For seemingly the hundredth time in an hour, Bilbo sneezed.

He let out a quiet groan and sniffed in an attempt to keep his nose from running. He did his best to be subtle as he glanced around to see if anyone was watching him. When he saw that no one was, he discreetly wiped his nose on the inside of his jacket. What he didn't know, however, was that someone was looking.

"Here, da'." Looking over, he saw Baylee holding out a folded handkerchief to him, an 'I saw that' expression on her face.

Bilbo's cheeks turned a bit red. "You remembered to pack handkerchiefs?" he questioned, his voice sounding a bit nasally thanks to his congested sinuses. As he took the handkerchief, he gave her a thankful nod before blowing his nose. He sighed as some relief was finally brought to his nasal passages.

She watched him as he blew his nose again; they had been traveling for a few days and, now that they were nearing the borders of the Shire, her father's hay fever was acting up. "Yes…I packed everything I normally do for when we take walking holidays, along with a few extra supplies at Fili and Kili's recommendation." She jumped slightly as her mare, who she had named Buttercup, gave her head a shake.

"I did see you had quite a bit of salt pork," he replied, his voice a bit nasally. "Was that also their recommendation?" He was glad to be talking with her again; since leaving, they hadn't said much to one another. It was mostly his fault, however, as he had been understandably frustrated with the situation. His only daughter coming with him and a throng of dwarves on an adventure would have upset any father worth his salt.

Baylee's cheeks flushed. "N-No…that was actually Halfast's idea."

At that, his brow rose. "Halfast's idea?" He blew his nose again before shoving the handkerchief into his pocket.

"I was originally going to get just a bit of jerky, but Fili and Kili were there when I stepped in and…well, Halfast found out I was going to be going on an adventure and said I'd need more than just jerky."

He nodded slowly, his eyes narrowing slightly as he watched her face. "And just what was his reaction to finding out that you were leaving, hmm?"

Though part of her was thankful he was starting to tease her about her crush again, another part of her was embarrassed. "He was actually rather excited…said that he's been wanting to go out on an adventure himself, but there's no way his da' would let him."

"Well, after what happened to the poor lad's mother, I can see why." Looking back at the path ahead, he could see the backs of nearly every dwarf as well as Gandalf, who rode alongside Thorin. He and Baylee, meanwhile, took up the rear of the group. "Any other reasons why he was excited?"

"I…I promised I'd do my best to come back and tell him stories about the adventure." She then cleared her throat, also focusing her gaze on the road ahead. "And then he kissed me goodbye. …Twice." She felt her cheeks grow hot and she knew they had to have been as red as beets.

Bilbo's eyes grew to the size of saucers and his head whipped around to look at her. "He did what!?" he cried, making Gloin and Dori turn to look at them with a bit of concern. "S-sorry, nothing's wrong," he quickly told them, an apologetic smile on his lips. Turning back to his daughter, he said, much more calmly this time, "He did what?"

"You heard me."

"Actually, I don't think I did." He did his best to make his voice sound disappointed, though he had never been the best of actors.

"Da', please," she groaned, eyes rolling. "I know you heard me just fine."

"I'm fairly certain I didn't, young lady, because it sounded like you just told me Halfast Pott gave you two goodbye kisses."

Baylee groaned, leaning back against the bags piled up behind her, her hands releasing the reins in favor of covering her face. "Da', you are unbearable at times."

"Oh, so I did hear you correctly? Well, then, clearly he's not the one for one you, because if he was, he would have given you three goodbye kisses." He could hear Gloin snort; he wondered if dwarves had better hearing than they let on, because he certainly wasn't being loud.

Baylee peeked out from behind her fingers. "Are you really going to tease me like this now of all times?"

He gave her a bit of a smug, fatherly smile. "This is what you get for not staying home. You're lucky I didn't remember to grab that picture book your grandfather made—you know, the one with all the drawings your grandmother did of you as a baby? Including the one of you using a bowl of porridge as a hat?—otherwise, I'd be showing that off to all of the-the—" He gestured at the group before them. "Lads."

"Then I'm doubly lucky that I hid that book in a spot you won't be able to find it!" she pouted. She looked over at him again only to see a cheeky grin on his lips. Despite struggling to keep her pout in place, she soon burst into a fit of giggles.

