AN: I have played fast and loose with canon here, folks. Not only in terms of "Hobbit-happy-ending-everybody-lives" but also tweaking important dates to suit my fancy. Frodo was born earlier and adopted much earlier than in canon, and the Council of Elrond has been pushed up as well, but with purpose and explanation to come.

Also, I may have forfeited my photoshop privileges with these silly things, but you can find some dwarfy Frodo photomanips over on my tumblr (pibroch DOT tumblr DOT com)

"Things have begun moving in the dark," Gandalf had said during his most recent visit to the halls of Erebor, all wizardly gravitas and chilling intensity. "Faster than I had anticipated. We cannot afford to ignore signs such as these."

And that very warning was the reason Bilbo found himself caught up in this hurly-burly nonsense, trying to organize a delegation of sulking, churlishly stubborn dwarves and one far too impressionable tween of a hobbit. Even with ponies, guards, and ample supplies, it would still be quite a trip to Rivendell— certainly lengthy, and possibly dangerous. Too dangerous for Frodo, Bilbo had argued, but had been surprisingly and adamantly outvoted.

"You're certain," Bilbo tried again, though with Thorin playing the part of traitor to parental solidarity, he was largely resigned to this foolish plan. "That you wouldn't rather stay here with your cousins? They'll be ruling this whole mountain, you know."

Which was an entirely separate worry, gnawing at Bilbo's gut, but very purposefully unspoken. Fili was a grown dwarf and a capable heir; chances were fairly good that Erebor would survive a few weeks without Thorin's watchful presence. "It'll likely be more fun than slogging through Mirkwood and mountains, then enduring a lengthy council. Elves aren't apt to be hurried."

"Fili and Kili still treat me like a lad half the time." Crossing his arms and leaning against the doorframe, Frodo certainly didn't look like the average hobbit tween, decked in the finely tooled leather, wool, and furs customary for a prince of Erebor. He even went so far as clomping around in heavy boots, of all the blasted things— the sight of them still made Bilbo's bare toes itch. "'Adad said I could come."

"I know precisely what your 'adad said." Tossing a few spare shirts onto the bedspread, Bilbo barely resisted the urge to pound his fists against the nearest available hard surface. Perhaps against Thorin's granite-hard skull— cursed, confounded dwarves. "And speaking of His Royal Pest, go bother him to fix your braids. You'll want that bird's nest away from your face for travelling."

"It's not a nest." Sweeping two hands back through his wild tresses, dark curls and twisting braids hanging longer than the hair of any respectable hobbit of the Shire, even the ladies, Frodo straightened up from his slouch, then froze. "Wait, travelling? You mean I can come?"

"Yes, fine, you can come." It had been challenging enough convincing Thorin to make the trip to Rivendell at all; overruling the decision that Frodo would join them would be akin to throwing oil on an already simmering fire. "But it is a long trip on a perilous road, so go pack some proper gear and ask your 'adad to fix your braids. Get."

Frodo's smile was luminous, all teeth and brilliantly glinting eyes, and Bilbo grunted as he was swept up in a tight, eager embrace; Frodo was stronger than your average hobbit as well, due in large part to years of weapons training, but also to a lifetime of roughhousing with his playmates and adopted cousins. Bruises lasted longer than delicate sensibilities in a dwarven nursery, but Frodo had grown up happier than a pig in muck, and bolder than the most adventurous Took.

"Thank you, Papa," Frodo said, butting his forehead gently against Bilbo's and holding it there for a moment. Squeezing his own arms around Frodo's middle, Bilbo allowed himself a patient half-smile, hugging his son close.

"We'll see if you're still thanking me in a week, my boy."

"'Adad?" Holding up a quelling finger, Thorin finished his sentence, scratching neat rows of runes across paper, before setting his pen carefully on its rest and flicking his inkpot closed. Only then did he deign to look up at his son, who was nearly vibrating with obvious keenness, rocking from heel to toe and back again. "How should I do my braids properly for travel?"

