The ceiling above Bilbo’s bed arched strangely. Curved in a natural way, it was nevertheless distinctly unlike the round dome of a room in a smial. Nor was it flat and square like rooms in the wooden houses of Bree. This ceiling arched with twisting embellishments like wooden vines and swirling patterns.
All three windows along the southern wall had similar arches. Bilbo questioned their qualifications as windows. These were not the friendly glass circles one would expect. No, they were great big holes in the wall, more like doorless doorways, and nothing prevented a hobbit from stepping through one and falling thousands of feet into a deep valley except a little ledge with a rather spindly railing.
Yet the valley was glorious in the sunlight with rainbows springing from great waterfalls and all of the trees showing off their new green leaves. Bilbo did not fear falling into such a depth as that. In fact, he was more at peace than he had ever been.
A shimmering blue butterfly fluttered into his room. After flitting about the corners and inspecting the wooden statue of an elven maiden over his bed, the butterfly landed squarely on Bilbo’s nose. It was very beautiful, but Bilbo’s eyes crossed to look at it. So he wriggled his nose and it flew away.
As Bilbo watched it soar down into the valley, Kili appeared in the doorway. His face lit with a brilliant grin. “Bilbo!” he cried, rushing over to the bedside and gripping his brother’s hand eagerly.
“Good morning!” Bilbo tugged his brother down to embrace him. The movement hurt his stomach a little, but having Kili firmly in his arms was entirely worth the price.
“Once again, you lie abed, my lazy bookworm of a brother,” Kili said. “It is nearly lunchtime.”
“That explains why I am so hungry!”
“You are always hungry.” Kili looked like he would not stop grinning for a good, long while. “I shall bring you something. You’re not to get out of bed at all today. Lord Elrond says tomorrow at the earliest, and that only for short jaunts.”
Bilbo scowled. “We are finally in Rivendell and I am stuck in bed?”
“Well, I shall bring Rivendell to you, starting with breakfast and followed by a healer. Lady Arwen wanted to check on you once you woke. The elves all thought it would be yesterday, but I wasn’t worried about that. I told Elrond you’d lie abed three days in a row if you were tired enough and someone brought you meals.”
“That was one time! I can’t believe you’re carrying tales about me to Elrond Half-Elven.”
“Don’t worry. I didn’t tell him it was because a lad you used to kiss was getting married.”
“I hate you.”
“Oh!” Kili flung himself forward again to hug Bilbo fiercely. “I am so glad that you are well. Breakfast first!” Then he raced away, leaving Bilbo in the quiet once more.
In truth, he did not feel much like getting out of bed. Quite beyond the familiar pangs of hunger, Bilbo’s stomach ached. Peering beneath the linens, the hobbit moved his shirt and saw white bandages. Like an unwanted flash of lightning, he was struck by the memory of the orc spear slashing across his skin. Warm as he was, the hobbit trembled.
Ever true to his word, Kili returned mere minutes later with fresh strawberries, honeyed pastries, and a very nice porridge for breakfast. Ravenous, Bilbo tucked in eagerly, pressing Kili for news of the Company.
“They are perfectly well,” Kili reassured him. “No one else was injured at all, unless you count a few bumps and bruises. Now that we’ve had a chance to rest up, the dwarves are all fighting fit once more. Rivendell is a marvelous place for resting.”
“And of course practically everyone has inquired about your health. Gandalf got the news straight from Elrond, naturally. They are old friends, you know. Dori is mending your waistcoat, since I know you’re fond of it. Nori is helping him with getting the stain out, apparently he’s got all kinds of tricks for that. If I did not like him so much, I would wonder about his familiarity with bloodstains. And their brother Ori is writing you some kind of poem about heroism. You’d understand it better than I. Apparently he’s a scribe chronicling the doings of the line of Durin. That is how he came to be a member of the Company. Usually, someone as young as he is would not be allowed.”
Bilbo nodded, “Yes, we’ve spoken a little. Dwarven classic poetry is very different from the elvish kind. In fact—” Noting Kili’s look of fierce attention, as though he was entirely determined to actually understand poetry, Bilbo stopped himself. “Well, you don’t want to hear about that, and I want to eat my breakfast. How is everyone else?”
