Title: Speaks With Beasts
Author: Keira Marcos
Challenge: Thursday Vignettes – October 25, 2018
Fandom: The Hobbit
Genre: Alternate Universe, Rule 63 (Female Bilbo)
Word Count: 1533 (Complete)
Summary: Some hobbits are beast speakers. Bellarose Baggins is a little braver than the rest of her kind.
* * * *
“Ah, Bella, I was looking for you.”
Bellarose Baggins looked up from her book and curled her bare toes briefly into Virgil’s pale fur. “Hello, Gandalf.”
The wizard leaned on his staff as if he needed the support and Bella nearly frowned. She wondered how many people bought the Maiar’s frail old man act. He’d come around the Shire a lot over the years due to the circumstances of her own emergence and, of course, her adoption of a Dire Wolf. The whole Shire had been up in arms the day she’d hauled Virgil home as a puppy. In fact, they’d complained about him for more than a decade. Then the Fell Winter came, and Virgil proved his worth to them all. They’d learned that he considered them all under his protection and that warg wasn’t bad to eat if it was smoked first.
“How can I help you?”
“I’d like to introduce you to someone.”
Bella made a face. “What sort of someone? You’d better not have brought a human this far into the Shire without permission. The Thain will be very cross with you!”
“Ah, no humans, I promise,” Gandalf said and glanced toward Virgil who was staring at him with bright blue eyes. “That didn’t work out so well last time.”
Bella huffed and shut her book with a snap. “So, who is this someone?”
“His name is Thorin Oakenshield, and he is the king of Durinfolk.”
She lifted an eyebrow. “I’ve never met a dwarf king before.”
Gandalf smiled. “You do like new experiences.”
“I also like to be home in time for tea,” she said tartly and looked up to gauge the position of the sun. “Why am I to meet this dwarf king?”
“He has a job for you—something suited to your unique talents.”
“There is nothing unique about my talents in the Shire. Even Lobelia can speak with animals. She just prefers those silly little bunnies of hers.” Bella huffed. “I had to fence off my entire garden to keep them out of my vegetable patch!”
Gandalf grinned. “While it is true that beast speaking is hardly a rare talent in the Shire, you’re the only one who isn’t afraid to speak with the more deadly of them.” He hitched his head toward Virgil as they walked.
The giant white wolf was taller than her on all fours, but he kept pace with her as they walked. “Well, Virgil isn’t like others of his kind. And when the wargs came during the Fell Winter, they weren’t interested in listening to any of us. Which was fine because they were better for eating than conversation anyway.”
The wizard snorted in amusement. “Yes, I remember. It would amuse to know that outside of the Shire many consider hobbits to be quite bloodthirsty little savages for their ability to hunt, kill, and eat wargs.”
“Virgil does most of the hunting,” Bella protested then huffed. “And good, maybe it’ll keep those big people away from us.” They started down the path toward her smial, and she caught sight of a large party of dwarrow in front of her home. “You said a dwarf, you old git. I don’t have anything prepared to feed that many!”
“No need to feed them all, I’ll send his party off to the Green Dragon while we have a discussion.”
Bella glared at him. “It’s a good thing you’re a wizard because you’d make a terrible hobbit.”
“Ha, don’t speak to me about rudeness. You did warn them about Virgil, right? If they try to hurt him, I’ll hold you directly responsible.”
“I did tell them, yes.”
Bella continued up the path and all too soon, she found herself in front of her bright green door. One of the dwarrow stood front and center, long dark hair, a short beard, and bright blue eyes that were inspecting her with what bordered on disdain. She knew that look well. She received it from male hobbits on the regular because she was wild and in their estimation unseemly. But she didn’t have much use for those judgmental little bastards.
She frowned at him, and he blinked in surprise. “It is the height of rudeness in the Shire to visit a private residence at meal time without an invitation. I shall overlook this in your case, Master Oakenshield, since Gandalf is quite known for his terrible manners.” She shot the wizard a look. “The Thain named him a genuine disturbance to the peace more than a decade ago.”
