- *No Site Warnings Apply
- Future Fic
There is a line here that is paraphrased (with permission) from bubbysbub’s very entertaining If You Go Out To The Woods. Please be aware that their story contains a brief non-graphic discussion of the past rape of an underage dwarrowdam. Be cautious and read safely.
It was the year 3021 in the Third Age (as men reckon) when Bilbo Baggins set out for the Undying Lands in the company of fellow ringbearers Gandalf, Galadriel, Elrond, and his nephew Frodo.
Time in the Undying Lands wasn’t measured in mortal terms and who knows how many years Bilbo spent there, his soul healing both from the taint that the One Ring had left behind, and the agony of seeing the damage that his folly had caused to his beloved Frodo. When he eventually passed on, as all mortals must eventually do, his mind and soul were once more intact.
He happily entered the Halls of Mandos where all effects of age dropped from him and he was once more the image of the impetuous hobbit who had run out his door one morning without a handkerchief. From there he was whisked away to where the hobbits have always spent their afterlife, a land of rolling green hills that were somehow reminiscent of both the Shire and the Pastures of Yavanna, with gentle, winding rivers throughout. Scattered pockets of forest only increased the feeling of home, and everything a hobbit could want was within easy reach.
The centre point of this great garden was an enormous tree, so vast that its height could only be guessed at by the gentle folk living in its surrounds.
The hobbits called it Yavanna’s Tree or The Lady’s Tree, and merry gatherings were held regularly in its ample dappled shade.
One such gathering was held upon Bilbo’s arrival, and all the hobbits he had known and loved who had preceded him in death were there to greet him (along with a fair few others who appeared to have come solely for the party).
Bungo and Belladonna Baggins were the first to greet him, and then he was swamped with familiar faces. His cousins Flambard and Aldagrim slapped him on the back, Drogo and Primula were eager to hear anything he could tell them of Frodo, and there were many others who wanted recent tidings of their loved ones that he felt less qualified to give them, having spent his final years before sailing to the Undying Lands in Rivendell.
“Here he is!” Boomed a great voice, and Bilbo turned to meet a truly impressive figure of a hobbit approaching. “Well, I never thought I’d see the day when a descendant of that young stick in the mud Balbo would make such an impact on the world! Let me look at you, lad!”
“I’m sorry sir,” Bilbo said politely, “I don’t believe we’ve been introduced.”
“Bilbo, this is my great grandfather’s brother Bandobras.” Belladonna Baggins said from her place at, Bilbo’s side. It was very clear that nothing short of intervention by the Valar could remove her from her chosen spot, and in truth, Bilbo had no desire for her to leave. Bungo was hovering over them both, beaming in a proudly besotted fashion that Bilbo only vaguely remembered from early in his childhood.
“Old Bullroarer Took!” Bilbo realised, enthusiastically shaking the hand in front of him. “It is an honour to meet you sir, a true honour!”
“Nonsense! Quite the other way around!” The jovial looking hobbit with the giant voice proclaimed. (Bilbo was able to determine the origin of his forebear’s epithet without taxing his brain in any way.) “By all accounts, you’ve slain more foul creatures than I ever did. Yes, yes, you’ve a great look of my brother about you, my lad. That Took blood breeds true every time!”
Bilbo, who distinctly recalled a stuffy young relative called Milo Burrows, a lad with pretty much the same amount of Took blood as his own dear Frodo (who was Bilbo’s mother’s sister’s grandson, after all!) tactfully didn’t disagree. After all, in the majority of cases, his distant uncle was correct, and anyway, disagreeing publicly with your ancestors was considered to be rather impolite and a social error, regardless of their youthful appearance.
When it was finally time to leave the party, Bilbo followed his parents along a winding road that eventually led to a familiar round green door, only with two brass nameplates attached to the front, one proclaiming ‘Bungo and Belladonna’, and the other ‘Bilbo’.
Bilbo looked sideways at his father, who explained that there were two separate hobbit holes attached to that door. In order to get to the Bag End that his parents had lived in, one tapped the correct brass plate five times before either knocking (if one was a visitor) or going straight in (if one was the occupant). Bilbo figured out the rest on his own.
“And when young Frodo joins us there will be three brass plates of course,” Belladonna said impatiently, turning the handle after tapping the correct plate. “But you’ll be staying with us a while, won’t you Bilbo? I’m not ready for you to leave yet.”
