A/N: Well, here it is: the final chapter. It really has been one hell of a ride. Words cannot even describe how much fun it's been writing this and I can't even begin telling you all how grateful I am for all of the support and feedback you've all given me. Saying thank you just doesn't seem like enough, and yet there are no other words I can think of to say to you all. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you so very much. From the bottom of my heart, thank you. I hope that this last chapter seals the deal. Let me know what you think! R&R. Enjoy!
Every hobbit in the Shire knew the story of Hollis Baggins and the dwarf prince Taegan, son of Thane of the Line of Durin. It was a story that many fathers and mothers told their sons and daughters, nieces and nephews, while enjoying a nice fire on the hearth and getting ready to tuck in for a good night's sleep. Although it was a popular tale indeed, many hobbits thought it was just that: a tale. Surely, such things life debts did not exist and even if they did, no hobbit in their right and respectable mind would get involved in such nonsense.
That was the popular opinion of most hobbits in the Shire, that is, until Bilbo Baggins had become the Royal Consort Under the Mountain. As soon as Master Baggins left his cozy hobbit home with Gandalf the Grey, word began to spread, giving the old story renewed vigor and life. Was the story true, many wondered? Could there have actually been a life debt between Hollis Baggins and Taegan, son of Thane? Many would have asked if Hollis Baggins had even existed were it not for the fact that he was included on the Sackville-Baggins' family tree.
When word has spread to the Shire that Bilbo had married the King of Erebor, the last of the great dwarf kingdoms, many were shocked and even scandalized. What hobbit in their right mind would marry a dwarf? Why would a dwarf even want a hobbit anyway? Had Bilbo been having a secret affair from the prying eyes of the rest of them? If he truly did not care what others thought of him, why hadn't he mentioned it before? And what made Bilbo even agree to the marriage in the first place? By that point, many of the hobbits had reluctantly accepted that there might be things such as life debts, but as all of them had never before experienced one, they were still skeptical. Part of that skepticism rubbed off on the various reasons why Bilbo had agreed to the marriage. Perhaps he had been coerced into agreeing to it; perhaps he had been lied to by that troublesome wizard.
Either way, the entire affair was a very messy business and all that anyone wanted to really know was who got Bag End now that Bilbo was gone – and apparently for good. Just as Lobelia was causing just the right amount of ruckus about it – and truly, the woman could cause quite a stir over the most insignificant details – Gandalf and a handful of dwarves from Erebor had arrived. While the little hobbit children were fascinated by the dwarves with their different clothing and interesting beards, the adults were astonished and some even offended, especially when the dwarves seemed to be squatting in Bag End. It wasn't until Lobelia confronted Gandalf about it did everyone learn the truth.
Apparently, the King of Erebor, Thorin, son of Thrain, had declared that Bag End was still in the possessive of his consort, Bilbo Baggins. And should anyone attempt to take it from him – and that included family – they would be severely punished. Although Gandalf said it pleasantly enough to Lobelia, the look in his eyes was serious and sent a cold spark throughout her. Needless to say, all of her proclamations ceased immediately and debate over who would receive Bag End ended. Bag End was now a summer home and Bilbo was free to return to it whenever he so desired, so long as the King was with him, of course. For dwarves, as the hobbits of the Shire were just beginning to realize, were quite possessive and protective and that even extended to comfortable, little hobbit holes.
"Are we really going to see the dwarves, Gandalf?" Frodo asked the wizard, his blue eyes wide and shining with both excitement and trepidation.
Poor, young Frodo Baggins had recently lost his parents and Bilbo, having been sent word of the horrible tragedy right away, had decided that he would adopt his little cousin. Gandalf had always been aware that Frodo had been Bilbo's favorite cousin and as such, his declaration hadn't taken the wizard by surprise. Thorin, who did not know any other hobbits aside from Bilbo, had been unsure at first. After all, Frodo was still so very young and had just lost his parents; moving him to a dwarf kingdom, even one such a grand and beautiful as Erebor, might be a bit too much for him. However, Bilbo had told him that Frodo was a Baggins and was therefore made of tougher stuff than what Thorin had been giving him credit for. In the end, the Dwarf King had agreed, although Gandalf knew that he would have regardless.
