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.
Thank you to everyone for the wonderful reviews again! And here's the final ending. I tried to stay as canon and close to the source material as possible, but as some of you might notice, I had to play with ages and times and dates a little bit to properly facilitate the story.
Chapter XXXII – Epilogue
Bilbo Baggins had lived a long life.
Few hobbits could claim to have traveled even a few miles past Bree, let alone a large expanse of Middle-Earth itself. The forests of Mirkwood no longer frightened him, the waterfalls of Rivendell no longer punched the breath out of him, and the depthless chasms of Erebor no longer felt like they would swallow him whole if he took the tiniest step to the left or right. Living eight decades with a bunch of crazy dwarves could really change a hobbit. But for the better, Bilbo sincerely hoped.
A shadow had started to fall over Middle-Earth in the years since Bilbo had become Consort Under the Mountain. Orcs and goblins and wargs had become more and more common in the Misty Mountains. Spiders overran numerous parts of the once beautiful Mirkwood, forcing Thranduil and his people into a constant state of warfare both inside and directly outside of the wood. Tensions rose between the Easterlings and the men of Dale and Esgaroth, small skirmishes breaking out more and more often with every year that passed. Tales of Mordor and its looming threat filtered up the Anduin and Carnen from human kingdoms like Gondor, Rohan, and Dorwinion.
Bilbo's travels to the Shire, which had taken place every five years during the initial four decades he had lived in Erebor, came to a halt for quite some time.
Ironfists continued to remain a big problem for Thorin all throughout his rule in the Lonely Mountain. Dwarves were quite similar to elves when it came to disagreements, feuds, and an innate proclivity for long, drawn out warfare. Bilbo had been on his toes for the first few years he'd lived in Erebor, waiting and watching for the next strike that the Ironfists would level against his family and himself. They'd already kidnapped Frodo and tried to blow up Erebor's main source of wealth, so why wouldn't they attack while the attacking was good? Well, it turned out that when dwarves went to war with or had feuds with other dwarvish clans, it wasn't at all unheard of for the dispute to last centuries. So, while dwarves weren't very good at biding their time for most sensible things, inter-clan warfare and internal dissent was an exception to the rule.
For the most part, dwarves all over Middle-Earth barricaded themselves inside of their mountain strongholds, ignoring the going-ons of the men and elves in the surface world. Dale's close proximity to the Lonely Mountain facilitated a great deal of trade and a more open relationship between northmen and dwarves than was typical, but even Thorin kept a careful yet peaceful distance between his people and their surface-dwelling neighbors. However, there was a sturdy peace between dwarves, elves, skin-changers, and northmen for all of Thorin's rule, something that the communities directly around Erebor desperately needed after so many years of living in Smaug's shadow. Inter-clan relations, like those between the Longbeards and the Ironfists...well, that was a whole other story right there. A giant migraine, too.
Honestly, dwarves had to be the most stubborn, thick-headed, and feud-loving race on Middle-Earth. Bilbo was sure of it.
And during all of this, the Ring stayed nestled in Bilbo's waistcoat pocket or hidden in a small envelope atop the mantle of his bedchambers. Bilbo didn't give his nifty little Ring much thought over the years, only using it when times turned dire and Nori needed the assistance of a proper burglar to deal with assassins or rioting traitors within the mountain. A simple little bauble, magical though it was, had not raised any red flags in Bilbo's mind. After all, he lived in the richest dwarven kingdom of Middle-Earth, so why would an austere golden Ring draw any suspicions or extra attention from him?
The arrival of the Ringwraiths had changed everything.
Bilbo had been in Rivendell at the time, making the long trek to visit his homeland for the first time in over a decade. As it turned out, long distance travel was much harder for a hobbit once they had passed their first century of life. Tired and weary after passing through the Misty Mountains, Bilbo had urged Frodo and the caravan of dwarves who'd accompanied them to continue on to their final destinations, assuring the nervous guards that he'd find an elven escort in the next few weeks to bring him the rest of the way to Bag End. Five personal guards had stayed behind while the rest continued on to Ered Luin, Frodo going along with them to the Shire. A few months with the Gamgees, Tooks, and Brandybucks would do the gentle young hobbit a world of good, Bilbo had thought.
By Mahâl, how wrong Bilbo had been, when he looked back on it now.
Five months into Bilbo's stay at Rivendell and several dozen pages into his newest book on the Quest for Erebor, a raven had arrived from the Lonely Mountain. Unlike all of the other messages that Thorin had sent during Bilbo's and Frodo's journey to the Shire, this one had come with the urgent seals of the High Office of Erebor, something that Thorin never used in a personal letter to his family members. Its contents had made Bilbo's legs collapse out from under him, Glóril's fast reflexes the only reason that his head didn't collide with the dining hall table. And then Bilbo had searched frantically for that blasted Ring of his, hands trembling uncontrollably when he eventually realized that it must have been packed in one of the boxes or satchels that Frodo had taken with him to Bag End.