His smile turned from cheeky to warm as he watched her giggle. "It's good to hear you laugh again. At least, laughing because of me," he told her. The dwarves had managed to make her laugh plenty often over the last few days. "I'm sorry I've been such a grump the past few days."

"It's understandable," she told him, sitting upright once more. She shifted slightly, her nose scrunching up just a bit. Not being used to riding, her thighs and hindquarters were quite sore; Fili had told her it would eventually leave, but when she asked how long it would take, he had given her a vague answer of 'a while'. "You're my da'…it's your job to worry about me."

"Yes, but you're also an adult—one who I've made sure to raise to be able to think for herself, mind you." Feeling a sneeze coming on, he pulled out the handkerchief again. He sighed once the sneeze had passed and he had blown his nose. "I daresay it's better you get this adventurousness out of your system now when you're an unmarried lass than to do it when you're older."

She nodded in agreement, quietly laughing. "That's what I was thinking…and with this seeming like it's going to be quite a long journey, my adventurous spirit may be completely gone by the time we get home."

"Hm. It better not be, because from the sound of it, Halfast may—"


Late April faded into May, which, in turn, faded into mid-May. As the Company rode further and further away from the Shire, the lands became more wild and less hospitable. The lovely blue skies and warm sun of the Shire were gone; now the skies were mostly overcast. Temperatures couldn't seem to make up their minds: One day it would be stifling, but the next, it'd be cool again.

'It's a good thing I wore one of my lighter dresses,' Baylee thought to herself one evening as she rolled out her bedroll. It had been a warm day and everyone had been quite uncomfortable while in the saddle. 'There are only so many layers you can remove while staying decent, after all…'

"Miss Baylee?" She looked up, watching as Bombur came waddling over, one of his smaller cooking pots in hand. "I was wondering if you'd be able to go out and forage us some mushrooms? And maybe a few herbs if you can find them?"

Standing up, she brushed off the front of her dress. "Yes, of course," she replied with a smile. It was the first time she had been asked to do any sort of foraging, which was a nice change of pace. "If I can find any other edibles, would you like me to get those, too?"

"If there's anything you deem tasty out there, that would be a welcome addition," he replied, smiling. "I'm afraid I don't really know what grows wild out here…" He then held out the cooking pot. "Here—to put the mushrooms in."

Taking the pot, she nodded in understanding. "I'll see what I can do. Let me just go tell da' that I'm heading out first." With the pot held out in front of her, she walked across their camp to where Bilbo was sitting and talking with Thorin and Gandalf.

He looked up at her as she approached; he seemed fairly relaxed and at ease. She quickly discovered why: He had his pipe in his hand and some smoke furling out of his mouth. Judging by the smell, it was Longbottom Leaf he was smoking. "Hello, dear. Do you need something?"

She shook her head. "No. Just came to let you know that Bombur asked me to go hunt down some mushrooms, so I may away for a bit."

"Mushrooms?" Thorin repeated, some amusement in his voice. Baylee wondered if, perhaps, her father had shared some of his Longbottom Leaf with him; she hadn't seen him this relaxed before. "An interesting way t' test our Mouse-Lass's seeking skills…But these lands are wild and dangerous." Turning his head, he called out, "Fili. Go with the Mouse-Lass and see to it she doesn't get herself hurt."

She felt her cheeks grow just the slightest bit warm at the implication that she would go off and somehow injure herself. She held her tongue, though, knowing that, despite her silent disagreement, it would be a good idea to have someone with her. As he had said, the lands were wild and dangerous; even with being as quiet as she could apparently be, there were things out there that could be even quieter.

Looking over at Fili, she watched as he grabbed his sword belt and slung it across his body before standing. He gave her a smile and used his head to motion for her to follow. As she did so, she could hear her father giving Thorin a lighthearted scolding about her having a name and that it wasn't 'Mouse-Lass'.

"So, why is it I'm accompanying you?" Fili asked when they were a dozen or so yards away from the camp.

"Bombur asked me to forage for some mushrooms and herbs," she explained. As they walked, she kept her vision towards the ground, searching for anything that would be edible. So far, she was seeing plenty of clover and ferns, but no mushrooms yet.

