Actions

Work Header

A Road from the Garden

Chapter Text

When Bilbo Baggins was very old, he had a namesake. Away off in the Shire, the boy was a remarkably faithful correspondent. From the first pages which were little more than a fauntling’s drawings to the studious script of a remarkably diligent young hobbit, the letters grew into one of the greatest pleasures of Bilbo’s dotage. He kept them in a special drawer in his study, reviewing them from time to time so that he could send the lad his best in return.

Young Bilbo was unusual. One of the rare academics in the Shire, Bilbo’s namesake had thousands of questions for a true scholar. From his letters it was clear that he read any book Bilbo recommended at least three times before writing a response. He wondered about the wide world, about history, about the Valar, about dwarves, about elves, and about Bilbo’s own story. Most hobbits never wondered about anything beyond the harvest. Imagining Young Bilbo’s childhood among the little fields and forests of that soft green land was like picturing his own youth without the quick wit of his father or the practice that came from trying to educate his brother.

From a distance, there wasn’t much Bilbo could do to assuage the loneliness of an introspective hobbit surrounded by a million relatives who would never understand, but he tried. At the very least, he was one uncle who never pinched the lad’s cheeks. Instead, he sent dwarves by the dozen to accompany Kili on his bi-annual pilgrimages, which was definitely enough to keep the Shire from being as perfectly quiet as once it had been. Through the wilds and over the mountains, they brought Bilbo his mail, Southfarthing pipeweed, and plenty of news.

Sitting on a throne was good for some things, even if it meant Bilbo could only know his namesake through letters.

Other writers—Poppy Mugwort, Hugo Bracegirdle, and Violet Boffin among many others—kept Bilbo apprised of gossip and family happenings. Letter after letter from them dealt with the antics of an aging Dandelion Took upon whom Bilbo was accused in turns of being a bad influence, a lost voice of temperance, and the only one who might have a hope of repressing the outrageous fellow. Dandy’s own letters were almost enough to convince Bilbo to heave his aged bones back over the Misty Mountains. Apparently inspired by news of Bilbo’s marriage, he adamantly refused the usual title of confirmed bachelor while openly keeping house with Fosco Proudfoot.

Bilbo was terribly happy for Dandy and Fossy. If anything could have induced him to leave Erebor, the prospect of witnessing his old friends’ antics might have done so. But the distance was great, his husband would have to remain behind, and their mountain home was so very comfortable.

Tulips lined up like little soldiers along the stone walled beds of Bilbo’s garden. Wrought iron trellises like black dragons played host to bold green beans and tangling cucumbers in the vegetable patch while the first pink blush was just gracing green tomatoes there. Along the hedges, rose buds peeked through thorns and leafy curtains, preparing to make their colorful debut with every shade that hobbits could cultivate. In the garden, dwarven craft met hobbit sensibility to form a place of perfect peace and harmony. Bilbo had a mountain, and no temptation could draw him back into the petty squabbles of his old home. Kili might dash back and forth, loving both places at once and never quite satisfied with either, but Bilbo was happy with his choices. And he was much too old to dash.

Young Bilbo never mentioned Dandy’s antics or confirmed bachelors keeping house with one another. Nor did he bring up the pair of thirty-something hobbitesses in Frogmorton who were apparently causing a similar scandal, and far too young to declare themselves spinsters. In fact, there was a very particular way in which the young scholar asked about Bilbo’s husband which set the old hobbit’s heart to aching, but the Shire was so very far away. Those battles were for younger folks to fight.

Stretching an arm out, Bilbo traced a gnarled finger along the soft petals of his hydrangeas. They only made the iron bench look like an overstuffed armchair. One could not truly keep cushions outside in the weather, though young dwarves would swarm about the place trying to offer Bilbo pillows whenever he sat down. He drew a firm line about privacy in his garden however, and sometimes he even got it.

Dwarven boots tromped along Bilbo’s tiled path. The hobbit sighed.

“I’ve told you, Drani, I don’t need anything today. The weeds are under control and you did a fine job with the pruning yesterday. Take the day off. I insist.”

“If you insist,” said a voice much deeper than Drani’s, “then I can only obey.”

Thorin Oakenshield even rounded a shrubbery with majesty and grandeur. The years had been much kinder to him than they were to a hobbit. Dwarves did not stoop with age or grow soft with wrinkled skin. Instead, the lines in his face were graven deep like cracks in stone. Unlike Bilbo’s wispy white curls, Thorin’s mane did not dare thin; thread by thread his hair turned to shining silver, staying just as thick and luxurious as ever. Now his long braids gleamed in the sunlight, brighter than the golden crown upon his brow. He was the most singularly beautiful blossom in the garden, and his husband did not scruple to tell him so, taking a moment to kiss hello.