“You can tell me about poetry,” Kili insisted. But when Bilbo took a big bite of his pastry and made a point of chewing, Kili continued. “Well, Balin, who is first in line to visit you after the healers, has been hard at work in the library. After getting to know your own books so well this winter, he’s amassed more than a few titles to entertain you. Bofur also has big plans to come play you some music. He’s deeply critical of the elvish stuff.”
“I can imagine.”
“Speaking of critical, you should hear the dwarves go on about the food here. Bombur is convinced that you’ll never recover on vegetables alone. So if you want me to sneak you a few sausages, he has a whole plan about how to do that while they’re still hot. Oin seems equally skeptical about elvish medicine, and may try to dose you with some dwarvish concoction when he visits.”
“Oh dear,” Bilbo said. “I am quite content with my current care. Especially as it does not involve castor oil.”
Kili laughed. “Remember Aunt Rose? If you so much as twitched your nose, out came the oil!”
“Far too well.” Bilbo shuddered. “Please tell Oin I do not require medicine of any kind.”
“I shall do so,” Kili promised, “but you may want to accept his brother’s gift. Gloin and Bifur have worked together on a leather sort of jerkin for you. I told them how picky you are about clothes, and they are certainly not tailors, but they insist it’s folly to go about in the wild without any sort of armor.”
“I suppose I see their point after the last few days.” Bilbo sighed. “I just don’t know if I can bring myself to do it, Kili. Carrying Sting is one thing, but wearing dwarven clothing?”
Kili bounced to his feet, spinning around. “I think dwarven togs look well enough!” Only then did Bilbo notice how changed his clothing was. He wore a thick leather coat that matched the new brown boots Bilbo picked up for him in Bree. Down the front of the coat was beautifully embellished dwarven knotwork, which matched the hard leather bracers he wore over both wrists. These were scaled leather, slightly darker than the coat, and studded with bright steel. Upon his shoulders, he wore similar armor. With the short stubble of his beard growing darker by the day, Kili looked entirely dwarvish.
Bilbo grinned at him. “They suit you, of course, but a burlap sack might be an improvement over the soot stained shirts you wear to your forge. I have slightly higher standards.”
Kili returned the grin. “We can talk about it later. It will be a few days before you’re even allowed to try anything on.”
“Oh dear,” Bilbo said. “I should not like to wait days before walking around these beautiful gardens.”
Flopping into a chair close to the bed, Kili smile twisted into a smirk. “Don’t be in too much of a hurry! Fili and Dwalin are as worried about you as anyone. They’ve decided you ought to join in my fighting lessons.”
“Absolutely not! I’ve seen the way they throw you about. I won’t stand for it.”
“No, I’m very sure you won't.”
For a moment, the brothers simply looked at each other. When their laughter rang out, it echoed through the valley and cheered everyone who heard it.
Visiting with Kili lifted Bilbo’s spirits, of course, but visiting with Lord Elrond was far more interesting. All his life, Bilbo had been curious about the elves who so rarely passed through the Shire. Unfortunately, with Kili to look after, the hobbit never quite found time to make the acquaintance of one. Now he was in Rivendell with the greatest and wisest of that race. So he dusted off his elvish and tried to make a good impression.
Whether or not he was impressed, Lord Elrond was very gracious. Speaking with Bilbo for a good long while, he confirmed that the hobbit must stay in bed and rest in order to make a full recovery. Only a few visitors would be allowed at a time.
Even given that constraint, the dwarves did their best to overwhelm Bilbo with their attentions, just as Kili said they would. Exactly as Kili said they would. With no exceptions.
Dropping hints was futile. No one would address the matter. When Bilbo asked if anyone else was injured, Balin assured him that the rest of the Company was in perfect health. After Dwalin and Fili left, Bilbo asked if he would have any more visitors.
“Probably some of the elves,” Kili said, so casually that Bilbo knew he was obfuscating on purpose.
So Thorin was very badly hurt, or he was—probably just very badly hurt. And Kili didn’t want Bilbo to worry. Undeniably, Bilbo would have done the same thing had their situation been reversed. However, as he was already worrying—and the older brother—Bilbo decided that enough was enough.
“It’s such a shame these elves don’t know how to make a proper sweet bun,” the hobbit lamented loudly. “I think a good, warm Hobbiton Bun would have me back on my feet in a trice.”
“Oh!” Kili looked at his hands the way he always did when he had a particularly good idea. “I’m just going to step out for a minute, if you don’t mind, Bilbo. I’ll make sure someone else comes to sit with you.”
