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Stand Together

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Bilbo stood there shaking as he took in the sight before him. A slave caravan… An actual slave caravan here in Bree! His uncles had been telling him that the Men were getting more and more bold, but this!

He tugged his waistcoat nervously. It was bad enough that Men traded and sold other Men, but they also had normal sized people in that cage! Dwarrow, if he was judging them correctly. If the slavers were able to take armed, trained dwarrow, what would stop them from moving into the Shire next?

The huge Man in front was cajoling the crowd into purchasing, and now Bilbo eyed them nervously. He was the only hobbit near here. As the guards started sorting them out, he could finally count them. There were 5 dwarrow in that cage. FIVE!

He pulled his handkerchief out of his pocket and wiped his forehead. He was an absolute idiot. No doubt about it. However, he knew neither his mother nor father would have stood for such a thing happening. He straightened his shoulders and marched forward.

He might not be able to save everyone, but he was going to save those dwarrow! He marched right through the mud, walking up to the huge Man. He squinted a bit as he peered up at him, with the rain falling in his eyes, but didn’t care.

“Excuse me!”

The big Man scoffed at him and rolled his eyes. “Beat it, little bug!”

“Why I never! I was interested in purchasing, and you’d treat me that way? Perhaps I should talk to the one in charge then!”

Bilbo turned to walk away, while the Man gaped at him from behind for a minute. The weather had been terrible for weeks now and they hadn’t sold anything of value in at least that long.

“Wait up, little one! Perhaps I was too hasty!”

Bilbo stopped and turned slowly, doing his best not to let his terror show through. “Oh? Did you decide that I might actually be able to purchase then?”

“Of course, of course! Now tell me, what might you be interested in? As you can see,” he added a wave of his hand towards the cage, “we have a wide variety available.”

He squinted down at the hobbit. “What skills do you need in a slave?”

Bilbo huffed. “A proper size for one! No giants like you Men, that’s for sure!”

“I understand, gentle hobbit!” He smiled unpleasantly. “We do have several dwarves to choose from, as you can see.”

Bilbo nodded. “We hobbits are farmers and I want them for the fields. No broken down old ones, most definitely either. Only healthy, young stock please.”

“No worries there, Master hobbit. We don’t deal in junk. Only good quality dwarves in that cage.”

Bilbo sniffed. “Fine. Tell me then good sir; just how much am I looking at for a young healthy dwarf?”

The Man’s grin turned sharklike. “3 gold.”

Bilbo snorted then. “3 golds you say? I was going to talk all five of them, and keep myself from working in the fields this year, but not at that price. I’m not planning on paying more than 2 gold each.”

“Good day to you sir.” Bilbo turned once more to walk away. He had the money to do this, thank Yavanna, but he was pretty sure that the dwarrow were going to need supplies and other things to even travel with him back to the Shire.

It was only a few seconds before the Man yelled out to him.

“Wait a moment, good sir. I’ve sent someone to talk to the man in charge. He’ll let me know if I can take a deal or not.”

Bilbo stopped once more and turned slowly, raising a skeptical eyebrow.

“He’ll be back any minute, good sir.” The Man stopped next to him and started herding him back to the cage.

Sure enough, within moments another ragged Man ran over, whispering into the big one’s ear. Bilbo frowned.

”Alright then.” As Bilbo watched, the other guards entered the cage, beating the dwarrow with clubs and tossing them out onto the dirt. The guards forced them to line up and Bilbo could see then just how emaciated they were. These dwarrow were walking skeletons.

“Excuse me, but I need healthy stock to work the fields. These dwarves are in terrible condition! It will take weeks to get them fed up enough to work the hours I need!”

The big Man gave him an oily smile. “The boss agrees with you, Master hobbit. Times have been tough lately, so he’s willing to cut a deal with you. The two younger ones at 3 gold each and the 3 older ones for 2 gold each.”

Bilbo sighed and rubbed his hand over his eyes as he tried to collect himself once more. He was bartering for these folks very lives here! ‘You can do this, Bilbo Baggins!’

He finally heaved a long sigh and nodded. “Deal, as long as I get to keep the chains. I need some way to keep them together on the trip home.”

The big Man roared with laughter and nodded in agreement. “Kenny, bring out a bill of sale for our gentle hobbit here!”

It was only minutes later that Bilbo Baggins found himself lighter in the purse and clutching a bill of sale for 5 dwarrow. He ran a critical eye over them. Five very ill dwarrow…

One of the guards drug them over and handed the end of the chain to him. “Pleasure doing business with you, now.”

Well aware of the way they were looking at him, Bilbo kept his head up and looked the first dwarf in line in the eye.

“Come with me dwarrow. I’ll need to get you out of the rain and some food in you if we’re going to make the trip back home.”

Praying to the Lady Yavanna herself that they would follow, Bilbo turned and slowly walked back towards the end of town where hobbits congregated. His first stop was the blacksmith.
His neck hurt from how many times he turned to check up on all of them, but was thrilled when they all lined up obediently in front of the shop.

“I’m going to make arrangements with the smith to borrow his forge for a bit. I do hope that at least one of you knows what to do to remove these shackles and collars and such! I’ll be right back!”

Bilbo darted inside, leaving five ill, confused dwarrow staring at one another.

(Did he just say he wanted to remove the shackles, brother?) Kili finally whispered to Fili.

Fili nodded, and Dwalin coughed loudly. He’d been steadily getting worse for weeks now. They all eyed him with concern.

(I’m the only one of us that knows anything about a forge. I’ll do it, if he means it.)

(You may have to be the ones to remove them, but we’ll run the bellows and keep the forge stoked! You’re too ill to do anything else!)

(Aye! What the lad just said!)

The hobbit came back outside looking a bit frantic. Upon seeing them still standing there, he smiled and waved at them.

“This way. It’s warm and dry in here, also.”

The dwarrow filed in through the door without complaint, finding themselves in a simple but sturdy forge.

“Don’t worry. He’s agreed to step outside for a bit so that you can get those off. Everyone is scared to attract attention from the slavers, or he’d be in here helping you with it.”

The hobbit suddenly flushed and then bowed. “Bilbo Baggins, son of Bungo, at your service. I am a hobbit of the Shire.”

The dwarrow traded looks before the two younger ones nodded and bowed, behind them one of the older ones that was partially bald, walked to the forge, looking around.

“Fili, son of Dis, at your service.”

“Kili, son of Dis, at your service.”

The stockier one pointed at the others, who were starting to work the forge.

“The one running the bellows is Bifur. The one beside him is his cousin, Bofur and the one heating up the tools is Dwalin.”

Bilbo smiled. “It’s truly a pleasure to meet all of you. I’ve got a couple of distant relatives here that have gone off to get clothes and boots for all of you. I hope we can get everyone something that fits.”

Fili and Kili looked a bit wide-eyed at that; while behind them Dwalin coughed loudly once more, almost dropping the tool.

“Oh, my. That sounds terrible. How long has he been ill?”

“Several weeks now, Master. He’s been getting worse.” Fili’s voice was rough.

“No doubt! I’ll make sure that the Healer visits us also, while I get your baths set up.”

They stopped all conversation and watched as Dwalin slid a leather glove behind the collar on Bofur’s neck before splitting the collar with the heated shears. Bofur hissed out a breath, but said nothing else, rapidly pulling away the collar and setting it down.

It took four more turns to get Bofur freed from the arm and leg shackles. Then they gestured to Fili and Kili who were next. Bofur watched closely and when all of them were finished except Dwalin, he stepped in to free him.

All five dwarrow took a moment when the last shackle fell off Dwalin and hugged one another in a group hug. No one said anything and Bilbo almost cried again, just looking at their faces.

That was when an older hobbit stuck his head in the back door.

“Hey, Bilbo! I see you have some new friends with you.” He sauntered in, smiling. “I can’t believe that I’m seeing dwarrow with no weapons! How can this be?”

Bilbo smiled and walked forward shaking hands with him. “Tolman Proudfoot, I’d like you to meet some new acquaintances of mine. Fili and Kili, are over there. Dwalin is in the middle and Bifur and Bofur are on the end. We are all ever so grateful that you stepped outside for a bit.”

Tolman waved a hand. “No worries. I needed some new stock anyway.”

“Come this way, please.” Tolman strode over to a wall and pushed a panel. Before them, the panel slid to the side, revealing an assortment of weapons.

“Please understand. I am no dwarven smith. I’m a hobbit more used to making plows to be honest with you. However, it’s a real shame to see a dwarf without a weapon.” He waved them forward. “Gear up. They’ll be better than nothing until you can get something better, okay?”

Fili nodded slowly, looking between them. “Um, Mister Proudfoot, we have no money to pay for any of this.”

Tolman shook his head. “No, I’m with Bilbo on this one. We normal sized folks have to stick together. Every day, the Men are getting bolder and bolder. Bilbo has offered sanctuary to us in the Shire if it continues on like it has been. If we don’t help each other, we’ll all go down under the boot of Men.”

Bilbo nodded in agreement. “It was absolutely terrible to have to bargain for your very lives today. I’ve never bought another person before and I hope I never have to again. You folks are free. We don’t keep slaves in the Shire.”

“So all that stuff you were telling the Men…?” Bofur’s voice trailed off.

“It was all made up crap, please excuse my language. He wouldn’t sell you all to me if he knew I was going to free you.”

Fili couldn’t help it; he had to wipe his eyes, aware that he wasn’t the only one.

“Of course, this doesn’t mean that I’m just throwing you out on the street either. I’m going to get all of you back on your feet and healthy and we’ll see if we can send word to your kin. I don’t think it’s safe for a small group to travel anymore.”

The largest of them, Dwalin, shuffled forward, looking through the case. “Do you have any axes?”

“Over here.” Tolman pushed another panel, revealing an assortment. “We hobbits mainly use axes for dropping trees, but I suppose they’ll work in combat also.”

As Dwalin browsed, selecting his weapons, the rest of them took his cue and shuffled forward, pulling out swords, knives, daggers and large hammers.

Bilbo watched for a minute and caught Tolman’s eye. ‘I’m going for a Healer.’ He mouthed at him. ‘Be right back.’

The dwarrow froze when Bilbo left, looking after him in alarm.

“Don’t worry. Bilbo’s gone off to arrange for a Healer and space for baths. I think he’s even got the Rangers getting supplies rounded up for all of you.”

Dwalin cleared his throat. “Do you happen to know where Master Baggins lives?”

Tolman nodded as he started pulling out leather harnesses for the many weapons. “He lives in the Shire. In Hobbiton to be precise.”

He looked up in surprise. “Oh, I didn’t realize, but you might not know where you are now! You’re in Bree. We’re right on the Eastern Edge of the Shire. The Blue Mountains are a couple weeks hard riding to the west. Does that help?”

“Where is Hobbiton located in the Shire?” Kili asked as he selected some harnesses for his knives.

“It’s right in the middle. About a week of riding or so. Less if you push hard.”

As all of the dwarrow were finished selecting weapons, Tolman helped them with the last of the weapons harnesses. Bilbo came trotting back through the door then.

“Oh good! You’re all ready then?” He waited until the dwarrow all nodded in agreement before shaking Tolman’s hand once more. “I truly appreciate this.”

Tolman grinned fiercely. “We normal sized folk have to stick together. Did you get everything worked out?”

“Aye. The Rangers will be meeting us at the Healers. They’re bringing the supplies.”

“Good.” Tolman threw his thumb back over his shoulder, pointing towards Kili. “See if they can get that one a decent bow and arrows. He’s an archer.”

“Oh, well done!” Bilbo smiled proudly and Kili found himself blushing a bit.

“It’s still raining and I know that all of you are freezing, but bear with me. It’s two blocks to the Healers and we’ll get your clothes and medical treatment there.”

None of them said anything and Bilbo fluttered nervously for a minute before waving to them and heading for the door. All of them carried their weapons carefully rolled up in the fabric that Tolman had supplied.

Bilbo stopped in front of a modest dwelling, smoke rising from the chimney and knocked on the door. An older hobbit opened the door and peered at them.

“Bilbo! Oh, good. Everyone please come inside.” They were ushered into a small living room, where they stood awkwardly dripping water onto the floor.

“Now, we’ve set up the extra tub for all of you, so two can bathe at the same time. I’ve got the soaps lined up in the order that you need to use them in.”

The Healer rambled on, explaining what they should do and Dwalin couldn’t stop another loud coughing spell. His shoulders shook as he stood there, trying to breath.

“That’s not good at all. I’ve been preparing something to help with that.” He vanished, returning in a minute with a steaming cup. “Here you go. Drink the whole thing down quickly. It’ll help with the cough and fever.”

Dwalin chugged it, before handing the cup back and trying to breathe once more.

“You need to go first, Master Dwarf. The steam will help and I can get started treating you right away. Sort yourselves out now and hop to it. The longer you’re wet and cold, the more likely that someone else is going to get that cough!”

Bilbo gestured. “This way. The baths are down here.” The whole group of them moved together as a cluster, as though afraid to let one another out of sight.

Bilbo stepped forward and opened the bathroom door, a wave of steam rolling out. “Come on in. I’ll show you where everything is at.”

Once he had the group of them crammed into the bathroom, he closed the door behind them to keep in the heat.

“Towels, washcloths, combs, brushes, hair clips, and everything else like it are over here on these shelves and in the drawers. Feel free to browse around and find what you need. The Healer and I have already worked out payment, so you don’t need to worry.”

Bilbo worked his way back through the crowd of them to the door. “I’ll leave you alone for this, okay? I’d imagine a bit of privacy would be welcome. I’ll be in the kitchen helping Healer Frogbottom and his wife prepare something to eat for all of you. Just stick your head out and call for me when one of you is ready. There are a couple of robes by the door that you can wear and once the Healer’s checked you, I’ll take you to the room with all the clothes, okay?”

With another smile, Bilbo vanished out the door, leaving a group of shocked dwarrow behind. Only a few hours ago, they had been chained in a slaver’s cage and now…

Kili sniffled and Fili hugged his brother tightly.

(Me, too.)

Dwalin slowly stripped his rags off and piled them by the door before slowly climbing into the tub. The once mighty warrior was a gaunt wreck, arms shaking as he struggled to hold himself up.

(Kili, you get in the other tub and get busy cleaning. In fact, Fili, I think it’s big enough for the both of you to get clean at once.) Bofur ordered, pushing them gently towards the steaming tub. (Get to it, lads.)

(Bifur, we’ll hand out the soaps and shampoos then. What do you think?)

(Aye, cousin.) Bifur gave Dwalin a worried look before handing him his first type of soap.

(Want me to wash your hair?)

Dwalin frowned, but nodded slowly, while Bofur helped Fili and Kili. It still took a great while before the three of them were dried off, hair brushed and braided and dressed in the robes.

Bofur stuck his head out the door, only to find Bilbo waiting in the hall.

“Ready then?” At Bofur’s nod, Bilbo beamed. “Right this way then!” The three newly cleaned dwarrow stood before him and Bilbo swallowed heavily. These dwarrow were proud. You could see it even more in their bearing now.

“Bofur, pull the drain on those tubs and I’ll be back in a minute to rinse and refill them. There’s plenty of hot water, so don’t worry about that.”

Bilbo settled his three dwarrow with the Healer and once he was sure it was going okay, went back to help the last two.

Bofur and Bifur had already drained and rinsed the tubs which were refilling with water. Bofur’s normally cheerful self already starting to come back to him. He smiled at Bilbo when he came in.

“Don’t worry about me and Bifur. We’ve got this. We’ll be out in a bit.”

“Are you sure? Bilbo asked worriedly. “I’m here to help.”

“Naw. Don’t worry about it, Master Baggins. We’re fine. It’ll be nice to be clean again.”

At that, their hobbit smiled and nodded before slipping back out the door. Bofur and Bifur both groaned when they finally slipped into the steaming water.

(It’s been way too long, cousin.)

(By Mahal, but that’s the truth!)

 

It was late afternoon before all of the dwarrow were sitting in the little kitchen eating porridge with fruit, fresh bread and some roasted chicken. Bilbo had a bag filled with Dwalin’s medicines in it, all carefully packed so that they wouldn’t break.

All of them tensed though when they heard a knock on the door. Bilbo rose along with the Healer who smiled.

“We’re expecting the Rangers, remember? They’re buying supplies for all of you. It’s a long way to Hobbiton.”

They heard voices for a few minutes as they ate, and then Bilbo came back in, smiling. “They’re here. As soon as you’re all ready, we can head over to the Inn. I’ve got rooms reserved for us for tonight. The Rangers are going to help keep an eye on everything, as I’m not sure the slavers aren’t just going to try to retake all of you.”

All of the dwarrow nodded in agreement as they’d been thinking the same thing.

“Master Baggins, will we be allowed to arm ourselves then?” Fili asked quietly.

Bilbo looked confused for a moment. “I’m not sure… Wait a minute. I know I’ve seen dwarrow walking around armed before! I thought that all of you carried weapons. If you want to be armed, put those weapons on!” He frowned at them fiercely. “You’re free now! I’m just helping all of you get back on your feet.”

“Free, huh?” Dwalin said quietly.

“Don’t worry, Dwalin. We’ll go back and get Balin! We will!” Kili said. “We’re armed again!”

“Balin…?” Bilbo asked, confused. “Did I forget someone?”

“No, Master Baggins. My brother was sold to a farmer on the outskirts of town.”

For just a moment, they were treated to the sight of an absolutely FURIOUS hobbit. He shuddered and frowned, before nodding fiercely and heading back to the front door.

“Strider!”

Once more, the dwarrow traded looks. None of them knew what they’d done to make him so mad. They’d eaten everything on the table and with that, all of them stood and headed to the front room where their weapons were stored.

When Bilbo came back to find them, he found them to be a veritable walking armory, all of them bristling with weapons. He couldn’t help it. He grinned at the sight, making the dwarrow look at him like he was crazy.

”Oh, no! I’m not crazy!” Bilbo said with a bit of a laugh. “It’s just now, even though all of you are way too thin, most Men will think twice before trying to mess with you!” Bilbo sighed then. “If only hobbits could look so fierce…”

He cleared his throat. “Well anyway, the ponies are outside, along with your gear. The Rangers are waiting for us. Are you all ready?”

