1. Apple Bruised Makes Apple Pie
After the battle – after that falling stone had knocked him out cold on the Ravenhill – he'd wandered about in a daze. Gandalf had found him and taken him to Thorin, and Bilbo had knelt by Thorin's bed and held his hand as the dwarf talked of peace and simple pleasures. And when he'd breathed his last Bilbo had run from the tent, past Gandalf and the dwarf-healers until at last he'd found an abandoned copse of trees.
He'd laid himself down on the pine needles, and he'd wept – how he'd wept! – until his eyes were red and his voice was hoarse, until finally, at last, a restless sleep took him. At some point he had woken up just enough to hear voices above him. Someone had lifted him up but he couldn't bring himself to open his eyes, instead burying his face in the crook of the stranger's arm until at last he was laid on a camp bed. Someone coaxed him to swallow an herbal tea, and he slipped once again into a deep sleep.
For a long time after that he'd wandered through the lonely halls of his memories: a cold, rain-cursed evening with little supper and less breakfast, to say nothing of the trolls; that wretched night pinned down in the trees just this side of the Misty Mountains, with the warg-howls doing battle with the wind to chill him to the bone; riddles in the dark and long nights spent huddled in the shadows of the Elvenking's Hall, making do on pilfered crumbs he hoped would not be missed; and finally, finally, the sight of Thorin standing before his ancestral hall, looking down as Bilbo – as Bilbo –
He'd bolted upright at that memory. Where was Thorin? He must find him, must tell him… but, no; it was too late. All of a sudden he realized his head was spinning and he reached up his hand to his temple, surprised to find it damp. Damp, and… red? His head spun with the realization he was most likely bleeding. But he was also in a bed, which meant he could hardly be all alone. An encouraging thought, that. He called out for help and looked around, squinting to make sense of this room in the light of the dying fire. Then a hand – strong but graceful, which meant elf – eased him back onto the bed, and then a mug was at his lips, and he felt the warming tingling of an herbal draught slipping down his throat, and then the fire seemed to fall away, mercifully taking his memories away with it.
When at last he woke again, the fire had burned out and a late-afternoon sun peeked through the turned back tent flap. Bilbo blinked in the bright light and grimaced, raising his hand to shield his eyes. Ai, but his head ached!
To his right, he saw a swirl of wool cloak and long, silver braids (not coarse enough for dwarf-hair, and – his muddled mind informed him belatedly – entirely too far from the ground in any case) cross the tent and close the flap. Then his companion (graceful features and old eyes; so definitely an elf) turned to face him, smiling gently.
"How fare you, Master Baggins?"
Bilbo traced a thumb lightly across his temple, finding it newly bandaged and much less sore than before. That was something. Steeling his courage, he eased himself onto his elbows and pulled himself into a sitting position. His head hardly spun at all this time, and his dinner (when had he last eaten?) stayed in its proper place, his stomach no longer roiling with every movement. He was better, he decided, and he was about to tell the elf as much. At that moment, though, his mind seemingly decided that was quite enough sitting up. All of a sudden he was falling back into the blankets and pillows and it felt simply wonderful for all his head was swimming, and he could do little for long minutes but blink dumbly at… Galion, his mind finally supplied. Galion? The king's butler he'd overheard as he and the dwarves had escaped out of the Elvenking's home? Yes, that was it.
Galion took his seat again and looked Bilbo over carefully. "You're less flushed than you were last night, in any case," Galion said. "And you haven't sniffled since you woke up. Our healer thought your cold might be making a return, after spending a good part of yesterday afternoon in the winter air with only your smallclothes to guard against the cold."
Bilbo started to turn to face him but bright sparks of pain lit themselves behind his eyes, and he sank back into the pillows. "I wasn't flushed," he said after a moment. "Feverish, I mean." He closed his eyes against the pain, which helped a little. "I'd just heard of Thorin, how he – and I ran out, and I was upset." He felt himself flushing, not from fever or tears this time but from the shame of admitting this to a great elf-warrior. "I was crying, if you want the truth. Over… over that fool." He could say worse, but the words caught in his throat so he fell silent once more.
