AN: So I've been bitten by Hobbit feelings, and on a long car ride home, I started thinking about the backstories to the characters that I loved. This is my first effort to that effect. Mostly Bofur centric here, but everyone is going to make an appearance.
Feel free to drop me a review if you liked it or have some suggestions for me! Thanks for reading, everyone.
The Company of Thorin Oakenshield made camp not far out of the Shire on the first night of their quest, a fact with which Bilbo was moderately pleased. He surveyed the dwarves - his companions now - with proprietary interest, appreciating the ease with which they constructed camp and set about making supper, chatting amongst themselves as they worked.
The meal was most notable for the young kin of Thorin – Fíli and Kíli, Bilbo remembered after a moment searching for their names– amusing the rest of the company with increasingly rambunctious antics, which culminated in a game of makeshift darts, though won out with throwing knives and axes instead.
Fíli won, much to the chagrin of Kíli, who took to sulking at the edge of the camp with his bow, muttering that if the competition had been decided by that skill, he'd have bested his elder brother with absurd ease.
Well after the meal, when the rest of the company had begun to settle down and sink into sleep, Bilbo took the opportunity to study his new companions without fear of having scrutiny returned to himself. He was distracted, however, by the sound of whittling, threading just beneath the crackling of the campfire.
He turned and saw the dwarf named Bofur intent over a block of wood, working it patiently with his whittling knife until it began to take a vague shape of a pony. Beside him, Bombur dozed, though Bifur watched his cousin's progress tenderly, and Bilbo almost thought he saw a smile on his face (though it was quite possible he was distracted by the chunk of axe sticking out of Bifur's forehead).
Bilbo could contain his curiosity no longer. "What are you doing?" he asked Bofur.
"Whittling, can't you see?" came the whip-fast response, and Bofur shot him a cheeky grin. Beside him, Bifur grunted with what sounded like wordless amusement – altogether an odd thing to come from the otherwise taciturn dwarf. "Have you eyes, Mr. Bilbo?"
"Of course I have eyes," Bilbo said, a little irritated. "I only meant—"
"Aye, I know what you meant," Bofur said. "Only having a bit of fun."
"At my expense, of course."
"But not in mean spirit."
Bilbo was quiet for a moment, watching as Bofur whittled the wood with such skill that it surprised him; he had thought the three kinsman to be somewhat crude and crass, not descended of noble blood, like the rest of the company. "Are they for you?" he asked again.
Bombur snorted. "Of course not," he said, throwing a smug elbow into his brother's ribs.
"They could be!" Bofur retorted. "I like whittling."
"But they aren't," Bombur argued. "No use misleading the young master hobbit, now. He's owed the truth."
"What you think the truth, dear brother, and what is the truth are not one in the same," Bofur said mildly, flicking Bombur with a shaving.
"Listen to him protest!" Bombur said, delightedly, and Bifur snorted again. "Protest too much, one would think, eh Mr. Bilbo?"
"So just tell him," Bofur said, and it was a surprise to hear a slight strain of annoyance in his voice; thus far Bofur had been nothing but affable, even to the point of grating.
"No need to get upset."
"I'm not upset."
"Aye, you're not," Bombur said. "He whittles for the widow and her child; his sweet, sad widow."
"How is she his widow if he's still alive?" Bilbo wondered.
"Because she's not my widow," Bofur cut in. "She's a widow. I have no claim to her, or anyone."
"A lovely example of dwarven womanhood," Bombur teased, throwing another elbow into his brother's side. "Strong and stubborn, stout and fair. If only for that pallor, and that unfortunate hair."
"I like you, Bombur, but I will hit you if you don't stop talking," Bofur warned amicably.
As Bofur resumed work on the miniature pony and the rest of the camp fell into ponderous, sleeping silence, Bilbo realized that the dwarf had not truly denied his brother's claims. And he found himself wondering of this woman as the night lengthened, for he'd never seen a dwarven woman in his life, and at times he doubted they existed.
Before he fell asleep, he caught a flash of grin on Bofur's face, and the sight of it seemed to him to be almost tender.
Beneath the Blue Mountains lived the refugees of Erebor, displaced by Smaug the Terrible and broken by many years of wandering hardship. The dwarves of Ered Luin accepted their wayward kin as best as they were able, but the survivors were haunted by a wandering sense, a hollowness that comes from losing one's home. In their hearts burned the desire to reclaim what they had lost, more potent than any flame.