At the nods, Bilbo waved them forward, stopping Dwalin to pull his hood over his head. “It’s still raining, Master Dwalin. The last thing you need is to get wet. It’s bad enough that I’ve got to take all of you out once more tonight!”

Once outside, Bilbo made the introductions with a smile. “I know that Men can be tricky, but the Rangers, well – they’re some of the best people around. You can trust them.”

Behind them, the Healer and his wife agreed with the statement. “No real love of Men here either, but the Rangers are good folk, friend dwarrow. They’ll not treat you wrong.”

The dwarrow watched as the grim looking Men in front of them straightened proudly.

“We’ve got your mounts ready. All the gear is the same; you’ll just have to pack your extra clothes in whichever one you choose.”

Almost unbelieving, Fili and Kili walked forward and petted their ponies before smiling and adding their new clothes to the bags. A quick check showed that the others were doing the same as Bilbo was already up on a pretty chestnut pony, watching them with a smile.

The dwarrow actually got to ride back across town, newly clothed and fully geared. For the first time in a long time, they actually felt like true dwarrow once more. They stopped as a group in front of the Prancing Pony Inn, the Rangers taking their mounts as they grabbed their gear and followed Bilbo inside.

Late that night, when everyone was sleeping on an actual mattress, safe, warm, fed and secure, Dwalin broke down and cried while Bilbo rubbed his back and patted him soothingly. Once Dwalin had finally slowed his tears, Bilbo doled out another round of medicine.

“Crying always makes me get all snotty, you know! Take this, so we can be sure that you won’t have a relapse.”

Feeling a bit numb and totally worn out, Dwalin did as he was told and curled up under the blankets with Bilbo sitting up beside him. Other than the occasional cough, he managed to sleep the entire night.

 

He took the dwarrow downstairs for breakfast, all of them looking much better for the night’s sleep. Bilbo waved upon spotting a Ranger.

“Strider! You made it back! Any luck?”

The Man smiled and moved aside, revealing another newly rescued and treated dwarrow.

“Balin?!” Dwalin gasped out hoarsely before rushing over to his brother and grabbing his arms. “It really is you!”

“Aye. The kind Man here came to get me last night. A most appreciated gesture let me tell you, as my accommodations were truly lacking.”

Strider and Bilbo traded looks.

“Do you need to see the Healer, Balin?”

“Strider took me there last night. Notice how clean and shiny I am?” Balin held his arms out with a smile. “Master Baggins. I am told that I have you to thank for our change of fortune.”

Bilbo smiled and bowed. “It’s truly a pleasure to meet you, Master Balin. Bilbo Baggins, at your service.”

Balin’s eyes twinkled and he smiled a bit. “Balin, son of Fundin, at yours and your family’s.”

Dwalin nodded also. “Truly, I don’t know how we can repay you for all of this.”

Bilbo shrugged. “I’m not looking for repayment. As I said, we normal folk have to stick together. In the Shire, we have the Rangers to help guard us, but even they can’t be everywhere. We have to help each other out.”

Balin bowed his head. “I’m in agreement, Master Baggins.”

“Well then! Let’s eat!” The rest of them settled at the table and tucked in to the food. If Bilbo had been more familiar with dwarrow, he would have known that the lack of noise was an oddity and an indicator of just how badly off they were. As it was, he was just glad that they were eating.

“Oh, we’ll need to stop back by Tolman’s on the way out of town and get Master Balin’s weapons also. Don’t let me forget, okay?”

“Sure thing, Master Baggins!” Kili said as he shoved another roll into his mouth.

‘Weapons, too?’ Balin mouthed at Dwalin.

“Aye brother. No longer will we be unarmed. Hobbit made, but more than serviceable until we get a forge to make our own.”

“Oh, Bilbo. I found the bow and arrows you wanted. Who gets it?” Strider asked him from his place at the end of the table.

Kili’s face lit up. “I do!”

Fili smiled fondly at his brother as he carefully took the bow and quiver full of arrows from Strider.

“Thank you very much, Mister Strider!” He said as he ran his hands all over his new bow in happiness. Dwalin interrupted them with another coughing spell, taking sips of tea to help calm his throat. Balin looked at him worriedly.

“Oh yes! Master Balin, you’re Master Dwalin’s brother right?” At Balin’s nod, Bilbo scooped up the leather satchel filled with Dwalin’s medicines. “He’s got a grocery list of medicine to take for the next two weeks. Do you want to keep up with it or do you want me to keep doing it? I just realized that you’d probably be more comfortable doing this for your brother.”

Balin smiled. “How about you fill me in, Master Baggins and we both keep track of it. I can tell you honestly that as he starts feeling better; it’ll get harder to get that medicine into him.”

Bilbo grinned back. “Really? I’m sure you have some tricks for it then!”

“Of course!” Balin said with a bit of a smirk at Dwalin. “He IS my younger brother.”

“Well alright then! As soon as all of you finish, let’s get started. We need to get Balin geared up and then head out of town. It’s a long trip back to Hobbiton.”

“Hobbiton?” Balin asked with a curious look.

“Aye, Master Balin. It’s my home and I want to make sure all of you have a chance to get well. Winter is already here and none of you are in the shape to be out in it. It’s bad enough that all of you have to ride for so long just to get back to my home!”

 

They were two days down the trail. Even Balin had gone wide eyed at being able to choose his weapons and being given a pony and gear. He finally believed that Bilbo Baggins meant what he said. The group had spoken about it in Iglishmek last night before deciding that he should be the one to broach the topic with Bilbo.

“Excuse me, Bilbo. Could I ask a few questions? We’ve been a bit out of touch you see, and are wondering what happened to everyone.”

“Everyone?” Bilbo asked, frowning.

“Aye, lad. We’re part of a group. We’re the exiles from Erebor and traveled with Thorin Oakenshield. Would you happen to know where they are?”

Strider nodded his head. “Aye. I’ve heard that they’re on the edge of Dunland. They’re actually not too far from the southeastern edge of the Shire’s borders.”

“Really? I didn’t know there were more of you. So is that where your home is?”

Balin shook his head sadly. “No lad. We’re homeless wanderers now that Erebor was taken by the dragon. Winter looks to be fierce this year and I worry.”

“Oh my…” Bilbo put his hand over his eyes and then pinched the bridge of his nose in thought. “How many dwarrow are there, Master Balin?”

“Lad, we haven’t been with the group in almost a year now, but there were four hundred or so at last count.”

Bilbo turned to look at Balin, who was munching a cookie as he spoke with him. “Are your folks set up for winter? Do they have food, shelter, supplies, everything else?”

“Probably not, Bilbo.” Dwalin cut in, sighing. “We’ve had no luck getting paying work. No money means no supplies.”

“Aye. I can’t picture things changing that much for them over the last year.”

“Strider, what about the Rangers? Do your people have shelter also and supplies?”

Strider pursed his lips as he glanced back at Bilbo. “My pride tells me to say yes, but I worry for my people also Bilbo. We’re homeless also, wandering the borders of the Shire and the surrounding lands year round.”

“How many people are we talking about for the Rangers then?”

“At our last count two years ago, Bilbo, we numbered three hundred and fifty one.”

“So few… I always thought there were a lot more of you!”

“Being homeless is hard, Bilbo. It takes its toll on the pregnant, the young and the elderly.”

Once again, Bilbo frowned fiercely as he thought and finally nodded. He leaned back, digging in his saddlebag and pulling out paper and quill.

“I’m writing a letter to my grandfather, Strider. I’ll tell him everything and see what we can work out. For now, it looks like all of you need short term housing while we work out a long term plan.” Bilbo reined his pony to a stop.

“Can we stop here?”

“Aye.” Strider’s face held the same look as the other dwarrow as Balin studied them. They had all been too long homeless and just the thought that someone was willing to help was almost enough to bring them to their knees.

As Bilbo crouched over a rock writing, Balin chased his brother down for his next dose of medicine. At Dwalin’s fierce glower, Balin matched his glare.

(Don’t make me get Bilbo over here! I’ll do it if you don’t take this!) Balin demanded. He held out the little cup and Dwalin finally came over and grabbed it, downing it quickly.

(Still nasty.)

The other dwarrow broke out into gales of laughter then, making Bilbo and Strider look up curiously. Balin simply smiled and waved the medicine bag and Bilbo nodded, going back to writing.

Once he finished, Strider whistled and he gave the letter to one of his scouts who rode in with directions to get it to Tuckborough as quickly as possible.

Bilbo remounted. “He’ll have the letter soon and probably meet us at Bag End. We should know something then.”

Strider bowed deeply to Bilbo before mounting. “Thank you very much, Bilbo. I appreciate you even trying.”

“Aye, laddie. Too long it’s been with no one willing to offer any help whatsoever. You’ve already done more than enough.”

Bilbo smiled and shook his head. “No. We hobbits believe there is nothing more important than family and friends. Leaving all of you out in the cold when we could do better, I don’t think that’s going to happen.”

 

They left the woods a few days later and before long, all of them noticed many hobbits out in the fields, harvesting.

“I thought that the last crop was already in, Bilbo.” Strider studied the hobbits working out in the fields and orchards as they rode past. “Usually all of you are done by now.”

Bilbo smiled and nodded. “Aye. Last harvest ended up half a month ago, but I would imagine that if we’re going to feed an extra thousand people through the winter, it’s going to take much, much more. Word must have already spread.”

It was late that afternoon when they finally rode into Hobbiton, finding it absolutely packed with hobbits. A bit unnerved, Strider and the dwarrow slowed, trying to watch the crowd. It parted before an elderly hobbit that was shoving people out of the way with his walking stick.

He yelled once he got to the front.

“Strider! Get down here!”

Strider’s eyebrows shot up but he slid off his horse and approached the hobbit.

“Who’s that?” Kili whispered.

“My grandfather.”

Strider bowed before the elderly hobbit, who just waved him forward.

“None of that nonsense, lad. Now get down here.”

Strider dropped to his knees before him and the old hobbit swept him up in a hug. Astonished, it took Strider a few seconds before smiling and hugging him back.

“Hello Gerontius Took, Thain of the Shire.”

“You fool boy! Your people have been dying to protect us! Why did none of you ever say anything?” The Thain wiped a few tears away. “Let me just say that there’s a whole lot of upset hobbits out here. We’ve got an entire Shireful of them.”

“Now, let the boys take the horse and ponies. Bring all those scouts in too, damn it! The Inn is set up take them. Bilbo!” He waved at their hobbit who smiled and slid off his pony.

“Hello, grandfather.” The two hugged and stepped back from each other.

“Your parents would be so proud of you, boy. You’ll end up helping a lot of folks out over this.”

Bilbo beamed. “So are we going to be able to help them all then? Winter’s already right on the edge.”

“Aye lad, but we’ve had everyone growing nonstop now since we got your letter. Let’s get your dwarrow, Strider and you up to Bag End. There’s been an endless stream of worried women running in and out of there baking all day. Should be plenty to eat by now.”

Bilbo laughed. “Strider, we still have the Man sized room in Bag End also.”

“Oh, yes. We’ll need to get word to these dwarrow of yours. Could I get one of them to write a letter once we get done working out the details? Probably be better received if it came from one of their own.”

Bilbo turned to Balin with a frown and shrug. “Are you okay with that?”

“Aye, laddie.” Balin had to clear his throat. “We could definitely do that. One of us could go with you also.”

“Oh, no! There’s not a one of you in any shape to be riding. It’s bad enough that I had to drag you cross country! You can send a letter in your secret language or something. That should do it.”

Dwalin smiled a bit fondly at their hobbit as he glared at them fiercely.

“Now, come on. We’ve got to get this worked out so that all of your folks have shelter and food for the winter.”

 

“Riders coming in! Men!”

Thorin frowned as he pulled himself to his feet. Around him, the other dwarrow still able to fight did also and they formed up between the Men and the remaining group.

They stood still, hands on their weapons, as the Men slowed and came to a stop before dismounting. A wagon was following them a bit farther back, but still coming in.

“What brings Men out to the Dunland?” Thorin asked hoarsely.

The one in front bowed deeply. “I bring word from your kin.” He held out a scroll. “Please read the message.”

Thorin stepped forward and snatched if off the Man’s hand, stepping back into line with the other dwarrow. He cracked the seal and opened it, reading.

(Get my sister Dis immediately!) He bellowed to the camp. (It’s about the boys!)

It was only moments before they parted and his gaunt faced sister walked up to him.

(Did they find them then?) She asked tiredly.

Thorin shook his head and smiled at her. (Read this, Dis. It’s from Balin, Dwalin, Bofur, Bifur and Fili and Kili.)

Her eyes got huge and she snatched the scroll from his hands, reading it quickly. She pushed her way to the front.

“Is this true?” She demanded, shaking the scroll. “Have you seen them?”

The Man smiled and bowed once more. “You must be the Lady Dis. The Company told me all about you, but your two boys are a credit to you. They are wonderful dwarrow.”

Dis’ eyes teared up. “So they’re okay?”

“They will be, my Lady. They’re receiving treatment as most of them became ill after their prolonged ill treatment with the slavers. They’re safe right now and waiting on all of you.”

Dis started crying then and Thorin stepped forward, putting his arm around her shoulders.

“I am Thorin Oakenshield, son of Thrain, son of Thror, at your service.” He bowed slightly without letting go of his sister.

The Man bowed back. “I am Aragorn, son of Arathorn, at yours and your family’s.” He quirked a smile at them. “Although I usually go by Strider.”

“So the letter is true then? They actually have shelter for all of us?”

Strider nodded. “It’s true. My people, the Rangers of the North are also homeless. They’re offering shelter and supplies to us also. There is no charge.”

(By Mahal…) Thorin whispered as the dwarrow around him started talking.

“We also brought supplies for your trip into the Shire. The hobbits were most adamant that you be well stocked. They’ll be meeting us in Hobbiton. It will take us a couple of weeks at walking speed, although most of that will be in the Shire’s borders and we can resupply easily.” He turned and waved.

“Gorna! Bring up the wagon!”

“Yes, sir!” The wagon started rolling again, slowing to a stop before them.

“It’s late today, Your Majesty. I would suggest that we start out tomorrow once your people have been fed and rested. What do you think?”

Thorin eyed him for a minute. Balin and Dwalin both had spoken highly of the Man. He finally nodded.

“Be welcome at our fire.”

The dwarrow cheered and their cooks trotted up, inspecting their supplies. In just a few minutes, there were small fires burning and pots hanging over every fire. The blankets had been distributed out evenly. There would be space in the wagon for the ill to ride in tomorrow now.

After a bit of wary circling, the two groups discovered that their shared experiences made for good story telling. By the time night fell, not even a single dwarf felt suspicious of the Men and willingly ceded the night watches to them, so they could sleep.

That night, as Thorin huddled with Dis under the blanket, he found himself with a sobbing, crying sister once more.

(Thorin, the thought that my boys made it… I don’t know what I’ll do when I get to see them again!)

(Aye, Dis. I can’t imagine that we’re being granted sanctuary for the winter at no charge either. I think there’s going to be a long, interesting story hiding in there.)

Dis finally asked him in a small voice. (Do you think they missed me?)

Thorin’s laughed rumbled out of him, surprising the both of them. (Did you not read the letter, Sister? Your two boys, who hate writing, devoted an entire paragraph to you to tell you how much they missed you and that they were fine!)

She smiled and wiped her eyes. (You’re right. You’re right.)

(Get some sleep Dis. We’ve a long walk ahead of us to Hobbiton.)

(Aye, brother.)

 

Strider had told them that they were on their last day of the march to Hobbiton. Thorin was glad, as the last day had brought a bit of snowfall with it. Now that he had the thought of shelter, he found it increasingly difficult to ignore the bitter chill.

“Riders coming!”

Ahead of them, they could see three ponies trotting towards them; two of the people riding them were waving excitedly.

“Mother!”

Dis gasped next to him and her hands flew to her face.

“My boys…?” She whispered.

Two of the ponies broke into a canter and both riders whooped loudly. Thorin could hear the other dwarrow start talking behind them as the two of them slid to a stop in front and dove off of their ponies, colliding with Dis.

She was sobbing once more, as her arms crushed her two boys to her chest. Thorin turned to the last rider coming up and finally found a smile.

“Balin!”

His pony stopped much more moderately and he climbed off, walking up to him with a smile. The two of them simply looked at one another for a moment before Balin stepped forward and crushed him in a hug.

Shocked, Thorin took a second to respond, squeezing Balin tightly.

“It is so good to see you again, old friend.”

“Aye, lad. There were many days that we doubted it would happen ourselves.” Balin said quietly. He stepped back and looked them over, including the three dwarrow pile of Dis and her boys.

“The rest of us are still back at Bilbo’s place. Dwalin was seriously ill for a while, and Bilbo won’t let him travel.” He grinned fondly. “Bilbo does well at keeping my brother in line, let me tell you.”

“Well, let’s keep you all heading towards Hobbiton. I didn’t mean to interrupt, but the boys were frantic. None of us wanted to let them out on their own, so I agreed to come with them.”

There was a brief argument, but Thorin and Dis both found themselves mounted on a pony, while the others walked beside them. Thorin cleared his throat and leaned down to talk to his oldest friend.

“So… Hobbiton?”

Balin smiled up at him fondly. “Aye. Every word I wrote was true. Once we get all of you settled tonight, we’ll all set down and tell you the story. It’s amazing.”

Thorin shook his head. “I’m still waiting for the other stone to fall. I’ve never heard of anyone willing to help for no reimbursement. By Mahal Balin, we couldn’t even get help from our own kin!”

Balin nodded sadly. “’Tis true, my King. But those days are behind us.” He leaned over and patted the pony that Thorin was riding. “Just look. You’re riding on MY pony. It’s also MY tack and MY gear on it.” He grinned fiercely up at him. “They’re not borrowed from the town, Thorin. They’re mine. Given to me by the same kind soul that rescued us from the slavers.”

Thorin’s eyes widened. “ALL of you received these?”

“Aye, lad. The boys’ ponies are theirs also. We own all of it.”

Thorin hissed a breath out slowly. “This hobbit bought all of you weapons, gear, clothes AND ponies?”

Balin laughed and nodded. “Aye. And he made sure that all of us saw a Healer to get treated. Speaking of which, all of you will be seeing a Healer once we arrive also.”