Bilbo wasn’t ready to leave yet either. His own Bag End would be waiting for him on the other side of this door when he was ready, in the meantime he wished to bask in the presence of his parents, who had been taken from him far too early and in such a distressing manner (although not nearly as early as dear Frodo lost his parents, of course).
Time passed slowly in the afterlife, and it didn’t seem that many days had passed at all when Frodo and Sam came to join them. Sam’s reunion with his wife was only slightly less moving than Frodo’s with Primula, Drogo, and to a lesser extent Bilbo, who had, after all, seen the dear young lad only recently. By then the door at Bag End had four plates, which was a source of great delight for Bungo. His son agreed that there were worse legacies to leave behind.
One day, Bilbo was sitting under Yavanna’s Tree with Frodo and enjoying a pipe of Old Toby when his nephew said something that was to change the afterlife forever.
“I do love it here,” Frodo said wistfully as he threw grass seeds through the centre of the smoke rings Bilbo was blowing, “I just wish that I was able to see the others. Boromir in particular. I wish I could be sure that he knows he was not to blame for what happened between us before he died, and how much hearing of his death saddened me. But the place where men go is separate, and I suppose I shall never be able to tell him.”
A moment later Frodo was talking about a discussion he’d had with Belladonna regarding Gandalf that normally Bilbo would have taken great enjoyment in hearing. But he was still struck by his nephew’s sad wish.
“Hmmm,” Bilbo murmured, turning Frodo’s words over and over in his head.
If he was perfectly honest, there were three dwarves that he’d missed a great deal after their deaths in the Battle of The Five Armies, that he’d left things unfinished with. The others he had taken his leave of, and several had visited him over the years as they went to and from the great dwarven settlements in the Blue Mountains and the reclaimed Erebor.
But Fíli, Kíli, and (even more so) Thorin Oakenshield himself, were missed terribly as the years went by. Two such bright, shining spirits and their gruff, proud, obstinate, and above all dramatic uncle. Sexy too, if Bilbo’s memory wasn’t playing him false.
For a brief time, there had been the beginnings of an understanding between the exiled prince and his contracted burglar. It began at Beorn’s, was fostered in the Elvenking’s dungeons and then gently nurtured while in Laketown.
Bilbo had long believed it was the gold-sickness of Durin’s line combined with the dragon-sickness that was the cause of the break between him and the King Under the Mountain, but with hindsight, it was possible that Sauron’s Ring had played a large part as well.
After all, why would a hobbit, who had no need nor desire for pretty but otherwise useless trinkets, suddenly begin coveting a shiny stone to the point that he would purposely deceive those he called friends in order to keep it? For that had been his intention until the armies of men and elves had arrived at the mountain.
No, despite that desperate deathbed exchange of words, there was still much to be resolved between Bilbo and Thorin Oakenshield. And really, he would be delighted to visit with his friends from other races as well.
Of course, everyone knew that the afterlives were eternally separate, so Bilbo felt it was necessary to have a word with Yavanna about the possibility of creating some kind of door.
“I’m sorry, dear Bilbo,” The Green Lady said smiling sadly down at him. “The Halls of the Dead are as they have always been, and all of the Valar are forbidden from altering them. Oh, we can change things around in our small realms of course, but these are transient changes that have no lasting power. To create a door or gateway as you suggest would impinge upon more than my domain, and cannot be done.”
“But what of interspecies lovers?” Bilbo objected. “Beren and Luthien, for example. Are you telling me that because they were born of different people they are to be kept apart for all eternity? I cannot believe the Valar would be so cruel!”
Yavanna gave a graceful shrug, before leaning forward and lowering her voice confidentially.
“Between you and me, we have been known to convey such souls over to another plane, where they may reside separate from their kin, yet together until the end of days. The transfer I speak of can only be achieved once, however, for souls cannot withstand a second such journey.”
“Well, thank you for sparing the time to talk to me,” Bilbo said, giving his best bow before wandering off to smoke his pipe and think about what she’d said.
It was several long lazy days later that Bilbo finally came to a decision.
The first thing he did was gather together those he felt might be interested in accompanying him on an adventure to find the afterlife of the dwarves, and then maybe the men, and after that the elves.
Sam said no, once he was assured that Master Frodo planned to return. He claimed to have no wish to go on any further adventures no matter how pleasant they were promised to be.
That left Bilbo, Frodo, Merry and Pippin, with Belladonna and Bandobras (“call me Bandy!”) to round out the party. Bungo decided to stay behind and leave the adventuring to the Tookish side of the family.
