First story for The Hobbit, so it goes without saying that I own nothing that pertains to the movie or novel, although I do own my original character!
Chapter One: A Company of Dwarves
When Airemis Took spontaneously decided to drop in on her favorite cousin for a visit she never thought that her life would be irrevocably altered. After all, Bilbo Baggins was a respectable hobbit, never indulging in such distasteful pastimes as adventures, of which Airemis herself had partaken of and quite enjoyed. Bilbo never did nor said anything unexpected, Airemis never said nor did anything that was expected. And yet, despite the vast differences in their ways, Airemis and Bilbo had always been close as children and often wrote to one another as adults. Hardly a week went on without a letter from one or the other, and it wasn't unexpected for an intermittent visit.
So it was a sunny morning that saw Airemis Took making her way through Hobbiton, nodding to the hobbits out tending their gardens and those sitting on stoops smoking pipes. Most nodded back or waved hello, though Airemis wasn't so naïve as to think that the moment she wandered out of earshot that they weren't whispering about her: "There goes that Airemis Took. An odd one, if there ever was. Half-elf and half-hobbit, and a Took to boot! Bound to be trouble from the moment she were born, mark my words!"
She had heard it all, had seen the disapproving looks shot her way from hobbit holes all over the Shire. It was nothing new, although she had thought that the novelty of her situation would have worn off by now. She had travelled through these parts hundreds of times, but gossip was never outdated in the Shire, and hobbits loved nothing more than a good story (especially at meal-time). Airemis paid no heed, and as The Hill drew closer her excitement mounted. It had been nearly eight months since she had seen Bilbo, far too long in her opinion.
She turned up the walk that circled Bag End, nearly running in her haste, and almost didn't notice the figure coming her way from the direction of her cousin's house. She skidded to a halt a few feet before the tall robed figure and craned her neck back to look into the stranger's face, only to choke in recognition.
"It cannot be Gandalf the Wandering Wizard?" Airemis stared up into a pair of twinkling eyes beneath familiar bushy brows.
Gandalf chuckled and bowed his head in recognition. "My dear Airemis Took. It has been years since I beheld your face and yet, unlike myself, time has barely made its mark upon you."
"Oh, I wouldn't say that," Airemis said, flippantly, "you look much the same as ever."
"I'm not sure if that was a compliment," Gandalf said, still chuckling.
Airemis just smiled and gestured in the direction of Bilbo's door. "Are you coming from my cousin's home?"
"That I am. I have propositioned Mr. Baggins to partake in an adventure," Gandalf said, watching her from beneath his hairy brows. He seemed to be sizing her up.
Airemis whistled. "And he promptly, but politely, dismissed you, I'd bet? I've been trying to convince Bilbo to go on adventures with me since we were children, to visit my elf kin at the very least, but he never would. He's too much a Baggins and too little a Took in that regard."
Gandalf leaned on his staff and quietly appraised her for a moment before nodding his head to himself and muttering, "Yes, perhaps fifteen would be better."
"Pardon me? Fifteen what?" Airemis's elven hearing hadn't failed her yet.
Gandalf just smiled and tipped his hat at her in farewell. "Until next time," he said and began to walk back the way she had just come. Airemis watched him go in confused silence until his tall hat disappeared from view. As soon as Gandalf was gone, she started toward Bilbo's home again, though with a little less exuberance than before as she pondered over the wizard's cryptic last remarks.
When she approached Bag End Airemis noticed a strange mark on the door, left, she knew, by Gandalf, though for what purpose she couldn't guess. She shook it off and knocked on the door. It took several moments before the door inched open and Bilbo's voice carried out saying, "We'll have no adventures here, thank you." The door started to close again and Airemis shoved her foot inside before it could close completely.
"Are you so quick to turn away a guest at the door?"
The door swung back open and there was Bilbo's astonished and relieved face. "Oh, Airemis! What a pleasant surprise. Please come in and regale me with stories of your travels! I've just made tea and was about to serve up some cakes."