“No need for that.” Bilbo waved a hand. “I think I’ll have a nap. You enjoy the wonders of Rivendell.”
It would take Kili an hour and a half to do the baking. More than enough time for a hobbit to do a little searching of his own. Unfortunately, Bilbo did not anticipate how stiff his limbs would be, nor the pain that stretching his stomach muscles would induce. It took him nearly a quarter of an hour just to get out of bed. By the time he did so, Balin was in the doorway.
“You are meant to be resting all day!” the dwarf exclaimed. “If you require something, pray ask for it.”
“Very well.” Bilbo glared at Balin. “I require honest news of Thorin. None of this hiding as though I cannot face the truth. Is he dead?”
Balin blinked, taken aback. “No! No, he is well, Bilbo. I promise you that. Return to your rest.”
“I will not!”
“Return to your rest,” Balin continued, “and I shall bring him. With my apologies. I did not countenance the conclusion you would draw from your brother’s plan.”
Bilbo collapsed against the side of his bed. “Then he is well enough to walk?”
“Oh, alright then.” Levering himself back into his sickbed, Bilbo nodded his acceptance. “For I, as it happens, am not.”
When Balin smiled, his eyes twinkled in the sunlight. “Didn’t seem like that was going to stop you.”
Mortified, Bilbo hoped that the red in his cheeks would be attributed to exertion. “I don’t enjoy being lied to.”
“No one does,” Balin agreed, serious once more. Without another word, he slipped away.
For long minutes, Bilbo wondered if he was being tricked once again. Balin might be fetching Kili. Balin might simply be playing for time until Kili finished his baking and returned to Bilbo’s side. As yet, the hobbit was unwilling to force a confrontation with his brother. If Kili came back before Balin, Bilbo would have to let the matter lie.
A fat robin landed on the spindly balcony railing. He whistled at Bilbo in a cheerful way. Smiling, Bilbo whistled back. Springtime in Rivendell made brooding rather difficult.
Soon enough, Thorin himself appeared in the door to Bilbo’s room. His long hair framed his face with two even braids, and his short beard was neat and freshly groomed. He wore the blue shirt created by Bilbo’s own tailor. It brought out the sky in his eyes. The hobbit felt his smile growing into a grin.
“You look well.”
“Thank you.” Thorin bowed elegantly. “Please allow me to apologize for giving you cause to think otherwise.”
“Why ever did you? And don’t stand in the doorway. Come over here where I can see you properly.”
Obeying with slow, measured steps, Thorin seemed reluctant to even give his hand to Bilbo. Of course they must be careful, but Bofur, Balin, and Gloin had all given Bilbo’s hands a little squeeze. There was nothing suspicious about holding hands with someone in a sickbed. “You are returning to the Shire.”
Bilbo blinked in surprise. “Well, yes, but that has always been our plan.” Peering carefully into Thorin’s face, the hobbit added, “And things might change. Once we see Erebor. Depending on Kili’s feelings, naturally.”
“Naturally,” Thorin whispered. His eyes went wide. Both of his hands wrapped around Bilbo’s, warming the little hobbit up a treat.
Biting his lip, Bilbo had to look away. Between the enormous windows and the rumored perceptivity of elves, it would not be safe to share a kiss anywhere in Rivendell.
“But that is not to be.” Thorin released Bilbo’s hand and stepped backward, away from the bed. “When I say you and your brother are returning to the Shire, I mean at once. Some of the Company will escort you there, though I will remain here to speak of matters of state with Lord Elrond.”
Turning back to Thorin, Bilbo couldn’t help staring. The dwarf was stone faced and impossible to read. “You can’t be serious. What about the prophecy? Your sister? The salvation of Erebor?”
“Your brother and I agree that your safety is more important. The wild is no place for a hobbit.”
“Don’t I get to make that decision?”
“No.” Without another word, Thorin strode away from Bilbo’s bedside.
“Thorin! I don’t understand why you will not at least speak with me. Surely there is more warmth than this between you and I. Can we not discuss the topic in a civil way?”
A heavy, dwarven hand pressed against the door frame. Thorin hesitated. Not bothering to look at Bilbo again, Thorin said, “That is over now. There is nothing in the wild for you save danger, Bilbo Baggins. Danger that you are too weak to face. Return to the safety of your Shire.”