Old Friends and New by Dreamflower

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Author/Artist LJ Name: Dreamflower dreamflower02
Prompt Number: 13 - made by peachpai
Title: Old Friends and New
Pairing(s): no pairings, gen
Summary: Bag End is in for a jolly time when some of Bilbo's old friends come for a visit. (Domestic fluff, as requested! Fluffity-fluff-fluff! with some backstory and only a teensy bit of possibly angsty foreshadowing.)
Rating: G
Disclaimer: All characters of The Hobbit herein are the property of JRR Tolkien as well as various publishers and film makers. No copyright infringement is intended.
Warning(s): Fluff
Word Count: 5,597
Author's Notes:: I use the roughly two-thirds ratio of difference between hobbit ages and men. The first age is the actual chronological hobbit age, the second age is the equivalent in maturity for a Man: Frodo is 31=20, Sam is 19=12 ½ , Merry is 17=11 and Pippin is 9=6. I'm using book-ages for the hobbits as well as for the Dwarves. At this time, Fili is 140, Kili is 135, Gimli is 120, and Nuri (the OC) is 97.

This story is an AU meld of movie-verse and book-verse. The events of the Adventure follow movie-verse up to the end of TH: AUJ, events after that are either AU or book-verse. I'd like to include an acknowledgement of my beta, shirebound. And there is a little tribute to the story marigoldg and I co-wrote, "Ho! Ho! My Lads!" as well.


Old Friends and New

Prologue

Late Autumn, T.A. 2941, shortly after the Battle of Five Armies

The voices confused Thorin. He had thought himself dead.

"We owe a great debt to you, my lord, and to you, Master Guilin." Surely that was Fili's voice.

"I am glad that we have been of service to you; too much ill-will has passed between our peoples. Mithrandir is right—we who are Free Folk should be making common cause against the Enemies of us all. Perhaps we should have responded differently all those years ago, but foresight is a burden too difficult to fathom sometimes." That voice was filled with regret—but it was a familiar voice, nonetheless…

The Elven-king! That was the hated voice of the Elven-king; Thorin could not gather the strength to make his indignation known. He could not even summon the energy to open his eyes, much less to speak.

"I will do my best to make my uncle understand when he wakens, and perhaps after this there can be peace between the Mountain and the Wood. I must also thank your son for the life of my brother. His arrow was timely."

"You will soon have the chance to speak to him, I believe."

"And how is Bilbo, Master Guilin?" Fili again.

This voice was not at all familiar: "He had a delayed reaction to a mild concussion. He should be up and around in a day or so."

Bilbo had been injured? But the last thing Thorin could recall was taking his final leave of the hobbit, who had proved in the end to be the wisest of his company: "There is more in you of good than you know, child of the kindly West. Some courage and some wisdom, blended in measure. If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world. But sad or merry, I must leave it now. Farewell!" Yet now it seemed, he had not left the world at all; his farewell had been in vain, and if the words he heard were not some delirium, his sister-sons still lived…and he owed a life-debt thrice over to that haughty Elf-king…

Spring, T.A. 2999, S.R. 1399

Frodo and Merry were pulling the small hand-waggon up the Hill towards Bag End; Bilbo had sent them to market to replenish Bag End's larders, and it was laden with their purchases from the baker, the butcher, the cheesemonger and the greengrocer.

"I'm glad Pippin stayed with Bilbo," said Merry. "We'd still be trying to get the supplies, and be worn out from chasing him!"

"Pippin was delighted with the chance to 'help' Bilbo bake strawberry tarts," said Frodo. "I just hope that there were enough strawberries left to fill the tarts!"

Merry was starting to reply when they heard the sound of hooves behind them. Frodo nudged him, and they pulled the little waggon over to the verge to allow the riders room to go past them.

"Frodo!" Merry exclaimed, "Look! It's Dwarves!" He was grinning in excitement.

"So I see!" Frodo's own grin was quite as excited as his younger cousin's.

They watched four Dwarves, two on handsome grey ponies, one on a black pony and another on a nice sorrel pony, ride past. The two in back were leading pack ponies, while those on the greys in front were unencumbered.