Those strong elven fingers wrapped around Bilbo's wrist, an anchor and a comfort all at once, and Bilbo felt the sob rising in his chest fall away unvoiced. He risked opening his eyes a little and saw Galion smiling gently down at him. "And your cold?"
"No worse for yesterday," Bilbo replied. "At least, I don't think…" He rolled his head a little to the side, and a pain shot through his neck and head the like he hoped never to feel again. "My head aches fearfully, though."
Galion reached to the table behind him and produced a mug that had been sitting there at least since Bilbo had woken up. Bilbo looked at it suspiciously.
"I've slept enough for now, don't you think?"
"You have," Galion agreed. "But this will ease your aching head." He smiled conspiratorially. "It's naught stronger than tea. One does not spend centuries in Thranduil's court without learning a few tricks of the trade."
Galion eased the cup to Bilbo's lips and the hobbit took a small sip, then spit it out all over the blankets. "That's colder than a snow-troll's teat, that!"
"And you would know?" Galion laughed. Holding out the cup again, Bilbo took a proper sip and swallowed, though he did not try to hide his distaste. "I'll find you a fresh mug later," Galion said after Bilbo had drunk half the mug. "There are enough men lying here in pain, and not enough cots or tea to go around; I wouldn't waste what we have on your delicate sensibilities." Bilbo had the good sense to look half-ashamed at that and finish the remainder without complaint.
Galion replaced the cup on the table. "Better?" Bilbo nodded his yes. "If your head is all that ails you, you'll be hale enough by week's end. You're to stay abed until then, on your back as much as you can until a healer tells you differently. But they'll set you aright soon enough." He pressed his lips together and looked at Bilbo so the hobbit felt compelled to meet his gaze. "On the topic of cosseted Shirelings, you owe my son an apple."
Bilbo blinked once, then again, not from pain but simply because he wasn't sure what to make of such an odd request. "I… what?"
"The night before your escape. I saw you take an apple from the second shelf of the lower pantry. Bronhur had gathered pinecones to decorate the king's table with his companions, that morning, and he'd set the fruit aside for a special treat. And you stole it."
Bilbo wasn't entirely sure whether Galion was truly put out with him. Who could worry over an apple, after all that had happened? But thinking on it, it struck him just how he'd trespassed on the Elvenking's hospitality while hiding in his fortress. That did set his stomach on edge, and he was glad he'd eaten so little these last few days. A crust of bread here, a handful of nuts there, a strip of dried-beef such as a traveler might snack on as he traipsed across the countryside (though, he now realized, the Mirkwood folk would rarely have such leisure), an old wrinkly apple he'd half-forgotten – and that was just a start. For all the dwarves bristled at their captivity, they were given fire and blankets and solid meals to regain their strength while Thranduil refused to share news of their quest with the king; those weeks had turned Bilbo into the thief Thorin had hired, and that Bilbo had always insisted he wasn't.
"I didn't know," Bilbo said at last. "In the Shire, apples are common, and this being autumn …" He closed his eyes and shook his head in regret. "I didn't know."
When Bilbo again chanced to look at Galion, he saw the fierce expression had melted away. If anything, the elf looked gently amused. "You saw much of our realm," the elf said, "and more likely than not, a greater share of my king's strongholds than he would fully like to hear about. Tell me, where did you find room for an apple-grove."
Bilbo felt his cheeks turning up into a smile mirroring Galion's. "And pastures? Only I took a jar of dried beef strips from that same shelf …"
At that Galion gave a great laugh, letting his head fall back at the absurdity of it. "I wouldn't admit to that within earshot of other elves of our realm, if I valued my life." Sitting aright again, he continued, "The king would have you in chains for less. We procure that beef from Laketown for the use of our troops on patrol, and that jar was the last we had in store. Legolas is still smarting over hunting for your company with his pockets full of half-crushed acorns."
"Why should the king care about one scout?" Bilbo asked.
Galion tried to sober himself, though it was a first-class struggle by all appearances. "Because that elf I familiarly termed 'Legolas' is 'Lord Legolas Greenleaf, Prince of the Realm and favored son of Thranduil the Great', the Elvenking whose hospitality you have so cleverly abused of late. And even with all that has happened, when we catch a moment of peace for our private burdens, Legolas grumbles about little else."
