- Death-Major Character
- Fix It
After meeting with the dwarves involved, Bilbo knew the next best idea was to get meet with Bard. As much as he loved his dwarves, he knew they weren’t for everyone. It was only forward thinking that he check in with his neighbor. A battle next door would not be a fun next step, especially this soon after the previous one.
It was an easy walk down to Dale, an even easier pony ride, but Bilbo was done with that for a lifetime. Bard was speaking with someone in the repaired main hall. He nodded to Bilbo and gestured to a seating area off to the side without breaking his conversation. Bilbo chose to smile, knowing that running a kingdom waited for no man. It was a lesson he’d been learning slowly, even though he didn’t really run anything. Sometimes, though, it seemed like Balin was just waiting for him to make the decisions. Why, he didn’t know, but there was a level of anticipation that radiated from the dwarf at times that sometimes made Bilbo uncomfortable.
While Bard finished speaking Bilbo looked around the hall, noting how much it had improved from the last time he’d been here. It was something he’d noticed the entire walk through Dale: everything was a little bit better. Homes with roofs, walls upright, doors in tact. It was becoming a home again, and it seemed the feeling extended to the men living there. Even from inside the hall, he could hear the echo of children’s laughter.
“I’m sorry about that,” Bard walked up behind Bilbo, running a hand through his hair. He seemed tired, even after all this time.
“It’s fine,” Bilbo reassured him, “I just wanted to check in, now that we’ve gone through a rotation. Did everything run smoothly over here?”
“Surprisingly, yes. I wasn’t sure, but they’ve gotten a lot done, obviously,” Bard waved at the hall, “it’s improved morale, and it’s let everyone focus on what they do best.”
“Good,” Bilbo nodded slowly, “I’m glad…and is everything alright with you?”
Bard stiffened, and Bilbo internally sighed, “I don’t know what you mean.”
“I just thought if everyone was working well, if everything had gone smoothly, you’d look less tired.” The conflicting emotions on Bard’s face were obvious to Bilbo who’d practically been raised on hobbits who hid their emotions until they wanted to evicerate you verbally.
“Perhaps I’m a little tired,” Bard seemed to come to a decision and leaned in closer. His voice dropped lower, “I just don’t think I’m up to this king thing. I never planned on being in charge of anything. I wanted a simple life, with my wife and children.”
The sorrow that flickered across Bard’s face was one Bilbo related to, one he felt every day.
“I know what you mean.”
“You do?” Bard raised an eyebrow at him.
“I never planned to marry a king,” Bilbo admitted, “I was happy in my smial in the Shire, being a gentlehobbit and managing a few properties. Sitting on Thorin’s council, it isn’t what I expected with my life.”
“And how do you manage?”
“Not very well I’m afraid,” Bilbo laughed, “I think sometimes, it helps to have help. I’m not doing it on my own. I have friends who have stepped up and know what they’re doing. They step in when they need to, and they help me step back when I need to.”
“Laketown wasn’t like that.”
“Maybe that’s where you’re going wrong,” Bilbo hesitated but his inner voice had no such filter. “You’re running Dale, not Laketown. Why should you try to copy that? You’re not the Master, and you didn’t like the way the people were treated under him. If you want to make changes, you can.”
Bard nodded slowly, then smiled, “I thought you didn’t know much about running a kingdom?”
“I don’t,” Bilbo frowned back, confused.
“Then you might want to reconsider that. Your advice is rather insightful.”
“Thank you, I guess.”
“If you’re finding it difficult, like I am, maybe you should take your own advice.” Bilbo cocked his head to the side, studying Bard. “If you don’t like something change it.”
It was easy to see the king Bard would become in that moment. He was confident, capable, willing to say what was on his mind. It made Bilbo smile on the inside, hopeful about what the future might hold.
“Perhaps,” Bilbo agreed.
“Did you want some tea?” Bard stood up, “We’ve gotten quite the variety since you showed us what to look for. I’m pretty sure Sigrid is addicted to the peppermint.”
“One cup of tea probably couldn’t hurt,” Bilbo agreed with a smile. Bard nodded and moved off to get a pot started.
– – – –
It was much sooner than Bilbo ever would have predicted that he was taking Bard’s advice. The next council meeting was filled with even more mindless babble, complaints ringing out. The only difference? Dís was there. Her voice was strong, firm, and extremely opinionated.
It was enough to make Bilbo want to curl back up in his garden. It also made him miss Thorin, who was the exact same. Of course, Bilbo couldn’t treat Dís like he would Thorin; kisses and favors traded probably wouldn’t get him very far.
“I just think that we aren’t moving fast enough,” Dís stated, “we need more guild halls opened, more marketplaces available. It simply isn’t working at all.”
This was probably the fifth or sixth time Dís had said something along these lines, and Bilbo was done.
“Enough,” he stood up, a little surprised when everyone stopped talking. “We decided on slowly and carefully, Princess Dís, and I realize you weren’t there when we made the choice, but it’s what’s happening.”
“And who are you to decide this?” she demanded, standing up as well.
“I,” Bilbo took a deep breath and looked back at Dwalin. He nodded back, and Bilbo straightened his shoulders and raised his chin, “I’m His Royal Highness, Prince Consort Bilbo Baggins, and if you don’t like the path that we’ve chosen, the path no one else has a problem with, then you can go find a better plan. This is working, and we haven’t lost a dwarf yet. With a dragon rampaging around in a mountain for over a hundred years, that wasn’t a guarantee. So you can take your attitude and sit down.”
Dís stared at him, and the dwarves around the council table’s wide eyes echoed her surprise. Bilbo took their silence and ran with it.
“I am tired of listening to the same complaints, and no progress being made. How can we effectively serve our people if we can’t even discuss our issues without conversation breaking down? I expect us, all of us, to be better.”
He took a moment to make eye contact with each dwarf, relieved to see some look ashamed, others cowed by his words. He didn’t want to hurt them, or take away their voice, but he did want them to be better.
“Now, rather than discuss rebuilding, which is going well from what I understand, correct Balin?”
“Good, then I want to discuss the dwarflings.” A confused grumble met his words, and he cleared his throat. The grumbles trailed off. “The dwarflings are running around, unsupervised, and I heard that one of them was found in an abandoned mine shaft. This can’t continue. What’s being done about school?”
Every dwarf at the table shared the same confused expression, “What do you mean, school?” Umoni asked.
“I mean, do we have a building lined up, teachers, supplies so the children will be occupied and learning during working hours?”
“We don’t,” the words were said slowly by Umoni, no less confusion in her voice.
“Well, can we see about arranging that?”
“I’m afraid I don’t understand,” Tor said, and agreement was echoed around the table, “what do you want us to do?”
“I’d like to get the school up and running.”
“Bilbo,” Gloin leaned forward, “parents handle school.”
Now it was Bilbo’s turn to be confused, “What do you mean?”
“I mean, until a dwarf is apprenticed it’s up to the parents to make sure they learn the basics.”
“But what about the dwarves that can’t?” Bilbo asked, “What about dwarf households where both parents work?”
“Then they would teach them at night, or hire a tutor.”
“And if they can’t afford that?”
“I don’t see where you’re going with this,” Nelack sighed.
“In the Shire, every fauntling goes to school, where a teacher works and is paid to make sure everyone is learning. Don’t you do that here as well?” “No,” Dís shook her head, “I didn’t know anyone did that.” “Well, is it possible to look into how we could get something like that up and running?”
“I can speak with parents, see what they’re doing at the moment, if there’s any interest,” Dundna volunteered.
“Thank you,” Bilbo said. “Either way, I’d like to get a school set up so everyone has an opportunity to learn.”
“Is that really a good use of our time?” Dís challenged. “We’re already going to be seeing what parents are doing.”
“It’s good to be prepared,” Bilbo said. He waited for Dís to say anything more, but she just frowned at him, “I guess we’re done then.” The council room cleared quickly until it was only Bilbo, Dwalin, Balin, and Dís. Balin looked between Dís and Bilbo.
“Good luck,” he whispered in Bilbo’s ear and squeezed his shoulder as he walked past. He grabbed Dwalin and dragged his complaining brother out after him. “What is your problem?”
“I have no idea what you mean,” Dís put her hands on her hips. Despite himself, Bilbo was eerily reminded of Thorin, he didn’t take any grief from anyone either.
“Why are you so angry at me?” It was mind boggling really, other than avoiding her, Bilbo hadn’t done anything to Dís. Even that, really, was because of her treatment of him on her arrival. “Everything I say seems to bother you, so what is your problem?”
“My problem is that you haven’t even seen Thorin since the battle! I don’t see how you could do that, just let them lie there alone. Do you even care about them?”
“Of course I care about them, but they’re dead. It won’t do anything to help,” Bilbo turned his back on her and wrapped his arms around himself, imagining for a moment it was someone else’s arms. “I thought working for the living would be what Thorin wanted.”
“They’re not dead.”
“What?” Bilbo squeezed his arms tighter, not risking a glance at her. Not wanting to see what her face was saying. “Oh, right, they’re with Mahal, in his Hall of Waiting.”
“No,” Dís said slowly, “I mean they aren’t dead. Seriously injured, yes, but in time they will heal completely.”
“What?” Bilbo spun to look at her, his mouth dropped open. “What do you mean they’re not dead?”
“Bilbo, hasn’t anyone talked to you?” Dís’s voice softened, and she stepped closer and wrapped her arm around him.
“No,” Bilbo shook his head furiously, a little embarrassed to admit it, “I wouldn’t let them. I mean, I saw the injuries, I knew no one could survive them.”
“Dwarves are a little hardier than you give us credit for. Yes, the injuries were very dire, but Oin acted quickly, and after doing as much repair work as he could he placed them in the stones.”
“In the stones?”
Dis nodded, “Every mountain has a spot where the stone rings truest and an injured dwarf can find peace and healing. It’s a magic dwarves don’t speak of, unless it’s absolutely necessary.”
Bilbo closed his eyes, “So they’re alive?”
“Oh, Bilbo. Yes, they’re alive.”
This time he didn’t bother to hold in his sob, and Dís held him tightly in her arms letting him cry.
– – – –
One Month Later
It was a small twitch, so small Bilbo thought he had imagined it. Then it happened again. The hand he’d been holding, the hand he’d been holding every moment he could over the last month, moved. Bilbo held his breath.
“Mmmrgh,” the groan was probably the sweetest sound Bilbo had ever heard.
The dwarf groaned again, and then, slowly, his eyelids moved. They squinted down tighter, squeezing shut before gradually opening. His blue eyes were hazy, and unfocused, but they were staring back at Bilbo.
“Bilbo?” Thorin coughed dryly, a harsh rasping noise and Bilbo reached for the canteen next to him. He raised it to Thorin’s lips and brushed the dwarf’s hair back as he drank.
“Slowly, Thorin, slowly.”
“What happened?” He raised his hand and pushed back the canteen.
“We won, we won the battle, but you, Fíli, and Kíli, you were all injured.”
“The boys?” The concern was obvious in Thorin’s voice and he tried to sit up. Bilbo stopped him before he could use the little strength he had.
“They’re fine, don’t worry. They woke up a week ago, and they’re with Dís, back in the royal halls.” His words seemed to reassure Thorin, and he settled back more easily.
“How long have I been here?”
“A little over four months,” Bilbo took a deep breath, “I’m afraid if you want to know anymore about your time here, you’ll have to ask Oin. I wasn’t quite…aware of what was going on.”
“What do you mean?”
“I might have thought you were dead?” Bilbo said the words gingerly, wincing a little. Thorin laughed, though, and Bilbo was reassured. While still embarrassed, the past month had been enough time to come to terms with Thorin’s presumed death and subsequent resurrection.
“I may not have let anyone tell me otherwise.”
“Bilbo,” Thorin’s voice was soft and warm, his eyes gentle when Bilbo looked at him. He squeezed Bilbo’s hand. “Are you okay?”
“I-I,” Bilbo took a deep breath, and exhaled into a sob. He shook his head, and buried his face into Thorin’s chest. “I thought you were dead,” he whimpered.
“Oh, Bilbo,” Thorin wrapped his arms around Bilbo as far as he was able, and the warmth spread across Bilbo’s back, soothing him as he cried. “I wish you didn’t have to go through that.”
“I just, didn’t know what to do. I tried so hard, and then we were running out of food, and the caravans were coming.” Through a series of stutter and starts Bilbo was able to explain what had happened over the course of the past few months. Thorin seemed equal parts amused and frustrated over the tale.
“Are you and Dís still struggling?”
“A little,” Bilbo shrugged, “I think it was mostly a question of miscommunication. We seem to be getting along.” He paused, and smiled a little, “It helps that she’s seen the garden.”
Thorin perked up, any sign of tiredness gone, “The garden?”
“Yes, it’s been quite fruitful,” Bilbo teased, “I’ve been able to provide the kitchen with a number of fruits and vegetables from the harvest.”
“Is there any other harvest you’re preparing for?” His lips trembled like Thorin was trying to hold back a smile.
“I might be in oh…three months or so,” Bilbo’s own smile grew as Thorin’s broke across his face.
“So I didn’t miss much?”
“Just Dwalin behaving like a fool,” Bilbo dropped his voice to a whisper, “I saw him talking to the seedling a week ago.”
“I thought that was good for the babe.”
“It doesn’t make Dwalin look any less silly,” Bilbo stated confidently. Thorin nodded and leaned back into the pillows.
“So, three months?”
Bilbo nodded, “Think you could be up and moving by then?”
“I think I can manage that.”
They smiled at each other, and Bilbo didn’t let go of Thorin’s hand until long after his eyes had closed and he’d slipped back into a healing sleep.
– – – –