"I'd wager they're headed for Bag End!"

"Of course they are! Let's hurry!" Frodo grabbed the handle of the waggon, and the two lads followed after the riders as quickly as they could without losing its contents along the lane.

~~~~~~~~~~~

At the gate in front of Bag End, the Dwarves dismounted.

"Nuri, wait with the ponies, while we go to surprise our host." Fili dusted his cloak and pushed back his hood. His golden hair was braided, and he fluffed up his beard before turning his attention to dusting off his younger brother. Kili pushed back his own hood. His dark hair was pulled back in an ornate silver clasp. His long beard was divided into two braids, each finished with a matching silver bead. They turned to the red-haired Dwarf in their company, and Fili straightened the collar of his cloak while Kili brushed off the dust. "Gimli, come along with us."

"How surprised do you think our burglar will be to see us?" asked Kili.

Fili chuckled. "Not nearly so surprised as he was the first time we arrived!"

Gimli kept silent. He was both excited and nervous. For years he'd been hearing tales of the Amazing Burglar Baggins, the hobbit-hero who had helped the Dwarves retake Erebor. He had never dreamed he'd ever have a chance to actually meet the legendary hobbit!

~~~~~~~~~~~

When they heard the knocking at the door, Bilbo was up to his elbows in pastry dough.

"Pippin, be a good lad and get the door, please!"

"Yes, Cousin Bilbo," the child chirped as he skipped out of the kitchen.

He flung the door open, and his eyes grew wide at the sight of the three huge and hairy beings who confronted him. He gave an ear-splitting yelp, and then stared. "Are you Dwarves? You are Dwarves!" He slammed the door, shouting "Cousin Bilbo, it's Dwarves!"

Bilbo heard the shriek and then the door slam, but he couldn't understand what the excited child was saying. "Oh bother!" He wiped his floury hands on his apron and fervently hoped it was not Lobelia on whom Pippin had slammed the door.

As he stepped into the hall he saw Pippin jumping up and down. "It's Dwarves! It's Dwarves!"

Bilbo hurried to the door. He had not been expecting any of his Dwarven friends anytime soon, and was mortified that Pippin had slammed the door.

"Peregrin! For shame! You don't leave callers on the doorstep, even if they are Dwarves!"

Pippin cringed at his tone, and Bilbo felt briefly guilty, but he opened the door. Pippin stepped behind him and peered around his legs, his green eyes wide.

For an instant, Bilbo nearly did not recognise his old friends—they were, after all much older than they once had been, and had more beard than he remembered—but they smiled and bowed and he grinned in delight.

"Fili! Kili! How good to see you again!" He stepped back to allow them to enter. "I apologise for my young cousin’s outburst. He has only heard about Dwarves in stories." He grinned. "Do come in! And who else have we here?"

Fili made the introduction. "This is my cousin, Gimli son of Gloín! The one down there with the ponies is Nuri, son of Nain, also a cousin." Bilbo peered past them and saw the fourth Dwarf standing by the gate with the ponies.

The younger Dwarf doffed his hood and bowed. "At your service and your family's Master Baggins!"

The three came into the hall, and hung their cloaks and hoods on the nearby pegs. They stood their axes, swords and Kili's bow against the wall.

Pippin's eyes were huge as he stared at these mighty creatures with the hairy faces. Bilbo gave him a reassuring pat, and then gently nudged him forward. "Manners, Peregrin," he murmured.

Pippin made a slight bow. In a squeaky and slightly wobbly voice he said, "Peregrin Took, at your service." Then he retreated behind Bilbo again.

"Is this the lad about whom you wrote to our uncle, Bilbo?" asked Kili. "I must say he looks much younger than I expected!"

Bilbo chuckled. "No, this is another young cousin who is visiting us right now. Frodo has gone on an errand for me with yet another visiting cousin. He should be home any time now."

"What should we do with the ponies?" asked Fili.

"Bring in whatever you need, for you shall stay at Bag End, of course, for as long as you like! Then the ponies can be taken to the stables at The Ivy Bush, for I'm afraid that I have no accommodation for them here."