“Of course I’m coming with you!” Bilbo’s mother scolded when her son expressed his surprise at her decision to accompany them. “Quite aside from the fact that someone has to keep you out of trouble, I have several friends of my own that I would like to see again, you know!”
Bandy just grinned, shaking his head. He’d spent a lot of time with Bilbo, listening to his stories and discussing the wider world, and had several times expressed his disappointment that he’d not gone on a grand adventure himself.
“Battles at home aren’t the same thing at all!” He’d insisted each time Bilbo tried to point out his own great deeds. “Travelling, now there would be a thing!”
When it was time to set out, Merry and Pippin arrived riding ponies.
“We found them in a field outside our door when we went to leave,” Merry explained. “Look there, you’ve got several too.”
Sure enough, there were three ponies eating away at some grass in a field that had appeared, adjacent to Bag End. Taking this as a good sign, Bilbo, Frodo and Bella said their goodbyes and mounted up. They met Bandy down by Yavanna’s Tree, where there was another pony waiting.
“Well then, Uncle Bilbo,” Frodo said when they were all ready, “which way should we go?”
“We’ll ride east.” Bilbo decided. “All of the most exciting adventures undertaken by hobbits seem to start off in that direction, and it would be a pity to break the tradition now. All right my fine hobbits! Let’s be off!”
And so the six hobbits began making their way eastwards.
“We’re going on an adventure with Mad Baggins!” Pippin’s voice could be heard behind Bilbo as he spoke gleefully to his cousin. “Can you believe it, Merry?!”
“Pippin, we took part in the War of the Ring.” Merry reminded him. “This adventure should be much less dangerous.”
“Yes, but remember Merry,” Pippin replied still sounding excited. “That your cousin Doderic wagered his best slingshot that we’d never get to go on an adventure with old Mad Baggins, and here we are! I can’t wait to tell him!”
Merry laughed gleefully, and the two began plotting the best way to tell Doderic that his best slingshot was now forfeit.
Bilbo exchanged a grin with Frodo, who was riding beside him. Behind the troublemaking duo, Bella and Bandy were bringing up the rear.
There was a handkerchief in his pocket, and he was setting out on an adventure to see his friends. Bilbo could never remember being happier.
Bilbo and his small party rode eastwards for some time, passing by many a hobbit dwelling and fields and woods aplenty. They crossed streams and rivers and set up by a lake when they felt it was time for a good meal.
Bandobras had been a bit shocked at the scarcity of meals while on an adventure, but Pippin had shown him the best things to eat while riding.
“We can’t keep stopping,” the youngest of the Tooks explained to the only hobbit amongst them who never truly been outside the Shire before. “We’d never get anywhere, the world is so big! That doesn’t mean we have to miss our meals, mind you, we only have to be sensible about how we go about it.”
Frodo and Merry exchanged looks and then burst into simultaneous laughter. Despite his stint as Thain of the Shire, Pippin behaved in as scatterbrained and carefree a manner as ever.
The six hobbits had a jolly time, and then replete and a little lethargic mounted up to continue on their way.
In the distance, a haze spread over the landscape obscuring all that lay beyond. When they got closer, Bilbo could see that the rolling fields were descending into a mist-laden swamp-like area. The path was clearly visible, however, and so on they went.
Long after they had left any semblance of the Shire behind them, they came to a dead end, marked by a large signpost with various signs hanging from many levels, each inscribed with a different language. One of the ones at the bottom was currently glowing, and it said the word ‘Hobbits’ on it in the old language, that few but the scholars knew anymore. Beside that, there was a small, finely detailed etching of two hobbits standing together.
A little further up, Bilbo saw the runes for Khazad, beside a representation of two dwarves. He reached towards it, and as his fingers came into contact with the wood, the light around the Hobbit sign faded, and the Dwarf one lit up.
“Well done, Bilbo!” Bella said approvingly. “You’ve led us straight here! I take it we’re going to see your dwarves first?”
“Of course we are, lass!” Bandobras agreed heartily. “And then on to the men to see young- Boromir, wasn’t it? Lead on, young Bilbo!”
And so they turned their ponies back the way they had come. It didn’t take long until they had emerged from the swamp and found themselves in a lush valley, with large mountains on all sides.
