GOING THERE AGAIN,
What Happened to Bilbo after his Return to the East
Bilbo knew that it was time to return to Rivendell. His life had been long, with rather more adventure and peril than he could have expected in his youth, and it was finally time to retire. The summer had passed, and he wanted to return to the comfort of the elvish glade before the winter set in. Yet, he had cherished every moment of his return journey to the Lonely Mountain and the renewed city of Dale. His affairs in the Shire had been neatly tied up, and Frodo – his cousin and now heir – would be taken care of, safe and comfortable in Bag End. Bilbo sometimes thought about his pretty gold ring with a gentle twinge of regret, although he reminded himself that he had no more use for silly trinkets at his age. And besides, crossing the Misty Mountains and passing through Mirkwood were much pleasanter journeys now, without trouble from goblins and with a gracious welcome from Thranduil. He would have no need of a magic ring.
Indeed, Mirkwood itself had even seemed a cheerier place to visit; less stifling and unfriendly. This time he was pleased to accept the offer of elvish hospitality – and even more pleased to have a friendly escort to the River Running instead of having to escape in a barrel! He was overjoyed to see the rebuilt Lake-town, even more prosperous than when Bilbo had first seen it, as they now had wealthy dwarf neighbours with whom to trade. The current Master was a sensible and jovial man, proud of his people yet careful not to take their good fortune for granted.
Bilbo’s heart was overflowing with happiness to see the change in these eastern lands. As he travelled through the desolation of Smaug, he could scarcely recognise it as the country he had fearfully passed through years before. Rich grasses, flowers and trees had all returned to the landscape. And the wild creatures! The air was filled with birdsong, and he spied rabbits and deer here and there.
As the Lonely Mountain loomed before him, recollections began to fill Bilbo’s mind. One day, he felt the presence of the dwarf company so strongly around him, and his head became so clouded with memories that he could do nothing but sit and weep for a while. The brave and defiant Fili and Kili, loyal to the last to their uncle Thorin. Bilbo wept most mournfully for Thorin, the displaced warrior king desperate to return his people to their rightful home. Although Bilbo and Thorin did not always look upon things in the same way, Bilbo had carried a great deal of sorrow that the dwarves had not the sense of belonging to a place that he had. And although he was reluctant to admit it to himself, his difficulty in parting with his ring gave him some small insight into the strange power of gold and jewels.
In a way, Bilbo also wept for himself; his lost innocence, and the danger and strife that filled his journey east with Gandalf and the dwarves.
Bilbo spent his one-hundred-and-thirteenth birthday in Dale as a guest of the new king, Bain. The son of Bard the Dragon-Slayer, later First King of the New Kingdom of Dale, Bain had met Bilbo in Lake-town and came to learn of the hobbit’s great exploits, and his role in the reclaiming of Erebor. When Bain inherited the throne of Dale, he still remembered the Shireling’s heroism, and had sent numerous wonderful gifts to Bilbo on the occasion of his eleventy-first birthday. Now Bilbo had returned, and Bain was honoured to receive him.
Hearing of the hobbit’s return and impending birthday, Dain, King of Erebor and Thorin’s cousin, made his way to Dale along with some of his folk who were sure to give Bilbo a welcome surprise. They found him on the morning of his birthday, peacefully sitting under a tree in front of the King’s house, eyes closed, smoking a pipe and humming fragments of a song.
“Well, what do we have here?” cried a dwarf voice. “Someone tell the king there’s a burglar on the loose!” Bilbo sat up with a start and looked around himself wildly.
“What is it?” Bilbo began nervously. “What…Well! Good gracious, look who it is!” And with that the hobbit rose, more stiffly now that his age had begun to catch up with him, and greeted his old friends.
“Why, Dwalin, you gave me quite a fright. Hello, hello! Who have we got here? Let me see, Dori and Nori, Gloin, Bifur and Bofur, and Dain, King of Erebor. How wonderful to see you all!”
“We are honoured to attend your birthday celebration, Mr Baggins,” said Dain, giving Bilbo a hearty pat on the shoulder. “I have come to learn what part you played in the quest for Erebor. And I’m certainly fond of a good party!”
Seeing the dwarves again, so happy and settled in the Lonely Mountain, was the best birthday present Bilbo could have hoped for. But he looked at the group, wondering about those not present. Dwalin saw the questioning glances, and answered them.