Among these exiles was a toymaker, by the name of Bofur. He had not been driven from Erebor like the other refuges, but he was not of the Blue Mountains either; instead, he, his brother Bombur and cousin Bifur were descended from Moria-folk, many generations ago. As with other exiles of the Lonely Mountain, he struggled to make an honest living for himself in all manner of ways, but the crafts with which he was most proficient were the mining of ore and the craft of toys.
In the latter, he excelled and brought joy to many. For he had an easy, unassuming temperament, and mingled with his skill was good humor, regardless of any detriment.
So the years passed, and as the last of their kin, Bofur, Bombur, and Bifur lived together in a modest home beneath the Blue Mountains, each plying their trade and living out the long lives of their race. Indeed; Bofur had been young when his exile had begun – he'd been born to such a life, in fact– yet it seemed to him at times that his youth had been squandered living as a homeless drifter.
But he was not bitter, or hard of heart. He accepted his lot with a smile and a light word, and he worked diligently to bring the ease and joy that came so easily to those who struggled to find the same. Perhaps at times he could be blunt ("as a bat" Bombur liked to say), and he often delighted bringing the stuffy and high-nosed down to his level with a sharply honed sense of humor, but one could never accuse Bofur of meaning ill.
So began the last year of his exile, as every year since had passed; uneventful and mild. The day dawned as any other when he set off to his shop with Bifur in tow, offering greetings to any and all that he passed. Despite his lot, Bofur was happy to be alive, and not afraid to show it.
The previous night, he had remained awake until the fire had diminished to embers in its hearth, perfecting the batch of toys he meant to sell today, chief among them a model of a little dragon, its hide a sunny yellow streaked with blue, its teeth bared in a comical grimace. Bombur had not approved
"It'll ruffle their parents, all right," he'd said, his brows twitching.
"Every child wants a villain to slay with their toy warriors," Bofur had argued lightly. "What better villain than a dragon?"
"Just saying a troll might be better," said Bombur. "Less personal. Likely their parents remember the flight from Erebor."
Bofur had shrugged. "It'll give them some satisfaction to break it, then," he'd said simply. He did not care what the child did with the toys he toiled over for days, as long as it brought them happiness. And in that manner, it was decided.
There was a usual crowd of children that hovered near his stall where he plied his wares, and they drew their hassled parents by turns to collect them. More often than not, a pair of pleading young eyes would do the selling for him, for not even the stubborn hearts of dwarves could resist the look of unshed tears in their children's eyes.
Bofur had no children himself, nor a wife. What dwarf women there were often married men of renown and import – warriors and leaders, dwarves of noble blood and birth. He was of an unimportant line with a humble profession, and therefore uninteresting to any women that might have been otherwise enticed. Most days this did not bother him – he was happy with his craft, which provided him ample opportunity to bring joy to those who most needed it – but he would be untrue if he claimed to never be lonely at times.
Bifur arranged his crafts on the stall with his usual eloquence – which was to say, as silently as a dead chill. The fragment of the axe embedded in his skull glinted in the light of the forge, winking like a star above his dark and furtive gaze. Many years ago, Bofur had stood at the side of Bombur as the healer pronounced Bifur hardy and able, and said with luck he would survive, though he would always bear a souvenir of the orc that had nearly cloven his skull in two, had it not been so thick.
Bofur suspected at least a fraction of the popularity of their shop had to do with the fascination children held for Bifur, who was a fearsome, odd figure in their eyes, but also a testament to dwarven toughness and ability. For the most part, Bofur left his cousin alone, only pausing when Bifur laid out a monstrous figure of an orc, resplendent with scars deeply entrenched in its hide, to say nothing of its wide, animal eyes.
"Might be a tad grotesque for children," Bofur commented mildly, arranging his wares in orderly little rows.
Bifur's response to this was to set another like toy beside its brother, equally horrifying, before shooting a meaningful glance at Bofur's toy dragon.
"They're hardly the same," Bofur exclaimed, picking up the dragon and brandishing it in his elder cousin's face. "This is a funny toy. Have you ever seen a dragon with a mug like this? Yours, on the other hand, look like the stuff of nightmares."
Bifur was not amused. He placed the monstrous orcs at the front of his stall with an air of irritated resolution.
"All right, all right. Keep your awful creatures. We'll see who pulls the bigger till," Bofur said, grinning.
This was mostly an empty challenge, and the both of them knew it. Despite Bifur's monstrous wares – or perhaps because of them – he often sold twice as much as Bofur's funny little creations. The mood of the year carried over even to children, and as things grew darker beyond the Blue Mountains, the children would rather slay the creatures that plagued their parents' worries rather than dally with carvings of benign woodland animals.