At Thorin’s dark look, Balin frowned. “I mean it, lad. No excuses. We’ve all been struggling too long. You’d be surprised at how many are going to need help, just to be able to eat well again.”

They walked in silence for a while longer before Balin interrupted.

“Fili! Kili! Be sure to take the turn to the shelters.”

“Okay, Balin.” Fili called back, leading the column down the road to the right.

“Thorin, they’re going to be housing most of us in their emergency shelters. They rightly figured that we’d all want to stay together for the most part.”

Thorin’s face darkened. “What kind of shelters are we talking about then?”

Balin patted his leg. “Nothing like you’re thinking of lad. There are individual bedrooms, a communal kitchen, a large central bath that probably 50 could fit into at once and a truly enormous well stocked pantry.”

Thorin raised an eyebrow at him. “Why would they offer such a thing for free then?”

“Because they want to help us. Because they want an alliance. Because the hobbits can see the world changing around them and not for the better. They are rightfully scared.”

Balin sighed. “There are many things we need to cover tonight after we get everyone settled.”

“Balin!” Dwalin’s deep voice carried well. “Get in here where it’s warm!”

Everyone looked up to see the entrance to the shelters ahead. It looked nothing like anything Thorin had pictured in his mind. It was a huge set of double doors mounted in the side of a hill. From here, he could see small glass windows running down one side.

Balin patted his leg again. “See? There’s nothing to worry about this time lad.”

Dwalin strode out to meet them once they got close. “The Healers are already waiting. We need to get everyone assigned rooms and then the Healers can go from room to room, checking on everyone. Once they’re cleared, the baths are ready for them.”

Dis came walking up then. “I can do that. Can one of you show me around? We can get started quickly and get everyone out of the cold.”

“Sure thing, Lady Dis. However, neither you nor Thorin are going to be staying here. You’ll be staying with the rest of us and your boys at Bilbo’s. It’s more convenient for meetings as everyone knows who he is and where to find him.”

Kili hugged his mother tightly. “You’ll love Bilbo, mother!”

Dis gave him a slightly watery smile and nodded. “Let’s get to work then.”

 

The dwarrow were sitting in Bilbo’s living room one evening, fire crackling merrily while they snacked on some of the seemingly never ending supply of treats. They’d been settled in here for over a month now. Thorin and Dis had gotten to know everyone and all of the dwarrow had been on a tour of the town.

Bilbo was in his study, doing paperwork that night when someone knocked on the door.

“I’ll get it, Bilbo!” Dwalin called out as he climbed to his feet. He was pleasantly warm and drowsy and enjoying the simple comfort of his family.

He opened the door to find Strider on the other side. One glance at the snow falling heavily and he quickly pulled him inside.

“Too damn cold out there tonight. Get in here!”

Strider laughed, stamping his feet on the rug Bilbo had left out for them and pulling his boots off to leave by the door.

“Bilbo around?”

“Aye. He’s in his study.”

“Thank you. I’ve got some mail for him and then I’d like to speak to all of you, if you have time.”

“Of course! We’re not doing anything but eating and napping by the fire tonight. Come in when you’re ready.”

Strider smiled at him again and nodded his head politely. “I’ll be there in just a minute.”

He vanished into Bilbo’s study. “Mail call!”

Dwalin huffed a bit of laughter at the sound of Bilbo fussing and returned to his place on the couch. At the other’s questioning looks, he smirked slightly.

“Strider’s back. Wants to talk to us and said he’d be here in a minute. He had some mail for Bilbo.”

“Oh, let me go get his cup then and a bit more for him to eat.” Dis jumped up and ran to the kitchen, while Thorin and the others watched in silence.

“It occurs to me that I never knew just how much my sister missed having a home.”

A few solemn ‘Aye’s’ were all he got back as they waited on her to return.

“YES!” Bilbo’s shout made all of them jump and turn towards his study. They weren’t disappointed as a wild-eyed hobbit came rushing in, waving his letter.

“Dwalin! You know how to forge, don’t you?”

Eyebrows rising slowly, he nodded. Bilbo dropped his letter in his lap. “Here! Can you make this?”

Dwalin picked it up and glanced at it. It was covered in beautifully detailed drawings of what appeared to be a lamp.

“I can’t read a word of this, Bilbo. It’s that Elvish chicken scratch.”

“Darn it! I can translate it, but I don’t know all the terms for the actual forging…” He chewed his lip for a moment before his eyes lit up. “Balin!” He crowed, grabbing up his letter and dropping it into another lap.

“Can you read all of this?”

Smiling at the excited hobbit, he nodded. “I should be able to. Let me see…”

They all watched as Balin’s eyes tracked over the paper, his eyebrows climbing higher and higher, before finally looking up at Bilbo in shock.

“This… This… This…” He stuttered, holding the letter carefully. “This…!”

“I KNOW! Isn’t it amazing! I was hoping that he’d know about it, but it turns out that he knew how they were made, too!”

Balin’s grin became huge as he waved the paper. “We need to try this right away! Do you know if we can get the supplies and a forge?”

“WAIT!” Dwalin bellowed. “Just what in Mahal’s name is it? I want to know!”

Balin laughed at everyone’s curious looks. “It’s the directions on how to make one of the ancient lanterns that were activated by dwarf magic.”

“WHAT?!” All the dwarrow started talking over each other then and Bilbo found himself laughing.

“Balin, come on into the study. You’ll need to translate that into Westron or Khuzdul for them and I’ve got plenty of paper and ink in there.”

Bilbo drug Balin out of the roomful of excited dwarrow, the two of them chattering on about the lantern. Strider just looked at them all in confusion.

“What’s so exciting about a lantern?” He asked in a puzzled voice.

Dis smiled at him and handed him the drink and snacks she’d fixed. “It’s not JUST a lantern, Aragorn. It’s the old style. Our race used to be able to power our lights with magic. One lantern could light up an entire room with steady light. They gave off no heat and were safe to use around paper.”

Dwalin nodded. “Aye. We used to be able to do a lot more than we can now. Too many wars have claimed too much knowledge from us.”

Thorin nodded. “We’re excited because if we can reclaim how to build one item and make it work, it’s possible that we can do others also.”

Strider’s eyes lit up in understanding. “Oh, I see now! Thank you for explaining. After that though, I’m not sure how exciting my news is going to be, but here…” He pulled a parchment out of his pocket and unrolled it on the table.

The others gathered around to look as he pointed out a spot on the western edge of the Shire.

“Here. My people have been scouting the terrain in that area for anything useful as a fall back defensive position. Imagine their surprise when they found this up there.”

He pulled out a notebook then and laid it on top of the map and flipped it open. “Look.”

The dwarrow all gasped as they saw the sketch. It was a sketch of a set of huge stone doors. The artist had taken time to even sketch the stone statues on either side of the gates also.

“Is the scale right?” Thorin asked a bit hoarsely, eyes locked on the paper.

“As close as he could get it.”

Thorin looked at the others around the table. “Do you all recognize the statues?”

Slow nods from everyone then as they stared at him wide-eyed. Strider just looked confused again.

“Recognize the statues…? I don’t understand. That place is long abandoned.”

Thorin nodded. “We are taught that image in childhood. Those statues guarding the gate are of Durin the Deathless, the founder of our line.”

“I…” Strider looked between them all, a bit lost. “Really?”

Dis smiled at him. “Of course my good Man. Now, we have no idea why they’re there as there is no record of any city in this area, other than the Broadbeam settlement at Ered Luin.”

“Perhaps Balin will know more then.” Dwalin rumbled. “My brother knows a bit about everything.”

“Do I now? It’s good that you think so brother. Older brothers should always be respected, you know.” Balin’s cheerful voice cut in. He was carrying several sheets of paper, which he handed out to each of them.

“Translated instructions.”

All the dwarrow snatched up their copies to study.

“Bilbo, do you know if these materials are available at the forge and whether or not we’ll be able to acquire them?” Thorin asked tentatively.

Bilbo nodded his head furiously. “Of course they are. Balin told me that none of the metals used are unusual and old man Proudfoot keeps the forge stocked with supplies. I can make arrangements with him tomorrow then if you know what day you all might like to try it out.”

“Well then. We’ll start tomorrow!” Dwalin said. “We can round up the other smiths from the shelters and all of us go down to the forge. Make a day out of it and give everyone something to do!”

“Bilbo?” Thorin questioned.

Bilbo jerked his head back up from where he’d been reading the instructions once more. “Oh… Oh, yes! That’ll be fine. I’ll go talk to Master Proudfoot first thing in the morning then.”

“Yes!” Dwalin pumped his fist in the air. Bilbo shook his head at him and smiled fondly.

“What will it take for me to get one from you if they work then?” Bilbo asked.

“What? Oh, to read with?” Balin said, smiling.

“No. Oh, well that might also be nice. However, I was thinking of trying out using it as a light source for plants. At the meeting between all of you and the Thain a few weeks ago, you all mentioned the need for a fortified city if things continued to go worse.”

A bit puzzled, Balin nodded. “Aye, lad. We did.”

“Well, in all of the histories I’ve read, fortified cities always fall when they’re starved out. Food storage always runs out.”

“You’re right, Bilbo. It is one of the weak points of the system.” Thorin agreed.

“I want to see if plants can grow using just one of those lanterns as a light source and a bit of hobbit magic. If so, then a fortified city would never run out of food, as long as hobbits were there to keep it running. Several halls could be repurposed into planters and grow plants underground.”

At the dumbstruck looks that everyone was giving him, Bilbo flushed in embarrassment.

“I realize that it sounds a bit crazy, but that was actually the reason that I wanted one. Holman and Hamfast are going to help me run some trials if we can get a working light. Oh, and you did ask.”

“Hobbit magic?” Strider asked a bit weakly.

Bilbo nodded. “Of course. Making plants grow and keeping animals healthy is what we do. Remember when you asked me about the late harvest this year?”

Strider nodded.

“It takes a group of hobbits to force a field of plants to grow. That’s what we did to make sure that we’d have enough for everyone this winter. However, Holman, Hamfast, and I are only going to be trying it with a few plants, so just the three of us will be more than enough.”

“I…” Strider traded looks with the dwarrow. Dis jumped up and raced around the little table, pulling Bilbo up into a hug.

“Lady Dis… I need to breathe!” Bilbo managed to wheeze out while Thorin and the others laughed.

She let him go and frowned at him. “Bilbo, that’s one of the best ideas I’ve ever heard of! A self sufficient fortified city. No one has ever been able to do such a thing before!”

Bilbo smiled at her a bit cheekily. “Well, they never had hobbits helping them before, did they?”

As they all laughed again, Bilbo picked up his translation and gave them a wave.

“I’m off to bed. Got to get up early and get to old man Proudfoot’s place. Strider, your room is ready and the boiler should still be hot from earlier. Good night all.”

Bilbo vanished into the hallway, while the others sat there in silence. Strider cleared his throat.

“I don’t believe that I would have ever thought of growing plants underground.”

Dwalin smiled, thinking of his hobbit. “I’ve never heard of a dwarrow city that grew anything other than mushrooms.”

Balin nodded. “Aye. The lack of light is a real problem for the plants.”

“But if this lantern works, we’ll be able to see if his idea works. If it does, it’s yet another item to add to the plan.”

“Aye.” Thorin rumbled. “First we need to make a lantern. We can start on it tomorrow. Then we need to work out when it will be a good time to get up to these doors that you have found, Aragorn.”

Strider nodded. “Aye. Early spring more than likely. It’s just too cold out there right now.”

“Aye. I’m enjoying being warm, too.”

 

It was still early morning when Bilbo came back from making arrangements with the forge. Thorin and Dwalin both took off immediately for the shelters to get the other blacksmiths. Bilbo and Dis had to stop them at the door and hand them their cloaks. Both were a bit red around the ears as they took the cloaks from them.

“Have either of you had breakfast yet?” Bilbo asked sternly. “You can’t start a hard day’s work with nothing to eat!”

Dis nodded along with him. “Aye. If you won’t wait, then we’ll be bringing it down to the forge for you. Fili and Kili both wanted to go anyway and it’ll give me a good reason to drag them out of bed.”

Thorin nodded and stepped forward, pulling his sister close and touching foreheads. He actually smiled at her.

“That would be appreciated, Dis.”

She smiled back and patted his cheek fondly. “Well, then! It’s good to see that you’re finally developing some sense.”

Dwalin’s cheeks were slightly red as he did the same thing to Bilbo, who promptly beamed at him.

“We’ll see you in a bit down at the forge then, okay?”

“Of course, Dwalin.”

The two of them left, stomping their way through the snow and Bilbo hurried and shut the door.

“I hate winter. It’s freezing out there!”

Dis’ smile was a bit grim, but she nodded just the same. “I agree, Bilbo. I definitely know the value of a good house and plenty of supplies.”

Bilbo turned to her, eyes widening. “Oh, Dis! I’m sorry!”

She just tugged his arm, turning him around. “Don’t worry about it, Bilbo. Let’s see about getting breakfast ready for this herd. Now we’re supposed to deliver it to them also!”

The two of them were laughing when the other dwarrow showed up at the table half asleep. It took half an hour to get them fed and countless cups of tea, but finally Dis had all of them ready to go to the forge.

Every dwarf had a basket of food on their arm and Bilbo and Dis were carrying the tea kettle and a basket full of cups, plates and silverware. It was cold enough that their breath was fogging the air as they trotted up to the forge, swinging the door open and finding it to be standing room only in there.

The forge was packed with dwarrow. They had laid the plans on the table and were discussing it with each other, while several more started the forge. Proudfoot only ever banked his forge; as he said it took too long to get it hot enough from a cold start. It meant that they would be able to forge today.

“Thorin!” He saw them standing by the door and nodded, gesturing towards a table.

“Over there, Dis.”

Thorin and Dwalin both came over for breakfast and Balin joined them to chat. The other dwarrow set to work selecting the stock to be used.

“They’re all so happy.” Bilbo murmured almost under his breath.

Dis nudged his side gently. “This is what we love, Bilbo. In the same way that hobbits love plants and animals, dwarrow live for the stone, metal and jewels of Mahal.”

Bilbo blushed bright red. “I didn’t mean anything by it, Lady Dis!” He stammered.

“No offense taken, Bilbo. We’re all hoping for a long and prosperous alliance between all of us and the best thing for it is to learn all about one another.”

“Oh, well I can say that I’ve never seen a Ranger do any forging, so I think that all of you will have that covered.”

Dis smiled and put her arm around his shoulder, pointing out the individual dwarrow in the forge. Bilbo soon found out that he was standing in the room with some of the most highly trained craftsmen in the dwarven world.

He was blushing in embarrassment once more and trying to peel himself away from Dis when one of the huge dwarrow walked up to them and bowed.

“Lady Dis.”

“Hello, Master Blacksmith Ganir. You’re looking well this morning.” Dis was smiling as the dwarf straightened and nodded.

“Aye. The family and I would like to thank you Master Baggins. It’s been a cold winter this year and we’re not even halfway through it. Everyone is warm, fed and secure this time though.” The huge fellow placed a hand over his eyes and took a deep breath, bowing once more.

“Not only that, but you’ve given us a chance to do what we’re trained for, Master Baggins. Even more so, it’s a chance to rediscover something that’s been lost to us for ages now.”

Bilbo was red as a beet by now and waving his arms frantically. “Oh, please! No bowing now! You’re the ones with the skill in this room, I’m just a hobbit!” He patted his hot face. “Goodness, I don’t think I can get any more embarrassed.”

Dwalin stepped up beside Bilbo then as Dis smirked at him over his head.

“Impress us then, Ganir. I’m just an axe beater myself.” Dwalin’s grin had an edge to it that had Ganir slowly shifting his gaze from Bilbo to Dwalin before suddenly smiling broadly.

“Oh, I think we can do impressive. You don’t need to worry about that.”

The other dwarrow in the room roared in encouragement as they slapped each other on the back and set to work.

“Lady Dis, I believe I’ll head back home now. I’m just in the way here.”

“Aye, Bilbo. I’m coming too. I’m a jeweler by trade and so is Kili. Fili is the smith and taking after his Uncle.” She nodded at Balin. “Balin now is a Master Engraver. It will be someone with his skill set who does all of the rune work on that lantern.”

The two of them gathered up the remains of breakfast, leaving the other dwarrow in the forge. Bifur and Bofur both spent their days in the shelter making toys for the children, so it was just Dis and Bilbo once more today.

“Do you think that it will take long to make one?” Bilbo asked as he shut the door behind them.

“Of course not. What’s going to take time is the endless redoing they’re all going to want to do. It’s been so long since they’ve been able to craft something that they’ll probably go overboard on perfecting it.”

Bilbo laughed at the thought. “I could definitely see that taking place. I guess if they’re not back for lunch we can take them something or do you think they’ve made arrangements with the others for some food and drink?”

“Hmm…” Dis finished drying the cup she was holding. “That’s a good question. Let’s finish this and go over to the shelters and ask them. You need to meet more of them anyway.”

Bilbo frowned but nodded. “Alright then.”

 

It was late that evening, back in Bag End that a beautifully crafted lantern was sitting on his dining room table. Bilbo studied it carefully. He’d never seen a more crushed group of dwarrow in his life when they came dragging it in and told him that it didn’t work.

He ran a finger over the intricate rune work down the side of the lantern.

“Dwalin, what’s the word that’s supposed to turn it on again?

(On.)

Bilbo nodded his head dutifully and carefully called up a bit of hobbit magic. He placed his finger on the first rune.

(On!) He ordered.

The lantern flared to life, almost blinding him. He jumped back hard enough that he fell off of his chair and onto the floor.

All of the dwarrow were back at the table now, turning the lantern this way and that, and yelling questions at him.

Wide-eyed, all Bilbo could do was stare at them. Dis finally cut in, roaring out for all of them to sit back down. Bilbo climbed back to his feet, as he watched all of his dwarrow come back to life. Their eyes were lit up and they were proudly cradling the lantern, trading it amongst themselves.

“Bilbo! What did you DO? None of us could get it light at all!” Dwalin asked him earnestly. “It crushed us, as we all want to regain some of our own lost knowledge.”

Bilbo shrugged his shoulders. “I said (On.) and it came on.”

Thorin sat it back down on the table. “Shut it off again, Bilbo.”

Bilbo did the same thing, carefully calling up a tiny bit of magic and touching the rune. (Off.)