At a look from Fili, Gimli went back to the gate to let Nuri know of the plans, and to help him carry in their packs.

Nuri had waited patiently. As the youngest in the group--he had still three years to reach his century--he usually was left with this sort of task. Just before Gimli came back he heard the sound of wheels on the road, and turned to see two young hobbits trotting up the road with a small hand-waggon piled with items.

They stopped before the two Dwarves. The taller of the two, a fair-skinned, dark-haired lad, smiled earnestly at them. "Frodo Baggins, at your service and your family's" he said. "This is my first cousin once removed, Meriadoc Brandybuck." Both lads gave a small bow. "Have you come to visit my Uncle Bilbo?"

Gimli and Nuri introduced themselves, and Gimli said, "Indeed we have, Master Frodo. My cousins Fili and Kili are already up at the house," (Frodo and Merry winced slightly at hearing Bag End described thus, but did not correct the Dwarf.) "and we are to bring in the packs and then take the ponies to the inn for stabling."

"We'll help," said Frodo. "but we also have this waggon to bring up." They took everything along the path that led to the kitchen door instead of the front door, for ease.

It did not take long for the young hobbits and the younger Dwarves to bring in everything that was needed. Bilbo took a moment to introduce Frodo and Merry to Fili and Kili, before whisking his groceries off to the larder and to prepare tea. The lads took the Dwarves' packs to the guest rooms, and then Gimli and Nuri went to lead the ponies down to the stables.

In the parlour, little Pippin was staring at Fili's beard. Frodo noticed that the lad had both hands tightly clasped behind his back, clearly trying to resist the urge to reach up and touch all that hair. But it wasn't enough to keep him from asking questions. He was scarcely leaving a chance for the Dwarf to answer. "Does it itch? Does food get in it when you eat? How long will it get?" For an instant his glance shifted to Kili and then back again. "Why are your beards so different? Why..." Frodo dropped a hand to the child's shoulder.

Pippin looked up. "Frodo! Merry! We have Dwarves!"

"Yes, I know Pip. But it is not polite to ask so many personal questions."

Looking abashed, Pippin said "Oh! I'm sorry, but they look so different from Gandalf's beard!" But he stopped his spate of questions, at the least.

Frodo took the moment to introduce himself and Merry, and no sooner had he received their names and service in return, Bilbo entered with the tea trolley.

There was a steaming pot of tea, accompanied by both cucumber and radish sandwiches, boiled eggs, scones, seedcakes, and biscuits--both sweet and savory. Dwarves being very nearly as serious about food as hobbits, the conversation for a while consisted mostly of "This is quite good," "Do have some more," and "Don't mind if I do".

The conversation grew more general as the food available on the tea trolley grew less. When there was little left but crumbs, Bilbo said, "And so what brings you to the Shire?"

"Why, Bilbo, my friend," said Fili with a twinkle in his eye, "I am wounded. You don't think we came just to visit you?"

Bilbo gave a bark of amused laughter, and took out his pipe. "No." He gestured to indicate his guests were free to smoke. "I don't. I live too far from Erebor for that. I'm thinking you are passing through to elsewhere and took the opportunity to visit me as well."

Kili looked at him with a twinkle in his eye to match his brother’s. "Perhaps we are arranging a new adventure and have need once more of a thief who is more than meets the eye!"

"Thorin would not risk his heirs on another dubious adventure. I suppose you are on some diplomatic errand to the Blue Mountains."

Frodo, Merry and Pippin were listening to this conversation with wide eyes. Suddenly Pippin piped up, "Can I go on the adventure?" He turned his big green eyes on Fili. "I am a TOOK! We're good at adventures!"

Frodo and Merry reddened in embarrassment at Pippin's forward behaviour, but the adults all burst into laughter.

Finally, Fili spoke up. "I've no doubt of that! But I do not think you'd care for this adventure, little hobbit. We are going in search of..." he lowered his voice and leaned over to where Pippin sat in Frodo's lap, "...true love."

This time Pippin's look of disgust made everyone laugh.

"Really?" asked Frodo, when they had settled down again.