"Just tea for me, if you please," Airemis said, hanging her traveling cloak on a peg in the entryway and dropping her bag. If her attire, a long green tunic, tight fitting trousers and molded boots, were a surprise to Bilbo he didn't show it.
"Certainly," he said, scuttling off toward the kitchen. "I often forget that while you are half hobbit, your appetite leans more toward the elf in you. I remember how the Old Took used to try and bribe you into eating, always saying that you were nothing but skin and bones."
"I often despaired at his attempts to fatten me up," Airemis said. "There were so many other things I would rather have been doing."
"Like running off to Rivendale all on your own at every whipstitch?" Bilbo popped up beside her with a steaming teacup in hand, which she accepted gratefully.
"Precisely," she said, taking a seat at the kitchen table. Bilbo plopped down across from her. Seated they were right at eye level with one another, though Airemis was just a bit taller than Bilbo when standing. It seemed that the only hobbit traits she had inherited from her father was a short stature and a head full of thick brown curls. Aside from those distinct characteristics she looked very much like an elf in miniature: pointy ears, sharp eyes, naturally slender physique, and a face that was nearly too lovely to behold.
"Where have you been living of late? Not still in Frogmorton?" Bilbo cut into a seed cake, serving himself a very generous portion.
"No, I was traveling in South Farthing, visiting a few old friends along the way."
"I didn't know you had many friends in the South Farthing," Bilbo said suspiciously. "In fact, I rather thought most folk in that area believed you a menace, and a bad influence on young hobbits."
Airemis laughed. "Perhaps I was too generous with the term friends. What I meant was acquaintances whose assistance I required."
"Assistance with what?" Bilbo looked at her curiously.
Airemis tapped her fingers against the side of her cup and answered, "I was interested in buying a bit of real estate, but it would seem that no one is inclined to sell to me."
"Real estate? You are looking to settle down? Give up on your adventures and live a respectable life?" Bilbo looked shocked.
"No, not entirely. I am looking to take up a permanent residence, though I don't plan on being there all the time. I do like my adventures," Airemis said.
"And that is probably the reason that no one will sell to you around these parts," Bilbo said. "Adventures are a nasty business. I had to turn one such adventure-seeker away today myself."
"So I saw," Airemis said. "Gandalf himself came to call on your services, and, like the respectable hobbit you are, you sent him off on his way."
"Of course," Bilbo said, taking no notice (or perhaps choosing to ignore) the teasing tone of her voice. "But enough of that unpleasantness. Tell me of your trips to Rivendale! That is where your latest letters were sent from, were they not? Do tell me of the elves!"
"What do you want to know of elves that you haven't learned from my company already?"
"I mean real elves!"
"Am I not a real elf? At least by half?" Airemis laughed.
"You know what I mean," Bilbo said, scooting closer in his seat. Despite his insistence that adventures were a nasty business, Bilbo was always eager to hear about her trips to visit the elves. And so, for the next several hours they sat around the table exchanging tales, Airemis regaling him with stories of Rivendale and the lands outside the Shire, of the dangers on the road and her more recent combat training, and Bilbo spoke in length about the goings on of the Shire and what new flowers he planned on planting in his garden.
After a while Bilbo rose to tend the fire and start on supper, inviting Airemis to claim a bedroom for he insisted that she stay that night and possibly the next. She left him to his business, gathering up the bag she had abandoned in the hall and carrying it to her favorite guest bedroom. It wasn't the largest or the nicest, but it had the best view of southern roads of Hobbiton, all the way down The Hill. She tossed her bag on the bed, reminding herself to bother Bilbo for some provisions before she left out again. She was running low on elven bread, and wouldn't make it two days into a return journey before she ran out completely.