Her gaze was suddenly brought back up as she felt the cooking pot leave her hands. "And he gave you this nice, heavy pot to carry them in," Fili chuckled, giving the pot a little toss in the air. It did a full spin before falling back down to land in his hands.

"It's not too heavy, really," she assured him. "If I were going to be carrying water or stones in it, then, yes, maybe it'd be a burden." She let her eyes fall back to the ground, narrowing them slightly.

"Well, that's good to hear, but I'm still going to carry this for you." His brow rose again as she let out a small 'aha!' and darted forward into the underbrush. "What did you find?"

"Some wild garlic mustard," she replied, crouching down. Plucking the plant up by the handfuls, she glanced over her shoulder at him. "It'll go well with the mushrooms."

"I've never heard of a plant called garlic mustard. I've heard of garlic an' mustard, though…"

"It's a bit of a weed," she told him. "It grows in a lot of places, so there's a strong chance you've eaten it, but didn't know it. It smells strongly of garlic, but its flavor is a mix of garlic and mustard, thus the name." She gathered four or five handfuls of the leaves, using her skirt to hold them all as she stood up.

Fili blinked as he saw her stand up; she was a good four yards from where he thought she had been. "Do you have to cook the leaves before you eat them?" he asked. As she came over to him, he lowered the pot so that she could put the leaves into it.

"No. Why?"

His reply came in the form of him plucking up one of the leaves and popping it into his mouth. After a moment, his brows rose in pleasant surprise. "That's quite good," he said, still chewing. He started to follow her once more as she went back to searching for mushrooms. "I wouldn't have expected a leaf to taste like that."

"It's really good in salads or in sauces. My grandmother used to make the best sautéed mushrooms in a garlic mustard-based sauce," she told him, smiling fondly at the memory. "Sometimes she'd add in some caramelized onions, too." Up ahead, she could see a fallen log—a potentially good spot to find mushrooms.

"That does sound good," he agreed, glancing around. "Just don't tell Bombur about it or he'll have you scouring out every mushroom and wild onion around here so you could make it for him."

"That'd be mighty hard, considering wild onions won't come into season for another month or two. Though, I might be able to find some wild leek…" Spotting another fallen log some yards off to her left, she grinned and hurried off towards it. From where she stood, she could see the bounty of mushrooms growing on it.

Fili's eyes widened as the hobbit darted off into the brush. "What did you find?" He craned his head, trying to catch sight of her, but he could see no sign of her. "She's wearing a yellow dress," he mumbled. "How am I not seeing her?"

"Mushrooms," she called back from…somewhere. "Ooh, this is a lovely bunch of hog mushrooms!"

He continued to search the area with his eyes. "Enough to feed all of us you think?" Following her voice, he finally let out a small sigh of relief—he had spotted her about ten yards ahead of him.

"Hm? Oh, blessings no. This would only be enough for about two hobbits—which is, to say, barely enough for one dwarf." She stood, holding the bottom of her skirt up so the mushrooms wouldn't fall out. "It's going to take a fair bit more hunting to find enough for all of us." She carefully made her way back to him.

"You're right," he chuckled upon seeing the amount she had collected. It was a fair bit, but nowhere near enough for thirteen dwarves, two hobbits, and a wizard. "You are going to have to do a bit more hunting."

As Fili lowered the pot for her, she started to transfer her bounty into it. "What doesn't help is Bombur didn't give me an estimate of how much he needed," she sighed. Once her skirt was empty, she brushed the bits of stem and half-rotten bark off of it. Then, taking hold of the pot's handle, she simply pulled it from Fili's hands and started walking towards the log she had originally spotted.

He didn't argue; if she was going to keep darting off, she needed it more than him. "You might have to find every mushroom in a three-mile radius," he joked. "Though, if you accomplished that before nightfall, you'd have my uncle really impressed."

She rolled her eyes, but laughed. "Now I highly doubt I'd be able to do either of those things," she replied. "I could cover that distance in a few days, perhaps…Which wouldn't impress your uncle very much, I'm sure."

"You never know. The fact you found anything at all might leave him amazed." He put his hands behind his head and locked his fingers together.

"Something tells me it takes more than finding some mushrooms to do that." As they approached the log, she slowly walked around it, searching for more of the fungi. "Has he always been like that?"

"Not always, no. He used t' be more lighthearted—and can still be, given enough ale and music—but this past decade hasn't been very kind to him or my mother."

