A/N: I've been holding this back for a couple of years now and I can't stand it anymore, it deserves to see the light of day! I have far too many projects I'm working on, so I don't know how often it will be updated, but I'm going to do my best to get it out there! Enjoy!
Tags: Slow Burn, Family Dynamics, Mentions of the Fell Winter, Mentions of Frerin, Dwarf Culture & Customs, Hobbit Culture & Customs, Background Relationships
Briallen Baggins was about to throw a trowel. Most likely in the direction of her brother's curly head.
She knew, of course, that wasn't really fair. It wasn't Bilbo's fault that she had no skill at gardening. Nor was it his fault that, despite this knowledge, she insisted on digging in the garden anyway, promptly ruining the flower beds which were now wilting quite spectacularly almost before her very eyes. And yet, as she tried with all her might to salvage this unmitigated disaster, Brie found she could not quite help but resent the fact that her beloved twin brother was just sitting there, blowing smoke rings on the front bench and looking perfectly content in the cheerful mid-morning sun.
Yes. A well-placed trowel to the back of the head would make her feel much better, she was sure of it.
She had just lifted a hand to plot a (hypothetical, of course) trajectory for her current choice of gardening implement, when she noticed an unusually tall, gray-robed figure in a ridiculous pointed hat wandering up the path. Brie lowered her trowel and brushed aside a dark golden curl that had come loose from the long braid down her back, watching with open curiosity as the stranger continued steadily up the hill and stopped just outside their gate, leaning on a gnarled wooden staff before Bilbo's lounging figure, clearly waiting to be acknowledged. But all Bilbo did was puff lazily on his pipe, carefully sending one perfect smoke ring wafting into the air without so much as a word. Obviously he had not noticed the stranger, which meant of course that Brie was going to have to be the sociable one. How very unfortunate, both for herself and for their unexpected guest.
She sighed and stood, shaking out her dingy yellow work dress and bracing herself for the tedious responsibility of "small talk". But before she could utter a word of greeting, the stranger waved his hand carelessly in front of her brother's smoke ring, which then swirled and reformed itself into an exquisite, fluttering moth that turned gracefully in midair...
...and smacked Bilbo squarely in the face.
A burst of laughter escaped Brie before she could throw a hand over her mouth to stifle it, drawing the attention of the old man just long enough for a mischievous smirk to turn up the corners of his lips. Then his eyes were back on her brother, watching with an amused tilt of his head as Bilbo coughed and sputtered and finally regained both his breath and his manners.
"Good morning," Bilbo said, sitting up properly now and eying the stranger dubiously.
Their gray visitor's bushy eyebrows knitted together in a perplexed frown.
"What do you mean?" he said, his voice at the same time gruff and melodic, "Do you mean to wish me a good morning, or do you mean that it is a good morning whether I want it or not? Or perhaps you mean to say that you feel good on this particular morning. Or are you simply stating that this is a morning to be good on?"
"I... All... all of them at once... I suppose." Bilbo stuttered, looking slightly bewildered.
The old man hmphed, and then flicked his eyes back to Brie, as if waiting to see if she could provide him with a better answer. She opened her mouth and then promptly closed it again, completely at a loss. Words were her brother's area, not hers. If Bilbo could not make sense of the stranger's nonsense, she would certainly have no better luck. The visitor hmphed again and returned his attention to Bilbo, who was eying the stranger with considerable suspicion.
"Can I help you?" Bilbo asked.
"That remains to be seen," he muttered almost to himself, gripping his staff and leaning down as if to whisper conspiratorially, though he was loud enough that Brie could hear him quite clearly.
"I am looking for someone to share in an adventure."
An adventure, he'd said...
Brie could feel the awful word resonating even now, hours later in the kitchen as she furiously attacked the ingredients in her mixing bowl, hardly noticing the globs of herb muffin dough that managed to flee to the counter top and escape her wrath. Bilbo had gone out to the market for fresh fish, hoping that the walk would settle his understandably rattled nerves.
An adventure! What a ridiculous... Of all the... What made that...? Taking her brother on an adventure?! Who did this Gandalf character think he was anyway? Bilbo wouldn't last a single day on his own in the great wide world. It was preposterous!
"To think that I should have lived to be good morning'd by Belladonna Took's son..."
Mother... What would Mother think? What would Mother say?
Brie flung spoonfuls of dough into the muffin tin and shoved it into the oven, perhaps a bit more forcefully than was strictly necessary. Mother wasn't here. And thanks to her, neither was Father for that matter. It was just Brie and Bilbo. And she would be... well, she would be damned if she was letting some old wizard swan off with her brother. No sir. Not if she had a word to say on the matter.