Oakenshield grinned at her. “I appreciate your consideration, Mistress Baggins.”
Bella huffed. “Well, come in then. Mind Virgil’s tail. He doesn’t like anyone to touch it.” She swept past the dwarrow and up the short steps to her door with Virgil on her heels.
Shortly, she found herself seated at the dining table with Virgil at her back. He obviously wasn’t thrilled with their guests but hadn’t been overtly hostile as yet. A map of Erebor was spread out between her and Oakenshield. She listened to the explanation he offered about a secret door and the key he’d inherited to it. Bella knew enough about dwarf history to know that Erebor was infested with a great dragon.
“You think my ability as a beast speaker will make me immune to dragon-spell,” Bella surmised, and all the dwarrow stilled. “What? Were you going to save the whole dragon thing for last?” She laughed and sat back in her chair as she picked up her tea. “It is believed that Smaug is the last of his kind. I’ve never spoken to a great dragon, of course. As far as I know, no hobbit has. Though I have the journal of an ancestor who traveled to Gondor and on his travels, he met a fire drake. Falco claimed the drake to be intelligent, gold hungry, and self-absorbed. He was also easily flattered. My cousin escaped the drake by feeding him poisoned meat. I doubt Smaug will be so easily taken care of.”
“Gandalf does believe you’d be immune to dragon-spell,” Thorin said and glanced toward the wizard who was seated quietly in the corner. “We’d like you to distract Smaug so we can kill him.”
Virgil chuffed and growled.
Bella nudged the dire wolf with her shoulder and he chuffed. “Hush, old friend.” Virgil growled again, so she turned in her chair, so they were eye-to-eye. “Let’s strike a bargain.” The wolf inclined his head. “If I decide to go with these dwarrow to Erebor—you’re free to eat them all if they get me killed.” She shot Oakenshield a look when he huffed in shock.
Virgil licked her chin, walked across the room, and he threw himself on his rug.
“Now,” Bella said as she used her sleeve to clean her face. “I’ve heard enough about your settlement in the Blue Mountains to know that your people are suffering there. It’s the only reason I would agree to help you. Gold holds absolutely no favor with me, and I have plenty of it to have a fine life here in the Shire. Virgil goes where I go. He’ll hunt for his own food, and he may provide game to the party as it suits him. He’s not slave labor nor is he a beast of burden. He’ll carry my gear and me, but that is it. Virgil has no taste of ponies so if you have them they aren’t at risk. It won’t take long for them to get used to him and I’ll soothe the way on that front. He has my explicit permission to protect himself from all physical harm, so you are not to ever, under any circumstances, attempt to physically discipline him. There’s a human man in Bree missing an arm because he tried to hit Virgil with a walking stick last summer.”
Thorin took a deep breath. “We’ll respect his space, Mistress Baggins.” He glanced toward the map. “If gold won’t sway you—what would you like in exchange for your work on our behalf?”
“The Shire isn’t big enough,” Bella said simply. “It is an ongoing problem, and many young families have been encouraged to have no more than two children, and that’s not fair. Should I help you kill Smaug, and your people return to Erebor, I would like you to set aside land for my people at the foot of your mountain. All of the fey magic in this region is already invested in the Shire, and we can’t expand without causing harm. We need a new, fresh place to build. The land surrounding your lonely mountain is ideal.”
Oakenshield focused on the map between them and nodded. “Balin—write her contract. Prepare a copy to leave with her leader.”
Bella stood. “Good. I’ll make some food.”
As she entered the kitchen, she heard one of the dwarrow ask, “Uncle, can you have Balin put it in the contract that her big wolf can’t eat all of us? There is the line of succession to consider.”
She just grinned at the mixture of outrage and laughter that question caused. This was going to be an adventure.