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A Road from the Garden

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“What was your nightmare about?” Since they were alone in the dark of their shared room, Bilbo asked the question in the secret, brotherly language that only he and Kili knew.

Kili shuddered. The thundering rush of blood in his ears sounded like the stampeding feet of terrified people. Bilbo was there, speaking the language that always calmed Kili. He was awake. Wasn’t that enough? Did he have to talk about his dream? Whenever he blinked, he saw the big, pale monster in the moonlight. Speaking about that thing couldn’t ever bring any good.

Bilbo, however, pushed. He always pushed. “Was the bearded fellow in it?”

Pulling his brother down into his bed, Kili gave in, but only after Bilbo hugged him close.

“Yes,” Kili admitted. “His yellow beard was red with blood. He told me to hide.”

“Did you?”

“Yeah, but the monsters came anyway. The monsters always come.”

“Oh dear.” Bilbo stroked his brother’s hair. Though the twins were well into their tweens, Kili didn’t feel like a tweenager. He was so much smaller than Bilbo. Especially after a nightmare. But it was nice that Bilbo was big. Bilbo could, and would, protect him. The safest place in the world was wherever Bilbo happened to be.

“You must have been so frightened.”

“Yeah,” Kili mumbled, burying his face in Bilbo’s nightshirt. “Their swords were black. One of them was going to cut you to bits. Mum took you and rode away.”

“Well that’s good.”

“You left me.” Kili couldn’t say it in the secret language. It was hard enough to dream about it.

Bilbo hummed and tugged a tangled strand of Kili’s hair. “That didn’t tip you off to the fact that it was a dream?”

“What?” Kili didn’t bother extracting his face from his brother’s armpit.

“After all, Mum and I would never leave you in danger. Better than a flying goat to let you know it was a dream. After all, we have both seen Farmer Morrel’s goat on the roof of that old barn. Do you know how it gets up there? I don’t.”

Kili laughed. Just like that the spell of the nightmare was broken, and he grinned up at Bilbo. “What would you do against monsters with swords?”

“Fight them, of course! Though I expect they would retreat from a good tongue lashing.” Bilbo winked. “A scolding from our mother is far mightier than iron or steel.”

“And she’ll scold indeed if we aren’t in top form for the trip to Tuckborough tomorrow.” Kili yawned.

“Indeed she will.” Bilbo gave Kili a squeeze and rolled out of his bed with a yawn of his own. “Good night, Kili.”

“Good night, Bilbo.”

Without any further distraction, Kili drifted off into a deep, dreamless rest. No time seemed to pass at all before the sun streamed through the curtains and Bilbo pulled all the covers off his bed. Then the boys were up, dressing hastily in the light of dawn.

Once clothed, Bilbo puttered in front of the mirror for ages. He always did, tying his cravat repeatedly and messing about with his hair. Kili had to make both beds so they would be ready to go in time for breakfast. At least that earned him an approving smile from their mother. After a quick bowl of porridge, the family piled into a wagon with baskets of scones and mugs of tea.

Going to Great Smials was always entertaining, even though the Old Took was gone and Gandalf the firework wizard didn’t come around anymore. The Tooks were very wealthy, and played far more adventurous games than the ones available in Hobbiton. Kili thought it was the most wonderful place in all the Shire.

“Play nice,” Mum said.

“Be good,” Dad warned.

But Cousin Parsifal said, “I know how to shoot a bow and arrow.” Which was much more interesting than either of those things. So the twins followed him out to his makeshift shooting range.

The range was really just a fallow field, but Parsifal had a canvas target painted in bright concentric circles and stuffed with straw. A hay bale set thirty paces away from the target made a nice resting place for a few arrows.

These did not look much like the arrows of Kili’s imagination. Long, straight pieces of wood, the arrows had whittled points and a few feathers notched on the back end. In Kili’s mind, an arrow ought to have a metal tip, sort of barbed, so it stuck where you put it. The fletched feathers should be a triangle, with three feathers, instead of only two going straight up and down. Still, the weapons fascinated him.

Warily, Bilbo lifted a wooden shaft in one hand and poked the tip of the arrow with the first finger of his other. Flinching, he immediately put the digit in his mouth. “These are sharp!”

“Of course they are,” Parsifal said. “They wouldn’t fly right otherwise.”

Kili picked up the bow. Then he took a few steps forward. Twenty paces away, the target winked at him. The bright circles on the white canvas looked remarkably like a friendly eye. In his hand, the lacquered wood felt smooth and right. He notched an arrow against the string and took aim, just as Parsifal had.

“Perhaps we should not,” Bilbo said, which was rich, coming from him. On their last visit to Buckland, Bilbo and his friends were chased away from Farmer Maggot’s mushrooms by big dogs with sharp teeth and loud, baying voices. Compared to that, shooting arrows was as safe as sleeping.

Kili let the string go. The arrow whipped away over the grass with a pleasant twang, striking the top of the hay bale high above the painted circles.

“Pretty good for a first go!” Parsifal said. “Try squaring your feet a bit. Shoulder-width apart, my dad says. Relax your bow hand a little, too.”

Following this advice, Kili took a second shot. His arrow whizzed through the air and struck the outermost blue circle on the target.

“Good show!” Bilbo cried. His distaste for the sharp weaponry was momentarily overcome by joy in his brother’s success.

“You try,” Kili said, presenting him with the bow.

Bilbo looked at it. He did not lift his arms to accept the weapon for a long moment. Finally, he took it, frowning a bit. As always, he was much more thoughtful about things than Kili.

Placing his feet exactly shoulder width apart, Bilbo asked Parsifal to check the way he was gripping the bow three times before he ever picked up an arrow. Then, with great reluctance, he touched an arrow to the string and made his shot.