A few hours later, sitting down to a nice dinner of roast fish and (slightly blackened) herb muffins, Bilbo appeared to have put the wizard's visit quite out of his mind. All that easy-going Baggins temperament, such encounters rolled off him like water off a duck's back. Brie was both grateful and jealous. She still had not been able to quite let the matter rest.
An adventure... Of all the ridiculous notions...
Brie was in the process of passing Bilbo the basket of muffins, when the doorbell rang. They both paused and stared at each other over the table.
"I didn't invite anyone," Bilbo said, "Did you?"
"Don't be ridiculous, who would I invite over at this time of the evening?" Brie said, "Or for that matter, ever?"
It was a good point and Bilbo knew it. He sighed and rose, tossing his napkin haphazardly on the table.
"Best go see who it is then," he said, rather resignedly.
"If it is that deplorable Lobelia Sackville-Baggins, I swear by the Green Mother and all her relations, I'm going to..."
"Language, Brie!" Bilbo admonished, "It can't be as bad as all that."
But it was.
No, in fact, it was worse.
Dwarves. An... an absolute gaggle of dwarves!
Brie might have been alright if it had just been the one (even with the axes and the terrible table manners). Or even perhaps just the two (at least the elder one had a kind smile and an air of civility).
But it had only gotten worse from there, and soon Brie and Bilbo found themselves run nearly ragged trying to maintain some semblance of order as more and more dwarves (and one distinctly unapologetic wizard) turned up at the door and began a thorough raiding of the pantry.
"Put that back!"
"Not the jam, please!"
Brie squeaked and just managed to skip out of the way as a very fat dwarf lumbered by with three wheels of cheese stacked in his arms.
"A... tad excessive, isn't it?" Bilbo said, wringing his hands helplessly, "Have you got a cheese knife?"
"Cheese knife?" said a hatted dwarf, appearing with a grin at Bilbo's elbow, "He eats it by the block."
Brie thought that was just... Wait, did that dwarf just wink at her brother?!
But that was when Grandpa Mungo's chairs started to appear, and the younglings burst in carrying a very large barrel of ale between them, and soon it was all Brie could do to keep her feet while Gandalf began counting heads and mumbling names under his breath.
"Fili, Kili... Oin and Gloin... Dwalin, Balin... BifurBofurBombur... Dori, Nori, Ori..."
Brie made a desperate attempt to put faces to the names and in the process nearly ran into one of the creatures, this one with wild black hair and... and an axe in his head. She yelped and jumped back, colliding with another dwarf leaning in the archway, splashing his mug of ale straight down the front of his jacket.
"Oh gracious, I'm terribly sorry!" she said.
The burly, tattooed creature (the first dwarf, Dwalin maybe?) grunted and brushed at the jacket carelessly.
"No harm done, lass, there's more where that came from."
It took a moment for Brie to regain enough wits to realize he was talking about the ale from her cellar, but before she could muster up her indignation, she heard Gandalf muttering, almost to himself.
"Yes, you're quite right, Bifur. We appear to be one dwarf short."
"He is late is all," Dwalin said to the wizard, "He traveled North to a meeting of our kin. He will come."
"Another one?!" Brie cried, putting her hands on her hips, "Wherever shall we put him?"
But no one seemed to be paying her any mind. It felt like hours since anyone had paid her any mind in fact, and Brie was starting to feel a tad irritated about it. She wouldn't consider herself a needy hobbit, not one to require too much attention, but blast it all, she was being run into the ground in her own house! It was enough to make one stomp one's foot.
"Mr. Gandalf? A little glass of red wine, as requested."
Brie turned and nearly fell over. The dwarf in question (Mori, was it? Or maybe Dori, yes, that sounded right...) held two glasses of what looked to be one of her best red wines. Gandalf took one of the glasses with a gracious smile and Brie could feel a hot fury rising up and filling her chest. She bunched her fists at her sides and thought she just might be on the verge of a breakdown, when the dwarf turned and offered her the other glass.
"And one for the gracious hostess, of course," he said, in the most prim and proper manner anyone could wish for, before he leaned in and whispered conspiratorially, "You looked as if you might need it, dear."
Brie opened her mouth, and then shut it again, at a complete loss for words. Granted, it was her own wine and she really shouldn't feel in the least bit grateful for it, but all the same she took the glass and smiled, feeling her simmering indignation die down just a touch.
"Thank you very much," she managed to say with very little hint of the flustered emotions warring inside her at the moment.
Gandalf smiled widely and raised his own glass to her, which looked quite tiny in his over-sized hand.
"Cheers then!" he said.