The lantern went dark.

“Watch.” Thorin touched the rune. (On.) Nothing happened. Bilbo frowned as all of the dwarrow slumped once more.

“How can it be that dwarrow can’t use a dwarven lantern?!” He said, frustrated.

Bilbo scooped up the lantern and plopped it in front of Dwalin. “You try it.” He laid his arm on Dwalin’s as the dwarf went through the process.

Bilbo frowned. “Well… I think that maybe I know what it is. How often do any of you use dwarven magic?”

At their blank looks, Bilbo nodded his head. “That’s probably it then. Dwalin, I’m going to channel a bit of hobbit magic through you. I want you to see if you can feel the difference and try to activate the lantern.”

Bilbo laid his hand on Dwalin’s arm and released his own magic. “Tell me if you feel anything.”

Dwalin frowned but nodded slowly. “It’s odd, kind of tingly or something.”

“Try to activate the lantern.”

(On.) Dwalin ordered and was rewarded by the lantern lighting up brilliantly. He couldn’t help but grin at the thing.

Bilbo nodded. “I have no idea what your magic will feel like, but I think you need to practice. We hobbits use our inborn magic all the time. I think that you dwarrow have gotten out of practice.”

“Bofur!” Dis yelled down the hall. “You and Bifur come here for a minute, will you?”

The two of them came into the room, puzzled. “What’s wrong, Lady Dis?”

She nodded to the table. “We finished the lantern. I want both of you to turn it on for us. Just say (On or Off.)”

They frowned at each other before Bofur reached out and touched the lantern. (On.) Nothing happened.

Dis turned to look at Bilbo then. “Bofur and Bifur have some of the best Stone Sense of any of us. It is a gift from Mahal. I thought it would be close enough, but apparently not.”

“Maybe not, Lady Dis. Bofur, Bifur, when you use your Stone Sense, do you have to call it up or is it always there?” Bilbo asked them. The two conferred for a moment.

“Call it up. It’s always there, but we have to kind of channel it outwards to work.”

Bilbo smiled in satisfaction. “That’ll work then. Call it up and then try to turn on the lantern while holding it.”

“Oh…” Balin sighed as he nodded his head. “I see now.”

Bifur frowned, paused for second before touching the lantern. (On!) He growled. The lantern exploded into brilliance, making all of them wince and turn away.

(Off! OFF!) He bellowed frantically.

They all sat there, blinking frantically as they tried to clear the spots from their eyes.

“It worked!” Fili crowed, triumphant.

“Aye. The hard part comes next. We dwarrow have to rediscover our magic.” Thorin grumbled.

“And learn how to control it. Bilbo was able to manage a much more tolerable light level.”

Bilbo waved his hand. “That won’t take them but a little while to figure out. You just have to control how much magic you let go at once.”

Bofur and Bifur both nodded in understanding. “But Bilbo, how in Mahal’s name can the rest of the dwarrow get in touch with their magic?”

“Or what do you do if you don’t have any?” Kili asked glumly. Bilbo frowned at them and sighed as he watched them all slip back into depression. They were too used to things going against them.

“Wait here.” He got up and trotted off to his bedroom. He still had a couple of mementos from his mother’s adventures in the chest. They should work. He dug them out and returned to the sad group of dwarrow in the dining room.

He held the first one out to Kili, who took the ore from him with a frown. “What are you doing, Bilbo?”

“Showing you that this is not a big deal. Bofur told me a while ago that all dwarrow know where they are underground. ALL of you. That means that each of you has magic in you, you just have to realize what it feels like and learn to use it consciously.”

“Kili lad, try to feel what type of stone you’re holding using your own Stone Sense. Bofur, if you can, try to help him through this first one.”

Bofur nodded and walked over to Kili, laying his hand on his arm. “Go ahead, Kili.”

Kili frowned fiercely at the ore in his hand, glaring at it. All was quiet for a minute or so before a look of wonder crossed his face.

“I feel it… It’s gold.” He breathed out, face breaking into a smile. Bofur was smiling just as proudly beside him.

“Good job, lad!”

Bilbo held out his other stone to Kili and they swapped.

“Now, try this one without Bofur’s help. Just remember the feeling, okay?”

Kili nodded fiercely and squeezed the second rock tightly. Two minutes, and then three minutes went by while Kili sat there before suddenly, his face got the same look of wonder once more.

“I’ve never felt this metal before, but I’m getting that it’s mithril.”

Bilbo smiled proudly while the dwarrow broke out into excited chatter over his second rock.

“Mother brought that one home as a souvenir from one of her adventures. Now, keep that rock in your hand and remember what it feels like to connect with it. Once you get that feeling, touch the lantern and send just a tiny bit of it to it. Tell it (On).”

Fili scooted the lantern in front of Kili while they all watched him. It was faster this time and he reached out, touching the lantern. (On!)

Once more the lantern exploded into brilliance, causing them all to flinch. Bofur leaned over and shut it off for them, while Kili whooped with joy.

“That was AMAZING! Now I want to try out all different kinds of rocks! Think of how easy it will get over time. Bofur and Bifur do it at the drop of a hat! I hope I can get it too!”

It took almost an hour before all the dwarrow in the room had handled the two rocks and been able to turn on the lantern. It was still way too bright, but from the smiles everyone was giving him, Bilbo didn’t think they were going to get much sleep tonight.

“Well, it’s late but I think we need to go rouse all of them out of bed over there and show them the damn thing works!” Dwalin growled out. “A more pitiful bunch of dwarrow I have never seen than the group that came out of that forge today.”

“Aye. I’ll get my cloak.” Thorin said as all of them rushed to get their cold weather gear.

“Bilbo.” Dwalin called out. “Be sure to lock the doors. I’ve got the key with me, so we can get back in. I’m sure we’re going to be very, very late.”

All of them roared with laughter as they ventured out into the darkness to show their new skill to the others.

 

“Finally!” Bilbo crowed as he pulled the tray of plants out of his closet ‘cave planter’. He carried them over to the table. Hamfast and Holman were already waiting on him to inspect their latest set.

“Oh, these look much better, don’t they?” Holman agreed as he poked the flower gently.

“Yeah, they feel better too.” Hamfast agreed. “This was the one where we set the light on full for 8 hours before low light for 4, right?”

Bilbo nodded as he pulled out their notebook. “It is. The plants are really doing well now.”

Holman suddenly groaned and slapped his forehead. “You know, if we’re growing underground, what’s going to pollinate the crops?”

Bilbo and Hamfast both groaned at the thought also. “I hadn’t thought of that.”

“Do you think that bees would do well underground?”

“I don’t know.” Bilbo sighed and set the quill down. “I guess we’re going to have to talk to the Tooks. We need to get someone running some trials on whether or not they can live down there and what they’ll need to survive, won’t we?”

Holman scratched his chin, pondering. “Well, if we can figure it out, we’ll have honey also. The more crops we can grow the better, I would think.”

Bilbo let his breath out slowly. “You’re right. You’re absolutely right. I think I’ll need to talk to some of the farmers around town. Who better to figure out what we’re forgetting than the people who grow it, huh?”

The other two nodded. “I think we need to keep working on the fruit ourselves. We should let others take over the grains and everything else. We not only need to know how to grow it and keep it healthy, but how quickly we can get it to harvest under those conditions.”

“Aye. That would tell us how much space it would take to grow enough crops to feed a city.”

“Well, now that we finally have healthy young plants, shall we try out how quickly we can get them to grow?” At their nods, Bilbo continued. “Alright then, try it at your lowest level you would normally use then and we’ll check on them tomorrow.”

Holman and Hamfast both grabbed a tray and laid their hands on the dirt, carefully pushing hobbit magic through the soil. In just a few seconds, they were done.

“Well, at least we’re finally making progress now! I was beginning to wonder if we’d even get a healthy seedling using the light!”

“You’re right, Master Bilbo. It’s quite a bit different from growing outside. It’s going to take practice, it is.”

The plants were carefully taken back to the closet and set inside, the light setting changed and the door closed.

“How about some tea, then?”

The three of them had just set down to enjoy a bite, when someone started pounding on the front door.

“Bilbo! Are you home?” Someone called. “Oh, please be home!”

They traded alarmed looks. All of the dwarrow were either down at the forge or over at the shelters, leaving just the three of them here. Bilbo pushed his chair back and headed for the door, the others following.

“I’m coming!” He opened the door and found himself facing a Ranger that he’d never met.

“Oh! You must be Master Bilbo then! Strider told me to bring them all to you to help.”

“Bring all of whom to me? What are you talking about, good sir?”

“The wagon!” He pointed to the horse drawn wagon sitting in front of his gate. There were two other Rangers with the wagon. “Strider said that they needed to come here.”

“Alright, but who is ‘they’?”

“Oh, please excuse me! After you gave Strider the money, we’ve been looking for any dwarrow or hobbits in the surrounding territory that are or were being held as slaves.” His face was grim. “We found some.”

“Oh goodness! Are they okay? Do they need a Healer?” Bilbo’s hands fluttered nervously. “How many are there? I have space in here, but they may want to be in the shelters also.”

The Ranger nodded. “All of them are going to need treatment, Master Bilbo. We’ve got 23 dwarrow and 4 hobbits in the wagon.”

“Oh my! Hamfast!” Bilbo turned, only to find his two friends standing right behind him. “Oh, good! Could you please run down to the forge and tell Thorin or Dwalin what we’ve got out here?”

“Will do, Master Bilbo!” He took off down the lane at a trot.

“I can go to the shelter and find the Lady Dis also. She’ll know what to do.”

“Thank you, Holman. Tell her to bring their Healers also.”

“I’m on it then.” He vanished off, back around the Hill to take the direct route to the shelter.

Bilbo turned back to the Ranger. “Please bring them on inside. They can wait inside where it’s warm. What about all of you? I’d like to get the whole story and find out if Strider needs more money for any of it!”

The Ranger nodded and waved to the others. “Send them in, he’s got room!”

They dismounted and went to the back of the wagon to start unloading folks. Bilbo had to grit his teeth as once more he wanted to cry at the sight of these folk coming towards him. All of them still had the shackles on them and were in terrible condition.

“This way, everyone! Straight down the hall and to the right. The fire’s already going and it’s nice and warm!”

The battered, scarred people shuffled past him, heads down and not meeting his eyes. He made sure to keep smiling as he settled them onto chairs, cushions and finally drug all of the chairs from the dining room in for them to sit on.

“We’ve got people coming any minute now to help you out. Don’t worry!” Bilbo said as he settled the last one. The four hobbits were all young. He was guessing that none of them were even of age yet!

Bilbo trotted back to the door, where the Rangers waited. He bowed deeply. “Once more I am deeply in the debt of the Rangers. Truly are you honorable Men. Do you have a place to stay tonight? Hamfast tells me that another storm should roll through tonight.”

“Truly?”

Bilbo nodded.

“Well, we were going to head back towards Frogmorton and meet up with our original squad, but I guess we’ll take lodging at the Green Dragon for tonight and see how the weather goes.”

“Aye! That would be great, as then we could come tonight and get the story on how you all managed to rescue so many!”

The Rangers all smiled at the hobbit before them before bowing. “Truly a pleasure, Master Bilbo. Let us know if we can do anything else, okay?”

“Oh, please! You all have already done more than enough! Get settled now before night falls. It’s already bitter cold out here.”

“Many thanks.” The Rangers mounted and jumped back on the wagon, heading down the Hill towards the Inn. Once they were safely on their way, Bilbo darted back inside.

He cleared his throat as he stood in the entrance to his living room. “Would anyone here like something to drink or eat while we wait?” The hobbits finally nodded before the one closest to him finally spoke up.

His voice was hoarse and so soft that Bilbo almost couldn’t hear it. “Are we truly back in the Shire?”

Bilbo nodded firmly and patted the lad on the arm. “You are, my lad. You are. You’re all safe now.”

He straightened and scurried off to get the big kettle and a lot of cups. A few minutes had a couple platters of bread, fruit, nuts and some sliced meats. He drug it all back into the living room and set it on the table.

When no one moved to get anything, he simply started pouring up tea and handing it out. Once he finished, he used napkins to set a few items on and gave something to everyone. All of the people in the room sat silently and stared as he worked.

He had just finished up when he heard a clatter at the front door and then the door opened and closed.

“Bilbo? What’s this Hamfast said about dwarrow needing help?” Dwalin’s deep voice rolled down the hall.

“Aye. We cut it short at the forge. Where are you?” Thorin’s deeper voice rumbled.

Bilbo smiled as every dwarrow in the room raised their heads, eyes wide. “We’re all in the living room. There are some people in here that you need to meet.”

The two dwarrow strode into the room, the very picture of dwarven power. Both of them had regained their health over the last few months and were dressed in new clothes and boots, weapons slung on their backs. Bilbo’s smile grew as he watched the dwarrow in the room watch the two in the door.

“Bilbo..?” Dwalin asked unsure.

“Everyone, I would like to introduce you to the King Under the Mountain, His Majesty, Thorin Oakenshield. The other is his Captain of the Royal Guard, the Lord Dwalin. These dwarrow will be able to help you.”

Dwalin and Thorin found themselves at the center of twenty three sets of dwarrow eyes staring at them. Dwalin started speaking in Khuzdul then, Thorin interspersing a few comments. The dwarrow were finally speaking and making a few gestures, which Bilbo took as a good sign.

He set himself down to speak with the hobbits then. He had gotten their names and started on their stories, writing it out carefully when he heard Dis come charging in through the back door.

“Bilbo! Where is everyone? I’ve brought Oin and several apprentices.”

“We’re in the living room, Princess Dis!” Bilbo called back, smiling at the four hobbits in front of him reassuringly.

Dis strode through the doorway, Oin and the others trailing behind her. She stopped at the sight and took a deep breath to steady herself. The sight of all of these shackled people drove home once more just what her boys had gone through.

She dug up a smile and tapped her brother on his shoulder. “Where do we start?”

Thorin smiled at Dis. “Well, Dwalin here says that the order Bilbo freed them in worked well.” He leaned around Dis. “Fili! Kili! Go down to the stable and saddle up your ponies. None of these folks need to be walking, so I want you to carry them down to the forge, two at a time. We’re going to get Master Ganir and a couple of others to meet us there and get the shackles off.”

“Once they’re free, bring them back here and Oin can check them out while they get cleaned up.” He finished.

“Dis, can you round up some clothes for all of them? They’ll need them once they’re clean. Oh, and get Bombur to cook up something they’ll be able to stomach. I’m sure they’re all still hungry. Send Master Ganir and whoever else he thinks he needs to the forge.”

“I think for tonight, we’ll let them stay here and make arrangements for rooms for them in the shelters in the morning. It’s going to be quite late by the time we get this done.”

Dis nodded and waved her boys on. They darted out the front door, while she went out the back once more.

Bilbo kept talking to his four hobbits, while they waited. It wasn’t long before he heard Fili yell from the front entranceway that they were ready.

Thorin stood. “Bilbo, would you like the hobbits to go first?”

Bilbo smiled at his four. “Are you all ready then?”

“Are you going with us, Master Baggins?” One of the young girls asked him.

“No, lass. I’ve got to stay here and make sure that everyone gets where they need to go. However, if you’ll come with me, I’ll introduce you to a couple of real Princes. How would that work?”

They slowly nodded and Bilbo took the first two of them out front and made introductions for them.

Dwalin came out also as Fili and Kili were helping arrange them on the ponies. “I’m coming with you lads.”

“Alright Dwalin. Let’s go then! It’s mighty cold out here tonight.”

Bilbo watched them vanish off down the Hill, before going back inside. He shut the door and leaned his head against it for a moment.

“Bilbo?” Thorin’s voice was as soft as he’d ever heard it.

He pulled himself upright and pasted on a smile before turning around. “Yes?”

Thorin studied him for second before closing the gap between them and pulling Bilbo forward to bump foreheads gently with him. “Are you alright?”

Bilbo felt his eyes start to tear up and he sniffled, feeling his face start to heat up. “O-Of course I am.”

The hand on the back of his neck slid down and patted him on the shoulder before pulling him to Thorin’s chest. “It’s okay to be upset. I know Dwalin is.”

“Well…” Bilbo cleared his throat. “Well, I shouldn’t be. I wasn’t the one collared and kept in a cage. It was just… Seeing them all again brought back the sight of all of them in that wagon and no one wanted to help them!”

“Aye, Bilbo. We have seen it over and over again since we lost our home. That’s what makes all of you so different. We will overcome this and forge a nation so great that everyone will know that trying to take our people as slaves will mean their death.” His voice deepened to a growl as he finished and Bilbo couldn’t help but smile.

Bilbo patted the chest he was currently leaning on fondly. “I know. Everyone in the Shire knows it, too. We’re all willing to work hard to get it done. I mean, look what Strider and the Rangers have done for us already. There are 23 dwarrow and four hobbits that have been freed already.”

Thorin released him and stepped back to study him. “Aye. And what’s this I hear about the Rangers telling them that a hobbit paid for their release?”

Bilbo’s flush deepened. “The Rangers don’t have much money, Thorin. I gave Strider a purse and told him to use it to free any dwarrow, hobbits or Rangers he found in slavery. He’s to come to me if he runs out. Grandfather already told me that he’d be willing to help out with it too.” Bilbo smiled. “So far though I’m still doing okay.”

Thorin shook his head. “Bilbo Baggins, we dwarrow truly owe you a great debt.”

His mood recovering a bit, Bilbo smiled weakly but shook his head. “No need for a debt between friends. However, I did think of one improvement. Would you be willing to write a letter in Khuzdul that Strider could take with him to explain what’s happening and where they’re going? They were terribly confused and didn’t trust the Rangers at all. I think it would help.”

Thorin nodded. “I’ll get Balin to write it. He’s always been much better than I at making everything sound good. I usually just sign it.”

Bilbo did grin now. “I’ll be asking Grandfather to do the same. In his case though, it will probably be Fortinbras who writes it. Grandfather pushed all the paperwork off on him years ago!”

“A smart man, your Grandfather.”

“That he is.” Bilbo jerked his head towards the living room. “Is everyone going to be okay while they wait?”

“Aye. Oin and his bunch have already started treating some of their worst wounds, but much of it has to wait until they’re clean.”

