Author's Note – I had thought to hold off on posting this, but I wanted something to balance out my writing schedule now that "A Hobbit's Rescue" has been completed. This is another story that has been haunting me to the point I'm literally dreaming of this when I'm not writing. I hope everyone enjoys this.
Warnings – AU with gender-bent Bilbo
Disclaimer – I do not own "the Hobbit" nor do I make any money from this.
Chapter One – A Wizard's Invitation
Gandalf said nothing for several long moments as he stood outside of the old gate that kept a small yard closed off from the quiet street. His blue eyes were watching the sole occupant of the bench, and the lass had not noticed him due to the fact that her complete attention was focused on her knitting. This was the last place he'd expected to find the only child of Bungo and Belladonna Baggins, and it broke his heart to see her so far from the smial that had been her home since birth.
His sharp gaze noted several things that did not sit well with him. Instead of having the rounded cheeks he remembered her possessing as a fauntling, Hawthorn Baggins was too slender than was normal for a lass of her age. Her clothing, while sturdy, sensible, and well cared for, was also several years old and that added to something he was furious to realize.
Something pulled her attention away from her work, and the lass gave him a sweet half-smile as she greeted him.
"It has been a long time, Mithrandir. Please, come and sit down," she said, setting her needles and yarn aside.
The Istar was glad to follow her instructions, finding a man sized bench in the shade not far from her own bench. Apparently, she still kept up her mother's habit of ensuring the comfort of friends from beyond the borders of the Shire. That warmed his heart and despite his unhappiness regarding the girl's circumstances, he gave her a bright smile.
"I apologize, my dear, but I found myself avoiding the Shire after your parents took their journey to Yavanna's Gardens and before I knew it, several years had gone by. I should not have done so for I find I have missed my young friend a great deal."
"I understand, Mithrandir. If the opportunity had arisen for me to do so, I would have left here as well and not come back," the lass replied. "As it stands, I have no wish to place a burden upon the household of a dear friend as Lord Elrond is so I must remain here."
"Has it been so bad since their passing," he asked, seeing her blue eyes fill with tears for a long moment before she forced them away.
"Horrible," she admitted, hands trembling. "Not even a day after the funeral, the Baggins family came to me and informed me that Papa's Will would not be executed. Because of the aftermath of my accident, they told me I had no right to remain in a smial as grand and large as Bag End. Grandfather heard of it and found a smial for me here in Tuckborough. All I was allowed to bring were items bought after their wedding or what Mama brought into the marriage."
"Tell me they didn't turn you out penniless," the wizard demanded, hiding his wrath when she nodded.
"I get by doing restorations of old books, translating some of them to modern Hobbitish or Westron, as well as giving my aunts whatever I am able to make with my needlework. They take them to the market to be sold," she told him. "Though I suspect, now that Grandfather has joined Mama and Papa in Yavanna's gardens, that I am not being paid full price for my handiwork."
"My dearest Hawthorn, if I had known this would happen, I would have taken you with me and found a place for you to live where you could be happy," Gandalf said quietly. "I take it the other problem your parents worried over has not resolved."
A look of deep unhappiness and loneliness crossed the hobbit lass's face, and it made the old wizard's heart ache to see it there. He remember the girl as being full of song and laughter, always having a kind word for everyone that crossed her path. Well, almost everyone because she had her mother's temper and knew how to wield that educated mind rather well when crossed.
"I am afraid you're correct on that, old friend," Hawthorn said quietly. "Everyone knows of my problems, and no one has been willing to overlook them to get to know me."
The Istar rubbed a hand over his face, looking at the daughter of his dearest friend and mentally begging her to forgive him for not returning before now. Belladonna would have shaved his beard and broken his staff to punish him for allowing this to happen to her child.
"I'm sorry, Hawthorn. I truly am," he said quietly. "I must ask you something, and I daresay you might find this to your liking."
"What is it, Mithrandir?"
"I have a chance for you to get out of the Shire and help with a quest," Gandalf began. "Do you remember the stories of Smaug?"
"I certainly do; it gave me nightmares as a fauntling," Hawthorn replied, remembering the tales he had told her before bedtime when she'd been small. "What about him?"
"The dwarves of Erebor have settled in Ered Luin, but they do not thrive there. Their leader wishes to return his people to their home," the wizard shared.
"Is it so bad in the Blue Mountains that he would be willing to risk going up against a fire drake," she asked, eyes wide.
"It is not going well, I'm afraid. Their numbers are slow to climb; there's not enough food to help keep the children and mothers healthy. Add to the fact that orc attacks are growing worse, they need the shelter of the Lonely Mountain to keep them safe and the wealth within to ensure everyone has enough food."