She glanced up at him as she crouched down to harvest some chanterelles; they weren't growing on the log, but on the ground near it. "I'm sorry to hear that."

He shrugged, watching as she carefully plucked the fungi from their stems. "With luck, this quest will change our family's fortune. We'll return t' our ancestral home and, should that vile Smaug still live, we'll defeat him once and for all." A small grin came to his lips. "And then the line of Durin will once again sit upon the throne of Erebor."

"Part of me is hoping that he's already dead," Baylee confessed. She stood up once more, the pot held in front of her. "Though, admittedly, another part of me wants to see an actual, living dragon."

"Well, that's why we have you and your father with us, isn't it?" he chuckled, brow rising. "As our Burglar and our Mouse-Lass, you'll be the ones t' tell us whether he's alive or dead." He once more started to follow her as she walked. His pace was leisurely; almost three of her strides equaled one of his. "Or if there are other creatures lurking inside the mountain that we'll have t' worry about."

Her brow rose. "What do you mean, other creatures…?"

"Oh, you know, the usual: Orcs, goblins, wargs, trolls, evil-hearted men. If the dragon's dead, then it's possible they've already moved in."

She nodded slowly, though her brows furrowed. "What are wargs?" she then asked. "You and the others keep mentioning them, but I've never heard of them until I met you lot."

Fili looked more than a little surprised by this. "You've…never heard of wargs?" She shook her head. "They're…Akin to wolves, but they're larger, meaner, and far uglier. And to make it even worse: They're smart enough that they can talk." He shook his head and said something in a foreign language before spitting on the ground. "Nasty creatures…some even say they're inhabited by the spirits of long-dead men with black hearts and that's how they're so smart."

A shudder ran down her spine at the thought. "I certainly hope we don't run into any, then. They sound horrible—worse than the white wolves that attacked the Shire just over a century ago!" She scrunched her nose up and shook her head. "One of their heads had been mounted and was on display in my great-aunt Pansy's home for many years. I don't know if it's still there, but I remember it being almost as big as my da'."

"Oh, wargs are so big, you wouldn't even be a snack for one. You'd be one—maybe two—bites for them at most." Despite his words, there was a bit of an amused grin on his lips; he couldn't help but find some of fun in scaring the hobbit. "I don't think Bilbo would be much more, either. But, you needn't worry too much. Almost every single one of us dwarves has seen battle at least time or two. And warg packs are rare on this side of the Misty Mountains. Now, roving bands of orcs, on the other hand…"

Her brow rose as she led him towards a patch of mushrooms growing up the side of a tree. "I think that's enough," she pouted. "I know you're trying to scare me and, while it is working a bit, I'm not going to be reduced to a shaking mess."

At that, Fili laughed. "At least you admit when you're scared. Most people would try to hide their fear." Seeing her struggle with prying the mushrooms from the tree, he drew one of his smaller knives and offered it to her.

"Thank you." Taking the knife, she started to carefully slice the fungi away. "As for fear, I don't really see a point in hiding it in most circumstances. But…that's partly because I'm not very good when it comes to hiding my fear anyway."

"What sort of circumstances do you think you'd try hiding it in?" His brow rose with curiosity.

"Around children you're babysitting," she stated matter-of-factly. "The minute you show a bit of fear, whether the child is a wee baby or one who can walk and talk, the minute they see you're scared, it's over. They're going to wreak havoc." She glanced over her shoulder as Fili burst out laughing. "What? I'm serious!"

"I wouldn't know, to be honest," he laughed. "I've never had t' watch any dwarrowlings—at least, not on my own. My mother would sometimes watch Bombur's little ones if he and Gerdi needed a break, but…well, Kili and I just wore them out for her."

Her head tilted slightly. "Bombur has children?"

"Oh, yes. He's currently got six!"

"That's more than what most hobbits have—and we have large families!" She chuckled, shaking her head. "Do any other members of the Company have children?"

"Gloin has a son, but that's it."

"Really?" She glanced up at him. "With there being thirteen of you, I would have expected more to have families. Especially your uncle, given how important he is."

Shaking his head, Fili chuckled. "There aren't many dwarven women," he explained. "They make up only about a third of our population. And only about a third of that third go on to marry and have children. Gloin and Bombur are lucky ones."