"More or less," answered Fili. "There have never been many Dwarf-women," he said rather sadly. "In Erebor there are none to wed either of us. The few who are there now are either already wed, too old to wed, are too close in kinship to wed us, or don't wish to wed at all. Our royal Uncle has sent us to the Blue Mountains where he knows there may be at least one or two who might accept us as husbands."

"We are to stay for the better part of a year, in hopes that at least one of us finds a bride," added Kili.

Merry blinked. "But you are princes!" he said. "I would think it would be easy!" He recalled some of the tales he'd heard about princes and princesses. Lasses always wanted to marry a prince, didn't they?

"Not always," said Fili, "and among Dwarves, the women are rare enough to choose as they like. Many choose not to wed, for they would rather work at a craft instead." He sat back and took a puff of his pipe.

Kili decided to change the subject. "Well, Bilbo, shall we do the dishes for you again?"

"Good heavens no!" said Bilbo emphatically. "I don't want you giving these lads ideas!"

Frodo took the hint. He stood up and put his empty teacup on the trolley. "Come along, cousins, we'll show the Dwarves we can do dishes just as well and we know the song!" He started to sing as he gathered up the other teacups, "Chip the glasses and crack the plates..."

Merry and Pippin joined in, and began to push the trolley to the kitchen, singing as they went.

"You taught them the song?" asked Kili with a grin, as he listened to the young voices fade away down the passage.

"Of course I did!" Bilbo laughed again. "They've cut their milk teeth on the tales of my adventures, and these three, at least, believe every word!"

Gimli, who with Nuri, had been quiet up till now, said "Those are very nice younglings you have."

"Well, I can't take complete credit. Merry and Pippin are only visiting, and Frodo didn't come to me until he was entering his tweens. But they've been well-brought up, I dare say, and Frodo is a very good influence on the younger two. Little Pippin, however has enough energy for any three little hobbits!"

Fili sniffed, and looked at his brother. "I seem to recall a young dwarrow much like that…"

Kili looked indignant, and punched him in the shoulder. Fili affected not to notice the blow and without turning to look said, "Do you deny it?"

Kili shook his head. "How can I deny the truth? But that doesn't mean I will let you get away with telling it!"

Gimli and Nuri rolled their eyes, for they'd had their fill of brotherly banter on the journey so far, but Bilbo laughed until his eyes leaked. "Oh, oh my!" he said, when he could finally catch his breath without breaking out into more sniggers again, "I didn't know until now how much I missed your nonsense! How is your uncle? And how do things fare there in the East?"

The talk went on to more serious matters; Bilbo was pleased that a firm alliance had grown up around Erebor, Dale and the Woodland Realm. Thorin had learned that he owed not merely his own life to the efforts of Thranduil's personal physician, but that of Fili as well, and that Kili had been saved from being spitted by a goblin by the timely arrow of Thranduil's son Prince Legolas. The long-standing grudge he held against Thranduil for his lack of intervention when Smaug had attacked had been ameliorated when he began to realise that the Elven-king had held back because of a sudden vision, which had shown him that any efforts at aid would have resulted in an even greater disaster for both Elves and Dwarves.

"We have accepted a few young Men as apprentices under the Mountain," said Fili, "and some of us Dwarves have even spent time at the Court of King Thranduil." He glanced over at Gimli, who blushed and nodded. "Our cousin here is becoming a good friend to the young Elven prince, our saviour."

"Legolas has said he will come visit us in Erebor for a while when we return," said Gimli.

Bilbo was pleased at this news. He had thought from the first that the enmity between the Dwarves and Elves was based on misunderstandings and grievances so old as to be meaningless.

"And what of my other friends?" he asked.

"Most do well. It has been a while since we heard from Balin, Ori and Oín, but it's quite a distance between Khazad-dûm and the Lonely Mountain, and the lands between are empty. I am sure that we will hear from them soon." Fili spoke lightly, but Bilbo thought he noted worry in the Dwarf's eyes.

"You know," said Bilbo, "he invited me to come along on that venture, but I had only just brought Frodo here to live, and had to decline his offer."