"Oh Yavanna, had Grandfather known, he would have helped," the lass said, sounding heartbroken. "Why did they not approach the Shire for aid?"
"King Thranduil of Mirkwood turned his back on them after Smaug came, offering no shelter or aid to those in need," Gandalf answered. "Many died because of it, people who could have been saved had he opened his halls to shelter them and grant them supplies when the time came to leave to find a new home. The memories of dwarves are long, and they have learned not to trust outsiders."
"I can't say that I blame them," the hobbit replied, knowing all too well what it felt like to be betrayed by others. "I just feel bad now knowing we have so much and could have helped. Maybe their leader would be interested in trading later, once he regains his old home. I take it you're offering me a place within his group?"
The wizard shook his head, remembering just how well the girl was named. She always had hope for others, and he had a good feeling about it.
"I am," he told her. "They plan to stop at the Shire to take their rest and pick up the burglar before heading out."
"Firstly, Mithrandir, won't I slow them down? My injury acts up at times, and I do not move as fast as a hobbit should. That could complicate matters considerably."
"If I can convince the stubborn fool to make the side trip, Lord Elrond has a new tonic that should help with the pain when it flares," he reassured her.
"He mentioned it in his last letter," Hawthorn replied. "But that still doesn't mean I can keep up when the pain becomes too high. I couldn't bear it if I caused someone to be harmed due to my slowness."
"I'll do what I can to aid you," the wizard commented. "In my heart, I know that bringing you is the right thing to do. We can find a place to make a home for you once everything is done so you won't have to return to the Shire if you don't wish to."
"What am I supposed to do for this dwarven company?"
"Reconnaissance, mostly," Gandalf answered. "If Smaug is alive, your scent will be unknown to him so you'd be the best one to determine if he is or not. Your knowledge would be useful too since you have had a love of maps and books since you were a fauntling.
"Hawthorn," he continued. "Not only will this provide you with a chance to find yourself a true sanctuary but it will give you an opportunity to make friends. You deserve a chance to be happy, my dear girl, and I want you to take it."
Hawthorn was quiet for a moment, contemplating what he had shared.
"Uncle Isengrim might be willing to keep my belongings safe until I send word for them," she murmured.
"We can be certain of that by sending a letter to Rivendell to ask if Lord Elrond would be willing to dispatch someone to pack everything up and I can bring it to you once you find where you want to live," the wizard offered. "He would be happy to help you, and it will not be a burden to him."
"Do you think it'd be all right to ask him that?"
"My dear girl, he adores you and would do anything for you," Gandalf stated. "Remember that. Now, are you willing to go?"
"I am," the hobbit replied.
"Good, why don't you pack and write the list and letter to send to Rivendell? I shall go speak with your uncle about things. The company should be here tomorrow afternoon, my dear. May I leave a rune on your door to help guide them?"
"You're more than welcome to do so," Hawthorn told him. "Just how many am I to expect?"
"Not counting myself and you in the party, you will have thirteen dwarvish guests to dine with tomorrow," he said with a smile. "Before you start fretting, you won't have to do this alone. Once I finish speaking with Isengrim, I will come back to help you get everything ready."
"I don't have enough food in the smial for that many," she said, getting up. "I'll give you some money for shopping, if you don't mind stopping by the markets on your way back?"
"I'll take care of it. Right now, just get the letter and list ready to send to Lord Elrond," he said, rising to his feet. "I shall see you shortly, Hawthorn."
The Istar was true to his word; Hawthorn had written out the list and letter for her friend in Rivendell and was ensuring her clean home was tidy enough for her guests. She had just finished pulling out enough blankets and pillows for the company to use when they arrived when the man returned to her smial.
Together, they got the meal planned as well as furniture arranged so that the company could fit in the small home with some ease. As they worked, Gandalf shared what he'd done at Isengrim's home and she was pleased to hear that he would keep her home locked up until the elves arrived to pack her belongings up. It surprised her when the wizard told her that Isengrim hated how her life had turned out, and he wished his niece well in life.
Truth be told, Hawthorn had been certain her Took relatives allowed her to remain in Tuckborough out of respect for her mother because a lot of them felt the same way about her as the rest of the hobbits in the Shire did. It made her feel better now that she knew her uncle did care in his own way.
The hobbit lass prepared a small supper for them and after the meal, she focused on her work as she wanted to honor her commitment and have this done before she left. It was late that night before the girl retired to her bed, wondering what would happen tomorrow evening.
