his face. Balin had totally set aside his initial plans. He didn’t want to disturb them, but he didn’t feel like leaving either, so he just stayed at the door.

    But of course the Hobbit knew he was there. “Master Balin,” he greeted, getting up. “I will show you to your room if it pleases you.”

    “My thanks, laddie – I mean master Baggins-“

    “Call me whatever you are most comfortable with.”

    “… fair enough. But I’m afraid I can’t go to sleep just yet. I have to finish the contract if we’re going to leave in the morning as intended.” Then he realized how presumptuous that sounded. “Not that we weren’t paying attention to what you said! Stone no, we won’t force you into anything of course, and we’ll understand if you’ve been soured to the idea of traveling in our company, but I can assure you Thorin isn’t that bad once you get to know him-”

    “Master Balin,” Bilbo interrupted, taken aback. “You plan to leave in the morning?”

    Balin blinked, unsure why he’d reacted that way to that specific part of his statement. “Well… yes. That was always the plan.”

    Bilbo peered at him, as if concerned for his health. “So… you all traveled different paths, and only met today after Eru knows how many days on the road without rest or good food, and you intend to leave immediately…”

    “We’re hardy folk, master Baggins. Dwarves are made for long treks. It’s a benefit of the endurance Mahal created us with.”

    “… You all met here in the hopes of finding a burglar… and expected that the hobbit, whom none of you even knew beforehand, would be willing to abandon everything he had here so suddenly after just a few hours of getting acquainted with 13 strangers of a different race and culture?” Well, no need to make it sound that absurd, surely. “And you weren’t even planning on giving him even a measly day to set his affairs in order?”

    Balin grimaced at the utterly stupefied tone of voice. “Well, when you put it like that…:”

    Bilbo sighed and ducked his head, rubbing his face. “Master Balin… I can assure you that, reasonable contract or no, there is no way you’ll be getting a fourteenth member by morning.” He lifted his eyes back to meet his. “Call me crazy but I think that any sane person would, I don’t know, want to visit the Mayor and the Thain, leave behind a will, talk to people about who will take care of their home and possessions in case they don’t, in fact, die by evisceration or incineration. Or are you telling me that all 13 of you just suddenly decided to leave on the quest and dropped everything you were doing one day and went out the door, never looking back?”

    This time, Balin definitely cringed. Actually, they had all had at least a week to get ready. “I see your point,” he admitted. He’d never felt sheepish since before Smaug, but it figured the experience would come from the unlikeliest of sources. “You are right, we were all terribly presumptuous.”

    “I’m glad we cleared that up,” the hobbit said. “Now, you look like you’re about to sway on your feet.” And without any worry, the hobbit wrapped an arm around him and began to guide him away from the parlor and, thus, away from the contract and writing supplies. “Your guestroom is this way.”

    Balin never did look back. If he had, he would have seen Gandalf shaking with suppressed laughter hard enough to ruin all the smoke rings floating around him.
     
  28. Epitome of Eccentricity

    Epitome of Eccentricity Failed GM

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  29. Rmajere

    Rmajere Pleased to meet you, can you guess my name?

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    Great chapter, love the lore info and Bilbo's arguments. Please more.
     
    Leroidumonde, 17453, Selm and 2 others like this.
  30. Ramen Enthusiast

    Ramen Enthusiast Your first time is always over so quickly, isn't it?

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    I was looking for new websites to read stories from and lo and behold, I found this gem of a story. Amazing storytelling
     
    Leroidumonde, 17453 and Karmic Acumen like this.
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