“Which way did Yavanna say we should go, Bilbo?” Frodo asked, looking around happily. Bandobras was staring open mouthed at the huge peaks soaring towards the sky, and Bella was regarding Merry and Pippin with fondness as they craned their necks to see everything they possibly could.
“What?” Bilbo answered absently as he recognised the shape of the mountain dead ahead. This particular mountain may not be Lonely, but he would know the familiar lines of Erebor anywhere. And surely that range over to the left were the Misty Mountains? Oh, how exciting!
“Which way should we go?” Frodo repeated patiently.
“Why, straight ahead, of course!” Bilbo replied. “If that isn’t the afterlife’s representation of the Lonely Mountain, I’ll eat my favourite waistcoat, gold buttons and all!”
Before they continued on their way, they felt it was time to stop for another meal. While they were eating, Frodo, Merry and Pippin spoke of their attempt at climbing Caradhras, Bella spoke of her adventures with Gandalf, and Bilbo regaled them all with the tale of the stone-giants. By now everyone had heard it all before, but they were all far too polite to say so. Even Pippin, though he had to be elbowed by his cousin when he opened his mouth.
An hour or so after resuming their ride, the ponies stumbled across a road that looked familiar.
“Why, I do believe that this road will take us right to the gates of Erebor!” Bilbo informed his travelling companions. “Not long now, dear hobbits! Soon we shall be amongst friends, and I daresay you will enjoy the legendary hospitality of the dwarves!”
“I’ve heard that one before,” Merry said in an undertone to Pippin and Frodo. “Let us hope it turns out a little better this time.”
“I wonder if there is an afterlife version of Moria here?” Pippin asked, brightening. “I would dearly like to see it in its prime. For even the cold dark ruins were very impressive, and I don’t think I gave it the justice it deserved at when we were there.”
“We were somewhat distracted, Pippin.” Merry reminded him. “Remember the cave troll?”
“Not to mention the crumbling stairways where a foot wrong meant plummeting to your death and the balrog,” Frodo added.
“We can ask Thorin when we see him,” Bilbo assured his young relative. “Given that Moria, or Khazad-dûm as it was known as, was the ancestral home of Durin’s Folk, he is sure to know.”
It wasn’t until they were approaching the gates that Bilbo first began to consider the notion that he and his family wouldn’t be welcome there. He couldn’t exactly tell them all he’d changed his mind, though, could he?
So it was with slightly knocking knees that he approached the extremely surprised and wary-looking dwarf that had been lounging at the gates.
“Excuse me,” Bilbo began, “my name is Bilbo, Bilbo Baggins, and I was hoping-”
That was as far as he got before the dwarf in front of him dropped his suspicious demeanour, along with his spear.
“Bilbo Baggins? Bilbo Dragonslayer? Thorin Oakenshield’s sword brother, the one who helped him win back the mountain?” Bilbo had never seen such a look of hero worship on the face of a dwarf, not even poor young Ori in the first days of Thorin’s Company.
“Yes! I mean, no!” Bilbo said before the guard could go on. “I mean, yes, I’m that Bilbo Baggins, but I assure you I never killed Smaug! I only chatted with him a bit, it was Bard of Laketown who killed him.”
“It is such an honour to meet you, my Lord!” The dwarf’s face above his beard was flushed, and his eyes were starry. “Darin, son of Heri, son of Muri, at your service!”
“Yes, yes!” Bilbo said in a flustered way, returning the bow almost absent-mindedly. “The thing is that my relatives and I have come to visit with Thorin and the others, but we’re a little unexpected. Would it be possible to come in? Or perhaps you could ask them if they want to come out?”
Poor Darin looked so horrified at the thought that he’d been keeping the hobbits waiting that it took several minutes to calm him down enough to understand what he was saying.
“Are all dwarves this excitable?” Bandobras asked Bella in what he probably thought was an undertone.
“I’ve not spent much time with dwarves,” she replied, looking Darin over consideringly. “Gandalf had me running around with elves, men, and eagles. What do you think, Merry, Pippin?”
“We only really knew one dwarf.” Merry objected.
“And his answer to just about everything was to wave an axe at it!” Pippin reminded him. “So, excitable, but in a different way. What do you think, Frodo?”
“I think Bilbo would be in the best position to answer that question,” Frodo said, looking over to where Darin had gotten a hold of himself. “Or we could just wait a few moments, I’m sure we’ll find out shortly.”
