1. Pipes, tunes, and barrels...
"The King beneath the mountains,
The King of carven stone,
The lord of silver fountains
Shall come into his own!
His crown shall be upholden,
His harp shall be restrung,
His halls shall echo golden
To songs of yore re-sung.
The woods shall wave on mountains
And grass beneath the sun;
His wealth shall flow in fountains
And the rivers golden run.
The streams shall run in gladness,
The lakes shall shine and burn,
And sorrow fail and sadness
At the Mountain-king's return!"
'And the king shall return! Hoorray!'
'Three cheers for the king! And may gold flow like beer!'
-"The townsfolk laughed like they had not in a long time –well, since the last party, to be exact; but the source of their laughter and merryment sprang from elsewhere. 'Hope' I thought, 'they hope too much! And that mountain looks so foreign! I wonder whether these dwarves know exactly where they're getting their beards into.' To tell you the truth, I had my doubts!"
-"Come on now, Bilbo! –Bombur's gruffing voice answered amid a mouthful of apple tart, -"you tell the tale as though we hadn't known what to do at the time!"
-"Indeed, my good Bombur," –replied Bilbo with a snap of the hand. His eyes glinted in the firelight as he remembered a party much like tonight's, but which had been held a long time ago. -"I hardly think any of us knew exactly what we were in for... besides killing the dragon, of course. But, it all turned out for the best, I suppose."
-"And so it did," –said Gloin, lifting a very large beer mug, -"and much of it we own to you, master Baggins, if truth be told," –and then he cast a sidelong glance at Bombur, who did not seem much convinced of it. –"A big cheer for us all! And a special one for our friend Bilbo, who has come after so long a time to pay a visit to his old friends under the mountain!"
All dwarves and hobbit shouted a loud 'Hoorraayy! Cheers!' and drank their healths as the merry music of the townsfolk reached them from behind. They were sitting on the ground, forming a wide circle around a bright, sizzling, red fire. Ever since the dragon had been vanquished, slain, to be precise, the people of Dale and Erebor had enjoyed a long and pleasant period of peace. Bilbo was quite glad to look at his surroundings once again, finding that the land had flourished into a lovely spring. Of the desolation and ruin of olden days, only memory could find a trace.
-"It has been quite some time, my dear Bilbo, since your last coming."
-"Yes, it has, Bifur," –Bilbo answered, his lively eyes changing to an absent gaze. –"Much has changed around here, as I see. The kingdom has bloomed again!"
-"We may say so, yes." –replied Dori, who had been all too quiet, perhaps because he had been mostly eating. –"It took much work at first, as you may imagine. That dragon's sojourn in these parts nearly killed everything living, or walking on two or four legs, as you may well recall from your last visit. It was hard work, I tell you" –he said, waving a hand in front of him, and holding a loaf of bread in the other, -"but it was well worth it, for now the place is prettier than ever."
And, indeed, it was. Last time Bilbo had been at Erebor, he had left a city nearly in ruins. He had often wondered whether they would be able to rebuild the place and turn the Kingdom into what it once was. He had left at the best moment, he thought, for the re-ordering of this realm, the cleaning-up, as he called it, would not have been a very pleasant thing. Little did he dream at the time of his precious hobbit-hole being squandered by those Sackville-Bagginses, and so he imagined he would come back to a cozy little place where he could recover from the long labours. But, even though he found a lot of re-ordering to do himself, he did not mind much and after a while he was quite happy; however, always the memory of his adventurous days lingered in his mind like a hobbit child would linger around a piece of cake if it were left unwatched.
But now, after many years of his leaving, he returned to find a thriving community.It was not only a beautiful place, with its water fountains, and carved arches, and colorful streets; it was also a very ordered place, where every one fulfilled his duty in a quiet, meaningful sort of way. He had observed blacksmiths as they worked in their forges, making helmets, shields, experimenting with mail crafting, swords, and the dwarf's favorite weapon: axes, of various kinds, made with alloys of different metals. There were also many dwarves at the quarries, mining for gems and precious stones. All their tilling and ground business they conducted with the men of Dale and Esgaroth; no self-respecting dwarf would willingly consent to work up in the ground while they could be under it! And so, they managed an arrangement where they traded their weapons and armament for food of various kinds, and other products such as fabrics –which they got mostly from the elves of the Woodland Realm in exchange for wine and jewels.
Mister Baggins was delighted to be back; and, as was his custom, he had appeared at the most fortunate moment. On the morrow, the dwarves, men, and elves of the whereabouts were to have a trading negotiation, and so our friend would be able to see all his friends of the old days, and meet many new ones. His thoughts and plans for the next day were interrupted by Nori's questions about the Shire.
-"How is your land faring these days, master Baggins? We have not managed to get back to the Ered Luin in a while. There has been much to do around here, as you see, but I am eager for fresh news of the Shire and Eriador, if you can tell them."