The next morning dawned too early, but Hawthorn rose with the sun and made a hearty breakfast for her and the wizard. Gandalf enjoyed the meal, cautiously sidestepping any reference she made to paying him for the supplies he'd purchased yesterday. He knew her finances were barely enough to survive on, and he would not run the risk of her placing herself into a bind due to hosting a party she had not planned and saved for. The hobbit would possibly need those coins while on the road, and he'd make sure she had it.
After eating, she put all of the bedding onto the clothing lines outside so they would air out in time. When she came back in, the pair of them began cooking. Despite his wandering habits, Gandalf did cook rather well and often did so for the Baggins family when she'd been a fauntling. Truth be told, she had a soft spot for his baked cinnamon apples and he'd promised to make some for tonight as well as ensure she was given a portion.
Once everything was roasting, simmering, or baking, Hawthorn turned her attention to packing. She laid out her traveling clothing, double checking each garment to ensure there were no tears. Every item was folded and packed into her well-worn travel pack that had been handed down to her by her mother. Several bars of soap were placed into a special bag to keep them dry before being packed into the bag along with all of her handkerchiefs, and the hobbit buried her small money purse underneath her crafting projects. The hobbit lass had packed a sewing kit as well as her as knitting needles, crochet hooks, and enough yarn to last for a while. If they came to a town and she needed money, she knew she could make a few items to sell to raise a little bit more funds.
A pack of herbs was also placed into the bag, and a box with a well-insulated lining was put there too. A smaller box went into the pocket of her light weight coat for easy access, along with a handkerchief. The metal plate, bowl, and utensils were also packed.
Once that was done, Hawthorn put the bag on a chair and checked her mother's bedroll, another thing she'd inherited from the adventurous hobbit matron along with the rest of her camping gear. The waterproof carrying case, which doubled as a liner to rest her blankets on, was in good shape and the lass grabbed several of her warmest knit blankets. She wrapped everything up in a tight roll, the carrying case keeping it all protected, and the dirty-blond haired girl tied it to the top of her pack.
"Outside of my brush and comb, I think that's everything," Hawthorn murmured, trying to go through her mental list to ensure she hadn't forgotten anything important.
With a frown, the lass placed her heavier coat inside of her cloak and tied it into a second roll to be secured to the pack. Her wide brimmed hat went on top, and she nodded.
"Now that's everything," the hobbit told herself, going to the kitchen to check on the food.
"All done, Hawthorn," Gandalf asked, reading one of her books while nibbling on a biscuit at the small kitchen table.
"I am," she answered, pouring herself a glass of juice and offering him one as well. "Just a few odds and ends to pack in the morning, then I'll be ready to go."
"I'm glad to hear it," the Istar commented. "Now, there's something I need for you to keep in mind. Do you recall your mother's tales of the dwarves?"
"Hobbit like in their enjoyment of food and good ale, inappropriate songs that will either embarrass you or make you laugh, stubborn, and loyal to a fault to their families," the lass replied.
"The leader of the company is fairly stubborn and set in his own ways," Gandalf sighed. "He acknowledges the need for a hobbit but hates the idea of inviting strangers. I'll do what I can, but you may find yourself at odds with him for a while as Thranduil's actions left a deep scar in his mind."
"Don't expect me to keep my temper if he pushes me too hard," Hawthorn advised. "Especially if I'm dealing with one of my bad days. I'll do my best to be patient, but I can't make any promises that I won't snap back at him."
"Oh my dear girl, I'm truly anticipating the confrontations you two will have," he said with a wide smile, ducking when she tossed a biscuit at him. "In truth, his sister is strong willed and has a temper similar to your own so you will most likely be respected and fit in once you've had a few outbursts with him."
"You do remember I'm not coming along to amuse you?"
Gandalf chuckled, eyes twinkling. Yes, he knew that but in truth, he was eager to see her blossom once she started making friendships with the dwarves. The Istar had no doubt she would once they got beneath the defenses she'd had to create after her accident.
"Oh I know but truthfully, my dear, I certainly expect to find some amusement as they grow accustomed to you," he chuckled.
"If I find you've been plotting trouble behind my back, Mithrandir, I will tie your beard in a knot and decorate it with the most obnoxiously colored ribbons I can find," she warned, making him laugh.
"I will keep that under advisement, my dear hobbit," he laughed, shaking his head.
Oh, he couldn't wait for the company to meet his friend because he knew they would be as good for her as she was for them!
Author's End Note – Here's the first chapter. Please let me know what you thought of it, and I hope to see you again while updating this one or the other two Hobbit stories I have published. ~ Laran