Darin ushered the six hobbits through the gate, assured them that someone would be along in a moment to look after the ponies, and visibly bursting with pride, led them through impressive stone hallways that Bilbo recognised.
Their passage caused no little stir, every dwarf who saw them had to stop what he (or she, Bilbo was unable to tell from any but the closest of distances. In any case, it was an accepted part of dwarven culture that all dwarves were to be referred to by outsiders as ‘he’ unless otherwise requested by the dwarf in question.) was doing to stare in shock.
Bella and Bandobras were staring about themselves in awe, and Frodo, Merry and Pippin only to a slightly lesser extent. They had seen dwarven architecture before, after all, and Gimli had spoken fondly of his people’s reclaimed home often.
For Bilbo, the experience was bittersweet. He had often dreamed of these halls, but their current splendour was quite a change from the gloom he remembered, and the dwarf proudly displaying his people’s home was not the one that he wished to be here at this moment.
Darin took a turn that led them to an area Bilbo had never seen before, and it wasn’t much later that the small group was accosted.
“Hobbits? Is that… Bilbo?” came a familiar voice, and Bilbo turned, with tears springing to his eyes as he faced Fíli.
“Bilbo!” shouted the dwarven prince, and Bilbo braced himself just in time to prevent being bowled over by a laughing, crying, boisterous dwarf. He was just as Bilbo remembered him, although perhaps a little better dressed and fresher smelling.
As it was, Bilbo was squeezed far more tightly than a hobbit would generally prefer before he was released, and he was treated to the sort of cheerful blather that he had dearly missed.
“How did you come to be here, Bilbo? And who’s this you’ve brought with you? Oh, Thorin will be so pleased! We have to find him right away! And the others. And mother too. You’ve met her, haven’t you? She mentioned stopping by the Shire but refused to tell us anything interesting. Luckily, Bofur and Dwalin weren’t so mealy-mouthed and infuriating. And Glóin told us about the Ring! We were all horrified, I assure you. Although, not as horrified as Glóin was when Bofur got here and told everyone that Gimli had chosen to cavort around Middle-Earth with Thranduil’s youngest son. The very same son that called Gimli a goblin mutant.”
As he chattered, Fíli dragged Bilbo with him down a side corridor, five other hobbits trailing along dutifully. They watched with wide eyes as Bilbo allowed himself to be pulled this way and that, as the golden haired dwarf that had accosted him continued to talk.
“…and in fact, you’ve just missed dinner, which I know will upset you, but I’m sure Bombur can rustle up something if the kitchens refuse to let us in. They run on magic, you know, and despite that, they can be just as snooty as real cooks…”
By this time, Darin had reluctantly gone off to find someone to deal with the ponies and, other than Frodo, (who had listened to Bilbo’s stories rather more than any of the other hobbits present by virtue of living with him for so long) none of them looked like they had any idea of who this rather handsome dwarf was.
“I think this must be Fíli,” Frodo said quietly to the four hobbits shooting him inquiring looks. “The eldest nephew of Thorin Oakenshield, and Gimli’s third-cousin. He and his uncle and brother died in the Battle of the Five Armies before Thorin had the opportunity to be crowned. Uncle Bilbo often said that Fíli and Kíli died too young and that Merry and Pippin reminded him strongly of them.”
“And what did he say of Thorin?” Bella asked, watching her son’s face as he looked at their guide.
“Very little,” Frodo answered, and they exchanged a look fraught with meaning. Bilbo could (and did) often say a great deal, but it took spending some time with him to see that the spaces where he didn’t say much were where he kept the things closest to his heart. The things that hurt and Thorin’s absence from Bilbo’s reminiscing had told its own tale.
“…and I just can’t wait to see the look on his face when he sees that you’re actually here, Bilbo! Here we are-” and Fíli threw open the stone door with such a heave it banged solidly into whatever was behind it, “Thorin! Look who’s come to visit!”
Inside the room, two dwarves were sitting hunched over a board littered with small, carved stone figures. Thorin looked up at his nephew’s words and appeared to be rendered speechless. His companion, whose blond hair was the same shade as Fíli’s, looked up as well. Bilbo was struck by the family resemblance and realised that this was probably Frerin, Thorin’s younger brother who had been killed at Azanulbizar.
“Fíli, are these… hobbits?” Thorin’s companion asked bemusedly, looking over to Fíli’s still and silent uncle.
“They are indeed, uncle!” Fíli said with a large grin on his face, confirming Bilbo’s suspicions as to the identity of the stranger.