Bilbo grimaced at that but there was something about the way Galion's lips twitched with a barely-suppressed smile. He could not quite help it; his smile widened into a grin and before he could bury it down, he found himself chuckling. "Right, then. I'll not mention the beef. But about the apple…"
Galion regained a bit of his composure at that. "I was half-joking earlier. You've proved yourself more than once since you first came down from the mountain, and after these last few days I've remembered a little of what it's like to go without. And Bronhur's a generous lad. He'll not even remember the apple, when he hears of what happened in Laketown."
But Bilbo would have none of that. He remembered, clear as a bell for all his head still ached, the words he had spoken to the Elvenking when he presented their company with the Arkenstone: that he might be a burglar, but that he was an honest one. And so he looked at Galion as plainly as he was able through the tea and the pain so there could be little doubting his words. "I am he that buries his friends and drowns them and draws them alive again from the water." He winced, not at the pain but at the knowledge of Kili and Fili, and even Thorin, whom he hoped that the ages would be kinder to him than his last days warranted. But mostly at Fili, the youngling who'd shared a pipe with him. Would that he could pull him out once more! But that was beyond his power.
"Under hills and over the hills my paths led," he said. "So I once told a dragon." His head swam a bit at all these words, and he bit at his lip, using the pain to spur himself on as the old words tumbled out once more. "I am Ringwinner and Luckwearer, and even" – here he chanced a smile – "Barrel-rider. But for all that, I come from Under the Hill." Galion looked at him for a moment, his confusion writ clear across his face, so Bilbo spoke more plainly. "I am a Baggins of Bag End, and we pay our debts."
Galion nodded at that, for Bilbo guessed duty held even more sway for a warrior than one named a burglar, and memory's due for an elf than a hobbit. "Are my breeches about?" he asked. Galion looked around and saw them, still soiled, hung on a peg wedged into the tent's pole.
Fetching them, he handed them to Bilbo who dug into the pocket until he pulled out a small metal circle. "A Shire-penny." He ran his thumb against the acorn, of all things, pressed into one side.
"A piece of home," Galion said, his voice nearly a whisper.
Bilbo looked over and saw the elf's face had grown serious: not angry, as he had thought wrongly before, but also not giddy with the quick humor that can only break through after watching whole cities burned to the ground, and like as not too many of his friends breathe their last. He seemed to understand, almost without needing to be told, what Bilbo was offering him. Had he once been stranded far from home, then? He seemed to understand, and for the moment, that was enough.
"This is more than a coin to you," Galion said after a moment. "It is a charm, is it not? A ward against bad luck, and a tie to home."
"It once was," Bilbo answered. "But I'm homeward bound soon enough. And Gandalf can see me safely home. I have other keepsakes there, dearer to me."
Galion nodded. "You have more courage about you than I would have thought, Master Hobbit; but I shan't refuse a present so freely offered, nor one that's not gifted to me."
Bilbo tried to answer great words like that in kind, but much to his horror, he found himself yawning. Nearly eighteen hours abed – broken up by nightmares, yes, but eighteen hours yet – and he still could hardly keep himself awake. Galion caught the yawn as well. "I've kept you awake long enough," he said. "Will you sleep?"
"No." He wasn't quite ready to face his dream-world again. Shaking his head, though, turned out to be a mistake. The old pain seemed to be creeping back around him, drawing a wince out of him before he could hide it. "No; I'd stay awake a while yet, if I can," he said. "But I'd like more of that tea, if there's any to spare."
"As you wish," Galion said, and he went out to find Bilbo a fresh mug. Once Bilbo was sure he was out of earshot, he hummed an old song to himself, one he'd learned at his mother's knee and often found himself whistling when he walked down to Frogmorton:
Walking by your apple tree,
all your fruit a'fell on me.
Apple bruised makes apple pie –
Would I ever tell a lie?
A penny may be a good price for a bushel of Shire-apples, he knew, but Bilbo decided it was quite a bargain for a clear conscience. Before long he'd be home in his nice hole by the fire, with the kettle just beginning to sing. A fine price indeed; hardly any price at all.
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.