Just then, Frodo, Merry and Pippin came back into the parlour. "The washing up is done, Uncle Bilbo," said Frodo, "I checked the stew for supper and moved it to the side and we put some bread to rise." He dusted some flour out of Pippin's hair.

"Thank you, Frodo, that was most thoughtful of you!" Bilbo turned to his guests. "Would you like to go to your rooms and rest until supper, or would you like to come out for a stroll and a sniff of the air with us?"

Gimli and Nuri elected to rest. They both felt that their cousins would much prefer to visit with their old friend without their presence, and truth to tell, they were tired. Fili and Kili followed Bilbo and the lads to the front hall, where cloaks and jackets were donned, and Bilbo took up his walking stick, and they went out the round front door of Bag End.

Pippin had hold of Merry's hand and was hopping up and down, as the group paused on the front step, waiting for Bilbo to take the lead. Just ahead an older hobbit, assisted by a young lad, was busily weeding the herbaceous border along the front path.

"Master Hamfast!" said Bilbo cheerily as he led the guests and the children down the path, "These are two of my guests, Fili and Kili of the Lonely Mountain. They and their two companions will be staying here at Bag End for a day or two."

The gardener stood up, and the young lad stood next to him staring up at the Dwarves with his brown eyes wide. Hamfast touched the edge of his hat, and bobbed his head. "At yer service, sirs. This is my lad, Samwise." He held one arm protectively around the child at his side, as if he feared the Dwarves would snatch him away.

Bilbo smiled. "You and Sam carry on with your work, Master Hamfast. We are all going for a stroll and shall be back before supper."

Soon the little group was ambling down the lane towards the village. Bilbo knew his guests would create a stir, and he felt a perverse enjoyment at the gossip it would stir up and the dismay it would cause some of his more "respectable" relations—most especially Lobelia, who would be highly incensed at his hosting Dwarves at Bag End, but also his cousin Dora who would likely be sending him a letter of advice about his "reputation" as well.

At first Frodo and Merry kept Pippin between them, each holding a hand; but that didn't last long. Pippin darted away and ran ahead of them, and then turned to run back, reminding Bilbo of nothing so much as an overeager terrier. After he had done this several times, Kili swept him up, holding him high and making him squeal in delight, before sitting him on his shoulders. Kili winced as Pippin tangled his fingers in his hair.

"You're so tall!" Pippin squealed. "He's taller than you!" He shouted down to Frodo, as if Frodo were far away rather than simply walking alongside Kili.

Bilbo walked ever so slightly ahead of the others, though Fili was close enough to his side; he smiled and waved at other hobbits they passed, who almost all either reacted by giving a very timid wave back, or by pretending they did not see them.

"Your neighbours don't seem to know what to make of us," said Fili.

"Don't be fooled! They are glad of something new to gossip about! You will be the talk of Hobbiton for a good month or more after you leave!"

They paused briefly and went into the tobacconist, where Bilbo picked up some Old Toby. The owner, Mr. Smallburrow, waited on Bilbo nervously after Bilbo introduced his guests.

But his fearful nervousness melted away when Fili asked: "Would it be possible for me to purchase a small barrel of Longbottom Leaf? I would need to be able to pick it up tomorrow or the day after, when we go on our way."

Mr. Smallburrow was shocked when Fili did not even haggle, and was quite obliging of this new customer.

"My brother and I will be visiting kin in the Blue Mountains, where good Shire leaf is hard to come by. When we return next year, we may place a larger order to take home with us. Leaf from Bree is second class to what we can get in the Shire, and the leaf from Dale is quite sad in comparison."

The shopkeeper was beaming as they went on their way afterwards, and Bilbo grinned. "You do know the way to the heart of a merchant," he said. "Mr. Smallburrow will now consider himself your friend for life!"

Fili and Kili chuckled. "I didn't say anything that wasn't true. There are times when I think certain Dwarves in Erebor would gladly kill for some good Shire pipeweed!"

The group strolled on to the edge of the village and then turned around to head back. Bilbo paused briefly at the bakery and purchased a cake and a pie for after supper. Merry found himself carrying the pie, while Frodo was given the cake, and he wondered if there was any way he could sneak a bite, surrounded by everyone.