"Why only a third of a third?" She looked up at him once more, confusion on her face.

"When Mahal—ah, Aulë t' you—made us dwarves, he made our hearts fiercely passionate. Our kind falls in love only once and it's usually with our crafts instead of another person. Or, if they do fall in love, and it's with someone who doesn't love them back, they simply won't ever marry." Seeing that she was done with that batch of mushrooms, he offered her a hand up.

Instead of taking his hand, she returned his knife to him and stood up, nodding in understanding as she did so. "That makes sense," she told him. "And it certainly explains the lack of families." She grabbed the handle of the pot and, lifting it, started to walk off again. "It's far different for us hobbits, but we've also got a larger percentage of females."

"I saw that," he chuckled. "In fact, most of the hobbits I saw the morning we left were female. At least, I'm assuming all the ones in dresses were female. I didn't see a single hobbit with any semblance of a beard, so I can't be too sure."

She laughed at that. "Yes, the ones in dresses were the womenfolk. We hobbits don't really grow facial hair," she explained, "unless they've got Stoor blood in them."


"One of the three original groups of hobbits. There were Stoors, Fallohides, and Harfoots." She tucked some hair behind her ear. "But so many years have passed that they've all just…kind of blended together, I guess. Are there different types of dwarves…?"

"There are seven houses of our people," he grinned. "Though, t' be honest with you, I don't know much about them. I kind of…fell asleep during my lessons on them. My uncle would know more about them, however. So does Balin, but he tends to end up rambling onto unrelated points at times. But I'm sure either would be happy to tell you about them."

She felt her cheeks turn the slightest bit pink; luckily, Fili was taller than her and didn't see it. "I wouldn't want to bother your uncle, so I might ask Balin in the future."

His brow rose. "Bother him…? Why do you think you'd be bothering him?"

She shrugged, glancing around in her hunt for more mushrooms as her cheeks grew a bit pinker. "He just—well, he—He, uh…"

"Seems like he's a big ol' grump?"

Glancing up at him, a guilty smile came to her lips. "I wouldn't have phrased it so bluntly, but…yes. He does have that sort of air about him."

Fili laughed, making her feel a bit of relief. "Don't worry—that's just his face. Once you get him talking, you'll see that he's not as cranky as he looks."

Almost an hour later, the two returned to the camp. Baylee wore a victorious grin as she held the pot; it was filled to the brim with a mixture of mushrooms, herbs, and other wild edibles. She also had bits of grass and some twigs sticking out of her hair and there were a couple of small tears on her dress, but she paid these no mind as she brought the pot over to Bombur.

"I found you three different kinds of mushrooms," she told him as he took the pot from her, "as well as some garlic mustard, wild leek, wild asparagus, and peppergrass."

Bombur's eyes were wide as he looked through the bounty. "Well, carve me surprised! I wasn't expecting you to get nearly this amount of food!" he laughed. "Thank you, Miss Baggins. These will all be a great help with dinner!" He reached down and lightly tousled her hair, a smile on his face. "Best go get those twigs and leaves out of your hair before a bird tries to nest in it," he gently teased before heading towards the fire to get started cooking.

Her brow rose and, running her hand over her hair, she could feel that her braids had grown quite messy. 'Probably when I crawled under those bushes to reach the wild leeks,' she thought, heading over to her bedroll. Sitting down, she pulled her pack over to herself; she was glad she had given the salt pork to Bombur, as it lightened the bag up quite a bit. After finding her comb, she untied the ribbons holding her braids before undoing the braids themselves.

As she plucked the debris from her hair, she glanced over at the fire. Bombur was pouring a large bucketful of water into his largest cooking pot, which was hanging on a chain over the fire. She watched as he then sat down next to a stump, using it as a cutting board.

'Wonder which meat he'll be using tonight?' she thought, wincing as she pulled a twig from her hair. 'As long as he leaves me enough sausage for the morning gravy…' Most of the time, it was Bombur who handled dinner and she who made breakfast. It was an arrangement that worked out well, as Bombur enjoyed sleeping in. Plucking another twig from her hair, she started to carefully comb through the ash-brown locks.

"Oh, no…Baylee, what sort of mess did you get yourself into?"