“Kings do not take days off,” Bilbo quoted when they broke apart.

The king in question smiled. “I might spend a few hours on a peaceful afternoon. If you will keep my secret.”

“And what motivation would I have to cover for such irresponsibility?”

“I’ve brought you your pipe.” Thorin offered it with a flourish, sitting down beside his husband to look out over the blooming garden.

Bilbo sighed. “There’s no leaf.” Contradicting this pronouncement, he ran a soft cloth over the smooth ebony pipe, polishing the gold filigree and cleaning it out mechanically.

“There is very fine leaf,” said Thorin. From his belt, he drew forth a little pouch as well as the gold and emerald circlet which he usually only insisted upon on special occasions. This, he placed on Bilbo’s head.

Instantly suspicious, the hobbit looked back toward the garden gate for any sign of Lord Dain, King Bane, or another visiting dignitary. No one was there and Thorin’s face was expressionless. He was hiding something, but Bilbo would get it out of him in due time. Naturally, the best way to do that was to continue talking about nothing.

“You might think the leaf grown in this climate is fine, dear husband. I suppose it is, well, fine.” Bilbo looked down at the patterned tiles which turned the path through his garden into a rising sun, took a moment to appreciate the beautiful mosaic that graced his western wall, then up at the blue sky where the silhouette of a plover wheeled off before turning toward Long Lake. Someday soon, Bilbo thought he might toddle down in that direction for a little trout fishing. If Thorin could not find the time, perhaps Gloin would be interested. Some exercise would do old bones good, even if Bilbo did not want to go far from his garden. He had not gone at all the year before, but he was determined not to let another summer slip by in such a way.

“Fine,” he grumbled. “If you call harsh smoke, with no depth of flavor fine. Too much acid in the soil. Not a long enough growing period. Passable might be a better term, and barely that.”

Wordlessly, Thorin offered his tobacco pouch.

The moment he pinched the leaf between three fingers, Bilbo knew. Lifting it to the bowl of his pipe, seeing it, smelling it, the hobbit instantly recognized what he had in hand. Slow as his old body might be, his mind understood the implications of what he held. Not wanting to waste the precious stuff, Bilbo filled his pipe, but he did not light it. Instead, he turned to his husband.

Thorin bit the end of his own pipe, hiding a smile.

“This is Old Toby,” Bilbo accused.

“I told you there was very fine leaf to be had.”

“Where is he?” the hobbit demanded.

“Behind you,” Kili said, directly in Bilbo’s ear.

“Sneak!” Bilbo cried, leaping up from his bench only to totter unsteadily as his back pained him. Three strong hands steadied him at once, both of Kili’s landing on Bilbo’s shoulders while Thorin caught him by the lower back. Batting Thorin away, the hobbit ducked in to give his brother a good squeeze before inspecting him closely for damage done by the long road.

Time had yet to touch Kili at all. Brown as ever, the hair at his temples was braided back in the elvish style to keep it out of his eyes while the rest hung long and loose about his shoulders. No adornments in his neatly trimmed beard marked him as a Prince of Erebor, but Bilbo knew that the finely studded leather traveling armor Kili wore could buy acres of land in the Shire. Covered in dust from the road it did not look particularly fine, but there were no slashes or dents in any important places. His boots, crusted in mud and missing half a lace, were also in good condition, though they splayed haphazardly back by the garden gate. Kili’s feet were as bare as any hobbit’s, which was obviously in service to his recent sneaking.

“You’re looking well.”

“You’re looking old,” Kili said, as he always did when he came back from a long journey. Confronting the truth about Bilbo’s lifespan relative to his own always seemed to surprise the younger Baggins, but he rallied. “Eleventy-one come September, unless I’m miscounting.”

“For both of us,” Bilbo agreed with a grin. Although Kili’s true birthday was well known within the mountain, whenever he was in Erebor for the occasion the brothers celebrated together just as they always had in the Shire. “I hoped you’d make it back in time, but I never thought to hope you’d be home this early in the summer. When did you leave the Shire?”

“April,” Kili said amiably, “and we stayed in Rivendell for two weeks, but we barely encountered a single goblin in the mountains. I think Legolas and Gimli are getting a reputation in those parts.”

Bilbo frowned. “I thought we agreed taking the Gap of Rohan was the safer road.”

Not a hint of repentance dimmed the sparkle in Kili’s eyes, “Oh, yes, it is much safer, but not such a good story.”

“You have enough tales of adventure for one lifetime, Kili Baggins. I won’t be around forever, you know, and its time for you and that wife of yours to settle down and grow some sense. Fili doesn’t go haring off over the mountains on a whim.”

“Hardly a whim.” Jostling Bilbo back down to the bench, Kili flung himself between Bilbo and Thorin with an arm over each of their shoulders. “We were just eager to see you. Difficult to imagine why, now.”

Bilbo elbowed him in the ribs. Concern for his age was not the reason they were facing the garden instead of the gate, but he let his brother have his way.

Kili kissed his temple noisily. “I missed you.”

“I missed proper pipeweed,” Bilbo conceded. “Thank you for bringing some home with you.”

“I brought more than just pipeweed.”

“Applejack?”

“Come now, eleventy-one deserves something better than that.”

“That is still a month out,” Bilbo said, “but I do have a bit of a spectacle planned. Despite never being quite certain when you’ll come home, I suppose my cake will be big enough to write two names across the top in sugar.”

“I sent a raven from the Greenwood.”

The hobbit transferred his disapproving look from his brother to his husband, who also failed to display a single sign of contrition.

“You like being surprised.”

Folding his arms across his chest, Bilbo leaned back to rest his shoulders against the beautiful ironwork of his rather comfortable bench. “I like complaining more.”

Kili’s laugh was as bright and clear as the afternoon sky. “You were born to be an old hobbit, my brother; it suits you very well.”

“And what did you bring me, little sneak, to assuage the pains of my age?”

In answer, Kili nodded toward the garden gate. As expected, Tauriel stood there with Legolas and Gimli; however, to Bilbo’s great surprise, there were also two hobbits with the traveling party, looking no worse for wear than the others. No hobbit save Bilbo Baggins had ever entered the Lonely Mountain, and despite the fact that two hobbits now stood in his garden, Bilbo knew in his heart that only one name would be added to the list.

Rising slowly, the old hobbit found his walking stick. For good measure, he took his brother’s arm as well. He wanted to stand straight and tall, impossible as that might be for a hobbit of his years. With dark curls and eyes as blue as Thorin’s, the lad looked just like Ori’s sketch from a few years back. Travel had not weathered his soft, almost elven face, nor had those short years given the dignity of age to his delicate chin. He was but a child, and he seemed far too young to have crossed such distance.

“Welcome to Erebor, Bilbo Baggins,” he said, keeping any hint of a quaver well out of his voice.

Young Bilbo smiled up at him nervously. “It’s a pleasure to meet you at last, Uncle.”

“You were wise to come.” Bilbo winked at him. “Our cake can fit three names, and I’ve arranged for Gandalf to do us some fireworks.”

That thin, nervous smile grew a little more genuine. “Are you really planning your birthday party three months in advance?”

“Of course I am. When you’re as old as I, my boy, you’ll learn not to waste time. Eleventy-one is nothing to sneeze at, and I knew Kili would make it home for this one.” Lifting his chin a little, Bilbo looked toward Tauriel, Legolas, and Gimli. “Thank you three for making sure he did so safely. Kept him out of trouble, did you?”

Legolas laughed. “For the sake of the hobbits, old friend, perhaps a little. Your brother would have preferred finding a fight or two.”

“As would your friends,” agreed Gimli.

Tauriel shook her head, but she didn’t belabor the point. Bilbo scowled at all of them, then pointedly ignored the lot.

“But there are two hobbits here,” he said. “Aren’t you going to introduce me, dear boy?”

“Ah!” The fair, untried skin of the young hobbit flushed red like a sudden sunrise. “This is Sam, my, well, Sam, sir.”

“I’m his gardener,” the fellow said brusquely.

To be so awkward—to be so defensive—Bilbo drew the correct conclusion, but he retained his Shire manners far enough to let the introduction stand.

“That would make you Samwise Gamgee, I hope. While the management of Bag End may no longer be my purview, I cannot bear to hear of anyone besides a Gamgee standing as gardener there.”

Sam’s face was brown and healthy, but that didn’t keep sharp eyes from detecting a pleased flush. “Yessir. We’re keeping the old place in tip top shape, sir, don’t you worry. Gaffer asked to be remembered to you, Mister Bilbo. Not to say a word against Mister Drogo, of course, as we’re very fond of the family, but he always says the place was finest when you had it in hand.”

“He is much too kind, I’m sure.” Taking the gardener by the arm, Bilbo turned away from his gathered friends. A Baggins was born knowing how to handle people—fifty years sitting on a throne hadn’t exactly put him out of practice either—and a Hobbiton gardener wasn’t going to let an old hobbit walk unsupported. “I should have very much liked to have your Gaffer’s help with this mess,” he said, leading the young gardener through his own little patch.

“Oh, sir!” Helpless in the face of early summer tulips, Sam hastened to assure Bilbo that Erebor’s best was a grand garden indeed.

“Enough of that,” the old fellow snapped. “I’m not fishing for compliments. My dwarves try, of course, but I want a professional opinion. This raised bed business for potatoes: they promise it increases the yield. What do you think? Anyone but dwarves, and I might think they were too lazy to bend down and dig them out of the ground properly.”

“Nossir,” said the gardener. “It’s not such a bad idea at that. You have to change out the soil for taters, as I’m sure you know well. Planting them in a different patch is one way, but a well fertilized raised bed can do the trick just the same.”

Bilbo consulted the lad in depth about his radishes next, bending down to pull up a few himself despite the creaking of his back, before moving on to the peas. Half a dozen beds in his garden bore close scrutiny from the pair, and the opinion of Samwise Gamgee was given great weight.

It was an easy conquest to make, and it quite naturally made Young Bilbo’s eyes shine for the rest of the day with adoration in a way that not even the tour of the Great Library nor a beautifully laid feast on golden plates could match. In some ways, experience made managing people far too easy. Unfortunately, even a crown could not ease every bumpy road. Polite and awed as Bilbo’s namesake was, the boy took two days to come to the point. That was fine by Bilbo, of course. He took great pleasure in showing off his mountain home to hobbit guests.

Sixty years under the provision of Bilbo Baggins had grown the Great Library of Erebor into an extraordinary place, with a collection to rival anything found in Gondor or Rivendell and architecture unrivaled anywhere in Middle-earth. Shelves full of carefully organized scrolls and books towered to six times the height of any building in the Shire. Bilbo fondly recalled those little rolling ladders at Great Smials from his youth. That sort of thing would never work on such a grand scale. Instead, Dwarves used a clever system of pulleys, elevating platforms, brass tubes, and clockwork claws to fetch different documents as desired. All of it was well managed by a highly honored guild of scholars under the supervision of Bilbo’s dear friend Ori.

As King-consort, Bilbo had a nice private reading room just off the main floor where anything he wanted was brought to him. Naturally, he could also have materials sent to his private study in his personal chambers, but it was pleasant for Young Bilbo to be in the library. Indeed, it was a neutral enough place that the boy was finally comfortable enough to say what he crossed half the world to say.

“Why did you never return to the Shire?”

Bilbo sighed, looking up from his little book. “I didn’t need to. After saving the entire world, my lad, I had nothing at all left to prove. Going home to show off would have been pointless. And going back to the Shire for any other reason simply didn’t appeal. I like hearing your adventures, dear boy, and about all my old friends, but the plain truth is, I was not happy in the Shire. I was never happy in the Shire. Maybe I could have been, if hiding Kili away hadn’t been so important, if hiding myself away hadn’t been required.”

“Erebor does seem very free. I am so glad you are happy here, Uncle.”

“You are a gem to visit, my boy. It is lovely to have another hobbit to talk to after all these years, especially an educated young person like yourself. Ori and the others make an effort, but none of them really appreciate elven poetry. Tauriel and Legolas are even worse. Other than the occasional song, one always has the impression they’d rather be out hunting than reading or discussing literature. These days, I rely entirely on visiting dignitaries for conversation on the classics. And my husband, of course, but I know most of his opinions already.”

“Is that so?” Young Bilbo was too polite to disagree. “Prince Legolas was particularly kind on our journey, and shared any number of tales with Sam and I.”

“He’s a decent traveling companion,” Bilbo admitted. “As long as Gimli’s there to keep him entertained. Otherwise, he’s the type to entertain himself at your expense.”

“I’m sure you know him best, Uncle.”

“And I suppose you and your Sam kept each other entertained. That always helps.”

The boy went scarlet. In the golden lamplight, he looked like a boiled crayfish. “Sam isn’t—I suppose you realize Sam isn’t my gardener.”

“A shame,” Bilbo said pitilessly. “He seems a good one.”

“Uncle Bilbo, surely you must know—didn’t Uncle Kili tell you anything?”

“Your Uncle Kili has been messing about in his forge with his brother Fili since practically the moment he arrived back in Erebor. It’s always that way for him after months on the road without making anything. I’m not sure if it’s a dwarven predisposition or simply one of his little peccadilloes, but he’s said little more to me than hello, and that smattering of Shire news you likely overheard at our feast the other night.”

“Well,” the boy said. Then he said nothing else for a long minute. Bilbo opened his little book once more and turned a few pages. “I shall be thirty-three on our birthday this year.”

“So you shall. Thirty-three and eleventy-one: don’t we make a pair?”

“When I am thirty-three,” he continued, “I would like to get married.”

“Ah. Your parents don’t approve, then?”

“I.” The boy swallowed hard. Being young was such a terrible thing, and Bilbo’s heart softened toward him immeasurably. “My mother might. She knows. At least, I’m fairly certain she knows. I think she would have given leave for me to marry before I came of age, if it was possible.”

“I remember that,” Bilbo murmured softly. “Being fairly certain my mother knew. Being so almost nearly sure that there was an outside chance she might not entirely disapprove.”

“Yes, well. Yes. Exactly. My father. That is to say, I don’t think my father.”

“Best to ask forgiveness when permission is uncertain,” the old hobbit said firmly.

The boy nearly collapsed in relief. “So I thought.”

“And Sam’s people? Do they approve?”

“His Gaffer does,” Young Bilbo said. “We haven’t really spread it around, but I asked his permission before we left Hobbiton. He gave it. He was happy to give it. Said he’d known from the way Sam used to follow me around when we were fauntlings that there was more between us than simple friendship.”

Weak old eyes were sometimes prone to tearing up. Bilbo dabbed a handkerchief against his and continued on. “You might have eloped to Frogmorton then. No need to cross half the world. No, I’m on to you my boy, and you shall be well rewarded for thinking to include me. A wedding of special magnificence. That’s what you’ll get, my lad, and it will serve you right for coming to visit a lonely old hobbit.”

A soft, sad smile met this bluster. “You’ve been out of the Shire too long, Uncle. Sam and I could not be married in Frogmorton.”

“Oh.” Bilbo considered the point. “But if you’re of age and Sam has his Gaffer’s permission, I thought things were—”

“Dandelion North-Took is more than three times thirty-three, Uncle. He and Old Fosco Proudfoot are as close to heads of households as bachelors can be. Their wedding party was a splendid one, if sparsely attended. My parents were invited, but did not go. Most of Long-Cleeve did not either. Certainly no one any further afield than that, save one or two Brandybucks and a smattering of the Took clan.”

“And you?”

“As a matter of fact, I did go, though it didn’t do any good. No one will admit they’re married. The neighborhood pretends it never happened. Which begs the question of what makes a marriage. If none of the family acknowledges it, and none of the neighbors believe it happened, does one nice dinner with a few flowers make two hobbits married?”

“I see. Not the sort of question the Shire has ever had to face before.”

“But you are married,” the boy said. “All my life Uncle Kili has told us stories of the Hobbit King in Erebor. Some folk call you the Mad Baggins, but they all admit you married a dwarf. Scandalous though it is, you are married to him in all the stories. So I thought, if we got married here, the way you did, no one could gainsay it.” His eyes were so terribly blue. Bilbo hadn’t realized the child’s eyes were blue. Blue eyes like that changed things. Gave more weight to old guilt.

“So you shall be married, by a dwarven king no less, with all the ceremony Erebor can muster. Nor will you want for roses, camellias, or any other flower my garden can bear.”

And so he was. One day after the long planned eleventy-first birthday party of Erebor’s beloved King-consort and his brother—with all the attendant jokes of Princess Dis regarding the true age of her natural born son Kili—an even greater celebration took place in the kingdom under the Lonely Mountain. While the birthday parties of the not-quite-twins were always enjoyable bi-yearly occasions, the wedding of their kinsman from the Shire was an unsurpassed triumph. Certain events rumored to have been originally contracted for the first day took place on the second instead. Whatever the vagaries of the planning, it was a celebration of unrivaled splendor.

Every dwarven voice in Erebor, more than even attended the king’s own wedding, lifted in song to solemnize the union. Flowers of variety and beauty that far surpassed dwarven nomenclature filled the halls. Entirely unsurpassed by written precedent were the vows exchanged by the hobbits, which brought tears to many eyes. Finishing the ceremony, each hobbit was given a simple golden band by the King-consort.