Bilbo had been more than eager and ready to accompany Gandalf back to the Shire to retrieve Frodo, however, he had experienced a slight accident. While assisting in exploring a new tunnel that Thorin and the miners were thinking of mining, one that was currently too small for anyone other than Bilbo to enter, there had been a minor cave in. Not a large one and not extremely dangerous or life threatening. But it had caused Bilbo to break his leg in the end and he had been forced to remain in bed until Oin had deemed him fit for crutches. Thorin, of course, had been fraught with worry and had been quite tense, lashing out at any given moment. With that in mind, Gandalf thought it would be best and wise to go retrieve Frodo by himself. He was a wizard; he could protect a young hobbit child like Frodo easily enough.
Currently, they were sitting on a wagon pulled by a horse as they made their way towards the Lonely Mountain. When Gandalf had first arrived to the Shire to pick up Frodo, the small hobbit had been shy and timid, but he warmed up to the wizard quickly; most of the Bagginses did. And Gandalf, who loved hobbits dearly, had become quite fond of Frodo over his few days in the Shire. How could he not when the boy had been so quiet and melancholy, looking lost and alone even as he was surrounded by relatives and neighbors? Truthfully, he reminded the wizard of Bilbo when his parents had died and Gandalf believed that that was one of the reasons why Bilbo had been so adamant about taking Frodo under his wing. Bilbo definitely understood what it was like to lose his parents and wanted to reach out to his favorite cousin.
Gandalf turned and looked down at the dark haired hobbit child, his blue eyes twinkling with warmth and kindness.
"My dear Frodo, you aren't just going to see the dwarves of Erebor," Gandalf told him. "You're going to live there with them."
He watched as Frodo's eyes grew wide, making them look even bigger than they already were. They shone with excitement and wonder, but Gandalf knew that although he couldn't see it with his eyes, he knew that Frodo was sad and lost and lonely. It was only natural, but at least he would have something else to focus on, even look forward to, instead of his parents' untimely death.
"Why?" Frodo asked. There was hesitation and uncertainty in his expression now along with the excitement.
"Because your cousin Bilbo lives there, of course, and he has decided to take you under his wing," Gandalf explained to him before he added, "He's the Royal Consort Under the Mountain, Frodo. Your cousin Bilbo is married to Thorin King Under the Mountain."
"Oh, wow," Frodo said, his voice soft and light. "So…Uncle Bilbo is a queen?" At that, Gandalf chuckled heartily.
"In a way, yes, I suppose he is. Although since he's male, he's not called queen but consort," he said, a smile on his face. When Bilbo heard about this, he would laugh. And Fili and Kili would tease him and Thorin both endlessly.
"Gandalf?" Frodo asked, his voice small and soft. He was looking away and chewing on his bottom lip, as he often did when he was worried or nervous.
"What is it, my boy?"
"Will I like Erebor and the dwarves?"
Looking down at the small hobbitling, Gandalf smiled gently and patted his dark, curly hair. Frodo looked up at him, his face contorted in worry and fear. It pained the wizard to see such a look on such a creature.
"Dwarves are very different from hobbits, Frodo, but you will like them. Of that, I am sure," Gandalf told him confidently, yet gently. "And Erebor is a beautiful place, full of many things that I am sure will interest a young hobbit such as yourself."
"Oh. Hey, Gandalf?" Frodo said, most of the worry and fear gone from his face and his voice.
"How did Uncle Bilbo become queen?" the young hobbit asked him. Gandalf didn't have the heart to correct him, not that time anyway.
"I'll tell you all about that, my dear Frodo. But first, let me tell you a story," the wizard replied.
"Will I like the story?"
"I think you will. Very much so, as a matter of fact," Gandalf said. A wide grin replaced the rest of the fear, worry, and doubt on Frodo's face.
"Okay!" Chuckling, Gandalf began.
"You see, Frodo, it all started with Hollis Baggins…"