Indeed, as he gazed on the dragon, he realized it was a bit of a departure for him. While funny and odd enough to be considered one of his carvings, it was still a fearsome, tender subject. Perhaps it was his way to skewer that which was dark and difficult with humorous nonsense. It didn't work for everyone, but it made him happy enough.
As usual, Bifur sold his entire stock by midday, and with a grunt he shouldered his pack and set out for home. Bofur waved amicably as he departed, then took quick count of what remained of his stock. Some of the nicer carvings had sold, but the bulk of it remained, as did the funny dragon. Perhaps now that Bifur had gone, he would fare better.
The day passed as most do. Children flocked around his stall, running their small fingers over the polished wood and bright paint of the toys, innocent desire bright in their eyes. Bofur often fared better with Bifur standing guard, because at times like these when a little child would look up to him without their parents anywhere near, he'd be more likely to give away the object of their desire than he would be to sell it later.
A group of young boys flocked around him, pulling at his coat with grubby fingers. "Do you have a story for us today, Mr. Bofur?" they chorused in unison, yanking so hard that he thought his old coat would tear in their hands.
"A story, you say?" Bofur made a show of hemming and hawing, stroking his chin in a pensive manner. "I don't know, lads. I seem to have exhausted my store of stories."
"No!" they wailed.
"Just what are you needing my stories for, anyway?"
"We're bored!" one of them said, bouncing on the balls of his feet. The others nodded in agreement.
"Bored! And what a blessing it would to be so!" Bofur leaned down so that he was nearly at their level. "I can't remember the last time I had the privilege of being bored!"
"But it's awful!" another wailed.
"Here, now; I'm sure Bombur has a few tales to share."
"His stories are boring too!"
Bofur clutched his heart, making a great show of being wounded. "Ooch. My poor, sweet brother. His only crime being blessed with peaceful sensibilities!"
"His stories never have any dragons," the first boy complained. "Or scary beasties."
"So you're looking for a scary beastie story, are you?"
They all nodded in fervent unison.
He made one last act of reluctance before shooting them all a grin, and the boys cheered as he leaned even closer, dropping his voice to a mysterious hush. "There once was a dragon who –"
"We've heard about Smaug before!" the first boy said, arms crossed over his small chest.
"Ooh, are you sure this is about Smaug, then?" Bofur asked them seriously.
"They're always about Smaug!"
"Didn't you tell me you wanted a scary beastie story?"
"Then allow me to regale you with one about a dragon, even more fearsome and terrible than Smaug, if you please."
"More terrible?" one of the boys breathed.
"Aye. Truly the most fearsome dragon ever to have lived. Name of Guarr – Guarr the Vicious. A roiling, boiling cauldron of flaming death, he was, with a great yellow hide, so that if you saw him streak across the sky you would mistake him for the sun."
The boys leaned closer, and Bofur knew that he'd caught their imaginations, wrangled and tamed like a beast itself. He shaped the image of the dragon between his hands, much like he shaped its miniature approximation from wood, and the boys hung onto his every word, their eyes growing wider as he spoke.
"He was greedy, as dragons are, and viciously cruel. He roasted entire villages for sport, and it was said that fearful screaming of those he immolated was like the sweetest music to his ears, and often brought him no greater pleasure. A real bastard, by all accounts."
The boys looked horrified, crowding around Bofur's stool and clutching at his coat when he stopped to take a breath.
"How many did he kill?" one of the boys murmured.
"At least five hundred. No, maybe six." Bofur paused for dramatic effect. "Maybe ten thousand!"
"No!" the boys gasped.
"Aye. He was a real bloodthirsty bastard, and it wasn't long before our ancestors got it in their heads that they were going to take down this bastard of a drake, roast him like they'd been roasting their allies and kin. They set their armies against Guarr, but the dragon made easy work of them all; didn't matter if it was one or one thousand that marched against him.
"And just when it seemed as if things were truly hopeless, they happened on a plan, truly by chance. For among them was a humble bard."
"What?!" the boys squawked. "Not a fearsome warrior?"
"They can't all be fearsome warriors," Bofur said knowingly, tapping his chin. "You make the same mistake mighty Guarr made, for when the bard approached his hoard, the dragon only laughed – laughed as much as a dragon can, that is. He was offended that the dwarven armies would deign to send such a lowly example of them to meet him in combat. He was preparing to roast that humble bard when the bard spoke. 'You've proven yourself mighty and powerful, Guarr, yet I confess to being unimpressed overall.'"