"Don't even think about it, Merry," said Frodo softly.

Merry looked up at him with an innocent expression. "Think about what, Frodo?"

"Think about doing what I'd have thought about doing when I was your age. You'll get some after supper, just like the rest of us."

After a supper of chicken and mushroom stew, fresh bread with butter and honey, a crisp salad from the garden, and the cake and pie from the bakery, Bilbo sent Merry and Frodo off to bathe Pippin and put him to bed.

Pippin did not object to his bath—on the contrary, he was most enthusiastic, and Frodo and Merry were both fairly drenched by the time they'd finished. Frodo offered to mop up the bathroom while Merry got Pippin into his nightshirt.

Pippin did object to bedtime—he wanted to stay up with the others and listen to more stories. But a full stomach and a warm bath had done their work, and soon enough Merry was able to pull the blankets up and kiss his drowsy little cousin goodnight.

Since he had to get out of his damp clothes anyway, he put on his own nightshirt and his dressing gown, and went back to the parlour—apparently Frodo had the same idea, and he was regaling Bilbo and the Dwarves with the account of Pippin's bath.

"And then, Uncle Bilbo, he decided to make his bath imitate the fountain in the song and 'leap on high'!" The others all laughed, as Merry came in and sat down next to Frodo.

"Cousin Bilbo, why don't you ever give Pippin a bath when he visits? You're the one who taught him that song!" Merry gave Bilbo a stern look—it reminded Frodo very much of the expression on his Uncle Rory's face when he'd been caught scrumping Farmer Maggot's mushrooms.

The Dwarves all laughed, and Bilbo just returned Merry's look with one of amusement, and did not answer his question. Frodo pinched Merry's elbow, just enough to make the younger hobbit wince. He wasn't going to allow Merry to be impertinent to Bilbo in front of company. Merry subsided, though Frodo could tell he still wanted an answer to his question.

For a while they sat in the parlour, and Fili and Kili and Bilbo reminisced about their adventure, while Frodo and Merry and the younger Dwarves just listened in fascination. The fire in the hearth began to burn low, and before long, Merry was drifting off against Frodo's side, and Fili and Kili were suppressing yawns.

“We have journeyed far, old friend," said Fili.

"I think that it's time to seek our beds," added Kili.

