All Bilba had ever wanted was a home. Somewhere to lay her head at the end of the long day. Somewhere to warm her feet after a heavy winter's rain. It didn't matter to her if there was someone to curl up next to at bedtime, or tiny mouths to feed several times a day. She just wanted a home.
She had thought that she had found it amongst the dwarves. She had looked to Erebor as her future home, a palace of security and safety, where she may one day even be queen. Now the mountain was fading into the distance and she had never felt so lonely.
Bilba had been a fool. She had thought that a powerful king could love a little hobbit like herself. She had been wrong. That king loved nothing other than his jewels, his gems and his title. He had used her to warm his bedroll and pass the nights and that was all. When he had been forced to pick between her and a gemstone he had almost killed her.
Now he was somewhere within the mountains, laying in a healers room whilst they fought valiantly to save his life. Balin had pleaded with Bilba to stay, trying to convince her that when Thorin woke up he would apologised a thousand times over. Bilba just couldn't believe him. Thorin had dangled her from the battlements by her neck. What would happen if the gold sickness came back and there wasn't an army of elves and men watching Thorin? Would he really throw her into the chasms below Erebor? Bilbo couldn't take that chance.
So now she journeyed with Gandalf and would take the long road back to the Shire. "It is not too late to turn back." Gandalf said gently, eyeing the weary hobbit from under his hat.
"I cannot, Gandalf. I cannot go back to that place. It is cursed." Bilba refused to look back as she urged her horse into Mirkwood. Several of the woodland elves were there to meet them and lead them back to Thranduil's halls.
The elven king had been kind enough to grant them a few nights of shelter before they began the long journey back to the Shire. As neither Erebor nor Dale could offer them supplies, Thranduil had also promised to fill their bags before they left.
Although Azog and his army had been defeated the forests were still dangerous and the elves made them travel in silence. The air was still as thick and heavy as it had been several months ago and Bilba's mind began to drift off to places she'd rather it not. She shook her head to try and clear her mind and several strands of hair whipped her cheek. She grimaced.
In the pandemonium of war and it's equally chaotic aftermath there had been no time to clean up. Bilba's hair was slicked back with dried sweat and matted with blood. Her clothes were no better. She imagined she smelt horrible and looked far worse. Gandalf seemed a little dusty but no worse than usual. Bilba imagined there was some deal of magic keeping the wizard clean.
Thranduil's halls seemed quiet as Bilba was led inside. It seemed as though the entire palace was mourning for the loss of those who had died in the battle. Bilba dismounted in silence and willingly handed over Sting to the waiting elf. "Bilba, go with them." Gandalf instructed. "I must speak with Thranduil before we leave tomorrow."
In the silence and peace of the palace Bilba could feel the exhaustion creeping up on her and she suddenly had a strong desire to sleep. She followed the elves wordlessly and kept her eyes turned down. "You may stay here for the night." One of the elves escorting her informed her. "There is a warm bath drawn up for you inside. King Thranduil asks that you stay inside. If you need anything there will be someone just outside."
Bilba nodded her thanks, hardly surprised that she wasn't allowed to wander the palace. Last time she had been here she had broken out thirteen dwarves and had caused some damage as well. She slipped inside the room and took a moment to take it in. It was entirely wooden and the ceiling seemed miles above her, which was just as well considering there were no windows. A large bed sat in the middle of the room, draped in silks and cotton. It looked incredibly inviting and Bilba wanted nothing more than to throw herself onto it and lose herself in the covers. However she was in desperate need of a bath and decided that it took preference over sleep.
The bath was tucked away behind a decorative screen and hot steam rose in gentle columns from the crystal water. Wincing Bilbo began to undo her waist coat. She shimmied out of the trousers and piled her clothes up on the floor before scrambling into the tub. The water was hot on her skin and she could feel the stress melt away as she slipped under the water. She couldn't remember the last time she had bathed properly. It must have been in Bag End nearly a year ago. Bilba lay for a moment, completely submerged in water, an imagined the worries of the last year floating away.
Bilba resurfaced and let her hair down from its tight bun. She grimaced as the hair hardly moved. She had to tug on the strands to release them from their formation.
On the side of the bath were several bottles and she emptied each one it turn, cleaning every inch of her skin and every hair on her body. By the time she was done the water was a muddy brown but she felt much better. There was a fluffy towel laid out for her and she wrapped it around her chest before padding over to the basin. There was a mirror hung on the wall behind it and some thoughtful elf had left a stool so that Bilbo could see her reflection.
What Bilba saw displeased her greatly. Her face was tanned from the months of travel and small cuts crisscrossed her face. There were dark circles under her eyes and her cheeks were hollow and prominent. Her eyes told the tale of a thousand stories she would never tell and even her hair, dripping though it was around her shoulders, seemed to have lost its life.
Bilba sighed and brought her hand up to her neck. She tugged lightly at the silver chain she found there. Hanging from it were two rings; the gold ring that had undoubtedly saved her life several times over the course of the journey, and the silver and blue ring Thorin had worn on his right hand. He had gifted it to her as a promise of his undying love. She had meant to return it before she had left, but things had been so hectic she had forgotten. With a sigh she ran her hand thought her hair. It was far too long now. It had almost doubled in length and now grazed the middle of her back. Maybe the extra weight would help to tame it more.
He liked your wild hair.
A voice whispered in the back of her mind and she shook it away. Now was time for Bilba's life to start anew, and she could not do that whilst thinking of Thorin. Bilba turned from the mirror and finished drying herself before heading back to the bed.
What she guessed must be a child's night dress had been laid out for her and she put it on willingly. At the start of the journey her curvaceous figure would have never fitted in the sleek dress, but now it seemed to hang off her. She would certainly draw questions when she eventually returned home.
With a tentative stretch Bilba drew back the covers of the bed and nestled down under the sheets. The aches and pains seem to run from her body immediately and sleep came rushing to meet her.