“Uncle Frerin, may I present to you Bilbo Baggins, Burglar extraordinaire, Spiders’ Bane, Dragon Riddler, and the fourteenth member of Thorin Oakenshield’s Company.” Fíli gave a dramatic flourish. “And Uncle Bilbo, may I present to you Frerin, son of Thrain, son of Thrór, veteran of many battles with orcs, and slain at Azanulbizar.”
“And his companions?” Frerin asked after he and Bilbo had exchanged bows that were perhaps a little less informal than they should have been.
“Ah…” Fíli looked back at the five hobbits that had followed them both into the room and were watching the proceedings with avid curiosity. Bilbo decided to take pity on the scatterbrained young dwarf and introduced his relatives. Finishing up with-
“And this is my great-great-grandfather’s brother, Bandobras ‘Bullroarer’ Took, who is famous for defending the Shire from Orcs! In the Battle of Greenfields, he charged the goblin chieftain, and knocked his head clean off! It went sailing off down a rabbit hole, and so the battle was won and Golf was invented!”
Three dwarves closed their slightly open mouths at that and waited through Bilbo introducing Fíli and Thorin to the hobbits.
As soon as Bilbo had finished speaking, Thorin spoke for the first time since they had arrived.
“So, the urge to foolishly attack great orc leaders on your own is a genetic trait?”
Five pairs of eyes swivelled towards Bilbo, who gave an unconvincing laugh.
“Oh! Did I forget to mention that bit?” Merry and Pippin’s eyes were huge, and Frodo had his face in his hands, shaking his head. Bandobras looked interested, but Belladonna…
“I don’t recall any part of your story where you charged a great orc leader, Bilbo?”
Oh no, her voice was reasonable. Frodo looked quietly sympathetic, but every other bastard in the room was looking on in glee. Perhaps he shouldn’t have been quite so witty in his introductions?
A few minutes later, when all that orc-charging nonsense had been smoothed out and Bilbo was suitably repentant in the face of his mother’s disapproval (“I may have battled a few brigands in my day, Bilbo Baggins, but never once did I lie to my mother about it!” Bilbo remembered Adamanta Took, nee Chubb. He believed her.) everyone had lost their shyness and were chatting away.
Thorin somehow managed to send word to the kitchens for food, for very soon large platters full of delicious food were set before the hobbits, who fell on it like those that hadn’t eaten all day, rather than only a couple of hours ago.
Frerin watched the amount of food that each hobbit managed to put away with bemusement. Thorin and Fíli had seen how much Bilbo could get through when they were all in Rivendell and knew better than to comment.
“How does it all fit?” Frerin asked eventually.
By the time Frerin had recovered from a lecture given to him by five annoyed hobbits, (Bilbo had left them to it, and continued eating. He’d been expecting Frerin to say something, and knew what his priorities were after all) and everyone had finished with their meal, the room that they were in had become a trifle crowded.
Thorin moved them a few corridors away into a large hall, that he explained to Bilbo was designed for marriage negotiations, which could take some time and tended to get quite heated.
Finally, Dwalin said what had been on everyone’s mind since the hobbits had arrived.
“Alright then. How in Mahal’s name did six hobbits manage to find their way to our afterlife? Everyone knows the afterlives are separate, and Mahal has repeatedly refused our entreaties to create some sort of door between them.”
First the hobbits, and then the dwarves all turned to Bilbo.
“Well,” he began, falling into the familiar role of storyteller, “you have part of the answer already. When Frodo mentioned that he also harboured the desire to visit other afterlives, I went to Yavanna and asked that a way be made. Her answer was- ‘The Halls of the Dead are as they have always been, and all of the Valar are forbidden from altering them.’.”
“Yes.” Dwalin interrupted impatiently, leaning forward slightly, as were all the other dwarves present. “Get on with it!”
The hobbits were listening dutifully, they knew from long experience that Bilbo refused to be hurried when telling a story.
Bilbo sniffed, and rummaged around for a handkerchief, smiling at Thorin when he held one towards him.
Dwalin opened his mouth again, but Balin clapped on hand over it and whispered something in his brother’s ear. When everyone had settled, Bilbo resumed speaking.
“Something in the way that she worded that sentence caught my attention.” Bilbo paused, accepting the pipe Frodo had lit for him with a grateful smile. “The Halls of the Dead are as they have ever been, and all of the Valar are forbidden from altering them.” He said the words slowly, almost meditatively, taking a drag of Longbottom Leaf and blowing a smoke ring in Dwalin’s direction.