“Clean! That reminds me! I need to go fire up the boiler!” Bilbo darted past Thorin and down the hall; it always took at least half an hour for the water to warm.

Bilbo stopped by the kitchen for a new kettle before he returned to the living room. The other two hobbits looked quite grateful to see him. He smiled and poured them a cup of tea while they waited.

Thorin and the others were keeping the dwarrow company. Some of the former slaves were getting quite talkative. It wasn’t until the first two came back looking a bit teary eyed, that Bilbo jumped up and hugged them both.

“Fili! The next two are right here.” Bilbo ushered the last two hobbits wearing shackles towards Fili. “Fili and Kili are the two Princes I was telling you about. A better couple of dwarrow you’d be hard pressed to find!” He hugged both of them before sending them off. “We’ll be here when you get back and you can get cleaned up, alright?”

They vanished out the door and Bilbo turned towards his two charges. “This way, young ones! The bath water should be hot already.” He got them set up, making sure they knew which soaps to use and in which order before leaving them to their privacy.

He sat down in the now empty chairs the hobbits had been in and poured himself a cup of tea. His hand was shaking and it took a bit of work to get it steady enough to take a sip. He looked up when Thorin sat down in the chair next to him.

“Fili looked a bit wild. Do you suppose he’s doing alright or should we find someone else to ferry them back and forth?”

Thorin frowned. “Good point.”

“Aye. It’s bothering me remembering it. It must be ten times worse for all of them.”

“I’ll ask him when he gets back again.”

Dis showed up once more soon after, an entire crowd of dwarrow trailing after her hauling clothes, boots and bags of other items. Bilbo went to get up, but she waved him off.

“We’ve got it, Bilbo. We’re going to use those bedrooms down at the end of the hall for tonight. We’ll have their room arrangements done by morning for them. You just sit there. There are still four hobbits that need help.”

“Thank you, Lady Dis.”

Bilbo went down to check on the two in the bath and found them both dressing in their night clothes.

“Finished in here? Come on then. I’ll show you where you’ll be sleeping tonight. We’ll contact the Shiriff in the morning to get word to your families.”

“Really?”

He smiled back. “Really.” He popped open the door to the room. “Get settled. I’ll be back with the Healer. He’s a dwarf and he knows his stuff.”

Bilbo sent in Oin and went back, cleaning up the bathroom and getting it ready for the next two. He had just finished when Fili brought him the last two hobbits. He hugged the both of them, sent them both into the bath with orders to wait for him and drug Fili to Thorin with a LOOK.

Mission accomplished, he focused on keeping his last two charges going through the process. It was over an hour later before he had four clean, young, newly freed hobbits all tucked into beds. They all had wounds of varying degrees, but there was nothing that would keep them from being able to return to their homes.

Once finished with the hobbits, he found Dis. She had just sent off another two dwarrow to be freed from their shackles. He met her in the hall.

“Is there anything else you need from me?” He asked with a tired smile.

She took a long look at him and shook her head before sweeping him up into a hug.

“Truly are you a dwarf-friend, Bilbo Baggins.” She patted his back before releasing him.

“There are a lot of us here right now. We’ll take care of everything. You just take care of those poor young hobbits! Fili told us that none of them were even of age yet.”

“He’s right. They’re all still tweens. I should be able to get the Shiriff here tomorrow and we can get word to their families.”

“Aye, Bilbo. I know from experience that they are worried sick about them.”

Bilbo looked up at her, worried that she was upset, but she smiled and shoo’ed him to his room. “Go on now. You’ll need to tell me how your experiment is going tomorrow.”

“Sure, Lady Dis. Have a good night.” Bilbo yawned as he vanished down the hall to his room.

 

It had actually taken a couple of weeks to get the hobbits back home although the dwarrow had indeed moved into the shelter the next morning. It had been quiet for weeks afterward as winter slowly gave way into spring.

Thorin had arranged the trip into the mountains to look for those doors that had been found the previous fall. They’d invited Bilbo along with them, but he’d had to laugh and turn them down. He was no traveler and would have been a liability.

Instead, he arranged for Holman and Hamfast to come with him so that they could visit Tuckborough, and meet up with the group on their way back. He’d wanted to get their notes on what they’d been trying with growing underground. They’d even set up an apiary to try, same as the Bolgers.

As with everything hobbit related, his meetings had taken on a life of their own, most of the Took clan getting involved. He’d had to assign multiple people to do nothing but take notes and make copies of everyone’s trials and results, so that they could trade off what they’d done. Bilbo smiled fondly. Hamfast and Holman had been thrilled. He’d never seen the two of them so happy.

Today was the day though that the scouting trip was due back. It was why he was sitting outside currently, smoking his pipe and for the first time in days, enjoying the peace and quiet. It wasn’t until the first scouts rode up at a gallop, calling for a Healer, that he felt concern.

He snuffed his pipe and stood up, watching the crowd of riders close in. They all stopped in a huddle in front of the doors and several dwarrow were carried in, along with two Rangers. Bilbo stopped one of the riders left outside.

“What happened? How did everyone get hurt?”

The Ranger shook his head slowly. “We were ambushed by slavers just outside the borders of the Shire, Master Baggins. It was a big party. We managed to kill them all, but we’ve got four dwarrow critically hurt and two Rangers. The rest of us will make it.”

Bilbo paled. “Alright, let me see about getting arrangements made for all of you.” He ran back up the stairs to the front doors and poked his head in.

“Isumbras! Who’s in charge of delegating rooms?”

One of his many Uncles crept away from the crowd. “Daisy is. I’ll get her.”

He vanished down one of the many hallways, reappearing within moments with an older hobbit with him. She smiled at Bilbo.

“What can I do for you, Bilbo?”

Bilbo pointed outside. “The Rangers and the rest of the dwarrow need rooms and stabling for their mounts. They’ll also need a Healer and baths and such. Are you the one arranging such things here?”

Daisy blushed in embarrassment. “By Yavanna! I’ve left guests in the front yard! Oh, my!” She turned and started yelling names into the crowd, hobbits sorting themselves out and dashing off.

“Let’s go get everyone, Bilbo.”

He led her back outside and made the introductions. By now, several tweens had arrived to get their mounts. The group shouldered their gear and followed Daisy into the hallway. That’s when Bilbo realized who he didn’t see.

“Oh! Oh, wait! I don’t see them! Where are the King and Lord Dwalin?” Bilbo tugged at one of the dwarrow near him.

The dwarf shook his head. “We hadn’t any armor, Master Baggins. Both of them took multiple arrows to save others. They’re in with the Healers now.”

Bilbo’s felt his world tilt alarmingly for a minute before righting itself. Face paling, he nodded faintly.

“Thank you.”

He turned and dove into the crowd standing there. “Move aside! My friends are in there! Move it!” He pushed and shoved until he made it to the front of the crowd. Fortinbras soon was standing next to him, along with Hamfast and Holman, all of them looking ill at the thought of their dwarrow and Rangers dying.

It wasn’t long they had to wait. The door opened and the Healers stepped out, shaking their heads at their frantic expressions. Bilbo heard one of the Rangers start cursing and several of the dwarrow who’d returned started yelling Khuzdul.

“Lord Dwalin is asking for you, Bilbo.” The Healer said sadly. “Go on in.”

Bilbo walked in slowly, the others trailing behind him to say goodbye to their companions. He stopped at Dwalin’s bedside, watching his chest rise and fall slowly; there was a terrible wheeze with each inhale. He felt faint.

Dwalin did not appear to be conscious anymore
and Bilbo took his hand as his eyes teared up. He blinked frantically to clear them as his mind kept churning over and over how it could come to this.

He wiped his free hand over his eyes fiercely, noticing the cheerful geranium sitting on the table by the bed. He clutched his dwarf’s hand even tighter as his eyes drifted back to the flower once more. There was something there… Something about flowers…? No… Something about hobbit magic… That was it…

He gasped as he recalled the passage he’d read in the book. Hobbits used to be able to Heal. Truly Heal… Bilbo looked at the scarred hand in his and nodded. No way was he letting his dwarf leave without a fight. He wrapped both hands around Dwalin’s one and tightened his grip before calling up his magic. He’d been practicing endlessly with it anymore, lighting the lanterns, growing plants, helping others learn how to use it. When he called, his magic answered smoothly and he forced it out his hands and down, into Dwalin. The Lady Yavanna was all about life and this time, Bilbo told his magic what he wanted. He wanted to HEAL.

He never heard the others in the room exclaim in surprise as Bilbo suddenly began glowing a soft gold. The light traveled down his arms and covered Dwalin on the bed. Within moments, the dwarf looked better.

Fortinbras looked over at Holman and Hamfast. “What is he doing?!”

“Master Bilbo has gotten really good with his magic. I think he’s Healing Master Dwalin.”

Fortinbras turned. “Get the Healers back in here!” Several hobbits rushed out to do so, returning in moments with the shocked Healers. By now, everyone could see that Dwalin was much better, his breathing had evened out and the color returned to his face.

It wasn’t until he opened his eyes and looked around confused, that the yelling started. Fortinbras had to stand on a chair to get order as the light slowly faded from Dwalin and Bilbo let go of his hand. The Healers rushed forward, checking Dwalin over carefully, removing the bandages that they’d only just applied to find that he no longer had any wounds on him.

Fortinbras walked up to his nephew and put a hand on his shoulder. “Where did you learn to do that, lad?”

Bilbo snorted. “From a book.”

He groaned and placed a hand over his eyes. “Why am I not surprised?”

Bilbo drug his handkerchief over his forehead. “That’s exhausting.” He turned and headed to the next bed, where Thorin was dying. He picked up one of the cold hands and sent his magic out. He could tell immediately that Thorin’s damage was more severe than Dwalin’s he was literally almost dead.

“Holman, Hamfast? Would you be willing to boost me like when we do the plants? He’s in terrible shape and I don’t know if I have enough left.” Bilbo managed to gasp out as his magic worked slowly on Thorin. His two friends never hesitated, each one stepping forward and laying a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, joining their magic with his. Holman’s magic glowed with the dark brown of good, rich earth, but Hamfast’s was the bright green of the first grass of spring.

All of their practice paid off though as they blended seamlessly with Bilbo, his magic brightening as it worked on Thorin. It still took several minutes before Thorin woke up and another full minute of work before Bilbo stopped and the three hobbits stood there gasping.

“Oh, but that’s hard work, let me tell you…” Bilbo huffed out as he wiped his forehead once more.

“Aye. That’s worse than tilling the field in midsummer it is!” Hamfast was wiping his face off also, while Holman just stood there panting.

Dwalin was already standing and he moved over to Thorin as soon as they stopped. No one said anything until Bilbo spoke again.

“Could you please tell us who is in the worse shape? We need to work on them in priority order, now that we know how to do it.”

The Healers came forward, discussing it amongst themselves before tapping the beds the Rangers were in. “Both of the Rangers are in worse shape than the last two dwarrow.”

Strider’s eyes suddenly lit up with hope. “You… You would use this gift to save us also, Master Baggins?”

Bilbo snorted again. “Strider, you Rangers are Family to us. Don’t be stupid! Of course we’re going to help. As long as I don’t pass out or anything I’ll go until I drop.”

Fortinbras suddenly interrupted. “Bilbo! Don’t you usually help with the harvest in the south fields?”

Bilbo looked at his Uncle like he was crazy but nodded. “Of course, we all do. It’s close to Hobbiton.”

His Uncle grinned fiercely. “Good!” He turned, once more yelling orders out the door, as hobbits scrambling. In less than a minute, there were ten more hobbits piling into the room.

“Alright everyone! I want to make sure of this. ALL of you here have combined magic with Bilbo before, haven’t you?”

They looked at each other in confusion but nodded. “Good! Watch what Holman and Hamfast are doing and then I want you to join in, one at a time. Make sure it stays stable. I don’t want anyone else to join, until we’re sure. Got it?”

“Aye. But what are we doing?” One of the older hobbits asked.

“We’re Healing these good people everyone! Get ready!”

All of the hobbits stepped forward, making a chain where everyone was touching one another and Bilbo was holding onto the Ranger’s hand.

“Whenever you’re ready, Bilbo.”

All Dwalin and Thorin could do was watch as their hobbit nodded and bowed his head before his magic once more became visible. It started its work on the Ranger when his two friends joined in. A few seconds later, the first person in the chain joined in, until after a minute, all 10 hobbits had joined.

The Healing was much, much faster and when Bilbo stopped, he didn’t have that desperate paleness of before.

He shuffled to the next bed and grabbed onto the next Ranger’s hand. “Alright everyone, once more!”

This time, it was a seamless joining, as everyone blended only seconds apart. It took less than two minutes for them to finish the last Ranger.

All of the hobbits were smiling by the end of it. “By Yavanna, but that’s an amazing feeling isn’t it?”

The whole chain shuffled awkwardly around to get to the remaining two dwarrow. In just a few minutes, they had healed both of them.

Fortinbras was shaking his head when they finished. “I trust I need to tell none of you that what you just witnessed is absolutely a complete secret. There are not nearly enough of us to defend against slavers if they think we can all do that.”

He glared sternly at the crowd. “I mean it! This is your life and your family’s life on the line here! Let me hear you.”

One by one, the hobbits all nodded and vowed themselves to secrecy. Strider was doing the same to his Rangers. “This must absolutely be kept a secret of ours. We can tell no one!”

“They saved my life, Aragorn. I’ll keep this secret to keep them safe. You have my word.”

“Aye, Aragorn. You have my word also. I’ve lived my life defending the Shire. I’ll not let them down now.”

Aragorn hugged both of his men, thumping them on the back.

Thorin called the remaining dwarrow into the room, speaking in Khuzdul. None of them had any idea what they said but every dwarf there kneeled and said the same thing. A vow was Bilbo’s best guess.

Exhausted, Bilbo plopped down on the little chair by Dwalin’s bed. That was when he noticed his friends.

“Ummm… Holman, Hamfast… What color is my hair?” He asked nervously.

Hamfast frowned at him for a minute before walking closer. His eyes widened. “It’s gold, Master Bilbo! And so are your eyes!”

Bilbo pointed at him. “Your hair is green Hamfast and so are your eyes. The same color as your magic.”

“WHAT?! What do you mean that my hair is green?”

Holman suddenly groaned. “Is mine dark brown then?”

“Aye. Not a bit of gray in it anymore. Your eyes are brown too, my friend.”

Hamfast tugged his hair. “Why couldn’t mine be brown or something?! Why green? What is May going to think?”

The rest of the hobbits who had helped didn’t seem to be suffering from the same odd side effect. After some discussion, they all finally agreed that the others must not have used enough magic for it to change them.

“Bilbo.” Fortinbras interrupted. “We’re going to be bringing dinner up to your rooms for all of you tonight. The Healers are all having fits and wanting to learn how to do what you did, but I put them off until tomorrow at least.”

Fortinbras waved his hands at them. “All of you, go get cleaned up. Daisy will show you to your rooms, okay?”

The crowd dispersed then, everyone talking about what had happened. Bilbo waited until they were almost all gone before cornering his Uncle Fortinbras.

“Uncle, I spoke with one of the dwarrow earlier and he said that the injuries were so severe because they didn’t have any chain mail or armor. Do you know of such things?”

Fortinbras frowned before shaking his head. “We use a bit of leather armor in the Bounders, but that’s it.”

“Damn…”

“Let’s just ask your dwarrow, nephew. They’re waiting for you over by the door.”

Surprised, Bilbo looked up and saw that it was true. He waved them over.

“Please excuse me, as this is probably a stupid question to those of you that know, but is it true that the injuries today were so bad, because you all didn’t have any armor or chain mail?”

Dwalin nodded immediately. “Good chain mail will stop an arrow. Good armor can stop a sword. We had neither.”

Fortinbras sighed. “Alright then, you’ll have to help us with this one. How much metal and what kind do you need in order to outfit all of you that patrol and fight? We can’t keep sending people out just to get killed. If it hadn’t of been for Bilbo today, we’d have lost all of you.”

Thorin took a deep breath and exchanged looks with Dwalin. “I’m not even going to go into the whole, ‘you don’t need to provide armor’ thing with you. As I’ve learned, hobbits do what they want. We’ll talk to Aragorn and get a list of supplies written up for it.” He shrugged. “It’s going to take a lot to get everyone armored and fully geared.”

Fortinbras sighed. “I’ve no doubt, Your Majesty. I’ll speak with Father about it as all of the Farthings are going to want to contribute to it, I’m sure.”

He turned to leave. “Even with the cost, it’s still cheaper than your lives. We have to stick together if we’re going to make it.”

Fortinbras vanished out the door, leaving the three of them alone in the room. Bilbo smiled and slowly stood up, before yawning. “Goodness, but I think I can sleep for a week!”

Dwalin growled something under his breath and scooped up his hobbit, carrying him bridal style out the door. Thorin strode along beside him, calling one of the other Guards forward and giving him a few directions. Bilbo wasn’t set down until he was safely in the dwarrow quarters.

Dwalin stood over him, shaking his head. Bilbo simply glared up at him from his spot on the corner of the bed.

“Is there a reason why I wasn’t able to go back to my room?”

“Aye. You saved the lives of myself, Thorin and two of the Guards without any expectation of recompense, Bilbo. You’re Family now.”

Bilbo shook his head in amusement. “You shouldn’t worry so. I’m just glad that I remembered that passage from the Old Stories. The sight of the two of you laying on those beds like that…” Bilbo put a hand over his eyes and sniffled. “I think that you all scared years off my life. I’ve never been so afraid, and that’s including the day that I bought all of you from that slave trader.”

Dwalin sat down by Bilbo on the bed and wrapped an arm around his shoulders, pulling him to his chest. Bilbo just sighed and melted into him, clenching his hands in his torn and bloody tunic.

“I don’t think I’ve ever been so tired in my life…” Bilbo said under his breath. Dwalin almost couldn’t hear it.

He jerked his head at Thorin who scowled, but slowly settled on the bed and slipped his boots off. Dwalin once more scooped up his hobbit, this time setting him down next to Thorin. The two of them pulled the blanket up over the hobbit, who promptly blushed.

“Oi! I’m not a fauntling, you know!”

Dwalin smiled, bending down to touch foreheads with Bilbo. When he did, the most amazing feeling of contentment rolled over him and he smiled, closing his eyes to savor the feeling.

