Note: Well, this took longer than I expected to get up and I'm sorry for making those of you who were interested in an epilogue wait (here's looking at you, johnsarmylady!) But I just created this character and now I have an entire story surrounding him in my head and it was super hard not to just role with it and blah, blah, blah doesn't matter. Anyway, without any further adieu: the epilogue!
Êldae's very first memory was of sitting on great-uncle Thorin's lap as the king sang him a lullaby. It had been translated into Khudzul years and years ago, and the words were like thick, rumbling storm clouds far off in the distance.
He was too young to remember just how young he was, but he remembered how absolutely tranquil he felt. And he remembered the tears, though for the longest time he convinced himself it hadn't really happened.
Thorin didn't cry. Thorin was…Thorin.
It took years to look past his hero worship to realize that Thorin was just a dwarf, like everyone else. By then he knew what the song meant.
Êldae had twelve guardians in addition to his mother and father. He loved all of them very much but sometimes he noticed they looked at him strangely. Of course whenever he noticed, they were quick to hide what was a most peculiar mix of anguish and joy.
He was used to strange looks, of course. Being the prince's son didn't stop people from staring. He had his father's stature and mischievous brown eyes, but his mother's reddish hair and pointed ears.
Of course it wasn't just his hair- which wasn't unusual in color (although it was unruly, to the everlasting despair of his mother). Nor was it exactly his name, which was not properly dwarvish, or his skin, which was much too soft. Mainly- ridiculously- it was the ears. Many of the dwarves of Erebor still did not approve of Kili's relationship with Tauriel.
However, seeing as Êldae's twelve guardians supported anything that made Kili happy (even an elf maiden), Êldae couldn't figure out why they had any reason to look at him differently.
The first time he really started noticing these puzzling occurrences was when he made Thorin a pipe on the Anniversary of the Battle. He was young at the time, but he wasn't completely oblivious- Thorin was never himself on the Anniversary. Often he could be found ruminating under the oak tree at the base of the mountain. Sometimes one or two of Êldae's other guardians would join him, but mostly they left him to his thoughts.
So one year, he took a branch from the tree and whittled it into a pipe, using one of its acorns as the bowl. Then when Thorin had taken up his vigil under the oak, Êldae presented it to him shyly.
Thorin stared at him, bemused and silent, so Êldae said, "I, um, made it from this tree. I wanted it to be really special."
The king blinked. "Has…anyone told you why it's so special?"
"Well…of course. Everyone knows. This tree symbolizes all those who died valiantly in the Battle…"
Êldae trailed off, confused by the small, sad smile on Thorin's face. Of course Thorin would grieve for the dead. Êldae, along with the whole of Middle Earth, knew the role he'd played in the Battle- both for good and for greed. But there was something different about the look on his face, something painfully intimate…
"Thank you, Êldae," Thorin murmured. "Why don't you go and find your father. Archery today, isn't it?"
Êldae dipped his head and mumbled a goodbye, brimming with questions he wasn't quite willing to ask. But he couldn't get Thorin's expression out of his mind, that strange…nostalgia. And when he saw it on his own father's face that very same day, he realized he had something to look out for.
Êldae had always been superb at target practice, something he automatically dismissed as the result of having two archers as parents. But up until that day he had never shot at moving targets, and he couldn't help feeling surprised when he hit every clay disc thrown.
After a beat of silence, someone behind him started clapping and then several others joined in. Some of his guardians had come to watch- Fili, Ori, Bombur and Balin- and all were wearing similar expressions of cautious disbelief.
"Well done, laddie," Balin said, forcing a smile. "No doubt there's archery in your blood."
Fili and Bombur nodded, though they exchanged furtive glances. Ori said nothing, scribbling madly away in his sketchbook.
Am I so different from the other dwarves? Êldae wondered anxiously. For the first time he felt uncomfortable about his heritage.
Over the next few months, he was rigidly aware of how his guardians treated him. Like the deafening silence after he sang at dinner one night, or the way Gloin and Dwalin shook their heads at his hairless face.
"Has anyone checked his feet?" he heard Nori whisper one night, which abruptly brought him up short. He tiptoed closer to the room in which they had all gathered and leaned in to listen.
What did his feet have to do with anything? Perhaps there was a disease that kept a dwarf from growing hair like he should and it… What? Was his feet's fault? He grimaced and shook his head and told himself not to be ridiculous.
"Don't say that, Nori," Dori scolded.
"Why not? We're all thinking the same thing, it's not like it's some big secret."
"Oh, yes? And what are we thinking, laddie?" Gloin growled.
"Don't say it," Ori piped up in a small voice. "I can't stand it."
"Why?" Nori said. "Why is everyone acting as though it's a bad thing?"
"It's an impossible thing, lad," Dwalin said. "Fairy stuff."
Fairy stuff? Êldae thought, at this point completely and utterly baffled.
"We shouldn't be talking about it at all," Ori said. "What if Thorin heard?"
