"Here, lad, let me do that."
Bilbo looked up from his bowl of steaming soup in time to see Ori sigh and pass the end of his unfinished braid over to his older brother. Dori made a tutting sound and busied himself with re-weaving the hair.
Sitting beside them on the end of a rotting log, Nori laughed and elbowed his youngest sibling gently. "Best learn to braid your own hair, brother, or Mother Hen here will still be fussing over you when your beard turns grey."
Ori blushed, and Dori frowned on his behalf. "Don't you laugh, Nori," he said severely. "You couldn't form a descent fishtail till you were nigh on sixty, if I recall correctly."
Nori grinned, not chagrined in the slightest, and resumed braiding his beard.
Gaze flicking from the brothers Ri to the rest of the company, Bilbo saw that a number of the other dwarves had finished their meal and were seeing to their own untidy braids. It was not an unusual sight. Since starting the journey Bilbo has become accustomed to the dwarves' ritual of redoing their hair each night. Some had procured metal combs from their pockets. Others were fastening silver claps on the ends of intricate plaits to keep them in place. Bilbo found it fascinating to watch; he knew these dwarves could slaughter a band of orcs without breaking a sweat, battle-hardened and tough as nails as most of them were, and to see them patiently weaving their hair into elaborate shapes and forms every evening was more amusing than it probably should have been.
Bilbo himself, as a hobbit, never payed much attention to his hair. He let his curls do what they wanted as long as they were out of his face and off his shoulders. He doubted he'd be able to do much with it anyway; his hair was much too soft to hold a braid.
He slurped carefully at his soup, mindful of the suspicious looking furry chunks that floated on the top of the broth, and looked around for Thorin. The heir to the Lonely Mountain sat with his back to the broad trunk of an elm tree. His eyes were closed, and his breathing slow. It was one of the first times Bilbo had actually seen Thorin resting.
Then Bofur started singing, and Bilbo turned his attention to where the toymaker sat cross-legged behind his cousin, grinning cheerfully as he raked his fingers though Bifur's mane of salt-and-pepper hair.
"A comb, a snare,
Undo with care,
We tug and fight, with all our might,
To get the knots out of our hair
A plait, a braid,
A twist well made,
This clasp to fold, and bead to hold,
And tomorrow we'll do it all again"
The rest of the company picked up the tune, obviously having heard the song before. Soon Bilbo was surrounded by singing dwarves, and he was reminded (in the best way possible) of his last evening in Bag-End, when his dishware and cutlery had been airborne for a good portion of the night. Bofur had sung then as he did now, his lilting voice lifted high in playful mocking. It was comforting in a way – it reminded him of home. He thought Bofur might have made a good hobbit in another life.
So might Fili and Kili, for that matter. The two dwarf princes were so much like his young cousins sometimes that it was disconcerting. He sought them out and found them sitting side by side near the fire, laughing and singing along with Bofur. Fili's hair was loose of its usual braids; it hung in golden waves to his shoulders, and as he sang his fingers moved deftly to fix it.
The song entered its final verse, and Bilbo found himself humming along quietly to the tune with a small smile on his face. The good humour of the dwarves was infectious.
"A braid for me,
A plait or three,
Could take an age, it's hard to gauge,
Or skip the work and leave it free!
Skip the work and leave it free!"
The last line was a deafening shout, and as the company laughed and applauded their own efforts Bilbo saw Fili turn to his brother with a grin. "'Skip the work and leave it free'. Sounds a bit like you," he teased.
Kili gave his brother a playful shove. Fili laughed and went back to plaiting his hair, silver beads glinting in the firelight. "No, but really," he continued, "I don't think I've ever seen you with more than two braids in your hair."
"Me neither, and I'm not yer brother!" Bofur put in.
"Maybe that's because I spend my time on more important things," Kili said around a mouthful of soup. His mop of brown hair hung in a curtain around his face, as wild and dark as his brother's was neat and golden. "My hair's gonna get mussed anyway. I don't see the point in slaving away every night on something that's going to get ruined again tomorrow."