Thorin leaned back in his chair, hands braced on the desk before him, and surveyed Frodo with a critical eye. The lad's hair had always been something of a challenge— thick and curly, but not as coarse as dwarven hair, it would not naturally hold complex braids or heavy charms without some effort. Frodo ordinarily wore it long and loose, save for a few plaits framing his face, but something more practical than a such an untamed mane was called for in this instance.

"Not so differently than for weapons lessons, or hunting with your cousins." He stood, coming around the desk and ruffling a hand over Frodo's crown. The lad ducked, squawking his displeasure at the dishevelment, but his broad smile did not fade. "Go fetch a comb and I'll show you. Quickly, now."

Frodo did not move, except to pull a plain silver comb and a handful of ties from his pocket, brandishing them hopefully.

"Ah, good lad," Thorin said, and motioned for Frodo to precede him into the family solar. When Frodo's back turned, Thorin snatched up a small filigreed box from the desk, then followed the lad.

They settled, as they had done since Frodo had grown too tall and too proud (the latter, much earlier than the former) to perch upon his 'adad's knee for this, with Thorin seated on a sofa by the hearth, and Frodo sitting on the floor between his feet. Frodo was already unfastening his current braids, undoing the ties and slipping off the silver barrels; Thorin had crafted those beads years ago, when Frodo had been a wee badger underfoot, seemingly composed entirely of giggles and huge eyes glittering like blue topaz in his tiny face. And long before that, he had made a similar set for Kili, who had only been a toddling babe when his father was lost to a mine collapse in Ered Luin.

"Comb," Thorin said, holding out a hand over Frodo's shoulder, then set about working through all the snags and snarls one might expect to find in the unfettered hair of an lively young prince. Every drag of wide teeth made the curls loosen, puffing up like a dandelion gone to seed, but fresh plaits would set that to rights.

Pulling back the locks from forehead to pate, Thorin wove a single thick braid from crown to nape, the end reaching just to Frodo's neck. Tying it neatly with a wire-thin leather cord, Thorin fished a new barrel bead from the box Frodo had yet to notice and fastened it securely. Polished silver, engraved with an angular pattern of peaks and set with sapphire chips, gleamed brightly amongst dark chestnut curls.

"What's that, 'Adad?" Frodo tilted his head slightly, just peering out of the corner of his eye; of course, he still held his old beads in his palm.

"A bead. Stop fidgeting." Taking hold of the top of Frodo's head, Thorin turned him back as he had been, then took a handful of hair from above one pointed ear, starting a neat, flat braid that followed the curve of his skull. "Two braids on each side, I think: one worked back, like this, and one hanging down in front."

Frodo groaned a quiet, impatient sort of noise, but did not argue with the lack of proper answer to his curiosity. "Two each side... like Fili wears?"

"Aye, much like that. He has nearly as much hair as you, kurdith, and this should help tame it. Remember, a moment's blindness can mean the difference between your sword in your opponents belly—"

"And his sword in mine," Frodo finished, sounding reassuringly serious. The lad might be young still, and bold enough to keep pace with his peers, but he was not foolhardy by nature. Unless, of course, he had his cousins on hand to egg him on to folly— the incident with the barrels of pickled beets, the broken warhammer, and Balin's wardrobe immediately sprang to mind, and Thorin shoved the memory aside just as quickly. Some things were better left forgotten.

"I hope you've taken all your lessons to heart," Thorin said, fingers still moving deftly, bringing the tail of the braid to hang behind and below Frodo's ear and sliding on another bead. "Whether goblins or highwaymen, few on the path we'll be taking will care to offer mercy for a lack of age or experience."

Frodo was quiet for a few moments, not immediately bristling with outrage; that was a good sign. Thorin was more than halfway through the braid behind his other ear when finally the lad spoke. "I know, 'Adad... and I'll be mindful."

"No, my Frodo, you don't know yet." Chuckling, Thorin was certain, would not be well received, even if it was more in the spirit of paternal pride than amusement. He refrained, keeping his tone level and finishing off the braid instead. "But I trust you will learn. Now, turn."