“You’re going to keep His Majesty here in bed to recover while I see about getting a message off to Ganir and find out where dinner is. Once we all eat, we’ll see about getting cleaned up.”

Dwalin and Thorin traded a few signs in Iglishmek, leaving Bilbo glaring at the both of them before he vanished out the door. With a huge sigh, Bilbo rolled, turning his back towards Thorin and scooting backwards until they were touching.

“I hope you don’t mind, but you’re so warm! It’s rather like having a personal heater or something…” Bilbo’s words trailed off as he curled up and drifted off to sleep.

Thorin was left staring at the hobbit that was actually surprising small, and now had hair and eyes the color of polished gold. He ran a hand across the soft hair. It might be long enough for Dwalin and him to braid. He didn’t think Bilbo would turn them down…

 

It was mid-afternoon the next day when Dis, Fili, Kili, Balin and Master Ganir, along with Oin and several others that Bilbo wasn’t familiar with, rode into Tuckborough. Bilbo, Hamfast and Holman had been enjoying a late lunch, while the dwarrow were talking about armor and numbers. All that stopped though, as the crowd of dwarrow charged through the dining room, piling up on Thorin and Dwalin.

Bilbo and the other hobbits stared wide-eyed at the Khuzdul being growled out from the other side of the room. It went on for over 10 minutes before finally calming. Dis and her boys came over to Bilbo, gesturing for him to stand up. He sat his sandwich down and did so, finding himself promptly crushed in a hug with three dwarrow.

“Bilbo, I can never repay what you have done for us.” Dis’ voice was choked with tears. “I would have lost my brother yesterday. If not for you, I would have lost my brother, my boys the only father they remember and the most loyal of friends. Not even counting the other two Guards and the Rangers that you healed.”

She loosened her grip, leaving Fili and Kili hanging on him like limpets. “You are Family now, Bilbo Baggins.”

Bilbo was red as a beet by this point and stammering out his attempts to explain. Fili stopped him though.

“I don’t think you understand yet, Bilbo. We’ve got years ahead to show you how much we appreciate you.”

Kili ruffled Bilbo’s shiny new golden hair. “Don’t worry, Bilbo! We’ll make sure you understand how important you are to us.”

All three dwarrow bumped foreheads with the blushing hobbit before letting him go and then doing the same thing to Holman and Hamfast.

“Oh! That reminds me! Holman, Iris wants to know why she now has sky blue hair and eyes and Hamfast, May wants to know why she has pink hair and eyes.” Dis smiled cheerfully. “It’s rather attractive and both women were quite grateful for the loss of gray hair!

Both hobbits groaned. “It affected them, too? How’s that possible anyway?”

She laughed. “It’s apparently quite possible, as Hamfast, your children are sporting a rainbow of colors now! It’s lovely!”

“Oh… May’s going to kill me!” He groaned and covered his eyes.

“Actually, both of your wives wanted us to let you know how proud they are of you and that they were proud to be ‘touched by Yavanna’.” Fili said calmly as he patted Hamfast’s back.

“Aye. They’re looking forward to you getting home.” Kili added.

The three of them turned back to Bilbo then. Dis’ smile was a bit wolf like. “By the way Bilbo, have you noticed how much younger Dwalin and Thorin are looking today?”

Startled, Bilbo jerked his eyes over to the two of them. “What?”

Now that she said it, he could see it. Neither one had a bit of gray in their hair and they had the bearing of much younger dwarrow. He turned back to Dis, startled. She smiled and ran a hand through her own hair.

“I must admit that I’m also appreciating the loss of my gray. I was feeling old before my time.”

Fili and Kili both slung an arm around his shoulder. “Should we be talking to you about our Mother, Bilbo?”

Bilbo thought his face was going to catch of fire it was so hot! “Please! I just… I just… I think of all of you as Family to me. I guess when I used the magic yesterday, it must have read that from me and you all got a bit of it too. What else could it be if it affected Holman’s and Hamfast’s Families also?”

He perked up a bit and smiled at Dis. “Should I be hoping that Fili and Kili’s hair change color next? I think purple and pink would look really nice!”

Dis threw her head back and laughed, while the two boys started whining at the thought. Bilbo slipped from their grasp and settled back at the table.

“Go bother your Uncle!” He said firmly as he pointed across the room. “He hasn’t had to deal with you in weeks now!”

Fili and Kili grinned at him unrepentantly, before trotting back over to their Uncle. Bilbo let his breath out slowly and picked up his sandwich once more, giving it a bite.

Dis settled next to him, fixing herself a sandwich. Bilbo suddenly jerked, startled.

“Oh! I just wondered… Have any of you seen Aragorn this morning?” He smiled weakly.

Dis grinned at him. “Don’t tell me. He’s part of your Family too?”

“Well… He is! What can I say?”

They finished their lunch quietly as they discussed the many plant and animal trials they were running with underground growing. Bilbo was yawning again, making Dis eye him when he finally remember yet another question.

“I keep forgetting Lady Dis. Kili is an archer, right?”

She nodded.

“Is he pretty good? I’ve never seen him shoot before.”

“Aye, Bilbo. He’s quite good.”

“Do you think he’d be good as an instructor?”

“An instructor? In archery?” Dis asked confused.

“Aye. We hobbits simply lack the physical strength to wield battle axes and long swords against Men. However, we all have great eyesight and the Bounders usually use bows. Do you think he’d be willing to set up some classes for all of us in Hobbiton that want to learn how to shoot?”

Dis looked at him, astonished. Bilbo shrugged. “Don’t be surprised, Lady Dis. We want to help defend ourselves too. We hobbits are not the type to invade others for war, but all of us love our home. If we can help, a lot of us want to.”

“Aye Lady Dis. I know that all of my family would like to learn.”

Holman nodded also. “Iris and I both want to learn. Master Bilbo has had several of the Tooks who are bowyers making us all some serviceable bows. We’re planning to take them back to Hobbiton with us if we can find an instructor.”

Bilbo nodded. “It’s the arrows that are the problem. But perhaps if I can buy the metal, you might have someone who can make arrowheads?”

Dis couldn’t help herself. She wrapped her arms around Bilbo once more, hiding her tears in his shoulder.

She finally sniffled a bit and straightened proudly. “I don’t even need to ask him, Bilbo. I know Kili would be thrilled to train all of you.”

Bilbo sighed in relief. “That’s good. The Tooks are taking care of their own training, as the Bounders are based here. They’re going to each Farthing though to find volunteers to teach everyone willing to bear arms. Being stuck in the middle, we were a bit worried that we might not have an instructor as there aren’t very many Bounders that can be freed up.”

Hamfast leaned over and pointed to the dwarrow. “In all the chaos yesterday, I forgot to ask. How did the search turn out? Is the city usable?”

Bilbo nodded. “They have to take back a much larger group of people and a whole lot more lanterns. Bunch of supplies and other things… I forgot some of it. They’re hoping to make it back up there by mid-summer and see if they can get the water, sewer, forges and lights working. If they can, they want to spend next winter there, working on making it habitable.”

Holman and Hamfast both looked stricken at the thought of the dwarrow leaving. Bilbo sighed. “I know. I know. I can’t image not seeing all of them every day anymore either.”

Dis frowned at all of them. “What part of the fact that you all are FAMILY did you not get? All of you will be welcome and needed in the city! Who else can we find that can coordinate all of the growing efforts and trials?”

Holman and Hamfast looked torn while Bilbo looked surprised. Dis shook her head. “Remember, the safest place for your families is in the fortified city. Hamfast, Holman, both of you now have very colorful families. What do you think would happen if some regular Men spotted them?”

They flinched in unison and she nodded. “You see? Don’t worry though. That’s why we want you all to come too. How else can we make sure that there is an entire section of the city that can support hobbits? And perhaps the Rangers? I think they need the green growing things to thrive also.”

The gardeners looked thoughtful now and Bilbo smiled at Dis. “You have given us a lot to think about, Lady Dis. Now, in the interim, there is a group of ladies that is just dying to meet you. They have all kinds of ideas for tunics and well… Other stuff that they want to talk to you about. I told them that you had several tailors with you and now they’re all overjoyed and ready to descend upon you in Hobbiton with wagon loads of material.”

Dis’ eyebrows rose as she listened. “Really? Even though all of you have supplied all of us and the Rangers with new clothes and boots already?”

“Aye, my Lady.” Bilbo stood. “If you have time, come with me and I’ll introduce you to them. They’re determined that if we’re going to pull off becoming a fortified country, we should be a well-dressed fortified country.”

Dis’ smile became a bit feral. “I think I would love to speak with them. Lead the way, Bilbo.”

Giving her a wary look, Bilbo offered his arm and led her out of the dining room to find Daisy.

 

“You’re serious?” Aragorn said, stunned.

Thorin nodded his head regally. “It’s true. The hobbits are providing the iron for free; we’re providing the manpower to turn it into armor and chain mail. Everyone we have now is going to get a set of custom made armor. We have the time and manpower to do it and we’ll need it soon.”

Balin smiled at Aragorn and nodded. “If you could arrange a schedule so that everyone who’ll be fighting gets in here for a fitting, it would be appreciated. We’ve already measured all of the dwarrow. It takes between 15 minutes to a half hour. We’ll also need to know if you want just chain mail or a full set of armor. Once we get done with the fighters, we’ll be doing armor for the mounts next, as we can’t afford to keep replacing them either.”

Aragorn felt a bit light headed for a moment and Balin patted his arm reassuringly. “It’s alright laddie. Just breathe for a minute. Ori, could you get him a drink?”

“Of course, Master Balin!” Balin’s apprentice scribe, Ori dashed off for a drink for him.

“Dwalin, could you bring me the sketchbook please?”

His brother sat it on the table in front of him and Balin flipped through the pages quickly. “Ah! Here it is.”

He slid it across the table to Aragorn. “We have a veritable fleet of seamstresses and tailors, both dwarrow and hobbit that are absolutely dying to get started making us some uniforms.”

Aragorn’s eyes widened and Balin nodded. “Aye, lad. This is really happening. None of us are homeless anymore and hopefully by the end of next winter, our city will be habitable. In the meantime, the hobbits want us to be the best dressed fortified country in Arda.”

Aragorn smiled a bit at the thought of all the well dressed hobbits on their Market Days. “That I could believe, Lord Balin.”

Dwalin cut in them. “They actually have a point though and it’s a good one. If we look strong, we are much less likely to be bothered. I’m hoping that the armor and uniforms can give us the look that we’re a lot stronger than we actually are, until we can GET strong enough.”

Aragorn nodded in agreement. “That’s true, Lord Dwalin. What do you need from me?”

Balin pointed towards the book. “They’ve come up with multiple designs. The hobbits and dwarrow both seem to be leaning towards the design of a central emblem with the emblem of each separate division in the left corner. We had to ask what emblem to use as the Rangers don’t have any on them.”

Aragorn sighed. “That’s true.”

Balin nodded again. “We made up one to represent the Rangers, but then we made up another using the old Kingdom of Arnor’s emblem. We thought you might like it, as you all used to be part of that country.”

Aragorn’s hands clenched into fists on the table before he could control himself and bow his head. Balin patted his arm once more. “Ori’s back with your drink, lad.”

“Thank you, Mister Ori.” Aragorn said softly, sipping the tea. “Can I take the sketches and talk it over with everyone?”

“Of course, lad! That sketchbook is for you! It’s a copy of the one we have and chock full of the various ideas they’ve all come up with.”

Balin let Aragorn finish his tea before sending him up onto the dais to be measured for his armor. At Aragorn’s complaint, he just waved it off. “Might as well get it over with, lad.”

When he was finished, Balin saw him out of the front room of the forge. “Be sure to let us know about which emblem you’d all prefer. We’ll need to know to be able to finish your armor, as all of us are going to carry our own symbols.”

Still shaking his head, Aragorn headed out the door. He poked his head back in only moments later. “I apologize Lord Balin, but I completely forgot. Bilbo told me that you are one of the advisors to King Thorin. Would you be willing to train several of my people? I have no one with that kind of knowledge and we need it desperately.”

Balin smiled widely as he straightened in pride. “Send them to me, Aragorn and I will be honored to teach them what I know.”

Aragorn bowed deeply. “There will be four of them and they’ll be here by this evening. Please let me know what we can do in exchange.”

Balin just smiled and waved him on. Aragorn vanished out the door once more and Dwalin groaned.

“Your ego is so big now that it’ll be hell to be near you, won’t it brother?”

Balin just cocked an eyebrow at his brother and smirked, dragging another groan out of his younger brother. Thorin stepped into the room from the forge.

“Bilbo is doing well with steering him onto the right path, isn’t he?”

Balin nodded proudly. “Up until Bilbo told me, I had no idea that Aragorn is a King of his people! His folk have been homeless for so long that they truly have lost everything, haven’t they?”

“Aye. The same fate would have befallen our people if it wasn’t for Bilbo and the hobbits.”

Dwalin suddenly grinned. “Ol’ Aragorn is indeed looking mighty young these days, isn’t he? Looks like Bilbo’s magic did indeed consider him Family.”

Thorin smiled. “I’m sure his love will be most appreciative.”

“Aye. An elf. Who would have thought it?”

 

Bilbo straightened up with a groan as he surveyed his newly arranged room. After working all summer, the dwarrow had indeed gotten the mountain’s infrastructure working and now, everyone was busy moving in. Just down the hall from him, Hamfast, Holman and their families were also moving in. The entire wing they were in was going to be dedicated to hobbits.

While the dwarrow worked on the mountain though, all of the hobbits had been working on growing the great High Hedge all around the Shire. It wasn’t going to be perfect as a defensive barrier but it was better than nothing and didn’t cost anything, other than magic to put in place. It had taken the free time of darn near every Shire hobbit, but they had finally enclosed their borders and the entire section of forest up to and around the mountain.

He knew that each Farthing was busy building Guard stations along every major road and at set intervals along the Hedge. Dwalin had spent hours with the Bounders setting up those plans. Bilbo had spent his time with the Hedge and now moving. After this, all of them would start working in the halls that had been given to them for gardens.

He smiled, remembering Lady Dis arguing that there would be formal gardens and parks all throughout this new city. It turned out that everyone wanted it to reflect their new status as a nation of combined people and not just one culture or the other. Aragorn had to request that the dwarrow help the Rangers select the areas for their own gardens, as none of them were architects.

Even with all of them though… This city was vast. It was rather hard thinking that at one time, it had been full of people, because right now, they were barely making an impact on the giant empty space of it. He shook his head. It didn’t matter. They would one day fill it up. For now though, he looked over at the alcove he had pictured in his mind as a kitchen.

He had plans. No one had a private kitchen or facilities in this mountain. The dwarrow had told him that it would take years for them to get everything running at 100%. The lanterns had given him several ideas though. It was why he had brought his stove and bathtub, even though Hamfast had looked at him like he was crazy.

No one knew the many, many hours he had put into designing the runic array needed to make his stove work on magic. Or his tub. Or his toilet. Bilbo laughed as he sat down in his chair. Once he had them working, he had used them a few times, but he figured that he’d need to use them long term to make sure they worked without a problem. Once he was sure, he’d spread the word to the other hobbits.

“Bilbo!” He could hear Dis calling for him and rose to his feet.

“In here, Lady Dis!” She had his door opened before he was able to get there and swept inside, looking around.

“Well, I came to see if you needed any help, but it looks like you’ve pretty much finished up already.”

Bilbo nodded. “Yeah. I just put away the last of it. I’m sure that it will take me a few months to get everything situated the way I want it, but it will work for now.”

Dis walked over and sat down in one of his arm chairs, leaning her head back. “This has been exhausting, let me tell you.”

Bilbo laughed again. “I was just thinking the same thing! I think I’ll take a nice hot bath tonight as a reward for my hard work.” He settled in the chair across from her, while Dis eyed him oddly.

“You do realize that the plumbing isn’t working yet? We still have the communal bathing areas.”

“I know.” Bilbo sighed. “Mine does though.”

Dis’ head shot up as she stared at him. “How is yours working and no one else’s? Did Dwalin and Thorin do something, because if so, I’m going to have words with them for not fixing my plumbing then!” She growled out.

Bilbo had to wave his hands. “No, no. Mine doesn’t use plumbing, Lady Dis. I’ve been fiddling with it all summer and I’ve got them working. I just want to make sure that nothing goes wrong with it, so I plan on using it for a while to make sure that it doesn’t have any glitches.”

Dis blinked, still staring and finally heaved herself to her feet. “Come on. This I need to see.”

“What?” Bilbo looked up at her confused. “But you just sat down!”

“Doesn’t matter. I want to see how you have this working without plumbing.” She leaned over and tugged his arm gently. “Come on. Show me what you’ve done.”

Bilbo grumbled but led her over to the tiny room he’d claimed as his bathroom and opened the door. It was cramped, but he had his tub, toilet and sink with mirror all in there, along with his shelf full of towels and soaps.

He yawned as he stepped forward and pointed to the sink. “It works like the lantern Lady Dis, except you don’t have to say anything. Just touch the rune I scratched on top of the faucet and send a bit of magic to it. Then you can turn it on and off using the normal faucets. Hot is still hot and cold is still cold.”

Dis’ eyes were wide as she looked between him and the sink several times before finally reaching out and touching the rune. It glowed blue for a second.

“There. When you see that, you know it’s activated and can use the faucets.”

Dis still didn’t say anything, but turned the faucets on, watching as water came rushing out and vanishing down the drain. She looked under the sink, trying to see where the water was going, but saw nothing.

She was silent as Bilbo led her through working his tub and toilet also. When they finished, he showed her how to turn the runic array off on each of them before pushing her back out of his bathroom.

“Lady Dis? Are you alright?” He finally asked, a bit tentative.

She blinked and swallowed before nodding. “Bilbo… Is there anything else that you’ve got running on magic?”

He shrugged. “Just my stove. The kitchen sink works also, but you’ve already seen the bathroom sink working. It’s the same thing.”

“Umm… Would you mind showing me the stove then?”

Bilbo led her to his modified stove, casting glances over his shoulder at the unusually quiet Dis. It was a bit unnerving! They stopped in front of the now familiar stove from Bag End. She noticed right away that it didn’t have a chimney on it, but said nothing, preferring to watch as Bilbo walked her through how to turn it on and off and set the temperature she wanted to bake at. Each of the individual burners on top was controlled separately, so he could change the temperature on each one if he wanted too. Bilbo smiled proudly when he finished.