“You’re wondering where the rest of Thorin’s company are, aren’t you?” he asked. Bilbo nodded. “Several years ago, Balin, Ori and Oin were among those who journeyed to Moria to try to re-establish the dwarf settlement there. We haven’t heard word recently of how they fare.” Dwalin’s face looked dark for a moment, then he chuckled. “Bombur is well, although he no longer leaves Erebor because he has grown so fat that it takes six dwarves just to lift him to the dinner table! But we are here, and very glad to be!” The dwarves cheered, and sat down on the grass with Bilbo.
The weather remained fair, and in the evening people gathered for a birthday feast in Bard’s Square, sharing the food and drink that the newly-verdant land now provided in abundance. There was music, dancing and general merriment well into the night. Many songs were sung, and Bilbo entertained some of the children with tales of his adventures.
The anniversary of the Battle of Five Armies was marked annually in Dale with a holiday and communal feast, and now the 22nd of September became known as Bilbo’s Day– a time to celebrate courage and loyalty. In later years, acts of heroism performed by citizens of Dale outside of war came to be celebrated on this day.
The kingship of Bain was peaceful and prosperous. He was honourable and warm-hearted, loved by the citizens of Dale and winning the respect and friendship of the Lake-people, dwarves and elves.
Bilbo accompanied the dwarves to Erebor, and could scarcely recognise it as the site of the siege and great battle. As they entered the mountain, a laughing voice from long ago echoed in his mind: “Don’t call my palace a nasty hole! You wait till it has been cleaned and redecorated!” He nearly wept with pleasure as he looked upon the now-realised dreams of Thorin. While the dwarves had strengthened the mountain’s defences on the outside, they had also restored its interior to a place of grand beauty. Thousands of torches illuminated intricate stonework, while gold and jewels had been added to give decoration to walls, floors and pillars. Dwarves everywhere were busy with the workings of industry and trade.
Dwalin watched Bilbo’s face, thinking he understood the variety of emotions that passed across it.
“Aye, laddie,” he said gently, resting a hand on Bilbo’s shoulder, “this is how he dreamed it would be. Let me show you something.”
Dain left them, and Dwalin led Bilbo to a long flight of stairs that looked far too big for an old hobbit. But in memory of times past Dori hoisted Bilbo onto his back and carried him up.
“The great chamber of Thror,” said Dwalin, smiling proudly, when they reached the top. “It looks rather different to your last visit.”
And indeed it did. At one end stood an impressive throne flanked by several grand chairs, behind a long bench, all made of carved and polished wood and inlaid with jewels. Throughout the hall were other tables and benches, obviously set out for feasting, and the flagstone floor was smooth and clean. Gilded, jewel-encrusted chandeliers illuminated large tapestries hanging on the walls, which Bilbo guessed to be of elvish make. Bilbo gazed around him in awe, then realised that the company had paused at the hall’s far end. When he saw why, his knees gave out and he sank onto the bench beside him.
At the opposite end to the throne of Dain was a tomb nearly Bilbo’s height. Upon it stood a larger-than-life statue of Thorin, wearing coronation robes and crown. In his right hand was his sword, Orcrist, and in his left, an orb representing the Arkenstone. His head was slightly raised, his face free of troubles and his eyes lifted, as though dreaming of a great and glorious future for Durin’s Folk. Although the statue was of stone, the sword was a glimmering silver replica, and his crown and the Arkenstone were rendered in silver and set with sparkling gems of many colours.
A shining gold plaque had been set into the top of the tomb beneath the statue’s feet. Bilbo slowly approached and saw words engraved in the Common Tongue:
In honour and remembrance of Thorin, son of Thrain,
who in 2941 led a quest to reclaim The Lonely Mountain
from the dragon Smaug and restore the Kingdom of Erebor.
Mortally wounded in the Battle of Five Armies.
Accompanying him in this quest were:
Fili & Kili (slain in defence of Thorin),
Balin & Dwalin,
Oin & Gloin,
Dori, Nori & Ori,
Bifur, Bofur & Bombur,
the Wizard Gandalf the Grey, and
Bilbo Baggins, a Hobbit of The Shire.
Bilbo sat back down with a bowed head and wept, while the dwarves silently waited as he grieved.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
End of Part 1.