Disclaimer: I don't own any of the characters or actors from The Hobbit. Everything belongs to the great and powerful J.R.R. Tolkien.

Chapter XXIII

"Be careful not to spill any ink on the floor, Frodo."

The hobbits were both sitting in the heart of Erebor's massive library, their bodies warmed by the blazing fireplace on the eastern wall. Bilbo himself had been indexing and cataloguing several large piles of manuscripts since very early that morning, wandering to the front at times to assist Ori and Dhola with a particularly perplexing heap of far-eastern maps. His nephew had spent most of the day with Donel and Nori, the latter of whom had volunteered to watch the youngsters for the afternoon. But it was approaching suppertime now, so Bilbo would sadly have to pull himself away from these fascinating diagrams of a far-off jungle and instead face a hoard of hungry dwarves. Honestly, the hobbit was trying to figure out if some of them had hollow legs or a second stomach, because Fíli and Bofur should not be able to eat that much in a single sitting.

"I'm almost done," said Frodo, his pink tongue sticking out in concentration. "Do I have to use Merry's fancy name at the end?"

"No, his normal name will work just fine," answered the uncle. "Just make sure to spell it correctly or your letter might fall into the hands of yet another relative of the same title. Valar knows there's enough of them."

"Okie dokie."

They spent the next few minutes in relative silence, the shuffling of papers and the faint sound of Ori jabbering away to his aunt acting as a soothing agent to Bilbo's excited mind. He'd been itching to explore the archives for weeks now, so the past three days had been paradise for the bookish hobbit, maps and book quickly overtaking his rooms and an unused corner of Fíli's bedroom as well. Thorin and his sister had opened one of the floor passageways that led down into the Deep Archives, Bilbo easily squeezing his way to and fro in the dark rooms beneath the library. And after Nori had dropped the boys off, plucky little Donel offered to squeeze into the tighter areas in the back, retrieving dozens of maps and tomes from the dustiest corners of the archives.

"I've got another one," stated Donel, signaling for the older hobbit to help him up the ladder. "But it's really strange looking. What's it say?"

Bilbo settled the little boy beside him on the floor, unrolling the ancient map from the string and clamps that bound it. Yellowed with time and disuse, the entire left portion of it would have to be meticulously restored, but Bilbo was able to decipher a plethora of runes and elvish script in the upper right corner. Unfortunately, the hobbit wasn't familiar with either of them.

"I'm not quite sure," admitted Bilbo. "But this top one here is underlined, so I've a strong suspicion that that's the name of the region. Desdursyton, I think it says. What a peculiar name, if that's what it is."

"And I found these ones, too," said Donel with a proud grin. "They'd fallen back behind the shelves. Got myself a splinter to get them."

"Here, let me see that? Ah, it's not too deep. I should be able to get that out with a few pushes," reassured Bilbo, his nails gently working at the irritated skin on Donel's left thumb. "We hobbits are always getting splinters when working out in our gardens. I've an unfortunate habit of getting them myself. Especially in this one little spot on my right foot just between my biggest toes. Never developed quite enough calluses there, I suppose. An unpleasant predicament for hobbit, as I'm sure you can believe. And it's quite…ah! There we go! No more splinter."

Donel had closed his eyes sometime during the procedure, a pained grimace on his face as Bilbo pried the skinny sliver of wood from his tender finger. But Donel was a real trooper, if you asked Bilbo. The red-haired dwarfling did not release a single complaint or whine during the whole ordeal, something Bilbo knew he had not accomplished whenever Belladonna pulled a splinter out of him.

"And it was a right nasty one, too," declared Bilbo with a firm nod. "We'll have to let your mother have a good look at it later. Show her how well you did in retrieving all of my maps with this terrible thing in your finger."

Donel nodded with another proud smile. "I hate splinters. They're really nasty. Do we need to look for anything else?"

"No, I think this is more than enough for today," said Bilbo. "We've got supper in an hour or two, and I've still got to sort through all of these maps. Frodo, are you finished with your letter yet?"

"Uh huh. And I spelled Merry right."

Bilbo took the paper from his nephew and quickly skimmed over the messy lines, sharp eyes checking for any major misspellings or grammatical mistakes. But, as always, Frodo's literacy was superb for his young age and Bilbo wouldn't have to make any kind of corrections to it.

"What're those about?" asked Donel.

"Well, I'm not quite sure about these, either," said the older hobbit. "Both of them seem to have some kind of elvish written at the top, but I'm not familiar with it. However, I think the underlined words are the native names of the region. This map appears to show some place called…Lú Tyr Sû… Very strange name. And this mountainous one looks like it says…Orocarni? I've no idea what that means, either. Maybe it's the indigenous title of the mountain range. Hmmm, Karn Ord… "

"Ugh, look what you've done," groaned Frodo. "He's at it again. There's no hope of prying him away now."

"I wouldn't say that."

All three of them looked up to see Kíli's head peeking around a bookshelf, a wide grin on his beardless face as he surveyed the haphazard piles of maps on the floor. With a devious whistle, the youngest prince joined them near the fireplace and attempted to look as innocent as possible. He failed miserably at it.

"What do you want, Kíli?"

"Oh, I just thought our darling little hobbit and dwarfling would like to know that a momentous event has occurred since the lunch hours," drawled the prince, nonchalantly picking at his dirty fingernails. "But alas, it would appear that all of you are quite busy. A most unfortunate shame, that is."

"What's happened?" demanded Frodo, curiosity piqued by the prince's tone. "Did something explode? Are there elves?"

The prince looked puzzled for a moment. "Ugh, what? No, no! There's no elves. Uncle's far too paranoid to even let Bard and his men into the city yet, let alone a bunch of those prissy tree-shaggers."


"Sorry, sorry, I forgot, you don't like those names," whined the prince. "I know a couple of nicer ones, though. How about…pointy-eared bastards?"

"No! Absolutely not!"

"Weed-eaters? That's a pretty nice one, if you ask me."

"Ugh, why do I even bother?" muttered Bilbo. "Stubborn dwarves, never listen to anyone besides themselves." He rolled up the maps and whacked Kíli over the head with one of them. "Now what did you come down here for, little bird? I'd like to catalogue all of these before supper, so spit it out."

"It's snowing!"

And there went any semblance of calm inside the room, both Frodo and Donel all-but tackling the older hobbit to demand that they leave immediately to play in it. The brat who instigated everything was shameless in his begging as well, stating that little hobbits needed lots of fresh air and snowball fights and ice ramps and snowmen and fruity ice cones to grow up strong and healthy and not wither away in the dark tunnels of Erebor. He tried to call foul on several of them; but being hugged and tackled by three boisterous children, of which Kíli was most definitely an associate seventy-five percent of the time, was quite difficult to resist under any circumstances.

"Please, Uncle Bilbo, please," whined Frodo. "It barely snowed at all in the Shire these last few years. I'll make a really nice snow hobbit for you, I promise. And it'll have big sticks for arms and a carrot—"

"Yeah, we'll build a wonderful one, Uncle Bilbo," pleaded Kíli, puppy dog eyes out in full force as he wrapped himself around the older hobbit. "And we'll put a lovely, fancy red waistcoat on it with a bit of curly leaves on the top for hair and a fancy pipe in the mouth to—"

"And the ice ramps," added Donel. "My mama told me that they always poured a lot of water down the steps and then they'd slide down them like—"

"Enough!" shouted Bilbo. He pushed all three of them to the floor. "Help me get these piles cleaned up and onto that table over there and then we'll go up to our quarters for a change of clothes. Understand? Now get to it."

Bilbo Baggins had never seen two youngsters and the dwarven equivalent of a tween move so quickly in his whole life. The piles were stacked on the tables in less than twelve minutes and then the four of them were marching up to the royal wing for a quick change of warm clothes. The prince wandered off to his own rooms to get ready while Bilbo took care of Frodo and Donel with the winter clothes Ori had made for them. He bundled little Donel into his nephew's second set of long johns, trousers, boots, coats, hats, and gloves, making a mental note to order one of each for the impish dwarfling when he next saw Ori or went to the market. Thana and her husband wouldn't be able to refuse the gifts if Bilbo claimed they were an early solstice present and they had the Durin family's names attached to them as well.

Who said hobbits couldn't be sneaky when a situation called for it?

"Okay, everyone ready to go?" asked Bilbo out in the hallway. "Ears covered? A glove on each hand? Boots laced and secured?"

"Aye, aye."

"You coming, Fíli?" queried Bilbo when he saw the older prince bundled up and leaning on his crutches. "If you do, I won't be letting you out of my sight with that busted leg of yours. You'll be sitting with me."

"I wouldn't dream of doing anything else, Uncle Bilbo," said the older prince with a cheeky smile. "I adore your company."

"You both think you're cute, don't you?" said the hobbit with a sigh. They'd been calling him uncle for the past week now. Bilbo had a strong feeling that their mother was behind it. "What am I saying, of course you do. But those puppy dog eyes won't work on me like they do your uncle and mother. So behave yourselves. Or else…"

He poked both of them in their big dwarvish noses. Well, except for Kíli. His nose was unusually small for a dwarf. But it was still equally vulnerable to a good flick, which Bilbo never failed to use to his advantage if the situation called for it.

"No cupcakes. Or cheesecake. Got it?"

Both princes stared at him in disbelief, Kíli whimpering, "You're a cruel hobbit, Uncle Bilbo. Very, very cruel."

"Yeah, those puppy dog eyes? They don't work on me. Now, lets move along and enjoy the snow, people. Uh uh, you're with me, Fíli."

It only took them a few minutes to reach the front gates of Erebor, snow falling at a very fast rate from the white skies above the mountain. Bilbo double checked the coats, boots, and gloves of the boys before he unleashed them onto the hillside, ordering both of them to stay within clear sight at all times. And then he did the exact same thing with Kíli and his brother, enjoying the indignant squawks that the princes produced when he tugged at their knitted winter hats.

"If you two act like children, then I'll treat you like children," reasoned Bilbo. "I'll be up here at the top of the stairs and you're sitting with me, Fíli. Keep an eye on the boys for me, would you, little bird?"

Kíli gave him a cheeky salute. "Like an eagle of Manwë, dearest uncle." And then he bounded off down the stairs with a whoop. "Who's ready for a snowball fight?! I'm on Frodo's and Donel's team!"

"He's not gonna stop doing that, is he?"


The children were running all over the place, whooping and hollering in the snow as it floated down upon them. Adults were scattered about, some making snowmen with their little ones while others slid down the long ice ramps that a certain pair of silly miners had created with several buckets of cold water. Bilbo himself was quite content to just sit atop the entrance stairs and puff away on his beautiful dragon pipe. Like most hobbits, he preferred to observe the snow from a distance, safe from the icy snowballs and exuberant frolicking of his Took cousins. Or in this particular case and situation, far away from Kíli, Bofur, and an unusually feisty and snow-loving Bifur.

"It looks like we arrived just in time," said a voice his left. "Traveling in the snow is always dreadful business."

"I can imagine," replied Bilbo after a large puff of smoke. "We were able to avoid the winter during our journey. Both times, in fact. Quite honestly, I don't know if my naked feet would've been able to withstand it."

Dís smiled down at him. "Those are lovely boots."

"The snow's one of the only things that can affect or harm a hobbit's feet," Bilbo explained. "Dwina's father was kind enough to make a pair for both Frodo and myself. I never gave much thought to Erebor's climate, to be truthful."

"It's not so terrible because of our location inside the mountain," stated Dís. "The city of Dale suffers much more so than us because of their exposed location. But the men and dwarves of the north are used to such wicked weather, harvesting early and insulating homes with sturdy stone and woodwork. So long as we have enough food stock to last us through the winter months, everything should be quite comfortable within Erebor's walls and the surrounding settlements."

"I do hope so," hummed Bilbo through another puff. "There's still so much work to be done. Cataloging and reorganizing the library is going to take several years at least. And I can't read half the stuff in it."

"You'll learn some of it with time," assured the princess. "My, my, that's quite an amazing pipe you have there. The woodwork is exquisite."