"I guarantee you Thorin noticed the similarities before the rest of us," Nori replied.
"Well, that may be, but all it comes down to is parentage," Dori said. "He has the hairless features of an elf and the height of a dwarf, and that's all it is."
"Don't forget the ears," Nori muttered stubbornly. "Pointed as dagger blades, those."
"And his aim!" Bombur added.
"Both from his mother's side," Oin said irritably.
"What about his singing?" Bofur, who had remained strangely silent till now, interjected.
"He has an Elvish voice. Nothing to get worked up about."
Slowly Êldae backed away, unable to decide if the buzzing in his stomach was curiosity and apprehension. This clearly went beyond heritage, but most of the dwarves seemed aggressive in their denial of this.
Well, I can't go on not knowing any longer, he thought determinedly.
So the next day he approached Nori and Ori in their chamber, relieved to see that Dori was absent.
"Hello, Master Êldae," Ori said cheerfully. Nori grunted noncommittally from where he lay in his bed, smoking his pipe pensively.
"Hello, Ori, Nori," Êldae said, suddenly nervous.
Don't be a coward, he thought. You deserve answers.
"Um, I was wondering…that is… I heard you all last night. Talking about…well, about the things that set me apart from the other dwarves."
Both Nori and Ori had frozen. Ori's eyes were wide with horror. His brother regarded Êldae with sudden interest.
"You heard us?" Ori whispered.
"Yes," Êldae replied. "And I want to know why my differences trouble you."
"Oh, um…perhaps you should ask someone else…"
"Don't be such a prat, Ori," Nori said. "He has a right to know."
"Show him the pictures."
Êldae blinked. "What pictures?" he asked.
Both dwarves ignored him. Ori shot Nori a pained look, but the older dwarf glared back sternly. With a last uneasy glance at Êldae, Ori scuttled to the chest at the foot of his bed and began rooting around inside.
After a moment, Nori said, "Stop dallying, you keep them right on top."
Ori scowled at his brother. "Stop snooping through my things."
"Get a better lock."
Muttering under his breath, Ori pulled out a stack of papers. Then he looked at Êldae, and Êldae was bewildered by the tears in his eyes.
"Master Êldae," he said. "Your father would skin us alive if he knew…"
Êldae nodded silently, breathless with anticipation. Reluctantly, Ori handed him the papers.
He stared at them for a long time, at first convinced they were playing some kind of joke on him. This was him!
But…no. This him was older, with big feet covered in fur. His clothing was strange, as well. Definitely not dwarvish…
"The burglar," Êldae whispered. "The Heart of the Mountain."
He knew who Bilbo Baggins was, of course. Everyone in Erebor knew of the hobbit burglar who had helped them win back the mountain. But that was as far as his knowledge extended. The dwarves of the Company who had journeyed with the halfling remained curiously silent on the matter, save to say that he was a magnificent burglar and the dearest of all friends.
Never had they shared any stories of him. Never had they explained what he was like. Certainly they had never shown him a picture of the burglar.
This was obviously the reason why.
It was eerie how much they looked like each other. It made Êldae's brain feel fluffy.
"I look like…" But he couldn't bring himself to say it. Though he knew next to nothing about the dwarves' hobbit, it was clear by the way they said his name that the Company revered him. Loved him. How could he ever compare himself to the Heart of the Mountain?
Nori nodded solemnly. "Aye," he said. "The spitting image."
"But that's not all," Êldae murmured slowly.
"No…" Nori paused to glance at his brother, who was nearly quivering with anxiety, and added, "But perhaps this is all you need to know."
Êldae opened his mouth to protest, but the older dwarf shot him a warning look. Stifling a sigh, he handed the drawings back to Ori.
"Thank you," he said. "I promise I won't tell."
Technically, he kept his promise. He never mentioned Ori or Nori or the pictures to anyone. And no one had told him he couldn't talk to his mother.
"There's something on your mind, a'mael," she said that night. He had come to her chambers under the pretense that the lone braid he wore- the Durinsbraid, which symbolized his royal bloodline- had come loose and he needed her to tighten it. Of course, this wasn't true, and she knew it immediately even before she laid eyes on the plait in question.
Well, no sense beating around the bush. "Yes," he replied. "I want to ask you something but I need you to promise you won't tell Dad. At least, not yet."
Tauriel smiled conspiratorially. "You didn't hide Nori's pipe weed again, did you?"
Êldae grimaced. "No. And tell Uncle Fili to stop blaming me for his little pranks."
"Of course, how silly of me."
He wondered if his mother had always had that mischievous twinkle in her eyes, or if she'd simply adopted it from his father.
"Look, I…I know how Dad and Uncle Fili and the other dwarves- the Company dwarves- see me," Êldae said. His mother stiffened immediately, though her expression remained perfectly smooth. "I remind them of the hobbit."
Tauriel hesitated but Êldae stared unflinchingly at her, hoping he looked bolder than he felt. Finally she sighed and motioned for him to sit next to her on the bed. He obeyed.