“It takes no fuel and puts out no smoke either! I’ve used it many times now, but I still worry that I might have something wrong somewhere, so… I’m being careful.”

Dis patted the stove carefully and closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. “These things you’ve done, Bilbo… They’re wonderful!” She turned to him and placed her hands on his shoulders, looking him in the eye. “Is there anything else you’re working on?”

Blushing a bit under her intense regard, Bilbo nodded. “A room heater and… I guess you’d call it a cooler? Without the stove giving off much heat, I worry that it might be a bit too cold, so I’ve been fiddling with something on the side. I haven’t got all the bugs worked out of it yet though. Maybe in another couple of months?”

Dis scrubbed a hand across her eyes before she threw her arms around Bilbo and hugged him tightly. “You are without a doubt a gift from the Valar themselves, Bilbo Baggins.” She let him go, smiling widely at the beet red hobbit before her.

“Now, I know you don’t want to go widespread with the appliances yet, but… Aragorn’s fiancée is here right now. The Lady Arwen should have a lot of experience with magic and I could see if she had time to check your work, if that would be okay with you, Bilbo. We could really, really use magic powered appliances as repair work costs quite a bit, which we don’t have yet.”

Still blushing, Bilbo nodded. “If you think it’s best Lady Dis. However, I’m not sure I’ll be very comfortable telling Lady Arwen about the toilet.” He sighed and put his hands on his cheeks, hoping to cool them off. “It was hard enough talking to you and I consider you Family!”

Dis laughed and hugged him briefly once more. “Now, I’m off to see if I can find the Lady Arwen right now, Bilbo. Hopefully, I’ll be back soon with her!”

Bilbo nodded and ushered her to the door. “I’ll be here, Lady Dis.”

Still smiling, Dis swept back out the door, her exhaustion forgotten.

Bilbo… Well, the thought of company sent him into the kitchen. He didn’t even have the smallest of pastries or treats to offer tea with! He set to work with a will, and soon had several pans of baked cookies on the counter, along with a pumpkin spiced cake. He had managed to get his tiny kitchen cleaned up and was mixing up the icing for his cake, when he heard the sounds of a large group of people coming down his hall.

A bit concerned at the number of people he was hearing, Bilbo stared warily at his door, which shook in its frame when someone pounded on it.

“Bilbo! We’re here!”

“Dwalin…?” He murmured to himself and set down his bowl to rush to his door. He pulled it open and smiled at the dwarf.

“Hello, Dwalin!” That’s when his eyes widened at the sight of all of the others. Dis was there, along with Arwen, Aragorn, Thorin, Master Blacksmith Ganir, Balin and a ton of others that he couldn’t name right off the top of his head. Eyes widening, Bilbo sought out Dis and found her smiling at him.

“Sorry, Bilbo. However, turns out that everyone wanted to see appliances powered by magic. The Lady Arwen has agreed to check over the runic arrays for you also, just as we spoke about.”

Bilbo slowly stepped back and held his door open, letting in the mob of people. Aragorn stopped and nodded to him, smiling. “Bilbo Baggins, I would like for you to meet my fiancée, the Lady Arwen. She’s the daughter of Lord Elrond of Rivendell.”

Bilbo swallowed and bobbed his head nervously, trying not to stare at the beautiful Elf. He hadn’t seen any in person before her and now he had made a poor first impression. Bilbo bowed, trying to ignore his flour covered apron.

“It is a pleasure to meet you, Lady Arwen. I think of your fiancée as Family to me. He’s one of the most trustworthy Men I have ever met.”

Arwen positively beamed at him and bent down to clasp his hand. “He speaks highly of you as well, Bilbo. And now the Lady Dis tells me that you took Father’s plan for the lantern and turned it into many different ideas! It’s wonderful!”

Bilbo promptly blushed red and turned desperate eyes to Dis who simply laughed at him.

“Come on, Bilbo. Show her the appliances and when you get done, we can have a bit of tea.”

Bilbo found himself being drug off to the bathroom, where he had to go through and explain the workings of his appliances to every single one of them. He finally gave his notebook to Arwen, explaining that he had drawn his arrays out in the book along with his notes.

Still smiling, she simply set down on the floor and started studying it, Aragorn seated beside her. Dis had him explain the workings of his stove to Ganir, Thorin and Dwalin, all of whom were immediately over the moon at the thought of a forge that they could set the temperature on and it would hold it.

Still flustered a bit by all of the people in his rooms, Bilbo was interrupted again by Arwen.

“Bilbo…?”

He turned to her. “Yes, Lady Arwen?”

“Your work here looks exceptional. Now I’m wondering why Father never created anything like it!” She closed his notebook and handed it back to him. “Perhaps he was worried about the low level of magic available. Aren’t you worried about running out?”

Puzzled, all Bilbo could do was stare at her before he turned to Dis for an explanation. She looked just as confused as he did and shrugged.

“I’m sorry, Lady Arwen, but we don’t understand. Low level of available magic? Or running out?” Bilbo’s brow wrinkled in confusion as he thought about it.

Now Arwen looked puzzled. “Don’t understand? Aren’t you powering these from the ambient magic available?”

Still a bit confused, Bilbo shook his head. “Oh, no. We use our own magic, Lady Arwen. I’ve never heard of anyone running out. Have you, Lady Dis?”

Arwen and Aragorn both looked stunned then. “Your own magic, Bilbo…?”

“Aye. Hobbit magic. Of course, the dwarrow use dwarrow magic, which is slightly different but still magic. It works.” Bilbo said, nodding. “None of us have noticed any lack.”

Arwen and Aragorn both traded a look, and her hands clenched into fists. “Bilbo… Are all of you trained in controlling your magic then? Are all of you shielding to keep your magic within yourselves?”

“Of course, Lady Arwen! Why, it’s considered the height of rudeness to flaunt one’s magic around!”

Her smile was a bit wistful then and she swallowed hard before speaking once more. “If I may be so bold, could I ask that all of you drop your magic shielding for me for a minute or so? I would like to understand what it is we’re talking about.”

Bilbo turned to Lady Dis who turned to the rest of the group, speaking briefly in Khuzdul. Everyone turned to Arwen and all at once, the group of dwarrow and the lone hobbit stopped shielding. The room was immediately awash in a heady cloud of magic, Bilbo himself being a powerhouse and his brilliant golden cloud of magic swirled around him.

Arwen had paled and clutched a bit desperately at her beloved’s arm and for the first time in her memory, she was surrounded by magic. The ambient magic level in the room was higher than she’d ever felt before in her long life. By the time the minute was up, she was in tears and hugging Aragorn tightly.

“Uh… Aragorn? What did we do? Why have we upset her?” Bilbo asked a bit frantically.

Aragorn shook his head. “Nothing, Bilbo. These are tears of happiness, my friend.” Once he got her calmed down, the Lady Arwen explained to them that Elves need magic to live. They were designed by Eru to use the available magic, but they were not magic in themselves. The severe lack of magic in the environment anymore was killing them. It was why so many Elves were electing to travel to Valinor, rather than stay on Arda. An Elf without magic is an Elf that is Fading.

“Wait!” Bilbo struggled to put his thoughts into words. “You’re telling me that all of the Elves are dying?!”

Arwen nodded.

“And it’s because hobbits think it’s rude to flaunt magic and dwarrow lost their knowledge of it? So we weren’t charging up the environment, so to speak?”

Arwen smiled a bit sadly. “I don’t know, Bilbo. Perhaps?”

Behind him, Bilbo heard Thorin heave a sigh. “Perhaps you would like to invite your Father here then? To discuss it? It doesn’t sit well with me to find out that your people are in trouble and we have not helped.” Thorin walked forward next to Bilbo. “If it were not for the hobbits, my people would be slowly dying in the Dunland still and my sister’s sons and my cousins would have died in slavery. The least we can do is try to pass it forward and help someone else that might need it.”

All of the other dwarrow were staring at Thorin wide-eyed in stunned silence, but Bilbo’s smile was huge. He wrapped his arms around Thorin as tightly as he could.

“You are a true King!” He said, muffled by the cloth of Thorin’s tunic. He felt Thorin’s arm slide around his shoulders and pull him into his side even more tightly.

Aragorn nodded and rose to his feet. “I can send a dispatch to him tonight, love. Would you be so kind as to write the message?”

“Of course.” Arwen rose to her feet gracefully and Balin cut in then.

“My Lady, we will also have a written invitation to send along with the rider, if you can give us a moment to get it written. That way, there would be no doubt as to their welcome.”

Thorin nodded. “Please let him know that the accommodations are still quite rough. We can try to have another set of Bilbo’s appliances built for him, but I can’t guarantee that they’ll be done.”

Arwen wiped away another tear and nodded. “I will. I will let him know in detail. I can’t say how much I appreciate everything that all of you have done for Aragorn and the Rangers either. It is wonderful to see all of them doing so well.”

The dwarrow laughed. “It’s a mutual thing, Lady Arwen. He helps us and we help him.”

“Aye.” Bilbo nodded. “If I understand this rightly now, if we all kept our shields down, the environment here would become charged with magic? Would there then be enough for Aragorn’s people to use the appliances also?”

Arwen nodded. “However, the current plan for the city won’t work very well for magic distribution. Anyone who does not have their own magic will need to be… sprinkled amongst those who do. That way the environment is constantly being recharged. Does that make sense?”

“It does, Lady Arwen.” Dis turned to her brother and Balin. “We need to rethink our plan for housing again and let everyone know that the new normal is to use no shields at all.”

“Bilbo? Can you talk to the Shire?” Thorin asked him and Bilbo nodded.

“Of course. I’ll have to explain everything to him again, and we can spread the word. However, knowing hobbits, we’ll need the Elves to travel around the Shire a bit and let everyone see them. That’s the only way we’re going to convince the more ‘respectable’ ones that helping their neighbors IS the respectable thing to do.”

Having lived in the Shire for a while now, all of the dwarrow and Aragorn laughed, nodding in agreement with Bilbo’s explanation.

“Let’s get to work then. There are several letters to write. Ganir?”

“Well, if I could get a copy of Bilbo’s notebooks so that we know what to engrave on each item, we can get started on building appliances right away. It won’t take nearly as much iron as building pipes. Most folks will be more motivated too at the immediate result of working infrastructure.”

“Good news then. One last item. Slavers have been seen all around the Shire lately. If any hobbit not shielding is seen outside of the Shire, what do you think is likely to happen?” Thorin said.

“Oh, crap…” Bilbo muttered and Thorin nodded. “I think we need to make sure that there are some strict rules in place about traveling outside of the Shire safely.”

Bilbo nodded.

“Perhaps my Father might offer some insight on this matter then?” Arwen told them as everyone gathered to leave. “There are many items to be worked out, but first, I would simply like to get him and my brothers here.”

“Deal then, Lady Arwen.” With that, everyone except Dwalin and Balin left Bilbo’s rooms. Balin held up Bilbo’s notebook.

“Would you mind if I take this and get Ori to copy it tonight? If you would be so kind too as to mark the final arrays we need to use, it would be appreciated.”

“Of course.” Bilbo carried his notebook back to his table and drug out a quill and ink, setting to work making the needed notations. When he finished, he turned and found that the sons of Fundin had almost cleaned him out of cookies. At his raised eyebrows, they both grinned at him.

“There’s been a cookie shortage here in the mountain. We were deep in withdrawal.” Balin said, still smiling as he took the notebook from Bilbo. “I should have this back to you in the morning then.”

“No problem, Balin. Hopefully, it will work for everyone.” Bilbo turned and pulled out a napkin, wrapping up the rest of the cookies and gave them to Dwalin with a smile. “Take the rest of them Dwalin. I’ll bake more tomorrow and you can stop by and refill when you need to.”

Dwalin smiled widely at him and nodded. “I’ll definitely be stopping by; don’t worry about that one, Bilbo!”

With that, Bilbo escorted the last two dwarrow out of his rooms and shut the door behind them. All he wanted now was a bath and a good night’s sleep.

 

Elrond reined his horse in, studying the giant wall of Hedge before him. There was a fortified gate at the bottom of it, blocking the road and he could hear several people moving around behind it. He looked over at Glorfindel, who nodded.

“Hello the Shire! We come under invite from the Thain, the King of the Dunedain and the King Under the Mountain.”

They could hear a horse running and the gate suddenly swung open, releasing a horse that shot towards them.

“FATHER!” The rider yelled and Elrond suddenly smiled.

“Arwen!”

She threw herself at him, trusting him to catch her. He was caught by her brilliant smile though as she laughed when he lowered her to the ground.

“Welcome to the Shire, Father! Or perhaps they’ll end up calling it Arnor again? Who knows? Be welcome, Elves of Rivendell!” She swung back up onto her horse and waved them on. “Come! Everyone is waiting inside.”

She fell into place beside her Father and brothers, well aware of them studying her and the giant Hedge they were traveling through. She finally took pity on them and answered one of their unasked questions.

“The Hedge responds to magic, Father. It will help defend if needed and also can sprout foot long spikes. We are welcome here and so we’re not having any trouble.”

They finally cleared the Hedge and rode out into a brilliant, sunny day. Before them, green hills and well tended fields of crops stretched before them. Off in the distance, there looked to be a small town.

What had all of them suddenly clutching at their chests though was the thing that had driven Arwen to tears. She smiled brilliantly at them as the waiting group rode up.

“Isn’t it wonderful, Father?”

“Arwen! What in the world has gone on here?” Elrond finally managed to gasp out as he struggled with readjusting to the still low, but much higher than normal ambient magic.

“Lord Elrond! It is a pleasure to see you again.” Aragorn said as he rode up and into place next to Arwen. There was no disguising the Change in Aragorn either. “I would like to introduce you to the Princess Dis, sister of Thorin Oakenshield, King Under the Mountain. Beside her are her two sons, the Princes Fili and Kili. Off to their left is the next in line to the Thainship of the Shire, Fortinbras Took and his brother Hildifons, who is Head of the Bounders.”

Still feeling out of breath from the inflow of magic, Elrond bowed slightly from the saddle. “It is truly a pleasure to meet each of you. Let me introduce you to everyone I’ve brought.”

Elrond made his way through the introductions, only to be interrupted when he got to Glorfindel.

“WAIT! Is that Lord Glorfindel, the Balrog Slayer?! The one from all the Ballads?”

“The First Lord of Gondolin, from the First Age?!”

“THAT Lord Glorfindel?!”

He found himself smiling as Glorfindel nodded and was promptly mobbed by dwarrow. Dis, her boys and the Guards they had brought were all dragging out papers and asking him to sign things for them.

It was several minutes before everyone calmed back down, other than the occasional stunned look he was getting from the dwarrow and Dis bowed to them.

“Please excuse us. It’s not often that one gets to meet a legend and it was just a bit… overwhelming.”

Elrond and Glorfindel nodded in acceptance, while behind the others, Fili had scooted over to fill in Fortinbras apparently as he suddenly went wide-eyed and stared at Glorfindel too. Aragorn was grinning and he shook his head.

“We have made arrangements at Brandybuck Hall for everyone tonight, Lord Elrond. It’s about three hours ride from here. We can discuss it in greater detail then, if you’d like, as I’m sure all of you are tired of being on the road.”

“Indeed.” The group set out, Elrond well aware that all of his people were pulling in every single bit of magic they could as they rode. “Where are we to meet everyone?”

“The Mountain, Father. It’s about a week of hard riding from here. The Thain has agreed to travel up there to meet with us also, so we won’t have to make extra stops.”

“The Mountain, Arwen?”

“Aye, Father. There was an old dwarven city up in the foothills that they found and have repurposed. It’s absolutely huge and goes on for miles.”

Lord Elrond and Lord Glorfindel, along with the rest of their group, found themselves treated to a wonderful meal at Brandybuck Hall, where they finally heard all about how all of this came about.

It wasn’t until Arwen reached the part where she explained that all dwarrow and hobbits were magic, that she had to stop.

“Wait, Arwen. Are you telling me that ALL of them are inherently magical? ALL of them?”

She smiled and nodded. “Yes, Father.”

Elrond looked around the Hall in confusion before shaking his head. “There is more magic here than outside the Hedge, but not enough to account for them being inherently magical.”

Fortinbras held up a hand. “I hate to interrupt but here’s where good ol’ hobbit respectability comes into play. You see, many, many generations ago, for a reason that none of us remember, it became the height of rudeness to flaunt one’s magic. Our children are taught early on how to control and shield it. We’ve been passing word to each Farthing now that we know all of you need it, but we’re going to have to break generations of indoctrination.”

He waved his hand around him at all the hobbits that looked quite embarrassed. “Even now, here in Brandybuck Hall where no one seems to care much about respectability, no one wants to drop their shielding and be the first to do so. There is a big plan that Arwen was working on for all of you to travel around the Shire and let everyone see that you all need magic to live. Until then, you can expect that you will need to help me at every stop we have, to convince the hobbits to let their magic free.”

Fortinbras stood up. “Now, we’ve already covered this with all of you! Do any of you think that the Lady Arwen would mislead you on such a subject? Is there anyone here that thinks letting the Elves die, over something we could fix, is something that should be done?”

“NO!” The hobbits sitting at the table finally roared back in answer and an older hobbit that had been introduced as the Master, stood up next to Fortinbras.

“We’ve always done what was right, Brandybucks! Now, help out these Elves and drop your shields!”

Before the Elves astonished eyes, every single hobbit in the room suddenly lit up with magic. They were a veritable rainbow of colors as everyone’s magic was a different shade. Within moments, the air inside the dining room was almost a fog of magic and all of the Elves were struggling with what was a veritable feast to their senses after a long, long starvation.

Elrond could feel it as every Elf there opened up their ability to receive magic and simply started pulling in every bit of it they could. By the time Elrond had pulled himself back together enough to worry about the others, he found himself looking at Fortinbras whose face was determined. He smiled and nodded at Elrond.

“You see? We think that because it became rude in the Shire, we quit feeding magic into the environment. The dwarrow had too many wars and they simply forgot all about it, so they weren’t doing it either. Over time, the level of magic got so low that you all aren’t even able to use it anymore. We’re hoping to fix it.”