"'You'll find I care little for impressing you, bard,' Guarr snarled, but the bard was not deterred. 'I challenge you in a subject with which you've proven to be thus far insufficient,' said the humble bard – perhaps a bit stupidly, you might think.
"And thus the bard and the dragon traded verse, back and forth, for above all things the dragon was full of pride, and could not bear the thought of being inferior in any way to such a lowly creature. The bard sang, and the dragon roared for my long hours, until at last the humble bard defeated Guarr in this most humble of affairs. But Guarr's true defeat was at hand, for while the bard distracted the dragon, he'd given the dwarven legions a chance to sneak up on the dragon and destroy him once and for all!"
"And the bard?" breathed one of the boys.
"Ah, well, at the moment of his triumph, Guarr lost his temper and cooked the humble bard in the blink of an eye. Melted his flesh right off his bones, silenced his pretty voice, and stilled his nimble fingers forever."
The boys were crestfallen. "What was the point, if he was just going to die?" the eldest boy said bitterly.
"Though he was foolish and humble, and ultimately died a foolish and untimely death, he changed the course of the war, saving many lives in doing so! Supposedly that's what we all dream of, isn't it?"
The eldest thought of this for a moment. "I suppose," he said slowly. "If he hadn't distracted the dragon, who knows how many more would have died?"
"Exactly," Bofur said. "There are many senseless and unfortunate things that happen in this world, but I find there's always a positive side to them. Sometimes takes a bit of looking for, is all." Bofur smiled at the boys, who looked considerably more thoughtful, and considerably less bored than they had a few moments ago. "You best get on. Your parents are looking for you."
With one last look at his shop, the boys picked up and scurried away, slowly resuming their excitable chatter as they went. Bofur watched them go with a slight air of regret. The day was nearly done and he'd not sold nearly as much as he needed to. They'd survive, Bifur, Bomber, and he; for Bifur more than made up where Bofur failed. At times, though, he often wished he could support more than he often did.
Across the market he saw the smiths exit the great forge, ambling off in the direction of their homes for the evening meal. He took the dragon carving off the table and ran his calloused thumb over the fine edge of its wing, unfurled as if itching to take to the sky. Its silly grimace seemed even more comical, then. More the fool, he; for spending so much time on an undesirable toy.
And that's when he saw the little girl. Hiding behind one of the stalls, she peered up at him with a childlike mixture of fascination and fear. He smiled and beckoned her over. He expected her to cower further behind the crate, but instead she lifted her little head in an unmistakable gesture of bravery and strode over to him as if she'd only been waiting for him to notice her.
"Was it true, sir?" she asked him in a quiet voice.
Bofur craned around, making a show of searching over his shoulders. "I don't see any 'sirs' around here, lass."
"I only mean to be respectful," she said, slightly cowed.
"And I only mean to say I'm not some lord or noble that's owed such respect," Bofur said, leaning down to her level.
"Sure you are," the little girl argued stubbornly. "Being a lord or noble doesn't have anything to do with it, either."
Bofur laughed aloud. "What a thing to say. What's your name, lass?"
"Riva," the girl said, holding out her hand.
He shook it. "And I'm Bofur. Pleased to make your acquaintance."
"Was it true, Mr. Bofur? The story about the dragon and the bard?"
Bofur shrugged. "It may be. In some form or another."
"That's not a real answer," she said, frowning.
"It is, indeed. Perhaps it's not the answer you wanted," he said seriously. "But it's an answer, just the same."
The little girl named Riva said nothing, instead casting her gaze to Bofur's table, examining the toys he had on display with a critical eye. "You made these?" she asked slowly.
"Aye. Likely I'll have to make some more, as these aren't too popular." He smiled at her. "I could make a nice dolly for you, if you like."
"I don't like dollies," Riva said, a frown etching in her face like stone.
"More's the pity, that," Bofur said easily. "I can make all kinds."
Riva's oddly stern gaze softened slightly as she considered him. "What kinds?"
"All kinds. Any kinds, really."
But Riva was not convinced. Instead, she fixed her gaze on the figure of the yellow dragon, its teeth bared up at her in an ultimately ridiculous fashion. "Was this the dragon from your story?"
"It might be."
"But the dragon from your story was fearsome. This dragon is silly."
"And who ever said it couldn't be one and the same?"
"Then it wouldn't be fearsome," Riva said.