She looked up in time to see Bilbo walking over to her, shaking his head in a fatherly fashion. "What do you mean, da'?" she asked, brow rising.

He motioned at her dress. "You've gone and ripped your dress and you've got dirt all over your arms! Not to mention the state of your hair!" Shaking his head again, he sighed and plucked the comb from her hands. "All this for some mushrooms…It's like you're fifteen all over again."

A small laugh left her mouth as he sat down behind her. "I was asked to find mushrooms, so I found mushrooms—and then some," she told him. She held still as he gathered up her hair and started to pull out the twigs and leaves that she had missed. "The rips on my dress aren't too bad, nor are the cuts on my arms."

"How did you even get them?"

"I crawled under some bushes to get at some wild leeks."

"…Why didn't you just go around the bushes?"

"I couldn't. They were brambles—they were taking up a huge area."

Bilbo let out a heavy sigh and began to comb through her hair. "Why didn't you just have Fili cut them down, then? He had his swords with him!" His tone was a bit on the scolding side.

At that, her cheeks darkened. "…I actually didn't think of that," she admitted. She flinched slightly as she felt her father flick the tip of her ear—something he did as a mild punishment. "Ow! It's not like this dress is one of my good ones; I chose it because it was already ripped and stained in places."

"I didn't do it because of the dress. I did it because you weren't thinking." He held onto the middle of her hair as he fought some particularly difficult knots in the ends of her hair. "Use your noggin next time, young lady, and you won't get your ear flicked again."

A small pout came to her lips. "I don't think he would have used his swords to chop through brambles anyway. He would have needed something more like Bifur's spear or Gloin's axes…Or Nori's mace."

His brow rose. "Regardless. If you see wild leeks growing on the opposite side of some brambles, don't crawl under the brambles in order to reach them, alright?" He used the comb to part her hair down the middle; half he put over her shoulder. The other half he started to braid from the top of her head, weaving in extra locks of hair on the way down. "Speaking of weapons, we may start fighting lessons soon."

"We may start fighting lessons?" She turned her head slightly to try and look over her shoulder at him.

Bilbo promptly turned her head back. "Yes, we may. Gandalf and Thorin agree that the two of us should know how to fight at least somewhat given the dangers that we could run into in the future." He didn't sound very excited by the idea; in fact, he sounded quite hesitant. "The problem is finding weapons small enough for us to use. Gandalf suggested we could learn to use a slingshot like Ori…"

Her brow rose. "Slingshots don't sound like they'd make for very effective weapons…unless our enemies happen to be birds and small rodents."

"Personally, I'd rather not fight at all. Ribbon, please." He took the ribbon from his daughter as she held it over her shoulder. "But I understand that there may come a time when we need to. And we hobbits were, once upon a time, fierce warriors…But that was a long time ago. I don't think there's much warrior blood left in our veins." He tied off the end of the first braid.

"Before we left, Fili and Kili suggested I use a pair of knives…they said I could go around, slicing tendons."

"I'm not sure I'm particularly fond of the idea of my daughter doing such a thing," he sighed, starting the second braid. "Maybe you can just hide if ever some sort of battle did happen."

"Not even a Mouse-Lass could keep herself hidden forever." Both hobbits looked up to see Thorin approaching. "Especially in battle against orcs or wargs, who can be quite unpredictable at times." He then looked down at Baylee, his brow raised slightly. "And speaking of Mouse-Lasses…I hear ours did quite a good job in her foraging for Bombur."

Baylee felt her cheeks start to grow a bit warm. "I think I did a…a decent job," she half-mumbled, glancing away. Despite Fili having told her that Thorin wasn't as cold as he seemed, she still felt intimidated by him.

"I saw the bounty you brought back. I'd consider that far more than decent," he replied. "Keep that up and we may not have t' worry about ever going hungry." He watched as Bilbo finished up the second braid, tying it off when Baylee handed him the other ribbon. "As for upcoming training, Nori's agreed to train you, Master Burglar. And you, Mouse-Lass, will be working with Fili and Kili."

Bilbo frowned at that—both because of the title 'Master Burglar' and him only training with one dwarf. "Wh-why will they both be training her but only Nori will be training me?"

"Nori will be teaching you more than just fighting," he said rather simply. "As for my nephews, it's merely because you can hardly keep those two separated. It was a wonder that Kili didn't join Fili and Mouse-Lass earlier."