Airemis sat down on the bed and looked about the room. She had always loved Bag End, even when she was just a child and would come round to visit with her father. It was a place of warmth and comfort, where she had always felt welcomed and safe. This wasn't always true in the Shire, where the other hobbits were suspicious of her heritage and disdainful of her wanderings. Neither did she feel completely at home in Rviendale. The elves were always civil, though she knew that they would never truly accept her as one of them. She was tiny in comparison, and did not possess the same inherent grace and nobility of the other elves. She had tried to assimilate, traveling from Rivendale to Lothlorien to Greenwood, but never feeling at home anywhere. Sometimes, Airemis feared that she would never find her place. The only place she ever felt at home was with her favorite cousin.
She and Bilbo had spent many summers together as kids, running around the Shire and pretending to be great adventurers off to visit elves and battle goblins. As the years had progressed, however, Bilbo had grown from a rambunctious youth into a mature hobbit with no more desire for adventure. Airemis wondered how he would fare against the will of a wizard.
Just as Airemis was rising from the bed to go seek out her cousin's company once more there came an unexpected sound: a knock at the door. She heard Bilbo rushing to answer the door just as she emerged into the hall. As the door swung open, however, it was not the face Airemis (nor Bilbo, for that matter) had thought to see. Instead of Gandalf—back to proposition Bilbo again, as she had expected—there was a dwarf on the porch.
The dwarf was broad and rough looking, with a thick nose and a wiry beard. He pushed inside and turned to Bilbo as though he had been expected. With a swift bow the dwarf said, "Dwalin, at your service."
"Bilbo Baggins at yours!" Her poor cousin was too surprised to say anything else. Airemis walked forward, drawing the attention of the dwarf.
Dwalin turned and gave her an incredulous stare. "I was not aware you had a wife, hobbit."
"He doesn't," Airemis said. "Though he does have a cousin. Airemis Took is my name, and no need to introduce yourself," she said, when it looked as though Dwalin was about to bow to her as well, "I already overheard you."
"Well, I was just preparing dinner," Bilbo said, still looking a bit flustered. "Please join us."
Dwalin spared Airemis another confused glance, obviously cottoning on to the fact that she couldn't be a hobbit, despite her small stature, before he turned back to Bilbo and nodded in ascent.
They all sat down at the table and started in on the roast fish and drop biscuits, though Dwalin ate decidedly more than either Bilbo or Airemis. No one spoke much, though there was a fair bit of snorting and smacking. Soon, however, their uncomfortable silence was broken by another knock at the door. Bilbo jumped up and went out to the hall to answer it. Airemis was certain that this time it must be Gandalf, here to explain the arrival of the dwarf Dwalin. But when Bilbo arrived in the kitchen, looking more astounded than before, it was in the company of another dwarf and not the wizard.
"Balin, at you service," the white haired dwarf said, when he spotted Airemis at the table.
She quickly introduced herself and offered up her seat, as she had finished eating already. Balin accepted with a grateful nod, though like Dwalin, he kept sending inquiring looks her way.
Airemis gave Bilbo's shoulder an encouraging squeeze as he offered up tea and beer and his very best cakes to the two dwarves. Just as he was heading for the pantry there came a ringing at the bell, followed by another. He turned toward the hall in exasperation but Airemis held up her hand. "I've got the door, cousin. You just worry about the cakes."
She didn't wait for his response, but headed for the door, knowing better than to expect Gandalf this time. She opened the door to see two more dwarves, both decidedly younger and far more handsome than the other two. The dwarves looked down at her in surprise, obviously as shocked by her appearance (and mere presence) as she was of theirs.
After a few moments of silence, Airemis cleared her throat and said, "Hello there, dwarves. Fancy standing on the mat all night, or do you have business with my cousin?"
Her teasing seemed to snap them from their trance and both dwarves bowed low to her. First one and then the other took her hand and kissed the back of it before introducing themselves.
"At your service," they said in unison.