Brie glared at the wizard before she tipped back her glass and had the whole thing in one gulp.
"Confound and confusticate these dwarves!" Bilbo muttered, folding and unfolding a crocheted doily in his fidgeting fingers.
Brie was nursing her second glass of wine and feeling considerably better about the entire situation. She had given up on any possibility of finding out what exactly was supposed to be going on, and once she'd decided that, she found that the dwarves were not half so bad as she'd supposed at first. They were loud and quite obnoxious, but they were not particularly rude (at least not in any way that might be construed as intentional). Besides, it had been a long time since there had been a proper party at Bag End and, as impromptu as this was, Brie could not help but enjoy it a bit.
"Oh they're quite a merry gathering!" Gandalf insisted as two of the creatures ran by, tugging a chain of sausages between them, "Once you get used to them."
"I like them," Brie declared, taking another sip of her wine.
"You would," Bilbo muttered, but Brie ignored him.
"How long will they be staying?" she asked the wizard politely.
"Oh not long I should imagine, just for the night," Gandalf said.
"The night?!" Bilbo squeaked, "Whatever are we to do with them?"
"Oh I'm sure we can figure out something..." Brie mused, swirling her wine in her glass thoughtfully as she tried to remember the last time she'd aired out the guest bedrooms and how many spare pillows they actually had...
"Figure out... Have you gone mad?!" Bilbo hissed, grabbing Brie's elbow and tugging her into the hallway, sloshing out quite a bit of her wine in the process. She was going to need another glass sooner than she'd thought. Bilbo was still sputtering indignantly.
"...the state of the kitchen! There's mud trod into the carpet, they've pillaged the pantry! Not to mention what they've done in the bathroom; they've all but destroyed the plumbing! Brie, are you even listening to me? What are they doing in our house?!"
Brie and Bilbo both turned. A smaller dwarf, one of the younger ones it looked like, was standing in the hallway, a sweet, innocent expression on his face. Brie wondered how in the world Bilbo could possibly stay angry after looking at that face, but stay angry he did.
"Excuse me," the dwarf said again, "I'm sorry to interrupt, but what should I do with my plate?"
Before either Baggins could reply, another of the younger dwarves (Fili? Or Kili? She'd gotten those two quite mixed up.) seemed to appear out of nowhere.
"Here you go, Ori, give it to me."
The blonde dwarf took Ori's plate and weighed it thoughtfully in his hand. Then he caught Brie's eye and, with a wink and a grin, sent the plate zipping through the air and into the waiting hands of the other young dwarf who happened to be standing at the end of the hall. He, in turn sent it flying into the kitchen, where (from the distinct lack of a shattering sound) Brie assumed it had been caught by someone else. Or at least, she hoped it had. Bilbo cried out in alarm.
"Excuse me, that's my mother's West Farthing crockery, it's over a hundred years old!"
But it was too late. Dishes were already flying about over their heads as the other dwarves quickly caught on to the game, the distinct hint of a rhythm beginning to develop from the pounding of boots on the floor and fists on the table, accompanied by the unmistakable sound of utensils clanging together.
"Could you not do that?" Bilbo fussed, "You'll blunt them!"
"Oooh, d'ya hear that, lads?" said the hatted dwarf with a cheeky grin, "He says we'll blunt the knives!"
And therein followed the most rambunctious, wild, ridiculous song Briallen had ever heard outside of Bree. She didn't think even the drunks at the Green Dragon could have come up with something quite so mad.
"Blunt the knives, bend the forks
Smash the bottles and burn the corks
Chip the glasses and crack the plates...
That's what Bilbo Baggins hates!"
"Cut the cloth and tread on the fat
Leave the bones on the bedroom mat
Pour the milk on the pantry floor...
Splash the wine on every door!"
"Dump the crocks in a boiling bowl!
Pound them up with a thumping pole
When you've finished, if any are whole...
Send them down the hall to roll!"
Of course the dwarves did none of these dreadful things, or the song would not have been quite as much fun. Brie quickly lost Bilbo in the organized chaos that followed, ducking and spinning and generally just trying to stay out of the way. At one point she found herself caught up in the large hands of a dwarf with star-shaped hair and (before she could squeal any kind of a protest) swung gracefully out of the path of a flying saucer. Before she could even thank him, someone else grabbed her up and swung her again, and suddenly she was being passed from hand to hand, quite like one of the crockery, until she somehow found herself back in the kitchen and spun up onto the table, squarely among the neat stacks of clean, dry dishes.
"THAT'S WHAT BILBO BAGGINS HATES!" the dwarves roared, dissolving into a raucous chorus of laughter just as Bilbo burst into the kitchen.