Fili threw his hands in the air. "Mahal, it's a wonder Thorin hasn't disowned you yet," he cried. "Take some pride in your appearance, brother."
Bilbo saw Kili roll his eyes and continue eating his broth. He also saw Fili shoot Bofur a glance that clearly boded ill for the youngest of the line of Durin. Bofur grinned and waved to get Nori's attention, mouthing something that Bilbo could not make out, and then all three dwarves were wearing dubiously innocent expressions.
"I think braids would suit you, lad," commented Bofur, standing and stretching and very surreptitiously moving towards the log where Fili and Kili sat.
Nori murmured his agreement and got to his feet, smirking wickedly. Dori made to say something but was cut off sharply by a hand gesture from Dwalin. The big dwarf's mouth was turned up at the corners, his eyes twinkling. Bilbo was surprised; Dwalin had always seemed very serious (and scary) in the time that he'd known him. He wouldn't have expected him to participate in this kind of fooling around.
Then Bilbo remembered the pranks that Kili had played on Dwalin since the journey began, and it all made quite a bit of sense now.
Sensing a shift in the atmosphere of the campsite Thorin cracked open one eye to inspect the company. (Bilbo was not sure how he'd dozed through all the singing, but he admired him for it anyway). Seeing Nori and Bofur converging on his youngest nephew from behind, he frowned and opened his mouth to speak. Then he caught Fili's eye. The blonde made a pleading expression, and Thorin sighed and slumped back against the tree, waving a hand for them to continue. Bilbo hid a smile in his soup bowl; Thorin might be exceedingly grumpy most of the time, but it was evident that the heir to the Lonely Mountain had a severe weak spot for his nephews. He seemed loathe to ruin their fun, as long as it was reasonably harmless.
Kili, occupied with slurping the last of the soup from the bottom of the bowl, did not see his brother grin appreciatively at Thorin. Neither did he see Bofur and Nori creeping ever closer to his position, or the amused smiles of the rest of the company as they watched.
"I think," Fili said, "we should braid you hair. Right now."
Kili snorted. "Sod off, I'm trying to eat."
Fili's grin almost split his face. "I was so hoping you were going to say that."
Before Kili could so much as frown his older brother had tackled him around the middle and sent them both careening off the log. Kili gave a yell as both Nori and Bofur jumped in to assist, grabbing him by the arms and trying to hold him down long enough for Fili to sit on him.
That was easier said than done. Cursing magnificently even as the company laughed and called their support, Kili thrashed in their hold and managed to get one leg hooked around Fili's knee, flipping him onto his back.
Gloín roared his approval. "You show 'em, laddie!" Being a younger brother himself, he'd been victimised by Oín enough times to feel sympathy for the youngest of the line of Durin. (Not quite enough sympathy to intervene, Bilbo noted with amusement).
But Fili was up again in an instant, pinning Kili to the ground with the cheerful assistance of Bofur and Nori. "Now, now, brother," he tutted. "This will be much less painful if you'd simply cooperate."
Kili called him something that Bilbo thought was very inventive.
Bofur laughed, not even flinching when Kili elbowed him hard in the stomach. "That's the spirit!" he cried. Then as one, he, Nori and Fili flipped the struggling prince onto his stomach. Kili's shouts were muffled for a moment as he got a mouthful of dirt, and Fili took advantage of the lull to throw all his weight onto his brother's back.
"Get off me, you big oaf!" Kili snarled, trying to yank his shoulder out of Nori's grasp. Fili chuckled and manoeuvred around till he was kneeling on his younger brother's back.
Watching all of this from his perch atop a comfortable boulder, Bilbo was desperately trying to keep a straight face. He felt guilty for taking pleasure in poor Kili's misfortune, but the other dwarves were laughing so merrily that it was hard not to be swept up in their glee, and looking over at Thorin he saw that even the normally ill-tempered heir to the Lonely Mountain was concealing a smile behind one hand.