"Do you have enough dried beef?" Fili asked, stroking the neck of Frodo's handsome bay dun pony, ruffling the braids woven into its dark mane. "And that good bacon from Bombur? You remembered to pack extra?"

"Yes, 'Amad—" Twisting in his saddle, Frodo swatted at Kili's curious fingers before they could sneak into his bags. "Leave off, Kee. I have everything I need."

"I sincerely doubt that," Kili replied, swatting back, which descended immediately into a light tussle. The slapping bothered the pony rather quickly, making her shift and nicker, and forcing Frodo to offer ear scratches in apology.

"Atkât, Greta, atkât... there's a good girl." Shooting a glare at his cousins, Frodo swallowed down a lump of nervousness. "Don't you two have a kingdom to demolish?"

"Oh, would you listen to him, Kee." Both brothers moved to stand beside Greta, and their amused smirks were near mirrors of each other. Fili prodded an elbow into Kili's ribs, chuckling. "Not even left the gates yet, and already getting cheeky."

"Proper adventurer spirit, Fee," Kili agreed. "To match those fancy braids. If he manages not to get eaten by spiders or snared by some wicked elven temptress, he'll be impossible to live with after this."

"Get stuffed, the pair of you," Frodo grumbled, not quite able to hide his own twitching smile. Reaching out in tandem, Fili grabbed hold of his knee, and Kili patted him on the back; balancing carefully, Frodo managed to squeeze both of their arms before they all released the holds with a shared laugh.

"We're serious, though," Kili said, while Fili nodded. "Not a scrap of edible game in the Mirkwood, unless the Elfking's feeling generous, and nothing but weeds once you get to Rivendell. Ration your meat like it's mithril, cousin— Hail, Gimli!"

The dwarf in question was leading his own sorrel pony in their direction, helmet under his arm and fiery beard trailing down his chest; at the call of his name, Gimli son of Gloin smiled broadly in greeting.

"Fair morning to you, my princes. A fine day to begin a journey, is it not?"

"Oh, aye, very fine indeed. Perfect day for the start of an adventure," Frodo added emphatically, catching on to the playful note in Gimli's words. "But I'm certain you two won't be bored while we're gone, what with all the petitioners and open courts to hold, day in and day out."

"I think we'll survive without lumpy bedrolls," Fili said tartly. "And night watch shifts."

"Hardtack and stew," Kili continued. "And cold scrubs in rivers."

"And Mirkwood."

"And wet socks."

"And elves," the brothers finished together, both pulling faces of unbridled disgust. Greta stomped a hoof, snorting as if agreeing with the sentiment, and Kili rubbed her flank.

Frodo peered narrowly down at his cousins. "Jealous?"

"Incredibly," Kili sighed, while Fili hummed noncommittally, crossing his arms. His peevish glance back towards Erebor, quick though it was, said more than enough.

"Mount up," Thorin called from his straight-backed perch atop his pony, drawing every eye. Even in clothed for travel rather than court, fine cloth replaced with scale, leather, and furs, his presence was not diminished. The sight made Frodo sit a bit straighter himself, and his handsome new beads clacked gently together, barely audible over his 'adad's booming voice. "Company, to me! Form lines."

"Right then, stay safe," Kili said, looking from Frodo to Gimli, then back again.

"And good luck," said Fili, as Gimli swung up onto his pony, and Frodo squeezed his fists around Greta's reins, holding without pulling.

"You too, cousins. Good luck." Taking a deep breath, Frodo lightly pressed his heels to Greta's sides, urging her along the swiftly forming procession, past the supply ponies, then farther up. Gimli was trotting along just beside, and Frodo turned to him before they could get too close to the head of the line. "Will you ride with me, Gimli? And talk a while?"

Looking slightly awkward in his saddle, listing a bit with every step, Gimli still managed to dip a deep nod. "It would be my honour, indeed."

Khuzdul translations:

'Adad - father
kurdith - heart that is young
'Amad - mother
Atkât - quiet