“That’s when I realised I had asked the wrong question.” Bilbo saw the truth dawning on the two other Bagginses present, but the rest continued to look confused. “You said it yourself, Dwalin. Everyone knows. Well, what if everyone was wrong?”
A few more faces were showing comprehension. Thorin had buried his face in his hands and Fíli was gripping his uncle’s shoulder in a grip that turned his knuckles white. Actually… where was Kíli? Bilbo began to get the feeling that dragging out this tale was torture to two of his favourite dwarves, and so left aside the slow meandering tale and prepared to get straight to the point.
“What if everything the Valar had been saying was true, and they were waiting for their people to discover the pathways themselves? A sort of riddle, if you will. No one ever asks them if there is already a door, everyone knows there isn’t one. But what if everyone was wrong? What if there is a door, or possibly a pathway, but it never shows up because no one ever goes looking for it? So I gathered together some hobbits who were up for an adventure, and we set out. And here we are. Now tell me, where is Kíli?”
There was silence for a moment before Balin answered him.
“Kíli was taken by Mahal to a different place to be with Tauriel. Mahal warned him that a person could only take that journey once, that to take it a second time meant the obliteration of his soul. We were resigned to never seeing him again.”
And Bilbo could see several sets of wet eyes surrounding him. There were possibly more, but he couldn’t see that far because dust or something must have gotten in his own eyes, and he was having a difficult time seeing through the tears.
Oh, poor Kíli. What a choice to have been forced to make! His beloved brother, his mother, and the uncle he had given his life for, or the Elf maiden he loved and who had sacrificed her immortal life for him? But now hopefully they could all be reunited. He had just come to this conclusion when he was swept up into two strong arms.
“You are the most amazing, wonderful, incredible thing that has ever happened to me.” Thorin’s voice was hoarse, but it sounded beautiful to Bilbo’s ears. “Even after my terrible betrayal and my death, you save me. As Mahal is my witness, I love you Bilbo Baggins. I want nothing more than to be by your side until the remaking of the world.”
And then Thorin kissed him.
Somewhere beyond the beating of his own heart, Bilbo could distantly hear cheering, but his whole being was concentrated on the feeling of Thorin’s lips upon his own.
All too soon, the kiss was over. Thorin drew back, and Bilbo could clearly see the realisation of what he had just done on that handsome face. Before the confounded dwarf could apologise, Bilbo dragged his face back down for a slightly deeper kiss. Oh, who was he kidding? A much deeper kiss.
The cheering changed to whistles, and this time when they separated Thorin was smiling. Bilbo smiled back and was about to speak when something caught his eye.
In the corner closest to where Bilbo was standing, a light emerged and started to grow. Soon it was so bright as to be blinding, and everyone had to cover their eyes. When it was safe to see again Bilbo saw that the Green Lady was standing in the corner of the room with several other glowing figures, one of which was Gandalf.
“My Lord!” Thorin said in shock, before falling to his knees, followed by every other dwarf in the room. The male figure standing to the Green Lady’s right bowed in response.
“I believe that this can be considered proof enough?” Yavanna said to her companions, completely ignoring the stunned hobbits and dwarves she and her fellow Ainur had appeared amongst. Both she and Gandalf held out their hands and received tokens from the others, who gave them over reluctantly.
“Are you sure you didn’t give him any clues?” One of them asked her with a frown.
“Don’t be ridiculous, Manwë.” Yavanna snapped at him, before smiling at one of the others as they handed over their token. “Námo was watching the entire time. He’d tell you if I cheated.”
“It still seems very unlikely to me. However, a deal is a deal…” and Manwë handed over his tokens to Yavanna, and Gandalf as well. Gandalf winked over at the astonished dwarves, and then the Ainur disappeared as suddenly as they came.
It didn’t take long for the outcry to start, and pandemonium reigned as all the dwarves tried to be heard over each other. Fíli, in particular, seemed incensed.
Bilbo just started laughing helplessly, and his fellow hobbits soon joined him. So much anguish that could have been avoided if only people had asked the right questions. He looked up to see Thorin regarding him fondly.
“Alright, then!” Thorin called in a great voice that silenced his fellow dwarves. His eyes never left Bilbo’s own. “Who’s up for a journey to other afterlives?”
The roar that followed seemed to shake the mountain.