"Maybe that's the point! Who could look at old Guarr here and fear him, even when thinking about all the nasty, evil things he did to our poor ancestors? Instead you laugh at him, and then you find you aren't quite as sad when faced with the rest."
"But that could be dangerous, too," Riva said softly. "If you don't fear when you should."
"Aye, well," Bofur said, looking away. "Likely this is the silly rambling of a silly dwarf, so take it for what little it's worth."
"Riva!" came a voice from across the market, cutting through the diminishing din like a blade through flesh. A young dwarf woman forced her way through the crowd with a ferociously intent expression on her face – a remarkable face, by Bofur's reckoning. For he had little experience or inclination in such matters, but he thought that the angle of her straight nose was lovely, as was her bright hair and dark eyes. He quickly arranged his own features into a friendly smile, but she was not affected.
"Riva," said the woman sternly. "You mustn't run off like that."
"I came to no harm, Mama," said the girl, though she lowered her head, cowed.
"You could have," said the woman, with a hard sideways look at Bofur.
"Mr. Bofur meant no harm either," Riva said, and her voice quivered with offense on his behalf. "He told me a story until you found me."
"Then it was good of him to keep an eye on you until I found you again," said the woman, with a grudging look of appreciation at Bofur. "I thank you."
He bowed to her. "Was no trouble at all. Your daughter is pleasant company."
"She can be, when she has a mind to be." She took her daughter's hand firmly. "Put that back and come along."
The look of sudden heartbreak on the little girl's face nearly forced the words from Bofur's lips without his permission. Or, perhaps, there was a part of him that sought to impress this stern, taciturn woman, when such an impulse should have been wholly unnatural. "Please," he said quickly. "She can keep it."
"At what cost?" said the woman suspiciously.
"No cost at all. Keep it with the story," he said to Riva, folding her little hands around the dragon, and the sight of her happiness brought warmth to his heart. "Perhaps you'll remember it this way."
"Thank you, Mr. Bofur," Riva said, her voice hushed, nearly overcome with reverence for the little unwanted dragon, grinning stupidly up at them all.
Her mother looked at him as if for the first time, her gaze wide as if she had never seen the shape of him before, and could no more make sense of him as she could the potential of the future. Her brows furrowed over those dark, beautiful eyes. "You have an odd way of doing business," she said slowly.
"I find a smile a much finer reward," he said simply, shrugging.
"You cannot buy bread with a smile. Or put clothes on your back with mere words."
He nearly laughed aloud. "You think I'm some head-in-the-clouds blunderer, do you? This is not my only means of employ, and if it was I'd have likely starved by now." He shrugged down at his sad little toys. "There's little demand for what I make, so I make do how I can. But those who do like what I make find happiness from it, and that fulfills me."
"You do this with your day of rest, then?" she wondered of him.
"Aye, I do. And a fine way to spend my resting day it is."
The woman said nothing for a long moment, and indeed for a moment Bofur wondered if she'd fallen into a state of fugue. He was about to prod her when she seemed to come back to herself, and with a curt nod to him, she tugged on her daughter's little hand and urged the both of them along. And there was a small, bleak moment where he believed he would never see this odd stranger again, and though it was odd, such speculation struck him as pain.
"May I know your name?" he called to her.
She made to continue on, but her daughter – bless her – dragged her little heels into the ground and refused to budge until the woman had craned around and grudgingly offered him an answer. "Rikke," she said, and with one last unwilling look, she fled into the direction of what Bofur assumed to be her home.
He resumed the dull drudge of his routine as perhaps an imposter might; dimly, with little interest or engagement. He gathered the toys that had not sold and set out to the home he shared with his elder brother and cousin, mindful that he was among the last to return. Bombur greeted him warmly when he came through the door, and even Bifur grunted in an enthusiastic way – or as enthusiastic as one could manage with a head wound.
"You're just in time," Bombur said, grinning over his shoulder as Bofur came through the door. "Smell good, doesn't it?"
"What does?" Bofur wondered.
"Are you concussed? Your favorite," Bombur said, one hand clutching a cast iron ladle. Bofur wondered paradoxically if he'd ever seen his brother without that ladle, for he seemed to cling to it even in his sleep, to say nothing of his daily work.
"Ah – aye, it does," Bofur managed. "Truly. Well done, and all that."
He was remote as a star for the rest of the evening, failing to meet his brother in conversation, and even the worried furrow of his cousin's brows did not penetrate through the haze that had fallen over him. When he slept, it was fitfully. When he dreamed, he saw flashes of grief that were altogether unfamiliar and as achingly potent as anything he had felt.