Good-nights were said, and Bilbo lingered only long enough to bank the fire and put out the lights. Candlestick in hand, he sought his own bed. It had been a long and eventful day for him as well.

~~~~~~~~~~~~
Bilbo wakened the next morning to the scent of bacon, sausage and...coffee? Drat! Those Dwarves had been into his coffee! He pulled on his dressing gown and quickly washed his face before hurrying into the kitchen. Frodo was making breakfast with the help of Kili and Pippin. At least, Frodo was cooking and Kili was showing Pippin how to snort milk through his nose.

Frodo had put aside the skillet of bacon and sausages, and was beating a bowl of eggs. "Good morning, Uncle Bilbo! Kili said you wouldn't mind if he brewed some of the coffee today! There are scones baking, and I am getting ready to make the eggs. The others are still asleep..."

Just then Merry came in, tying his dressing gown. "I smell bacon!" he said. "Good morning!" He turned to the cupboard and picked up plates and began to lay the table without being asked.

Fili, Gimli and Nuri slept through first breakfast, but were awake in time for second, and found the others all still in the kitchen.

As they were finishing up second breakfast--which was more or less a repeat of first breakfast with the addition of porridge--Pippin paused in the act of slathering a scone with honey. "Cousin Bilbo, are we still going for strawberries today?"

"We have company, Pippin," said Frodo.

"Strawberries?" said Kili and Gimli simultaneously. Nuri's face was also wreathed in a smile.

In the end, the expedition to Bywater consisted of the young hobbits and Kili, Gimli and Nuri, while Fili and Bilbo elected to stay at Bag End. Samwise Gamgee was also going along to help--the trip had been arranged days before. Bilbo gave Frodo a pouch of coins--they would be picking their strawberries at the Cotton farm. "Be sure, Frodo, to give Farmer Cotton enough to make up for all the strawberries that are eaten during the picking! I know you lads, and when you take them to Mr. Cotton for weighing there won't be nearly as many in the baskets as you picked!"

After the others left, Fili went to Bilbo's study to look at some maps that Bilbo had been working on. He had promised to fill in some missing places on them for him. Bilbo pottered about for a while doing some necessary household tasks, and writing a couple of important letters. Then he and Fili strolled down to The Ivy Bush for a late elevenses (or perhaps it was an early luncheon). There were few other hobbits there this time of day, and Bilbo and his guest easily found a corner table where they could enjoy their beer, brown bread, pickled onions and sharp cheese.

"This is a much quieter visit than last time," said Fili. "You seem to have settled back in nicely to your sedentary life. I seem to recall that all you ever thought about while we were gone was being back at your cosy little home. Are you content?"

Bilbo took a deep swallow of his beer, to wash down the bite of bread and cheese, and said, "I think that I am for the most part. Having Frodo with me has meant a great deal to me. But I can't say I never think of going adventuring again--I'd love to come back and see the Lonely Mountain again, and perhaps have an extended stay at Rivendell."

"Rivendell? Among the Elves?"

"I've been in correspondence with Master Elrond for years," said Bilbo. "The library there is magnificent!"

Fili laughed. "Ah! Books! I see the attraction there. And we would most certainly love to have you visit Erebor again--especially as it is now nearly restored to its previous glory!"

Bilbo was very quiet for a few moments, and Fili was beginning to wonder if he had said something wrong, when the hobbit spoke again. "I shall tell you a secret, one that I am only now beginning to make up my mind about. In two years, Frodo shall come of age, and I will be eleventy-one. I've thought perhaps that would be a good time for me to retire from the Shire, and make Frodo the Master of Bag End! I would then be able to travel again--to come and visit Erebor and Dale, and then return to Rivendell. Master Elrond has indicated that I would be welcome to stay there among his household."

Fili looked at his old friend carefully. Of course there had to be much that Bilbo was not saying, but he was glad to hear that Bilbo's spirit of adventure was still alive. His advanced age (for a hobbit) had touched him only lightly, and he was certainly still healthy and spry enough for such a thing. The Dwarf smiled fondly. "We'd welcome you with open arms," he said. "And I hope you would make your visit a long one!" He raised his flagon and took a sip of his beer.

Bilbo grinned. Now that he'd spoken aloud, he'd quite made his mind up. There were plans to be made. "I thought I'd throw a spectacular party..."

~~~~~~~~~~~~
The berry-picking party arrived back at Bag End near to suppertime. Pippin was dirty from curls to curls (as hobbits sometimes say when they mean "head to toe") and bore the sticky evidence of their activity all over his face. But the others also had their share of berry stains on faces and fingers. They conveyed their overflowing baskets to the Bag End cold cellar and went to clean up before the evening meal, which consisted of roasted lamb with new potatoes, baby carrots, spring peas and mushrooms.

The next morning all rose early, and after a hearty first breakfast, Frodo, Merry and Pippin accompanied Gimli and Nuri down to get the ponies from the stable at The Ivy Bush. Gimli stopped briefly at the tobacconist to see if their order of pipeweed was ready to pick up, and it was. He left the agreed upon payment with the very happy Mr. Smallburrow, and they went back up to Bag End, Frodo and Merry delighted to be able to ride (if only for the short distance) upon Fili's and Kili's fine ponies.

The attempt at dignified farewells at the gate by the lane, however, was foiled by Pippin, who hugged each Dwarf enthusiastically. He clung to Kili. "I have an idea! You could stay, and then come back to Tookland with me--I have a lot of lass cousins and three big sisters! Maybe you can find a wife there! Then you won't have to leave!"

Frodo picked Pippin up. "Shush, you little Took! Dwarves don't marry hobbits!" But everyone was laughing, including Frodo, but not Pippin, who wanted to know why. Amid such merriment, the Dwarves rode away, but not without looking back to see their friends still waving from the lane, until they went around the curve at the bottom of the Hill and were lost to sight.

THE END




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