-"Well, it has all been much the same as it always is," –replied Bilbo, suddenly feeling a bit embarrassed of the unadventurous life style of his people, -"I am afraid hobbits are a quiet folk. I believe the most talked about event of the recent years has been my eleventy first birthday party!" –Bilbo could not help but chuckle as the memories of the long expected party entered his mind like a whirlwind.
-"Aye! I hear it was quite the event!" –laughed Dwalin, who had managed to gather news from the dwarves that had traveled to the Shire, bearing the toys that Bilbo had ordered to give as presents for his party. –"Nain tells me the fireworks went up and up exploding in a rain of many colors, and there was food enough to make up for a meal to all the inhabitans of Dale and the neighbouring towns. But as for your little joke, master Baggins... do you think that was wise?"
Bilbo thought at once of Gandalf's words as they discussed his 'clever' plan, and how he had objected to his using the ring to vanish in front of everyone. He took a deep blow of his pipe, and mumbled something that the dwarves could not hear.
-"Bilbo?" –asked Gloin, who was now very troubled by the hobbit's absent gaze, -"what have you to say about your prank? Did you cause a tremendous uproar? And, most important, where is now that ring of yours, the object in question? Have you brought it with you?"
From Gloin's words, Bilbo gathered that the nature of his farewell joke was well known by his friends, and so he saw no use in concealing the means of his disappearance. 'They know too much already' he thought, and so, he related to them the ins and outs, and the little details of his party and the 'prank,' as Gloin had called it.
-"I thought it was very amusing," –he said, blowing a very round smoke ring, which soon disappeared, carried by the evening breeze, -"but, apparently, it was not so to Gandalf. I even think he was upset at first, but it all cool off before I departed. He took, however, a keen interest in the ring. I dare say he was troubled, though I could not imagine why. It was all very strange."
-"Troubled, you mean? Gandalf was troubled?" –asked Bombur, who had been dozing as they spoke, but was now fully awake at the mention of Gandalf being troubled, and who seemed to have been listening more than his looks credited, -"And where is this ring now, that we may have a look at it? What is the cause of so much uproar?"
-"The ring," -Bilbo sighed, -"I gave it away."
-"What?" –they all cried, rather baffled. They had noticed how fond Bilbo was of the little thing, and how he carried it in his pocket wherever he went. It was indeed a strange piece of news to hear that Bilbo had parted with it.
-"You gave it away, you say. To whom?"
-"I passed it to my nephew, Frodo, along with Bag-End and all the other things," –his look was hard to construe. It seemed as though mister Baggins was suddenly saddened, perhaps by the recollections of his beloved Shire, or perhaps by the mention of his nephew. None of them suspected that the ring could have a small share in the hobbit's homesickness. –"I do miss them! But all is well as ends well, as we say in the Shire; and Gandalf suggested it too. The ring went to Frodo 'for the best' he said."
-"Well, he is a good lad, I hear," –said Dwalin, trying to cheer up Bilbo's spirits, -"I am sure he will manage all-right. You did well, my friend."
-"And it was harder than I expected," –replied Bilbo, talking more to himself than to the dwarves, -"There was a moment when I thought I would not be able to part with it. But at last it was done." –He cleared his throat and shook his head, as if waking from a dream, -"I gave it away, and now I feel surprisingly light! I guess Gandalf was right, after all."
They all decided it was time for a re-fill. Bofur and Dori brought new mugs for everyone, filled with the sweetest wine Bilbo had tasted in a long while. The stars were shining brighter than ever, every once in a while concealed by light wisps of clouds, as they were swayed by the wind. To their ears came the echo of songs and merrymaking; the people had now started a new dance. As the notes of the song reached them, one by one the dwarves lowered their heads, as if in deep recollection.
-"What is it?" –asked Bilbo in earnest. It seemed to him as though a heavy blow had fallen over the spirits of the dwarves. –"What has happened, if I may ask? 'Tis not natural to turn to grief after such a fine evening!"
-"It was Balin's favorite," –said Dwalin, tilting his head and lifting his ears, as a signal to Bilbo that he should listen to the tune, -"Balin laughed at this song as we used to laugh at you when you said 'Thag you very buch.' We miss good Balin. It has been long since we heard of him last."
At these words, Bilbo lowered his head, too. The memories of his friend, Balin, were always nice and kind. He had been quite sad when he heard the dwarf had departed to Moria. Of course, Balin always talked about the home of his fathers, and how he would re-build the halls of Khazad-Dum and gaze at the Mirrormere; but, when it came to it, it was hard to say good-bye.
-"I am sure he will visit ere long," –Bilbo said, a fruitless attempt at comforting words.
-"Nay, my friend," –replied Gloin, who had now lighted his pipe, and was blowing smoke rings all around the place, -"the world is not as quiet as it used to be back then. News reach us from the south and west; they speak of a growing shadow that threatens our world. I do not think Balin would be able to come, not even if he wanted to."