Arwen smiled. “Thank you, Fortinbras.” She pulled out a small notebook and passed it to her Father. “Here. This is Bilbo’s notebook. We owe just about everything that’s happened to him and his determination to do the right thing.”

Elrond took the notebook from her before pulling her into a hug. “You have done well, my daughter.” He murmured before letting her go. He tucked the book into his pocket and stood up, he wanted to get some reading in before going to bed tonight.

 

Elrond and Glorfindel rode at the column head as they approached the mountain. The ground traffic had increased as they neared it, dwarrow, hobbits and Rangers all passing them by and waving. Elrond couldn’t help but smile as every single hobbit and dwarf they passed was unshielded and glittered like a multi-colored rainbow to his sight. The level of magic was increasing dramatically as they neared the entrance to the mountain also. It was a rather amazing feeling after so long without it.

They rounded the last corner of the road and found the gates to the mountain were wide open; two glittering armored rows of soldiers in full gear flanked the opening. In the doorway, they could see a gathering of dwarrow and hobbits waiting on them. A horn bugled out and they heard the Rangers call out that their King had returned. All of the Rangers presented arms as they rode past them and as they approached the section that was all dwarrow, each of them saluted. The closed fist over the heart of one warrior to the other.

All of them dismounted and the Rangers quickly came forward, taking their mounts. Introductions were made and the Elves found themselves escorted into what was probably a Council room, but they found the table modified. One side of it had a raised dais that the chairs sat on, so that everyone was the same height.

Finally, once everyone was seated, Elrond couldn’t help but look around in astonishment. Before him sat a sight he had never before seen in his long life. Men, dwarrow and hobbits, all at the same table and all already allies.

Two liveried servants came bustling in, pushing a cart filled with food. The table quickly had a selection of pastries, cookies and sandwiches on it, while they poured everyone a drink before leaving.

Thorin finally shrugged. “We’ll just come right to the point, Lord Elrond. I’m sure by now they have told you our story and how all of this came to be, but honestly we owe it all to the hobbits. After their generosity, we couldn’t help but offer the same to your people once we found out that you need magic to live.”

Elrond nodded his head and Thorin continued. “We’ve also already discussed it and the Dunedain, the hobbits and us are also in agreement. We would like to offer you the same alliance with a bit of a twist. The three of us have all decided that the best ruling arrangement we could come up with was for all three of us to be of equal status in this alliance. What we propose is that, if you are willing to accept it, we offer the position of High King to either you or the Lord Glorfindel.” Thorin took a quick drink before continuing. “Each of us will rule our own people and make our own decisions, but when we come across an issue we can’t work out, we’d like to have someone to help us reach an agreement.”

“We are willing to sign an accord to reflect it, Lord Elrond.” Aragorn chimed in. “We also need someone to be in charge over all of us in times of war. To the world outside the Hedge wall, we must always be a united front.”

“Not just that Lord Elrond, Lord Glorfindel, but we need help getting our government worked out. Things like taxation schedules, and terms of service for military duty and all the rest. All of us are willing to listen to any input you might have to offer us in this task as it’s the first time for all of us to form such an alliance.” Gerontius Took, current Thain of the Shire said from where he sat next to Fortinbras. “To be honest, the world outside is getting more and more dangerous. We all see it. Slavers are a huge problem anymore.”

Elrond traded wide-eyed looks with Glorfindel but slowly nodded. “We will need some time to think about it, of course. In the meantime, would it be okay if we toured the mountain and all of you told us what was going on?”

The three leaders traded looks before rising to their feet. “Of course.” Thorin answered. “Balin, is everyone ready for a tour?”

“Of course, my King.”

The next three hours were spent leading the Elves over every nook and cranny of their mountain. The Rangers led them through the stables and barracks for the soldiers, the dwarrow took them through the mines, the forges, the Treasury and the great Halls, while the hobbits showed them all of the gardens.

Everywhere they looked were dwarrow repairing stonework or Men clearing rubble from the Halls. The hobbits congregated at the gardens and the food producing areas. With their ability to grow plants using the lanterns, the mountain already boasted some spectacular formal and informal gardens, as well as parks for everyone to enjoy.

The food production Halls were a different area entirely and most of the hobbits were busy working in those areas lately. Everyone wanted to get the mountain self-sufficient as quickly as possible. Throughout the entire tour though, all of the Elves noticed that every single dwarf and hobbit they saw was unshielded and glittering with magic. In some areas, the magic was thick enough that it almost leaped towards the Elves.

It was in one of the food production halls that they found Bilbo, or rather, that he found them. They had barely made it through the door when they were bombarded by tiny bodies. The little faunts were almost screaming in excitement as they climbed up on the Elves, laughing and looking back over their shoulders.

“Little ones? Where is your Father?” Thorin said, shaking his head. “Hamfast is going to be so disappointed in all of you when he finds out that you climbed on the guests.”

The little one currently being held by Glorfindel suddenly poked his lip out, quivering. “But Da told us that we couldn’t interrupt this tour right now and we really, really, really wanted to see some Elves!”

“Now Samwise, do you really…” Thorin trailed off as he could hear Hamfast and Bilbo outside the hall.

“I saw them go in here earlier. Hopefully the tour has already gone by.” Bilbo was saying as the two of them trotted into the room and stopped dead, seeing everyone. Hamfast simply groaned and fell to the floor in a faint, as the sight of his children climbing on the guests was too much for him.

“Oh, my!” Bilbo looked torn between his friend and the children for a moment before turning back to his friend. He laid his glowing hands on Hamfast for a second and the hobbit jerked back into awareness, groaning.

“Bilbo! I had the worst nightmare! I thought my children had went and crawled all over the Royal guests!”

Bilbo smiled at his friend and shrugged. “It wasn’t a nightmare, Hamfast.”

“WHAT?!” He almost shrieked and his eyes widened at the sight before him. “Children!”

“Yes, Da?” Four young voices called out in unison.

“What did your Ma and I tell you all this morning?”

“Not to bother the tour, Da.”

“That’s right! And what are you doing?”

“Seeing Elves!” Samwise said proudly. “Never got to see one before!”

Bilbo laughed and patted his friend on the shoulder before offering him a hand up. “Come on, Hamfast. Let’s get the kids back to the park.”

Hamfast bowed to all of them and apologized once more. Dis just laughed and helped peel the children off of the Elves, handing each of them back to Hamfast and Bilbo.

“Bilbo Baggins?” Elrond guessed, as he studied the bright gold hobbit before him. Surprised the hobbit smiled and tried to bow, holding the children.

“I am. At your service.”

Elrond smiled and nodded. “I have read your notebook from cover to cover already. I would love to sit down and discuss some of these things with you also. Especially the ideas you have on long distance travel by portal. Now that is some interesting theory!”

“Long distance travel…?”

“By portal…?” The others questioned as Bilbo blushed and nodded.

“Perhaps we can work out a time to meet later then. For now, I need to get the children back to the park before they get loose from us again.”

“Of course.” Elrond stepped out of their way as the two hobbits tottered off, loaded down by children. Hamfast was fussing gently at his children the whole time, while they squealed their joy at seeing Elves.

Elrond turned his attention back to the group and found them all staring fondly after the hobbits. Thorin finally jerked his attention back to the group and actually blushed slightly before gathering them back up and moving them on through the last of the food halls.

 

“Lady Dis?”

She turned and found Bilbo behind her. She moved over and slung her arm around his shoulder. “Hello Bilbo. What can I do for you?”

Bilbo stared off into space before he sighed heavily. “Do you by chance have a couple of minutes? I need to talk.”

She studied his grim face before nodding. “I do. Let’s go to your rooms then, as we’re less likely to be interrupted by my boys.”

They traveled down the halls quietly, both of them waving and greeting everyone they met. Bilbo finally pushed his door open and ushered her inside, putting the kettle on for tea and bringing over some snacks.

He settled in the chair across from Dis. “I have a few questions and I don’t know who to ask. Please… If you are not the right person, let me know.”

“What is it, Bilbo?”

“Umm… Could you tell me… Do dwarrow ever marry outside of their race?” He said, staring determinedly at the wall.

Dis sat there for a moment until her mind caught up and she smiled. “Not usually Bilbo, but there are no laws against it. I think it’s more that we usually don’t get the chance to interact with the other races.”

“Really…?” Bilbo said a bit of hope creeping into his voice.

Dis nodded firmly. “Really. In fact, we can compare notes Bilbo. For dwarrow, Mahal has gifted us with the knowledge of knowing our One – the other half of our soul. However, sometimes Mahal makes us as a third instead of a half and you might find that you’re part of a trio instead of a pair. Does that make sense?”

Bilbo nodded. “Aye. It’s the same for hobbits, Lady Dis. Usually a pair, but sometimes a trio. Every now and then there are a few that are more of a group.”

“Good.” Dis said, leaning back into her chair. “Now, I want to make sure, but hobbits don’t have any nonsense about pairings do they? I’ve heard that Men can get weird about same sex pairings.”

“No, Lady Dis. Sex doesn’t matter. You love who you love.”

“This is good then! Seeing as we’ll all be living in close quarters for a long time then, it’ll be good to know these things! The only issue Bilbo is when same sex couples need children. The Royal line needs children to continue, so whenever a same sex couple happens, they have to find a surrogate mother to carry children for them.”

Bilbo stared at her blankly.”…What?”

“A surrogate mother, Bilbo. Someone to carry children.”

Bilbo’s blank stare didn’t clear. “I don’t understand, Lady Dis. Why do you need women who can carry children? What does that have to do with anything?”

Now Dis paused and studied Bilbo. “Well, we obviously have a misunderstanding here. You know about sex, right? And how a man can impregnate a woman?”

Bilbo shook his head. “I know about sex, but what does that have to do with creating children? Are you telling me that’s how dwarrow reproduce?”

Dis nodded slowly. “The man impregnates the woman through sex, Bilbo. The baby develops inside the woman and she carries it until it’s fully developed before giving birth to the child.”

Bilbo looked a bit ill at the thought. “So… You all reproduce the same way as the livestock do then.”

Dis sniffed. “That’s a bit rude, Bilbo but accurate. It’s the same process.”

Now Bilbo shook his head. “I’m terribly sorry, Lady Dis. I didn’t mean to be rude. I’m just trying to understand the differences. We hobbits go about the business of reproducing a bit differently.”

Dis’ eyebrows rose. “Go ahead. Don’t leave me in suspense then!”

“Well… We grow our children in the garden, Lady Dis. Everyone in the marriage contributes a bit of themselves and they create a seed which is planted and in about six months or so, it will be ready to harvest. The vines produce one, two, three and sometimes even more children.”

Dis felt her jaw drop open and she looked around. “You’re telling me the truth, Bilbo? This isn’t a joke?”

Bilbo shook his head. “No. It’s the truth although I can’t tell you the details, as they are hobbit secrets. Now do you understand why I was confused? For hobbits, male or female, children are possible.”

Dis was smiling widely. “This is wonderful news, Bilbo! I’m going to share it with the others as we have a lot of unmarried dwarrow who would dearly love to find a spouse.”

Bilbo shrugged. “That should be fine, Lady Dis. Now, if I had someone I was interested in, would I be able to start courting them? Or is that breaking dwarrow tradition?”

Dis shook her head. “Our courting traditions are a mess, Bilbo. If the one you like is higher status than you are, you have to wait until they initiate the courtship. If they are lower status than you, you can initiate the courtship. Is that clear?”

Bilbo sighed and slumped in his chair, nodding. “It is.”

Dis looked at the depressed hobbit. “It’s Dwalin, isn’t it?”

Bilbo groaned and put his hand over his eyes. Dis laughed and Bilbo grumbled at her. “Don’t laugh, Lady Dis. I have wondered and wondered about his relationship status as he and Thorin seem quite close, if you catch my meaning. I don’t want to step on any toes. It seems all my wondering is for nothing though as I can’t do anything about it, seeing as he’s higher status.”

Bilbo sighed and heaved himself to his feet, going to get the kettle. He served them both tea and settled himself in his chair, feeling his heart break at his thoughts.

“Bilbo? What about Thorin then? Do you like him also?”

Bilbo snorted and shook his head. “He’s the King, Lady Dis. It would be the height of folly to get attached to someone like him.”

“Folly? Are you trying to say something about my brother?” Dis said archly.

“No, no, no! Your brother is wonderful, Lady Dis. He’s responsible and majestic… Remarkably patient with your boys, too. He’s just… the King. Royals marry royalty. Everyone knows that.”

“I did not think you a snob Bilbo, to dismiss someone because of their status.” Dis told him and watched as Bilbo puffed up in annoyance.

“I have nothing against him at all, Lady Dis. But he’s the King! From your questions, I’m gathering that he and Dwalin do indeed have something going on. I’m glad I asked you as it would have been rather humiliating to ask him and not only get the courting customs wrong, but be turned down flat because he’s already in a relationship.”

“Bilbo…!” Dis started but Bilbo held up a hand.

“No, it’s okay Lady Dis. It’s been a couple of years after all. I wondered for a while if perhaps I was misreading the situation and then I thought perhaps it was because I didn’t know the customs, but I understand it now. I won’t bother anyone else about it.”

“Bilbo! Don’t give up!”

The hobbit stood up and gathered up his cup, carrying it to his sink and washing it quickly. He brought back a small box with him. “This is for Fili and Kili. They asked for apple turnovers.”

Dis felt her eyes start to tear up and she took the box from him, nodding. “I’ll make sure they get it then.” She stood up, clutching the box tightly before hugging him tightly and leaving without another word.

Behind her, Bilbo shut his door and cleaned up his tea mess, before heading off to take a bath and try to forget about his broken heart.

 

In the mountain, the next few months flew by. The Elves accepted the alliance proposal and their new High King would be Lord Glorfindel himself. Elrond would remain Lord over the Elves of Rivendell, thus leaving Glorfindel as High King over four different peoples.

The hobbits meanwhile got the food production up and running. They were pulling in multiple harvests a month with steady work. The dwarrow had the mines running again. They were only at a fraction of their output, but all of them were thrilled to start seeing the metal and jewels they needed to work.

The Rangers were currently helping the Rivendell Elves move. There were not that many of either of them, but as dangerous as it was outside of the Hedge wall, everything they did had to be done as a fortified group effort.

As for Bilbo… He had received some terrible news. His favorite cousin and his wife, Drogo and Primula had died in a boating accident. Their young son Frodo was in need of a guardian. When he heard that, Bilbo headed off to Hobbiton. Drogo and Primula had taken over Bag End when he’d moved to the mountain.

Young Frodo clung to him once he made it there, crying endlessly. Bilbo found that the only way he could get him to sleep at all was by sleeping next to him at night. Settling back into being THE Baggins of Bag End was difficult for him though. He and Frodo spent many nights clutched to each other, both of them crying over everything that had gone wrong.

For the two of them though, things finally started to turn around the day they saw Georgie Chubb giving archery lessons in Hobbiton. Bilbo watched Frodo’s eyes light up and immediately made arrangements to get a bow made for the both of them.

In the weeks that followed, Frodo and Bilbo took every archery class they could find and started carrying their bows everywhere. He didn’t want to frighten Frodo, but the world outside the Hedge wall was getting worse by the day. It was better to be prepared.

 

“Lord Balin?” Ori asked politely. “Do you by chance know when Bilbo is due back to the mountain?”

“Hmmm?” Balin muttered as he read through the last section of Bilbo’s notebook again. What seemed so clear to Bilbo was not clear at all to him. It suddenly dawned on him what Ori had asked. “What do you mean, ‘when is he due back’? He lives here!”

“The other hobbits told me that he received some bad news and had to go back to Hobbiton for a while. He’s been gone for weeks they said.”

Balin huffed. “Dwalin never said anything about Bilbo being gone! Do they know when he’s due back?”

“No, sir.”

Balin closed Bilbo’s notebook and slid it into his pocket. “I’ll go ask Dwalin. He’ll know.”

Balin found his brother in the dining room, having lunch with Thorin and Dis. He greeted everyone and sat down next to his brother.

“When is Bilbo due back, brother? Ori and I both have some questions about his notebook we’d like to talk to him about.”

Dwalin set his fork down and looked over at Balin in surprise. “What do you mean? ‘When is he due back’? He lives here!”

“You didn’t know? I thought you spoke with Bilbo all the time!” Balin complained. “The other hobbits said that he’s been gone for weeks.”

“WEEKS?!” Dwalin half stood from the table. “Where is he? It’s not safe out there!”

Balin snorted, shaking his head at his brother’s dramatics. “In Hobbiton. They said he received some terrible news and had to go back. They don’t know when he’ll be able to come back to the mountain.”

Dwalin sat back down in his seat slowly and Thorin leaned around him. “When did you find this out?”

“Just a bit ago. I came to find Dwalin as I figured he would know all about it.” Balin nudged his brother. “I thought you and Thorin were interested in Bilbo? How in the world has he been gone for weeks and neither one of you knew about it?”

“I… I…” Dwalin stopped and ran a hand over his face. “I am interested, but things have been so busy lately…”

Dis waved her hand. “Nonsense. You’ve had time. The two of you have had years to make your interest known and haven’t done so. I say, good for Bilbo! I hope he’s moving on to find someone who’s interested in committing.”

“What are you talking about, Dis?” Thorin snapped. “Bilbo is the third part of our trio!”

Dis rolled her eyes. “It’s too late for that, brother. Bilbo came to me months ago, trying to figure out courting and when I told him how it was done by dwarrow, he realized the two of you were together. He had thought he’d perhaps misunderstood, but once he realized that the two of you would have to initiate a courtship… Well, he was done. It’s been years, after all. I don’t know of anyone else that would wait as long as he did!”

“Dis! How could you?” Thorin growled at her. “You’ve sabotaged our relationship!”

Dis glared hard at Thorin and leaned across the table. “What relationship? That’s the point, brother. Years, the hobbit waited and neither one of you pulled your head out of your ass. He saved Dwalin from slavers and our people from homelessness, but neither one of you built a relationship with him!”

She stood up, pushing her chair back. “Case in point, I knew Bilbo was gone and why. My boys knew Bilbo was gone and why. Because for us, he’s Family and we worry about him. Neither one of you even noticed he was gone.”

Dis turned and swept out of the room regally, never looking back.

 

And this is where I stopped...