“Already, you have my name: may you share it all the days of your lives. The Baggins family has ever been a welcoming one, and if ever that has caused our respectability to decline, I think we are the happier for our expansions. Take also these rings, as a lasting symbol of that love and those vows which shall bind you always together. As they bind you to one another, so also I say that in any place where some little deed of mine is known, any love or friendship which might be shown to me must be granted you as well. If they serve as well to remind you that no hardship is insurmountable during those times when all the world seems to stand against you and the road before you is too difficult to bear, nothing would gratify me more. For every marriage must have its trials as well as its joys, just as into every garden a little blight must creep; only in darkness can light truly shine.”

Half the night on September the Twenty-Third that year was lit like unto the dawn by the fireworks of Gandalf Greyhame, called Tharkûn by the dwarves of Erebor. Dancing, music, drinking, and much revelry carried down the mountainside like dragonfire, so that it could be seen and heard quite clearly all the way in Esgaroth.

Meanwhile, unwitnessed by anyone but the chirping crickets, an old hobbit sat with his brother in a garden, watching the fireworks and plucking an occasional blueberry from a laden bush. “Whyever did you turn me into a legend, Kili? I feel quite the cad for never riding back into the Shire on a white horse with Thorin at my side to force them all to acknowledge me.”

“Why did you give them rings? Just looking at those things in your hands gave me a terrible shock. I almost ruined the wedding by falling over in a faint.”

“Does it really bother you? Even now?”

Kili shuddered theatrically. “How can it fail to bother you?”

Looking up at the stars, both brothers considered that it was a very different thing to be the one saved than it was to be the one doing the saving. Then they both tactfully chose not to express that thought.

“There’s no real harm in a little gold ring,” Bilbo said. “I rather like the idea of them coming to symbolize something good in this world. Evil cannot be allowed to lay claim to a simple circle unchallenged.”

“I suppose, but even if you change minds everywhere from here to Rivendell, they will still only be mathoms in the Shire.”

“Which is why you shall be taking a sackful back with you when you see Young Bilbo and his Samwise home in Spring.”

“I shall?”

“A very tasteful sack, of course. I’ve had them commissioned and engraved for all the couples who continue to correspond with me. Dandy and Fossy came to mind first, for obvious reasons, but if Poppy and Violet like the idea then it will soon be quite the fashion.”

“What about their husbands?”

Bilbo laughed. “Dear Kili. How I miss you when you’re gone!”

“You won’t have to worry about that for quite a while. Sam and Young Bilbo are adventurous enough, but I’m not taking them across the Misty Mountains until well after the spring thaw.”

“Between your party and all the Beornings who have come to stay, we shall have a full house this winter. I am very fond of guests in wintertime, especially ones as handsome as the sons of Beorn.”

“I shall tell your husband on you!”

“By all means, do so. I like him very much when a jealous mood takes him.”

“Troublemaker.”

“Worrywart.”

“I am the greatest adventurer in the known world! I have traveled from Far Harad to Himling! I’m not a worrywart.”

“You can hardly claim it a singular accomplishment: Tauriel has been all those places with you. Besides, only a worrywart would get nervous over a few golden bands that Fili knocked out for me in two hours of work.”

“Fili, the Crown Prince of Erebor, made these silly wedding bands for you.”

“Your brother is a very fine smith.”

“My brother is a meddlesome busybody, and I highly doubt his plan will work.”

There, Kili was wrong. When the rings were brought to the Shire and presented appropriately by the dwarves as gifts for those couples whose love was remarkably true, they became a singular status symbol. Those married folk who did not receive gifts from Erebor desired the same, emulating their neighbors by purchasing gold for rings from far off places like Bree. The Erebor rings were passed down through the generations until there was more gold in the Shire than ever before, but all of it was caught up in wedding rings. Long after hobbits ceased to care what gender such pairings came in, they stressed the importance of a ring to solemnize a union. From the Shire to Bree and out into the wide world, the practice spread to other folk. In later days, after hobbits started keeping silently to their hills, hiding from the Big Folk, when all the old kingdoms and great deeds were long forgotten, gold bands continued to be exchanged at weddings.

But that is another story, and perhaps one you already know. In a garden on a lonely mountainside, Kili Baggins looked up at a glorious golden shower of sparks which flashed into a great red dragon, wheeling overhead in tribute to Thorin Oakenshield, and he took his brother’s hand. “Happy birthday, Bilbo.”

“That was yesterday, you senile old fool,” said the hobbit. “Pass the pipeweed.”

His brother did so.