It flew halfway to the target before landing in the grass.

“Well, that’s my turn over and done with,” Bilbo said quickly, handing the bow back to Kili.

They went on like that all afternoon, with Kili and Parsifal each taking three shots for one attempt on Bilbo’s part. Once he got the hang of it, all of Kili’s arrows hit the target. He even managed to strike the bright yellow circle in the center more than once, though it was barely the size of a saucer and could only fit three or four arrows at a time.

None of Bilbo’s attempts even reached the hay bale. All of his arrows landed quite harmlessly in the grass, only a few feet away from where he stood. At least he eventually took off his jacket to play only in his waistcoat and shirtsleeves. Unfortunately, Kili knew that was only a nod to the warm sunshine and not an indication of effort.

“You need to put more power into it,” Parsifal advised. “You’re not drawing the string back to your ear, either.”

“Someone could get hurt,” Bilbo said. “I’ll stick to conkers, if it’s all the same to you.”

“It’s too early in the summer for conkers,” Kili said. “Go on, try again.”

Rather than taking up the bow again, Bilbo looked up at the sun. “It might not be too early in the day for tea, though. What do you think? Shall we head inside?”

“Oh!” Parsifal looked up and grinned. “Auntie Wisteria made trifle for tea today. With loads of blueberries. I helped her pick them.”

Returning the grin easily, Bilbo said, “That sounds like something worth going inside for. Blueberries are Kili’s favorite.”

“No,” Kili said.

“They aren’t?” Bilbo furrowed his brow in confusion. “What do you like better, then?”

“No,” Kili said, “you can’t quit before you really try, Bilbo! You could hit that yellow circle with a rock right now, throwing, and don’t you deny it. I’ve seen you knock a peach out of a tree at just this distance, with tree branches in the way and everything.”

“Well, climbing is more work.” Bilbo seemed to think this was a sensible argument. It wasn’t.

“You should be able to hit the target better than me!”

Shrugging, Bilbo put his hands in his pockets. “What does it matter?”

“It matters because you aren’t playing right! You aren’t trying!”

“Let’s go in for tea,” Parsifal said, trying to make peace. “We’re probably all just in a temper because we’re hungry.”

“I am not!” Kili stomped his foot in the grass, cracking a stick beneath his heel. He was never hungry. Everyone always wanted to stop doing fun things just to eat. Kili would much rather play, even with blueberry trifle on offer.

Bilbo sighed. “If I shoot the target properly can we go in?”

Kili hesitated. “And come back out after?”

“And come back out after we’ve had tea,” Bilbo promised.

“Okay. Only if you do it right, though,” Kili said.

Once again, Bilbo picked up the bow. Taking his time to carefully square his feet and eye the target, the tween notched an arrow against the string and sighted along the shaft. Then he drew it all the way back to his ear. With a slow, even breath, he let it fly.

It struck the exact center of the target.

Whooping with joy, Kili and Parsifal both tackled Bilbo from either side, cheering and slapping him on the back. “I knew you could!” Kili said again and again. “I knew you could!”

Blushing faintly, Bilbo asked if they could go in for tea.

“And come back out afterward,” Kili agreed, quite determined to rival his older brother for accuracy now that Bilbo was taking the game seriously.

“And go hunting properly tomorrow,” Parsifal said. “If you can shoot like that, we should be able to get a bird for supper easily!”

“Er, maybe,” Bilbo said, but he looked a little pale at the thought of actually killing an animal.

Kili couldn’t imagine why. Bilbo liked to eat roasted pheasant as much as anything else, and he would probably get a double portion if they brought the bird to the kitchens themselves. Besides, Kili quite liked the idea of hunting. It was a much better adventure than tromping about raiding gardens as Bilbo liked to do. Hunting was productive, and would not get them into trouble. Certainly it would be more entertaining than gathering about a fancy parlor eating trifle out of crystal glasses.

Though, it must be said, the trifle was very good. And blueberries really were his favorite. Despite the fact that he was not hungry, Kili ate his whole portion and half of Bilbo’s as well. Bilbo gave it to him voluntarily, and then proceeded to eat six pieces of the grainy brown bread which was not very nice. Kili did not touch the bread at all. Only Bilbo, Parsifal, and a few other young hobbits ate it, with the slightly rushed manners of scavengers eager to get as much as they could.

“Don’t you want any bread?” Aunt Wisteria asked Kili.

“No thank you,” he said politely, not daring to remark upon the suspect quality.

“Kili can be quite economical about his eating,” Mum said.

His aunt raised her eyebrows. “That must be a blessing! Especially with Bilbo entering his tweens. I imagine he’s eating you out of smial and larder.”

“Bilbo is a good lad,” Bungo said firmly. “You’ll note Kili had his trifle.”

Guilt pricked Kili, and he wondered suddenly if he should have declined the extra desert.

“I don’t much like blueberries,” Bilbo said, taking a seventh slice of bread and butter. “Although your skill in the kitchen surpasses anything that might be found in the finest palaces of princes and kings, my dear Aunt Wisteria. If any blueberry trifle might have tempted me, yours would have, for the cream was as light as air and the cake as sweet as spun sugar. What I tasted, I relished, only sacrificing it to my brother because I knew he would enjoy it more. But this bread is fantastic! I don’t suppose there’s another slice or two of it about?”

Aunt Wisteria blushed and leaned across the coffee table to pinch Bilbo’s cheek. “Well, we can’t let a sweet little flatterer like you go hungry, can we?” And then she brought out another loaf that she had been saving for dinner.

Kili would have sighed, but it was clear that Bilbo really did need to eat. Eventually, they could go back out to play. Until then, visiting with the adults wasn’t the worst thing in the world. At least the aunts never pinched his cheeks.