A slight pout came to her lips. "Y-you can just use my name, you know. There's no reason to keep calling me 'Mouse-Lass'."

At that, his brow rose and a bit of amusement came to his lips. "Do I need to have a reason to call you by your title instead of your name?"

"N-no, but one may begin to think that your constant use of 'Mouse-Lass'—and, come to think of it, 'Master Burglar', too!—is a way for you to cover up the fact that, perhaps, you've forgotten our names!"

Bilbo's eyes widened at his daughter's words; he knew she could have a quick wit about her at times, but the fact it had just come about towards a king left him horrified. He opened his mouth to scold her, but was stopped before he could speak as Thorin let out a hearty laugh.

"I assure you, Mistress Baylee, I know yours and your father's names quite well," he snickered. Unlike Bilbo, he was quite amused by her sudden boldness—especially given how shy she usually was around most of the Company. "As I said, though, I simply prefer to call you by the titles I have given you."

She felt her cheeks become a bit warmer. "Well, then, if that's the case, I'll just…I'll just call you 'Oakenshield' from now on."

Thorin's brow rose as he looked down at her; it seemed like all humor had left his face, making her immediately regret even opening her mouth. But then, the corners of his eyes crinkled as he smiled and let out another laugh. "So be it, Mouse-Lass." Before he walked off, he looked at Bilbo and chuckled when he found him still wearing a horrified expression.

Baylee suddenly winced and covered her ear when she felt Bilbo flick her once again; he had done it a bit harder this time. "Ouch! Da'!" She scooted away from him so he couldn't do it a third time.

"Do you know how much trouble you could have gotten yourself into?" he scolded. "Imagine if he hadn't found you amusing! Come morning, you might've found yourself tied up to a tree and left behind or-or-or-or—I don't even want to think of what else could have happened!"

"Ah, no need t' worry," said Bofur, who had been sitting on his own bedroll nearby. He had his pipe in hand, taking a long draw from it. "The worse he would have done is make her take first watch for the next couple o' nights." As he spoke, smoke furled from his nose and mouth. "He knows we're all going t' be too invaluable when it comes time t' get into the mountain, so he won't risk losing any o' us."

Bilbo sighed. "Well, there's that at least," he murmured. He then shook his head and, frowning, wagged a scolding finger at his daughter. "Still! You, young lady, know better than to get cheeky with people."

"He got cheeky first," she replied, crossing her arms.

"She's got a point," Bofur snickered.

Bilbo gave Bofur a small glare from the corner of his eye, but ignored his comment for now. "He's a king, Baylee—a king. He's allowed to get lippy."

"An' he's got a point, too." A playful grin came to the dwarf's lips when Bilbo gave him a most exasperated expression. "What? You do! An' she does, too. Thorin did get sassy with her first, so it was her right t' get sassy back. But she should watch out who she sasses in the future, because they may not find her as hilarious as he did."

Baylee's brow rose, but there was a small smile on her lips as Bofur spoke. "I do try my best to be cautious about who I get lippy with—which da' knows well," she said. "Though, I doubt Tho—Oakenshield found me 'hilarious'."

Bilbo sighed and nodded in acquiesce. "That is true; you are fairly well behaved most of the time," he admitted. "I suppose I was just taken aback by your audacity."

"An' if he didn't find you hilarious, I did," Bofur chuckled. "Then again, you're both rather hilarious at times. One minute you're both calm and the next, you're bursting into fits o' giggles or telling off one o' us dwarves." He shook his head and leaned back while crossing his legs. "I guess it's partly because o' how small the two o' you are. Sometimes we forget the two o' you aren't a pair o' dwarrowlings."

At that, Bilbo laughed, his brow rising. "How can you confuse us for dwarven children? We don't have nearly enough hair."

Baylee grabbed her braids and brought them forward, holding them along her jaw. "Get me some glue and I could have a decent set of muttonchops," she joked.

As Bofur cracked up, Bilbo stared at her. For a moment, she thought he was going to tell her off again, but instead, he reached over and took the ends of her braids. Holding them together under her nose, he leaned back slightly as if inspecting the placement. Then, with a small grin coming to his lips, he declared, "There. Now you look like a proper dwarven child."