Meanwhile, Kili was still spewing curses and thrashing about. There was little he could do, however, with Bofur and Nori holding his arms fast and his brother sitting astride his back. Humming contentedly to himself, Fili carefully chose a section of Kili's wild mane and began to braid it with nimble, practised fingers.
Kili shouted furiously. He jerked his head from left to right in an effort to dislodge his brother, but that only pulled painfully on his hair, and at last he settled, panting, his forehead pressed to the ground.
"I'll make you regret this, Fili," he growled. The others roared with laughter.
"Brother dear, you're going to look positively beautiful once I'm done with you," chided the blonde. "What do you say, lads?"
The company cheered.
It did not take long for Fili to finish. He secured the braids with Kili's own silver clasp, as well as many spare ones that the others volunteered, happy to help the cause. Kili still struggled now and again when he thought that Bofur and Nori had become negligent in their restraint of him. (Sadly, this was never the case). Finally Fili raised his hands and rolled off his brother's back, bowing flamboyantly to the company's applause as Kili staggered to his feet.
Dwalin whistled. "Coo, boy. Lucky there aren't any dwarf lassies hiding in the bushes."
The others laughed uproariously at Kili's glare.
Chuckling along with the dwarves, Bilbo inspected Kili curiously from behind his soup bowl. Fili had done an impressive job, considering how his brother had squirmed and shouted throughout the process. Thick, neat braids curved back from Kili's temples, curling around his ears and falling gracefully against his chest on top of waves of dark hair. Thinner braids hung behind his shoulders, the silver clasps that Gloín had supplied glinting in the firelight. At the base of his neck Fili had gathered another section of his brother's long hair and woven it into an elaborate plait secured by one of Dori's beads.
Bilbo blinked. He'd never seen Kili with his hair back before. It made him look older, more serious…more like Fili? More like Thorin? Gaze flitting between the three he could see the family resemblance so clearly that it was startling. For the first time since he'd met the prince Bilbo thought that Kili looked like proper royalty – a member of the line of Durin, who would one day stand by his brother's side in the stone halls of Erebor. Bilbo's brow furrowed. It was a strange and not altogether comforting thought; he hadn't known the boy for long, but he could not imagine wild, over-enthusiastic Kili cooped up inside a mountain.
But the others were still laughing and clapping, and Bilbo could not dwell on unhappy thoughts for long. He looked away from Kili's dark scowl to see Ori madly scribbling away in his sketchbook. Bilbo smiled at that; young Ori knew they wouldn't get another chance to see Kili with his hair up for a long, long time.
Then Fili called out, "What do you think, Uncle?" and the entire company froze.
Thorin was studying his youngest nephew with narrowed eyes, an odd expression on his face. The dwarves waited with bated breath, not sure if their king was displeased with their antics or merely taking his time with a judgement. Bilbo noticed than even Kili had stopped scowling.
After a tense moment Thorin's lip twitched upwards. "He'll do," he said gruffly.
Nori let out a deafening wolf-whistle, which set the company off into fits of laughter again while Kili fumed in the centre of it all.
"I'd like to thank my extremely competent assistants," Fili cried, extending one arm towards where Bofur and Nori stood leaning against each other for support as they cackled. "And of course, to my dearest brother, for giving us his kind cooperation."
"I'll show you kind cooperation!" Kili roared, laughing despite his apparent irritation, and threw himself at his older brother.
They went down in a tangle of limbs and braids to the thunderous applause of the company, and Bilbo could see that they were both grinning as they wrestled.
Hey so I hope you liked it! I had a lot of fun writing it, especially the song, and I got the tune stuck in my sister's head, so, success! I was planning on doing a second, much sadder chapter for this story, but I just can't bring myself to do it.
As always, all comments are greatly appreciated! C: