Author's Note: To be completely honest, this fic was written for both fun and practice as I've never written a story of this magnitude - nor did I ever dream of being able to actually do it. I know there are plenty of girl in Middle Earth fics but this has been so much fun for me to tackle. As a disclaimer, this is more of a slow ripple effect fic, so if that's for you, then welcome. Any feedback is always treasured.
Chapter Revised: April 2017
Disclaimer: I own nothing except Laura.
Summary: Waking up in the body of a very male Bilbo Baggins in a whole other world was not on the top of Laura Aldine's list. But according to Gandalf, the Valar had their reasons. Laura just wished they had bothered to asked her first.
I wasn't a stranger to waking up in unfamiliar surroundings.
I had attended college, after all, even if was only for freshman year, where it was practically a requirement to drink through the night and then fall asleep wherever you happened to land- whether that happened to be your own bed, in the dorm's lounge, or even in a bush halfway across campus. And then there had been a time or two where I had woken up in someone else's bed after a particularly eventful night at the bar.
But at twenty-six, I hadn't woken up in such a way in long time. My life was ordinary, boring even. I'd wake up, work at the diner, listen to my best friend Hayley's latest girlfriend troubles or my grandma's latest gossip that she collected at bridge club, go home and dodge my landlord to avoid being hassled for my perpetually overdue rent, sleep, and then repeat.
I hadn't done anything adventurous or unexpected in a long time. And I liked it that way.
My point is, is that even though I had a pretty monotone life, I still had enough muscle memory from my college days to not immediately panic when I realized that I wasn't in my own bed.
What was a little unsettling was that there was no one else there with me. Even more unsettling was that I hadn't been to a bar for the last two weeks, much less found someone of interest.
So, once I was able to focus my sleepy gaze, my unease upped a few notches. I wasn't in my usual beds, the ones I was more likely than not to be in if I wasn't sleeping in own room. The room I was in wasn't my bedroom at my dad's. It wasn't the guestroom at my grandma's. And it wasn't Hayley's living room.
The room I found myself in was decorated richly, in a style I really only ever saw in magazines. The floors were hardwood covered in rugs that had distinctly earthy tones, the bed was a four-poster, and the wardrobe and set of drawers looked handcrafted. There were books everywhere. Scattered across ever surface and piled high on the floor. It honestly looked like a bedroom one would find in an English bed and breakfast.
And it wasn't one that I was familiar with.
I didn't panic, not right away. Not until I pulled my hand up to rub the sleep out of my eyes and noticed something odd.
It wasn't my hand.
Well, I mean, it was my hand. I was controlling it- that much was obvious. But it wasn't the hand I was used to. The fingers were shorter, the knuckles wider, and the nails neatly trimmed and clean of the purple nail polish that I had gone to bed wearing.
I sat up quickly, letting the sheets and quilts pool around my waist, and examined my hand closely in the faint morning light that was filtering in though the curtains. Yeah, definitely not my hand.
I could feel anxiety grab ahold of me, squeezing my lungs and making it harder for me to breathe. Oh my God. What was happening?
I rolled off the bed and scrambled clumsily to my feet. I stumbled around the sturdy looking bed and eyed the chest at its end. A good of a place to start as any, I figured. Pulling open the chest, I quickly started to shift through its contents. Linens, a candle holder, several thick-looking jackets, what looked like a small loom, and then finally a small round mirror set in intricately carved wood.
Fumbling to turn the mirror toward me, I stopped breathing at the sight of my reflection. Because what I saw wasn't my reflection. Not the one I was used to.
The face staring back at me was round with a large nose, fair skin, a frowning mouth, brown eyes- thankfully my eyes- and curly golden hair. And- were those- yes- pointed ears? I traced my fingers over an ear. Those weren't my ears. That wasn't my face.
This was not me. This was someone else. I quickly pulled at the waistline of the sleep pants I was wearing to confirm my suspicion. A very male someone else.
I don't remember dropping the mirror but I must have. What I do remember was my frantic attempt to get out of wherever I was- a dream, I remember thinking. I needed to wake up.
My hands braced me against the wall as I scrambled to what must have been the front door, a huge round green thing set at what the end of what looked like an entryway.
And what I saw when I opened that green monstrosity made me want to run right back inside.
Looking back, my first eyeful of Middle Earth was almost iconic: Rolling green hills, quaint dirt paths, a clear blue sky, and the sound of farm animals and people beginning their day.
But I was terrified. This wasn't my home. This wasn't a place I recognized, not even a little. I couldn't see a single power line or hear any kind of vehicle- not even a lawnmower. The people who I could see as they moved around in the distance were wearing unfamiliar clothes, large full skirts on what could only be women and old-fashioned looking trousers and shirts on what were likely men.
I stumbled down the path from where I had emerged out of a literal hole in the ground, tripping over large feet that were in no way natural. I stumbled to a stop halfway to what could only be a front gate and curled up, balancing on the heels of my too big feet, arms wrapped around my knees and to took in a large shaky breath. And then another.
And then I tried to wake up.
I pinched myself. I held my breath. I concentrated on opening my eyes in my mind, but nothing. None of my usual techniques worked. And that was what scared me the most. If I couldn't wake up, if I wasn't asleep, then what happened to me?
I don't know how long I stayed that way, in unfamiliar pajamas in an unfamiliar body, and tried to keep myself from hyperventilating while only half considering finding somewhere I could drown myself to wake up, but it was probably quite a while. Long enough for the sun to get halfway to the highest point in the sky. Long enough for someone to make their way up the winding path and startle me by causing the front gate to creak.
My head shot up at the sound. Oh, God, no. I couldn't handle this. I couldn't handle this eerily vivid dream. I couldn't handle this new body. And I really, really, didn't want to be social. Couldn't they see I was in the middle of a nervous breakdown? Were the obvious pajamas and heavy breathing not enough to deter them?
I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and looked up to see who was talking. I honestly wasn't sure what to expect. If this really was a dream it could be anything: a slime monster, a talking chicken, a cloud.
Standing at the bottom of the path was something shockingly normal. I hesitated to call him a human because he was so tall, at least twice my height, I could tell even at a distance and his limbs seemed strangely elongated compared to my new ones. This stranger was old with a long beard, a pointed hat, and grey robes. In his hands was a staff, almost as tall as he was, that he was using to prop himself up.
The stranger and I stared at one another for a long stretch of time, too long to be polite. And then I watched, holding my breath, as the stranger moved up the path towards me. His movement was slow, as if he was about to attempt to help a wild animal. If I wasn't so absolutely lost I would have been offended.
Eventually the stranger reached me, stopping an arm's length - or at least his arm's length - away and peering down at me. I was morbidly satisfied to note that my estimation of his height was spot on.
Feeling the pull of years of etiquette my grandma had drilled into me, I uncurled and stood up to meet the man's eyes. There was another long silence and then the man said slowly, eyes roaming over me, brows furrowed, "Bilbo Baggins."
And that was enough for me. No. No. Absolutely not. I didn't know what a Bilbo Baggins was and I truly had no desire to find out. I took several hasty steps backward until I felt my back press up to what was probably the giant green door I had stumbled out of, and reached behind me for the handle. It took a few tries, but I suspected it had more to do with my attention being on the tall man in front of me than the complexity of the door handle, but eventually I fell back into the dark hallway. I pushed to my feet hastily, relieved to see the man hadn't moved, and pushed the door shut, letting out a sigh when the latch clicked into place.
I had maybe thirty seconds of blank relief before there was a loud knock on the door in front of me. I waited, holding my breath for anything else but there was nothing. No second knock. No shouting. No trying to open the door. But I could see the shadow of the man over what looked like a flower bed below the window. He was still there.
I weighed my options. I didn't know this man but then again I didn't know anything about where I was or who I was for that matter. I didn't know how I'd gotten here. And I didn't know how to wake up.
Finally, I decided. What did I have to lose?
The door swung back open and there the man was, a few steps back in order to be able to peer through the door at his height.
"Good morning," I said hoarsely, for lack of anything better to say, cringing at my new voice. It was undoubtedly masculine and frighteningly foreign. God, this was so awful.
"You," he said gravely, "are not who you appear to be."
My jaw dropped. How did this- man, thing, whatever- know? I could feel hope rising in my chest. Maybe this really was a dream after all.
I stared at him, for another long stretch of time, before the man prompted gently. "Who are you?"
I shook myself and cleared my throat. "Uh, Laura. Laura Aldine."
The man hummed in thought, eyeing me closely. "You do not belong here, Laura Aldine."
"No. God, no," I breathed out before I could stop myself.
This seemed to amuse the man, whose eyebrows quirked and his mouth tilted minutely upwards at one corner. "Or perhaps you do," the man continued thoughtfully.
I frowned at him. This guy wasn't nearly as helpful as I had hoped.
"Ah, I suppose it remains to be seen," the old man determined. "Though you are not who I came here to find."
I perked up at this. "And who is that?"
"Bilbo Baggins, the master of this hobbit hole," the man declared, as if I should know.
Bilbo Baggins. Hobbit.
"I didn't understand any of that," I admitted with a sigh, watching the old man closely.
"How very curious," the old man said, tone bland and at odds with his words, "Perhaps we should take this conversation inside? I do believe it is time for elevenses."
The man didn't even wait for an answer before ducking his head to enter and brushing past me.
I couldn't do anything but follow, pushing the door closed behind me and moving towards where the man had disappeared down the hall. It was then that I took the time to observe my surroundings. This place, wherever I was, was clearly a home not a hole in the ground as I had first assumed. It was cozy and filled with natural sunlight, with wide doorways and intricate looking furniture that was just as picturesque as the bedroom I had woken up in.
"In here my dear," the old man called from my left.
Snapping out of my daze I turned to follow the man's voice, crossing through what looked like a sitting room and into a kitchen.
"Ah, very good." The man said turning from where he was bent, almost comically low, over a fireplace. His hat and staff were nowhere to be seen. "Come, sit down. I've just boiled the kettle."
And so he had. In fact, not only was the kettle whistling but a fire had been started and an impressive amount of food was already on the table. Huh.
"I'm sorry," I said cautiously. I wasn't one hundred percent positive that this guy wasn't trespassing. "But who are you?"
"I am Gandalf," the old man replied. "Gandalf the Grey."
"And," I started, wanting to be clear. "You're going to help me?"
"If I am able," Gandalf answered firmly.
Gandalf leaned over the table, pouring the water into a little china teapot. "Here we are."
I watched him for a long moment before moving towards where he had gestured, sitting at the low table just as Gandalf did the same opposite of me. It was strange seeing him in this place, he shoulders curved over a table that was just too small for him.
"While the tea is steeping," Gandalf began, "Let us try to get to the bottom of this matter."
"Okay," I replied instantly because finally. "How did I get here? And how did you know I was me?"
Gandalf looked thoughtful, and was quiet for what felt like an eternity, before he took ahold of the teapot and poured us each a cup. "I am afraid that I have never seen anything of this ilk before but I have no doubt your appearance here is no accident. It is likely the work of the Valar."
I stared at him.
"As for knowing what you are," Gandalf continued blithely, "Why, it is quite obvious to a wizard such as myself. I have known Bilbo and his family for many years and your soul is not that of a hobbit by any means. You are a child of men through and through. But the real question is how did you arrive here in Bilbo Baggins' body?"
A wizard. A wizard. Yeah, this was definitely a dream.
"You're serious," I said after a beat of silence during which Gandalf drank from his teacup.
"Utterly," Gandalf confirmed.
"This is crazy," I declared, causing Gandalf to frown deeply.
"I assure you, it is not. Why you have been brought here is not for you to know," Gandalf said sternly. "Nor I, though I believe they will reveal their plan in time."
"They," I repeated in disbelief. "Who're 'they?' The valor?"
"Valar," Gandalf corrected me impatiently. "They are the powers who watch over this world. Rarely do they intervene so directly but there is always a reason for it, of this I can assure you."
I was not assured. I was so completely not assured it wasn't even funny.
"I don't understand, why me?" I wanted to know. "Why would they bring me here? What about the guy who I'm possessing, where is he?"
For the first time since I had met him, Gandalf hesitated. "I do not know. I can only assume that Bilbo is being looked after by the Valar. You are here now in his place and that is the way the world will have to be."
My hands clenched. "So, that's it then. I just have to wait around here until these Valar feel like talking to me?"
"No," Gandalf answered sharply, "You will do no such thing. I did not come to Bag End in a fit of fancy. I came here to recruit Bilbo Baggins for an adventure. Since you are here in his stead you must fill this role."
I stared at him. "No."
"You do not have a choice in the matter," Gandalf informed me, looking cross.
"I absolutely have a choice," I snapped back. "And my choice is 'thanks but no thanks.'"
"You," Gandalf started, his voice growing deep and thunderous. I resisted the urge to curl up in my chair. "Have a part to play in this world, Laura Aldine. You cannot ignore it."
"I'm not ignoring it," I told him angrily. "I'm refusing it. I can't go on an adventure. This is my dream and I need to wake up. And even if what you say is true - this is Bilto's body. Not mine. I can't put him at risk - he's not even here to speak for himself!"
Gandalf glared impressively and I could have sworn that the sky outside turned dark. "This is no dream, Laura Aldine."
I had to give him some credit. It certainly felt real.
"I'm sorry," I said weakly, crumbling under his show of displeasure. "I can't. I'm sorry."
Gandalf glared for another long moment before his face smoothed out and the light returned. "Very well. There is nothing for it. It is decided."
I sighed, "Thank you."
Though I did wish his tone wasn't so ominous.
Gandalf left later that afternoon, on good terms, as a matter of fact.
I was surprised. Given his reaction to my refusal to go on his adventure, I was almost sure that I had made an enemy. But instead Gandalf was cordial for the rest of the visit and even went so far as to explain where exactly I had ended up.
In this world or dimension or universe- whatever you wanted to call it, elves, dwarves, trolls, and goblins were all real. It sounded like something straight out of a fairytale.
And I had a hard time believing any of it.
But Gandalf was patient and answered all of my questions. I was apparently a hobbit now. And hobbits, I had found out, were small gentle farmers: isolated but hardworking and incredibly uninterested in the rest of the world and its goings on. Gandalf had also assured me, looking like he was trying not to laugh, that overgrown hairy feet and pointed ears were the norm amongst them.
And I was in the aptly named Hobbiton, which was located in the Shire, to the West, in the home of Bilbo Baggins built by his father: Bag End at the end of Bagshot Row. Honestly, I only understood about half of it but it was kind of Gandalf to explain it to me.
He ended up staying for most of the afternoon, for two more meals even: lunch, and afternoon tea. Gandalf even helped with the dishes and looked over the pantry critically before declaring that he had to leave me.
With hat and staff in hand Gandalf made for the door, turning to look at me one last time.
"Goodbye and thank you," I told him quietly, "For being so kind. And good luck with your adventure."
Gandalf's face went very soft as he replied, "Good afternoon, Laura."
And then Gandalf disappeared down the road, leaving me alone.
Alone. And unsure.
At first I explored Bag End, eager to see where it was hobbits lived. It was a lot like the houses I would see on period dramas, simple and functional yet richly decorated. The house contained its own working bathroom, a wine cellar, and what looked like a study or a library stuffed with books. That was the room that interested me the most and I eagerly leafed through several of the books hoping to correlate any of the information that Gandalf had shared with me.
But it was no use, I realized with dismay. The books, all of them it seemed, were written in a language that I didn't recognize which made them mostly useless. I did find a few maps, though, which were interesting, but I had no idea what was where.
Eventually, though, I found myself climbing back into bed which was where I stayed for the rest of the day. Part of me hoped that I would fall asleep and then wake up in my own room, while the other part of me just wanted to hide from the world I had found myself in.
But I failed, on both accounts. I didn't fall asleep, I didn't go back home. And I was completely unable to forget where I was and what had happened to me.
Soon the sunlight streaming in through the round windows started to fade and I realized that it would be dark soon. And without electricity, I had to get my own light source.
Luckily Bilbo Baggins was a practical man, or hobbit, and kept a candlestick and what I hazarded a guess to be flint which I had never seen and only read about, on his nightstand. It took me several tries to light the damn thing but once I was successful, I could feel a rush a satisfaction wash over me. I might be stuck in a different dimension in a different body of the opposite gender but at least I didn't have to sit in the dark.
I made my way through the house slowly, finding the candlesticks and candelabras in each room and lighting them before making my way to the next. I finally wound up in the kitchen, where I stubbornly set to work rekindling the fire.
After twenty minutes of quite a bit of swearing and a burnt finger - over which I spent a great deal of time panicking because you don't feel pain in dreams - I had succeeded. I tended to the fire with the logs that were thankfully within reach and once I was sure that the fire wouldn't go out if left unattended for a few minutes, I moved towards where I was pretty sure the pantry was, eager to find anything to eat that I didn't have to cook.
I was halfway across what I was starting to think of as the main hall when the doorbell rang. I jumped in surprise. I had no idea doorbells existed in Middle Earth.
I paused and held my breath until, sure enough, the doorbell rang once more.
My anxiety, which had been simmering quietly beneath my skin all day, came out in full force. I could feet my heart pounding against my ribs and I was sure that any second my hands would begin to shake.
Who could it be? Not Gandalf, surely?
I moved down the hall slowly towards where I knew the big green door was, listening as the bell rang a third and fourth time.
God. Impatient, weren't we.
I came to a stop in front of the door, took a deep breath, reached out, and pulled the door open.
Only to find someone who was very much not Gandalf on the other side.
A Hell's Angel or whatever the Middle Earth equivalent was. That was my first impression.
He was tall, taller than my new body at any rate but closer to normal proportions than Gandalf had been. His body was bulky and well-built and covered with an impressive amount of tattoos. The top of his head may have been bald but he had an interesting mullet sort of style going with his remaining hair. A full beard and mustache covered most of an unmistakable scowl and on his back were two war axes that looked to be as long as I was tall.
I was, naturally, a bit terrified.
Whoever this was wasn't a hobbit. His feet seemed proportional to his body and he had way too much hair and his ears looked normal if not quite large.
I watched with my breath caught in my throat as the guy eyed me up and down before giving me the most unimpressed look I had ever seen. And then he bowed to me.
"Dwalin," the stranger said after straightening back up. "At your service."
I stared, open mouthed, before it hit me that a response was expected.
"I, uh, Bilbo Baggins," I replied, hoping that I had gotten the name of the hobbit I was possessing right.
Dwalin seemed to consider that an invitation to come in, as he pushed past me into the house.
"Look," I said, trying to keep my nervousness out of my voice. "I'm sorry. Why are you here?"
Dwalin turned back to look at me, half-finished removing what looked like an honest to God cloak. "Gandalf."
"Um," I started to say but Dwalin ignored me, depositing his cloak onto one of the chairs in the parlor down the hall and dropping his axes with resounding 'thunks' as they hit the hardwood floor. I winced. That was going to leave a mark. "Gandalf?"
Dwalin turned to look at me and gave me a sharp nod. "Aye, he said there'd be food."
And then without waiting for me to reply, Dwalin pushed past me and moved deeper into the house.
What the hell.
I stared after Dwalin in dismay. Gandalf had invited him here. Gandalf had promised him food. I could feel my anger building, low in my chest. This wasn't Gandalf's home, this wasn't even my home. He had no right to invite anyone here.
My anger gave me the push I needed and I hurried to follow Dwalin. By the time I had caught up to him, Dwalin was already in the pantry, holding a delicate-looking porcelain plate that look out of place in his large hands and loading it indiscriminately with food.
Dwalin turned to look at me, scowling.
I scowled back. After a long moment of silence, Dwalin snorted at me with a shake of his head, and turned back to the pantry.
"Please," I drawled out, my anger overcoming my fear of confrontation with someone who looked like he could knock my- Bilbo's, whatever- teeth out with his pinky. "Help yourself."
Before either of us could say any more the doorbell rang from farther down the hall.
"That'll be the door," Dwalin informed me, a touch patronizing.
I shot what I hoped was an impressive glare at him before finding myself moving down the hallway back towards the round green door. I hoped it was Gandalf on the other side of it. I doubted I could reach up and hit his face but I could probably bruise his shins nicely.
With a sharp tug I pulled the door open and for the second time the person on the other side was not who I expected.
Whoever it was, he was like Dwalin. Not in looks, not at all, with his long white beard and short fuzzy hair. And instead of the warrior gear Dwalin was wearing, this one wore a long red coat with no sign of weapons. But he seemed to have the same build, the same well-proportioned feet and large round ears.
And somehow, at the back of my mind, I knew Gandalf was behind this guest, too.
"Balin," the person in front of me introduced himself with a bow and a smile. "At your service."
Despite my growing irritation I couldn't stop the rush of relief. At least this one was moderately friendly.
I nodded to him, unable to muster a smile in reply. "Good evening."
"Yes," Balin agreed cheerfully, stepping inside. "Yes, it is. Though I think it might rain later. Am I late?"
I stared at him, unsure, and dreading what Balin was implying. Late meant this was planned.
"I'm afraid I don't know," I answered slowly.
Balin looked surprised by this and I felt brave enough to ask, "Did Gandalf invite you?"
Balin's surprise visibly grew, his eyebrows rising. "Yes, yes, of course."
I sighed in defeat. Of course he did.
"Oh," Balin said with a wide smile, looking over my shoulder. "Evening brother."
I turned to where Balin was looking only to find Dwalin sitting at Bilbo's kitchen table like he was meant to be there, his plate already half empty and mouth full.
He had better be joking. Maybe it was meant more as a slang greeting? No way were those two related.
I watched in disbelief as Balin moved past me while Dwalin stood up and then in one smooth motion they headbutted hard enough that I heard the crack of bone on bone from where I was standing. And they were laughing. What was even happening?
The two disappeared around the corner, likely into the pantry, talking as if they hadn't seen one another in years. And maybe they hadn't. But what were they doing here?
I could feel my fists clenching as I heard the two brothers talking farther down the hall. I spun on my heel and followed their voices and found them moving into the dining room a few minutes later as Dwalin carried two plates piled high with food with Balin following close behind with mugs of what looked like beer.
And then the anger was back. It was one thing to eat someone else's food but their alcohol? Absolutely unacceptable.
I opened my mouth, ready to tell the two of them to get the hell out and unconcerned with whether or not they might put up a fight, only for the doorbell ring once more.
It was with more resignation than anything that I traveled down the hall a third time. I was beginning to suspect that Gandalf wasn't going to turn up at all- instead sending stranger after stranger into Bilbo's home like it was a freaking bed and breakfast.
Opening the door I saw not one person but two. God, they were multiplying.
They were both young. At least they looked young, younger than the other two who were currently raiding Bilbo's pantry at any rate. The one on the left had a mane of blond hair, a short full beard and a braided mustache. The one on the right, in contrast, had dark almost black hair and a beard that was hardly more than stubble.
"Good evening," I said blandly, suddenly feeling very tired.
I was rewarded with a beaming smile from the dark haired one.
"Fili," the blond introduced.
"And Kili," added the other.
And together with a bow they chorused, "At your service."
I stared at them. After a long moment of silence Kili's smile dropped as he asked, "Is this not the right place? Gandalf said there'd be a mark on the door."
Gandalf. Again with Gandalf. And then I paused. Wait, a mark? On the door? That neither Gandalf nor I owned?
I turned my head to scan the green door, now almost black in the night, but sure enough there was a mark that glowed an eerie blue and looked like a tilted capital 'F.'
I could think of at least one F-word that reminded me of Gandalf at that moment.
"Of course he did," I breathed out. What was Gandalf's problem?
There was another long stretch of silence as I glared at the mark before I shifted my attention to my two new visitors, who were shifting awkwardly outside.
Finally the blond one- Fili- spoke up. "You are Master Baggins, aren't you?"
"Yes, that's me," I replied, hoping that my disappointment in my current predicament didn't bleed into my tone. Judging by the way Fili's eyebrows shot up I wasn't successful. Oh, well.
I pushed the door open the rest of the way. "Come in."
Fili and Kili didn't hesitate, Kili's smile back in place as they pushed past me.
"It's nice, this place," Kili informed me cheerfully.
They both stopped in the hall as I pushed the door shut, Kili glancing around the place as Fili started to offload what looked like an unnecessary number of knives.
"Careful with these, I just had them sharpened," Fili told me, holding out two swords for me to take.
"You can put those in there," I told him, pointing towards the parlor where Dwalin had deposited his own things.
Fili nodded, amiable enough, and moved towards where I had pointed.
I turned around to make sure Kili had heard as well and was shocked to see him scraping mud off his boot using the edge of one of Bilbo's chests.
And the anger was back.
I stared in horror before watching with satisfaction as Kili did a double take when he noticed my expression.
And then with either impressive or terrible timing, depending on one's perspective, Dwalin appeared through the kitchen his attention focused on the plate of food he had left behind.
"Mister Dwalin," Kili called happily, Dwalin's movement catching his eye.
"Ah," Dwalin said, actually looking pleased as he noticed us. It was off-putting to see. "Fili. Kili. C'mere, give us a hand."
Fili and Kili moved away to greet Dwalin loudly and with great enthusiasm leaving me with a chest covered in what looked like mud and grass.
I wanted to scream.
I watched as Dwalin shepherded Fili and Kili away, only for Kili to glance back at me over his shoulder. I stared back at him, hoping to articulate my frustration and disappointment in a single look. If the way Kili's happy expression fell almost instantly into one of guilt was any indication, then I succeeded.
And then my frustration was washed away by a spike of embarrassment as I realized that I was still in Bilbo's pajamas from that morning. I hadn't bothered to change out of them after Gandalf left, not expecting visitors.
God, no wonder Dwalin didn't take me seriously.
I sighed heavily, abandoning the mud-covered chest in favor of trying to find some clothes to change into.
I was halfway down the hall when something in my peripheral vision caught my eye. Turning, I found my guests all frozen guiltily from where they were trying to move Bilbo's dining room table to who-knew-where.
We all stared at each other for a moment or two before finally Balin said, "We won't fit in here Master Baggins, not all of us. We thought perhaps to move out into the hall. I hope you don't mind."
All of them? There were going to be more?
I narrowed my eyes at them for a split second before giving up. It wasn't like I could stop them.
"Don't let me stop you," I told them, unable to keep the bitterness out of my voice, before continuing down the hall and leaving their weirdness behind me.
I successfully found Bilbo's bedroom within a minute and was relieved to see that the candles I had lit earlier were still going strong. Then I began my search.
It honestly didn't take me long to find appropriate clothes: pants and shirts were universal, it seemed, no matter what world you were in. But it did take me an embarrassing amount of time for me to get into them. I struggled partly with trying to avoid looking a Bilbo's naked lower half, for obvious reasons, but mostly it was the suspenders that tripped me up. Who knew they were so complicated?
And then, finally, I was dressed and ready to take on the world. Or, rather, the four strangers that were probably eating Bilbo out of house and home.
Sure enough, once I had found my way back into the main hall, I found that my guests had moved Bilbo's dining room table into the hall and were laying out what looked to be Bilbo's entire panty on top of it.
I watched them work, ignoring their glances towards me, for a few minutes and then it happened again.
The doorbell rang.
Oh, God, what now. I really didn't want anything more to deal with.
I could hear more than one voice arguing through the wood of the door. Grabbing hold of the latch I took a deep breath and pulled it open once more. Then I promptly scrambled back as what seemed like a dozen bodies spilled out onto the floor.
The bodies all seemed to move at once as they tried to push themselves off the floor and each other. And standing outside, head slightly bent as he watched the group try to right themselves, was Gandalf.
He smiled. "Good evening, Bilbo."
I glared back, causing Gandalf's smile to drop and his expression to morph into one of concern.
I waited for my new guests to move past me in a flurry of "good evenings" and "thank you for having us" and trying to shove each other out of the way. I pointed wordlessly towards the parlor and watched as they deposited their things and pressed further down the hallway to where I could see the dining table had been set up.
"We," I told Gandalf, "need to talk."
Gandalf, it turned out, didn't seem to agree.
For such an old looking man, Gandalf was incredibly spry. Before I could even blink he allowed himself to be herded into the great hall where food was being laid out on the table with impressive efficiency. And then my houseguests gathered around the table and began to feast.
I watched in stupefied amazement, as bodies pressed together in order to fit them all around the table, food was thrown haphazardly at one another with instructions of "Try this" or "Tell me what you think of that". But for all of their mess and noise, my houseguests were surprisingly clean when it came to their beards. Watching from the doorway I could see that even though they would throw food at one another, they never aimed for beards and if they happened to take a bite then they were careful to not spill on themselves.
This wasn't happening. This couldn't be happening.
I knew I wasn't going to be able to kick them out, not now that Gandalf had made himself at home among them. Deciding I had had enough, I moved further down the hall away from the noise.
I stopped in middle of the hallway and stared into Bilbo's dark study. I took a deep breath. And then another.
I don't know how long I was there, just breathing, but when I had just about gotten my breathing under control, I was interrupted.
"My dear Laura," A voice said from behind me, making me jump. "Whatever is the matter?"
I turned quickly on my heel, only to find Gandalf looming over me. He looked out of place, his head brushing against Bilbo's chandelier.
"What's wrong?" I repeated after a beat of silence. "What's wrong? I don't know, maybe it has something to do with the dozen strangers you've invited here!"
"Oh," Gandalf said, as if it had just occurred to him, "I find they're quite a merry company."
"That may be true," I replied just as a loud roar of laughter and cheering drifted down the hallway towards us. "But why are they here?"
And why are you here, I didn't ask.
Gandalf stared at me, his eyes glittering in the dim light. "Because you have a part to play, Laura. I cannot let you turn away."
I shook my head in disbelief. "No."
"Yes," Gandalf replied sharply. "You have been chosen, how and why I cannot say. But you are here and you cannot hide in this hobbit hole forever."
I wanted to tell Gandalf that that was exactly what I was planning to do until this nightmare was over but Gandalf continued. "I have need of you. These dwarves have need of you."
"Dwarves?" I repeated, resisting the urge to look around Gandalf down Bilbo's hall. "Is that what they are?"
Well, that would explain our similar height. And maybe the beards. But I had always thought of gnomes when it came to that description.
"Yes," Gandalf confirmed. "Dwarves. Thirteen in all."
I stared at Gandalf. "And what could they possibly need me for?"
Besides food, obviously.
Gandalf hummed vaguely. "All will be revealed in time, my dear. To us all."
Oh, no. Absolutely not.
"No," I said, anger growing. "No. I don't want vague promises. I don't want cryptic predictions. You tell me right now Gandalf, what is going on or I-"
"Excuse me," A wary voice came from behind me. It was one of the, well, dwarves, from the pile, one that looked to be close to Fili and Kili's age. "I'm sorry to interrupt but what should I do with my plate?"
Before I could respond Fili came up from behind me and said, "Here, Ori, give it to me."
He then snatched the plate out of Ori's hand and threw the plate behind him and clear across the hall. Kili caught it one handed in the doorway before proceeding to mimic his brother and throw it himself.
I couldn't decide, just then, whether to get angry or anxious. Those weren't my dishes. This wasn't my house. I couldn't let them just do that to Bilbo's things.
But soon the other dwarves joined in, tossing plates this way and that, and some began to sing, actually legitimately sing with harmonizing and all, about how much I hated broken dishes and blunt silverware.
Oh my God. I couldn't - I needed to get out.
Ignoring the cheerful song, and the pointed lyrics about me, I stumbled over to the great green door and yanked it open, reveling briefly in the cool night air, before pulling it closed behind me, muffling the music.
The only thing that stopped me from giving into my urge to march down the garden path and into the night, with the goal to get as far away from this place as I could get, was that a dark figure was making their way up the path towards me.
Not another one.
I watched carefully, wishing I had more light than the stars and what little came through the windows of the home behind me. Soon enough, though sooner than I would have liked, the figure stopped before me, reached up and pushed their hood back.
It was a dwarf, I was quite sure. They were taller than I was but not nearly as tall as Gandalf. And I could see the outline of boots even in the near-darkness.
"Hello," I said warily.
There was a pause and then the figure spoke, voice deep and strong. "So, you are the hobbit."
I stared back. The hobbit. Not a hobbit. This dwarf knew me, knew of me, or rather Bilbo. And I knew exactly who to blame.
"You must be another of Gandalf's friends," I replied, letting annoyance bleed into my voice, "I'm afraid he didn't mention you."
Another pause. The song had reach it's crescendoing end. Inside I could hear raucous cheers. And then the dwarf replied, irritation in his voice now, too. Good. "Thorin, Son of Thrain."
That was interesting. Son of Thrain. I wondered what that was meant as. A declaration? A homage to his birth place? An allegiance?
"A pleasure," I shot back, watching the dwarf - Thorin - shift on his feet. "I'm sure."
Before Thorin or I could say anything more the door behind me swung open, letting light out into the garden and allowing me to get a look at Thorin. He was tall, I think, for a dwarf - close to Dwalin's height. Long dark hair and sharp blue eyes.
Those sharp blue eyes landed on me for a split second, assessing, before looking over my shoulder.
"Gandalf," Thorin greeted flatly, already moving past both Gandalf and me. "I thought you said this place would be easy to find. I lost my way. Twice."
"Ah," Gandalf said genially from behind me. "but you have found your way to us, even so. And I see you two have already become acquainted."
I turned to watch Thorin move towards the other dwarves, who all seemed relieved to see him. Thorin glanced back over his shoulder. "A queer choice, wizard. He looks more of a grocer to me."
Oh. So that was how it was going to be then. I knew an insult when I heard one.
The others dwarves laughed, before moving forward as one to envelop Thorin.
"Bilbo," Gandalf said brightly as he grasped my shoulder and steered me back into the house, likely sensing my prickliness. "Would you be so kind as to find something for Thorin?"
Only if I could spit in it, I wanted to say.
The dwarves all moved together back into the main hall while Gandalf shepherded me to follow, closing the door behind us.
Gandalf leaned down to say quietly, "I think you'll find something suitable in the bedroom, Laura."
In the bedroom?
I gave Gandalf a look that I hoped encompassed all of my frustration before sighing. I skirted around the dwarves as they all re-seated themselves, with Thorin notably at the head of the table, and made my way down the hall to Bilbo's bedroom.
When I pushed open the door, I was surprised to find what looked like an oil lamp already lit on the bedside table. The room was dimly lit, cast in a soft gold glow. It really was lovely to look at.
I frowned. Unless dwarves ate furniture- which after the way the night had been going I wouldn't be that surprised to find out was the case – there wasn't much to eat.
I stepped further into the room and glanced around before doing a double take. Sitting in the corner of the room, next to a pile of books was what looked like an oversized leather backpack. Upon closer inspection I could see it was full, and had what was probably a sleeping bag rolled up and strapped to the bottom.
I narrowed my eyes, irritation spiking once more. Gandalf.
Gandalf had packed the bag while I was panicking. As if it was decided. As if I was actually going to go along with whatever fate or destiny or prophecy he believed I was fulfilling.
I made a small noise of annoyance, ready to turn on my heel and stomp out into the hall to rip Gandalf a new one when something else caught my eye.
Next to the lamp was what looked like a bowl covered thoughtfully with a cloth napkin. I could feel some of my irritation at Gandalf fade. He had set aside a meal for me. Why else would it be in the bedroom?
I was beginning to think I would never understand Gandalf's motives.
I stepped closer, staring at the bowl forlornly. Gandalf wanted me to give up my meal for Thorin.
I stood there for a moment wondering whether or not I could get away with not feeding Thorin. I came to the conclusion that though that might have made me quite happy, I couldn't. I wasn't Laura Aldine here but Bilbo Baggins. And I didn't want to make things anymore difficult for him than they already were.
But that dwarf better keep his insults to a minimum after this.
I was surprised to find the bowl was still warm in my hands. As if it had just come out of a microwave. I turned on my heel, frowning. A point in the 'actually a legitimate wizard' column.
Upon reentering the main hall I found that Thorin had a tankard in hand and the dwarves were now speaking quietly about something called the Iron Hills.
Setting the bowl in front of Thorin without a word, I stood in the doorway next to Gandalf and listened.
"They will not come." Thorin told the other dwarves. The rest grumbled, shooting looks to one another in dismay. "They say that this quest is ours and ours alone. And without the Arkenstone in our possession, I fear they are right."
I narrowed my eyes. Arken- what?
I could hear Gandalf coming up behind me. A soft golden light in my peripheral vision meant that he had likely fetched a candle. With his other hand, Gandalf reached into his pocket and pulled out a worn-looking piece of parchment. Gandalf set the candle at Thorin's right and then unfolded the paper onto the table.
It was a map. A beautifully drawn map that I belatedly realized was probably of Middle Earth if the maps in Bilbo's study were anything to go off of.
"Far to the East, beyond ranges and woodlands lies a single solitary peak." Gandalf said, turning to me. "The Lonely Mountain."
He gestured from the left side of the map to the right, at what was obviously a depiction of a mountain. I looked over Thorin's shoulder, trying to identify the writing but it wasn't a language I recognized. I stared at the map, mind working. From Gandalf's gesture it looked like we were starting in the far West and moving to the far East.
Across a continent.
I registered that the dwarves had begun talking but for the life of me I couldn't hear them thanks to the loud angry buzzing in my ears. Without bothering to say anything to anyone, not even Gandalf, I turned away and walked quickly down the hall.
I don't know how much time I was alone, trying to stop my tears. Minutes, hours, I couldn't say, until a long shadow passed over me.
"What," I demanded immediately, not allowing Gandalf to start, "was that."
"I told you that I had need of you," Gandalf replied calmly. "These dwarves have need of you. We must travel to the Lonely Mountain. That is why you are here."
I shook my head, ignoring the way Gandalf's expression darkened.
"Across the world," I shot back. "I'm not-"
"Yes," Gandalf cut me off impatiently, "You are. You were chosen by the Valar for this."
"You said it yourself that this isn't how it works," I snapped. "And you and I both know I'm not up to par. I know literally nothing. I can do literally nothing."
"And yet," Gandalf replied evenly, "here you stand before me. In a world you have never seen, never known, but is waiting for you with a path clearly marked."
I clenched my jaw, staring out the dark window and resisting the urge to scream. After what felt like hours I asked the only question that really mattered.
"If I do this," I said slowly. "Will I get to go home?"
Gandalf tilted his head, eyes solemn. "Not even I can say for certain."
I sighed gustily. That was not even remotely close to the answer I wanted.
"Alright," I said quickly, before I could think better of it. "Fine. I'll do it."
It was my only chance. And at least I'd have Gandalf off my back.
"I am pleased to hear it, Laura Aldine." Gandalf replied softly.
At least one of us was.
We stayed together in the study for a long time. I could hear the dwarves moving around the house, finally abandoning the dining room table. And then, finally, Gandalf spoke again.
"I must take my leave," Gandalf said, and he did look apologetic which was something. "I have rented a room at the inn and will collect you in the morning. But first I must have a word with Thorin."
"Alright," I agreed.
Gandalf moved as if to go back out into the hall and then stopped.
"I'm afraid," Gandalf said, "There are not enough rooms at the inn for all of our companions. I thought perhaps they could rest here."
There was a pregnant pause while my tired mind digested that.
"Fine." I replied finally, annoyance back. "Just- fine."
Gandalf move towards the main hall, murmured a few words to the dwarves, and returned with Thorin only to walk straight out into the garden.
I watched the door swing shut behind them. Then I stopped in the hallway and peered into the parlor where Balin and Dwalin were standing. They didn't see me at first until Balin looked had turned his head, presumably to look out the window, and caught my eye.
"Master Baggins," Balin greeted with a nod.
I nodded back, "Mister Balin." Addressing them both I said, "Will you be staying the night?"
The two shared a surprised look before Dwalin spoke. "That was what Gandalf promised us." He paused, eyebrows furrowed at the tired look on my face. "He did not tell you?"
"As you might have guessed, Gandalf didn't think to tell me a great many things." I shook my head. "But it's no problem. I can leave bedding on the dining table and you all can take what you need. It won't be much, I'm afraid, but it's better than nothing."
Dwalin, for the first time, looked at me with no hint of a scowl but instead something close to wary curiosity.
Balin jumped in, smiling at me. "That would be more than sufficient. Thank you."
I nodded, completely ready to be done with the conversation. With the entire night, honestly. "Of course. Good night."
And without waiting for a response, I turned and made my way to the storage room where I thought I remembered seeing bed linens in my exploration earlier in the day.
Arms full of sheets and blankets I stumbled down the hall and collapsed against the dining table. Depositing my first load on the table's surface I turned only to nearly collide with one of the dwarves. It was one from the group that had collapsed into Bilbo's entry hall. This one, if I remembered from my observations at dinner, didn't speak but used hand gestures to communicate. He also had an ax blade stuck in his forehead.
I couldn't even work up the energy to wonder about it.
"Oh hello," I acknowledged him. He grunted in response. "Would you mind lending me a hand?"
A grunt again but this time it was accompanied with a nod. Together we made quick work of sorting through Bilbo's things. Though the dwarf- and really, if we were traveling together I would need Gandalf to teach me their names- would sometimes slow down if not stop entirely, eyes going hazy and unfocused. But soon enough he would be back at searching, though whether or not he could recall what we were searching for was unclear. I appreciate the help nonetheless.
Once the bedding had been sorted and I had bid goodnight to the dwarf who responded in kind with a simple enough hand gesture. Down the hall I could see all the dwarves gathered around Thorin who was speaking to them all too quiet for me to hear.
Deciding I probably didn't want to know, I finally found myself back in Bilbo's bedroom. The room where all of this madness had started.
I didn't bother changing back into night clothes, choosing instead to simply remove my suspenders before crawling under Bilbo's sheets. I leaned over to blow out the lamp and settled on my back, staring up at the darkness.
Tomorrow was when everything really started, I thought. I wasn't sure if I was ready. If I would ever be ready.
But a tiny spark of hope flared in my chest. Or this could have just been a dream. A strange messed up dream.
Soon enough my eyelids began to droop and as I drifted to sleep I could have sworn that I heard singing.