Bilbo had never been so terrified as he'd been at that moment. His Frodo, his dear, sweet Frodo, would be hunted by the abominations that Thorin had described in his letter. Not even a direct blade-to-face slash from Orcrist or a brutal smash from Grasper and Keeper had killed the messenger from Mordor. A half-dozen more ravens arrived within as many days, Thorin's worry and growing terror for his hobbits palpable in every word he wrote. The letters from Fíli, Kíli, Dís, Frodo's friends, and the rest of the Company were no better, all of them frantic in their worry for the traveling hobbits.
"I've sent a ranger from the north to retrieve him," Elrond had assured. "Estel will protect and guide him."
As it turned out, the protection of Aragorn had not been enough. Bilbo had had to watch his nephew writhe and scream in pain, the Ringwraith's shadow continuously pulling at Frodo through the horrific wound on his chest. Even Glóril had been deeply shaken by the sight. As the nights passed by, Frodo's slow recovery had left Bilbo even more drained and wary than before, the bitter absence of Thorin only multiplying those feelings tenfold. It drove home the cold reality that Bilbo was no longer the young, adventurous hobbit of yesteryear.
Frodo's shadow-ridden pleas for Uncle Thorin had broken the elderly hobbit's heart. And the cries for Fee and Kee and all of the others in their odd, makeshift family had then crushed it into shattered little pieces.
The arrival of Glóin, Gimli, Thorin III, and several other dwarves had been a tremendous relief for Bilbo, especially when all of the talk amongst the elves and gathering men turned out to be true. Bilbo had spent half of his life carrying Sauron's One Ring around in his waistcoat pocket. Poor Glóin had nearly exploded when he had found that out, his face bright red as he cursed every instance in which they had used that foul thing in the last few decades. All of them were very thankful that Nori wasn't there.
"Watch over and protect him, my son," Glóin had said the night after the Fellowship of the Ring had been formed. "Make Fíli and Kíli proud, Gimli. And show up that pointy-earred bastard's spawn while you're at it, too."
Bilbo had smiled at that, always amused by the insults that dwarves and elves liked to trade with one another. Legolas was an intelligent and kind soul, but Bilbo knew from experience that Gimli would attempt to goad the elf prince at every opportunity. And that was why Bilbo had had a long talk with the dwarf before the Fellowship's departure. Bilbo's own near-assault on his nephew over that damned Ring had made the elderly hobbit even more fearful for Frodo's safety, something that Gimli had picked up on without any difficulty.
"I'll do everything I can to bring him back to you, Uncle Bilbo. I promise on my grandfather's tomb that I will bring Frodo back to the Lonely Mountain. Only death could stop me." Gimli had reached out and gently bumped foreheads with the hobbit who had been a constant presence in his life for many years now. "You have my word."
And Gimli had brought Frodo back to him, but the War of the Ring had destroyed almost everything that Bilbo had once known and loved in Middle-Earth. Shortly after Bilbo's return to Erebor with Glóin and a large contingency of wood elves, the Easterlings from Rhûn had swarmed over the Carnen river in a horde of soldiers, opening up a second front that was the northern arm of the War of the Ring. The sheer force of the Easterlings had crushed the men of Dale within days and forced them to rally back into the protection of the Lonely Mountain.
The dwarves and men had fought a long battle against the invaders, the impregnable gates of the Lonely Mountain easily withstanding the technologically advanced siege equipment of the Easterlings. The Lonely Mountain gave its defenders great tactical leverage against the Easterlings, Kíli's archery corps raining arrows and flinging huge stones down below the walls in reprisal. All of the decades that Thorin had invested in improving the Lonely Mountain's defenses against the Ironfists had paid off, and the defenders had outlasted the Easterlings during the siege. In the end, the Easterlings had been forced to withdraw, suffering a disproportionate amount of casualties in comparison to the dwarves and northmen.
But Erebor wasn't without her casualties. Dáin II Ironfoot, the Lord of the Iron Hills and trusted cousin of Thorin, had been killed while defending the body of King Brand of Dale before the gates of the Lonely Mountain. Thorin himself had witnessed the slaying, his cries of grief and rage echoing through the halls of Erebor as he led a defensive charge against the Easterlings just before the gates were finally closed. That last charge had cost Thorin his left eye and a whole lot of blood, including Fíli's right arm and the lives of Bifur, Glóril, Donel's father, and numerous other dwarves and skin-changers. One of those skin-changers had been Mother Nymeria, the elderly grandmother of Currin and Erebor's most loyal ally in recent history. A familiar pair of female badgers had numbered amongst the fallen as well. Not even Kíli, who had been married to Currin for five decades, had been able to console the grief-stricken wolf.
"Our time in this world is drawing to an end, âzyungel," Thorin had said on the last eve of the siege. "And I do not think that my wounds will heal quite so easily this time, either."
"Don't say such things," Bilbo had wept. "You're too stubborn and thick-headed to say such awful things."
Thorin had just smiled sadly at his consort. "Why don't you read some pages to me from that newest book of yours? The part about the barrels sounds particularly interesting."
"I thought you liked the one with the pictures?"
Thorin had nodded, blinking back tears in the single good eye he had left. "I'd very much like to see that one, too. Ori's drawings of the boys and yourself are always a delight to gaze upon."
"At least something is still delightful to look upon here."
"Don't say such things," Thorin had mimicked with a loving smile. His fingers gently combed through Bilbo's thinning hair and rapidly withering face. "You're still as handsome and breathtaking to look upon as that first summer night when I met you in Bag End. A treasure to outshine all other treasures, âzyungel. My own living, breathing Arkenstone."
"Someone's feeling sappy tonight."
"And there's that wonderful sassiness that I fell in love with," Thorin had said with a smile. "Now, I'd appreciate a little bit more reading, sanghivasha. Dís will be coming to knock me out with that awful tonic of hers at sunset."
Seven days after the siege had ended, Thorin II Oakenshield, son of Thráin, son of Thrór, King Under the Mountain, died of wounds sustained in the defense of his city, people, and beloved family members. The moment Thorin took his last breath, Bilbo knew that his soul was not much longer for this world, either. Gimli's return several weeks later with official news of Sauron's demise and the deaths of Balin, Ori, and Óin in Moria had only further solidified Bilbo's final decision.
"I will be returning to the Shire," Bilbo had said to the remaining members of his family. "I wish to spend the final days of my life with Frodo and the rolling hills of my homeland. I briefly discussed this with Thorin before the end, and he agreed with me on the decision."
Fíli and Kíli objected the loudest, both of them already grief-stricken by the death of Thorin and their separation from Frodo, so the sudden prospect of losing Bilbo as well was simply too much for them. But Bilbo had stuck by his ultimate decision, subconsciously knowing that there wasn't much time left for him in this world. Leaving the boys in Erebor had been heartwrenching, but necessary in the end. They were responsible adult dwarves and husbands and fathers and co-kings now, all four of those positions far more important than escorting a widowed consort back to his homeland. But in the typical stubbornness of being a Durin, both of his boys decided to appoint Thorin III Stonehelm and Dís as stewards in their temporary absence.
"We want to see Frodo," they had both said. "And you can't stop us."
How could a hobbit argue with that? And even Bilbo had to admit, the company of Fíli and Kíli on the road back to the Shire was immensely comforting. Both of them had matured into handsome and thoughtful dwarves, their resemblance to Thorin most obvious in Kíli's coloring and Fíli's strong facial features. Not even the loss of Fíli's right arm seemed to discourage their vivacity for life. Bilbo was incredibly proud of them.
"You all came," Frodo had cried upon seeing them. "It's been so long and..."
"Of course, we came, laddie," Dwalin had said, giant arms wrapped tightly around the hobbit who'd become like a son to him. He had promised Thorin on his deathbed to watch over the lad. "Letting your uncle go on adventures by himself is what got us all into this mess in the first place."
"You don't know the half of it," Frodo had croaked, staying tucked in tight to Dwalin's shoulder for several moments after that. "Uncle Thorin?"
Dwalin had just shook his head and hugged Frodo even tighter when the young hobbit started to sob in earnest. A little ways up the hill, Bilbo could see three familiar figures standing under a tree, watching the reunion and proceedings with cautious, protective eyes. Donel and Dwina had both accompanied the rest of them to the Shire, but it was still very nice to know that Frodo's hobbit friends were here for him as well.
Glancing west to the sea, Bilbo knew that his time was drawing shorter and shorter with every passing day. With the Ring destroyed, it was only a matter of months or a few very short years before death came for him. And Bilbo would welcome it. Thorin had already embraced it, so there was truly nothing tying Bilbo to Middle-Earth now.
And one year later, on September 29, 3021; Bilbo Baggins sailed out of the Grey Havens and into the Undying Lands of Valinor with Gandalf, Elrond, Galadriel, and his beloved nephew at his side. Beneath the stars of the ocean skies, Bilbo dreamed of dark blue eyes, black strands of hair, and a deep rumble of laughter that always made his heart sing. It was a lovely dream.
Bilbo smiled. He was ready for one last adventure.
And we're all done. I hope everyone has enjoyed the story. My drabble story set in this universe, Tales of a Disgruntled Hobbit, takes place between the Battle of the Five Armies and the War of the Ring. It's basically just a bunch of random, laid-back drabbles from the perspective of various members of the Company. That will be the only story I will be working on for a very long time, if ever again. Real life is just too busy right now for me to write anything else. But thank you to everyone for reading, even if it wasn't your usual cup of tea. Toodles!
* There is now a direct sequel, Beware the Nice Ones, set in this same universe.