"Airemis Took, at yours," she said, gesturing them inside. "Though I suspect it is Bilbo whom you seek. He's in the kitchen along with the other two."
"Yes, we have come seeking a Mr. Boggins," Kili said, smiling at her.
Airemis chuckled and lead them into the kitchen. She nodded at Bilbo when they entered. "Well, Mr. Boggins it appears you have more guests."
Bilbo flitted about, finding more chairs and bringing out more food and beer for the newcomers. Airemis tried to help him, but Bilbo waved her to a seat, stating, rather forcefully, that she too was a guest. So she sat between Kili and Fili (at their beckoning) and listened to the dwarves prattle on about mines and gold, which did not interest her in slightest, and then about goblins and dragons, which did interest her quite a bit.
It wasn't long before another knock sounded at the door. This time a frustrated Bilbo stormed into the hall saying that he had quite enough dwarves to entertain and that no more would be welcome in Bag End. Airemis followed him into the hall and watched as he opened the door and no less than eight dwarves fell into the entryway. Behind them loomed the tall shadow of none other than Gandalf. The wizard was leaning on his staff and laughing. When he caught Airemis's eye he winked.
The dwarves all jumped to their feet and made introductions: Bifur, Bofur, Bombur, Oin, Gloin, Ori, Nori and Dori all bowed low and made their way into the kitchen, settling in and calling for more food and drinks. Airemis watched Bilbo stalk into the pantry, but she hung back in the hall to speak with Gandalf.
"What is this all about?"
Gandalf's eyes twinkled and a smile spread over his lips. "That, my dear, you shall soon find out. But first, we must await the arrival of our last co-conspirator."
"Co-conspirator?" Airemis couldn't help the thrill of excitement that the word inspired. Gandalf seemed to recognize this and his smile grew wider.
"I knew I could count on a Took to take interest in such matters. And I think I might have to count on the very same Took to help convince a certain Baggins to take up the quest as well."
"Oh sure, should be easy," Airemis said, shaking her head. "I must admit, though, that I feel at a distinct disadvantage."
"How so," Gandalf asked.
"This is a company of dwarves and I am an elf, by half."
"Yes," Gandalf said.
"Most dwarves hate—or at least distrust elves. Even if they haven't found me out yet, they will soon. And I will not hide who I am," Airemis said.
"And I would not ask it of you," Gandalf said, sincerely. "It is true that you may endure the distrust and disdain of the dwarves for a time, but they will soon learn to value you as a member of this company."
"Should I choose to join it," Airemis teased.
"And we both know you shall, no matter the dangers involved," Gandalf said.
"Should they choose to let me."
"They shall for I have chosen you myself, and that means something!" With that Gandalf moved to join the rowdy gathering of dwarves and Airemis followed after. The dwarves were attacking the spread of food and the pints of beer, talking and laughing raucously. Bombur, the fattest of the dwarves, was devouring cheese by the wheels, and Ori was apparently attempting to burp the Dwarven alphabet.
At her return, Kili and Fili abruptly pushed Oin from the seat between them and beckoned her to sit again. As soon as she did they closed ranks around her and began to question her about her relationship to Bilbo.
"So you are Mr. Boggins's cousin?" Kili asked.
"On your mother or your father's side?" Fili asked.
"On my father's side," she answered. "My father was Bilbo's mother's brother."
"And your mother?" Fili asked.
"Was no relation to either of them," Airemis said. "That would be incest, and it is generally frowned upon."
"Was she from around these parts?" Kili asked, unperturbed.
Airemis realized at once that the brothers were attempting to uncover the mystery of her heritage, obviously not believing she could be a hobbit like Bilbo. "She was not from Hobbiton."
"Where did she hale from?" Fili asked.
"East of where?" Kili asked.
"East of here, of course, or why else mention East?" Airemis nearly laughed at their looks of confusion and mild frustration. If they would not come right out and ask, then she would not give up the information so easily.