-"A shadow, you mean?" –the hobbit asked in surprise and fear, -"But, are you certain of this, Gloin? And, what kind of threat do you speak of? I've not heard of any such thing."
-"It does not amaze me that you have not; as you said, shire folk are a quiet folk. But we have been troubled by this shadow, even though we are far removed from it. From the south it comes, but it is lengthening. Orcs have been raiding the fields. Some of our kin have seen them lurking by the mountains. And it seems as though they have allied themselves with some of the eastern folk," –he stopped at the grunting noises of his fellows, -"Thranduil's elves have been molested by it too. You would not believe how those foul creatures of Mirkwood are multiplying nowadays! 'Tis unnatural, I tell you. And it does not bode any good."
Bilbo fell silent, and he remembered some words that Gildor had said to him as he left the Shire a few months ago. He had spoken of a fear and a threat, and had counseled him to beware on his journey. But, Bilbo had not payed much attention, disregarding the advice as elven worries, which, in his experience, usually meant philosophy and ancient lore. He realized now the kind of sheltered life that he had led in the Shire, without true knowledge of the evils that assailed Middle Earth. At that moment, he was unsure whether to regret that, or be thankful for it. In a world of shadows and peril, at least the Shire had remained untainted.
-"Cheer up now, dear Bilbo," –cried Dori in a rather mirthful manner, perhaps he had taken too much wine, thought Bilbo. -"This is not the time for dwelling too much on shadows and danger. Let us be glad that all has been well so far, with you and with us. As many attacks as we have received, we have been able to manage, and the orcs have fled in defeat. May Aule grant it always to be so!" –and he lifted his mug in a toast.
-"I suppose our lives have turned out for the best," –said Bilbo, looking round at all his friends-"I am quite content with mine. I have done and seen more than most hobbits would have in all their lifetimes put together. But I do not say so to brag about it; there was a time when I would've been scared by the mere thought of it! But not now. As I once sang, 'The Road goes ever on' and if you catch my meaning, I say the road will always bring us to the places where we are most needed. All we have to do is our own duty, and do it well."
Just at that moment, two shadows appeared, walking towards them. Bilbo's first instinct was to rise and grasp for his sword; the memory of those old days of caution had not left him altogether. But, seeing that the dwarves did not stir, he soon relaxed his manner and blew another smoke ring.
As the shadows came closer, what at first had appeared as two huge wings, now looked as two men walking together. They were both tall and graceful, although their step looked firm. One of them seemed to be surrounded by a white glimmer.
-"What goes, friends?" –asked Dwalin, regarding the new-comers with interest.
-"But if they are none others than king Thranduil and king Brand!" –cried Gloin.
-"Would you not care to join us? We have here, as you see, mister Baggins, who has come from the Shire after so long a time. And," –he said, now looking at Bilbo, -"the Woodland King has traveled for the trade gathering, as you know. Please, come and sit."
-"Thank you," –said Brand, -"We have brought a present with us to grace your merry meeting," –And he signaled to another man who had been waiting in the shadows, concealed by the branches of a few trees. This man, in turn, signaled to a group of other men, who soon followed in single file, coming toward the dwarves' fireplace.
At the sight of the men, all seven dwarves and hobbit sprang up to their feet in great haste and fright. Their troubled glances were terrible to behold. There were yells and menaces, and much fist waving, all of which appeared very odd to Brand; he had begun to think he had made a mistake in bringing such a present to the dwarves, or one that had angered them to no measure.
Suddenly, Thranduil burst into laughter, and in his eyes gleamed the recollection of events from a now distant past, but which seemed to amuse him immensely. His laughter was loud and clear, and as merry as a child's. And indeed, it was, for the dwarves were scared to death, and their faces were amusing to behold. At the entrance of the men they had all sprung up like wounded deer.
-"No more will I settle for such an arrangement! No more!" –Bombur was the first to yell, and then was followed by the others, –"The tightness of the place was unbearable! I still suffer crams from it!" – A line of thirteen tall men had come in, all in shining uniforms, bearing each a big bulk in their hands. As they moved closer, the nature of the bulk was revealed, and the dwarves –and hobbit- beheld with horror a spectacle they never thought they would see again:The men had been carrying thirteen wooden, wine barrels...
*The poem at the beginning was taken from The Hobbit, chapter 10, "A Warm Welcome."
This is a work of fan fiction, written because the author has an abiding love for the works of J R R Tolkien. The characters, settings, places, and languages used in this work are the property of the Tolkien Estate, Tolkien Enterprises, and possibly New Line Cinema, except for certain original characters who belong to the author of the said work. The author will not receive any money or other remuneration for presenting the work on this archive site. The work is the intellectual property of the author, is available solely for the enjoyment of Henneth Annûn Story Archive readers, and may not be copied or redistributed by any means without the explicit written consent of the author.