Bilbo flushed to the tips of his ears. "Well, ummm…"

"Uncle Thorin made it for him," said Fíli from his place beside the hobbit. "Spent weeks carving it in his rooms at night. He was very intent about it. And see that down on the right side there? That's malachite and aquamarine. Perfect for dragon scales and eyes along the main pipe shaft."

"Very fine stones," smiled Dís. "Now, does anyone want some—"

And then a snowball whacked the princess on the side of her head. Eyes narrowed in suspicion, Dís gazed over a snowy embankment of shale and pointed menacingly at her youngest son. With an unmanly giggle of exhilaration, Kíli threw another big snowball at his mother and then took off down the hillside.

"I brought you into this world, little bird," singsonged Dís. "And I can just as easily take you right back out of it. Tell Thorin not to wait for me, okay?"

"Well, Kíli's dead."

"Thorin? What did she mean about wait for—"

"I'm right here," rumbled a deep voice in Bilbo's ear. And then a big hand rested atop Bilbo's hat-covered head, the King's finger playing with the pointy tip of his hidden ear. "My sister heard about the snow and insisted on coming outside to see it. She's quite the lover of winter, so prepare yourself for her decorations and exuberant behavior as the solstice approaches."

Bilbo leaned back into the King's legs, fiddling with his intended's larger fingers as Dís tackled her screeching son in the distance. "I think we'll get along just fine in that respect. So, what've you been doing all day?"


Fíli snorted beside them. "Great mood killer you've got there, Uncle Thorin. I'd give it a nine out of ten on the scales of romantic disaffection."

The hobbit could feel his intended stiffen behind him, so Bilbo impulsively went with an action that he'd been wanting to commit for nearly a week now. Reaching into a side pocket of his coat, Bilbo pulled out the bond-bracelet he'd created several days ago, an excited knot settling in his stomach. Grabbing the King's left wrist, he tied the bracelet tight around Thorin's scar-peppered skin and then gave it a quick, bashful kiss before the Dwarf-King could pull away from him.

The King Under the Mountain just stared at his newly adorned wrist in amazement. "What's this supposed to mean in hob—"


And then the King was smacked with a snowball right in the face, Frodo giggling as he leapt down the ice ramp and disappeared into the snow forts that now lined the hills around the castle entrance. Bilbo and Fíli couldn't help but burst out laughing at the sight of Thorin covered in snow, his face a mask of apparent indifference at the snowball that'd just collided with his big dwarvish nose. Until he started to descend the stairs…

"Two can play at that game, little hobbit."

Not even bothering to stifle their laughter, the older hobbit and injured prince just watched as Thorin stalked through the snow forts and hills like a giant predator. None of the other dwarflings dared to attack the King in their snowball fights, instead going about their business without more than a passing glance at their leader. And then Thorin made a sharp turn into one of the snow forts, appearing a half-minute later with a shrieking Donel and Frodo dangling from his outstretched arms.

"Awww, they've been caught," laughed Fíli. "Poor rascals don't have any clue how mean Uncle Thorin can be in games like this. And there it is! Snow down the back of the shirts! Poor Kíli's getting the same from amad, too!"

Frodo had latched himself to the back of Thorin's mane of black hair, a handful of snow shoved into the King's un-hatted head while Donel provided reinforcement from his position on Thorin's lower back. Off to their right side, Dís and several women had Kíli, Bofur, Glóin's son, and a half-dozen other miners pinned down at the bottom of a hillside with no hope of escape. But it was the happy smile on Thorin's face that truly made Bilbo feel warm inside, its brilliance something that the Lonely Mountain and Durin's Folk had not seen in many, many decades.

"Could someone please get Ori for me? I need a sketch of this. Right now."

It's been snowing the past couple days here, so I felt like writing about snowy stuff. Trying to balance Thorin's behavior when he's around his family and the Company vs. when he's around outsiders can be tricky at times, so I hope I'm managing it somewhat well so far. I'm partially basing aspects of his behavior/reactions on my own uncle's, who is a retired member of the U.S. Special Forces and a realistic comparison to Thorin's own troubled past with war, death, and duty. And now for Bombur and his lady friend...