Both Fili and Kili looked ready to speak again when another knock sounded at the door. Everyone quieted immediately. Whoever was at the door must be very important, Airemis thought, to elicit such a response.
"He is here," Gandalf said, and the entire company rose from their seats and moved into the hall. Airemis hung back, leaning in the doorjamb as Gandalf opened the door to admit the final member of this gathering.
The dwarf at the door was unlike any of the others. He was tall, by dwarf standards, broad and thick with muscle born from battle and hard labor. His hair was long and brown, silvered delicately from age, though his face was not burdened with many lines or wrinkles. His eyes were a sharp wintergreen, set deep beneath thick brows and over a aristocratic nose. With a grim and regal bearing he stepped into the hall, addressing Gandalf in a deep, rich voice, "Gandalf. I lost my way a few times and would not have found this place if not for the mark on the door."
"Mark? There is no mark upon that door. I just had it painted last week!" Bilbo seemed to have finally found his voice, and with it his indignation.
"There is a mark, for I put it there myself," Gandalf said. "And now Bilbo, I am pleased to introduce you to the leader of our company, Thorin Oakenshield."
At the name Airemis had a sudden burst of recognition. She had heard of Thorin, son of Thrain, son of Thror, King under the Mountain during her brief stay in Greenwood Forest. She had also heard of Thranduil's betrayal, though the elves of Greenwood did not tell the tale that way.
"So this is the hobbit," Thorin said, giving Bilbo a thorough once-over. "He looks more like a grocer than a burglar."
The dwarves all laughed and Airemis frowned. She couldn't abide anyone insulting her beloved cousin, especially after he had offered up his hospitality to a bunch of strange and uninvited dwarves. "He might look like a grocer, but I'd wager he has more courage in his heart than any of you, when put in a pinch."
Thorin, and all of the dwarves, turned to her at her outburst. She crossed her arms over her chest and glared back, feeling less inclined to tease and joke with the dwarves than she had before they had laughed at Bilbo.
"And who might you be?" Thorin took a step forward, eying her suspiciously.
"Airemis Took. The grocer's cousin," she said.
"Airemis is a skilled hunter and a fair tracker. She is handy with a sword and can be counted on in a fight," Gandalf said.
Thorin moved closer to Airemis, stopping a few feet from her. He stared down at her, his brows creased with distrust. "You have an elvish look about you, and yet your stature is that of a Halfling. What are you?"
Airemis swallowed and pushed away from the doorjamb. This moment had come sooner than she would have liked. She looked up into Thorin Oakenshield's piercing gaze and answered truthfully. "I am both elf and hobbit."
Thorin's expression turned furious and he spun to face Gandalf. "An elf?"
"By half," Gandalf said.
"We need not nor want any elves in this company," Thorin said, and several of the dwarves nodded ascent, though Airemis noticed that Fili and Kili were not among them.
"You asked me to find the fourteenth member of your company, and I found him and another. You can take them or stick to a company of thirteen and suffer all the bad luck for it," Gandalf said. "I will stand by my choices in both Bilbo and Airemis. They are more than they appear and will be invaluable to this journey."
Thorin seemed to mull this over for a moment. He obviously trusted Gandalf, though he resented the wizard's decisions. Dwarves were a stubborn people, and Airemis thought that Thorin must be especially so, if the set of his jaw and the long moments of deliberation were any indication. But finally he nodded in half-hearted ascent, shot Airemis a look of disgust and hatred, and moved into the kitchen. It was obvious that the matter was far from settled, though.
The other dwarves followed after Thorin, and Gandalf, as he moved to passed her, placed a hand on Airemis's shoulder and whispered, "In time, they will learn to trust you."
Airemis just sighed and followed her confused and befuddled cousin into the kitchen to take part in a meeting that would change all of their lives.
Chapter One down, next time: The Quest revealed! And an unfortunate encounter with Trolls!