It was only then that Brie realized she was grinning, because when Bilbo caught her eye, he crossed his arms and glared pointedly at her, as if she had arranged the entire display herself. Which was completely ridiculous and Brie had just crossed her own arms and opened her mouth to spout something scathing when...
Three loud knocks on the door. The house fell silent.
"He is here." Gandalf said.
Oh... Brie thought, Oh my...
The dwarf currently standing in the front hall of Bag End was not quite like the others. He was about the right height to be sure, and had the same stocky build of course, but there was something... more about him, something in the way he held himself, that quite certainly set him apart. Brie felt a bit giddy watching him from the parlor doorway, and she wasn't entirely sure it was from the wine.
Thorin Oakenshield. Even his name sounded like more than just a name.
"Tell me, Mr. Baggins, have you done much fighting?"
Brie blinked. Bilbo stuttered.
The dwarf circled her brother, bright blue eyes assessing and calculating. With each measured step Brie could feel her hackles rising. Just what in all the...?
"Axe or sword? What's your weapon of choice?"
"Well, I do have some skill at conkers, if you must know," Bilbo answered looking as flummoxed as Brie felt, "But I fail to see how that's relevant."
Thorin Oakenshield paused, staring down his nose at Bilbo. Brie gritted her teeth, but remained silent.
"Thought as much," he smirked, "He looks more like a grocer than a burglar."
The other dwarves all laughed like this was incredibly funny, and oh, just oh! It was too much, too much for Brie's Took pride to bear. She put her hands on her hips and planted herself in the archway just as the great dwarf turned, almost running her over before he noticed her. To her credit, Brie didn't even flinch.
"And just what, pray tell, is wrong with grocers?" she snapped, poking a finger to his broad chest, "You lot seem to like food well enough. Who do you think provides it? Or are you just daft enough to believe it falls from the sky?"
A heavy silence fell over the house. Thorin Oakenshield glowered down at her with those piercing blue eyes and it took all of Brie's Tookish fury (and only a little help from the wine) to hold herself up under that withering gaze. But hold up she did, matching the brute's heated glare. She would not stand by and let him come into her house, eat her food, and insult her family without a little bit of a push back. She simply wasn't Baggins enough to allow it.
"And who," he said, his voice little more than a low growl, "is this?"
"Ah, forgive me, where are my manners?" Gandalf said cheerfully, as if there was not a glaring contest commencing right under his very nose, "This is Briallen Baggins."
There was another long pause while the dwarf stared at her, his eyes running the length of her short frame, taking in her long, loose curls, her forest green dress (and she was quite thankful she'd decided to change out of that faded yellow!), all the way down to her fuzzy toes and back. Brie tried to remain focused on her anger, but it was really quite unnerving being assessed in such a way. She wanted to grab one of his black braids and tug to get his eyes back up where they belonged. She was certainly not an object to be appraised in a glance.
His gaze finally came back to rest on her face and...
He smirked again! Oh... that... that... dwarf! Oh, she was going to...
Her hands bunched into fists at her sides and she opened her mouth, ready to fire off a long string of insults that was likely to make her father roll in his grave, but before she could gain breath to speak...
"Mr. Baggins, is your wife likely to be joining us at table? I would like fair warning before we begin negotiations."
Stunned. There was no other word for it. Briallen Baggins stood in the hallway with her mouth half open, completely stunned. It took her perhaps a full two minutes to gather her wits again. It took Bilbo a little less, but he was nothing but a babbling mess at this point, his words tripping over themselves in an effort to form a coherent sentence. Brie shook herself out of her daze and spook over him.
"Mr. Baggins neither owns me nor controls my actions, Master Dwarf," she said, crossing her arms over her chest, her glare smoldering, "Our parents left us this house in equal shares. While under its roof, I will do as I like."
She made sure to put special emphasis on the phrase "our parents". The dwarf might have been rude, but he certainly wasn't stupid. He quickly and clearly realized his mistake and scowled in what Brie could only assume was embarrassment. She felt no sympathy for him whatsoever. Her own glare did not subside one bit.
Finally, after several moments, Thorin inclined his head politely, though not, it seemed, very willingly.
"My apologies, Miss Baggins," he said, only the barest hint of a glower in his voice, "I hope you can forgive the misstep so that our business may continue."
"Oh the misstep is certainly forgiven," said Brie, "As to your business, I suppose that remains to be seen."
They glared at each other for another long moment. But Thorin quickly conceded the contest and swept past her with an air of haughty injured pride. It served him very right, the arrogant sod. Brie stomped off to the kitchen without a backward glance. She needed another glass of wine.