"What would you like to know?" she asked.
"Why? What about me reminds them…"
"Well, for one, henig, you look an awful lot like him," she said, touching his cheek gently.
"So you met him?" Êldae asked.
"Not properly. I fought beside him briefly in the Battle."
"So he did fight?"
"Oh, yes. Bravest halfling of our time, I expect."
Êldae sat quietly for a moment before daring to ask, "But that's not all, is it?" He didn't expect her to answer. In any case, he wasn't sure he needed her to. Suddenly all the strange looks were falling into place, crystalizing before his eyes.
"No. It's not."
"Is that why…" He paused to swallow the strange lump in his throat and continued. "Is that why they're scared to admit it? That I remind them?"
"I imagine so."
Of course. Because dwarves do not believe in reincarnation.
But what if hobbits do?
Suddenly his head was feeling fluffy again. Sensing his distress, Tauriel smiled. "I'll tell you a story about him if you like."
Êldae blinked, momentarily distracted. "I thought you never properly met him."
"But your father did. And I was actually there for this particular memory," she said. "Would you like to hear it?"
He nodded eagerly and listened as his mother began.
"It was only supposed to be a routine sweep along our borders of Mirkwood. The spiders of Dol Guldur had grown fiercer and darker, and we were expecting to find them lurking about. We weren't, however, expecting a band of thirteen dwarves and one incidentally invisible hobbit…"
Êldae hung on every word as his mother described the battle with the spiders, the capturing of the Company, and her very first meeting with his father. He was absolutely riveted as she described Kili's memory of Bilbo appearing at his cell door with a stolen ring of keys, leading them down into the cellars and smuggling them out of the kingdom in a bevy of barrels.
"…and from there they rode the river to Lake-town," Tauriel concluded.
"They never would have reached the mountain without him, would they?" Êldae said.
His mother tried and failed not to laugh. "Perhaps not," she said. "But now I think it's time you were off to bed."
Eldae nodded and got to his feet. "Thank you for the story. Do you think I could maybe hear some more?"
"Maybe your father could share a few."
"At some point you are going to have to tell him that you know," Tauriel said firmly, and Êldae knew she was right.
"Yes, I suppose."
Her expression softened. "Just tell him that I told you. Your father can be mad at me if it pleases him."
Êldae smiled a little. "Thank you."
"Ollo vae, henig."
"Losto vae, Nana. I'll tell him soon."
And he would. But there was someone else he had to tell first.
A few nights later, he found Thorin sitting beneath the tree with the oaken pipe Êldae had fashioned for him. Ever since his conversation with his mother he'd spent the time thinking on all that he had learned, and although he hadn't yet come to a decision about any of it, he had come to an acceptance.
Thorin raised an eyebrow as Êldae took a seat next to him. "And what can I do for you, Master Êldae?" he asked.
Êldae met his gaze squarely and said, "When you look at me, you see Bilbo Baggins."
The king all but shuddered with bewilderment. It was the first time Êldae had ever seen him truly surprised. Taking a deep breath, he continued.
"You see him in my ears and my skin and the way I never miss a target. You hear him in my voice when I sing. And…sometimes you can't bear to look at me. And I want to tell you that it's okay because…well, because no matter whyor howI'm like him, it means something. I…I believe that. And I'm not saying that I'm anything special like him, but maybe it was supposed to happen this way…"
Êldae trailed off, flushed with embarrassment as what had started out as a well-executed confession turned into a babbling monologue. But Thorin was smiling now, and there was joy and grief and amazement in that smile.
"You are just like him," he murmured, so low Êldae could barely make out the words. "Mahal bless me…"
Êldae blushed. "Um…well, my mother told me a story about him. And I was wondering, since I don't really know all that much about him that maybe…"
"What story did she tell you?"
"Well, it was actually my father's memory. She told me about how Mister Baggins rescued you all from the Elven prison."
Thorin laughed, startling his great-nephew. "An impressive tale, if there ever was one," he said.
"Thorin? What's your favorite memory of the hobbit?"
The king blinked, as though waking from a daydream. "Favorite?" he repeated. Êldae nodded. Thorin was silent for a long while, brows furrowed in deep thought. And then he smiled.
"One day, not long before the Battle, I approached our burglar. I was…" He paused to flicker a guilty glance in Êldae's direction. "Well, I was searching for the Arkenstone and I thought I saw him carrying it. He very well might have been, but of course he didn't admit to it, and rightly so. No, it's not the Arkenstone he's carrying, no jewel of any kind, nor even gold. Instead, he smiles at me and holds out an acorn…"
A/N: Alrighty, that's the end (for now). But I just wanted to let ya'll know I've got about a dozen other Hobbit stories I want to crank out, and they're all across the board- from gen, to slash, to whatever else I can think of- so if you don't like one thing, I've probably got something else that you will like. So watch out for those, and in the meantime: stay gold, don't drink the water, and whatever else you might do, never laugh at live dragons :) Cheers! 3